Writing and photography by Harriet Paintin

The modern urban lifestyle has come quickly to India’s tribal communities. Less than a hundred years ago many communities still lived in the jungle and practised their traditional means of subsistence such as shifting cultivation, also known as bewar or slash and burn cultivation, which was banned in the 1970s. This caused a fundamental change in the adivasi (tribal) lifestyle as they were forced to learn an entirely new way of cultivation and agriculture. Today, the traditional forms of knowledge are even more under threat as children are sent to school which prepares them for an urban based lifestyle and disregards all forms of adivasi knowledge.

We met Budharam sitting under a tree in a small village in Madhya Pradesh, central India. People of his generation are unsure of their exact age, but he says he is approximately 80 years old. He told us about the many changes that he was witnessed during his lifetime.

“When I was a young boy the foreigners came. At that time we used to hunt small animals in the forest and we practised shifting cultivation. I had never seen white people before, and we all welcomed them and supported them. Back then we didn’t grow rice, we had different crops like Koda and Kukti, but the foreigners made laws to force people to make fields and grow rice. The white people took guns and elephants into the forest to hunt tigers, they killed buffalos and left them in the forest to makes the tiger come and then they would shoot it. We never used to hunt the tiger. The foreigners stayed a long time.”

“Now life is different. We have fields, and there is a school in the village for the children. Before, children knew the name of every tree and what it is used for, but now they don’t know about the forest and this knowledge is disappearing. People forget the knowledge of the forest when they study. We adivasis need to have this knowledge but it’s disappearing because everybody wants to study and go to the city. When people are educated they drink alcohol more, and they look down on old people in the village as if we don’t know anything. They think that they are more intelligent but when they have a problem they come to us and ask for help.”