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Thematics- Marginalized Communities>> Tribal

Glimpses of ‘Shringar Bhum Forest’: Koitor’s perception of time, work and rest

Savyasaachi

(Extracts from a paper circulated by Savyasaachi during a Dialogue on ‘Notions on Forests’ on 30th August 2008)

In 1982, I heard that the forested hills of Shringar Bhum (Abujhmarh to outsiders) and its dwellers, the Koitors, had not been conquered by modern development. I was excited to go and see for myself how Koitors lived. What was their notion of time and space and of life?

I was required to take permission from the Home Department of undivided Madhya Pradesh (now Abujhmarh is under the Government of Chattisgarh). I wondered why? It was not declared a Reserve of nature-neither a National Park or a biosphere reserve or wild life sanctuary. There were rumours that uranium had been found there, and maybe this was a reason. This was difficult to confirm. Except for select traders, government officials from the department of education, forestry and police, no one could go without informing the home department.

I heard gruesome stories of dada bhai (an expression used by people in the region to describe the armed groups, not knowing that this armed group was a part of the extreme left political forces) cutting off hands of corrupt officials and parceling them to their higher authorities-a warning as it were, of the consequences, if corruption continued. There were also stories of how government officials misbehaved and exploited forest dwellers.

These locations, where violence begot violence, and terror begot terror, were on the outskirts of Shringar Bhum, here modern development was working hard to conquer the people and their places-the worst instance of which was the Bailadila mines from where iron ore was and continues to be extracted and supplied directly to Japan, amongst other places. The living conditions in the vast areas affected by these mines were horrible-water had turned orange and there was nothing left of peoples’ spaces and their livelihoods. All this in the name of public good!

Shringar Bhum was like an oasis in the midst of a landscape that was being fragmented and devastated by modern development. It was possible to get to this oasis, partly because there was no one who was interested. The place was in popular imagination, ‘backward’. It was not a sought after place.

I applied for permission and it was granted.

I began my journey with a big question-will the people be accessible to me and also how will I make myself accessible to them? In brief this required decommissioning a lot of my modern baggage-intellectual, emotional, social, cultural, political and material. Over time all of me was available to each moment I was present in Shringar Bhum.

I stayed with them from 1982 up to 1987 and continued to visit them for a few years after. After 1987 the confrontation between dada bhai and the State spread to Shringar Bhum. Today in 2008 there is war between them (the State and dada bhai) and it not possible to go there. Koitors are under tremendous stress for their voices have been muted. Neither can they confidently speak amongst themselves nor can they speak to others from outside. The forest cover is now infested with spy cameras and other similar devices.

Should this war not come to an end?

Both groups have transgressed without any legitimacy, into time and space of the forest and of the Koitors. They need to move away, learn to listen to the forest, clear the ground for Koitor voices and respect several generations of hard creative work that has contributed to making the forest a living space.

During my stay the Koitors showed me grounds they have cleared where their voices can be heard and there is possibility of dialogue and discussion.

This is the ground that Koitors may offer, if both warring groups lay down arms.

These cleared grounds have emerged from Koitors dwellings that is, their contemplation on the experience of the forest. On its basis their imaginations and labor transformed a wilderness into a home as well as a place of work.

In the five years from 1982 to 1987 Koitors shared their life and place with me, this was unconditional. They refused to exchange hospitality with money and appreciated work I could contribute. There was deep sense of care. Over these years I learnt care was deeply embedded in the mutuality, frugality and resilience they learnt from the forest. There was occasion to visit several settlements and participate in what they thought was appropriate for me. I am deeply grateful to them all.

My longest stay was in Kokameta the residents of which are people of the Nurutte clan. From them I learnt the many contours of Shringar Bhum. I reached here after falling ill three times each of which was serious-had it not been for the care of my Koitor friends my jiva would be resting on a tree and my body nourishing its roots. The Koitors bury their dead, place a burial stone in their burial ground and plant a tree in the person’s name.

Some elders were pleasantly surprised to see me return after the third illness. They said “It takes surviving at least three almost fatal illnesses to become part of the Shringar Bhum”. The elders were saying that I was now acceptable to the ‘bhum’. In other words, belonging is nourished by the air, water, earth, fire and space, all which are constitutive elements. Illness and its overcoming are the way the mind, body and spirit of a person internalise these constitutive elements.

This acceptability is very basic to life in Shringar Bhum. This is the very ground on which clearings are possible. How did the Koitors come to dwell in the forest? How did they transform the forest into a living space and place?

The Story of Kokameta

The Nuruttee say, they came down the hills from Jagdalpur where a Raja of Bastar lived. According to their elders in Kokameta, Nuruttees defeated this Raja (whose name they do not remember) in a hunting competition, after which, they incurred his wrath and had to flee Jagdalpur. They came down to Neygameta hills where they settled in a village within the territory of a zamindar at Paralkot.

The village elders point to a tree on Neygameta hills–the name of which is protected– planted by their ancestors to commemorate their arrival. The Nuruttee elders do not remember for how many generations their ancestors lived on this hill. They recollect that their women-folk insisted on shifting settlement to a land of flowers Kokameta, where the Nuruttee men went to work. When they returned home their fragrant bodies were covered with sweet smelling pollen dust. This drew their women folk to Kokameta and they expressed their desire to move there.

This was at that time occupied by members of the Bogdha clan.

Initially, the men did not pay heed to their wishes. However, when in protest the women refused to pound kosra for food and breast feed their babies, the Nuruttee men had no option other than to shift to Kokameta.

The elders also recalled that in order to settle elsewhere the Bogdhas gave their lands to the Nuruttees. Some of them settled in Kokameta and a large number moved further down to settle in Khalpatti, an area now a part of Chanda District in Maharashtra.

The direction of the shift is known amongst Nuruttees as, irta, i.e. the forward direction; it is opposite of poron i.e. the backward direction, from where they came and in which direction they cannot return.

This land had a shrine of principal mother earth goddess called Nate Talurmuttee and several shrines of her daughter called Buti-Talurmuttees. These Talurmuttees were propitiated by different kesar gayta, of different hanal of the Bogdha clan. It is said that the right to propitiate the Nate-Talurmuttee was exchanged for a golden squirrel. Over a period of time, the right to propitiate other Buti-Talurmuttee was also transferred.

Why did the Bogdhas want to leave this land?

