Friday, April 20, 2012

298. Talambu and Mogaveeras

The Nature is a great teacher to mankind from primitive stage. Barks of certain trees and fibres of certain non-wood plants were used for spinning and weaving, and also for writing, since hoary past.  Mogaveeras being one of the early inhabitants of Tulunadu were self-reliant in respect of making  threads used in variety of fish-catching nets.  They grew Sunn hemp (Talambu = ತಲಂಬು in Tulu, Sanabu - ಸಣಬು in Kannada) for fibres to spin yarn long before the advent of modern spinning mills. They continued to make threads from natural fibres even after modern mills began manufacturing natural and synthetic fibres.  Below is an outline of sunn hemp cultivation and harvesting by Mogaveeras.
The Sunn hemp (also written as sun; botanical name ‘Crotalaria Juncea Linn’) is an Asian, tropical to sub-tropical fibrous plant of Legume Family, having seed bearing pods. The genus is named ‘Crotalaria’, meaning rattling sound. It indicates noise made by   seeds shaken in ripe pods. The species name was given by Linnaeus because the plant’s green, rush-like, scantily leaved branches resemble Spartium junceaum L., the Spanish broom of the Mediterranean region.
 It is a native of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia. It belongs to a large family of legume. Many varieties of sunn hemp are grown in all tropical regions of the world.  It is known by different names in different languages in India and abroad, such as : Tulu (Talambu);Kannada (Sanabu);Malayalam (Wuckoo);Tamil (Sanal, Sannappu); Telugu (Janumu); Hindi (kharif, sannai sunn);Sanskrit (Sana);Oriya (Soin); ­­Bengali (Shonpat, shon, ghore sun); English (brown hemp, sunn hemp, sun hemp, Bengal hemp, Bombay hemp, Madras hemp, Benares hemp, Indian hemp, Jubbalpore hemp); Filipino (karaykagay, putokputukan); French (chenvre indien);Indonesian (orok-orok lembut); Khmer (kâk’tung);Lao (Sino-Tibetan)(thwax chu:b,po: th’üang);Thai (po-tuang);Vietnamese (luc lac,suc sat)
The Sunn hemp or Crotalaria juncea is an erect, herbaceous, laxly branched annual plant, 1 to3.5 m tall. The stems are cylindrical and ribbed, pubescent, up to 2 cm in diameter; vegetative parts covered with short, downy hairs. Long, strong taproot, well-developed lateral roots, and multi-branched and lobed nodules, up to 2.5 cm in length. Leaves simple with minute, pointed stipules; petiole entire, short, about 5mm long with pulvinus blade, linear elliptic to oblong, 4-12 x 0.5-3, bright green. Inflorescence a lax, terminal raceme, up to 25 cm long; flowers conspicuous, small with 5 hairy sepals, shortly united at base, lobes pointed, with 3 lower sepals united at tips, separating in fruit; petals deep yellow, standard erect, about 2.5 cm in diameter, rounded,  sometimes streaked purple on dorsal surface, wings shorter and keel twisted. The Pods are cylindrical, 3-6 x 1-2 cm in size, tomentose, light brown, containing about 6 seeds in each pod. The dark brown to black seeds up to 6 mm long are heart-shaped, with narrow end strongly incurved.

 It is worthwhile to note that one of the natural products traded through Arab traders was sunn hemp fibres from Western Indian ports (including Mangalore).  It reached Europe and England through Mediterranian region. Prior to introduction of sunn hemp cultivation in Europe, European traders too traded this item from 15th/16th Century onwards.

It was an important commercial crop in Europe. In South Asia, it was cultivated more for its narcotic properties than for fibres.  In 1841, William Robinson documented that ‘Cannabis sativa’ (true hemp) was used mainly for drug by hill tribes of Assam whereas it has been used as fibre (from the skin or rind of plant) for spinning elsewhere.  Hemp products are confusing because the word ‘hemp’ is used for many fibre-bearing plants.  Indian hemp comes from a species called ‘Hibiscus cannabines’, ramie or rhea from the plant ‘Boehmeria nivea’ and sunn hemp from ‘Crotalaria Juncea’. This hemp was used for various purposes from fishing nets to textiles, cordage and paper.  Chinese first developed hemp varieties to make paper.  Chinese official documents are made of hemp because it is water-resistant and tough. In North India, Khazgis, i.e. Muslim paper makers, use a variety of materials to make papers, including sunn hemp.
The word ‘canvas’ comes from the word ‘cannabis’. This reflects the use of hemp throughout history as a fibre crop for textiles, rope and paper.  Sail- cloth, sacking and ropes were some of the important hemp products.
In 1941, Henry Ford made a trial car body using 70% hemp, wheat straw and sisal and 30% hemp resin binder with a steel frame.  The car weighed one-third times lesser than conventional cars of that period.
The Sunn hemp plant, with insets showing flowers, leaves and seeds.

