Hortimio Ochoa, a 33-year-old Piaroa leader, was featured in a lengthy Venezuelan newspaper article on Wednesday last week for his dedication to preserving the traditional values and culture of his people as well as for his efforts to protect their lands and waters from illegal miners and armed groups.

A Piaroa man plays a flute
A Piaroa man plays a flute (Screenshot from the video “Piaroa Culture: Venezuelan Amazon” by ProBiodiversa on Vimeo, Creative Commons license)

The author of the piece, María Ramírez Cabello, argues in her essay that Hortimio is inspired by a culture hero of the Piaroa, Wänä’cä, a leader of the people 400 years ago during the period when the Spanish were invading their territory. Today, Piaroa shamans sing songs about the hero during ceremonies they initiate to cause symbolic revenge against those who have violated the tranquility of their community.

Hortimio tells the journalist why he is inspired by Wänä’cä: “For us, he was like Simon Bolívar, and he has been an inspiration in my struggle.” Hortimio is the coordinator of the group United Huöttöja People’s Organization – Piaroa del Cataniapo. Huöttöja is an alternate name for the Piaroa. The Rio Cataniapo is a tributary stream that flows westward through Piaroa territory to enter the Orinoco River at the south end of the small city of Puerto Ayacucho. There are 22 communities in the Cataniapo watershed with about 3,170 inhabitants among them.

Piaroa kids, such as these in Agua Mena, lack adequate schools
Piaroa kids, such as these in Agua Mena, lack adequate schools (Screenshot from the video “Coltan, la Piste Sud-Américaine,” on Vimeo, Creative Commons license)

Hortimio’s organization is led by a council of elders, eight men and women who initiate ways to defend their territory from invaders and despoilers. In June 2020, for instance, they were able to close an illegal road that miners had built through the forests south to the border with Brazil. In February 2020, 700 Piaroa marched to a place in the forest where some FARC dissidents from Columbia had tried to establish a mining operation.

Hortimio told the reporter how, in late December of 2019, he and some of his people confronted a bunch of dissident invaders. He spoke with the commander of the group and told him they were trespassing on Piaroa territory. The invaders were armed but that did not deter him. “We march and we talk with them, because we are not people of war.” The dissidents claimed to have the approval of the government for their invasion but Hortimio would not accept their statements. They lacked approval from the Piaroa. After some discussions, the invaders left.

Campus of the University of Los Andes in Bogotá
Campus of the University of Los Andes in Bogotá (Photo by JS Rolon in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Hortimio became interested in the issues confronting Venezuelan indigenous people while attending the University of Los Andes. A year after graduating, in 2009, he began touring communities in the Amazonas state where he came from. He founded his advocacy organization and had it legally registered in 2012, with some help and guidance from people in the university. He told the reporter, “Our struggle is framed by defense of life and the right to a free space and peace, because salvation of the planet lies with ancestral wisdom and traditional knowledge, and my duty is to transmit it from generation to generation.”

The reporter shifted to a discussion of the community where Hortimio lives. Sardi, a village of adobe houses, is located on the bank of the Rio Cataniapo. The community treasures its large, very well-kept football field, where many people gather in the afternoon to play their favorite sport. However, they must go to school and patronize the medical dispensary in the neighboring village of Gavilán, an hour and a half walk away. And that medical facility lacks medicines and medical personnel.

After discussing the outstanding biological diversity of the Cataniapo basin and the treasures it contains, the reporter quoted Luis Betancourt Montenegro, a member of the Amazon Research Group, about the work that Hortimio is doing. Sr. Betancourt said that Hortimio’s work goes far beyond protecting the territorial rights of the Piaroa–his leadership also strengthens their cultural and social rights.

The article also covered the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic on the ongoing work of the Piaroa people in the Cantaniapo watershed and the reactions of Hortimio to the financial hits their communities are enduring. It concludes with an additional statement praising his leadership in many matters.

This article is most valuable for providing a clear understanding of the approaches the Piaroa take to handling conflict situations with outsiders. As the Encyclopedia of Peaceful Societies in this website explains, all of these groups of people vary in every way except in the fact of having a basic belief in remaining at peace and in finding ways to try and minimize conflicts that could lead to violence. The Piaroa are uniquely able, as Hortimio demonstrates, to convince outsiders that they want and expect peace and a nonviolent resolution of conflicts.