Nuruttees remember the episode concerning exchange of rights to propitiate a talurmuttee for a soli of salt. The story goes that the Panka came to work at a Bogdha threshing floor. When the grain was threshed and stored, husk and straw remained in the open for the night, to be collected, and stored early next morning. When the Panka returned in the morning they found grain hidden under the husk and straw. This matter was reported to the Bogdhas for fear of being accused for theft. The Bogdhas thought that this extra-grain was a gift to the Pankas from Talurmuttee herself. This was recognized by the Bogdhas as an indication from her that they were no longer privileged to earn their livelihood from this land. Therefore, the Bogdhas decided to leave the village. The descendants of the Bogdhas also cannot return to this settlement.

To not return is not a religious taboo.

It is the experiential understanding of the forest- several attempts were made to return to earlier settlements. Some people came home ill and some died.

This legitimises the obligation to propitiate Talurmuttee.

It is as inalienable as is the obligation to work the earth. Earth once transferred cannot be taken back in the same way as the obligation to propitiate a particular Talurmuttee, who once transferred cannot be taken back. The Koitors do not return to earlier settlements. Forest regeneration dissolves, as it were, all earlier settlements. Therefore, there is no ‘historical artefact or record’ of them.

Surrendering claims to previous settlements is grounded in the perception that earth cannot be owned it belongs to Talurmutte-Koitors like the Bogdas were on caretakers on her behalf.

The work of nature-Shringar bhum

In the forest, Koitors experience a space where the earth and the sky do not meet. If ever there was a line of horizon and the vanishing point, it was sure sign that world of the forest is come to an end. The earth and the sky should not meet, Koitors observe. Their remaining in respective positions, and inter-related, is essential and necessary for their relation to life on earth The living space between the earth and the sky is Shringar Bhum-an adorned and ornamented space. This is a description, not only of diversity but also of the ways in which co-existence is possible-how differences, in the light and shade of the sun and the moon adorn and decorate life and life processes.

The Nurutte Koitors differentiate between seven levels in their worldview and social life. They live on nadum-bhum, the land of Shringar bhum between the under ground, the space below, and the sky, the space above.

The creation of Shringar Bhum is the work of Talurmutte and her consort Kanga; and the making of settlements is the work of the Paror-Paditors and members of the Hanal.

The epic of origin, the Nuruttees learnt from the Bogdhas is about the how Talurmutte created the Shringar Bhum.

It begins with a description of Talurmuttee sitting the top of hill crying as she looks at the waters which have submerged the earth. The epic goes on to describe how different beings of the forest-the crow, the wild boar, the snails, the millipedes, the earthworms….etc reclaim the earth with all its flora and fauna and distribute water in rivers and lakes. It is time now to learn to live here. At this point of the narrative Kanga is introduced as Talurmutte’s companion. The narrative goes on to describe the way Talurmutte teaches Kanga different skills to live on earth-these range from making a home, celebrating festivals, cultivation of food and performing rites’ for the dead.

But there were no people who will inhabit the earth, realised Talurmuttee. She shared this problem with Kanga. They cohabited and thus the Koitor people were born to inhabit the nadum bhum, Shrinagar bhum.

In recognition of the fact that Shringar bhum is the work of Talurmuttee a ritual is performed to take her assent and blessing before beginning to construct a settlement.

Seven mounds of rice grain are left in the forest where a settlement could be made. If the mounds have been disturbed then Tallurmutte has accepted the request. The Koitor’s say that the dispersal of grains will indicate wind favors good crop production. The idea behind this ceremony is to give a legitimate place to work of nature in relation to the work of Koitors.

Another instance is the event of childbirth, if a mother at the time of labor pain is unable to give birth to a child then she moves from one spot on earth to another until she finds one comfortable and conducive for childbirth.

How is the mound disturbed? Any living being of the forest-a hare, or a bird… no one knows who in the forest could come on behalf of Talurmuttee.

The next step is to determine the boundaries of her jurisdiction-this is done by a leski-a shaman. The boundaries of a settlement are known to the Koitors in their dreams and are marked by natural objects such as trees, stones, rivers, etc. .

Once this is done people can come in to build their homes.

Social life on the nadum bhum is viewed from the two perspectives of work and rest.

First perspective is from the position of work, in the upright standing position. A Koitor cannot return to the physical time and space of past, poron and can move in the forward direction irta, or descends to make a new settlement, if the need be.

The second perspective is from position of rest, when the Koitors sleep on the ground, or when they lie dead. From this position poron and irta acquire a different meaning. The place above the ground is poron. The place under the ground is irta.

The Koitors describe poron as the abode of paror-paditors. Their names are remembered in incantations to acknowledge their contribution to the tradition of living in the forest. The Koitors describe irta as the abode of ancestors distributed over the hanal-(literally earthen pots for ancestor propitiation) who live below the ground. Their names are also recited in incantations.

Jagha bhum- Koitor Settlement

The Shringar bhum is a living space where natural processes are alive, mobile and animated. A jagha bhum encompasses all the sites of social activity within Shringar bhum. There are no fences that separate the settlement from the forest.

There is a seamless continuity. In the way that the earth and the sky stay in their respective positions, in a similar way living beings, of the forest do not transgress into Koitor settlements.

Occasionally when a tiger destroys cattle or there is regular failure of crops or there is recurrence of illness and death Koitors abandon their settlement and search for a place that is agreeable. These events in the perception of Koitors are signs of Talurmutte’s anger. In other words, the relation to earth needs to be set right.

The relation to earth is existential and experiential. I was told of a dispute over land between two villages. After much argument the Leski was asked to suggest a way out. He said claimants from both side eat earth. Both ate earth-one vomited blood and the other digested it. Thus the dispute was resolved.

There are two aspects of a jagha bhum-the Nage where the people make their dwellings and the Penda where they go work the forest for their livelihood. These are contiguous that is interdependent and present alongside each other.

The forest by self-regeneration dissolves the contrast between penda and nage when they are abandoned.

A gotul is at the center of a jagha bhum settlement and also of all social life. It is a large hutment made of mud, bamboo and wood.

It is the abode of Talurmuttee in Nage. Membership is confined to unmarried boys and girls of marriageable clans. The size of a gotul varies according to the size of this group. There are several large villages around Kokameta where the membership of the gotul is small because in these villages all households are distributed over consanguine clans.

According to the tradition followed by Nuruttees, Gotul members are regarded as children of Talurmuttee, thus as they inaugurate the cultivation year: they go to the forest, make a small clearing, burn the dry vegetation and sow some seeds. Thereafter, the entire village celebrates koding (a village festival) at the altar of Nate Talurmuttee after which cultivation work begins.

