Kota - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Kotas, being agriculturalists, usually grow enough beans, potatoes, and carrots to suit their needs. Other vegetables and rice are purchased in the market. In earlier days the Kotas cultivated millet or relied on their Badaga neighbors for regular supplies of grain in return for their services. Now most Kotas own some land—even if they live in a nearby city—and cultivate tea, a commodity that fetches more than four times the price of any other cash crop. The Kotas, like most of India's cultivators, use chemical fertilizers with little concern for the effects on their health or the environment. Kotas keep buffalo and cows for producing milk, butter, and curds, but they no longer keep buffalo and never keep cows for meat or sacrificial purposes. Domestic dogs and cats are not uncommon and chickens can be seen about the village. Other animals used for food are usually purchased. Sheep raising and beekeeping have also been reported. The Kotas' traditional staple was a type of millet known as vatamk (Italian millet). This food is a must on ceremonial occasions today, but on a daily basis Kotas prefer rice. Idlis and dosais —the common light meals throughout the south of India—are rarely served. A typical day's menu comprises two to three meals of rice (or other grain) eaten with udk , a thick soup of pulses and vegetables in a tamarind broth flavored with chilies, salt, and other Common south Indian spices. A meal is sometimes supplemented with an omelet, fruits, papadams (fried or grilled breads similar to tortillas), and pickles, especially if guests are present. Although the Kotas are not vegetarians they seldom eat beef. Mutton or chicken are regularly offered to some of the Hindu deities the Kotas have introduced into their villages. Raw vegetables are seldom eaten at meals but people commonly eat leaves and other vegetation while out walking or working in the fields. Alcohol abuse is a problem in some Kota villages but is not as widespread as among some of the other local tribes. Opium use is common but secretive. The government provides opium rations to the tribes but illegal cultivation also occurs. Other drug use is virtually absent. Cigarette and beedi (a small, leaf-rolled cigarette) smoking is common. Chewing tobacco is distributed at certain festival times but few people take it habitually.

Industrial Arts. Kota men have traditionally specialized in blacksmithing, silversmithing, roof thatching, basket making, wood-and leatherworking, and musical-instrument making. The skill for these crafts is often passed from father to son but almost anyone, except for priests in some cases, can do these jobs. Women make pottery for domestic and ceremonial purposes. In earlier times Kotas are said to have extracted ore from rocks quarried in the area; nowadays iron is purchased from the market in bar form or in various unrefined shapes, such as an unsharpened saw. Carpentry is still practiced but few artisans can carve with the skill displayed on old Kota door frames and on the stone pillars in front of their temples. A few artisans still produce fine hand-carved rifle butts and double-reed instruments ( kol ). Baskets are usually purchased from the market or from wandering merchants, but Kotamade baskets called kik are necessary on certain ceremonial occasions. Hides from goats and oxen are necessary for the production of their drums, the tabatk, e-rtabatk, kinvar, and do-par. Their long curved horns, called kob, used to be fashioned of buffalo horn. Now they are made of brass and Purchased from the Coimbatore Plains.

Trade. Until the 1930s the Kotas maintained a close interdependent relationship with the Todas, Badagas, and Kurumbas. Each Kota village was located near settlements of other communities and each household had specific Members of these communities on whom they depended and who depended upon them. Kota music was an essential at Badaga and Toda funerals and commonly performed on festive occasions as well. The Todas supplied dairy products and the Badagas provided grain and cloth. Kurumbas, who were feared for alleged witchcraft, were often village sentries and healers and also provided forest products for the other communities. Partly because the Kotas ate buffalo flesh—and reportedly even carrion—the Badagas and Todas looked down upon them, but the Kotas did not and do not accept the lowly position accorded them. They used to sacrifice buffalo at their own funerals and accept sacrificed buffalo as payment for their musical and other ritual services at Toda funerals. To explain this some Kotas claim they were originally vegetarians compelled to eat meat because the Todas had no other means of paying them for their services. Today, to show their rejection of this locally despised practice, the Kotas neither play for Toda funerals nor sacrifice buffalo themselves. In addition to those with the Todas, Badagas, and Kurumbas, some minor trade relations also existed with other Nilgiri tribes, but these transactions received little attention in the early colonial and anthropological literature. Items from the plains were procured from itinerant Chettis directly or through Badaga mediaries. Kota music has been largely replaced by Irula, Kurumba, Tamil, or Kanarese bands and sometimes by semi-Western bands or recorded film music. Musicians are remunerated in cash, food, and drink. Kotas are occasionally hired by Tamils and are usually paid more than other tribals for their services.

Division of Labor. In agricultural tasks the women ordinarily weed the fields, then the men till the soil, both sexes harrow and furrow, and finally women usually sow the seeds. Wood-and metalworking and the playing of musical instruments are the exclusive domain of men. In religious Ceremonies both the priests and their wives, as well as other functionaries, have specific duties. Women's duties include collecting clay, making pottery, collecting water, preparing food for cooking, and cooking (though men also do cook). Men and women are further differentiated by the tunes used for their dances and by the dances themselves. Men always dance before women, and at the closing of larger festivals a day is devoted to women's singing and dancing. This is considered an auspicious ending ( mangalam ).

Land Tenure. The Kotas claim they have owned the land near their villages from time immemorial. Now they have also bought new lands some distance away from their villages. When Tipu Sultan's reign touched the Nilgiris the Kotas had to pay land tax to one of his ministers. Even today the rock can be seen in Kolme-1 on which the Kota king and Tipu's minister sat while conducting their transactions. Fields are terraced or sloped and marked by boundaries of fencing, vegetation, embankments of soil, or other available means. Because land tends to remain with the family, the records of ownership also provide valuable genealogical information.


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