Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Tharus and the rhinos

Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s first national park, is home to the second largest herd of one-horned rhinos in the world. The park boasts of having above 500 rhinos, thanks to the local community who have been joining hands with the government authorities to save the endangered species.

The Tharus take pride in living together with wild animals and conserving them and their habitat before and after the influx of migrants from northern part of the country and bordering India.

Many unsung heroes have gone unnoticed with the media blowing horns for only the vocal ones who apparently are non Tharus. The journalists only talk about the Tharus who have been a sensation – like a Tharu man jumping on a rhino to win a bet of just five rupees, the first woman mahout in Nepal who is a Tharu, and a Tharu mahout who handled the elephant whenever the king used to visit the park.   

However, the researchers who spent years in Chitwan, Bardia, Dang and other Tharuhat areas have spoken and written a lot about the Tharus – both the unsung heroes and the legends.   

Professor Ulrike Mueller-Boeker, in her book The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal: An Ethnoecological Approach, details the Tharu beliefs about rhinos. 

Tharus regard rhino as a symbol of strength and potency. They, rather than believing on the aphrodisiac effect of the rhino horn, take it as an extreme case of good luck if they get hold of the flesh, blood, skin, urine or even dung of a rhino.

Tharus believe that placing the rhino horn under the pillow of a delivering mother makes the delivery quick and smooth. In her book, Ulrike mentions: And they share one other notion about the magical powers of the horn with many other Nepalese: radio transmitters and receivers work because there is rhino horn in them. “How else,” added one Tharu, “could words and songs fly from one place to another?” Events that cannot be explained or else chalked up to divine intervention become comprehensible by means of the rhinoceros.

The meat of a rhino, whether it is rotten or decayed extracted from dead or poached rhinos buried by the authorities, is considered as delicacy among the Tharus. They believe consuming rhino meat helps one evade cycle of rebirths. Besides, the meat offers health, courage and strength.      

Arm bracelets and pots are made from the skin of a dead rhino. Tharus believe that wearing a rhino bracelet protects from the attacks of spirits.

Tharus gather the dried clumps of rhino blood which drips drown when a rhino gets injured in a battle with another rhino. They then dissolve it in water and take of apply the liquid as medicine.

Likewise, the rhino dung and urine are also thought to have healing powers. If a puddle of urine or urine-soaked sand is discovered, they retrieve the liquid. If they find wet sand (with the rhino urine), they flush it with water and use the liquid, again as medicine.

Ulrike writes: The Tharus know to use the powers of a rhinoceros, of whose effectiveness they are convinced, without having to kill the animal; they merely “process” the excretions of a living creature of the cadaver of a dead one. This is also true of other animal species which are seldom slain in order to enjoy the healing and beneficial properties. 

Tharus have been living with the rhinos and saving them for generations – using only the urine and dung, clotted blood, and the skin and meat of a dead rhino. They, along with the newly arrived neighbours, know the importance of a rhino – how it is bringing tourists to the area and helping the local economy grow.

It is high time the media highlights the conservation efforts of local community and unsung heroes, because they are the ones who love the animals and play crucial role in saving the species. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

The motifs and messages on doors of Tharu households

It is a fascinating image. A well-carved door – around hundred years old – has been posted for sale. Men and women engaged in different activities including some daily chores cover the door frontal with floral patterns bordering the motifs. One prominent figure shows men carrying a palanquin. One of the images portray a man playing drum and another figure in a dancing pose. Luckily, or say unfortunately, it used to be a door of a Tharu household.

Few months back, I was mailed an image of a door from another Tharu household which was being readied for exhibition. I could just decipher the name of the house owner from the door and few wild figures including deer, elephants and tigers carved on the door. Looking at the animals carved on the door, I guess it was either from a house in Chitwan or Bardia district.

There is a huge demand in the West for the artefacts and it adds value if it is more than hundred years old and belongs to tribal communities. 

It’s bad that our antique items are finding ways to collectors’ market in the West. However, like every black cloud has a silver lining, it could be a good source of income for few impoverished families which are in possession of such beautiful objects. And especially if such items are thrown in a corner, neglected, making way to cheap modern plywood doors.

Below are few doors, still in use, in the Tharu houses in Eastern Nepal. They have a common design – a floral border and geometrical patterns on the frontal.

It would be great if you can post pictures of old doors from Tharu households in your vicinity.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

7 habits of highly inefficient Tharus

Let me start this piece of satire with a disclaimer – no offence to anybody whose single trait matches with one or more of the below mentioned seven habits. I am myself addicted to quite few of them.