As inmates of a Gotul, girls and boys are known as leya and leyor respectively. Each is ceremoniously given a Gotul name (e.g. Phagen and Maiyaro) by the senior members. In turn, the initiates offer three to four bottles of mahua—a local brew—which is shared by other inmates. Thereafter, it is obligatory to come every night to the gotul to play – kaksar. After kaksar boys sleep in the gotul and girls may return home. Kaksar in the gotul includes dancing and singing. Social relations between leya and layor are structured in accordance with the rules of marriage. Accordingly, for a leya and leyor to be friends, they must belong to marriageable clans. The most important function which they perform is to represent their village at clan festivals, where they sing songs which recount the name of all known clan gods.

After marriage, women do not return to the gotul. Men in contrast gradually drift away from the gotul as their household gets established with the birth of children.
A Gotul serves several other functions-visitors come and stay here; it is the space for all political and social events.

Penda and Work culture

Consumption is restrained by human productive capacity.

A Penda is a place of work. The process of its dissolution is an analogy which informs various aspects of the Koitor’s social life and their mode of knowing the universe of the forest.

The cultivation process is divided into six stages: (i) selection of site (ii) felling of trees and vegetation (iii) use of fire for clearing land (iv) sowing seeds (v) watching the crops and weeding and (vi) harvesting .

The Koitors terminologically distinguish four types of fields: (a) penda, freshly cut clearings on steep hill slopes where the main crop kosra is sown: (b) dippa, freshly cut clearings on shallow slopes at the foot hills where burki, an early variety of kosra, is sown; (c) hema is a fallow penda and (d) pariya is unproductive wasteland.

The Koitors do not find it binding to know lunar months by name and in their proper sequence.

The forest itself has a rich variety of markers of time. For example, changing shades of plant and animal life across seasons serve as good indicators to decide the appropriate time to begin different cultivation operations. Heat finds a tangible measure in the drying up of foliage. The height of heat radiation which emanates from the earth is used to indicate different moments in the cultivation cycle. When the height is approximately one arm-length penda preparation begins. By the time the height of heat radiation rises to nine arm-lengths, penda are ready for being burnt. The time for sowing is decided by examining the moisture content of the soil.

The time for weeding is important for proper ripening of the kosra crop. Weeds are removed periodically. If the weeds are removed too early, growth of the crop is stunted due to lack of protection from heavy rain. One way to decide the time of weeding is observing kehlapurk, red worms which breed in different parts of the forest in large numbers and pile up into several heaps. Heavy rainfall is indicated if the heap grows in size. The Koitors point out that the strength of rainfall is directly proportional to the size of the heap. In order to complete a natural cycle, the Koitors say that there must be enough rain water to wash away the ‘kehlapurk’ into rivers, since these are staple food of kanyam, somewhat similar to the water nymphs.

The forest within a jaghabhum is the commons of the Koitors who reside there. It is equally accessible to all; such is the abundance of the forest that its use by one person does not diminish its accessibility for others. The amount that can be used is directly related to the physical effort a person/family can make.

This is the obverse of surplus and scarcity when use and consumption is largely independent of human physical effort and thus often results in the denial of resources to another.

At all the stages of the cultivation process, everybody begins work at the same time, which is together but independently. All the households cannot finish a particular cultivation activity at the same time, since each has its own rhythms of work determined by several factors; the number of working hands, work demands at home, illness and so on. Towards the end of every stage, those who finish their work early, assist those who have not been able to finish in time, this is in order to keep in step with the changes in the environment. There is no socially or culturally specified time limit to complete a particular cultivation activity.

The household is the basic unit of work. Membership to a household is based on contribution of work. This makes it possible for people other than those born in the household to become its members.

In accordance with the household work which women have to undertake, a Koitor working day is divided into six periods which are marked by six different positions of the porde (sun), namely, pored-vetu; are-porde; javo-porde; nekjh-netu;pored arkne;konda-porde and pored multu .

Except for hunting and procreation, which is undertaken by men and women respectively, all other activities can be performed by both. When a woman of the house is ill, her husband may take over household chores if there is no help from other women in their household or from neighboring households. However, when men are ill women do their work (chopping wood and working the penda) and take care of the home. Women at times work harder than men. In fact, quite often work habits become the bone of contention between spouses. If a man wants to leave his spouse, he does not go with her to work. A woman may walk out on her spouse if she feels he does no work.

Women continue to work in the field until the last days of pregnancy. Other women do not assist her.

A cardinal principle of the Koitor work ethic is that every person is responsible for his and her own food and well-being. They say that a person’s belongings must not weigh more than he and she can carry. This is the measure of a person’s independence. The parsimony in their material life reflects their faith in the work processes which regenerate abundance and variety in the forest and in social life.

A person has a right to the crops cultivated. Penda belongs to a family as long as it is worked by them. Once they leave the village to settle in another, they lose rights over penda in this village and acquires right in the new village. Thus the rights to produce are acquired only by work.

Work on the penda requires services of blacksmiths, called Vade who periodically sharpen their axes. They have the skill required to extract iron; but it is seldom put to use now-a-days. Koitors now make axes from iron available in the market. Not every village has a blacksmith. Where there is one, he is given food grains in exchange for his services. He uses the grains either for food or for sowing. In the village where there is no blacksmith, he is invited from other villages. During his stay he gets food and drinks and at the end of the work he gets ten phalis to one khandi of grains for the services rendered.

The specialist lineage of the kesar-gayta (the ritual specialist) mediates between the Koitors and talurmuttee, and the leski cures illness to enable the Koitors to remain in health to work. These specialists do not enjoy any privilege in return for the services rendered. They are neither entitled to a yearly or seasonal tribute nor do they have special powers with regard to the settlement of disputes. On the contrary, the Koitors point out that a leski’s pursuit of knowledge often brings them poverty. It is believed that one who has such knowledge can become rich only by using it for harming people. Such special practices known as hode are severely criticized. Not infrequently, when a person who does hode is found, he is killed.

An enclosure around the fields defines exclusive rights. In shifting cultivation, the exclusive rights over penda plots are dissolved. In this dissolution, there is a contiguity of space; there is a co-presence of the cleared field and the forest in a penda. During cultivation, where there is a separation of the cleared field and the forest, the work of Koitors in the former contrasts with the work of nature in the latter. The Koitors have common rights in the forest for food gathering and hunting in contrast to exclusive rights to crops cultivated in the penda.

The forest cannot be owned in the way the work of nature cannot be owned. This is important for the penda tenure system of the Koitors:

a) Each household selects its plot independently for cultivating penda. The forest area covered within a jaghabhum is enough to accommodate all the households in a village. There is no differentiation on the basis of large or small holdings. The ratio of land to size of household is equal. Over these plots the Koitors have rights of use.

b) Kesar-gayta allocates land to migrant households. However, he does not exercise any control over their working time; how much work a household does is its responsibility.

