Friday, 2 November 2007

High on low-pani!

This morning in Nafra, Arunachal started with a bone-racking top-of-the-sumo ride till the place called Rurang, 12 km away, where I was headed to see some abandoned jhum fields. The first thing we did there was to have a mug each of local corn beer called 'lao pani'. My field assistant cum friend Nigam was carrying his gun, for him it was a business-as-usual trip. Everyday of all my field days, I have hoped to see animals and many of them, but this day I was hoping we just see only signs of life such as footprints, scat, dung and feeding signs. Earlier, in a place called Buragaon my field assistant brought along a sling shot and within an hour he brought down two birds; a red tailed minla and a brown cheeked fulvetta.

This time, I tried to tell Nigam him that we need not hunt as we go along but he didnt care. He went along an animal-path and with his first shot got back some feathers of a dead bird and said that the meat was spoilt due to the gun shot. the second shot a bird escaped and I was mentally smiling. Then along the path we saw footprints of wild boar and muntjac. Then we walked into a local jhum-home and we were offered a mug each of lao-pani and some roasted corn and colocasia. It was a meal I thoroughly enjoyed. Another Miji local passed by and sat with us and with a shout told his mother in a home below to cook something for us to eat. We walked into the next house and another two mugs of corn beer and local eggs, boiled, were offered to us. We then went into the next house and we were offered raw salted ginger and a mug of corn beer! In return, all I did for all these Mijis was to take their photographs and will develop them and give them a copy in my next trip to Rurang.

Each of these houses were made of bamboo, the fuel being used was wood, food was stuff grown in plots nearby, tobacco too and beer was made from corn. There was nothing that had to be 'manufactured' and then I was thinking; At first look the hills look deprived of forests in small patches; 2-3 ha per family and therefore these families were destroying the forests, but overall what was their ecological footprint and what was mine. Even sitting here logging this I am using up electricity, computers, internet and what-not. I promised myself to be careful before pointing fingers at others; at least in this respect.

But definitely the worst combination is brewed when people in remote villages have access to towns with guns, bleaching powder, snares, etc. The day after visiting Rurang, I headed to a hamlet close to Nafra called Nakhu and locals there were boasting that they caught about 20 kgs of fish with just 1 kilo of bleaching powder. In other places too I had heard of other methods to catch fish; with a bomb or with a live electric wire.

In my trip to Upper siang, a local Adi person obliged me by letting me join him in one of his trips to check rodent-snare traps. My friend Takeng had laid about 25-30 traps and laid some jobs tear millet as bait. In the morning I was with him the traps had caught 15 rodents, all of the same common Indian species, the bandicoot.

Therefore in the north-east, it seems impossible to completely stop hunting due to its links to tradition and culture. But by spreading awareness, it may be possible to convince the locals to use less destructive hunting and fishing methods and spare the rare species and give them time to recuperate.

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