Hill Pandaram - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Although the Hill Pandaram occasionally engage in paid labor for the forest department, and a small minority of families are settled agriculturalists on the forest perimeter, the majority are nomadic hunter-gatherers, who combine food gathering with the collection of minor forest produce. The main staple consists of various kinds of yam collected by means of digging sticks, together with the nuts of a forest cycad, kalinga ( Cycas cincinalis ). Such staples are supplemented with palm flour, and cassava and rice are obtained through trade. The hunting of small animals, particularly monkeys, squirrels, and monitor lizards, is important. These animals are obtained either during foraging activities or in a hunting party consisting of two men or a man and a young boy, using old muzzle-loading guns. Dogs, an aid to hunting, are the only domestic animals.

Trade. The collection of minor forest produce is an important aspect of economic life and the principal items traded are honey, wax, dammar (a resin), turmeric, ginger, cardamom, incha bark ( Acacia intsia, one variety of which is a soap substitute, the other a fish poison), various medicinal plants, oil-bearing seeds, and bark materials used for tanning purposes. The trade of these products is organized through a contractual mercantile system, a particular forest range being leased by the Forest Department to a contractor, who is normally a wealthy merchant living in the plains area, often a Muslim or a high-caste Hindu. Through the contractor the Hill Pandaram obtain their basic subsistence requirements: salt, condiments, cloth, cooking pots, and tins for collecting honey. All the material possessions of the community are obtained through such trade—even the two items that are crucial to their collecting economy, billhooks and axes. As the contractual system exploited the Hill Pandaram, who rarely got the full market value for the forest commodities they collected, moves have been made in recent years to replace it by a forest cooperative system administered by forestry officials under the auspices of the government's Tribal Welfare Department.

Division of Labor. Although women are the principal gatherers of yams, while the hunting of the larger mammals and the collection of honey are the prerogatives of men, the division of labor is not a rigid one. Men may cook and care for children, while women frequently go hunting for smaller animals, an activity that tends to be a collective enterprise involving a family aided by a dog. Collection of forest produce tends to be done by both sexes.

Land Tenure. Each Hill Pandaram family (or individual) is associated with a particular forest tract, but there is little or no assertion of territorial rights or rights over particular forest products either by individuals or families. The forest is held to be the common property of the whole community. No complaint is expressed at the increasing encroachment on the forest by low-country men who gather dammar or other forest products, or at increasing incidences of poaching by them.

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