Paliyan men at a Murugan temple in Tamil Nadu
Paliyan men at a Murugan temple in Tamil Nadu (Photo by Steve Bonta, used by permission)

Some critics of the existence of peaceful societies maintain, erroneously, that these are all groups of people who flee into the forest at the slightest sign of trouble. Such an approach simply would not work for modern people, they argue. And yet while fleeing into the forest to avoid confrontations may have been the approach followed at times by some of the peaceful societies, such as the Paliyans and the Chewong, it is clearly not the path to peacefulness of many of the others.

The approach employed by the Piaroa of the Cataniapo valley makes it clear that confronting potential aggressors with determined, but peaceful reasoning is perhaps an even better approach than simply fleeing would be. Because he so effectively defuses conflict situations, Hortimio is more than simply a good leader for his society. He is an inspiration to people everywhere who are searching for alternatives to violence and warfare.

 

The Nyae Nyae Conservancy of the Ju/’hoansi San has received a large grant to help them survive the loss of tourist revenue due to the pandemic. The Save Our Species grant from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), also allocated to the N#a Jaqna Conservancy of the !Kung people, is designed to help preserve the considerable gains in wildlife management made in recent years by the two San societies of northern Namibia. The grant is funded by the European Union.

Oryx hunting in Namibia
Oryx hunting in Namibia (Photo by Fieldsports Channel on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The grant is designed to secure the livelihoods of the San wildlife rangers and to support a range of important measures that the conservancies have initiated to protect their desert environment. According to a news story last week, the COVID-19 pandemic has completely shut off the tourism and trophy hunting funding sources for the San people, the income from which they have come to depend on.

The specific issue for the two conservancies is that the salaries of the wildlife management officers, called Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) rangers, have been funded by the fees paid by the visitors—the tourists and the hunters. With that source of revenue dried up, the IUCN grant will provide essential support for the wildlife management functions as well as for the economies of the surrounding communities.

San man in Namibia holding some devil’s claw that he has gathered
San man in Namibia holding some devil’s claw that he has gathered (Photo by Olga Ernest & Hp Baumeler in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

The news story continues by describing the other income stream of the Ju/’hoansi, which has survived the pandemic—the harvesting of the Devil’s Claw plants. Income from the harvesting has continued despite the pandemic. Sales of the plants at an event last month earned about N$500,000 for 230 harvesters. A second sales event scheduled for October could bring in more money, potentially earning the Nyae Nyae people a total of 750,000 to one million Namibian dollars in 2020 (U.S. $45,000 to 60,000).

Out of the several news stories in this website in recent years about the plant and the money the Ju/’hoansi and the !Kung earn from gathering it, one paragraph in a news report from last November summed up the real importance for the people. It is worth repeating: “The two conservancies added that the effective management of their natural resources and their sustainable utilization are essential pillars of their beliefs. They are committed to ensuring that the people will continue to gather the devil’s claw roots sustainably for many years to come.”

The Semai have been gathering plants in the forests for generations and have profited from their knowledge of the wild foods, widely referred to as “ulam.” The Star, a leading Malaysian newspaper, published a story last week in which the reporter interviewed Rachel Thomas Tharmabalan, a researcher who specializes in analyzing the edible foods, especially the ulam, used by the Semai.

Ingredients for an ulam salad in Malaysia
Ingredients for an ulam salad in Malaysia (Photo by Alpha in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Ms. Thomas expressed fascination for the ways the Semai use wild foods. Her reasoning was that Malaysian forests are rich in biodiversity and the Semai are very knowledgeable about forest resources. “With so many natural resources in our own backyard, I think it is essential to tap into the Orang Asli communities’ knowledge base,” she told The Star.

The Sunway University lecturer added that many of the traditional beliefs of the Semai about their forest foods have turned out to be scientifically accurate. Ms. Thomas was encouraged by different Semai groups to go foraging with them and she collected samples of the ulam along with the village women who did most of the gathering for their daily food preparation work.

During her fieldwork, she asked the Semai about the medicinal uses of the native plants. She found that the people not only knew about straightforward conditions that the plants could help with, such as plants to use for coughs and common colds, but also more complex problems they might help with such as diabetes and respiratory issues. She then sent samples of the plants to a laboratory for analysis and the results suggested that most of the Semai claims were in fact correct—the ulam was as useful as they claimed.

Shorea, a genus of tropical trees that includes the meranti
Shorea, a genus of tropical trees that includes the meranti (Photo by sarangib in Needpix.com, in the public domain)

She found that some of the wild foods had much higher rates of vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, and minerals than vegetables grown commercially. For instance, the Semai use a leaf called meranti, gathered from forest trees, to treat high blood pressure, a condition that bothers some of them. She found that the leaves are high in calcium and magnesium, the same ingredients used in commercial blood pressure medications.

