Date palm juice, patali gur on decline
The traditional six seasons of Bangladesh are losing their distinctive features in course of time. Now it’s January, the middle of winter. Along with foggy weather, a little cold is felt in the country’s rural areas, but the people of the mega cities can hardly feel it, thanks to the climatic changes impacted by global warming.
Consequently, the traditional farming culture and heritage are also fading. Extracting date palm juice and making patali molasses out of it is one of those.
A few days back, I travelled to Jessore’s Khajura, especially Tejrol village, once abundant with date palm trees. Now along with decrease in the number of trees, farmers, earlier dependent for livelihood on these, make other ways to earn, and the age-old tradition of making patali gur (molasses) from the date palm juice is on gradual decline. It was the Bangla month of Poush, the peak of winter season, but not much cold was felt, an obvious sign of climate change.
I arrived in Khajura around 5:30am in the morning. But I couldn’t find any farmer at the fields or at the trees. It was around 7:00am when Mizanur Rahman of Tejrol village came to climb up the tree to collect date palm juice. Locally known as gachhi, these men collect date juice from trees. For the purpose, they bark the upper portion of trees and fix a clay pot there to collect juice drops throughout the night. I had a little chat with Mizanur.
“Hello, are you here to collect palm juice?
“Do you think these traditions becoming extinct?
“Yes, not all the people want to climb the trees.”
“It is very hard and risky. We still follow our family tradition but my children won’t ever do this,” added Mizanur.
We comprehend that things won’t be the same in the farming sector in near future, such as the traditional ploughing is getting replaced by mechanised agriculture.
I saw Mizanur climb up the tree and bring down the pot containing juice, a scene representing the rural Bengal. The more intense the cold, the more amount of juice is secreted from the trees. Gradually the sun came up and I saw many date palm trees in the landscape and many others climbing up and down — a captivating view indeed.
Farmer Nazimuddin and his son Ibrahim were on their way to a date palm tree to collect juice. I talked with them to learn their view about date palm juice heritage in this region.
“Does your son help you in this?”
“No, it’s very hard for him. He should rather study.”
“What’s wrong if they study and still hold on to the farming roots?”
“That’s not a problem, but I don’t want my son to work this hard like me.”
I also met another gachhi, Dulu Mia.
“I see you with clay pots with date juice. You collected juice from how many trees?”
“Yet, it didn’t fill four pots.
“What’s the price for one pot of juice?
“100 taka to 150 taka.”
Dear readers, one pot of juice is sold for 100 taka. However, juice from 12 trees couldn’t even fill four pots. Barking date palm trees, climbing it with full risk on, bringing the pot down, collecting juice – every step of it demands hard work. However, he’s getting only 100 taka for one pot containing 10 kg of juice. This is why people are moving away from this profession, I think. Moreover, many are afraid of the high risk it has, like falling down and getting paralyzed forever.
I also went to Dulu Mia’s home to have a look on how they boil the juice and make patali gur.
He was boiling three pots of juice, 8 to 10 kg each pot.”
Most of the customers demand white molasses but these contain soda and other stuff, says another farmer Hossain, adding, “I don’t mix soda to make patali. I mix only a little sugar to make the item hard.”
At least in 50 homes at the village, the process of making patali molasses from date palm juice has already started, Hossain said.
Some farmers from this village also send patali gur to foreign countries including the USA, Qatar, England, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia.
At the nearby market beside the Chitra river, farmers are selling patali gur for 130 taka to 150 taka per kg. But, some mix sugar and some don’t do it at all as they feel it’s a crime.
Dear readers, what I felt deeply is farmers, not getting fair price for date palm juice and patali gur, can hardly make any profit. They don’t want their children to become farmers. With time, changes everything. However, people from all the localities try to hold on to their local tradition with pride. Those traditions mean their livelihood, even if it’s just a little earning.
Despite a lot of inconveniences and hurdles, many of Khajura’s people are still celebrating the traditional work of collecting palm juice and making patali gur (molasses). Only in Khajura, there are more than 1 lakh palm trees. According to a local account, once, all over Jessore, there were 40 lakh palm trees but now, it has come down to half.
Every Bangalee wants the tradition of molasses and patali to survive. To materialize, both government and private organisations should come up with effective ideas to keep it going where farmers can make some profit and the tradition remains firm.