Introduction / History
Make a wound on the thigh and keep ash in it and chant a particular mantra and they could keep elephants away! Uralis talk about themselves how they managed to live in the dense forests. Although Uralis reside in the woods they are not strangers to the towns and its developments. Moving from one mountain to another Uralis settled in interior forest. Uralis are mostly found on the Idukki hills of Kerala, known as God's own land in south India. Dwellers of Memari (a place on the hills) reached these higher hills due to the Idukki reservoir for the hydro–electric project.
Uralis do not fear elephants. In Memary there are other wild animals too. In order to stop the wild beasts from entering residential areas, electrified fences powered by solar energy are provided. Some houses have lamps lit by solar energy.
A few hundred years ago Uralis had gone into the interior hills to escape the heavy taxation of the Kochi kings and fearing Tippu Sultan's onslaught. Some from Tamil Nadu too migrated to these hills and joined the Urali mainstream. More than the history, their present plight of life is more important. With the advent of new administrative reforms the tribal head - Kani- does not have much say. Uralis do incorporate changes. Uralis, who inherit property through maternal line, elect Kani in the same way.
The community, which was eating roots and fruits once, has started cultivating all sorts of food crops now. Root vegetables, tapioca, plantain and paddy form their staple food. Cash crops like coffee, cardamom and arecanut are also found there. There are enough remains to prove that they had tried even planting rubber.
Though they are inclined to eat wild beasts, they are disinterested to hunting. Their old style of chewing pan with wild ingredients has given way to betel, arecanut and lime. Traditionally they did not consume alcohol. But recently they began distilling country liquor and selling it.
Uralis absorbed changing life trends fast. One can discern changes in their food habits, dress and houses. Earlier they used to live in tree huts. Now amidst houses made of bamboo, one can see houses made up of bricks, hollow bricks and tiles.
For the education of the children there is a single room hut at the entrance of the village. In this school run by the government and manned by a single teacher, they ought to study till 4th standard. For high school education they have to cross the forests and reach Kannambady and few take this adventurous path from Memary.
Before marriage of the children, land is divided and new huts are made for the couple to live. After the marriage of the children parents live alone.
The word for dowry is not found in the oral dictionary of Uralis. Parents or the sister of the bridegroom have to initiate the marriage proposal. For all events they follow Malayalam calendar. Bride's side will enquire how many will be attending the marriage. Any number can attend the marriage but feast provided only of for the number agreed up on earlier.
Sisters of the bridegroom come with the bridal garments to the make shift-wedding spot known as pandal. Holding the hands of the uncles, the wedding couple comes before the burning candlestick. With silent acknowledgement, uncles lock the hands of the couples. As a testimony to the marriage covenant the couples surround the candlestick seven times. This will be followed by wedding feast at the residence of the bride. Those who were already chosen go to the wedding tent and have food.
As a next step, it is the journey to the hut of bridegroom. Whosoever goes there, can partake in the feasting. The menu comprises of rice, cabbage and other vegetables. Local arrack distilled from sugarcane will also be served. Guests contribute a sum towards the feasting. The newly married couples start their home in the newly built hut.
When one dies, Uralis say that he became 'Sathyavan' meaning that he became personification of truth or became righteous. Magician priest Plathi will preside over the death ceremony. Amidst silence Plathi's sound that emanates from the nose can be heard. Newly made winnow, earthenware pot and candlestick, tender coconut and some flowers gathered from forests are used for this ceremony.
Uralis believe that the dead souls will travel from the grave. To confine the dead souls there, 'some works are allotted to them'. The instruments they use to do their work before death are used for this purpose. The knife that is made deliberately less sharp, slit bamboo sieve and a pot is kept on the top of the grave. Since these materials are of no use they cannot finish the work and as a result they won't wander from the grave, believe the Uralis.
Is there a life after dearth? If so how can Uralis get the hope of the life after death that is eternal? Pray for the Lord of the Harvest to send forth laborers to minister among the Urali and teach them about eternal life in Jesus Christ.
* Scripture Prayers for the Urali in India.