Local Terra Madre in Meghalaya

By SAMHITA BAROOAH

When I first heard about indigenous terra madre in 2014 from Seno Tsuhah, food rights activist and community worker from Nagaland, I was very curious. She attended the indigenous terra madre in Turin, Italy in 2014 as a part of the North East India contingent which comprised of community members from Meghalaya and Nagaland. Her stories of foods of the world was so fascinating that I could not contain myself when I heard that the same terra madre is going to be held in Meghalaya just a few hours from the hustle and bustle of Guwahati.

In Italian Terra Madre means Mother Earth and when the same words were translated to Khasi , it became Mei Ramew.

So, this event was an amalgamation of communities of the world from 50 diverse countries across all the continents and transnational territories. So the title was Indigenous Terra Madre and International Mei Ramew.

This programme was hosted by a blend of international agencies like slow food international, IFAD, state government of Meghalaya, NGOs like NESFAS and 40 local communities from Khasi villages of Meghalaya. People poured in from all over the world to witness this year’s biggest congregation which connected farmers, weavers, pastoralists, food crop growers, custodian farmers, honey collectors, chefs, seedkeepers, conservationists, environmental activists, film makers and naturalists of the country and the world.

It was a reflection of global solidarity towards the uncultivated, unheard, unseen and unknown voices from the forests, pastures, farms, riversides, hills, mountains, deserts, rainforests, arctic zones and also from the depth of the coastal areas. There was a deep sense of respect, reverence and recognition in the stories, struggles and collective memories which were shared during this event. People exchanged ideas, thoughts, musical melodies, taste innovations and glimpses of their experiences through the snapshots of the presentations, stalls, display of rich tradition, heritage and cultural spaces which they shared together with all the indigenous communities of the world. The first 3 days were plenary sessions with various experience sharing sessions at NEHU campus followed by taste workshops which presented the taste of honey, wild berries, insects, spices and other edible roots, shoots, leaves and tubers.

The 4th day was meant for the delegates to visit the villages in East Khasi Hills districts of Meghalaya to touch base with the communities directly and witness the exquisite socio-cultural farming, gathering and living traditions of the rural communities. I got the chance to visit Nongtraw village which was situated in East Khasi Hills District after climbing down 2500 steps along the Sohra hill range. I could also visit the traditional sites of bee keeping after reaching the village. The village has 40 households and has a population strength of 280 people and literacy rate is about 2 percent. It has an Asha worker as the only health facility, a football ground and a cemetery apart from community hall, school and Anganwari centre. Some of the young people are studying for their Bachelor’s degree in social work. Most of the community members are broom farmers and they also grow crops like potato, millets, maize and other vegetables. I could manage to cover the distance to and fro from this village only because of the community members and farmers from Nagaland who accompanied me during this visit. Their harmonious rhythms and constant encouragement helped me to cover the distance of 5000 steps in a day.

On the 5th day of Indigenous Terra Madre, food and exhibition stalls were arranged for the communities of the world and also for the local groups to display, share, sell and exchange knowledge, food traditions, crafts, handloom and seeds. This was arranged near the sacred groves in Mawphlang village of Meghalaya. This event was a public event and people from Shillong, Guwahati, Silchar, Tura and even other parts of India also joined the communities in celebrating the cultures of mother earth. My memories of meeting people from the world was hugely satiated and exchanging thoughts of similarities and differences on ecological housing, struggles of land alienation, food contamination, women’s livelihoods in forest and farming communities were the main highlights. It was a chance to share a meal, walk a mile and wipe the tears of struggles for existence and survival when communities share their natural spaces with the world of extraction.

The event raise very critical concerns of how natural environment is shrinking in the context of globalisation and privatisation but an alternative practice of regeneration is also widening to strengthen the foundation of a solidarity economy which is not only rooted in money but includes people, ideas, practices and compassion towards nature in a conscious way.

I have many nostalgic moments of oral traditions which will remain with me for a long time through this event like the sand art story telling from Africa, wild berry pudding from Austria, red ants chutney from Karnataka, strings of music from Northern Thailand, Guatemalan millet snack bar which saved me from hunger, warm millet and pumpkin porridge from Chakhesang Naga food stall, colourful beadwork from Tanzania, violet tapioca chips from Peru, dried curd from Mongolia and flavourful essence from Jordan and Kyrgyzstan. It felt as if the world just knocked at my door and sat on my plate nourished and pampered me from within and left me mesmerised for a while.

In a world where we are struggling for identity and ideas, indigenous terra madre is the space to share that our future is common even though we are all individuals so we need to be careful about our choices which might affect many.

(This article is written under the aegis of CSE Media Fellowship on Good Food)

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah

Samhita Barooah is a Researcher and Travel Writer.