Saving a hill on their own
Thanchi's indigenous people to protect Kra U Dong from human intervention
From now on, 300 acres of Kra U Dong, a hill near under-construction Thanchi-Alikadam road, would be protected from human intervention, a group of Mro and Marma people pledged during a festival on Saturday.
The idea of the reserve has its root several years back when Hla Phaw Shu, headman of 362 No Thanchi mouja, started persuading dwellers of different paras (small villages) to refrain from jhum cultivation in hills. Karbaris (village chiefs) under the mouja and some other people rallied behind him.
At the beginning, it was quite difficult to make the indigenous people aware of the negative impact of the cultivation on environment, said Shu, as jhum was in their tradition.
Jhum is an age-old, rain-fed cultivation method, practiced by indigenous people on the hills and slopes. This system involves clearing a piece of land by setting fire or clear felling and using the area for growing crops of agricultural importance. After a few cycles, the land loses fertility and a new area is chosen.
Shu has chosen Kra U Dong, locally known as Deem Pahar, since the hill had long been worshipped by locals.
The vast forest on Kra U Dong and adjoining hills were once havens of wild animals and birds that have been wiped out due to jhum cultivation, said the headman.
A number of large trees and shrubs also were burnt and cleared by farmers, Shu said.
The headman added they managed to stop jhum cultivation at Kra U Dong three years ago and decided to hold a festival to worship the hill every year.
On Saturday morning, over 60 people, mostly of Mro and Marma communities from seven faraway paras, gathered at the bottom of the hill to join the annual worship.
People of all ages, from eighty-year old Chang Lai to four-year-old Myem Plang, arrived there after crossing hilly distances on foot.
Tanza, 13, who came with his farther Maung Pro to attend the ceremony, said it was still dark when they left home and the journey to the hill took three hours.
Without taking any food, they had to wait there till afternoon for the headman who was late as the vehicle carrying him went out of order on the way.
But they could show no sign of tiredness as a fifteen-member flute ensemble was busy keeping them cheerful.
As the headman with his fellows arrived there around 1:00pm, everybody stood up in cheers and Mro girls dancing to the melodious tune of flute welcomed him.
All the people led by the headman climbed to the Kra U Dong peak. They worshipped the imaginary godhead of the hill by offering fruits, foods, traditional drinks and money.
Afterwards, they took drinks, started dancing and vowed to preserve the hill.
Old Chang Lai, 81, who led the flute ensemble, said they would resist natural calamities if the hills are preserved.
Maung Pro, 33, karbari (village chief) of Rai Hing para, said he is so happy being part of the initiative. They would now try to convince those who are still engaged in jhum.
Seventy-year-old Sin Kran, who led the worship, said there was a large jhiri (water flow) at Kra U Dong decades ago to provide drinking water for animals, birds and humans but it dried up. He also alleged the hill has been cleared of its green trees.
The old man hoped the hill would get back its life and green look again if it is properly protected.
A nine-member committee titled Kra U Dong Hill Preservation Committee comprising the village chiefs, a local teacher, a trader and the local Union Parishad secretary has been formed with the headman as its president.
Shu said they took initiatives of making small fruit gardens in some areas to rehabilitate the farmers who are giving up jhum. He sought cooperation from the government and non-government organisations.