By ANSHUMAN BHARGAVA
“Tribals worship trees and forests, for instance, and never indulge in the mindless destruction of the natural assets like we do.”
“The use of herbs for medicinal purposes is an ancient forest tradition in India and the tribals, uncontaminated by the imports of the western world, still hold on to that practice of treatment and cure. This is something we can learn from them.”
TRIBAL India’s social and cultural habits are a good blueprint to follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a ground-level survey conducted in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh has found. The survey conducted by Patna-based NGO Society for Empowerment (SFE), which has been working on tribal issues for two decades, was led by its chairman Emeritus Professor S Narayan, who is also a member of the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes. The report highlights that the use of traditional herbs and medicines, as well as the social distancing and hygiene norms rooted in tribal culture, have kept tribals safe from the coronavirus pandemic — few tribals in the tribal areas of Jharkhand or Bastar in Chhattisgarh had been affected by COVID-19.
It also credited the washing of hands with hearth ashes, leaving shoes outside the door, groups sitting with the sizeable distance between individuals, and other habits of rural and tribal culture for preventing COVID-19 infections. The survey has outlined some of the traditional herbs and medicines used by the tribal people for boosting immunity. “Chhapra, a paste made from red ants, a traditional delicacy in Bastar, increases the body’s immunity,” it says. It also talks about the medicinal drink ‘Kaadha,’ whose preparation is similar to the process followed elsewhere in India’s heartland.”
“But the composition of the tribal kaadha is more enriched and also provides superior immunity,” the survey says, adding that the ingredients used are the bark of ‘Arjun’ tree, leaves of many plants including tulsi and guava, clove, ginger, giloy, cinnamon, cardamom, jaggery, and lemongrass. Most tribal families sip this kaadha like tea, and within two or three days, it “works in the body as preventive and curative medicine.” The survey states that traditional herbal medicines are a great source of immunity for the tribals, as Baigas (vaidyas) prescribe them to combat seasonal viral, bacterial, fungal infections, and nutrient deficiencies. In times of Corona, people have made white circles at the hand pumps and solar pumps. They made masks with leaves,” it adds. The survey concludes: “The cultural values, lifestyle, world view and ethos did not allow them to have fear psychosis from COVID-19.”
It is not just about COVID or social distancing, there are several other positive cultural traits in the tribal populace that can and should be imbibed by the so-called ‘civilised’ world. Tribals worship trees and forests, for instance, and never indulge in the mindless destruction of the natural assets like we do. The use of herbs for medicinal purposes is an ancient forest tradition in India and the tribals, uncontaminated by the imports of the western world, still hold on to that practice of treatment and cure.
This is something we can learn from them. We have neglected and relegated several of our ancient practices without understanding the logic behind their origin and in the process became dependent on the west for all the science. The market dynamics soon took over and leveraged this trend to its advantage, fleecing us with high-cost products. Through centuries of observation and experimentation, the forest dwellers have evolved and formulated their own code of ethics and science, which successfully run their life. They don’t look outwards for help but develop inwards, which is why their findings are genuine and sustainable. They have very clear cut definitions of cleanliness and hygiene and also of social decorum, which makes life easy.
The complexities of urban society dilute the sanctity of any idea that sets up a practice and gradually, the practices remain only an effort at the show of decorum, while their genuine purpose is forgotten. This is why we often end up doing things we ideally shouldn’t. Oftentimes, even knowing that a certain practice is wrong, we continue doing it because of societal pressure and the urge to belong to a typical pattern set by society. The tribal lifestyle is away from this cultural chaos, which is why their thoughts and practices are mostly reasoned and rooted in the realities of life.
They are not disconnected like we are and hence, in times of crisis, they are better positioned to handle their situation, whereas our edifice of ‘civilisation’, built on fake and weak foundations, collapses easily. The very word ‘civilisation’ is an urban construct, which thinks itself superior to indigenous or traditional cultural mores. The difference between civilised and uncivilised has been further strengthened and underlined prominently by the shrewd market economics of the western multinational firms, who have to sell their products by any means, which is why we have mostly forgotten or have been led to forget the riches of our traditional systems. It is time to go back to our roots, delve deep, and bring out the treasures and market them for our good and the good of the world.
Indian heritage and forest traditions have always been celebrated as a centre of interest the world over. There are many facets of it which even we haven’t explored yet. Once they are revealed and used widely, we will have a much healthier and wholesome life. It doesn’t just pertain to herbs and medicines but also to the way of life the tribal communities lead. There is harmony with nature and the environment of their life, which is not guided by greed or self-centeredness but by compassion and understanding, which leads them to live a contented life.
This is something that is gravely missing in our system of life. We have corroded core values while their value systems are still intact and closely adhered to. In their homespun wisdom, the tribal people have deeply realised the intrinsic value and utility of the ancient practices, which we have imprudently abandoned as obsolete or useless. We have today replaced those values by mumbo-jumbo of oriental and occidental mishmash, which have no roots in any culture but a potpourri of bits and parts from different cultures arbitrarily juxtaposed for momentary convenience or social affiliation. This flux keeps on changing and doesn’t serve as a guiding light for us on how to conduct ourselves, especially in the face of challenges like the current global pandemic.
The flux will remain an absurd flux unless it is bolstered by an underpinning of our rich historical and cultural traditions that have made India what it is. By the way, we all need to study and understand our ancient cultural lineage and adopt them in our daily life, not only to enrich ourselves and make the greatness of our country better known to the world but also to equip ourselves to better fight the odds of life thrown at us at unexpected junctures.