The responsibility of performing ceremonies and rituals at the altar of talurmuttee is vest in the eldest male of a hanal of the kesar gayta clan. He is not the owner of the jaghabhum, but only a care taker who mediates, as it were, on behalf of talurmuttee. His function is to propitiate talurmuttee and maintain the well-being of the village settlement. The clan of a kesar gayta retains this privilege as long as its members do not migrate from the village.

c) The rights to utilize land for cultivation are held by all the villagers in common.

d) No lineage has rights of ownership on any plot of land. If the kesar-gayta leaves the village to settle elsewhere, his hanal has to give up all claims over jagha bhum they left.

e) A household gets priority over the forest produce from its penda fallows on which the forest has ‘returned’.
f) The trees planted by an individual are property for life time; after death it becomes the property of hanal.

Time cycle and work

In a cultivation cycle a new penda is prepared every third year. In each successive year, the fallow penda (which was cultivated in the first year) may be cultivated on a smaller scale. Thereafter, it lies fallow and the forest regenerates on it; it may be again taken up for cultivation after several years depending on the total number of penda a person has. Different penda get varying durations of fallow periods. The duration may vary from fourteen to forty eight years.

The fallow period in different penda structures the long duration cycle to allow for the regeneration of forest. While one penda is cultivated, the process of regeneration is in progress in another penda. Accordingly, in a penda the work of Koitors is in temporal contiguity with the work of nature that is, the self-activity of nature. The dynamics of the activities related to penda cultivation lies in the alternation between the work of Koitors and the work of nature.

Each penda cultivation cycle on one plot is, thus, part of the larger cycle across several penda. It has two aspects; (a) the clearing of forests and crop cultivation; (b) the regeneration of forests on follow penda.

While the fields lie fallow, the Koitors in the village celebrate kaksar and re-affirm the unity of a group or community. This period of self-regeneration, both in nature and society, is an essential condition for the Koitors social life.

There is simultaneity of the work of Koitors and the work of nature in the year of cultivation across different penda, and there is temporal contiguity of the work of man and the work of nature during two successive years in the same penda. In a complete cycle, the period of crop cultivation follows the period of afforestation in a penda in successive years of cultivation. The period of crop cultivation and the period of regeneration of the forest occur simultaneously across penda in a year of cultivation.

In other words, the same plot of penda has several years of natural vegetation and one year of cropping.

Each cultivation year is punctuated by several polowa (cultivation festival), each of which marks the beginning and end of different stages in the cultivation process. The Koitors work in their fields during the time period between two polowa. Work on the fields is taboo on polowa days. This taboo signifies that the fields are in a state of rest.

The movement from one penda to another is marked by a period of festival celebration as well as of no cultivation when activity ceases at the place of work. This period is regarded as one of general rest. The Koitors refer to this period by the term kagaveku. It denotes a season of hunger. All fields remain fallow during this period to allow for long duration fallows on a penda when the forest regenerates, and is ready once again for cultivation.

Alternatively, the cycle of cultivation is anchored in this season of hunger.

The period of seasonal hunger

Kagaveku is opposed to famine, which is dooka.

The explanation of ‘kagaveku’ is given with reference to Talurmuttee, she denotes social recognition to the phenomenon of self activity, or self-reproduction, or self regeneration of nature in the forest. The Koitors regard the work of nature as her work. Accordingly, the fallow period, understood by Koitors as kagaveku, is a period of rest for Talurmuttee.

It is commonly said, ‘Talurmuttees is suffering from having two much nourishment extracted from one particular penda. The Koitors, therefore, leave it and move to another penda to return to it later, for over a period of time Talurmuttee would have recovered from her former exhaustion’.

During the period of kagaveku, which is spread over a period between the time of harvest of the first cultivation cycle and the time of sowing at the beginning of the second cultivation cycle, the actual food surplus or food resources of a household can be known.

The hunger of different families varies on account of either (a) division of large households into smaller households, which is the part of the development cycle of a household; or, (b) the reduction of working members due to illness, disease or death; or (c) quarrels and jealousies which result in the under utilization of work force in a household (d) disturbed relation to talurmuttee.

Large households which are three generations in depth are rich before the marriage of male siblings. After marriage, on account of differences and disputes between brothers and their respective spouses, work suffers and consequently wealth decreases.

In this period of ‘kagveku’, the rich households comfortably consume their surplus food and poor households have to ration their surplus food to avoid borrowing.

For the rich, the surplus that remains after the period of seasonal hunger is accumulated wealth. It is used on social occasions such as marriage, death, and birth of a child. It is also used as seeds the following year. The rich often loan grains to other households. On account of the method of shifting cultivation which is premised on the regeneration of forest, the relation between the household cycle and the wealth of a household is such that no one household remains rich or poor over a few generations.

In contrast to kagaveku, dooka refers to a progressive deterioration in food supply on account of which the rich households become poor and the poor households become poorer. The signs of approaching dooka are the shortening of the period of rest for land. Progressively, rest is considered unproductive because the forest does not regenerate sufficiently. In this situation rest is interpreted as cessation of work, whether on account of illness or on account of fatigue.

Rest and work

Natural rhythms of body wear and tear (Parvor) and disease (dukhi) introduce periods of rest which determine the allocation of available time for work. The two together structure work habits and routines. All the Koitors have similar working conditions; they follow the same time frame of seasonal changes for cultivation; they are equally exposed to the external environment; and knowledge of cultivation skills and technology is equally accessible to all.

Natural factor, such as age and sex, shape work habits. While the natural rhythms in the forest determine immutable external conditions for work, the natural rhythm of the human body is crucial to the particular use of time for wok and rest.

As the natural process of ageing sets in, the body becomes less strong. Nevertheless, the Koitor elders continue to work until they die which, it is believed, is a kind of rest within the space of hanal. The Koitors believe that death takes them away to a world under the surface of the earth, while their children remain on the surface of the earth. They believe that they must continue to work below the surface of the earth in order to provide food for their children on the surface.

The flow of menstrual blood marks the beginning of the productive period in the life of a woman. It is both biological and social. A woman is ready for marriage, reproduction, and work in the field. When women menstruate, they retire into a waist-high secluded hut at the back of their house, called kurma. In some villages these huts are located outside the nage in the forest. Here she cooks her own food, lights her join fire, and stays until the end of her periods when she takes a bath and returns home to resume work. Men cannot enter the kurma.

