The Paliyar tribe, inhabiting the forests of the hilly regions of Tamil Nadu, have been using traditional medicines to cure ailments since ages. Adivasi Awaaz creator Ramarajan, in the following article, outlines the varied uses of plants and herbs, characterizing the Paliyar way of life.
Historically, the Paliyar tribe has not had contact with the mainstream systems, till recent years. They had their own way of living, they survived on forest produce, took care of the forests and treated illnesses with plants, herbs, shrubs, barks, etc., found abundantly in the forests. In the past few years, due to increased liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG), a large number of them have been forced to migrate. LPG pushed the Paliyars to enter into the mainstreams. However, alienation and the lack of understanding surrounding Adivasi and tribal living, resulted in mistrust and miscommunications between the parties and the Paliyars became sceptical of modern ways of living, including medicines, in the forms of pills and injections.
Although, a large number of Paliyars still look up to traditional medicines, the traditional knowledge surrounding medicines is getting lost. This is due to the lack of written records and the reluctancy of the elders to teach traditional medicines to the younger generations who are becoming part of a modernized world. Moreover, forced migration has not only resulted in Paliyars being unable to access forest resources, but also in the destruction of many herbs, plants and other forest resources. Adivasis/ tribals have always lived in unison with the forests and while they have depended on forest resources for their survival, they have ensured sustenance and protection of the forests. Forcing them out of the forests have had consequences for the forests as well. Hence, I opine that it is important to discuss and document traditional forms of medicines and knowledge.
Semangeera and banana trees are some of the forest produces used for medicinal purposes, historically. There are two types of semangeera; white and black. Both these vegetables are eaten by the Paliyar people. They are said to be useful in haemorrhoids. Similarly, banana tree has many nutritional qualities and all parts of it are edible from leaves to fruits and stems. They are said to be useful in digestive issues.
Virali leaves are also used for medicinal purposes by the Paliyars. They say that it is an excellent herb for headaches and body aches. Often these leaves are burnt, and the ashes are applied on the forehead and other body parts. Another such herb is aloe. Aloe is considered to be extremely beneficial in maintaining body temperatures, especially in summer.
Thalainar, is another useful tree found in the forests. The barks of this tree were used as body scrubbers. Also, the barks were used for cleaning hair, and it is claimed that this prevents hair problems like dandruff and lice.
There are many such plants, trees, herbs and other forest produces, being used by the Paliyars to treat their bodies and keep themselves healthy. Although, a large portion of traditional knowledge has been lost, there is the possibility of conserving whatever we know presently. Medicinal herbs used by our ancestors should be preserved and propagated. This would be beneficial for the overall public health.