The government of Ladakh has just declared the black-necked crane as the state bird of the union territory. The bird has important symbolic value for the Ladakhi people.

A black-necked crane (Photo by Dave Curtis on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
A black-necked crane (Photo by Dave Curtis on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

According to news reports on September 1 in the Kashmir Observer and in Outlook India, the Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory of Ladakh also declared the snow leopard as the state animal. The crane had been the official bird of the previous state of Jammu and Kashmir, which the government of India dissolved in August 2019, making Ladakh a separate union territory. The Principal Secretary, Forest, Ecology and Environment, Pawan Kotwal, issued the announcement.

The crane is only found in the high plateau region of eastern Ladakh, the Changthang, where it is listed on the IUCN Red List as a Near Threatened species. It stands about 1.35 meters tall, has a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 meters and it weighs about 6 to 8 kg. It is distinguished by a bright red patch on its head and a black neck.

The crane is a significant symbol in many Ladakhi communities and it has become a spiritually and culturally important icon. The Ladakhi revere the bird, featuring it in every festival and program in the region. Even the monasteries have paintings of the cranes along with images of other spiritual subjects. Sighting the big birds brings good luck.

According to Jigmat Takpa, a forest conservator in Ladakh, a dance performed by the birds, called the Chartses, “is performed by Ladakhis in every cultural event and festival.” He added that the bird is considered to be auspicious—a symbol of the unique ecology of Ladakh. “Ladakhis feel proud about the fact that its only breeding ground in India is in Ladakh,” Mr. Takpa said.

A primary school, attended mostly by Ju/’hoansi, serves as the major source of food for many San children who only are able to go when they are fed. The shortcomings of the sporadic school lunch program at the Omatako Primary School near Tsumkwe, the major community of the San in northeastern Namibia, was described in a news story last week.

Some Ju/’hoansi kids in the Makuri Village, Nyae Nyae Conservancy (Photo by Gil Eilam was formerly on Flickr with a Creative Commons license)
Some Ju/’hoansi kids in the Makuri Village, Nyae Nyae Conservancy (Photo by Gil Eilam was formerly on Flickr with a Creative Commons license)

The news story provides graphic details about the lives of some of the poorer families. For instance, Stephan Riem, a 12-year-old, only goes to school if he can get a meal. He is bullied because he is too poor to afford a school uniform.

His mother, Saara Bobi, is unemployed and relies on plant foods she gathers from the bush to feed her family of six children. She sometimes also receives food supplied by the government. Her kids only go to school when it is providing meals to the children. Currently, none are going.

“No child can concentrate while hungry, so when the school does not provide any meals and we do not get enough food to feed the entire family, then they go into the bush in search of something to eat,” she tells the journalist. The family hovers near the school, however, watching for clues that food is being served to other children so they can go in and have some too.

Muhona Ngurare, the principal of the school, confirms that some children only come when meals are being served. He says that his school has a dropout rate of about 50 percent due to the shortage of foods. He agrees that the lack of attendance is caused by its absence. Despite the failure of the government to provide any food, he remains hopeful. In order to increase attendance, the school developed a strategy of providing food every other week.

The news story last week goes on to report statements and excuses by government officials about what they are doing to correct the widespread poverty among the San people. However, a story in 2012 gives a different impression. A very popular San leader, John Arnold, plus members of his family had been killed in a road accident caused by the poor condition of a highway in the area. The funeral was held in Omatako.

The President of Namibia at the time attended the service along with other dignitaries. In his remarks at the funeral, President Hifikepunye Pohamba told the mourners that the government would devote considerable resources to helping the San people.  “We will continue to implement development programmes and projects aimed at empowering members of the San communities,” President Pohamba said. It appears as if there has not been a lot of progress, at least in providing food, over the decade since the former president made those commitments.

A news story from Sumbawanga, Tanzania, on August 12 announced that the government of the Rukwa Region was urging traditional healers to register their healing medicines. The article does not mention the society the healers identify with, but most of them would probably be Fipa.