The menstrual cycle determines rhythm of household routines. As we have seen, the home is the domain of the women, various parts of the day being marked off by the work she has to do. But when women stay in the kurma, for men the home environment turns alien, almost barren. During this period, women of the family take rest and do not do household work. Other women agnates and affines assist in the management of the house. Periods of menstruation for women signify regeneration, fertility and rest; and for men it signifies a condition of barrenness.

A house of a man without a spouse or children is considered barren. Conversely, marriage and procreation render a household rich and prosperous. Correspondingly, in a forest the dry seasons are barren and the wet seasons are fertile. In both situations, there is no threat to continuity; according to the Koitor, both situations are necessary for continuity itself.

As the rhythm of household routine is set by menstruation, in a similar way the rhythm of penda cultivation is set by the fallow. Both signify the process of recuperation of fertility; although both create an illusion of relative hunger. The menstruating woman does no household work and fallow land yields no crop.

Rest is taken from work on several occasions; women stay away from work when they are in kurma; men rest on account of illness caused either from the wear and tear of the body during work in forest called parvor, or by hode which inflicts disease and misfortune called dukhi.

The Koitors can be kept away from work by dukhi inflicted by hode which is a practice aimed at harming others without any physical, or visual, or audio contact, on account of jealousy, anger and hatred among themselves. Dukhi is physiologically manifest; it often renders the body immobile. So the assistance of a leski is required to send the Koitor back to work. By this skill, called lesna (described in the next chapter), he is able to cause divine infliction and he can remove it. This situation of rest on account of dukhi is distinct from rest in polowa and in kurma.

On account of dukhi the work of nature threatens to dissolve work done on penda, resulting in loss of grains. The leski performs an important act of mediation against the work of nature, for, he sends the ill Koitor back to work. In contrast the time of polowa and kurma is for celebrating of the work of nature which is necessary and essential for collective well being. During the period of dukhi’ cooperation is sought from kin and affines.

Paarvor, in contrast to dukhi, refers to the condition of a human body when people are unable to work in the forest on account of exertions during work. Continuous strain on various part of the human body due to hard work results in persistent pain. During work in the forest the koitors also incur wounds or scratches. In order to ease the pain and to have rest, the koitors adopt the habit of sitting on their hunches, of standing with straight back and feet apart, and, walking with measured movement in order continue work over long periods.

Cultivation work has two aspects: first, the cultivation of crop, second cultivation of work habits. Cultivation creates a body through the demands of work. In the process of cultivation, the body gets shaped to be able to do different kinds of work. As a result, an individual koitor is capable of carrying one’s own weigh of responsibilities. The mental, material, and social components that give meaning to the idea of work are denoted by the term buti.

A human body is shaped during work which involves loss of flesh and blood. Work, in turn, shapes their imagination. It is said, ‘hepur pesna nettur pesna buti keetom’, the loss of flesh and blood, is an end product of all work. It constitutes the substance of the human body as well as the crops. Accordingly, the smallest unit of measurement of grains is a soli, a container, which contains enough grain to fill the stomach of an adult Koitor. Accordingly, the volume of the container is regarded as equivalent to the volume of the stomach.

Reading the forest

Shringar bhum stands for an idea of everlasting life.

In terms of natural phenomena, the forest regenerates itself on account of its own spontaneous self-activity. This is known to the Koitors and to other forest dwellers from their detailed knowledge of different life-cycles, from birth to dissolution, of plants and animals. The repetition of these cycles takes place over different duration’s of time ranging between annual regeneration or self reproduction in penda of weed, of wild fruits and flowers which are the ground for food-gathering by women, and the approximately hundred year cycles of bamboo, which flower and produce milk before they dissolve and regenerate. The knowledge of several cycles of varying duration associated with the variety and abundance of plant animal life conjures up a forest landscape which camouflages a universe whose certainty is founded in the self activity of nature. In this understanding of the phenomenal universe in a forest the idea of self-reproduction underlines the notion of timelessness, regeneration and of everlasting life.

In contrast, the human life span of the forest dwellers is limited in its time duration of self-reproduction to a generation. A person will definitely witness death of a relative, friend or foe within his own life. However, only some person, of some distant generation has been or will be witness to the dissolution and regeneration of the bamboo forest. This temporal contrast between man and nature is significant for an understanding of some aspects of the Koitors social life.

The knowledge of annual regeneration cycles is used by the Koitors to mark time for everyday life and cultivation work.

The Koitors believe that before birth a child is influenced by its mother’s desires and feelings and by darm (shades) in a forest. A fair child, pandral, indicates the influence of darm of the spirit rau. A dark child, kariyal, is considered free of such influences. The desire of a pregnant mother for certain kinds of food and drink are given priority; they are understood by the Koitors to be those of the child itself. All efforts are made to fulfil the child’s desire. This is an extraordinary convention; for, in ordinary circumstances, a woman in a household is the last person to eat.

A child is born in the forest, not at home. The Koitor women believe that several unknown factors may prevent their labour. The idea of conception in their minds is expressed by the term ‘peeshkan’ – a question, who will live? The term suggests the possibility that at the time of birth, either both the mother and the child or one of them will survive.

The idea of conception and birth denotes three movements (a) it is a movement from the internal environment into the external environment (b) this movement is attended by apprehensions of death (c) it internalizes the influences of darm and initiates the child into the universe of the forest, which is an integral part of his social environment.

While the child is suckling, it is carried astride a mother’s hip during the day. This facilitates demand feeding and, at the same time, the child gets familiarized with the forest landscape. At night, when asleep, the child rests in a basket hung above the ground next to the fire. According to the Koitors transmission of warmth at the time of suckling is simultaneous with the transformation of mother’s milk into blood in a child’s body. This unity of mother and child is simultaneous with the separation of wife from husband, a convention which is based on the Koitors belief that if a man sleeps with his wife, while the child is suckling, - milk will be transformed into blood within the body of the mother. Consequently, the child would not get nourishment and its growth would be stunted.

A child’s father and other male members of a household clear the forest to cultivate food crops, to get wood for fire, to keep the hearth alive and to construct a house. It is believed to a child, heat and shelter from wood are signs of the presence of the forest and of his father and other male members of the household.

When the child is weaned from its mother, it is assigned a place to sleep on the ground between her and his father.

This movement from the basket to the ground opens up a new universe for exploration. The child meets other children; it crawls and touches the ground, sees things, plays with mud, pieces of wood, leaves, and also encounters dogs, cats and chickens, and begins to learn of its environment. The child playfully manipulates these elements of the forest and of social life, as material, in the image of social activities of elders, of which he is a silent observer. For example, children make a hut which is a replica of their parent’s hut. Boys hunt, girls cook meals, and they imitate the conversation of elders.

