Every winter in the month of November, Amur Falcons, one of the least known birds among 69 falcon species, fly to Manipur’s Tamenglong district all the way from eastern Siberia near the north east region of China to rest at least for a month in Tamenglong before continuing their flight over central Indian plain and the Arabian Sea to head for East Africa. Amur Falcons stay three months in Africa before heading for China, Russia and Mongolia.
(The migratory route of Amur falcons is available in the picture gallery of this story.)
Tamenglong is home to these beautiful exotic birds for almost a month anytime from late October to November.
Two such Amur Falcons, a female and a male were fitted with satellite radio transmitters by the Forest Department, Government of Manipur and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) at a roosting site at Chiuluan village in Tamenglong on 5th November 2018 and released thereafter to study their migratory route.
The female Amur falcon named ‘Tamenglong’ took a non-stop five day long migratory journey from 19th November and reached Somalia on 24th November 2018.
To the people of Tamenglong, an isolate district which did not have proper roads till recently and suffers from long spells of power cut, Amur falcon Tamenglong’s intercontinental flight is being equated to hope for development to reach the people of the region. Meanwhile, the male Amur falcon named ‘Manipur’ was met by ill fate and killed by hunters in Kebuching bordering Tamenglong and Noney.
By sheer coincidence it cannot be that the female Amur falcons have an orange eye-ring, a red cere and reddish orange feet as if nature has color-coded these birds to the function that they have in orange farming. These birds that touch the shores of three continents- Asia, Africa and Europe during its migration, feed on insects and termites, the same kind that are destroying orange trees in Tamenglong thereby preventing destruction of rice, other crops, vegetables and fruits in particularly orange trees. Farmers who have been growing oranges for nearly 50 years and with families who have grown oranges for more than five generations assign good harvest to Amur falcons and call for people to stop hunting them.
Famous for its sweet and pulpy oranges, Tamenglong mandarin and the Indian Wild Orange or Citrus indica, Tamenglong has rich biodiversity- tropical evergreen forests, plants, medicinal plants, different varieties of trees, animals, insects and birds and people not only possess good knowledge about the flora and fauna but also proactively work to protect it.
In a discussion with elders at the Traditional Custom Art and Culture Society in Dailong village, a biodiversity heritage site, they shared how they had managed to maintain the biggest bio reserve forest by putting in place rules that ban hunting of birds and animals and steps they had undertaken to protect the plants, trees, medicinal plants, fruit trees in the village. They are also guided by tribal beliefs on use of natural resources like water from springs and fountains.
( Picture of village elders available in picture gallery with this article.)
The Chairman of Village Authority of Dailong village. Mr. Keijinbui shared an age- old belief,
“Our forefathers told us never to sell water in exchange for money, benefits or services. We were warned that if we sell water our source of water will dry up.”
( The video posted with this article is of village elders entering the forest singing a folk song to make peace with the flora and fauna)
Elders mention animals found here include Bengal Tiger that passes through the Assam border into Tamenglong and has been spotted by farmers in the ‘Longkhui’ forest and ‘Khwaikhou’ cliff area, monkey, porcupine, deer, wild cat, leopard, fruit bat, giant squirrel locally known as ‘Joukluk’, a foul smelling white coloured rat-like animal locally known as ‘Adoi’, wild boar ‘Chabuam’, omnivorous civet ‘Ahui’ which climbs trees and eats banana, pangolin ‘Mphou’, hyaena, ‘Sabu’, lizard ‘Tampuang’ and flying lizard ‘Tampuang sammei’.
Jungle fowl ‘Arik’, bamboo patridge ‘Amukna’, blue vented bulbul, myna ‘Roisong’,hoopoe ‘Tengpangriang’ a migratory bird, ‘Zeipui’ feathers of which are used in making head accessories during the cultural dance of Rongmei Nagas, ‘Aringa’, green pigeon ‘Ajuihna’ the sweetest sounding bird, ‘Angau’ a bird which sings only in a particular time during the day served as time keeper in olden times for farmers to guide them when to go to the field, midday and when to return home and Amur falcon ‘Akhuaipuina’ are birds found in Tamenglong. ‘Phengphengpui’ is a unique butterfly which takes colour of the flower it sits on and makes a ‘pheng’ sound at night.
Many medicinal plants grow abundantly in Tamenglong and people rely on these rather than on medicines. ‘Tadi’ medicinal plant roots can be boiled and applied on feet for relieving pain. The bark of ‘Lengchi’ tree is pounded and applied on an open wound for instant coagulation of blood from injury by farmers. The bark of ‘Parin’ is also used for stopping bleeding. Secretion from ‘Tamanloi’ plant when applied on eyes cures eye infections and blurred vision. ‘Taji’ plant leaves are used as anti- malarial. The roots and leaves of creeper ‘Banamloi’ are used for healing fractured bones by applying its paste. If boiled and consumed it relives stomach pain, gastritis and dysentery. ‘Japanpunui’ medicinal plant is anti- diarrhoeal. People also believe that drinking water from the perennial spring ‘Phuduikhunpang’ located 3 km from Dailong will cure them of all diseases.
( Picture of medicinal plants available in the gallery of the article.)
Very little is known about this beautiful hill district in Manipur which is home to vibrant tribal cultures of Rongmei, Liangmei, Zemei, Inpui and Kuki tribes, where people are driven to preserve their forests, landscapes are spotted with orange orchards and drained by rivers Barak, Irang, Makhru, Iring, Ijei and Apah. Tamenglong is also the birthplace of Haipou Jadonang (1905-1931) the freedom fighter, patriot and martyr who was hanged by the British on 29th August 1931 in Imphal Jail on false charges of murder. Young Jadonang was described by British writers as the ‘maiba’(shaman), medicine man, healer, witch doctor, sorcerer, Naga king, messiah, ‘seer of Kambiron’ or rebellious prophet but the people revered him as a man of God, prophet, spiritual and political leader of the people.
I will, however always choose Tamenglong as my holiday destination for its Amur falcons.
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This story was originally published in the local newspapers of Manipur in India which is inhabited by different indigenous and tribal communities during an annual farming festival called Tamenglong Orange Festival which is held from 8th-10th December every year to celebrate its oranges 'Tamenglong mandarin' and encourage its orange growers.
The writer is a World Pulse Voices of Our Future alumni.