Nilambur Adivasis fall back on traditional know-how

They use bamboo raft to cross the fast-flowing Chaliyar after floods washed away bridges

The floods that ravaged the banks of the Chaliyar river in Nilambur have forced the Adivasis of Pothukal grama panchayat to fall back on their traditional know-how for transportation.

Hundreds of tribespeople living in the Kumbalappara, Tharippapotti, Vaniyampuzha, and Iruttukutthi colonies are using traditional bamboo rafts to cross the Chaliyar.

Heavy current

All bridges across the river connecting the tribal colonies with the mainland were washed away in this year’s floods. At least half a dozen Adivasi men will be engaged to operate a bamboo raft in the fast-flowing river. When two of them push the raft upstream by swimming, two others try to control the direction by using long bamboo oars. As the heavy currents rapidly carry the raft, the oarsmen throw a rope to the men on the other side of the river. The raft is then pulled and brought to the shore on the other side using the rope tied to it.

“For us, it is anything but scary. We are used to it,” said E.K. Nikhil, a youngster from Iruttukuthi colony. For people from the mainland, crossing the river on the bamboo raft may be a little scary.

Scary experience

A delegation of the district panchayat led by president A.P. Unnikrishnan and vice president Sakeena Pulpadan had their scariest experience recently when they tried to cross the river with the help of the Adivasis.

Mr. Unnikrishnan and his men colleagues took the challenge when Ms. Sakeena a few women councillors withdrew. “I did not want to take the risk. It was frightening,” said Ms. Sakeena.

Mr. Unnikrishnan said they were terrified when the currents carried the raft away as the operating men could not catch the rope. It was a giant log across the river that prevented the raft and saved their lives. The tribespeople make the raft by using 13 full-length bamboos in two layers. At the centre, where they make a platform with an additional layer, people can sit. Two long bamboos are used as oars. The tribespeople are using three rafts to reach the mainland for various purposes, including collection of provisions. When the water in the river rises threateningly, causing heavy currents, they operate the raft by tying it to a tree using a long rope.

“We are waiting for the government to rebuild the bridges across the river,” said S. Gireesh from the Vaniyampuzha colony. The men of four colonies were dependent on two bridges, including a long hanging bridge. Both were destroyed in the floods.

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