Context: More than two centuries ago, over 200 Malaiyali tribes built traditional clay huts on the flat peak of the picturesque Yelagiri hill in northern Tamil Nadu establishing an all-encompassing system for shelter, storage, farming, and cattle.
About Yelagiri Hut Shelters:
- Tribespeople settled in upper Nillavur, Yelagiri, and became foragers turned farmers who began cultivating its tabletop peak for food. They used local red loam clay to build 16×22 feet one-room homes, replacing huts.
- The hut was meant for people to live in but eventually turned into a storage space for the seeds we collected before the sowing period began. Once the land was harvested, that space was occupied by grains till we sold or consumed them.
- A unique feature of the munn veedu (mud house) or andara kotai (storage facility) is that it stands on a stilt-like structure also made of teak wood. This holds the house two feet above the ground to keep rodents at bay and to prevent the house from flooding during torrential rains.
- These shelters are made of dry bamboo leaves the thatched roof is waxed with cow dung to prevent it from leaking during the monsoon season.
- After the crops were harvested, the area was filled with grains until they were either sold or consumed. This outer layer sometimes gives the impression of the house being smaller than it actually is from the external view. Nonetheless, the interior has ample room to accommodate eight individuals, along with a paran (attic) utilised for storing utensils and various domestic belongings.
- They employed science to build these houses that remained unaffected come rain, sun, or storm. At the same time, the stilts provided extra storage space under the house that could be used for grains or even poultry.
- Today, all that remains in the hut is a three-foot-long munn paanai (clay pot) and the remnants of a straw attic that once held an entire year’s worth of grains and seeds.
About Malaiyali Tribe
- The Malaiyali tribe – malai meaning “hill” and Yali meaning “people” is strewn across the Eastern Ghats in North Tamil Nadu.
- They are usually hill farmers and they cultivate different types of millet.
- They are believed to have ancestral connections to the Vellala caste of cultivators. According to historical accounts, around ten generations ago, there was a migration from the sacred city of Kanchi to the hills of their present-day region. This period coincided with the dominance of Muslim rulers in Southern India.