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found that the relative proportion of deserted houses and villages, the result of the famine, to those still inhabited, would be much greater in the open, cultivated parts of the district than in the densest jungles. Indeed the jungles may be regarded to a certain extent as the saving of the lower races of the population ; did they not afford nutritious food in abundance, the result of a famine like that of 1866-7, would probably be not merely decimation, but utter depopulation throughout extended areas.
It is not to be supposed that even those who are in the habit of using this description of food regularly, for a greater or less portion of every year, regard it as in any degree an equivalent to rice. Many have epoken to me of eating Mhowa, which is by far the best of these products, as being only better than suffering from absolute famine, and they always consider themselves legitimate objects of charity, when they can say they are living on it alone.
The list which is appended to this paper, includes nearly 80 distinct species of plants which furnish articles of food. Owing to the difficulty of identifying the fragmentary specimens which were all that I could in some instances obtain, it has been impossible to make it fully complete. I believe, however, nothing of importance has been omitted.
To S. Kurz, Esq. curator of the Herbarium in the Botanic gardens, I am indebted for considerable assistance which has enabled me to bring forward this paper sooner and in a more correct form than would have been otherwise possible.
The species mentioned are of course of varying importance, some being merely edible, and in a few cases injurious if eaten in large quantities; while others, as the Mhowd, Sal, Bier, Bur, Pipdl, Singdri, Chehur, various roots of the species of Dioscorea, and many of the varieties of Sag (leaves) may be considered as bond fide staple articles pf food.
Bassia Latifolia, Roxb. MJiowa, H. & B.
The Mhowa is found in Bombay and Bengal; those who have not visited the more remote portions of one or other of these presidencies, can hardly realize the importance of this tree as a source of food to the poorer classes of the natives, more especially to such improvident races as the Bheels, Coles and Sonthals.
In the districts of Manbhooin and Hazaribngh, Mhowa groves «s well as stray trees in the jungle are on the whole abundant. All the trees, with the exception of a few in the neighbourhood of roads, are the property of the zemindars, and are rented out by them at prices varying chiefly with the bazaar nirik or price of rice.
As the crop of Mhowa approaches ripeness, the corollas, becoming fleshy and turgid with secreted juices, gradually loosen their adhesion to the calyx and fall to the ground in a snowy shower. The duty of collecting the fallen blossoms is chiefly performed by women and children'; at dawn they may be seen leaving their villages with empty baskets, and a supply of water for the day's use.
Before the crop has commenced to fall, they take the precaution to burn away the grass and leaves at the foot of the tree, so that none of the blossoms may be hidden when they fall. The gleaners generally remain under the trees all day, alternately sleeping and collecting the crop; the male members of the family, visiting the trees once or twice daring the day, bear off the produce in banghys.
It often happens that the people who collect come from a considerable distance, in which case they erect with the branches of Sal a temporary encampment of huts in which they live until the crop ia all gathered in. In front of each of these huts a piece of ground is made quite smooth and hard, for the purpose of spreading out the crop to dry.
When perfectly dry, the blossoms have a reddish brown colour, and in size they have lost three-fourths of their original dimensions and about half their original weight. It is the custom with some of the natives, before spreading them out to dry, to pull off the little ring of foliaceous lobes which crowns the fleshy corolla.
It is very difficulty to collect trustworthy statistics regarding the amount of yield of the Mhowa trees. I have been told, and it has been repeated to me several times, that a first class tree will yield as much as thirty culcha maunds of 12 chittacks to the seer, or about |th of a ton; in other words, an average daily fall of two maunds is said to continue for 15 days. This estimate I believe is more than double what it ought to be.
The rent of the trees varies much with the abundance of them in the district, the quality of the previous rice crop, and various other circumstances affecting the demand and supply. In parts of Hazaribagh, I have known ten small trees to be let for a rupee, while a fine large one would sometimes alone bring that amount. In Manbhoom I have been pointed out trees for which a sum of from two to three rupees was charged, but I have also heard of trees being hired in the same district for four annas.
As do the trees, so the saved crop varies much in price, the limits being, as far as I can make out, from 2 to 8 maunds for the rupee; but when, as is perhaps most frequently the case, the exchange is in kind, the mahajuns only give a small quantity of salt and three or four seers of rice for a maund of Mhowa. In parts of Manbhoom, I have been told that during the famine, the price of Mhowa was from 12 to 20 seers for the rupee.