When a child learns to walk, sexual differences are given social recognition. A child is given a seamless piece of cloth to wear around the loin. This marks gender differences and his or her membership of a work group. The male child accompanies the father and the female accompanies the mother.

When a child becomes a male adult working member of a household, he wears a loin cloth of four to five arms length. He carries an axle on his shoulder, a knife and a tobacco pouch around his waist. Women wear a lugga–an unstitched piece of cloth about seven arm lengths and two arms in width. She wraps it around her waist at one end and takes it over her breasts at the other end. During work the body is minimally clad and the contact between the bare body and the forest is direct and unmediated.

The bare body is crucial to individuation since the near absence of clothes brings the body in direct relation to the forest. It is the observer, the observed and the medium of observation.

The presence of the forest is felt along all the contours of the Koito’s body. During work in the forest, a Koitor’s body is exposed to heat from the sun and to the various shades in the forest during periods of rest.

The body is enveloped by the forest. The dimensions of the forest are also measured by the body. Changes in the forest across seasons influence work-habit, shape the body, determine the colour of the skin and its texture. They also determine the tactility of the senses; their capacity for endurance and the acquisition of work skills.

If the body has to be bent at the waste for long periods, the back will be unduly strained. To counteract this, the Koitors adopt the following posture; they stand with feet wide apart and back bent forward at right angles. As a result, they walk in an absolutely erect posture. The Koitors register the seasons on their bodies. Exposure to heat, cold and moisture gives the skin its dark colour, its thickness, and its soft texture. Water shortage, fourteen hands high heat waves, the burning surface of the earth during summer inflicts heat boils on the body. The feet get burnt and the soles become thick, coarse and callous, and the body becomes lean. The work load is maximum in the summer. Penda plots require to be cut and prepared for sowing; this work is done while standing. During winter the Koitors bend the body to harvest the crop. In cold winter nights the Koitors sleep close to the fire. As a result, the chest of some of the Koitors burn black. During monsoons the Koitors protect their growing crop from animals who intrude into penda, it is necessary for them to move across the village from home to field and back. Continuous exposure to water eats into the skin and cause blisters especially between the toes.

All these “inscriptions’ of the seasons on the body are a consequence of work in a forest environment.

The bare body exemplifies sparse material culture which renders their imagination co-extensive with the universe of the forest. The bare body is an identity in nature; it is the receptor of shades, and of changes in the external environment. The body covered with clothes is an identity in cultures; it distinguishes gender and status.

This contrast between the bare body and the body covered with clothes draws attention to the complementary relation between sparseness of the material culture in the social environment of the Koitors and the richness and multiplicity of materials life in the forest. The density and richness of forest materials continuously provide for daily and ceremonial needs. The abundance of the forest renders accumulation of surplus unnecessary even for long periods of relative hunger…(…)

Following the narrative of Talurmuttee, it is said that the creation of Shringar bhum required the draining out of flood waters. Excessive rainfall leading to floods, therefore, is a reminder of the possibility of returning to this original state. The quality of flowing water in the rivers is, therefore, associated with preventing disaster and of washing away destructive forces. It is often said, “if there were no rivers and rivulets all the houses would melt into their constituents, that is mud and wood, and all crops would be destroyed”. Adequate rainfall cleanses; but it is selective in what it takes. It has the quality of purifying and of cooling—thandae. It is believed that diseases adhere to the material objects used by a person. Whenever diseases have to be exorcised from home or from a village or when any darm has to be pacified, they are taken to the rivers and immersed. The casting away of these objects into the river sends the disease away. Diseases may also be the result of malevolent darm. In this case, the members of a household or a village may host a meal in the name of the particular darm, leaving behind the leaf-plates and the left over on the river bed. It is believed that the river water carry away all that is destructive and malevolent beyond the bhum. The washing of clothes, bathing and cleaning is preformed in flowing water.

Flowing water is distinguished from still and stagnant water in waterholes, wells, and hand pumps. Water from these sources is considered to be of doubtful quality. When flowing water is available, the sources of stationary water are not used – development offices often complain that wells constructed for the Koitors are not used.

The order of preference and priority accorded to the stationery sources of water is on the basis of how river water is distributed. If it cannot be established or shown that a well or a hand pump is not getting its water supply from the river, then the hand pump will hardly be used. Of the various types of stationery water sources, preference is given to water in the holes dug in sandy river beds. Flowing water is considered so significant that no village is set up in a place other than near a river or a small stream.

The properties of flowing water are opposed to the properties of stagnant water. During the monsoon on account of the undulating terrain, water collects in varying quantities. It loosens mud and creates chikla (slush). Stagnant water absorbs and accumulates dirt which is regarded as a potential source of illness. Chikla (slush) is taken care of by rainfall during monsoons. Either the rain water carries it away or the periodicity of rainfall prevents water logging for long periods; exposure to the sun for a day or two, dries up the water and leaves the mud behind.
This manner of thinking about water provides a metaphor for understanding the body in health and in sickness. Sweat is regarded as a variation of flowing water. In a healthy body, it is said that ‘there is more vari (air) and little water. Therefore, it is light. A flabby and soft body is, on the other hand, susceptible to illness; it has more water and less vari (air); this kind of a body after doing little work loses lots of water (sweat). It is because of excessive stagnant water that dirt is absorbed. This accounts for the flabbiness of the body and explains its susceptibility to disease and illness.

Therefore, it is argued that it is good to sweat to a point where little water remains in the body. With the flowing away of sweat (or the expulsion of excessive water) diseases are washed away. Whenever a person feels that he is going to fall ill. He says, “it is good to go and work in the fields, sweat it out and you will be well. It is also said, in case of high temperature – good work and a stomach full of food are essential to get back to normal.

‘Depth’ of the Forest

As living space, the forest has a life-cycle across seasons independent of Koitors intervention. The fading in and fading out of the shades of a forest across seasons from barrenness in summer to colourful abundance during monsoon and winter allows it to be seen as a forest-scape. This enables recognition of the self-regeneration of plural life forms whereby the forest comes alive for the Koitors and acquires this third dimension, namely, that of depth. (….)

In the Koitors’ consciousness the cycle begins with the work of clearing the forest and constructing a house. It ends with the dissolution of the house and the regeneration of the forest. Attention to this return of forests is simultaneously a return to the point of origin. The meaning of this phenomenon for the Koitor is that the self activity of nature is a principle of unity of the empirical and the ideal aspects of the forest living space.

