The Kaani are a small tribe of less than 12,000 people that lived in the forests of Kanyakumari, who have their own unique dialectic language, customs and traditions. Invariably, the words tribal and indigenous people brings to mind the image of men and women wearing unusual garments or native jewelery. One instantly expects to see people who look almost strange to the modern eye, a visual throw back to another era. The Kaani youth do not conform to this classical tribal image. Predominantly dressed in modern clothing, the Kaani youth are a blend of the modern and the ancient. Cognizant of the world around them, the Kaani youth are now attending regular schools and colleges. But they retain their cultural respect for the elderly ( Village ancient is the literal translation of their greeting of the elderly!) and Nature . The Kanis have been relocated out of the forest to areas adjoining it and have since moved to towns and cities. The Kani youth you see today have a strong motivation to preserve their customs and traditions makes these youngster learn the traditional songs, stories, and healing techniques ( their core knowledge of “ Pacha marundu” herbs, leaves and roots ) that is handed down from one generation to another.
The dynamic young “Kaani kara” (members of the Kaani tribe) will lead you through an enchanting performance which showcases the oral storytelling tradition among the Kaani tribe. The Kaani's “Chattupaattu,” the healing music sung in deep soulful voices with a chorus of singers accompanied by the “Kokkara” (indigenous Kaani instrument) is a moving experience.
The youngster starts with an invocation to their patron saint, Agasthiyar Muni and the souls of their ancestors. The Kaanis trace their extensive knowledge of medicinal plants to this saint, who is credited as the founder of Siddha, the alternative system of medicine. The Kaani believe that their knowledge of “arogya pacha” is a gift from Agasthiyar, given to help them to survive in the forest. Sung in a dialectic combination of Tamil and Malayalam, these songs will ward off evil spirits and heal the sick.
Because of the Kaani's close to earth lives, many Kaani stories and songs tell, in poetic and mystical ways, of life-spirit-energy migrating between humans, plants, animals, and other elements of nature, such as the earth and rivers. One central Kaani story (“Kunja Kathai”, “The Story of the Youngest Brother”) tells of how a Kaani woman, who with assistance from a playful snake and mongoose, brought her dead husband back to life with a medicinal plant mixture. These wonderful songs and stories will entertain you.