“In the beginning there was nothing in this world, therefore, God created Ramew (Earth) and Basa, her husband. The two lived in peace but in the shadow of unhappiness, as they were childless. Ramew’s fervent prayers to god for a child to carry forward her tribe and traditions were answered by the boon of five children – the Sun, the Moon, Water, Air and Fire. Now Mei-Ramew (Mother Earth) was happy to see her children grow beautifully in harmony with their surroundings but also worried for its peace and security. So she prayed to God to provide her with a protector who would look after her family’s welfare. Many days later it was decided that 16 peoples would be sent from heaven and were called Hynniew trep. These were the indigenous peoples who carried forward the traditions and promised prosperity for the time to come.”
This Khasi folklore translated from KI KHANATANG U BARIM (Old Fables) by H. Elias, S.D.B, so tied to the Meghalaya landscape and its peoples, has been a recurring celebration of the land’s indigenous harvest and Mother Earth, over the last five years as its namesake festival the “Mei-Ramew”. It has brought across the districts of Megahalaya, its capital city Shillong and neighbouring states an awakening of what is popularly known globally as the Slow Food Movement, that promotes indigenous culture along with good, clean and fair food. This year the world comes to Meghalaya in the form of the “International Mei-Ramew” (IMR 2015) or as the world calls it Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM 2015).
Shares Bah Phrang Roy, “We are confident that the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 will be a unique opportunity for the participating delegates, as well as the local public. Indeed, the 41 local host communities have suggested that the event be given a local name, and hence, it is being called the International Mei-Ramew 2015, making it truly by the indigenous peoples, for the indigenous peoples.”
Bah Phrang is the Coordinator for Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, Rome, Chairman of NESFAS (North East Slow Food & Agrobiodiversity Society), Shillong, and the International Councillor (Indigenous) for Slow Food International, the organisations driving the event, together with the Government of Meghalaya. This spotlight on the 41 host villages spread across Meghalaya and some in Nagaland is essential as it truly represents the participatory spirit of the IMR 2015/ITM 2015 in bringing forward the local indigenous voices of North East India – by the peoples, for the peoples. This coming together will strengthen the close connections between land, traditional agroecological practices, and its impact on the regions biocultural diversity.
As the world visits Meghalaya, it becomes an ambassador for the cultural and biological treasures of not just the state but also of North East India and other indigenous food traditions. It will draw attention to the many innovations of local communities across the world and the successful stories of promoting good, clean and fair food through government, civil society and development initiatives. The event will also aim to glamorise traditional textiles and weaving practices in North East India that are a crucial part of the sustainable, environmental and ethical movements of the world.
The significance of the event in Shillong this year is that it is only the second time that the event is happening globally after its predecessor in Jokkmokk, Sweden- hosted by Slow Food Sampi – the indigenous peoples of northern Europe. The festival is also special because its one of India’s only event dedicated entirely to indigenous peoples bringing together representatives of indigenous communities from around the world to celebrate their food cultures and discuss how to bring their knowledge and vision of local food systems into modern times. In doing so it will also bring other global agencies associated with the United Nations and other global supporters of traditional knowledge, evolving skills and sustainable practices that safeguard natural resources and contribute to a resilient food system that promotes a more humane future for a diverse world.
IMR 2015 / ITM 2015 will be a platform for these food communities to interact and engage with scientists and policymakers who are constantly navigating modern issues related to food and nutrition. They will get a tête-à-tête with the traditionally marginalized voices, such as the youth, women, the physically challenged, and indigenous farmers, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, remote dwellers and fisher folk. In the process the interactions will be the coming together of a global, national and local think tank to review and reflect on evolving food and agroecological issues of the indigenous peoples. Thus spreading awareness and respective capacities of knowledge, traditions, techniques and finally uphold an environmental standard in which all people can enjoy food that is good for all consumers, good for producers and good for the planet.
On the dates between the 3rd to the 7th of November 2015, Shillong will hit international headlines as the world converges for the International Terra Madre 2015, to establish its theme “ The Future We Want: Indigenous Perspectives and Actions”…a call from mother earth.