The depth of this space and the essential characteristic of this unity of the empirical and the ideal are known during hunting and food gathering. The forest camouflages co-presence of other living beings in the animal and the plant kingdom, birds, insects, plants and herbs; and co-presence of human and non-human nature. The possibility of losing one’s way in the forest, which is always there during a hunt, for example, underlines the significance of this co-presence.

The contrast between the Koitors and the forest is also known during hunting, when the Koitors and the animals recognize each other’s presence by sight and sound. It is also known in the continuity of exchange between the work of the Koitors and the work of nature. The camouflage in this context is essentially an ordering or a pattern arrangement comprising the density of vegetation, its varying shades and colours, and the plurality of sounds. The activity of hunting is based on the recognition of this order and pattern, and of spotting animals. This requires a keen sense of sight and sound. The hunter must track and identify animals by their pug marks, by the arrangements of fallen leaves, the grass that hides them, by marks on trees and the shape vegetation acquires in their resting places when disturbed by their movement. This enables a hunter to sense the lurking presence of an animal, on which the success of hunting depends. In a hunt, the crucial movement is synchronization of auditory and visual perception.

The forest also camouflages the place of work. The cutting of a forest is an original labour. It exposes the forest clearing to light, introduces discontinuity in the forestscape and uncovers the self activity of nature. The forest thus animates the Koitors social and cultural life. It continually fulfils the demands of everyday life. It is capable of sustaining social life provided the critical limits of its self activity are understood as a frame within which the Koitors work and live. In other words, the forest demands continuous practice of the skill to recognize an order and pattern of social life that keeps close to the elements of nature.

Ignorance of the order and pattern of the camouflage of the forest may result in loss of life. The Koitors speak of several instances of experiences of children who lost their way in the forest and died. They also tell stories of elders, who having lost their way were able to find it. The central problem in moving about in a forest is the loss of sense of direction on account of a loss of the sense of differences between the forest-scapes visible to the eye while moving along any one path in the forward direction and the forest-scape when returning along the same path. These differences can also be described as differences of perspectives. To be at home in the forest, it is necessary to differentiate between both the perspectives. The owl in the Koitor mind is the exemplar in this regard. Like an owl, it is necessary to be able to turn one’s vision one hundred and eighty degrees, to know the forward movement as well as the movement of return.

The differences in the two perspectives of forest-scapes arise from the camouflage of the depth and the variety in forest. The absence of signs of historical activity and the inability to differentiate one view of the forest from another results in the loss of direction. This phenomenon is described as lesna, which means a forgetting resulting in loss of orientation in time and space.

Lesna is contrasted with marng which refers to forgetfulness on account of a lapse in memory.

When loss of orientation occurs the Koitors observe that people behave in two ways. A person runs and, depending upon his good luck, he stumbles upon the right path. The Koitors know of several cases when a Koska panicked and yet succeeded. But Koitors do not approve of this method. They advise that under these circumstances during the day one should stand still and try to locate the position of a human settlement by the position of the sun and the direction of the smoke, and at night by the position of the moon and the direction of the sound of drums and songs sung by gotul boys and girls. At the same time, they advise that an effort should be made to differentiate the camouflage they see in front.

This method is described as follows.

When lost in a forest, Koitors are in a position to confront the forest from within. This is a dramatic confrontation wherein the process of exploration and discovery of one’s bearings in the forest environment rests on a relation and co-ordination between what one sees and what one hears. In a forest these visual and auditory perceptions do not synchronize instantly; between the auditory and the visual observations lies the forest which camouflages and which conceals the sources of various kinds of sounds – the movement of animals, the wind, of birds or of falling leaves – which render the forest alive and animate. Every sound emanating from behind the vegetation signifies a lurking presence. On account of these sounds, the vegetation patterns get transformed into a forest of signs, and the eye distinguishes shades, and the ears identify movements of animals, of winds, and so on.

Out of this process there emerges the awareness of the forest as a living space in its totality. At this point of time, the sense of separation between the human body and the forest or between the human and the non-human body of nature is obliterated and the Koitor is possessed by the forest, as it were. On account of this movement of fear, the animated non-human nature permeates the body of the Koitor. Fear opens up every pore of the body and informs it with the presence of the forest. In other words, the presence of a forest enters the very ‘being’ of the Koitors. The Koitor losses his presence of mind and hence loses sense of direction along which he is to return. The forest appears to “dissolve” the Koitors orientation. It is under these circumstances that the Koitors move to a point of rest in order to differentiate the elements in human and non-human nature. He directs his attention to the sounds of the body to distinguish them from the sounds of the forest. This primary differntiation begins when a correlation between what is heard and what is seen is established. As this correlation dawns from within, the knowledge which makes it possible to find one’s way out of the forest becomes accessible. The discovery of the forest when one is lost in it includes the discovery of patterns of landscape.

It is important to view the forest as a living space, unified by its material diversity all of which share the life force which animates. This unity has a mobile form. It is a process that transforms the mere physicality of forest materials-the boundaries which differentiate a forest dissolve, as it were, to reveal the seamlesssness of the work of nature. In other words, this process of dissolution of the material tangible aspect of the forest expresses the ‘being’ of the forest. The forest emerges as a vibrant space. It can induce forgetting and thereby become accessible to the Koitors from within their selves. This presence of forest dissolves time differentiation. The past, the present and the future merge in the Koitor’s mind. The forest becomes an embodiment of an ever present beginning. It partakes of the character of an absolute timeless entity, producing itself within itself by its self-activity.

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Selection of penda is undertaken by each household independently, the male elders of all households go collectively to select an appropriate penda from their respective set, at the beginning of the month of durar which marks the commencement of adhe, i.e. summer.

In order to prevent water logging, which destroys the kosra crop, penda are chosen on gradual hill slopes. The following factors are considered in the selection of penda: a) If the forest falls in the vicinity of the alter of talurmuttee it is sacred and shifting cultivation is taboo in it. b) Whether the forest has a thick undergrowth in the interior regions, if so, it is not use for cultivation. These forests are used for hunting and for food-gathering instead. c) Whether the forest has tell trees and low undergrowth. This type of forest is selected for cultivation.

It is rare that previously uncultivated forest areas are brought under penda cultivation. For this perspective every penda is a hema. Every household has several penda. The size of a penda depends on the number of working members in a household.

