Adivasis continue cultivation of millets the once part of ancestral dietary regimen
Lingamma, and her son, residents of Vemulapaya in Nagarkurnool, pounding foxtail millets to prepare ‘Korra Biyyam’ — Photo: Vivek Bhoomi
Nagarkurnool: ‘Korra Biyyam,’ the once part of regular dietary regimen of our ancestors, would have reached the brink of extinction in Telangana, if not for some progressive farmers, farmers’ NGOs and protagonists of natural farming. There are also those who have continued to cultivate and preserve the indigenous Korra (foxtail millet) seeds in the Nallamala forests till today.
Lingamma (50), a resident of Vemulapaya, which lies on the banks of river Krishna cultivated a small madi (piece of land) right behind her bamboo shack with Korra this kharif. “It has been three years since the Tuesday weekly-jatara has been held in our penta. Nobody comes here. I had to grow something to eat, so I planted these seeds. But right at the harvest stage, wild boars have ruined my crop,” Lingamma tells Telangana Today, showing what was remaining of her fox-millet crop.
She had, however, still preserved the indigenous Korra seeds which she had harvested three years ago. She says this yasangi (rabi season), which Chenchus call ‘magi,’ she still has seeds left to grow these millets for domestic consumption.
The way she made Korra rice out of the Korra seeds, is one ancient method, which has probably been preserved by very few indigenous women like Lingamma on this planet. There was a small pit dug inside the floor which looks more like a ‘rokali banda,’ used in villages since time immemorial to grind food and other materials.
She, first, swept the floor neatly, then mixed cow dung in water and applied it as paste inside and around the pit. She waited till it dried and then poured the Korra seeds inside the ground hole. She kept mixing the grains in the hole, while her grandson kept pounding the millets using a soft wooden pestle. They kept pounding until the seeds started becoming powder. Then she used a chaata (wooden tray) to separate mud, stones, grits and wastage from the flour.
The Korra seeds had by then turned into soft cream-coloured flour ready to be cooked as korra biyyam. She however cautions from cooking the flour directly. She says that while washing the millet flour, the sand which may have entered while pounding the seeds in the hole. Well that doesn’t take much skill, as most of the homemakers across Telangana know how to do that. This is one of the secrets of how the second-most ancient Adivasi civilization has managed to survive through probably thousands, if not millions of years of ‘survival of the fittest game.’
And Lingamma fed her once-in-a-lifetime visitors with that korra biyyam, without expecting anything in return. That is the nature of Chenchus dwelling in the deep forests of the Nallamala. There are many tales which have percolated to the present generation since ancient days, about cultivation of millets by the Adivasis in olden days. It is said that Chenchus used to pour and dry their heaps of sorghum produce atop a hillock located in Amaragiri village of Kollapur mandal. It is also believed that when Chenchus used to pick from the heap, they used to find diamonds inside the sorghum grains, This bald hillock is still called ‘Jonna Bogudu’ or ‘Jonna Raasi’ and the legend still lives on.
First published by Telangana Today on 20 Dec. 2019