Enter the Magical Forest of the Nayak Family!

April 26, 2016

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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Children at a farm festival organised by the Nayaks in Karnataka

An email came to us at Grin News. It sounded magical. The letter was inviting us deep into the forests of Karnataka.

‘Happy Summer!’ it said, ‘This month, April 30th to May 7th for a week we are harvesting the summer fruit Kokum in Angadibail forest, Ankola. If you haven’t seen the Angadibail forest, it is beautiful, the perfect place for community gatherings. We are inviting you to join us in the weekends (April and May 1st or May 7th and 8th, 2016) for the complete journey of Kokum from Tree to Jar. We’ll be picking, processing and preserving the fruit together and even trying our hand at making Kokum-butter the traditional way.’

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Garcinia indica, a plant in the mangosteen family, commonly known as kokum, is a fruit-bearing tree that has culinary, pharmaceutical, and industrial uses.

Now the kokum is a wonderful fruit — you can make all sorts of things with it, including butter. In fact, traditionally in Karnataka even dosas would be fried in kokum better.

Intrigued, we called the organiser, 47-year-old teacher Savita Nayak. Turns out, Nayak and her parents (Dr. N R Nayak, 80, and Shanti Nayak, 75) have worked for decades to preserve the culture and traditions of tribal and agricultural regions of southern Karnataka.

‘My parents spent 40 years doing this — they have published around 80 books on tribal folklore, customs and food, and I took over the baton in the last decade,’ says Savita Uday. ‘My mother has rediscovered nearly 150 tribal recipes with buttermilk as the base which use a variety of herbs, plants and flowers.’

All three family members have PhDs in Kannada literature, and Uday has formed educational courses in tribal knowledge and works with 15 schools and colleges across India. Both her parents, who also have PhDs in Kannada literature, have been given awards from the Karnataka state for their contribution in preserving rare and vanishing tribe heritage.

As just one example of their vast work, their organisation BuDa Folklore has worked extensively to promote Hanmi Kshetra Gowda, the 75-year-old master storyteller, who belongs to the Gaamokkalu tribe in Uttara Kannada, and is the only person alive who can narrate from memory the entire Mahabharat.

This is the video BuDa Folklore made on Hanmi

The Nayaks own 25 acres of forest land in southern Karnataka, of which 8 acres are agricultural land. They organise a variety of festivals, taking in about 15 guests at a time, to teach them forgotten tribal ways of making food and crafts. After from the kokum festival, they also have a jaggery festival and a cane festival.

Uday says that she refuses to brand the food because she wants more and more people to visit their forest hub to see how things are grown and made so that they truly appreciate the end result. ‘We don’t want to sell products, we want to promote knowledge,’ she says.

Even if her products are sold in cities, she wants to partner with organisations that include a detailed story of each product that is given to the customer along with the product.

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The kokum fruit in the tree

Uday says she got into working with her parents after she realised, as a teacher, that a lot of things that are taught to children in India have no relevance with the land and people that they see around them.

‘We don’t want the knowledge to be cut away from the land. We don’t want to cut the connection of the product and the knowledge from the land,’ says Uday.

Tags: building resilient food systems, traditional indigenous knowledge