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Muniyandi - A Day with a Palmyrah Tapper

- PAD Documents Series

A Day with a Palmyra Taper Dr. Muniyandi*

(With Vinod Ambedkar** & Ramesh***)

Palmyra tapping is one of the ancient occupations of a section of people in Tamilnadu, India. The phrases Kallundu kalithungal meaning good sleep after drank toddy and Kallunda Manthipool meaning just like a monkey which drank toddy in ancient Tamil literatures denote the ages of this occupation. This Occupation is highly dangerous and warrants heavy physical work

Male Tree with floral rachis Paalai

Female Tree with palm fruit-Nungu

One Day Routine of a Palmyra Taper

An active palmyra tapers work starts by 2 A.M every day. He claims around 50 palmyra trees, collect the palmyra juices (Pathaneer) from 4 to 5 pots hung around the crown of each tree (one pot/floral rachis), into the bigger pot or tin hung with his waist (this pot is called locally as Pooteri), slice the tip of each floral rachis (Palai in Tamil) with a sharp sickle kept in another wooden box tied with his waist. Each pot hung with the floral rachis is given a coat of lime powder which also will be kept in the wooden box. The limed pots are hung as usual with the rachii. On reaching the ground, the palm juice in his waist pot will be transferred to another bigger pot kept in the ground (this pot is called locally as Vatcheri). By 7 A.M, the taper may complete the works with around 50 palmyra trees. By 6 A.M, a female member of the taper family will be ready with the utensils for boiling the palmyra juice for the preparation of palm jaggery (Karuppatti). The utensil for boiling the palmyra juice is a wide mouthed shallow depth

Dr. Muniyandi - A Day with a Palmyrah Tapper

- PAD Documents Series

flat bottomed vessel made of alloy metal. If the boiling process is delayed for another one hour, the juice will not be suitable for Karuppatti preparation. Hence the process of Karuppatti preparation should start immediately after the juices are collected

Table 1

Palmyrah Tapper ready for his work

Various Gears

Apart from the above mentioned aids, a palmyra tapper will have a round rope called Thalainar. This rope is made out of the palmyra leaf rachis peel. A strong leaf rachis peel will

Dr. Muniyandi - A Day with a Palmyrah Tapper

- PAD Documents Series

be chosen and its two ends are tied with one another to form a ring. It is kept between the two toes with the trunk of the palmyra tree in between the toes while claim and returning from the crown of the palm tree. This rope helps the tapper to claim the trees easily. A tappers arsenal also contain two sickles, one sickle is for slicing the floral rachis which is less thicker than the other sickle which is used for cutting the palmyra leaf rachis etc. In the ground, a tapper will carry along with him a T shaped wooden instrument called as Murukuthadi. It is a multipurpose instrument. It is used for carrying two palm juice pots at a time hanging the pots one at each end. It is also used as a base wood for sharpening the sickles. The pointed bottom end of T is used for killing snake and other trouble creating creatures on the way of the palmyra tapper. The height of the Murukuthadi will be about 1.25 mt. Before claiming a palmyra tree, the tapper will keep the Murukuthadi in the bottom trunk of the tree with the pointed T in the

Collecting Palm Juice (Pathaneer) at the top of the Tree

Dr. Muniyandi - A Day with a Palmyrah Tapper

- PAD Documents Series

Palmyra Juice (Pathaneer) Season:

The palmyra tapping season starts with the start of the Tamil month Thai (middle of January) and extends up to the end of the month Aaadi (middle of August). If a tapping season is to be good, there should be good rainfall during the previous rainy season (October to December). Then only the palmyra floral rachii will emerge in the correct season and also in good numbers. First, the floral rachii will emerge from the male trees. Hence the tapers condition the rachii for about a week. For this work, he will climb daily, crush the tip of the rachis with a wooden forceps like instrument called Kadippu, cloth the rachis with palmyra leaf piece. If a rachis starts to exude juice, a mud pot coated with dry lime powder will be hung with the rachis to collect the juice. The floral rachii from the female trees will emerge after some days. Hence the same type of conditioning will start as soon as they emerge to a desired length. But the Kadippu used for female rachis is bigger than for male rachis. Each rachis will exude the juice for about two months during that time the length of the rachis also diminish due to slicing three times a day. If the dry lime coating will not be given by the tapper to the pot, the palmyra juice collected in such pot will become toddy after fermentation. The quality and quantity of palmyra secretion depends upon many factors such as the nature of the soil, its moisture content, climatic conditions as well as the nature of wind. It is really a pity that the productivity depends on various natural factors over which we have no control.