Ms. Thomas said that the Semai usually eat their ulam raw in salads but sometimes they will stir fry it with garlic and onions or they will use the leaves in soups. She argued that the Semai who live farther from urban areas tend to include more ulam in their diets and as a result are healthier than their urban cousins. Ulam makes up about 20 percent of the diets of the country people. The more remote Semai forage in the forest for leaves, roots, ferns, and shrubs such as tapioca shoots, bamboo shoots, sendap and snego.

Semai selling legumes along a highway in the Cameron Highlands
Semai selling legumes along a highway in the Cameron Highlands (Photo by tian yake in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The Semai are excited at the prospect of sharing their plant knowledge with others. They have even tried selling their ulam along the roads, but they have found that outsiders tend to be skeptical about the health values and claims made by the Semai. After all, Malaysians in general don’t know what the stuff is so why should they believe a Semai, they seem to feel.

The Star concluded with a quote by Ms. Thomas: “The Orang Asli know these ulam can help with various ailments, but nobody wants to give them a chance. I think ultimately they just want to be appreciated for their knowledge.”

 

Units of the Philippine armed forces went into a remote Buid village in helicopters on August 16 to provide supplies and support for the villagers, who have no road access to the outside world. The two-day visit to Sitio Mansay, in San Jose’s Monteclaro Barangay, was described in a government publication last week as a response to the threat of terrorism by operatives of the New People’s Army, a communist-inspired terrorist group that apparently is still active in the mountains of Mindoro Island.

A Mangyan village
A Mangyan village (Photo by Dylan Walters on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The article quoted the commander of the army brigade who has jurisdiction over all of Mindoro, Col. Jose Augusto Villareal. He praised the humanitarian actions of the armed forces, “since what used to be tools of war are now becoming symbols of peace and hope for our people.” He might have added that this should be good news for the peaceful Buid as well as the other traditional Mangyan villagers on the island.

The article goes on to indicate that about 800 Buid registered for government support programs. They also took advantage of free dental services and health programs offered by the visitors. Furthermore, the Buid were given basic training in farming techniques offered by the Department of Agriculture, which gave them farming tools when the training was finished.

However, the military-focused article does not mention any support by the government for schools in the Buid village. Are there any? If there are, who supports them? A curious outsider, reading the Philippine news story, must wonder at the absence of schools from the listing of ways to keep the Buid from embracing the agenda of the terrorists. What better way to reach the Buid than through their youth? For that matter, how do the Buid react to schooling in their villages? The older literature provides better answers than the current government propaganda.

The basic answer from the Buid themselves is that most of them are firmly in favor of learning to read and write so they can better deal with outsiders, but they also recognize the dangers of exposing their children in schools to alien concepts that might undermine their nonviolent values. Remaining aloof from the outside world poses obvious dangers. While this is an issue for most of the peaceful societies, the Buid have shown their unbridled enthusiasm for their schools—and their commitment to maintaining their traditions.

Mangyan children eating biscuits
Mangyan children eating biscuits (Photo by Alistair Israel on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The story in the Hamlet of Danlog, also in Monteclaro Barangay, shows the commitment to schooling as well as the Buid questioning of it. Laki Iwan, a beloved Buid elder, had answers to the questions about how best to educate the children—at least he tried to answer them effectively. He was suffused with a spirit of far-sighted generosity: he had donated the land for several schools for his community during his life, a legacy that the other villagers acknowledged fondly.

He was always known for his generous spirit. One of his 80-some grandchildren and great grandchildren recalled that “he would always give us bananas for food …” He planted gardens just so he could give away the harvests to others. Another grandchild recalled his penchant for always keeping his word. His family said that he frequently exhorted them to study hard for the future of the Buid people.

But founding schools was his special passion. When he realized that a high school he had founded, referred to as Pamana Ka, was growing successfully, he decided it was important to have a document prepared to ensure that his gift of land for the school would not be rescinded by any of his heirs after he died. The administrator of the school, a nun, was impressed, since the idea had not occurred to her. The high school had graduated 10 students from the different Mangyan societies, including the Buid, not long before an accident killed him at age 90. Seven of the graduates planned to go on to college. Three of those college-bound students planned to apply to the new indigenous peoples’ college, Pamulaan, founded by the University of Southeastern Philippines on its campus in Davao City.