Clearing a forest after koding, a festival which begins a new cultivation cycle, womenfolk begin to clear the forest vegetation with sickles; then men-folk cut down trees and shrubs with iron-axes. The trees are cut three to four arms lengths above the ground in order to facilitate regeneration. Rain and wind carry away a part of the top soil. All of it is not lost because the roots of the cut trees, and the forest around the penda prevent soil erosion. The branches of trees are further chopped and reduced to smaller sizes to facilitate proper drying. The cutting operation is over by the end of the month chait and the wood is left to dry in the summer sun. In the month baisakh, men folk from households whose penda are contiguous or close to each other get together to set fire to the dried vegetation. This is considered good for the fertility of the soil. Prior to carrying out this operation the direction and the strength of wind are considered.

After a few days, each household surveys its plot and collects small pieces of unburnt wood and again sets them on fire. The plot is then ready for rain. The larger prices of wood which remain unburnt are used either for constructing a fence around a penda or as firewood. Thus to make a penda clearing, three natural elements are important, namely, wind (air), rain (water) and fire (heat).

The sowing operations begin with the onset of rain in the month burbar, when the ashes of burnt wood and vegetation mix with the soil. The kesar-gayta inaugurates the sowing. Depending on availability\, different kinds of seeds in varying quantities are mixed in one basket and broadcast on the plot. These include different varieties of kosra (panicum miliaceum; panicum miliare, penicillaria spicata); mandia (eleusina coracana); pupul or urad (phaseolus radiatus); mandia (eleusina coracana): pupul or urad (phaseolus radiatus); arhar (cajanus indicus); jata-sem (dolichos lablab); terriang, jeera and naing.

When all the households have finished sowing, bija polowa (bija-seed) is celebrated furing bija lenj (lenj-moon) to mark the completion of sowing. On this occasion the male members of households visit their penda and make offerings to the buti tali associated with their place of work. At home offerings of rice grain, black chicken and mahua (liquor brewed from the flowers of the mahua tree) are made to the hanal. The cock scarified on this occasion is shared by male members of households of an hanal. This feast is celebrated in a secluded place away from the sight of members of other hanal and of women. Finally, the paror paditor are remembered and their names are uttered loudly. These may not belong to any hanal of households. Some of these names which could possibly be clan names are Oder, Peder, Dagore, Ikadvo, kak-kadvo, Vaseer, Jaseer. In this stage of cultivation two elements of nature are important, namely earth and water.

The crop in the first stage grows alongside ronda – forest weeds--- which protect it from heavy rain. The weeds also prevent soil erosion. Later, towards the end of the monsoon, weeding is undertaken by all members of a household, including children, to allow crops to ripen in the period between bija and dushera lenj. At this time a fence and several animal traps are constructed around a penda by male adults, of respective households, to protect the crop from animals from the forest. Some of the members of every household shift to their respective penda and stay there until the crops is harvested.

The harvest begins with nua polowa. Preparation for the two- festival of nua polowa in dushera lenj starts when the early variety of Kosra begins to ripen. A week before the day of the polowa, massage is sent to the neighbouring villages which fall under the jurisdiction of Jungemuttee—the Nuruttee clan god. This festival serves as an invitation to work on a threshing floor in exchange for gift grains. At the same time it is a mode of public announcement of wealth in terms of grains, for, this is the only occasion when villagers can take stock of the amount of grains produced in different households. On the appointed day, representatives of villages gather at the penu raud, a msmall hut where the clan god is propitiated and which is its residence. The waddai – the chief priest – stands at the edge of a penda, takes one step forward into it, plucks a leaf of the ripened kosra plant and offers it to the clan god. Thereafter, a pig along with chickens, an egg, a narial (coconut), some agarbatti (incense sticks) and lalli (red powder) are offered to the clan god. This marks the commencement of the harvest for the villages which are present at this festival.

Threshing is undertaken in the month pus, after all households have harvested the crop, and, grain is finally carried home. This is called tartana and after this pupul polowa is celebrated according to the procedures of the nua polowa described above.

The work of vistana or threshing is undertaken collectively by the village. Women of each household prepare the threshing floors in a small area within their respective penda. Thereafter, affinally related men and women from other households in the village and from neighbouring villages come to work at the threshing floor.

The grain is not brought home immediately after threshing. As and when large bamboo baskets required to store the grain are made by each household, the members of a neighbourhood get together and carry the grain home for that particular household. This procedure is followed by all households in a village.

Koding, the last polowa, is celebrated in mah lenj after threshing. The male members of all households gather, at the altar of nate tali, for a community meal which is prepared separately by each household and eaten together sitting in a large circle. At the end of the meal they leave behind food in the leaf plates for the tali to assess the quantity of grain produced by the people in the village. The Koitors believe that the tali comes with a tiger to count the number of leaf plates left behind.

Planning of cultivation work depends on the number of available working hands, the number of tasks to be performed, and the time available. The Koitor mode of allocation of time is based on a complementarily between work and rest. It structures a cultivation cycle which begins on a new penda every third year and not in successive years.

In the first year, from the month durar lenj to the month burbar lenj, work is panned to keep in time with the first rainfall. The work rhythm during this period is set both by the work in the household and the work for clearing penda. The work to prepare a new penda begins in early durar lenj. Accordingly, as monsoon comes closer work on penda fields increase, and less attention is given to work at home.

After sowing, more attention is again given to work at home until the time when the corp is to be protected. Thereafter, until harvest after monsoon in the month dushera, attention is given to work on the fields. After harvest, attention is paid to work at home and the crop is threshed over a period of three to four months until pus.

Women begin work early in the morning. The sun is not visible and the first cock crows to usher in the dawn. The Koitors describe this time by the term vetu, which means to ‘lit-up’. Women pound and cook kosra for the first meal of the day. They also cook java, a thick gruel made of maize, for mid-day meal. At time the adolescent boys and girls get up and return home from the ghotul.

Other chores begin when the sun is up and everybody is awake. Women fetch water in large earthen pots from the nearest well, hand pump or river. This time is are-porde (are means water).

Food is served later at java pored (java means food). Then the elders, married men and women, leya and leyors (unmarried boys and girls) set off to work. Children are left behind. Women work until mid-day, when the sun is overhead. This position of the sun is called nekh-netu. The Koitor rest until pored-arkne, the position of the sun when it beings to set. Women work until konda pored, i.e. until dusk when the cattle begin to return home with their children. They are the first to arrive home to pound kosra and begin to prepare for the evening meal; men follow them. The elders along with children kindle the fire in their respective courtyard and sit and talk. Food is served at pored multu, when the sun has set. After meals everyone retires, except the leyas or leyors who take fire to the gotul and the center of the village comes alive.

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South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy