“When I listen to the stories that my elders tell me it is like magic,I enjoy it and I want to listen to it all the time”- Niroshasin from Bikkapathy mund.
92 children from indigenous groups across the NBR quietly occupied the lawns of the Nehru Park at Kotagiri to tell the stories of their villages and forests. These children are were from nine regions, representing that many groups and have been part of the conservation education programs conducted by Keystone Foundation. Today Keystone has also initiated the Nilgiri Natural History Society which is entering it’s 5th year; Keystone and the NNHS organised this event together.
Since January the children have met after school hours and over weekends at the area offices of Keystone to plan and make materials for the fair. They were guided by the area teams and came up with some innovative ideas and displays.
The exhibits were theme based – sacred groves, benefits of the forest, wild foods, water conservation, traditional agriculture, honey hunting being some of the themes.
We estimate that about 1000 adults and children visited the Fair over two days. There was non stop music from indigenous bands and the dancing it seems never stopped!
Many of the schools of the district responded to our invitation and brought their children to the Fair. The children asked questions, made friends and listened with interest to the indigenous children. The indigenous children spoke with confidence and pride about their knowledge. Many of these children attend local schools and had never taken part in any public events. This was new to them and a memorable one too.
The indigenous children from Toda, Irula, Paniya, Soliga communities travelled from Punanjanur, Sigur, Nilambur, Pillur, Bhaviyur, Banglapadigai, and Hasanur.
The children have been part of an initiative supported by Keystone which is the ‘Village Elders Program’. For the past 6-8 years children from the villages have been going out on walks with an elder from their village and learning from them about their forest and all that is in them. One of the elders Veeraiah is a medicine man and tells the children about medicinal plants, another Madamma is well versed about bees and wild foods and shares her expertise with the children of her area.
In these times the elders do not get a chance to interact with their children since they study in hostels and are out of the village most of the time. The children enjoy this time with their elders and the elders definitely feel important about their role.
The traditional knowledge fair was an initiative to showcase what the children had learnt from their elders and to provide them a forum to talk about it with pride. For Keystone it was a chance to look back at the impact of the village elder program and for the NNHS a chance to look ahead to plan how these children would become ambassadors for conservation.
When it was time to say goodbye to these 92 who had stayed with us for three days we felt a vaccuum,and when I mentioned this to Nadiya from Banglapadigai, she didn’t think twice and said “but why don’t you all come and live with us in Banglapadigai”. Thank you Nadiya wish we could!