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The Paliyars Have Depended Historically On Fish And Crabs During Food Scarcity

The Paliyars of Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been dependent on nature and forests for their survival, including food requirements. Adivasi Awaaz creator S. Ramarajan talks about the traditional food culture of the Paliyars, which includes fish and crabs, especially in times of food scarcity.

Aquatic organisms like fish and crabs have been the traditional food items of the Paliyars during times of food crisis; Image Source:

The Paliyars historically have procured food from the abundant forest and water resources, while maintaining sustainability and balance. While the primary food items have always been forest produce, food available in the water bodies has also been consumed especially during food crisis. The most common items consumed from water bodies are fish and crabs.

The Paliyars use two specific techniques for fishing. One among them is the use of 'intupattai'. It is a commonly found vine with thorns. These thorns can be removed with knives and billhooks. There are two varieties of this vine. One is white in colour, while the other is red. The red intupattai is used for fishing. These vines are cut into small pieces for the purpose. However, only two pieces are needed for fishing. One piece is immersed in water and the second piece is held by the fisherman. The bottom portion of the piece held by the fisherman is rubbed hard, till it foams. The foam is then released into the water. This foam makes the fish rise to the upper surface of the water, which is then collected by the Paliyars. During scarcity of food from the forests, the Paliyars have often resorted to eating fish and survived.

Intupattai; Image Source: Ramarajan

Another major food item that has been consumed during the scarcity of forest produce is crabs. The Paliyars use 'therayam kattuthal' for catching crabs. These are self-made tools. It is made out of wood. It consists of pieces of wooden sticks, at the end of which worms are tied. These are then placed in rock crevasses or under big stones in water bodies, usually a river. While the crabs feed on the worms attached to the wooden sticks, they are slowly pulled back to dry land and collected.

It should be noted that the Paliyars are careful not to overuse, damage or pollute water resources while fishing and catching crabs. They fish and catch crabs only according to their survival needs.

This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.


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