Two maunds of Mhowa are stated by some to furnish a months' food to a family consisting of a father, mother and three children. It is, however, seldom eaten alone, being much more frequently mixed with the seeds of Sal, Siiorea Robusta, Roxb., or with some of the leaves of the plants mentioned in the accompanying list which are collectively called Sag. The cooking is performed as follows. The Sal seeds, having been previously well dried in the sun, are roasted and then boiled alone; the Mhowa flowers are then also boiled, and the water is thrown away ; so far having been cooked separately, they are then mixed and re-heated, sometimes a small quantity of rice is added. It is the custom to cook but once in a day, and each member of the family helps himself whenever he feels hungry.
When fresh, the Mhowa has a peculiar luscious taste with an odour somewhat suggestive of mice; when dried, it possesses some resemblance to the inferior kinds of figs. Cooking renders it vapid and utterly devoid of flavour. On distillation the newly dried flowers yield an highly intoxicating spirit called daru; this, before being sold, is diluted with ten times its quantity of water, and is then sold at the rate of two pice for about a quart.
Considering the really useful rature of this tree, it would be most desirable that whenever new lines of road are being made through any of the districts in which it thrives, it should be planted on either 6ide, so that the poorest might avail themselves of the crop without having to pay rent to a zemindar or landlord.
If the yield of an average tree amount to 6 maunds, that is to say, enough to supply a small family with food for three months, there can be no question of the immense amount of food which in time of famine a row of trees planted along a road passing through the country would afford. Although the natives rigorously protect such trees as exist, I am not aware that they do anything to increase the number.
Sdorea Robusta, Roxb. Sal, H. & B.
Under the head of Mhowa, the seed of this tree has already been alluded to. Where possible, the Hhowa and Sal are mixed in tho manner above described, but in some places even Mhowa is not to be obtained, Bo that the Sal seeds are roasted and eaten alone. With many of the 8onthals, Sal is probably a regular article of food, and not merely a "dernier ressort" to be used in such a year as 1866-7.
Ficus Indica, Roxb. Bur, B. & H.—F. Relibiosa, Linn. Pipal B. & H.
The figs of both these species especially those of the former are eaten every year by the poorer classes of natives. In ono place last year I observed a number of wretched half-starved illclothed women and children, with a few still more wretched men, picking up the figs which had fallen from a banyan tree: they did not even knock the fruit off the tree, but were become so poor-spirited by hunger, that they wcro contented to collect the windfalls.
ZizTpnrjs Jujuba, Linn. Bier, B. & H.
The fruit of this tree though not at all to be compared in importance with Mhowa as an article of food, is nevertheless much used in parts of these districts where Mhowa is not abundant; it may frequently be seen spread out to dry on the roofs of cottages. There are two varieties at least of Bier ; one is a small bush with the appearance of which few who have travelled in India can fail to be familiar; the other is from tho same original stock, but has been vastly improved by cultivation and is always found near villages.
This fruit is sold in the bazaars, and when not quite ripe, has the pleasant acidity of an apple.
Bauhinia Vahlh, W. & A. Cltehur B. & H.
The pods of this gigantic creeper which, passing from tree to tree, forms the festoons peculiar to tropical jungle scenery, are most eagerly sought for by the natives, 60 much so, indeed, that it was with difficulty that I succeeded in obtaining botanical specimens. They are plucked just before they become ripe; so that in order to open them, it is necessary to place them in a fire; on being sufficiently heated, they open with a loud report, and the carpels at once twist into curls which no amount of pressure can remove. The seeds are easily detached and are eaten at once.
Trapa Bispikosa, Roxb. & T. Quadrispinosa, Roxb. Singhdrd, B. & H. Punboje, Sonth.
Both these species of Singhdrd are well known to many Europeans. With the natives they form a favourite article of food. I have frequently seen from 20 to 30 persons, men, women and children groping in a half dried up tank for Singhdrd, Palvdinas, and small sluggish fish, which latter are caught by dragging on shore the weed in with they lie concealed. From the produce of a morning's collection of these miscellaneous substances a tarkdri is made, which is perhaps the only food upon which a family have to subsist for the day.
In drawing up the following list, two systems of arrangement were possible, either to enumerate the species under their respective natural orders, or under headings indicating the part of the plant used ; this latter form has been adopted, as it renders the list more accessible to those not familiar with botanical terms. The order in which the species are arranged is approximately that of their relative importance.