It is a lean, straight and long plant with yellow flowers. Seeds are stored and sown on barren land of private land-owners with red soil as summer monsoon sets in (June) and plants are harvested in September.   Both ends of plants are cut, cleaned, threshed for separating pods and dried in sun-shine. During harvesting, separating leaves and pods, the cleaner has to face the menace of skin irritation from large caterpillars of various colours. Note: Moths and other garden insects are enemies of this plant.
It is then soaked in fresh water of pond/pools or other water-bodies, such as ‘patla kanda’, i.e. water-logged low agriculture fields, for a fortnight or so.  This soaking process is known as ‘retting’. After taking out the bundle of stalks, it is again sun-dried till stalks get golden colour.  After completion of drying, stalks are ready for removal of fibres. Empty stalks are used as fuel (Note: Elsewhere these empty stalks are used in paper making and wrapping cigarettes. Stalks being hollow, children play with it for smoking and puffing smokes as is done with a cigarette.)
Collected fibres are kept aside for spinning threads of various thicknesses in leisure time (mostly during rainy season). Women take lead role in smoothening fibres and spinning in groups. This is sort of indoor pastime during summer monsoon when they cut jokes, exchange village news and tell folk tales when it is raining in cats and dogs. Male members entwine these threads for getting twine of particular thickness for weaving particular type of net.
Sunn hemp fibre is stronger when wet.  It is fairly resistant to mildew, moisture and microorganisms in salt water. To make it still stronger, fishing nets are soaked in a decoction of ‘Banpu’ tree barks.  The Banpu (Panpu; Botanical name ‘Terminalia comentosa ; ಕರಿ ಅತ್ತಿಮರ, ಬನಪು) is a large tree. The fisher-folk used to dye their shirts with this decoction for long life of the clothing. However,such a practice is now a thing of the past).
We can deduce that prior to migration of professional weavers to Tulunadu, Salian, Saliannaya or Talianna clan (found mostly among Billavas, Mogaveeras and Bunts) might have been the pioneers in spinning and weaving in the Coast.  With the availability of choice of modern threads, fisher-folk have nearly discarded sunn hemp fibre and its cultivation.
Sunn Hemp – a cover crop
Sunn Hemp originated in India and apparently is in cultivation since the dawn of agriculture.  US Department of Agriculture gives information that as a summer crop, sunn hemp can produce over 5000 pounds of biomass and 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  It can produce this amount within 60 to 90 days.  Thus, as a cover crop, hemp improves soil properties, reduce soil erosion, conserve soil water and recycle plant nutrients as green manure.  It is used as fodder for livestock and as a non-wood fibre crop. A notable point is that sunn hemp destroys weeds.  This explains why fallow-land owners allow Mogaveeras to cultivate and harvest hemp crop during summer monsoon.
As Alfred Tennyson says, “Old order changeth yielding place to new”, there is a sea-change in the life of Mogaveeras with mechanized fishing.   As closely watched during my growing up days in native place and with personal experience, I am able to give a true picture of activities connected with sunn hemp.  As I understand, nowadays the cultivation and harvesting of the crop for fibres is very much neglected.  Considering the commercial value, Mogaveeras may develop this line of business with help of Government Agriculture Department.
-H. Vishwanath (Pune)

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Books for Reference

  • A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects By Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya. Govinda Pai Reserach Centre, UDupi. 1994
  • Koti Chennaya: Janapadiya Adhyayana. By Dr. Vamana Nandavar. Hemanshu Prakashana ,Mangalore.2001.
  • Male kudiyaru. Dr B. A.Viveka Rai and D.Yadupathi Gowda, Mangalore University,1996.
  • Mogaveera Samskriti By Venkataraja Punimchattaya. Karnataka Sahitya Academy.1993.
  • Mugeraru:Jananga Janapada Adhyayana. By Dr Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi.Kannada & Culture Directorate,Bangalore & Karnataka Tulu Academy, Mangalore,1997.
  • Puttubalakeya Pad-danagalu. Ed: Dr B.A.Viveka Rai,Yadupati Gowda and Rajashri, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Tulu Peeta. Mangalore University.2004
  • Se'erige. Ed:Dr K.Chinnapa Gowda.Madipu Prakashana,Mangalagangotri,2000.
  • Studies in Tuluva History and Dr P Gururaja Bhat (1975).Milagres College,Kallinapur,Udupi.
  • Taulava Sanskriti by Dr.B.A.Viveka Rai, Sahyadri Prakashana,Mysore 1977
  • TuLu naaDu-nuDi By Dr.PalthaDi Ramakrishna Achar, Puttur.
  • TuLu NighanTu. (Editor in Chief: Dr U.P.Upadhyaya, Govinda Pai Research Centre,Udupi. Six volumes. 1988 to 1997
  • Tulu Patero-A Philology & Grammar of Tulu Language by Budhananda Shivalli.2004.Mandira Prakashana Mangalore. p.317. (The book is in Tulu Language using Kannada script)
  • TuLunadina ShasanagaLa Sanskritika Adhyayana. By Shaila T. Verma (2002) Jnanodaya Prakashana,Bangalore, p.304.(Kannada)
  • Tuluvala Baliyendre. Compiled by N.A.Sheenappa Hegde,Polali,Sri Devi Prakashana,Parkala,1929/1999

A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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