A Fipa family (Detail from the cover of Fipa Families: Reproduction and Catholic Evangelization in Nkansi, Ufipa, 1880-1960, by Kathleen R. Smythe. Photo by Prof. Smythe)
A Fipa family (Detail from the cover of Fipa Families: Reproduction and Catholic Evangelization in Nkansi, Ufipa, 1880-1960, by Kathleen R. Smythe. Photo by Prof. Smythe)

The healers, members of the Tanzanian Society for Traditional Healers and Midwives, will be authorized to provide their services to the public once their medicines are registered with the National Council of Traditional and Alternative Medicines. Dr. Paul Mhame, the Director of the Traditional Medicine and Alternative Therapy department in the government, described the new requirement during a meeting of the society. The meeting was organized to examine the role of the traditional healers in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Mhame explained the benefits of registering the traditional medicines. Registration certifies the safety and potency of the medicines; it also fosters exploring their potential for wider marketing. He added that the alternative medicines provided a lot of help in stopping the first wave of the pandemic last year before the vaccines were released. Alternative therapy procedures such as using steam therapy seemed to be helping the victims of the virus.

Another local medical official, Dr. Boniface Kasulu, also emphasized at the meeting the need for traditional healers to understand how they can serve their patients without contributing to the spread of the Coronavirus. He added that traditional healing methods had been important aspects of the local culture for many generations. The public has a lot of faith in the medications.

Dr. Kasulu’s last comment prompts a search through the literature about the Fipa for the history of traditional healing in their society. Willis (1968a) observed that patients went to their village healers for treatments of physical ailments and mental illnesses, and for assistance in obtaining desirable objectives. He described in detail the different ingredients that the traditional healer might use in his medicines—for example, bits of animals, vegetables, and minerals found in the bush. A woman suffering from dizziness, for instance, might have been treated by a healer with pieces of swallow’s nests, symbols of self-contained, but fixed, stability.

By the time Willis studied the Fipa, in the 1960s, traditional healers were quite common. He felt that the Fipa were ambivalent about patronizing traditional healers versus practitioners of modern, Western medicine. Apparently, the people would go to either western or traditional healers, whichever proved to be the more effective, but they suspected that sorcery would be practiced by both.

The anthropologist indicated that the tradition of healing had changed a lot in Ufipa by 1964 when he had completed most of his fieldwork. An earlier, elaborate structure of mystical beliefs and behaviors had collapsed with the introduction of Roman Catholicism in the late 19th century. The moral and social forces involved with traditional healing were disintegrating.

The healer, the asinaanga in Fipa society, evolved from a magician-doctor who practiced divination, to a shaman who was able to divine through spirit possession, to, in 1964, an individual who dispensed simple, ad hoc, medicines.

On August 4, the Sikkim Lepcha Association issued a statement which indicated that the ancient festival of Tendong Lho Rum Faat will not be celebrated this year with its normal festivities due to the recent upsurge in the COVID 19 pandemic. Instead of the usual activities in Lepcha communities around the state, the organizers asked the people to celebrate in their homes—on August 8th, the date of the celebration each year.

The Tendong Gumpa (Monastery) on Tendong Hill (Photo by Atulkini in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)
The Tendong Gumpa (Monastery) on Tendong Hill (Photo by Atulkini in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The popular holiday commemorates a very important Lepcha myth. In ancient times, the people believe, they were threatened by rising waters caused by a deluge that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. And probably no one thought about Noah and his ark much less global climate change. But a local hill named Tendong invited the Lepchas to climb up and seek shelter from the flood. The people show their continuing gratitude each year to the hill through their festivities.

In a statement issued on the 8th, the Chief Minister of Sikkim, P.S. Tamang, extended his best wishes to the people of his state for the celebration of Tendong Lho Rum Faat which, he said, “symbolizes the tradition of living in harmony with Mother Earth.” He appealed to the people of the state to maintain their faith in the deities, which should protect them from all hardships.

Mount Tendong is located near Namchi, in South Sikkim. The Tendong Gumpa (Monastery) at the top of the hill is a major location for celebrations each August. The program normally begins with prayers addressed to the hill conducted by a high priest, called a bongthing.

Many Lepchas believe that the prehistoric flood was caused by a dormant volcano, the eruption of which prompted the deluge. Mt. Tendong arose miraculously out of the chaos and the Lepchas were able to climb it and save themselves. The people commemorate the myth in many of their villages, especially at Tendong itself, expressing their gratitude toward the deity who saved them. The people make models of the holy mountain for the facades of their homes for the occasion. They believe that the beneficence of the deity will help keep them healthy for the coming year.

