“By supporting women in their craft, we are not just improving their livelihood but also reviving the Pulicat lagoon. We wanted people living in the region to depend on the resources available there – men are engaged in fishing and women are making products out of palm leaves. Palm-leaf craft is a 2,000-year-old tradition and we have not made any changes. We have just added non-toxic colours to the baskets and changed the shape of the boxes. We just revived the old tradition in terms of style and design,” says Xavier Benedict.
He points out that every activity in the Pulicat region is interlinked. “If we cut palm trees in Pulicat, the groundwater level will go down and will affect the environment. If we can encourage people to depend on palm trees, then we can preserve them. We are developing a nature-based economy,” he adds.
The architect-activist points out the cultural significance of palm-leaf craft. “The best craftsmen hails from the Marakkayar Muslims in Tamil Nadu and they were mainly into fishing and boat building. Now, the same culture of building and crafting is being followed by the present generation of Marakkayar Muslims living in the Pulicat region. Also, in Tamil Nadu only a few people still follow palm leaf weaving – a few families in the Pulicat region, and Manapad, Thoothukudi,” remarks Xavier.