Saturday, April 26, 2014

CHENCHUS (Hunters and Gatherers)


Ethnonyms: Chenchucoolam, Chenchwar, Chenswar, Choncharu
Countries inhabited: India
Language family: Dravidian
Language branch: Telugu

The Chenchus are a Telugu speaking food-gathering tribe living in the
Nallamalai forests of Andhra Pradesh in India spread over the districts of
Mahaboobnagar, Kurnool, Prakasam and Guntur. They are a conservative
tribal group and have not made many changes in their lifestyle or tried to
adapt to modernity. They live in the enclosed space and geography, leading
a life of an unbroken continuity.

The Nallamalai forests are deciduous and deep. They cover mountain side,
and are full of treacherous pathways and dangerous ridges. The Chenchus
are undaunted by their natural surroundings and set out to gather food or
hunt animals. The bow and arrow and a small knife is all the Chenchus
possess to hunt and live. They hunt wild animals like boar and deer, but
with the increasing interest in wild life conservation, they are content
to hunt small animals like lizards, rabbits and wild birds.

Their meal is fairly simple and usually consists of gruel made from jowar
or maize, and boiled or cooked jungle tubers. They mix tamarind fruit with
tamarind ash and eat.This is especially good for pregnant women.

They normally eat before setting out to gather food in the morning and eat
again when they return home in the evening. This speaks of the enormous
stamina of the Chenchus who trek on foot through jungle paths all day
long. The slender build of their bodies is deceptive and express little of
their strong and resilient nature.

The Chenchus collect jungle products like roots, fruits, tubers, beedi
leaf, mohua flower, honey, gum, tamarind and green leaves and make a
meagre income of it by selling these to traders and government
co-operatives. The Chenchus do not care much for money or material wealth.

They have hardly developed any technique of preserving food. Their care
for future is marginal as they are used to living on a day-to-day basis.
As a result they have not cultivated much interest in agriculture. Though
at times they work as forest labourers, they mostly prefer to fall back on
their native skills to hunt and gather food. But the inroads of modern
development have found their ways to the Chenchu homeland. Today, the
forest region no longer belongs to the Chenchus. It has been declared as a
tiger reserve sanctuary. The government has been motivating the Chenchus
to adapt to agriculture, but has failed. The Chenchus refuse to be
displaced from the forest and continue to live in harmony with the tigers
in the sanctuary.

Centuries of life in the forest have deprived the Chenchus of an ability
to adapt easily to external situations. Though some of their children are
sent to government schools, there are very few instances of educated
Chenchus finding their way into mainstream modern society. The Chenchus
are struggling to adapt to new patterns of life as the forest resources
dwindle with time.

The Chenchus have been their own masters for many generations and have 
not needed the services of any outsider. They are unmindful of an external
society which is alien and unimportant to them. The life in the wild is
one of hardship, but the Chenchus live on cheerfully unmindful of their
difficulties. The boundaries of their native perception are defined by the
natural boundaries of their geography.

The roots are strong and the bonding to an age-old tradition is deep and
abiding. The Chenchus continue to live contently in their ancestral
homeland as true sons and daughters of the forest to celebrate the joys
and gains of life.

A Chenchu village is known as “Penta”. Each penta consists of few huts
that are spaced apart and are grouped together based on kinship pattern.
The close relatives live nearby and the distant ones farther away. Their
homes comprise of few belongings and are generally sparse and spartan in

“Peddamanishi” or the village elder is generally the authority to
maintain social harmony in a family or a village. Generally, his counsel
and word are final in all matters of the village.

The Chenchus are a broad exogamous group that is sub-divided into various
clans. They follow the ancient system in Hindu tradition of gotras, which
represents the lineage and descent of clan members. There are 26 gotras
found among the Chenchus and the various clans are identified by their
gotra name. They never marry within the gotra or clan and intermarry other
clan members. The wife bears the husband’s gotra after marriage.

The marriage is known as “Pelli”, and takes place through a negotiated
arrangement involving elders or through the choice of the young couple
concerned. The ceremony is performed with traditional rituals in front of
the community and the village elders.

The elders belonging to the “Uttaluri” clan must be present as a matter of
traditional custom as the priest or “Kularaju” officiates over the
marriage rites. The maternal uncle of the bride gives the bride away, and
there is a feast and celebration at the end of the ceremony. The newly
married Chenchu couple set-up their own house and are expected to live
together ever-after. Divorce is allowed among the Chenchus on the grounds
of incompatibility. Widow remarriages are common among them.

