A story about the Bishnoi tribe from the Thar desert in Rajasthan, India – the first environment conservationists in the world; some observations on the ceremony on preparation and consuming of weed tea as a part of the everyday life of the bishnoi people …and finally some thoughts on the relation between the idea for nature conservation and drinking this tea.
The SUV braked in the middle of a hurst, blowing up clouds of dust.
While we are walking on a narrow path, the guide explains me that we are going to visit a family of the bishnoi tribe. These people don’t live in bigger village communities, but in remote farms. One household comprises the family members and the closest relatives, or approx. 10 people. They live in one house, surrounded by the fields they cultivate, and their closest neighbors could be far away from them.
Interesting are the people of this tribe which live in the Thar Desert, in the north-western part of India, Rajasthan state. Not only by their specific clothing and communitarian way of life, but especially by the religion they profess – Bishnoism. People professing Bishnoism are called Bishnoi.
This is may be the most practical, not sophisticated and “nature conserving” sect of Hindu Dharma founded by Guru Jambheshwar Ji. This man has used the religion as a kind of methodology, in order to impose his vision and philosophy claiming a peaceful common existence with nature, love and harmony with everything, which surrounds us. Main postulates, 29 in number, make a cult of nature and environment. This can be noticed immediately after you get in the lands of bishnoi – wild conserved nature, not so shy gazelles and other animals, which walk around undisturbed. And all that happens in India, where everything which moves or is green goes automatically to mouth. Modern environmentalists would recognize bishnoi as their ancestors and perhaps rightly. The doctrine, underlying the sect, together with its postulates has been so logical and natural that many Muslims and representatives of other communities embraced it. It is so inexplicable, why and by the virtue of what inner demons and satanic impulses and errors in the human psychology, a part of the mankind seems to gradually isolate itself from the nature and starts some kind of selfish, “extraterrestrial” life. Is it due to avidity, to innate inclination to evil, to a simple ignorance, lake of imagination, as Oscar Wilde would insert, or to a very complex mixture of all of them, in different ratios, depending on the latitude? People of bishnoi tribe have been deprived for some reasons from these comforts; as if they have developed as a sub-species. For us, generally the green idea symbolizes progressive way of thinking, concern and compassion… briefly progress and superior form of intelligence. For bishnoi people this is an ordinary thing, as it is the eating of traditional soup for us. The whole western world lost its mind on the green idea, while bishnoi people are simply applying it in their farms, without a fuss, bright posters or multimillion funds.
The noise of a herd of graceful gazelles which slipped into the bushes beside the house pulled me back to the present, abandoning these thoughts and the light melancholy. May be I’m not right to compare these two worlds and these two points of view in this way, but the distances are so small and the pictures in front of me are changing so quickly.
Bishnoism teach of love, peace, love to the environment and nature, warmth in the relations, non sophisticated life, honesty, dedication, hard work, external and internal purity.
If we all somehow have strived harder to these qualities or our society somehow has taught them more efficiently, yes, more efficiently, then perhaps there would be no need for nature conservation, or at least for the one we know and practice today and which we transform into profession or even into career. It’s like cleaning our house and watering the flowers on the balcony to be considered as a profession, and the improvement of the methodology and the way we are doing this, as career. Nature conservation in western world is a sort of business. Instead, perhaps all we need is a little bit more of Bishnoism.
In this point people in the house moved. Men of the house were sitting in a form of circle around a set consisting of few glasses and were doing something. The guide explained to me that they were preparing weed tea or pot tea which is traditional for these lands for centuries. People don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, and don’t puncture their veins, but drink “happy end” tea. The socialization around the tea set when preparing the magic drink is a basic moment of the daily life of this family. The guide told me that in addition to the power which this miraculous tea gives to men, it also heals stomach disorders as well as some psychic conditions. I surmise that my interlocutor got confused. May be he wanted to tell me that the tea does not heal conditions but causes such psychic conditions, which is not mandatorily something bad. Moreover, what does it mean healing precisely? And where is the tiny border between healing and just the big imaginary party in some parallel world? We did not understand entirely each other for this part of the story, but however the ceremony was going ahead. One of the women was straining slowly the content using cheese-cloth from one vessel to another.
As every other herb, cannabis can be used for preparation of tea as well, though I feel that this information would arouse indignation of some specialists in its use, because of the wasting of the material. Nevertheless, it is absolutely possible and moreover it is a practice in some vast regions of India the leaves of cannabis to be simply poured on with hot water and then the tisane is left for about an hour and half and then it is ready for drink.
Tetrahydrocannabinol or the most popular THC is the “happy” substance in cannabis. It is not readily soluble in boiling water and for that reason the dudes around the tea set added some kind of liquid oil, in order to speed up the extraction of the precious substance. The same is the effect of alcohol or butter, added in small quantities. Milk is also used, containing the fat, which is necessary for the extraction of THC and this transforms the drink into Bhang.
If the ingredients above have not been added, the water of the tea will get colour, but that would be only the water soluble non-cannabinoid substances, which do not have any healing effect (perhaps the favorable effect on the stomach mucous comes from them). But the liquid is not “happy” like this. These people have found the solution and as they don’t drink, don’t smoke, have simple family life in total harmony with nature, which was again reminded to me by other gazelles which I saw with my peripheral vision, the use of cannabis is accepted this way by the local authority and nobody is prosecuted.
My guide added that the tea provide some mysterious power to men who after the breakfast go to work on the field. After the end of ceremony, I really saw them, full of energy, slinging over their shoulders some pitchforks and going to the closest field.
They offered me tea, of course, but I refused. I didn’t have any idea on how my body would react to this drink, and moreover, I was alone there, so therefore I decided to skip that. May be that was my chance to meet live Don Juan from Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan” and to talk to him about everything! The ambiance was so convenient for that.
As we walked away from the farm, I was thinking about the relationship and the proximity between the drinking of tea from cannabis and the idea about nature conservation, both applied every day by bishnoi people, as an integral part of their life. It came to my mind that this might be the reason which would explain the specific smell coming from camp fires of environmentalists’ camps in Western countries. In the day you clean for instance some magic lake, and in the night you directly rise in the sky among flowers, fragrances and songs. The lust for harmony is universal, and the ways to achieve it are so diverse.
“You say you need help. Help for what? You have everything needed for the extravagant journey that is your life.” Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan.