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The Traditions of the Kadar


Ms. Geetha, the leader of the Kadar community at Vazhachal, never seems to be at a loss for words. In an interview with The New Indian Express two weeks ago, she says, “We used to preserve the forests. That was how we lived. Now the government owns the forests.” She goes on to lament that the Kadar seem to have become the property of the government.

Wild gaur at the Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary

Wild gaur at the Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary (Photo by on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

According to the reporter, Anna Binoy, Ms. Geetha is one of only two tribal village leaders in Kerala who are women. The “ooru moopathi,” as she is titled, tells Ms. Binoy the history of her community—of repeated injustices and marginalization. She says that her people were originally from Parambikulam, where they subsisted on the forest products they gathered. The reporter does not mention that Parambikulam is now a world-famous tiger reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Ms. Geetha does say that her people were forced out of their homes when the dominating peoples of Kerala decided to develop the forests and the Chalakudy River they lived along.

They moved to Peringalkuth, also located on the Chalakudy, but due to the construction of a hydroelectric dam they were soon forced to move again, downstream, to settle in another forest at Vazhachal, where the river still flowed freely. But their new village was again threatened by another dam. Their decision to contest being once again forced out of their homes has been well-reported in the news over the past dozen years. Ms. Geetha has been the leader of this last-ditch stand.

The forests of the Kadar surround the famed Athirappilly Waterfalls on the Chalakudy River

The forests of the Kadar surround the famed Athirappilly Waterfalls on the Chalakudy River (Photo by kevinsiji on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

She discusses with the reporter the environmental impact assessment that didn’t even acknowledge the existence of the Kadar village located near the site of the proposed Athirappilly dam on the Chalakudy. She says that although the community was able to prove in court that the developers were wrong, “it saddened me deeply. I have since come to [realize] that there are exterior forces trying to eradicate my people.”

The Vazhachal community now consists of 69 houses containing 74 families who still do some fishing and gathering of forest products to supplement their incomes from their employment around Vazhachal as forest workers. A few of the people still cross the river and gain most of their subsistence from the products they gather in the forest. Ms. Geetha regrets that the Kadar of Vazhachal do not have titles to any lands of their own, though they do have the rights to use the forest.

Ms. Geetha at the river that she is trying to protect

Ms. Geetha at the river that she is trying to protect (Photo by Parineeta Dandekar on SANDRP website, Creative Commons license)

The reporter writes that the 30-year-old leader is preparing the history of her community for an upcoming book, but in the meanwhile, readers can access at least part of the early history of the community—their lives in Parambikulam—in a classic ethnography by Ehrenfels (1952). The Austrian anthropologist, who was doing his fieldwork in the community in the 1940s while the Kadar still lived there, recorded an interesting incident that illustrates the peaceful way the people resolve their conflicts.

It seems as if one evening a fight broke out in Parambikulam between a woman named Velakkal and her husband, Tambi. She was sitting outside a house in the community making a lot of noise, loudly berating her husband. Everyone in the village could hear what she was complaining about. His crime, in her view, was that he had bought his two daughters from a previous marriage very nice presents: a European blouse for Kartiyayani and a piece of jewelry for Nallatangal. But he had only gotten a red chain for Matha, his daughter by Velakkal. In her view, the present he had gotten for his youngest was worthless. She berated him for over an hour, also accusing him of having an affair with another woman.

Tambi listened to all of this quietly, patiently denying her accusations. Finally, he suggested it was time to go to bed, which everyone did. In the morning, Velakkal was gone, but she had left word that she would be divorcing him for all of his faults. The real issue, Ehrenfels wrote in his book, was that circumstances had forced Tambi’s two older girls—divorced women themselves—to move in with their father and stepmother. But to make matters worse, the husbands of the two daughters had remarried the women and had recently moved in with Tambi and Velakkal.

The anthropologist made it clear that public opinion in Parambikulam was divided between those who supported the wife and her perceptions of being treated unfairly and those who supported the husband. A week after she had stormed away, Velakkal returned to the village and quietly moved back in with her husband and his extended family. The evening filled with anger of the week before was soon forgotten. But the Kadar retained their tradition of solving a conflict as Velikkal had done—by walking away from it.

Hopefully, Ms. Geetha’s book will discuss the ways the Kadar retain their peaceful traditions as carefully as it will probably discuss their growing involvement with working in the forests of Kerala. And contesting those who seek to destroy their community once again.