Palm Jaggery (Karuppatti) preparation:

As a palmyra taper is about to complete his first climb of the trees and collected the palmyra juice from all the climbed trees, his wife or other women of his house will be ready with the utensils and firewood for boiling the juice to make it palm jaggery called Karuppatti. The hut where the palm juice is boiled to make palm jaggery is called Vidili. The boiling will lost for 1

Fig1 Woman boiling the palmyra juice. Boiling palmyra juice is a hazardous activity. She is forced to inhale a lot of smoke generated in the heating process. Fig 2 The solid Karuppatti in coconut shells

hour to 1.5 hours. The women involved in this work should be familiar with the end point or the viscosity for Karuppatti formation; otherwise all the juice will go waste. The collected juice will be boiled immediately; otherwise also, the juice will not yield quality karuppatti. By boiling 45 liters of palm juice, 10 kilogram of karuppatti may be got. During the peak summer months of May and June (tamil months of Vaikasi and Aani) while the dry air from west to east blow, the

Dr. Muniyandi - A Day with a Palmyrah Tapper

- PAD Documents Series

yield of karuppatti may be more (around 12Kg/45 lits.). The viscous fluid at boiling the palmyra juice will be poured in cleaned coconut fruit half shells. The fluid will become a solid after solidification. The solid material is called Karuppatti which is sweet in taste. Karuppatti is used in lieu of sugar in coffee and many other sweet preparations. It is mostly used in Sidda medicine preparations.

Marketing Karuppatti:
Palmyra juice (Pathaneer) as such is sold in the areas where karuppatti making is not practiced. Only in villages one can get unadulterated pathaneer. In the cities it is adulterated. In the Vembar area, the juice is used for Karuppatti making. The cost of Palmyra juice at present is Rs.40/lit. The Karuppatti is sold to Karuppatti shop owners who are involved exclusively in Karuppatti trade in Vembar region. The cost of Karuppatti at present is Rs.80/Kg. But the cost will increase after the Pathaneer season (after August) is over. During the recent past years the cost has gone up to Rs.140/Kg. As also the cost has gone down to Rs.30/Kg during the Pathaneer season of the recent past years. If a palmyra taper got any loan from the merchant, he has to sell the product only to the loanee. He will deduct interest for his loan amount which at present is Rs.2/month per Rs.100. The interest was Rs.5/month per Rs.100 prior to 2006 when Miss. Jayalalitha was the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu. She has brought in an act to penalize the person who collects high interest. Due to the act the traders have decreased the rate of interest to Rs.2 as at present. Now Peoples Action for Development (PAD) is giving loan facilities (MED Loan) to the Palmyra tapers. Due to this facility the palmyra tapers are standing on their own legs, selling their product to any merchant of their choice and also at the season when the product fetch higher price.

Hiring Palmyra Trees and other Palmyra Products:

The palmyra tapers mostly are poor. Mostly, he will not be the owner of palmyra trees. But he will hire the trees from the owner in lieu of Karuppatti. The lease is for one year from the tamil month of Thai to Markazhi (middle of January to end of December). Usually the taper has to give around 20 kottan (pocket) for 100 trees. The number will vary depending on the yield potential of trees. Each kottan will hold 10 Kg. of Karuppatti. This kind of lease in local term is called asBottom. The owner of the trees will get his share of karuppatti mostly during the high yielding months of Vaikasi or Aaani (May or June). After the pathaneer season, the taper will use the palm leaves for making karuppatti holding kottans and the leaf petioles (Mattai) are used as fencing materials. The rate of each kottan at present is 40 paise. The cost of each petiole is 50 paise. If the female floral rachis is not used for juice tapping, the rachis will bear palmyra fruits. The palmyra fruits before ripening are eaten as Nongu. A Nongu is nothing but the endosperm of an immature seed. Nongu at the correct stage is jelly like with sweet juice. It will be available in the hottest summer months of April and May. Eating Nongu with its sweet juice is a coolant for human being during the hot seasons. As months pass by, the jelly like endosperm became hard with a hard seed coat. A ripened Palmyra fruit (pannam palam) usually will have three seeds and fruit with one or two seeds are also common. At ripened stage, the fibrous and juicy mesocarp of the fruit yields a yellow coloured sweet juice which is liked and eaten by many people. A little bitted taste in the sweet juice is due to an alkaloid which is a good sugar reducer in the blood. Many edible products are made from the palm fruit pulp. The ripened palm fruit is a delicacy for cattle. After ripening; the seeds are separated and germinated as a mass by

Dr. Muniyandi - A Day with a Palmyrah Tapper

- PAD Documents Series

burying in the ground. The seeds should be watered at least for a month. The germinated and grown seedling approximately after 3 months is dug out. The hard seed at the plumular end will hold the partly digested loose endosperm which is also edible. The fleshy bottom portion (radicular end) is called as Kilangu which is boiled/heated and eaten. The cost of a Kilangu at present is Rs.1. Eating Kilangu is considered to give aphrodisiac effect.

