Folkways! It denotes the ways of living, thinking and acting in a human group, built up without conscious design but serving as compelling guides of conduct. So, it is descriptive of a unique characteristic of a social group.
When I came across the term mentioned in the introductory para, I remembered the phrase ‘Amba/Ambe Pāđuni’(ಅಂಬ/ಅಂಬೆ ಪಾಡುನಿ) in Tulu. Even a half century or so after its near extinction, the Ramponi and its high-spirited cry of action ‘Amba/Ambe’ in ‘Ambe Pāđuni’ has been haunting my mind. It is more so because of the inscrutable sound of concord for moving and lowering the Ramponi boat, called Pađavu' (ಪಡಾವು), to sea and pulling it up from sea.
A ‘kontala’ (ಕೊಂತಲ = small boat) is sent to the sea, manned by two or three skilled and experienced persons, with keen eyes, to look out for shoals of fish, moving towards break-water area. On discovering the shoals, the headman signals to men waiting on shore, gesturing the length and breadth of shoals and showing the direction for covering the nets. Normally, it is a secret signal so as not to be understood by rival Ramponi’s kontala. The call of ‘amba’ stirs the members resting in shades of groves on the shore. Commotion and enthusiasm ensue on the discovery. Ethically, as an unwritten law of the community, rival ramponi is not allowed to snatch these shoals detected by the first one but sometimes small skirmishes arise due to misunderstanding.
History of Ramponi
The coastal fishing method of ‘Ramponi’ style was more powerful, vigorous and popular. It was giving livelihood to all, besides the community people. It was successful up to the last leg of 20th Century. It is documented that this method of catching fish was introduced in the first decade of 20th Century in Goa by Ramponi, a Portuguese missionary and hence the name ‘Ramponi’ for this fishing method. It may be true that such type of catching shoals of fish was originated in Goa but we deduce that the random fishing (without waiting for shoals of fish) must have been there even earlier in western coastal belt. We see that small version, named ‘Kairamponi’, is still extant.
The introduction of mechanized boats for fishing proved a death-knell for traditional shoreline fishing. This is mainly because of fall in shoals of fish coming shore-ward because of disturbance.
‘Ramponi Fund’ is an organization, created on unique co-operative principle (when no co-operative laws were in place then). It is for coastal fishing and managing its moneys for the benefit of its members, including Hamgamies (temporary workers without contributing to stock of the Fund).
We do not wish to burden the article with descriptive sketch as our purpose is to explain the meaning of ‘amba or ambe paaduni’. How the system works can be visualized by reading the Book: ‘ಮೊಗವೀರ ಸಮಾಜ – ಒಂದು ಅಧ್ಯಯನ (Mogaveera Community – A Study)’. It is also available on Internet, both in Kannada and English.
The phrase is not known outside the world of fisherfolk and the people connected with them. This vocabulary of Tulu language is now included in the Tulu Lexicon; thanks to the Compilers! But we differ with the Lexicon as it generalized the meaning whereas it has a specific connotation. Let us explore the distinctive description.
Amba paaduni = Rowers’ song (TL Vol.1, pg. 27)
Amba/Ambe/Ambo = Bellowing, lowing, a cry, noise, cry of a cow. In children’s vocabulary, ‘amba’ means cow.
Amba also means: Divine Mother like Goddess Bhavani or Mahalakshmi.
Ambe Kaar Paaduni (Tulu Lexicon, page 31) & Ambgaalikku, Ambalikku Ambegalisu (Kannada) = Child’s crawl on hands and knees. Eg. ಆನೆ ಮರಿಯವೊಲಂಬೆಗಲಿಸಿ ನಡೆದ ಕೃಷ್ಣಮ್ (Aane mariyavolambegalasi nadeda Krishnam = Krishna crawled (awkwardly) like a child-elephant).
English equivalent to ‘Amba Pāduni:
Yo-heave-ho = It is a chant shouted by sailors to maintain a steady rhythm when hauling something together. So, it is a cry in rhythm formerly used by sailors while pulling or lifting together.
Clearly, rhythmic songs of rowers and sailors are different from Amba-yali utterances in ‘Amba Pāduni’. These are exhorting utterances for pushing, pulling, raising or lifting of such big boats loaded with nets for lowering it to sea. It is a speech for action by a skilled leader, showing high spirits. To avoid striking of padāvu (resting on logs of wood called ’ dade/tade’) to sandy ground, he moves around up and down to goad members to start and stop as and when necessary. The boisterous sound is full oflife, vitality or high spirits.
The bending, lifting or raising and pushing, using human body is like a child’s awkward crawl, measuring up in unison to the catchword utterances. The 'Amba' call is met with 'Hi Josh, Hi Josh' by men concentrating their energy by backing the Padaavu on both sides to raise and push. When padaavu starts moving, the echoing sound ‘yaali yaali’ (ಯಾಲಿ, ಯಾಲಿ) continues. Visualize this unified action from the picture, put elsewhere in this article.
Tulu & Kannada Catchword Chants
O aalambeyaali, Elambe yaali, Aile yaali, Chambon embar yaali, Javanere marji yaali, Bandor baare yaali, Jor javana yaali, Kiniyaan maareyaali,C hiniyaanmaarae yaali, Yaalsolama yaali, Yaalre salama yaali, Deen solama yaali, Kaabanre (Captain) baage yaali, etc.
Reflecting on these utterances, we can infer that they are like an echolalia, i.e. the imitation by a baby of the vocal sounds produced by others. It is not worthwhile to divine any meanings to such expressions. Nevertheless, we can deduce some story occurred in the past. There were instances in coastal history of rubbing shoulders with strangers with fisherfolk by drawing inference from words like, Aile (Mackeral in Byari Bhase), Din, Dinre, or Dinar, Alla, Solom or Salaam (Arabs), Kiniyaan (Kenya), Chin (Cheena), kaabarne or captain (of foreign ships of marine trade of yore), etc. Later, new ‘Amba’ chants were coined to make fun on idiosyncrasies of people in a village or neighbouring villages. These are based on dress, appearances and peculiar habits.
‘Amba’ is invoking per se the mother’s love. Readers are best judges to decide whether this statement comports with facts. ‘Amba, amba, amba paadula (ಅಂಬ, ಅಂಬ, ಅಂಬ ಪಾಡುಲ) is just like a call of loving mother, putting food or other attractive things in front of her child. When she moves her child sitting on lap or legs, she repeats the word: aane, aane (ಆನೆ, ಆನೆ = elephant), bale aane, aane. Accustomed to this expression, child moves to and fro without the help of mother. Fisherfolk considers rivers and seas as ‘Gangamāta’ (Mother Ganga) and naturally, some of them regionally have assumed Gangamatastha, Gangakula or Gangaputra as caste names.
“Every day begins with an act of courage and hope, getting out of bed.” This is an aphorism by the renowned US Aphorist Mason Cooley (b. 1927). This aptly applies to these toilers of sea, who are not slugabeds.
1. ‘Folkways’: Dictionary.com (based on Random House Dictionary). It is a term used by W.G. Sumner in his Book of the same Title (1907).
2. Ambegaalikku: Kannada Champu Nudigannadi by Dr. P.V. Narayana
3. Mason Cooley: Columbia World of Quotations.
-Hosabettu Vishwanath (Pune)
July 19, 2017