A 16-year-old Birhor girl has passed the matriculation exam in the Hazaribagh District of India’s Jharkhand State and she plans to continue her education. According to a Press Trust of India story of August 3, published by numerous major news services, Payal Birhor is the first girl from their society to reach that level of achievement. The vast majority of young Birhor are content to follow their elders into traditional, forest-based occupations.

Birhor woman with children (Screen capture from the video “Birhor—a Tribe Displaced for Nothing” by VideoVolunteers on YouTube, Creative Commons license)
Birhor woman with children (Screen capture from the video “Birhor—a Tribe Displaced for Nothing” by VideoVolunteers on YouTube, Creative Commons license)

The news story quoted Payal’s reaction to her achievement, which was declared on August 1: “I feel proud to be the first girl student among the 36 tandas of Hazaribagh District to pass matriculation examination,” she told the reporter. She said she plans to continue her education. She wants to encourage other Birhor girls to continue their educations also, to not drop out of school. Their lives will go better, she said.

Her mother, Sundari Devi, expressed her pleasure in the girl’s achievement. She said that the guidance of the school principal, Upendra Narayan Singh, inspired her daughter to pursue her studies, which have resulted in her success. The family lives in Kandsar, which is in the Katkamsandi Block of the district.

Local officials also praised Payal’s achievement. Aditya Kumar Anand, the Deputy Commissioner of Hazaribagh District, congratulated the girl on her success, particularly since so many of her peers are unwilling to even attend classes. He pledged financial support from the state government for Payal and other Birhor girls who decide to pursue a higher level of education. He said the district will make sure she is admitted to the best institution available. Jagannath Prasad, the Education Officer for the Katkamsandi Block, said that Payal’s success should inspire other Birhor girls to also study hard.

Finally, the news reporter sought the opinion of Vinod Ranjan, an instructor of tribal education at Vinoba Bhave University in Hazaribagh. He said that the state government has provided facilities and incentives to encourage the Birhor to send their kids to school. Despite that encouragement, they continue their traditional, forest-based pursuits: rope making and hunting.

The chief executive officer of the Theni District in India’s Tamil Nadu state visited a Paliyan colony on July 24, asked numerous good questions, and made some promises of help from the district government. The unusual aspect of Collector K. V. Muralidharam’s visit was that two of India’s major newspapers, The Hindu and the Times of India, both published reports about the event.

The Theni District of Tamil Nadu is dominated by mountains (Photo by Mprabaharan in the Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain)
The Theni District of Tamil Nadu is dominated by mountains (Photo by Mprabaharan in the Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain)

During the 45-minute visit to the Sellayi Colony in Keezha Vadagari, the Collector learned that the 21 Paliyan families—80 people in the colony—had lived in the forests until about 10 years ago when officials asked them to resettle in a new colony on the plains. The Collector visited the home of Karuppiah, a local resident, and asked about the economic activities of the people. He heard the details of their poverty.

The people live in 17 huts built out of sticks, hay and mud, with tarpaulin sheets for roofs. They provide poor protection during the rainy season. Five families live together in one dwelling with bamboo walls separating them. The women do their cooking over firewood in rooms where they also sleep. The dwelling does not have a toilet, so the women have to use a separate sanitary facility. The colony shares the water from a borehole well.

Some of the women venture into the forested hills with the men to help gather honey, collect wild herbal plants, and pick gooseberries. They are able to sell the produce to traders for minimal amounts of money.

One girl in the colony is getting an education. She is attending a government school where she has completed class 11. Karuppiah told his visitor that a few other children are going to a nearby Anganwadi center.

The Collector committed to building more houses for the colony. They should be ready in about 100 days. He said he would consider their request for training in skills that would allow them to get better jobs. At the present time, only five people in the colony earn a daily wage by raising goats. Some people are also employed as night watchmen on properties of private landowners in nearby villages.

As a result of the visit by the Collector, who was accompanied by other officials, Karuppiah expressed hope for the future of the Paliyan people.