The Chenchus have a strong belief system. They worship their deities with great devotion. Lord Eshwara among them is known as “Lingamayya”, and Shakti as “Maisamma” or “Peddamma”. The worship of both male and female deities is accompanied by puja during the month of “Sravan”, that is from July to August.

The ritual of Lord Lingamayya represents the ancient mode of worshipping
Lord Shiva. For ages, the Chenchus have been associated with the famous
Srisailam temple in Andhra Pradesh situated at the heart of Chenchu land.
The Srisailam temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Devi Brahmaramba is a
sacred pilgrim centre for Hindus of all sects.

Lord Mallikarjuna, an incarnation of Lord Shiva fell in love with a young
Chenchu maiden by name “Chenchu Laxmi” and married her. The Chenchus
believe that they are the descendents of this couple and have a special
place and mention in Puranas, temple records and Chronicles. The Chenchus
enjoy special privilages at Srisailam temple.

The Chenchus love their gods dearly and pray to them in earnest and
endearing terms. The devotion borders on frenzy and passion and is magical
in effect on the surroundings. The celebrations can be austere, serene and
simple and sometimes they can be wild, intoxicating and mystical. The rich
folklore of their forefathers inspires and guides them to maintain a solid
tradition. The dance, the gaiety, and the lyricism of their life reflects
the joy and innocence as they live a life of rich contentment, seeking and
aspiring for very little.


Dear Sir/Madam, 

The Central government has permitted the mining of radioactive uranium in the NALLAMALA FOREST ZONE. This operation requires deforestation of majority of forest in both Telangana and Andhra pradesh regions. Once the land is exposed to the nuclear particles, the plant growing capacity of the land comes to zero, completely turning out into a waste land. Also it will destroy "Nagarjuna sagar- Srisailam tiger reserve" which is known to be the second largest tiger reserve in the world. Also the tribal region named "Mannanuru" will have to face the toxic effects of this mining.

“Amrabad Tiger Reserve, one of the two reserves in Telangana, a proposal from Department of Atomic Energy being given an ‘in-principle’ approval for exploratory drilling for uranium ore in 76 sqkm inside the reserve. Amarabad Tiger Reserve is home to about 24 tigers and boasts of a rich array of wildlife including leopard, sloth bear, wild dog, different kinds of deer among other animals. The hilly tiger reserve, part of the Nallamala hills, also serves a as a catchment area for River Krishna which flows through the hill range. the area being sought for mining are rich in RARE wildlife and RARE plant species. Environmental damage, contamination resulting from leakage of chemicals” that will affect the health of native wildlife.On the road that pilgrims take from Hyderabad to Srisailam, lies the unassuming lush green forest of the Amrabad Tiger Reserve. Before the separation of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, huge boards would suggest that you were in India’s largest tiger reserve.

Despite the division, it still happens to be India’s second-largest tiger reserve, next only to its sibling, the original Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve. Together they form what is probably India’s largest protected dry forest. Amrabad Tiger Reserve lies in the Nallamala hills, a landscape that is recovering after over two centuries of degradation by the British and the Nizam of Hyderabad. It is a mystifying landscape of lofty hills and cavernous valleys, perennial rivers and exciting winding roads that have thick, forested topography on one side and deep and vast valleys on the other along with different hues to mark the seasons. Inhabiting this mesmerising forested landscape is the most charismatic cat of the world — the tiger. Richness is synonymous with this tiger reserve as it harbours great biodiversity, comprising of around 70 species of mammals, more than 300 hundred avian varieties, 60 species of reptiles and thousands of insects, all supported and nourished by more than 600 different plant species.

Although the proposal for mining in Amrabad suggests that the site is of no archaeological value, this area is, in fact, renowned for its archaeological significance. It contains ruins of the ancient Nagarjuna Viswa Vidyalayam run by the great Buddhist scholar Nagarjunacharya (150 AD).

The relics of the fort of Ikshwaku Chandragupta, a ruler of the 3rd century BC are also found. The ancient fort of Pratap Rudra, a king of the Kakatiya dynasty of Warangal and many other forts are seen on the banks of the Krishna river. An ancient wall of length of 105 miles, constructed by the Kakatiyas is an interesting feature.