I am not being critical. It’s a reality. Recently, Tharus have been highly inefficient.  And I am digging out the root causes of inefficiency so that the young generation finds a panacea for them and starts cultivating habits that make them highly efficient.

Tharus especially the young ones, though adorned with feel-good adjectives like strong, honest and humble, are often ridiculed with sobriquets like darupiya (alcoholic) and Madhise (derogatory word for people from Terai/Madhes with dark skin). In spite of Tharus, all the time, claiming to be different from Madhesis. Now let’s have a look at all the seven traits that are making the Tharus inefficient and ineffective. 

The first and foremost enemy of the Tharus is daru (alcohol). I don’t know what’s so special about alcohol that the Tharus are so passionate about it. Like they developed immunity against malaria living together with the mosquitoes in the dense jungles, they should have developed similar sort of immunity against alcohol. But it never happened. The Tharus have been brewing alcohol, offering alcohol to their deities and have been drinking it for thousands of years.  Still, not being able to control the intake and not being able to define the limit has led them to the brink of bankruptcy. In spite of knowing that their fathers and forefathers lost all their land, property and pride due to alcohol, they still have been drinking the liquid that makes them largely lethargic.

It’s spreading like an epidemic. Wherever I go, I see the youngsters wasting their precious time and money smoking ganja (marijuana). Earlier, so far as I remember, it was used as means of recreation. I am witness to the pot inhaling sessions of my grandfather and gang. They used to smoke it no more than twice a day and it was offered to guests to relieve them of their tiring travels. Nowadays, you don’t need a pain reliever as you never travel on foot for long. So why smoke pot? Though the youngsters know the habit will lead them to dangerous drugs later, they keep on being stoned throwing their ambitions away in ditches of dope.

Then the habit that’s killing the Tharus softly is procrastination. Though being taught Kal kare so aaj, aaj kare so abhi meaning do today whatever you want to do tomorrow and [do it] right now what you want to accomplish today, they keep on postponing important errands to a later date which makes success shy away from them. Opportunity knocks only once on your doors and if you don’t respond to it, it’s never going to come back again. Though there have been some exceptions, most Tharus have been victims of postponement. 

Another hindering trait is being timid. I don’t mean to say that Tharus are coward and can’t fight for any cause. But it really takes time to get them heated for a cause. Hit the iron when it’s hot is the saying, but they get heated only when the situation is out of control. They fear whether somebody will take it for bad if they talk about or do any antagonising action.

Coming to the fifth trait – have you heard a fable about bats? Bats were so confused that they neither joined the animals nor the birds and finally both the species banished them from joining their groups. So has been the fate of the Tharus. They are neither benefitting from being listed as indigenous people nor for residing in Terai which is being claimed as Madhes. Whenever any opportunity arises to crawl out of the marginalisation, it is either picked up by the hill indigenous people or the Madhesis. And the Tharus just get the naught.     

Being hesitant to use the networks and recommend the deserving ones for plum posts have always let the Tharus down.  Even the Westerners find it comfortable to use their networks and promote the ones they know. In Nepal, no need to mention, most people who have access to power and politicians use the nexus. However, they call it network! They find ways to promote nepotism terming it as capability. As if the ones who don’t have near and dear ones in power are worthless. Poor fellows, I pity on them.  I have heard hundreds of complaints against Tharu elders who rose to high powers. Whenever a fellow kinsman went to them for support, they sent him back telling to try on his own, build capacity and have faith on oneself. And while the fellow burned the midnight oil, his less deserving competitor got the opportunity, being pulled by the power of network.

The last but the most prominent trait that always restricts Tharus to rise upwards is their servile mindset. Though most claim this nature to being humbe, I take it as considering themselves inferiors to others. One of my seniors claims that the habit was imbibed by the Tharus because of the hundreds of years of serving the kings, Ranas and later the newly crowned landlords. The proud mentality prevalent in earlier Tharus turned into being servile. So now, they are ready to serve anybody. But thanks, they are not sycophants and the good thing is, they abhor boot-licking.

As every problem has a solution within itself, the hindering traits which have always tied the feet of Tharus have the solution within themselves. If you take out the first letters of all the bad habits, it makes the acronym, DGTBHS. And fortunately it gives a great lesson – Dig a pit and bury the bad habits.

So, why are you waiting?

Let’s abolish all the bad habits that are stopping the Tharus from being efficient and effective. Turn them into seven habits of highly efficient Tharus!