Traditional Knowledge

The people of Banni have a rich conventional knowledge ranging from animal breeding, human and animal healthcare to water harvesting to sustainable use of grasslands. Their indigenous traditional knowledge (ITK) regarding animal healthcare has helped them develop particular characteristics in their animals, through which they have been able to survive and thrive in the harsh local conditions as well as maintain high yields in the animals.

  • Animal Breeding and Healthcare –

The pastoralists of Banni follow the age-old traditional breeding practices for their animals and are successful in maintaining the original bloodline of animals through these practices. They also follow traditional practices of raising the animals, like, giving feed concentrate to animals depending upon the number of services it provides; feeding mustard oil and jaggery to the calves for strengthening them; feeding eggs and ghee to breeding bulls for energy, etc. They also use their traditional knowledge of medicines for treating the animals. They use the herbs and grasses available locally in the treatment of their animals and do not prefer the veterinary hospitals as they are difficult to access and quite expensive sometimes. For example, Mitho Neem (Murraya koenigii) is a tree whose various parts, like, leaf, oil, stem, etc. are used for curing 12 types of diseases in animals. Similarly, Kerad (Capparis Decidua) is a shrub, whose various parts are used for curing six types of diseases in animals.

  • Traditional Experts (“Bhagiya”, as they are locally known) –

The communities have traditional experts called “bhagiya”, who are trusted by people. The bhagiya is considered to be an expert in animal healthcare services and trade of animals, the knowledge regarding which he has gained through years of experience. The bhagiya is considered to be a traditional healer. These bhagiyas provide healthcare services to animals in their own as well as surrounding villages. Apart from traditional medicines, the bhagiya helps in animal trade as a mediator. The method of bargaining involves a process where the seller covers his and the bhagiya‘s hand with a kerchief and then indicates the selling price of the animal using his covered fingers. The same process is repeated between the bhagiya and the potential buyer, where the buyer indicates the price he is willing to pay. The bhagiya indicates this to the seller under the kerchief, thus beginning the process of negotiation. The entire process is carried out in a manner that only the seller, the buyer and the bhagiya are aware of the price that is being negotiated. This traditional system of sale of livestock ensures that the price is not entirely determined by the market but also in agreement with the value the buyer and the seller put on a particular animal.

As a Maldhari puts it, “If the index finger is held, it signifies Rs. 1 lakh. If all fingers are held it indicates Rs. 50, 000. And if all the fingers are squeezed twice, it signals Rs. 25, 000.”

  • Traditional Water Harvesting System –

The Maldharis have developed their traditional water harvesting systems for surviving in the harsh summers of Kachchh. They have learnt to conserve the rain water and keep it sweet despite the salinity of land. They dig shallow wells, called virda in the land. The depressions in the land are identified by the flow of rain water, as the topography of Banni is flat and has few depressions in it. In those depressions, after rainwater accumulates, the temporary wells, or virdas are dug, which serve as the source of water for the people of Banni. These are owned communally and all men of the village participate in the activity of digging a virda.

In a virda, the sand is removed up to a depth of up to 1 meter in the land, till the muddy water shows up. This muddy water is removed and fresh water comes up. The virda is made of wood and grasses, which help the virda stay intact and purify the water through natural filters, i.e. the grasses.

  • Management of Grasslands –

Apart from healthcare and water harvesting, the people of Banni also possess unique knowledge regarding the management of their grasslands. The Maldharis practice a system of rotational grazing. They  categorize grazing patches based on soil type, size, distance from water bodies and villages, periodicity and quality of drinking water for animals, grass, shrubs, tree cover and diversity and wind. Decisions on grazing areas and routes are based on the condition of grazing area, grass cover and availability of water; and care is taken to prevent overgrazing and to allow grasses to reach maturity.

There are customary rules for grazing and management of the common grazing areas that are based on the interdependence between communities and a deep understanding of the ecosystem. Because of high spatial variability in rainfall, villages that receive rain do not restrict entry of pastoralists from other villages into their grazing areas since sharing of resources is an indispensable value among the people of Banni.