“O warrior chief of the Kodai hill with white flowering jasmine hedges!
O hunter with powerful bow and ferocious fleet-footed hunting dogs with which you destroy entire herds of deer…May you live free from disease!”
– The Golden Anthology of Ancient Tamil Literature, 111
In reference to the Paliyans of the Kodai Hills in Sangam Literature.
Peter.M.Gardner, an American anthropologist, was among the first people to conduct a more objective study on the Paliyans in the 1960‟s. He classified them as “hunter-gatherers”. According to Nurit Bird – David (1992) who conducted her study in the early 1970‟s amongst the Kattunayakans ,a hunter gatherer community in the Nilgiris, most modern hunter – gatherer communities around the world engage in hunting and gathering but also combine this with other sustenance strategies like wage work, occasional cultivation, trade of Minor Forest Produce among other things. This traditional way of life can also be seen amongst the Paliyans. Gardener mentions that they hunt game like deer, wild boar, monkey, squirrel and lizards, and catch fish and crabs in the small mountain rivers, and collect honey from several bee species (Gardner 2000: 33-61; Norström 2003: 20-26).
Apart from hunting and gathering for sustenance they have also traditionally collected forest produce like honey, fruits and berries for trade… Collection of Minor Forest Produce (MFP) for personal consumption as well as to trade has always been an integral part of the hunter gatherer survival strategy.
During the months of May, June and July, honey collection is a huge source of income. Honey is collected from 4 species of honey bees – Apis Honey is collected from 4 species of honey bees – Apis Dorsata (Giant rock bees), Apis Cerana (Asian Honey Bees) Apis Floria (Little honey bee) and Trigonna spp (Dammer or stingless bees). Although all 4 are collected, only the first two varieties are traded. Honey is sold locally to people from other nearby villages. It is also sold in bulk to people from Madurai, Chennai and Bangalore.
They are extremely knowledgeable about the forest and skilled in collecting honey from different species of bees. The Paliyans have been able to turn this knowledge into trade opportunities with outsiders by collecting non-timber forest produce and selling it to neighbouring caste villages or markets in the nearby plains.
An excerpt from People of the Palani Hills, written by Nishita Vasanth, edited by Nishita Vasanth and Priyashri Mani for INTACH Kodaikanal Chapter, 2016.