While some of the peaceful societies portrayed in this website receive relatively few visitors, for others, tourists are very important. The people of Ladakh are among the latter, as numerous news stories over the years have indicated. One report in 2016 pointed out the differing attitudes toward tourism among the Ladakhi. They appreciate the positive attitudes some tourists have introduced to Ladakh such as better values about the environment, yet they recognize the negatives that visitors have introduced: smoking, drinking, and an unhealthy veneration of profits.

Tourists watching a Hemis Monastery festival near Leh (Photo by Nate Koechley on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Tourists watching a Hemis Monastery festival near Leh (Photo by Nate Koechley on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Another news story reported in 2019 on the ways the Ladakhi are trying to cope with the tourists in their communities—how to attract them and their money yet how to preserve their own ways in the face of challenges. They want to keep the best of their culture, of course. However, according to that report, the number of tourists visiting Ladakh declined more than 50 percent in 2019.

An article published last week by the highly respected environmental news website Mongabay – India adds an important dimension to any examination of tourism: the potential harm to the natural environment from the many visitors. That report, incidentally, points out that the number of tourists visiting Ladakh continues to climb—to 279,000 in 2019. The issue, though, is the burden on the region’s natural resources from the number of people there. The visitors double the population of Ladakh, even if they are there mostly in just the summer months.

One example cited by Mongabay of the added burden from all the tourists is their preference for flush toilets. The local farming people are satisfied to use what the reporter calls “dry toilets” while the tourists waste 7 or 8 buckets of water each day using the scarce, and precious, water available in the region. The tourists also generate a lot of garbage and plastic waste that the fragile ecosystem has to absorb somehow. One source told Mongabay that this is a particular burden since Ladakh used to generate no waste—it was a “zero waste society.”

Pangong Lake in Eastern Ladakh (Photo by Kamaljith K V in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)
Pangong Lake in Eastern Ladakh (Photo by Kamaljith K V in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Another expert told the reporter that the hundreds of cars driving to the incredibly scenic Pangong Lake in southeastern Ladakh every day during tourist season carry an average of four tourists, each of whom typically brings numerous single-use plastic bottles. The thousands of bottles, when empty, will be discarded thoughtlessly across the once pristine landscape. Ladakh is “loved to death’’ according to that person.

The region around Leh, the major community in the district, is similarly impacted by vast amounts of tourist-generated waste. However, little economic benefit reaches the majority of the Ladakhi people who live outside the immediate environs of Leh.

The experts contacted by Mongabay did suggest possible solutions to the many problems they discuss. Local folks would like the authorities to encourage tourists to take only reusable bottles with them when they visit the wonders of Ladakh. One person urged the authorities to get the young people more involved with waste management since they are already quite concerned about the threats to their land.

A third said that the tourists themselves should be encouraged to travel in more sustainable ways. They could reduce the carbon footprint of their journeys by exploring Ladakh on bicycles or even on foot. The important conclusions of this article could be applied to the visitors to the other peaceful societies. Or to tourists everywhere.

A news story in 2008 described a number of reasons for the relative lack of success by the Malaysian schools in educating their Orang Asli children. A current report brings the analysis up to date by concentrating on one of the major problems: cultural differences.

Semai children (Image by tian yake on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Semai children (Image by tian yake on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Cultural differences between the Orang Asli and the majority of Malaysians make it difficult for some of the children from the minority communities to understand basic facts and concepts described in their textbooks. A teacher in an English class in a Semai community has been dealing with this problem by focusing on the folklore of the people. He is using creative ways to engage the children in the rich traditions of the Semai to gradually introduce English into their lives.

The teacher, Zainul Hakim Shazni, who teaches English in Sungai Koyan, a Semai village in Kuala Lipis, in the Malaysian state of Pahang, found that the children were having an especially hard time understanding their textbooks. He was quoted in The Sun newspaper as saying, “There is nothing wrong with the books but for the Semai children, the origins and context of the stories are foreign and they cannot relate to it.” As a result, many students lack even the most basic facility in the use of English.

His creative energies fired up, the teacher formed a group of his students to help him put together a listing of Semai folk tales. They studied them and narrowed the list to two tales. The first, titled “Paya Jalil,” describes a group of children who are eaten up by a swamp for making fun of animals.

The second story they chose, “Bah Luj and Tabarok,” is about a child, Bah Luj, who failed in his duty to watch over his younger brother while his parents were away. When Bah Luj temporarily leaves, Tabarok, a horrifying monster, comes in and kills the little brother. Bah Luj settles the score by coming out from his own hiding place and killing the monster.

