The Magic Stalk: Siali creeper and its value in Kondh way of life

Siali creeper or Pe Eri in Kui language has a special place in the way of life and farming practices of the Kondhs. It finds relevance in farming, in food and in festivals and hence the Kondhs do not let siali creepers die or be cut. The forest and the field boundaries, sometimes, are the places to find the siali. Let us see what Kondh farmers say about its value in their way of life.

“Our village has one more hamlet of non-adivasis, Dora Sahi, but they do not revere the siali or siadi creeper much. We have two clans in our village, Hikaka clan to which our Jani and Disari belong and Huika clan to which other families in the village belong. We share Goelkana forest with three other villages, Goelkana, Goriguna and Burjuguda.

Siali is one of the most important plants in the forests for us. We collect the siali leaves from the forest and all parts of the creeper tree are used by us. Leaves are used to make khali (leaf plates). During marriage ceremonies, particularly in community feasts, we offer jau and khiri in siali leaf bowls and serve food in silai plates to the guests and community members. We also offer bhoga (religious food offerings) to our deities directly on the young siali leaves which have not opened and are curled. In fact, all our food offerings to deities are made on siali leaves first and then it is used for other purposes. There is however no siali leaf festival among Kondhs. We do not have any songs on siali as well though we have sings for other trees and so many other things.

Siali mala or creeper branch skin is used to make ropes with which we tie buffalos and bullocks to the plough and also tie them to the bullock cart. Then we use siali ropes to make sika or two rope nets connected by a wooden log which is used to carry things on both shoulders. We also make smaller sikas to hang pumpkins, pots and other things from the house roof. The siali ropes are also used to weave our wooden charpoys. The siali mala or the branches are used to make green fencing around the homestead and also around the farm lands if we are planting vegetables which cattle and goats can destroy by grazing.

To make siali ropes we select tender branches which are soft but strong. While cutting the siali bracnhes we are careful and make sure that it is cut in a way that the branch can regrow. Then the outer skin of the siali branches is peeled off. The inner pulp of the branch is very soft and that is made into the ropes. The inner siali branch pulp is sometimes soaked in water for a day or two if it is very hard and strong. After that two-three inner pulp strands are rolled together to make to make a thick and strong rope. We make ropes mainly before the chait parab so that enough ropes are ready before the monsoons and the farming season.

Siali manji or seed is used as medicine for some specific ailments but only a few Disaris know of its use. We also roast siali seeds and crack them open to eat the soft white flesh inside the seeds.

Siali nada or stem is used as a natural pest repellent in the paddy fields. When paddy plants are attacked by pests like dhala chitta and ranga chitta, then the siali nada is dug in several polaces in the field and it drives away the pests. The cover of siali seeds is also spread in the paddy fields to repel the dhala chitta and ranga chitta pests.

The most used parts of the siali tree are its leaves and branches. We get all the parts of siali from the forest only. Siali is plentily available in the middle reaches of a hill or a forest and not so much in the upper and lower reaches of a hill or forest. Siali creepers can grow over any type of tree and nobody can tell how many years a siali creeper tree can survive. But I have never seen a siali tree die. Other plants die in the forest but never a siali tree. It will die only if someone cuts it or uproots it. It is one of the strongest and hardiest creeper trees we know of !

We do not plant the siali near our house or inside the village because it grows very fast and in just two-three years it can cover an entire roof. It grows habitually in the forest and the hills. In two years of growing, a siali tree’s leaves and seeds can be used and in five years we can use its branches and stem for our needs. There is no other plant like the siali which has so many varied uses for a Kondh family. It is the only tree available for making good leaf bowels and plates. Silai leaves are collected by women and men but its stem and branches are collected by men only. So we say in Kui that the upper part of the tree is for men’s uses and the lower part of the tree is for women’s uses. I have been seeing the varied siali uses since my childhood.

I saw the siali tree for the first time when I went with the village adults to the hill forests. They showed me the sial tree and told me about its value to the Kondh people. But I first saw the siali products at home when my mother and sometimes father brought the leaves and branches and made bowls, plates, sika, ropes from the leaves and branches. I first ate the siali seeds in the forest when I went with my friends to pick the seeds and we roasted them in the forest itself and ate them there. Later I was able to identify the tree in the forest as I had seen various parts of it. In fact the first part of a siali that most of us identified were the seeds since that is the only part that is eaten and as children we generally go to the forest to pick whatever we can eat.

I first introduced the siali to my son through its seeds, then I showed him the leaves, then the rope and he saw the tree when he went to the forests with the village adults. We get the siali seeds between February and May. The leaves and branches are available throughout the year.

What is the importance of siali leaves and what are the changes that have occurred ? The use of siali leaves for making bowls and plates has reduced a lot as compared to the earlier days. People are now using steel and aluminium utensils now to eat but earlier we used only siali leaf plates and bowls. We only make siali leaf plates and bowls during marriage feats and for the festival offerings. Siali ropes for the wooden charpoys are not being made anymore and replaced with plastic ropes. But we still make siali ropes for tying cattle in the shed and for tying the bullocks and buffalos to the plough. We also use the siali ropes to make sikas. We continue to roast and eat the siadi seeds though. We also use the siali nada as a pest repellent in our paddy fields. These days the availability of siali creeper trees has reduced due to over harvesting of branches to make siali ropes. Like siali, mohul tree is another very valuable and useful tree for Kondh people.”

While siali continues to be the most revered and useful forest tree for the Kondh way of life, mohul is another tree that also has a huge significance for the Kondhs. They particularly use mohul tree’s leaves, flowers and fruits. Leaves are used for compost pits and organic farming. Flowers are used to make country liquor and also eaten after they are dried. Tola or mohul fruit is pressed into cooking oil and raw tola is cooked and eaten. We shall hear mohul’s story too !

Profile of the Village : 15 Households, All Kondhs
Village : Bandhuguda, Hat Muniguda Panchayat, Bissamkatak Block, Rayagada District

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