They came in handy for the forest department while it was hunting down the ‘maneater’ of Bheemghad in Khanapur taluk of the Belagavi reserve forest recently.
Many wildlife activists now feel their intimacy with nature which the forest officers banked on in their hunt, makes the Soliga tribes of the Biligiri Rangaswamy hills, ideal candidates to help with the state’s conservation efforts.
Able to identify animals through sound, smell, and pugmarks, the Soligas have keen eyesight and can pick up scents of wild animals carried by the wind . They can also pick up danger signals from bird sounds and alarm calls.
So woven are they into the fabric of the hills around them that their folk songs are rich in detail about their flora and fauna. Sung by each new generation of tribals, they are a way of passing on their knowledge and keeping it alive.
“All of us know which animal lives in which part of the forest. Our folk songs give us enough information about the jungles, which we divide based on animal habitats such as the elephant corridors and tiger territory,” explains a Soliga tribal, Shivanna .
Though all Soliga folk songs reflect the tribals’ knowledge of the forests, one song, Goruke, talks of a spider weaving its web, showing an intimacy with nature that is hard to imagine for city folk.
“During my visit to the Soliga settlements 30 years ago, I was fascinated by the Soliga folk songs which are rich in detail about their lifestyle and the biodiversity around them. I was so impressed that I started recording them,” says Ms Renuka, author of Anegala Kadalli-Soligara Beedalli .
She met expert singers from the tribe and realised that each folk song has a message which, she believes, is very important today when conservation is taking centre stage with the declining number of animal and plant species.
“But these tribes are in trouble today. They have been living in perfect harmony with nature for hundreds of years, but now their traditional knowledge is under threat. We must help them by letting them live in the forests amidst beautiful nature,” she stresses.
The Soligas are among the over 35 lakh tribals of Karnataka who transmit their traditional knowledge about nature through their folk songs from generation to generation to protect the flora and fauna around them.
They have classified the forests into four different types : Evergreen or Kanu Kadu, deciduous or Male Kadu, grasslands or Bole and scrub or Nadu Kadu based on the nature of the vegetation, which is described clearly in many of their folk songs. They also speak about the animal habitats, their food habits and reproduction season. Interestingly they even make observations about animal biology and find explanations for it in their songs.
Birds like the Indian Cuckoo which they call Kethanakki , red-whiskered Bulbuls, Scarlet Minivet, Maadihakki , plum-headed Parakeet, also known as Geena in Soliga parlance, the Malabar Parakeet, they call Moraa, meaning the one that screeches, and the Orange-headed thrush, common in well wooded areas of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, are all documented as well
Able to identify hundreds of medicinal plants , they have mastered the art of traditional medicine. “We can identify upto 200 medicinal plants and this tradition has been passed on from generation to generation.,” says Sanna Madegowda, a Soliga tribal. But they are cautious. The Soilgas limit the use the herbs so they can save them for future generations, showing a wisdom that many of the educated today lack.