Part II The Birth, Life and Death of Lingo (2)

Then follows a description of a very ancient and primitive method of cultivation, which is still practised by Gonds, and other aborigines, in the hilly and forest parts of India. A piece of forest land on a hillside is selected. The trees at the edge of the forest are cut down, and set fire to. When the monsoon rains come, the ashes of these trees are washed over the soil near this forest, and on this land manured with nothing save these ashes, and over which no plough has passed, the seed is sown. An abundant crop is the result. This land is sown again the next year, but with diminishing result. It is then abandoned for twelve years, during which period the Gonds think it will have recovered its strength, and again be able to yield crops. Such a method of cultivation, called “Dhaya,” is obviously most destructive to forests; and as the ashes of the teak tree are especially fertilising, it is certain that many a tract of country in the Central Province has been deprived of its noble teak forests by the Gonds, in their laziness and ignorance.

The verses below describe the cutting down of the forest trees preparatory to burning them. They went aside and sat down. Then arose Lingo and held a hatchet in his hand; and went on cutting trees; the trees fell, their roots were dug up. Thus he began to cut down jungles. In an hour he made a good field. They said, “Our hands are blistered, and not one tree have we cut down. But Lingo in one hour has cut down several trees; he has made the black soil appear, and has sown rice and hedged it round; he has made a door to it, and has made a shutter for the door.” Then they arose and took their homeward road, and came to their own houses. On the first day of the rainy season a little black cloud appeared. Wind blew violently; it was cloudy all day; rain began to fall. Rills in the open places were filled knee-deep; all the holes were filled with water.

When the rain had poured for three days, the weather became fair; rice began to spring; all the fields appeared green. In one day the rice grew a finger’s breadth high; in a month it rose up to a man’s knee. Then follows a charming passage describing how a herd of Deer or Nilgai (Blue Bull) visit the crops so recently sown by Lingo, and eat the young rice. The Gonds, on returning to their fields, find their crops eaten, and filled with anger, pursue the deer under the guidance of Lingo. Two only of the herd escape. There were sixteen scores of Nilgais or Deer, among whom two bucks, uncle and nephew, were chiefs. When the scent of rice spread around, they came to know it; thither they went to graze. At the head of the herd was the uncle, and the nephew was at the rear. With cracking joints the nephew arose; he leaped upwards. With two ears upright, and with cheerful heart, he bounded towards his uncle.

And said, “Someone has a beautiful field of rice; it must be green tender fodder. To us little ones give that field, the sixteen scores of deer will go there; after eating rice we will come back.” The uncle said, “O nephew, hear my words! Take the name of the field, but not that of Lingo’s field. Otherwise he will not preserve even one of the sixteen scores of deer for seed to carry on the race.” The nephew said, “You are old, but we are young; we will go. Arriving there we will eat. If any one sees us we will bound away; we will make a jump of five cubits, and thus escape; but you, being an old one, will be caught. Therefore you are afraid to go, I will not hear your word; don’t come with us.” So said the nephew. With straight tails and erect ears they turned back. The uncle was grieved. Then he arose and went after them; they left him far behind. The herd came near the fields; but the nephew and the deer began to look for a way to enter it, but could not find one.

The deer said, “Your uncle was the wise one amongst us, of whom shall we now ask  advice? We have left him behind; instead of him, you are our chief.” The nephew said, “Do as you see me doing before you.” He put himself in front, when one of the deer said at first, “Your uncle told you that this is Lingo’s field, but you did not hear; look behind and before you; be prudent.” So said the deer. But the nephew said, “We will not keep an old one’s company.” So he, being in front, gave a bound, and was in the midst of the rice. And stood; then all the deer came after him leaping. After him came the uncle to the hedge and stood. All the deer were eating rice. But the uncle could not find his way. Being old, he was unable to leap the door of the field of rice. They went from thence and leaped back over the hedge, when the uncle said to them — “Hear, O sixteen scores of deer, you have eaten this field! Father Lingo, when he comes to it, what measures will he adopt?” Then the nephew, who was behind, came in front. And said, “Hear, O friends and brethren! Flee from this place but hear my word. As you flee, keep your feet on leaves, and stones, and boughs, and grass, but don’t put your feet on the soil.” So said the nephew. As he told them so they did — all the sixteen scores of deer began to run. And left no mark nor traces. Then they stopped: some remained standing, some slept.

Note: Excerpt from ‘Story of Gondwana’ by the Right Reverand Eyre Chatterton (Bishop of Nagpur).

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows an illustration of Chital Deer from Richard Lydekker’s ‘The Deer of All Lands; A History of the Family Cervidæ Living and Extinct’, published in 1898. Lydekker was an English naturalist and geographer who served in the Geological Survey of India, studied the palaeofauna of South Asia, laid down the Lydekker Line (separating the biogeographical regions of Wallacea and Sahul) and published multiple works on natural history.