Geo-morphological rock shelters and cave temples such as Akka Mahadevi Bhilam, Dattatreya Bhilam, Umaa Maheswaram, Kadalivanam, and Palankasari are characteristic of the area. The area proposed for mining falls under the Amrabad and Nudigal Reserved Forests of the ‘core area’ of the tiger reserve. It has a good diversity of forests and wildlife.

The rich diversity of wildlife includes tiger, leopard, dhole, wolf, Indian fox, jackal, honey badger, nilgai, sambar, chowsingha and sloth bear. There is also the endemic yellow-throated bulbul and the star tortoise.

Despite the rich wildlife, there is very little human-wildlife conflict. The streams and rivulets drain into the Krishna, which has an amazing diversity of acquatic life including the mugger crocodile, water monitor lizard and turtles. The forest area is pristine and provides numerous ecosystem services like being the major catchment of the Krishna, which quenches the thirst of the two Telugu-speaking states.

The proposed area is hilly and highly undulating. The drilling of 4,000 deep holes will disfigure the reserve, ruining the wildlife habitat. Proposed to cover 20,500 acres, the project seems poised to destroy the ecology of the entire tiger reserve.

The exploration will expose and pollute surface water, ground water and leech the minerals and dangerous chemicals into the Nagarjunasagar dam. The roads will fragment and degrade the dry forests, which may never recover after such a massive exercise. The proposal to mine for uranium in this Eden will not only kill its wild denizens but will also take away the livelihoods of the Chenchu, besides exposing them and hundreds of others to uranium contamination. Is it a bit too much to ask for the rescinding of the proposal? If India’s largest tiger reserves are not sacrosanct then the future of tiger is really bleak in the new India we are making. Chenchus are perhaps the first habitants of mainland India. In Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival, Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf describes Chenchus: "They are short and slender in stature, with very dark skin, wavy or curly hair, broad faces, flat noses, and a trace of prognathism (extension or bulging out of the lower jaw), which is a sign of their connection with ancient human beings that roamed the Earth. There are no people in India poorer in material possessions than the jungle Chenchus; bows and arrows, a knife, an axe, a digging stick, some pots and baskets, and a few tattered rags constitute many a Chenchu’s entire belongings. They usually owns a thatched hut in one of the small settlements where he lives during the monsoon rains and in the cold weather. But in the hot season, communities split up and individual family groups camp in the open, under overhanging rocks or in temporary leaf-shelters".


(Dear friends,We request you to sign and circulate widely the ongoing e-petition campaign against opening of urnaium mining in Nallamala Forst in India’s Telangana state.)

Save Nallamala Forest from Uranium Mining

De Beers Hunt For The Hidden Treasures Of Indian Kingdoms

A massive eviction of tribals is taking place in the State of Andhra Pradesh from the virgin forests of Nallamala range for the exclusive benefits of *De Beers*, a diamond mining corporation that wants the kimberlite or diamonds from the forest.

But that is not the only thing De Beers is after. What De Beers is after is the buried wealth of *Vijayanagara Empire* to be hauled permanently into western fold.

The efforts of De Beers started at least 13 years ago when it was told to us that “they realized the massive diamond, gold and granite deposits in Mehaboob Nagar and Kurnool districts of Andhra Pradesh”. These deposits are spread under the thick jungles of Nallamala forests. These forests needed to be cleared first for the diamond mining or De Beers should have to resort to the latest technology called horizontal drilling under the forests.

*East India Companies* when they ruled India tried to locate these kimberlite mines and declared that they were all exhausted and thus shifted their focus to South Africa.

In South Africa they found diamonds and set up African gold and diamond mining companies under the ruthless exploitative ownership of *Oppenheimers*, who were one of the owners of the East India Companies. De Beers is also one of the East India Companies owned by these *Houses of Rhodes and Oppenheimers*.

It is these Nallamala diamond mines that were the source of the riches of all the kingdoms of India including the Vijayanagara Kingdom, which at its height sold diamonds on streets not in carats but in kilograms.

This fact was recorded by Portuguese, Russian, French and other chroniclers who had business and diplomatic ties with Vijayanagara Kingdom.

So, where are these diamonds and gold these people are talking about if these kimberlite mines were exhausted couple of hundreds of years back?

And why every central mining minster states in parliament that India has no technology to exploit these resources and that is why we have to call MNCs to do the job?

Is it only to hand over the same resources to De Beers or other companies?

Was there a tacit agreement across all political parties that for some return (read kickbacks or in normal English bribes) these non-existing or exhausted diamond and gold mines should be given only to De Beers?