Introduction / History
Fort like mountains can be seen around from Adimali, a hill town in Idukki district on the eastern boarder of Kerala. Steep rocks are featured with occassional trees. Each mountain looks like a monolith. It is hard to guess about a community who live beyond these mounts with lifestyles of a century behind. We continued trekking to the top of the rock hill, heading towards Chinnappara kudy. (kudy means village).
Chinnappara kudy is situated down the valley. The nearest Mannan settlement from the town can be viewed at distance from the top of the rocks. Each Mannan cluster is referred to as kudis, which will have around 50 houses. It is said that there are altogether 600 houses in Chinnappara. Each house is sporadic on the hill slopes between cultivated lands. A plain valley in the middle is visible from here. It was made into a field with paddy, plantain, tapioca and corn. Due to the threat of rats tapioca has become rare. Small houses built of bamboo were seen among cashew and arecanut trees. Due to the 8 year old project of World Vision, development which was crossing the mountain has affected some of the houses too. Most of the houses built with handmade bricks and the roof with leaves were untouched by this development.
Mannans are believed to have migrated from country to the forest. The present king who ruled the country is staying in a hill called Kozhimala. On every annual celebration they gather in one particular village. King attends the annual celebration that is marked with many cultural events and celebrations.
Mannans worship hill gods. Hill gods are the spirits of their forefathers who ascended the mountains. But of late, owing to outside contact they have begun to worship other gods and personifications.
Mannans who were settled down in one particular forest, were evacuated by the forest departments. Some forests are safe havens for them with sandalwood and rose woods. The migrating tribals were allowed to make farmlands and cultivate for five years by deforesting. Afterwards they should proceed to interior woods once again.
Every village will have 10 to 45 houses. Forest department has appointed 2 representatives from the Mannan community in each village, Village leader (Thalaivar) and village head/elder(Kani). The former acts as an intermediary between the government and people where as the latter preside over important tribal affairs. They gather the Mannan community on special occasions and give leadership on various issues.
Most of the villages are situated 20 to 30 kilometers away from the main road. Except the villages in the town's vicinity, people from interior villages keep aloof from strangers when they step in to the village. Kani who investigates and find out the intent of the strangers, informs others about the same. Once it is announced, others come out and interact with the visitors. Women are rarely seen outside the villages.
When girls attain 13 years they are separated from their families and made to confine in large tents known as Sathram (inn). Elderly women look after these inns. Till marriage they are supposed to stay there. Inside the tent there are provisions for burning fire. Day and night the fire burns in the center of the hall. Around the fire they sleep on mats. In some inns there are platforms made up of bamboo to sit.
There will separate satrhram for young men who have crossed 20 years. Elderly men look after them. [Sathrams are found in remotest settlements only and now mostly among the Muthuvan tribe. See sathram in the Muthuvan story]
Once a girl crosses 13 years she is considered to have attained marriageable age. Girls who are ready for marriage are kept hidden in forests. Once informed, the would-be bridegrooms who proceed from his inn, look out for the hidden girl. The one who finds her before others, will be received by the girl by an act of sprinkling turmeric water. This is a sign that they ought to enter into wedlock.
Listening to the practices of the Mannan tribe I went along the red mud road to wards Thalayorappan kudy, with only a hand full of tiny huts around. These crude straw huts belonged to the Muduvan tribe. In the four provinces of Idukki district, it is estimated that 70percent of the population comprises tribals. The sources add that there are totally 14 tribal communities. Among those who stay in the interior hills there are many who are totally insulated from the outside world. Malayarayan, Muduvan, Mannan, Urali, Ulladan, Palian, Irular, Malappulayan, Malavedan, Malappandaram are the ones who are known tribes. They have a legacy of 600 years.
* Scripture Prayers for the Mannan, caste in India.