Folklore and Millets: A Cultural Connection

United Nations has declared 2023 as the ‘International Year of the Millet’. This year is dedicated to promoting the consumption and cultivation of millets to improve food security, mitigate the effects of climate change, and promote sustainable agriculture. Millets are staple crops grown and consumed in many countries worldwide, including India, China, Burkina Faso and Nigeria. Some of the commonly grown millets are Pearl Millet (Bajra), Finger Millet (Ragi), Sorghum (Jowar) and Foxtail Millet (Kangni).

Folklores have been integral to the cultural fabric and narrative of many societies worldwide for centuries. Similarly, millet has been a staple food in many communities from time immemorial. These small-seeded grains are highly nutritious and can grow in various climates, making them an important food source in regions where other crops may not thrive. In many societies, millets are intertwined with the folklore and mythology of the people. For example, in some African communities, millets are believed to have magical properties and are used in rituals to bring good luck and prosperity. There is a famous African folktale about a farmer who tames the snake who was destroying his millet crop.

The Grimm Brothers, famous for their collection of fairy tales, have several stories that feature porridge as a central theme, such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” In “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” porridge is an integral part of the story, as it is the food prepared for the three bears when Goldilocks enters their house. The other well-known fairy tale about sweet porridge is “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” from the collection of the Grimm Brothers. In this story, a young man starts a journey to learn what fear is and comes across an older woman cooking a pot of sweet porridge. She invites the young man to stay the night and share her porridge with him.

India, one of the largest producers of millet in the world, has millet as a central theme/ character in its vast folk culture.”Bajre Da Sitta” is a famous Punjabi folk song that is often sung at traditional weddings. The song is based on the theme of harvest and celebrates the abundance of the crop of millets (bajra). The song’s lyrics express gratitude for the bountiful harvest and hope for a good harvest in the future. One example of a harvest festival related to millets is the “Kuthiyottam” festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala. This festival is held in honor of Lord Vishnu and is celebrated in November or December. During the festival, young boys are trained to perform a traditional dance known as “Kuthiyottam,” which involves elaborate rituals and offerings made to the deity using millet.

These folklores not only showcase the importance of millet in the culture but also serve as a reminder of food’s important role in our lives. They highlight millets’ cultural and historical significance and their role as a source of nourishment and sustenance for communities worldwide. These folklores also connect us to our rich cultural heritage and help to connect us to our past and to the wisdom of our ancestors.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in traditional foods like millet as people look for healthier and more sustainable food options. For example, millet flour is used in baking and can be used as a substitute for wheat flour in recipes such as cakes, cookies, and bread. It has a slightly nutty flavor and is gluten-free, making it a good option for people with gluten sensitivities. By embracing our connection to these traditional foods, we can improve our health and well-being and preserve our communities’ cultural heritage.

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