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The palm tree and its products are intrinsic to Tamil culture. Endowed with roots that go deep and hold groundwater, the palm tree takes 15 years to grow and mature. The young palm tree is called Vadali in Tamil.

The palm tree is a food bearing life form. It is a source of palm fruit, palm sugar, ice apple and so on. Though originally from Africa, the palm tree has taken root in Asia over thousands of years.

There are some eight crore palm trees in India, most of them in Tamil Nadu. The palm tree is recognized as the official state tree of Tamil Nadu and has passed an order to conserve it. Courts have also intervened to prevent indiscriminate felling of the palm tree. As things stand today, no palm tree can be cut without permission from the district collector.

The government has come up with schemes to grow the trees. As a result of this, the palm tree is being planted as a farming initiative.

The palm tree’s uses have made it an inextricable part of people’s culture in south and south-east Asia. Providing food produce and eco-friendly products useful in daily life, the palm tree is a much loved and respected part of common people’s lives. Palm nectar, sugar, coir, rope and leaves have been assigned separate values by the government.

The palm tree’s fortunes took a dip some decades ago. The march of modernity made its food produce less fashionable. Plastic replaced palm packaging products. The people whose livelihood depended on the palm tree faced the brunt. But things changed sooner than later.

The palm tree has rebounded. The youth are its biggest fans now. The government has started backing the tree too.

Many palm tree campaigns have been launched. Individuals and NGOs are taking the lead in this. Rev Godson Samuel, a pastor and palm enthusiast, has launched several campaigns. He has criss-crossed the state and elsewhere – some 30,000 km – to increase awareness among people about the palm tree.

The first leg was a Mumbai-Kanniyakumari motorbike journey. A Sri Lanka tour taught him more things about how the palm tree is intertwined with local livelihoods and cultures. He has toured other countries too to learn and create awareness.

Starting May 1, he has started another palm awareness campaign from Mumbai. This journey will course through Maharashtra, Andhra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar, and will cover nearly 8,000 km. In the beginning of this week, he was in Bhubhaneswar. Rev Samuel spoke to in the middle of this cultural campaign. Below are excerpts from the interview

What is the aim of your campaign?
In today’s situation, my journey is to seek out the status of the palm tree. I am doing research on the lives and culture of people who depend on the palm tree.

There are many beliefs regarding the palm tree in Tamil Nadu
There is a perception in southern Tamil Nadu that the palm tree belongs to a certain caste group. An aim of the campaign to dispel this wrong notion. Going beyond community and language, the palm tree is key to the lives of many people.

How has the progress been?
I am meeting artists, workers, palm tree enthusiasts as well as experts to gather information and record it.. I see that the palm tree is linked to the lives of several sections of  people. There are similarities too. In Odisha, the palm tree is associated with worship modes. Just as there is Ayya Vazhi in southern Tamil Nadu, in Odisha too there is a unique worship form. In that, palm products have a pride of place. Many people from various communities welcomed me and encouraged me during my tours.

Godson’s attire includes a cap made of palm leaves, bag and angavastra – all made from palm. What he learns in his tours will help him represent with central, state governments regarding conserving and growing the palm tree. His journey will help us deepen our understanding of folk cultures linked to nature.


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