Mangyan kids dancing
Mangyan kids dancing (Photo by Colin and Sarah Northway on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

According to an update to the Laki Iwan story two years after his death, one of the schools he helped to found was thriving. It enrolled 48 students from kindergarten to grade three. The teachers used the Buid language in the classrooms to teach their subjects, and the instructors used the traditional alphabet of that society, the surat Buhid, as their mode of teaching. The goals of the traditional school, in the words of the update, were “to promote the protection and preservation of Mangyan culture, and likewise, [to provide] free education to Mangyan children.” The school sought to teach history, math, English, and other modern subjects, but in the context of their own Buid culture and beliefs.

However, some of the traditional Buid people did not easily accept the need for schooling the children. They realized that their youngsters might learn about the works of Shakespeare but remain unfamiliar with their own traditional ambahan poetry, which is preserved in their ancient, written language. Children could attend school and come to see their culture as inferior to that of the West, and Western education as superior to their own ways. Despite the fact that many people have converted to Christianity, the Buid still hold onto many of their traditions.

During a celebration in the school, the Buid recalled how some of their young people had gotten Western educations and then become too good for their traditional communities. Village elders admitted they would be happy when their young people finished college. According to Luisito Malanao, one of the school teachers, while the elders “were happy for some of ours who have finished college courses, they were also disappointed over the influence of modern civilization [on] some of these educated Mangyans that made them abandon the native culture.”

Mangyan village kids
Mangyan village kids (Photo by Dylan Walters on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The young people with their diplomas might hesitate to return to their native villages in the mountains due to the mud and the dirty family members. Some hated the thought of sleeping in common rooms in their small houses with the rest of their families. But Mr. Malanao, admitting the disappointment within the Buid communities about the ways some of their children had turned out, concluded that “we cannot afford to stay ignorant and exploited all our lives.”

Another Mangyan schoolteacher, Alma Agular, echoed his sentiments. “We have to embrace basic education without going to schools where we are discriminated [against due to] being Mangyans by lowlanders who dominate these learning institutions,” she said.

Five years later, a major Philippine news source described the Buid schools by focusing on the hopes of Allan Agaw, a 16-year-old student who wanted to give back to his village after he completed his education. He clearly cherished the sharing tradition of his society. “I want to take up engineering so I can help my community,” he said (in English translation). The spirit of giving and sharing, an outstanding characteristic of the Buid, was an essential part of the story of Laki Iwan, of course.

Mangyan farming lore acted out in a dance
Mangyan farming lore acted out in a dance (Photo by Colin and Sarah Northway on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The school in Danlog, which had 10 students in 2006 and 48 in 2008 had grown to 60 by 2013. The reporter found that everyone in the school emphasized the importance of Buid traditional culture. Bapa Ane Arevalo, an elder who taught the ancient Buid script, said, “there are Mangyan[s] who, after studying in the lowlands, come back to the community but don’t speak our language anymore. It’s as if they’re ashamed of being a Mangyan.” Before Pamana Ka was built, young Buid who wanted an education had to study in schools in the lowlands that are part of the majority Filipino culture. Clara Panagsagan, a science teacher, recalled being told, in such a school, that as a Mangyan she knew nothing.

Alma Aguilan, a mathematics teacher, noted that at a lowland school she was laughed at and humiliated because of her inability to correctly pronounce the word “present” the first-time attendance was called. As time went on, even when she knew answers, she still hesitated about participating in classes for fear of having similar experiences. The need for Pamana Ka, a school by and for the indigenous kids, is evident.

Mangyan children wearing traditional clothing
Mangyan children wearing traditional clothing (Photo by Michael Stout on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Students remain on the Pamana Ka campus most of the year in dormitories, one for the boys, one for the girls, since their homes are so far from the school. The Mangyan students at Pamana Ka raise vegetables and fruits in the fields around the school, and they take care of poultry and fish in a pond on the campus, all of which provide foods that they eat. The staff also live in the community because their home villages are scattered all over the mountains of Mindoro. Margie Munoy Siquico, who formerly taught at Pamana Ka, pointed out that the education of the students doesn’t stop for vacation breaks. She said that all the subjects taught in the school—reading, science, math, Filipino—are infused with Mangyan traditions and cultures because all the teachers themselves are from Mangyan communities.

The Buid elders in Danlog also play an important role in imparting their skills, practices, knowledge, and spiritual values to the students and teachers, especially through the stories they tell. Aristea Bautista, the school director, indicates that the school is committed to restoring “the faith … of the children in indigenous knowledge systems and practices…”

Mangyan girl
Mangyan girl (Photo by Bar Fabela on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

People such as the author of last week’s paean of praise for the Philippine Army might be wise to acknowledge the contributions the Buid make to the idea that schooling can include the nonviolent concepts that are part of the cultures of many nations today as well as their military traditions. Military-minded people have attached celebrations of armies and their accomplishments to many school curricula, but the Buid set an example of focusing an education on a peaceful tradition in addition to the fundamentals of contemporary life.