Zainul encouraged the children to get their parents to retell these folktales at home in the Semai language. Then, in school, the kids retold the stories in English. They made story boards to help dramatize the tales and then used video editing apps to compile the story boards into videos of the chosen folktales. They played the videos in class—with the stories, of course, narrated in English.

The teacher told the newspaper reporter that the Semai have customs relating to the telling of folktales, which they follow in the classroom. The Semai recite incantations before telling some of the folktales, so the teacher and his students will do the same in class, if custom prescribes them to. Some stories are only told at certain times of the day, another custom followed by the class.

While Zainul is clearly a very creative teacher, it is probably too soon to evaluate the success of his approach. Are his methods prompting better learning by the Semai students?

The Ju/’hoansi people founded their Living Museum of the Ju/’hoansi San near Tsumkwe, Namibia, several years ago in order to help preserve and showcase for visitors their values and way of life. According to their website, “the Living Museum is an authentic open-air museum where guests can learn a lot about the traditional culture and the original way of living of the San.”

The Living Museum of the Ju/’hoansi San provides visitors with a view into the lives of the people (Photo on the website of EXARC, Creative Commons license)
The Living Museum of the Ju/’hoansi San provides visitors with a view into the lives of the people (Photo on the website of EXARC, Creative Commons license)

The Economist, a publication from Namibia, recently published a report about the facility and two other living museums that have been established in that country. The story was about a five-day training session for staff members of the living museums which focused on museum management and marketing.

The participants from the living museums expressed their appreciation for the training, where they learned such skills as marketing their programs on the social media like Facebook and Instagram. They also appreciated learning about the strengths and weaknesses of their efforts so they could figure out ways to improve.

The training was organized by the Museums Association of Namibia as part of their Museums Outreach Programme (MOP). The reporter quoted Tuuda Haitula, an officer of the association, speaking about the purpose of the training program. “Participants were able to give their input and understood the importance of cultural heritage and why it needs to be safeguarded, as well as how they are contributing towards that,” he said. The museums are being encouraged to produce local conservation kits, objects representative of their culture that can be shared widely in Namibia.

Dennis Schroeder, the Director of the Goethe-Institut Nanibia, one of the sponsoring organizations, said that the living museums with their emphasis on cultural heritage give people a strong sense of belonging.

Sinikka Antila, the Ambassador to Namibia from the European Union, also praised the work of the living museums. The MOP effort is an important way of promoting local culture, she asserted. “We would like museums in Namibia to become spaces of cultural valuation that has economic benefit and facilitate social debate instead of static sites to visit,” she asserted.

The Times of India reported recently that the District Collector for the Madurai District was investigating reports of the illegal mortgaging of ration cards in a local Paliyan community. The official, S. Aneesh Sekhar, visited the Paliyans at the Alagammalpuram Colony, located about 60 km. from Madurai City, and explained the laws prohibiting such activities.

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)

During the meeting, the Collector invited the people to let him know if there was anything they needed. The Paliyans responded that some individuals in the colony are homeless—they would appreciate having houses to live in. They also asked Mr. Sekhar to provide jobs and agricultural land so they could care for themselves better.

The TOI story indicated that these Paliyans used to live in the forest, where they depended on forest products to supply their needs. Now, many support themselves by working as security guards on farms.

Other officials have also visited the village recently. One day outsiders entered the community to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. The day before that a team led by a police official visited to inquire about the allegations regarding the ration cards. They asked the Paliyans to speak out if others are holding their ration cards. No one responded. In fact, everyone had their ration cards with them when the officials visited.

The Alagammalpuram Colony made the news in July 2013 over similar issues.  According to a report dated July 11th that year, an educated Paliyan man named Thangaraj from the colony decided to post on Facebook an open appeal to the Collector in office at that time concerning the needs of the people. In his post, Thangaraj asked why some basic amenities and housing had not yet been provided to the Paliyans, as required by Indian law.

The post immediately caught the attention of the Collector, who visited the colony and listened to the complaints. One might surmise that the way the Paliyans of that colony are still asking the government for the same basic services may indicate some of the problems they have in that district.