Badaga - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In general Badagas use fields around the villages to practice mixed farming of millets, barley, wheat, and a variety of European vegetables, two of which—the potato and cabbage—have now assumed major commercial importance. Millets were the staple until this century, and they were sometimes cultivated in Forest clearings by the slash-and-burn technique. Badaga farmers use no irrigation; instead, they rely on the rainfall of two regular monsoon seasons. During this century they have gradually shifted from subsistence farming of traditional grains to cash-crop farming of potatoes and cabbages. After several seasons of disease, potatoes were recently superseded by Numerous small plantations of tea (which was first introduced here by the British in 1835) and cabbage fields. Crops of European origin are now grown on machine-made terraces with the help of chemical fertilizers, truck transport, improved seed, and even crop insurance; similar techniques are used on the tea plantations, which must maintain world market Standards. Herds of buffalo and cows are kept for dairy purposes; these are less numerous than in the past, and they are never kept for meat, even though most people are not vegetarians. Poultry are frequently kept and ponies occasionally. Bee-keeping is practiced now, but in earlier days only wild honey was collected in the forests. Although potatoes and Purchased rice are the staples nowadays, the Badagas Traditionally ate wheat and various millets. Their mixed farming produces a good variety of both local and European crops, and their diet also may be complemented with some wild forest plants. Most Badagas are nonvegetarian, eating mutton and occasional wild game. There is no evidence of opium addiction, although this was an opium-producing community in the last century. Illicit liquor is produced.

Industrial Arts. Although Badagas have been doing building and urban trades for about a century, until 1930 they looked to the Kotas to supply all of their needs in pottery, carpentry, leather, blacksmithing, silver ornaments, thatching, and furniture. Badagas include no specialized artisan phratries or subcastes.

Trade. This community is well known for its complex symbiosis with the Toda, Kota, and Kurumba tribes of the Nilgiris. Some Badaga villages also maintain exchange relations with the Irulas, Uralis, Paniyans, and Chettis of the surrounding slopes. The closest ties are with the seven nearby Kota villages. Until 1930 every Badaga family had a Kota associate who provided a band of musicians whenever there was a wedding or funeral in that family and who regularly furnished the Badagas with pottery, carpentry, thatching, and most leather and metal items. In return for being jacks-of-all-trades to the Badagas (who had no specialized artisans in their own community), the Kotas were supplied with cloth and a portion of the annual harvest by their Badaga associates. The Todas, a vegetarian people, were the only group in the Nilgiri Hills whom the Badagas were willing to accept as near equals. The two communities used to exchange buffalo and attend each other's ceremonies. Some Todas still supply their associates with baskets and other jungle-grown produce, as well as clarified butter (ghee). In return the Badagas give a portion of their harvest. Since 1930 the relationship has become attenuated, as with the Kotas, largely because the Badaga population has increased out of all proportion to the Todas and Kotas; and also because the Badagas are distinctly more modernized. The Kurumbas are seven tribes of jungle gatherers, gardeners, and sorcerers on the Nilgiri slopes. Each Badaga village has a "watchman," a Kurumba employed to protect them from the sorcery of other Kurumbas. He also takes part in some Badaga ceremonies as an auxiliary priest and supplies his Badaga friends with baskets, nets, honey, and other jungle products. The Badaga headman levies for him a fixed quantity of grain from each household in the Village. Irulas and Uralis are thought to be sorcerers like the Kurumbas, if less effective ones, and are treated similarly. Some Chettis are itinerant traders who sell knickknacks on a fixed circuit of Badaga villages once a month, and have done so for several centuries. They also have minor ceremonial connections with the Badagas. Paniyans are agrestic serfs on the land of certain Badagas and Chettis who inhabit the Wainad Plateau directly west of the Nilgiris proper. In addition to the economic exchanges described above, the Badagas buy all kinds of goods in the district's town markets that were started by the British administrators around 1820.

Division of Labor. A rigid sexual division of labor is apparent. Men do the heavy field work of plowing, sowing, and threshing, while women do the lighter work of weeding and help at harvest. All dairy operations are conducted by men or boys. Women are responsible for preparing food. Children find much of their time taken up with school, although girls are also expected to help in the home.

Land Tenure. According to legend, Badagas acquired their first land as gifts from the Kotas and Todas already settled in the area; as time passed they simply cleared new plots from the forests. Until 1862 such swidden cultivation was still common, but henceforward it was prohibited by state law. This regulation has not been a great hardship, however, because the richer and more valuable fields are the Permanent ones close to each village. Irrigation is very rare but terracing is now widespread. House sites often have gardens attached. For more than a century each farmer has registered all of his land holdings with the local government and has paid an annual land tax proportional to the amount of land and the quality of the soil. Government also registers nonfarm land for such purposes as a village site, public grazing, cremation ground or cemetery, temple site, roadway, or government forest.


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