 

Sonam Tshering Lepcha, a major champion of the Lepcha culture, died at age 92 in Kalimpong on July 30. His death was noted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee, and by a range of major Indian news sources. A tribute last week summarized his many accomplishments and his creative contributions to Lepcha culture. The author of the tribute, Mandira De, interviewed him in May of 2019.

Sonam Tshering Lepcha preserves the culture of the Lepcha people at the Lepcha Museum in Kalimpong
Sonam Tshering Lepcha preserves the culture of the Lepcha people at the Lepcha Museum in Kalimpong (Photo by Suhas Dutta on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

She met the very spry cultural icon in his office, which was located in the Lepcha Museum in Kalimpong, an institution that he founded and used as one of his showcases for promoting Lepcha culture. The front table in the museum was filled with a number of Lepcha musical instruments. While he tended to mumble due to his age, he was still able to play tunes on the flutes and other musical instruments surrounding him. He used small wooden instruments to imitate the calls of a bird and the response calls of another bird. She found it to be “an amazing experience.”

He explained that as a boy—he was born in 1928—he had to join the British Army in India during World War II because his older brother had died and he needed to find a source of income to help support the family. But he was more interested in art, literature, music and singing so he returned to his village. He wanted to be creative. In 1967 he composed a Lepcha National Anthem. He went on to compose over 200 folk songs and he created many folk dances. He put together a dance drama called “Teesta Rangeet.”

Sonam Lepcha playing a self-designed, four-string musical instrument
Sonam Lepcha playing a self-designed, four-string musical instrument (Photo by Suhas Dutta on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

He told the author that he was the first Lepcha to have a song he had composed broadcast on All India Radio. He didn’t mind telling her about his various awards: the Sangeet Natal Academy Award in 1996 and the very prestigious recognition from the national government, a Padma Shri Award in 2007. He said that those awards only made him more committed to promoting the Lepcha cultural traditions.

After a couple hours of him showing off his collections, it was time for the writer to leave. He had demonstrated and explained Lepcha culture tirelessly. “I felt as if I was amidst the Lepcha world,” she concluded.

For years, the major research interest of Jeffrey H. Cohen, an anthropology professor at the Ohio State University, has been the culture of the Zapotecs in Mexico’s Oaxaca state. But travel restrictions due to the pandemic prevent his normal summer of fieldwork there, so he published last week a very accessible article to bring his subjects and their living conditions to life for a non-specialist audience.

Abigail Mendoza, a Zapotec chef
Abigail Mendoza, a Zapotec chef (Photo by zug zwang on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The thrust of his article, based on his many contacts in Mexico, is that the Zapotec villagers are coping with the pandemic by continuing to do what they have always done. They emphasize their remoteness from the Mexican bureaucracy and rely instead on their long-standing traditions of isolation, self-reliance, and cooperation.

Their approach seems to be working. While Mexico as a whole reports a steadily rising rate of COVID-19 infections, the Zapotec villages so far have been spared. However, a Mixtec village on July 17 reported its first case.

The author describes three conditions that foster the Zapotec survival. The first is their spirit of cooperation, which he refers to as “a cornerstone” of their life in Oaxaca. This cooperative lifestyle has grown as a result of their lack of support by the federal government of Mexico. They have learned to not rely on politicians for assistance.

Two Zapotec women artists working together
Two Zapotec women artists working together (Photo by elaine on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

A second condition that favors their survival is that they have worked together since childhood in what are called “tequios,” communal labor brigades formed to complete large projects such as painting a school. On a more informal level, they also work together easily with their friends and families to make minor projects go quickly and to make larger projects seem less overwhelming.

The third factor that helps them survive the pandemic is their long-standing commitment to avoiding the broader Mexican society. They do buy some foods in local stores but they supplement them with their own garden produce. They employ “topiles,” volunteers from their own villages who do policing work. They have a high level of trust in their own communities and a long history of self-rule. In sum, the Zapotec living in rural Oaxaca have little need for contacts with outsiders.

 Oaxaca’s Universidad Tecnológica
Oaxaca’s Universidad Tecnológica (Photo by Universidadeschingonas12 on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

M.C. Nydia Sanchez, a, colleague of the author’s who is a researcher at Oaxaca’s Universidad Tecnológica, identifies another factor. She argues that the Zapotec practice of guelaguetza—gift-giving—also is helping them cope with the pandemic. Their belief in guelaguetza suggests that they share not only food and water but also information and face masks.

