Irula - Settlements

The Irula tend to place their houses together in hamlets or villages called mottas. After the British moved to end shifting ( kottukadu or kumri ) agriculture, starting at the time of the land settlements in the 1880s, it became increasingly difficult for the Irula to farm in this way. However, to the limited degree that some still manage to follow this practice in the wildest areas, there may be as a result scattered single houses next to temporary plots. Kasaba who live in a wildlife sanctuary are also likely to reside in separate houses. In hamlets, often with less than fifty people, there are separate houses, houses aligned into rows, or a combination of the two patterns. The alignment of houses was traditional, but the practice was reinforced when plantation managers had "coolie lines," houses built in rows for their laborers. Houses provided by the government also tend to be aligned. A courtyard fronting a house is the most common adjunct, and houses within a hamlet are invariably next to one or more courtyards. Some traditional Irula hamlets of the outer Nilgiri slopes might still have separate "pollution huts" or special rooms for women delivering infants, for women in the postpartum stage, or for women who are menstruating. In the traditional way, too, there is a tendency toward a proliferation of small huts to serve separate functions, and these huts are constructed next to courtyards. Apart from the common firewood storage huts and chicken, goat, or sheep huts, there may also be a separate hut just for drums. In these hamlets there is typically an absence of temples. In each of the main villages of Hallimoyar, Kallampalayam, and Thengumarahada, located on the lowland northeast of the Nilgiri massif and close to the Moyar River, there are over 100 Irula. Because caste people (of which the Badaga and Okkaliga are prominent) live with the Irula and because each of these settlements has considerable governmental investment, the Irula tend to be like their neighbors. Pollution huts or rooms and special purpose huts are thus usually absent, and temples are present. Because all the Irula still have a drive toward gardening, garden plants are usually planted in and adjacent to Irula settlements. Even a separate house next to a temporary millet field is thus likely to have some garden plants growing nearby. Jackfruit and mango trees typically gain a firm foothold in and close to permanent settlements, and the drought-resistant neem ( Margosa ) and tamarind are often present within lowland settlements. The lowland Irula who herd cattle for others, typically in drier areas with thorn forest, are associated with a distinctive settlement pattern in which a large cattle enclosure is surrounded by a thorny wall of piled branches. The Irula also have burial grounds with ancestral temples, called koppa manais, in which stones associated with the departed spirits of the dead are housed. Each patrician has a burial place and a koppa manai, but the two are not necessarily together (for example, while Samban people are only buried at Kallampalayam, there are Samban koppa manais at Hallimoyar and Kunjappanai). Although a burial ground is usually close to a settlement, it can be farther away. As in many other parts of Asia and into the Pacific Basin, the sacredness of a burial ground is often associated with the pagoda tree (the Polynesian frangipani). Largely because many of the Irula are landless laborers, most of them live in one-roomed houses. Nevertheless, Irula plantation laborers inhabiting the Nilgiri slopes still occupy bipartite houses with the sacred cooking area formally separated (typically not with a wall but with a shallow earthen platform) from the living and sleeping areas. The Kasaba to the north of the Nilgiri massif, who herd cattle for others (Badagas included), occupy tripartite structures with living quarters for humans to one side of a room with an open front, and a calf room to the other side. The open front of the center room facilitates the watching of the enclosed cattle at night, and it is most useful when predators or wild elephants come near. While traditional Irula houses are made of wattle and daub, with thatched roofs (or in some instances banana sheaths for walling and roofing), more Irula are living in houses with walls of stone or brick and roofs with tiles, especially if the government has provided financial assistance.

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