Come animals, tribals prefer tree houses

By Debajyoti Chakraborty

The Times of India News Service

MOORGUMA FOREST, Purulia: People living on the tree-top is a fantasy. Not true. For nearly 30-odd tribals have been doing just that and that too in the dense Moorguma Forest under the Ayodhya Hills about 46 km from Purulia town.

The forest officials have named them gaachbaris (tree houses).

Divisional forest officer of Purulia Sourav Choudhury told TOINS that nowhere else in India can people be found living in houses built on trees.

The Mechi, Rajbanshis make houses on wooden posts and not on trees, he said.

Why do these Santhals live in such houses? The kings of the Hansla dynasty presented cultivable lands to these tribals before leaving the place.

Majority of these lands are situated just beside the largest water reservoir, the Saharjuri river, where all animals including elephants and leopards come to drink, said K.P. Satpathy, the range officer of Kotsila.

Initially, the tribals used to live in houses built on trees to monitor the movement of wild animals at night and protect their crops. Now they live permanently, he added.

It took exactly 20 minutes by foot to reach the site inside the dense forest.

The jeep in which we were travelling had to be kept outside the forest as there are no broad roads.

Inside, it was a feast for the eyes. Human beings living in houses built on the branches of large trees just like birds.

Made of dry straws, there at least five to six people in each house.

We take enough drinking water with us so that we dont have to come down at night, said the 60-year-old Gundlu Singh Mura.

During the monsoon, the kitchen comes down to the earth. Since elephants and other animals from the Mamudi Hills come down to eat ripe crops, young bamboo shoots, sugarcane and maize, the tribals stay there to protect their property.

When the herd of elephants arrive, they start beating drums to push them back.

The 70-year-old Mongol Mura said that his father was eaten by a leopard many years ago when he fell asleep under a tree.

Since then, they decided to live on tree tops.

Would they opt for a safer area? No, they would not leave their ancestral home, gaachbaris, at any cost, despite elephants having damaged their crops in the last few years.

Choudhury said that the forest department had given asbestos sheets to the tribals to replace some of the thatched tree houses.

Even firecrackers were supplied to disperse the herd, he said. From this year, the department has given them seeds and plants and these Santhals have been included in the Forest Bachao Committee for they dont allow anybody to fell trees.

A three-year-old boy or a 40-year-old woman climbing a tree to reach home at least 18-foot high is a sight to behold.

However, these tribals are quite happy to dwell in the lap of nature despite the odds.

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Referred by: Mukandan CM
Published on: June 29, 2001
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