But Cohen suggests that the Zapotec do face inherent dangers in their communities. Since the villages are relatively small—less than a couple thousand people—they tend to know each other and socialize a lot. Their habit of frequent socializing makes social distancing difficult. It is hard for them to refrain from their traditional greetings when they meet on the streets.

Chapulines (grasshoppers) for sale in a Oaxaca market
Chapulines (grasshoppers) for sale in a Oaxaca market (Photo by Ted McGrath on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

One of Prof. Cohen’s specialties is the foods of the Zapotec. He writes that the villagers have increased their crops of maiz, the local corn they grow to make tortillas. They are also rediscovering chapulines, grasshoppers gathered from the fields and roasted over fires. They are rich in proteins and are an inexpensive alternative to store-bought meats that are expensive and no longer as easily available in local markets.

One of the strategies the rural Zapotec have adopted to protect themselves has been to erect barricades at the entrances to their villages. They effectively quarantine themselves with chains, wood, and stones. Preventing any outsiders from coming in appears to be a good way of defeating the pandemic. Decisions to erect the barricades have been made by consensus during discussions among the people, not by political leaders.

Cohen concludes his essay on a realistic note. If the virus does get into a Zapotec village, it will probably have severe consequences. The villagers are poor and they lack good running water. They also lack decent health care and the masks that help restrain the spread of the virus. They also lack rural hospitals. In sum: “The Zapotec’s best bet, they know, is still themselves.” A wonderful analysis.

 

Two posts were published last week on a blog from India that focuses on news about the Adivasi, the traditional tribal societies. Both were written by S. Ramarajan, who was the founder of the blog and is a member of the Paliyan society, the subject of both stories last week.

A scenic view of the Palni, or Palani, Hills of Tamil Nadu
A scenic view of the Palni, or Palani, Hills of Tamil Nadu (Photo by cprogrammer in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The first post, “The Story of Andipaliyar from the Paliyar Tribe in Tamil Nadu,” indicates that Ramarajan comes from the village of Kadugu Thadia, near the town of Thandikudi. It is in the Palni Hills (also called the Palani Hills) near the well-known hill station of Kodaikanal. The Paliyans in the area have suffered recently from illegal poaching and the loss of their lands. “Paliyar” is an alternate plural form often used instead of “Paliyans.”

Ramarajan relates some of the stories told in the village about the history of the people, particularly the story of Andipaliyar. He and the others of the community lived in a cave many years ago and were employed by the owners of a cardamom estate, who often treated them cruelly. They had to obey the orders they were given and were not permitted to move about without permission. They were beaten if they disobeyed.

During one series of beatings, Andipaliyar’s parents died. He joined his brothers but they decided to abandon the cave where their parents had lived and moved to different ones. Andipaliyar, however, stayed in the same cave and continued working as an estate guard. That cave would protect up to 30 people from wild animals and the elements.

A seller of produce at a market in the Palni Hills
A seller of produce at a market in the Palni Hills (Photo by Ranjithsiji in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

The great great grandson of Andipaliyar, a man named Murugan who still lives in Kadugu Thadia, related the stories about his family to Ramarajan. He said that their ancestors thrived on hunting and gathering, but now they work as day laborers, sell forest products at markets, cultivate food crops, and engage in beekeeping.

The second post about the Paliyans was published three days after the first and was more expansive. Ramarajan opens by discussing the ways of the earlier generations. They wandered through the Palni Hills where they cultivated some food crops without being dependent on other people. They settled in places with supplies of clean water where they could grow such crops as maize and millet.

A sweet potato vine
A sweet potato vine (Photo by moccasinlanding on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Ramarajan writes “the Paliyars have always lived in peace and harmony in and with the forest.” However, they were often hassled by forest officers who chased them away from their chosen home sites and the security of their food crops. Without access to their cultivated crops, they started gathering sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) growing wild in the forest.

In earlier times and still today the Paliyans would follow traditional rituals before going into the forest to dig the sweet potatoes. They would not look into a mirror; they would not comb their hair or wear slippers; they would carefully avoid stepping in cow dung. And while digging up the root vegetables in the forest, they would try to be completely silent. The sweet potatoes in the forest could only be dug when they were ripe and good, from mid-January through mid-March.

