A Glimpse into the Dietary Habits of Tribal Groups, Soligas and Yeravas

A Glimpse into the Dietary Habits of Tribal Groups, Soligas and Yeravas

In the summertime, the Soliga, an indigenous group, organizes teams to gather honey from the hives of honey bees nestled in the rocky cliffs of the Western Ghats. Despite the challenging task, the Soligas, drawing upon centuries of experience, skillfully employ ropes made from vines and bamboo to hang from cliff edges. Working at night adds an extra layer of difficulty to the process.

The Soligas and Yeravas, indigenous communities with a longstanding presence in the Cauvery Basin and surrounding hills of peninsular India, have recently come under the spotlight in a new book. The book delves into the dietary habits of these tribes, shedding light on the variety of foods they forage from the diverse Ghats.

Honey holds significant importance in the Soliga diet, as they continue to derive a substantial portion of their sustenance from the ecologically rich Western Ghats. These Ghats boast incredible biodiversity, housing over 5,000 flowering plants, 139 mammals, 508 birds, and 179 amphibian species—many of which contribute to the tribal communities’ diets.

The Soligas, among the oldest indigenous communities in India, primarily reside in the Chamarajanagar and Mandya districts of Karnataka. In contrast, the Yeravas migrated from Kerala’s Wayanad district to settle in the Kodagu district of Karnataka.

The recently published book, “Forgotten Trails: Foraging Wild Edibles,” authored by Malemleima Ningombi and Harisha RP, explores the foods foraged by these tribes. Approximately 25% of the Soliga diet and 30% of the Yerava diet consist of such wild edibles, according to Harisha RP, a conservation biologist at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE).

Despite similarities in their recipes, the Yeravas incorporate more tubers into their diet than the Soligas. Additionally, each community has 10-12 wild food plants unique to its specific landscape.

The Soligas and Yeravas follow simple cooking methods, with similar sambar recipes, adjusting ingredients based on the season—summer, monsoon, retreating monsoon, and winter. Fruits like wood apples and mangoes, as well as greens like mushte soppu, kaddi soppu, and anne soppu, are enjoyed during the summer.

Monsoons introduce mushrooms into the Yerava diet, while the Soligas relish bamboo shoot sambar. Roasted local multicolored corn is a winter treat, though its consumption has dwindled due to crop raids by animals.

In winter, the Yeravas, employed as laborers in coffee plantations, rely on wild berries from nightshade plants and edible ferns along streams for warmth.

The authors emphasize that the survival foods of the Soligas and Yeravas face threats due to changes in land use and evolving policies. Moreover, traditional knowledge is at risk of erosion as younger generations migrate away, leading to the loss of essential foraging skills.

Efforts have been made to convey the importance of these plants to the next generation. The Soliga community-run business ADAVI focuses on processing and adding value to cultivated foods and non-timber forest products. The book serves as a documentation of wild plants and includes recipes, contributing to the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge.

Foraging expeditions not only foster tribal bonding but also play a crucial role in passing down skills to the younger generation. The communal experiences of foraging, bonding, coexisting, and sharing contribute to the cohesion of the Soliga and Yerava communities, as highlighted by the authors.