The Amish Are Protecting the Land


Five years ago, the Pennsylvania environmental media highlighted the path-breaking efforts of a Lancaster County Amish farmer to protect his soils and the streams near his property from erosion and pollution.

A cow in a stream on an Amish farm in Orange County, Indiana

A cow in a stream on an Amish farm in Orange County, Indiana (Photo by Cindy Cornett Seigle on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The efforts of farmer Raymond King to retard soil erosion, plant in contours, and, more than that, to adopt advanced techniques for protecting the environment were reported in a Peaceful Societies news story that year. Assisted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and other organizations, Mr. King developed better ways of handling manure in his barnyard, planted trees and shrubs along a stream, and erected fencing to keep his cattle out of that stream.

Recently, Mr. King and his Amish farming neighbors were featured again, this time in a cover story of the Bay Journal, a monthly magazine that reports news about the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding watershed. The bay is the largest estuary on the east coast of the U.S. Organizations such as the CBF are dedicated, in part, to promoting sensible land management practices in the watershed. The rich agricultural farmland of Lancaster County—and in fact much of Central Pennsylvania—is drained by the Susquehanna River and its tributaries, the major river system that empties into the bay.

An Amish woman and children feeding their cattle on a Lancaster County farm

An Amish woman and children feeding their cattle on a Lancaster County farm (Photo by Rlevse on Wikimedia, in the public domain)

The recent article written by Donna Morelli sets the scene: a small, unnamed stream flows out of some hills in northeastern Lancaster County and into the pastures of Amish farmers Benuel Zook and then Raymond King. In 2012 the stream ran with mud and manure from hundreds of cows trampling down the stream banks but now, thanks to King and his Amish neighbors, the stream is fenced and the stream banks are covered with trees and shrubs.

Mr. King’s leadoff comments to the reporter, however, attempt to deflect credit away from himself. “Look at my neighbors, they’re the heroes,” King said. “I’m not ahead of anybody.” One of the salient features of the Amish culture, along with numerous other peaceful societies, is to avoid calling attention to oneself, to avoid anything remotely resembling bragging that could lead to envy, jealousy, and possibly violence. The Amish avoidance of being photographed is part of that prohibition. Mr. King clearly didn’t want full credit given to himself—but he was enthusiastic enough about protecting the soil and the water to cooperate with another reporter.

An Amish dairy farm in Lancaster County where the cows are free to trample down and erode the stream banks

An Amish dairy farm in Lancaster County where the cows are free to trample down and erode the stream banks (Photo by Ad Meskens in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

He points out that the five Amish farms along the tiny stream all used CREP money, funds from the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program of the U.S. government that help farmers install streamside protection measures such as vegetative filtering buffers along streams. Ms. Morelli indicates, however, that not all Amish farmers are willing to cooperate with the government, so the CBF and other NGOs have also gotten involved in supplying advice and money in lieu of the government agencies.

In fact, the article indicates, while some of the Amish and Mennonite farmers remain leery of accepting aid or information from government agencies or anybody else, others are cooperating with the NGOs and still others are acting on their own. But the important development is that the situation regarding pollution and agricultural runoff in the county is improving. The Plain Sect farmers are becoming more environmentally conscious.

A Lancaster County dairy farm with a buffered, protected stream

A Lancaster County dairy farm with a buffered, protected stream (Photo by Brubaker Farms on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

According to Christopher Thompson, Manager of the Lancaster County Conservation District, the farmers are under pressure to write farm management plans to help them define their pollution problems and to describe the solutions they will install. Increasingly, the Plain Sect farmers are accepting the financial assistance available to deal with the problems they are causing. And, Mr. Thomson adds, a lot of credit should go to leaders in the Amish community, people such as Mr. King and his neighbor Mr. Zook.

He tells the reporter that it was Mr. Zook who first installed a manure storage system on his dairy farm with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. His neighbor Mr. King liked the way it operated so he worked with the same agency plus the county conservation district to install a manure storage system on his farm as well.

King then opened his farm to the CBF and to agricultural service agencies so they could begin offering workshops about the matter to other county farmers. The CBF took both neighbors on a boat tour of the Chesapeake Bay so they could observe fishing boats pulling in fish in their nets. “These are all working people,” King said speaking about the fishermen. “We really need to do a better job.”

Ms. Morelli goes on to describe at length the progress in other areas of Lancaster County and the slow but steady acceptance of the need for individuals, particularly the Plain Sect farmers, to make a difference in protecting the bay—and the earth.



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