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An Association of Sounds Afar

27 Feb 2023

Songs of Attapady and Wayanad strike a harmonious chord at the Tribal Music Workshop at Kochi Biennale

In the first season of Earthlore, ARPO worked with two tribal communities – Kattunaykkar of Thirunelli, Wayanad, and Irular of Attapady, Palakkad. We digitally archived their songs, created music videos, conducted their interviews, and facilitated their collaboration with professional musicians over the course of February and May 2022. In February 2023, ARPO revisited the two groups to organise a two-day workshop and performance at the ABC Art Room, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2022.

Songs of the Forest lords

Kattunaykkar are a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) in Kerala, having a population of 18,199, as per the 2011 census. The literal translation of the name of the community is “lords of the forest.” They are also called Jenu Kuruma or Taen Kuruma (Jenu and Taen in Kattunaykkar dialect and Malayalam means honey, because the members of the community are expert honey gatherers). The members of the community, three-fourth of whom reside in Wayanad district, live a life closely associated with forests.

The songs of Kattunaykkar, sung in Kattunaykkar Bhasha, is usually themed around their life in the Western Ghats forests. They are sung during annual kolkkali performances, and during rituals such as the celebration of one's first menstruation, marriage, and child birth.

The fiesty rhythms are populated with the sounds of special instruments such as the jodumara, a wooden drum made of “kumizh” tree and deer skin; bamboo drums known as kottadattai; a shaker made of bottle gourd called burudai and kolalu, a wooden wind pipe.

Nanga Iradu Ullumanaluve

Nanga udaath Kattebudaloove

Iganu Iradu Ullummanale

Nanga Hayyama Idaath Kattebudaleevve

We reside in homes thatched with grass

Our homes stand below the bamboos

We still reside in homes thatched with grass

Our ancestors also resided under bamboo trees

Kaadullu uttibandath hayyave

Kadune ulisibanthath naggave

Kadine Jenummakka naggave

Kadive parakkayath naggave

Our ancestors were born in the forest

We maintained the forest

We were the honey-children of the forest

We conserved the forest.

ARPO collaborated with members of Kattunaykkar community residing around Begur area of Thirunelli Panchayath in Wayanad. We had found that in Wayanad, the community had lost their songs in most of the areas where they resided, or even if these survived among older generations, they were reluctant to share it with outsiders.

It was after a search of more than a week that we finally managed to be in touch with the group, led by Mr Ramesan, who live on the Karnataka side of the Wayanad-Kodagu border and Mr Raghu M, who live in Begur, near Tholppetty tiger reserve. The group had more than 20 artists, most of whom were youngsters in their teenage or in their twenties, who had taken a keen interest in learning and promoting their cultural heritage.

Songs of Attapady

The Irular community reside in the Palakkad district, mainly in Attappady area. As per 2011 census, there are 23,721 members in the community. While traditionally they practiced agriculture, over the last few decades, they have lost their land holdings, leading to most members of the community working as farm labourers or in menial jobs.

The name Irular comes from the dark complexion of its members and they speak a dialect which is a mix of Tamil and Malayalam. Each Irula hamlet is called an Ooru and they are headed by a Ooru Mooppan. Kuruthala, Bhandari, Mannukkaran and Jathikkari are other positions in the traditional administrative system of an Ooru.

Dance and music are closely knitted with the community life of Irular. Such performances take place during the first-menstruation ceremony, marriage, farming, death and so on. Irula Nrittam, or the dance of Irular, takes place as a community activity where all the members of the community dance forming a large circle.

Earthen drum porai, wooden drum davil, wooden wind instrument kogal and jalra are the main traditional instruments that accompany the performances.

The music of the community received wide attention after Nanjiyayamma, a singer from the community, won a national award for best playback singing in movies. ARPO collaborated with Irula musicians led by Nanjiyamma and Swaminathan, who reside in the Agali side of Attappady. The group comprised more than 20 musicians belonging to different age groups.

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