Gidiku Vapathu is an ethnographic research documentary about the Indigenous Kattunayakan (Nayaka) people of India co-directed by Helina Jolly and Priya Thuvassery as a part of Helina’s PhD research. It was supported by the Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability and UBC Public Scholars Initiative.
In Kattunyakan language, ‘Gidiku Vapathu’ means ‘Going to the forest’ (Gidiku – Forest; Vapathu – Going). A term commonly used by the community members to invite their friends and family as they start their daily walk into the forest. With around 700 ethnic groups, Adivasis (translated in the Sanskrit language as Original Inhabitants) of India forms the world’s largest Indigenous population. Kattunayakans are one such Adivasi community living within the sub-tropical forests of Southern India. They belong to a particularly vulnerable group of hunter-foragers of South Asia and speak a Dravidian dialect (a combination of three Dravidian languages – Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada). Characterized by animistic belief systems, deep-rooted relationships with the local forest ecosystem, they believe they are the true ‘leaders of the forest.’ Set in Kattunayaka settlements in and around the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in rural Kerala, the documentary is an attempt to understand how these traditional societies perceive and interact with forest and non-human beings. It unfolds through the storylines of a Kattunyakan child, an octogenarian ethnobiologist, and a middle-aged chief. We hear them speak about the joys of living in and with forests interlaced with their anticipations and anxieties. Gidiku Vapathu also brings forward the ‘uncomfortable’ conversations on ‘what constitutes development and conservation?’ by acknowledging how several Indigenous and traditional societies across the world continue to live in fear of getting displaced from their lands. It highlights the different ways in which Indigenous people perceive their local ecosystems, both as their home and as the means to understand lived experiences, memories and future aspirations.