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KHODAM The jewel of Ghokimi

KHODAM The jewel of Ghokimi
By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 10/20/2019 4:54:26 AM IST

 The term ‘Khodam’ originated in the bygone days of Ghokimi grandfathers. In true  Ghokimi style, the definition for ‘Khodam’ is, ‘kho’ [in Sumi dialect] meaning ‘to crack open’ and ‘dam’ deriving from the Hindi word ‘badam’, literally meaning ‘to crack open the peanut shell’. When I first heard the word Khodam, I was surprisingly taken aback by its unusual term. Like all other kids, since childhood, we were accustomed to the term ‘badam’ (almond).But this Ghokimi  Khodam actually refers to peanuts [mungfali]. The peanut shell cannot be opened easily, there is a certain method of cracking the shell. The top edge of the peanut shell is shaped like the short, curved downward-facing beak of the owl bird; it is from that point that the shell can easily be cracked open using fingers and by giving pressure with the thumb. 

  It is believed that the Khodam was first retrieved from the Lothas. At Ghokimi village, Lt. Ashu Qhieshe Swu [son of Lt. Kiyeshe Swu] and his wife Lt. Shovili were the first people to use the Khodam [peanut seeds] during the period between the years 1958-1959. Henceforth, till date, the Ghokimi villagers sow and harvest the Khodam earnestly and efficiently. Not only is it their best yield but also their most prized possession.

Ghokimi is a fruitful land blessed with rich green vegetation. This beautiful village nests amidst luscious landscapes, echoing hills and falls under Pughoboto sub-division,  Zunheboto district, Nagaland. It is located 65.9 kms from the state’s capital, Kohima. The villages of Asukiqa, Ghokimi, Tsaphimi, Kitami and Puneboqa belong to Asukiqa area.

  It is said that from the land of Awohumi, a village presently located at Pughoboto sub-division, Ashu Ghoki took along with him eighty warriors [Aghutomi} to a land and settled there. Then with his might and blessing , he named the village as ‘Ghokimi’. Thereafter, he established   a colony calling it ‘Phuyekito’, and since Phuyekito was the first colony formed by Ashu Ghoki, till date, one of the four colonies at Ghokimi is called Phuyekito. Currently, there are five Goan Buras and four colonies consisting of about 140 households.

  Peanuts go by a variety of names such as groundnuts, earthnuts, goobers (U.S) or monkey nut (U.K). Peanuts are taxonomically classified as Arachis hypogaea, a legume crop grown mainly for it’s edible seeds. Peanuts maybe popular for their unique taste and texture but the benefits of peanuts are worth noting. They are an especially good source of healthful fats, protein and fiber. They contain plenty of potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, B vitamins and are nutrient-rich.

A blessed land…

A land rich on its own, the soil fertility at Ghokimi fields is excellent in nature. Despite cultivation dependent only on nature’s rainfall with no other water source, still the yield of fruits and vegetables are amazing, totally organic without the slightest usage of pesticides or artificial chemicals. Hence, apart from the popular peanut harvest, a wide range of fruits and vegetables are grown in abundance like yam, pumpkins, bottle gourd, squash, corn, ginger, chilli, king chilli, green beans, soyabean, kidney beans, bananas, grapes, guavas, oranges etc. In the first year, vegetables are grown in the fields, in the second year, peanuts are sown and harvested. After that, the fields become wastelands for eight to nine years.

The peanut plant is unusual because it flowers above the ground but the peanut grows below ground. They grow best in sandy loamy soil. The growing cycle of a peanut takes 4-5 months.

Sowing and harvesting:

The Khodam is sown from the last week of April till May. But according to the Ghokimi farmers, the best time for sowing is from May 10 to 20. At the initial stage, a single peanut seed or two is sown but the latter is preferred for a more fruitful result. After sowing the Khodam seeds, it is essential for the farmers to keep an eye on the fields from the germination process up until the harvest period. A monthly follow-up is required for weeding and mulching {Chike in Sumi}, the fields must not be left unattended. According to Mrs. Khatoli Swu, the villagers usually sow the Khodam seeds one and half inches deep and between 12-14 inches apart. Sowing in straight rows is rather challenging because of the sloping hills. Seeds sown under huge shady trees do not produce healthy or tasty pods, whereas seeds sown in the open fare better. The farmers also opined that excessive rainfall causes damage to the Khodam fields because the sprouts become unhealthy, moderate rainfall was deemed best.

Germination of the peanut seed occurs by the 7th day on moist soil, indicating rainfall. In the absence of rain, some seeds germinate by the 11th or 12th day while some sprout in a month’s time. After sowing, normally within 25-40 days, yellow flowers  form, upon flower pollination, plants send pegs down into the soil, the peanut grow on these pegs underground {peanut pod forms}. The outer shell reaches full size well before the individual peanuts mature, each plant produces between 20-50 peanuts.

The villagers usually harvest the peanuts in fall [October] when the leaves begin to wither turning a dark colour. To harvest the peanut pods, the farmer first loosens the soil around the plants with a spade or garden fork, collects the lying matured peanuts, then pulls up the plants shaking off  excess soil from the roots, leaving the pods attached and checking the soil for any pods left behind.

When weather conditions are favourable with moderate rainfall and minimum wild boar attacks, the peanut harvest is plentiful with individual farmers harvesting upto forty tins or more, the minimum being ten tins. Unfortunately, the current year’s harvest is not so productive like the previous years. The reason being due to the merciless wild boar who snorts and gulps down the peanuts heavily. 