A Paliyan woman with her kids in the Sirumalai Hills of Tamil Nadu
A Paliyan woman with her kids in the Sirumalai Hills of Tamil Nadu (Photo by vdakshinamurthy in Wikipedia, in the public domain)

The author describes in detail the different varieties of sweet potatoes available for digging in the Palni Hills and then explains what would happen if someone in the group couldn’t find a potato to cook and eat. So that no one would go hungry, those who had found and dug up the vegetables would share some with those who had not been successful. “This is how the Paliyars would share their food with those who didn’t have any and live happily, peacefully, unitedly and in tune with nature,” Ramajaran observes.

The writer concludes that the stories handed down in the community point to the “collective unity” of the people, the “hallmark of my tribe.” They try hard to continue living according to their values, according to Ramajaran, carrying on to this day their peaceful culture and the traditions of their ancestors.

 

A lot of the reporting about the peacefulness of the Ladakhi has focused on the Leh District of Ladakh, where most of the people are Buddhists. An article in this website in May 2019 examined the scholarship of different experts who examined the reasons for their nonviolence.

A brother and sister in Kargil
A brother and sister in Kargil (Photo by sandeepachetan.com on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Uwe Gielen, we reported, argued that the Buddhist beliefs of the Ladakhi are a major factor in fostering their peacefulness. On the other hand, Fernanda Pirie did fieldwork which led her to conclude that they have peaceful communities because they have a strong desire to maintain order. They achieve this through practical approaches to resolving conflicts and controlling anger.

But both scholars did most of their fieldwork in the Leh District, which leaves unexamined the other half of Ladakh, the Kargil District, which is primarily Shia Muslim. What clues do we have to the peacefulness in Kargil? For that matter, is that district really peaceful at all?

A brief news report last week by Asian News International (ANI), a major Indian news service, offered the beginning of an answer to the questions. The essence of the story is that the Ladakhi Muslims have an engrained culture of religious toleration. The Shia Muslims enjoy complete religious freedom, the same as other Indians do in theory.

A mosque in Drass, Kargil
A mosque in Drass, Kargil (Photo by sandeepachetan.com on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The President of the Shia Community in Leh, Asharaf Ali Batcha, told the news service that they experience no problems in celebrating their rituals and festivals as their traditions indicate they should. The town of Kargil, which is second in size in Ladakh to Leh, is 80 percent Shia. Everyone celebrates their festivals according to their beliefs, Batcha told ANI.

Mohd Subhan Jaffery, a prominent social activist in Kargil, told the reporter essentially the same thing—that everyone celebrates their beliefs and festivals as they wish. “We feel lucky to have been born in India’s Kargil and living here where we are enjoying so much religious freedom,” he said.

ANI interviewed another Shia man, a senior citizen from Kargil

Men in Kargil
Men in Kargil (Photo by Saurabh Chatterjee on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

named Mohd Shafi Argal, who said they have never experienced any religious restrictions. “We observe all Shia festivals and rituals without any problems,” he told the reporter.

While the article also diverges into other observations about the progress India is making, its emphasis on the freedom of religion practiced among the Shia Ladakhi people contributes to our overall understanding of the peacefulness of that society. Ladakh is roughly half Buddhist and half Muslim. The article implies that showing toleration for others, as those Muslims do, can be an important element in fostering peacefulness.

Premier Scott Moe of Saskatchewan announced on Wednesday last week that 48 of the 60 new cases of COVID–19 reported that day in the province had occurred in Hutterite colonies. The Canadian media published many news stories about the development.

Premier Scott Moe of Saskatchewan
Premier Scott Moe of Saskatchewan (Photo by Andrew Scheer in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

According to a report in Global News, the premier said that his government is “working with these local (Hutterite) leaders to limit essential travel to only a small number of designated individuals. This includes travel between Hutterite communities.” He is asking all other Hutterites to avoid traveling.

Moe indicated that most of the colonies have been cooperating but there have been exceptions. The government has gotten a few reports of Hutterites ignoring the guidelines and traveling out of their colonies for reasons that were not essential. A few people have traveled despite not feeling well. Out of the 48 new cases among the Hutterites, 43 occurred in just one colony.

The article lists 17 colonies that already had cases of the coronavirus before the record number was reported last Wednesday. Dr. Saqib Shahab, the chief health official for the province, attributed the outbreaks of the virus to the “strong … social connections” among the Hutterites. He said that asymptomatic people have been responsible for several cases. In many of those 17, only one or two cases of the disease occurred because the affected individuals were aware of their symptoms, they quickly self-isolated, and they got tested.

Dr. Shahab added that many colonies heeded the COVID-19 guidelines developed by the province and the Hutterian Safety Council. Those colonies that have correctly followed the guidelines have not had any cases.