Technological Advancement in Palmyra Tapping:

Palmyra tapping is rather a physically drudging occupation which demands a lot of stamina. Moreover there is no technological advancement to ease the strenuous physical work of the taper. Ever since the start of the occupation, a taper has to climb manually tree by tree to accomplish his work. Present day taper wear a chest protection leather mat and one small leather sheet tied to each thumb nail of foot finger. These gears, though primitive and simple and tailor made by the taper himself, somewhat prevent scratches to his body parts from the palmyra trees.

Social Life of Palmyra Tapers:

Palmyra tapping is a hazardous and unattractive occupation. The Palmyra taper in the present case study is 40 years old. He is the youngest man involved in this occupation in this small village. Others are older than him. An active man in this occupation may do the tapping work until the age of 65 years. During the recent years, no family is allowing their children to involve in this work. They like their children to take up wage employment in petty shops or in some industries than as a palmyra taper. The faces of ladies involved in Karuppatti preparation become black due to daily boiling of Pathaneer. Nobody is willing to give bride to a taper bridegroom. A bachelor groom who is doing even a menial job gets 40 sovereign of gold as dowry, where as a bachelor bride involved in palmyra taping is ignored in the marriage market. He cannot expect any dowry. During the days of heavy wind, the tapers life is in great danger. Now days, there is lack of interest to grow palmyra trees. The heights of older trees are more. Hence the climb time became more and the yield of juice is less. When a taper has taken lease of palmyra trees which is away from the village or residential area, he has to shift his family to the palmyra forest (pananth thoppu) and put up a temporary hut, for a period of at least 6 months without the facilities of electricity, drinking water etc. Hence the education and health of his children are disrupted.

Government Welfare Schemes:

During the regime of Shri.K.Kamaraj as chief minister of Tamilnadu, a taper has to take a license for his occupation. But during the regime of Shr.M.G.Ramachandran as chief minister of Tamilnadu, the license system was abolished. At present, to become a member in the Palmyra taper welfare scheme, one has to pay a subscription of Rs.275/- once in two years. But, it was told that no one received any welfare doles from the government. The following are the welfare scheme of the Tamilnadu Palmyra Workers Welfare Board Tamilnadu Palmyra Workers Welfare Board -Schemes Accident Insurance scheme Death due to accident Rs.1,00,000 Disability due to accident depends on the disability Natural death assistance 15,000

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Dr. Muniyandi - A Day with a Palmyrah Tapper

- PAD Documents Series

5 6 7 8

Funeral assistance Education assistance a To study up to X standard (only for Ladies) b To Passed X standard (only for Ladies) c To Passed XI standard d To study XII Standard (only for Ladies) e To study XII Standard f Regular Bachelor degree course To study staying in a Hostel g Regular Post graduate degree course To study staying in a Hostel h Professional degree course To study staying in a Hostel i Professional Post graduate degree course To study staying in a Hostel j ITI or Polytechnic course To study staying in a Hostel Marriage assistance Maternity assistance To purchase spectacles Old age pension

2,000 1000 1000 1000 1500 1500 1500 1750 2000 3000 2000 4000 4000 6000 1000 1200 2000 6000 500 300

To register as a Palmyra tapper, a man has to have completed 18 yrs of age and should not have completed 60 yrs of age. No charges for renewal. Registration should be renewed once in two years. If identity card is lost, a duplicate one can be got from the Sub-inspector of the Industrial worker welfare Board. Change of address should be intimated to the board whenever change of residence occurs.

Toddy Tapping may boost the Economy of Tapers:

As per the version of the present taper, if the government allow toddy taping as legal and purchase toddy from the tapers directly at a reasonable price, the living condition and the economy of palmyra tapers will get a boost to a greater extent. Dr. Muniyandi Photo About Dr Muniyandi Vinodh Photo Ramesh Photo

About Vinodh

About Ramesh