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Home > Discover Mumbai > City Lifestyle > The Kolis of Mumbai

The Kolis of Mumbai

Thats it for the Day"Ghe Ghe Ghe Ghe Ghe, Ghe Re Saiba Pyar Mein Sauda Nahin". "Deva ReDeva, yeh macchi sagar ka mewa". "Galyan Sakdi Sonyachi, Hi Pori Konyachi". All three of these songs have one thing in common. They have immortalised the Kolis on celluloid. The dances, the music, the tight nine yard saris, the triangular lungis are what immediately come to mind, thanks to these songs, when visualising the Kolis.

The Kolis are native to the island of Mumbai. They are considered to be the original inhabitants of the group of islands that we call Mumbai. They belong to the family of Son-Kolis, the aborigines of the Western Indian coast. Infact the word Mumbai is derived from the Koli word, Mumba, which means goddess of water. They are also the people who gave the world the term "coolie" to describe any manual laborer. In Marathi, Koli means kul or tribe. It also means spider and fisherman.

Mending the netsThe islands and its fishing grounds have been the home of the Kolis for presumably the last million years. The Kolis still live in native villages and live by fishing the waters along the shore in small wooden boats where their traditional means of fishing can be observed along the 40 mile Arabian sea coast. They continue to speak their own dialect, a mix of Konkani and Marathi and observe their own customs.

Fishing villages such as Uttan, Manori, Marve, and pockets in and around Mumbai like the Elephanta and Nhava islands, Uran, Gorai, Colaba, Backbay, Mahim Koliwada, Sion Koliwada, Khar Danda and Versova(the largest community) with their boats, nets and shacks transports one back centuries, where man lived in harmony with nature. Juxtaposed with the gleaming skyscrapers in cosmopolitan Mumbai, are the cluster of thatched huts, piles of fishing nets, and brightly painted boats, with the lifestyle little changed in centuries.

The Kolis have their own king and council with members designated for clan welfare, administrators, meeting schedules, ceremonials and religious as well as social rituals. The Panchayat system is used to settle any disputes that arise and very few take the recourse of secular courts. The law of the land ceases to matter where the sea begins and customs and traditions are paramount.

The history and the socio-cultural development of the city of Mumbai is incomplete without the traditions and the participation of the Kolis. Infact they continue to play a prominent part in the protection and economic development of coastal areas and the marine ecosystem, especially in and around their fishing grounds. But they live lives that are constantly under threat.

Government and real estate interests favor relocating Mumbai's fishing families off the coast. Eight Koli villages in Mumbai have been earmarked for redevelopment. Their combined population is about 100,000. But fishermen say their way of life depends on being near the water. They cannot live in blocks of flats as they need room for drying their nets, fixing their gear, and leaving their boats

These are really FreshThey are constantly competing with the deep sea trawlers and fighting conditions like obtaining of permission from port authorities before fishing. Fishing, having become a generally accepted trade with a substantial margin of profit, many other communities have joined the commercialisation of the seas creating a very real threat to the marine ecosystem with overfishing. The state government has added its bit by issuing a a notification for a proposed waterway, which will have 22 terminals along the coastline, starting from Nariman Point and covering old ports like Mahim, Versova, Malad, Manori and extending up to Dahanu on one side and to Sindhudurg on the other. The notification also proposes that 22 creeks and marine outlets would have to be kept free of any encumbrances and the mooring of any boat would be prohibited into such specified areas.

The Kolis, face the threats with their typical ferocity and continue to pay obeisance to Goddess Mumba and doing their bit to preserve natural resources. A few years ago, with the support of environmentalists, they blocked the development of India's first private-sector port development at Vadhavan, 100 miles north of Bombay. The Kolis in Mumbai have joined hands with other fishermen's organizations in India and around the world to organize a World Fisheries Day on November 21. They organised a global protest, the first of its kind, where they stayed ashore, on that day to protest against the damage to the world's coasts, from pollution and overfishing by modern deep-sea trawlers.

By : Supriya Rathod


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