Hutterite women wear modest dresses in the light of a South Dakota sunset
Hutterite women wear modest dresses in the light of a South Dakota sunset (Photo by Rainer Mueller in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

The CBC reported on Tuesday last week, the day before the government released the grim news about the spike in cases, that there have been reports of Hutterites being denied admission to stores and services in their communities because of all the negative stories about them related to the pandemic.

The chair of the Hutterian Safety Council, David Tschetter, said that the rise in the numbers of infected people in the colonies has prompted discrimination throughout Saskatchewan. “We’ve heard reports that the mentality is that every Hutterite now has COVID in a certain area of the province. And of course, this is naive,” he said.

The council did acknowledge that some Hutterites have ignored the COVID-19 regulations set up by the province. A statement from the council admitted it was no surprise that some Hutterites were experiencing shunning. There was resistance earlier in some colonies to the implementation of the COVID-19 protocols and to the legitimate public health orders.

Hutterites on horseback in Alberta, 1982
Hutterites on horseback in Alberta, 1982 (Photo by pverdonk in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Mr. Tschetter sought to smooth over the reports of poor behavior by some of the Hutterites. With about 50,000 of them living in Western Canada, it would be unreasonable to expect every one to follow the protocols diligently. “It’s not a cultural thing. The human nature of our existence is all over the map and our culture is no exception.”

This CBC news story certainly does not paint a rosy portrait of the Hutterite acceptance of COVID-19 restrictions the way an earlier news story on this website did. That report, first posted on April 16, 2020, indicated from a variety of news sources that the Hutterites were not having any problems complying with the restrictions imposed by the government to cope with the pandemic. Evidently there were problems that we failed to discern back in April.

 

Five San men have been arrested by the government of Botswana for hunting in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). The punitive measure violates their rights as enshrined by Botswana law and a High Court ruling, according to a letter by Stephen Corry, the director of the British NGO Survival International, to the president of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi.

A San family prepares to go hunting in Ghanzi, Botswana, immediately to the west of the CKGR
A San family prepares to go hunting in Ghanzi, Botswana, immediately to the west of the CKGR (Photo by Petr Kosina in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

An article on July 12 in a major Botswana newspaper, the Sunday Standard, quoted some of the letter and named four of the five men, all presumably G/wi or G//ana: Tshoganetso Sesana, Monyaku Modumedi, Lefifi Roy, and Tsharae Kelebatseand. Their alleged crime was that they had done some hunting. They were apprehended on May 7, 2020, near New Xade, in the Ghanzi District of Botswana, while they were in possession of some game meat.

Corry’s letter to the president explained that in March this year four men from the small village of Gope, in the southeastern area of the CKGR, had been detained for hunting but were released without being charged. The four named men arrested in May were from Molapo, another traditional village in the reserve. They are due to appear in court in August. Corry’s letter to the president described these acts as disturbing “harassment” of the San people.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International
Stephen Corry, director of Survival International (Photo by Right Livelihood Award Foundation in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Corry said that Survival International hopes the government will uphold the right to hunt by the San people “since their livelihood relies to a large extent on hunting for the pot for their families.” He also mentioned incidents of the government stopping the San from planting melons and other crops in the CKGR. He hoped the government had not devised a policy of preventing gardening by the residents.

The Sunday Standard article went on to review the momentous decision by the Botswana High Court in December 2006 in favor of a suit brought against the national government seeking to reverse a policy that terminated food, water, and health services to San living in the CKGR. As news stories from that period indicated, the suit against the government seeking to guarantee the rights of people living in the reserve was upheld by the court.

The court ruled that the government was no longer allowed to prevent San who had lived and hunted in the CKGR from continuing as they had always done—living and hunting there. It also said that by no longer issuing hunting licenses, and by preventing their supply of food rations, the government was, in effect, condemning the San to starvation, which would violate the national constitution.

A young G/wi boy in New Xade
A young G/wi boy in New Xade (Photo from Wikipedia, in the public domain)

The court also decided that the government’s policy of requiring the San to obtain permits in order to enter the CKGR was unconstitutional and unlawful. It stated that since the San had the lawful right to be in the reserve, the government’s attempts to prevent them from entering it was illegal.

It is distressing to learn that the G/wi are still subject to discrimination by government officials in Botswana—that the passage of time has not done much to erase hostile feelings toward the minority people. But the British human rights NGO and the Botswana newspaper deserve credit for pointing out to the power elites in the nation that existing laws and rulings do protect their indigenous minority citizens.