During the Khodam harvest, I was fortunate to have spent two enriching days at the fields with my aunt Khatoli’s team of Self Help Group [SHG] ‘Mulani’. A team of cheerful,  enthusiastic, and dedicated women. The first hand experience was truly an eye-opener. Normally at the Khodam harvest, the field owner takes the help of individuals or groups [aloji], a sum of Rs.200/- is paid to each individual, the owner also provides lunch, tea and snacks. The villagers leave for the fields at dawn taking about an hour or more to reach the fields.

A typical Ghokimi farmer ties a small basket to his waist and gathers the freshly dug peanuts in it. It was amazing to watch the farmers work their way up the sloping Khodam hills with ease and perfection, while I struggled behind ha!ha! with my sling bag, a book and pen.

Conventional methods of Ghokimi farmers after Khodam harvest:

1. The peanuts are gathered in small or big traditional baskets.

2.  Sun-dried on tarpaulins in the open fields till late afternoon as the peanuts need full sun to dry thoroughly.

3. Packed in grain sacks/ collected in baskets.

4. The sacks are tied firmly with jungle vines.

5. Khodam sacks, baskets are carried on their backs till they reach their homes on foot.

On reaching their humble huts, the villagers lay the Khodam on mats or on the floor. The next morn, they are laid outside on hand-woven bamboo mats to dry in the sun, a family member or neighbor helps care for it. For best results, the Khodam needs to be dried continuously in the sun for 3-4 days. If the weather is not sunny, the drying process continues till the Khodam is perfectly dried, It is evident from the rattling sound produced on shaking the peanut shell. And finally, sharing and selling of Khodam begins as it finds its way into our hearth and home.

  Hurdles at the Khodam field:

  To receive or purchase the Khodam is easy but to practically harvest it is a herculean task. While digging for the Khodam, there are multiple nuisances faced. The farmer has to constantly swat off the flies and tiny bees that hover around happily, big black ants, insects, termites and eerie caterpillars also wriggle up to the farmer unannounced. Not forgetting the allergies, scorching heat, sudden rainfall, or backaches because of the endless bents. And yet, the farmers rigorously keep working.

As I sat down writing in the open fields, interacting with the villagers while simultaneously learning to harvest the Khodam, it was amazing to witness the dedication and endurance of the farmers. My emotions were awaked to much love and respect for the village folks who taught me so much in just a short while. Their wrinkled faces spoke volumes; each wrinkled line now had a story. More meaningful than modish unwrinkled brows.

Wild boar menace:

Apart from we human beings, there is another being that loves the peanut. The wild boar [Amini] is crazy for the Khodam and leaves no stone unturned to get a taste of the delicious snack, thereby attacking and creating havoc in the Khodam fields. It is a major setback for the villagers emotionally and financially. Despite the sincere attempts of the men-hunters, it is extremely difficult to hunt down the wild boar because of its cunning nature. It usually attacks the fields between 2:00 am – 3:00 am in the morning when the villagers are fast asleep. After slogging a whole day at the fields, keeping vigil post midnight for the boar is arduous.

The male wild boar [Amini tu-u] wanders alone attacking the Khodam fields single handedly whereas the female boar roams about in a large number of twenties and thirties [Amini Mishi ],sometimes even the piglets [ Amini ti ] follow the group and attack the fields.

Economy:

The Khodam also provides economic support to the villagers by contributing to the household expenses and enabling payment of school fees of their children. A tin of Khodam[15 litres] costs Rs.500/-,four tins of Khodam fill up a grain sack [50 kg] costing Rs.2000/-.On the bright side, owing to the generous nature of the villagers, they never fail to add in an extra portion for the buyers. Often, more than selling off, they lovingly gift the Khodam to their loved ones and friends, brushing aside their needs. The townsmen buy in bulk from the villagers. As for those farmers whose fields are destroyed by the boar, buy from their neighbors. The Khodam is so popular that orders from Dimapur, Kohima,  Zunheboto and Pughoboto are consistent. Ordered packages are sent through buses, taxis and private vehicles, sometimes customers personally pick them. Khodam is also sold at the annual Thuwuni fest held at Pughoboto.At the Hornbill fest, the villagers recall that the foreign tourists especially the Americans enthusiastically bought the peanuts. 

Once one gets a taste of the Ghokimi  Khodam in it’s organic form, the baazar mungfali belittle. The natural and aromatic taste of the freshly harvested peanuts toasted in the fire is mind-blowing! beyond comprehension, one needs to personally savour it to understand so. The rich and silky texture, the delicious earthy taste of the Khodam coupled with a cup of sweet pika chai [black tea with sugar]is enough to set one’s taste buds on fire. If the Khodam is being toasted by the fireplace of your kitchen, all’s well but if you are a guest in someone else’s kitchen, you are in trouble, eh! Because once you sit down with your chatter box friends to enjoy the toasted peanuts and sweet black tea, you may not like to get up any time soon, ha! ha! One cannot resist this nutty gift of mother earth. You cannot eat just a piece, the more you pop this nutty fellow in your mouth, the crunchier and tastier it gets. On a positive note, sharing of Khodam encourages social bondings, it brings families together as all sit around the fireplace, some stirring the peanuts to avoid burning while toasting and some making the tea, awesome! Peanuts can also be fried, steamed etc, peanut paste is ideal for the toothless folks who wish not to miss out on the vitamin packed peanut.

On completion of the Khodam endeavour, and having had spent precious hours in the fields with the farmers, I was enamoured, grateful for the comforts of city life, but humbled and astounded by the integrity and persistence of the villagers, values now slowly diminishing in this modern era. Life’s golden lessons from the village folks, for at the end of day, we all go back to our roots. And yes Sir, yes Ma’am, the very best end it is.

(Aboli T Wotsa) 

 

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