Annigeri skulls find support in history pages

Documents show region suffered from famine, epidemics 181 years ago

In the latest report by the State Archaeology Department, the officials have hinted that this was the second burial given to victims of famine or epidemics. This factor finds resonance in historical documents.

The carbon dating report of the US-based firm Beta Analytic pegged the age of the skulls at 181 years, taking them back to somewhere around 1830. Interestingly, documents speak of famine and epidemics around this period. They also mention about the old and infirm being fed during one such severe famine at Annigeri.

The Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency on Dharwad compiled by James M Campbell in 1894 mentions about frequent famines in the region, from 1791 to 1877, which devastated human life here. These famines were coupled with the outbreak of epidemics like cholera and small pox and killed a large number of people, besides forcing mass migration. The Gazetteer mentions the ‘Dogi Bara’ (skull famine) and ‘Byan Bara’ (terrible famine) which struck the region.

During 1791-92, there was a terrible famine, the result of a series of bad years heightened by the depredation caused by the Marathas under Parashuram Bhau.

Heightened distress
The distress was great in Hubli, Dambal and Kalghatagi where the people were forced to feed on leaves and berries and women and children were sold.

The rains failed for 12 years and for three years there was no tillage. From the number of unburied dead, the famine is remembered as Dogi Bara or the skull famine.

The famine of 1802-03 was not so much due to the irregularity of the season as to the ravages of war. The famine lasted for a year and distress was deepened by a large number of starving people pouring into the district from Pandharpur and Bijapur. Their condition was pathetic without either shelter or food and they laid themselves on the ground and died in large numbers among the bushes around the fort. From the number of destitute and the widespread distress it caused, this famine is called Byan Bara or the Terrible Famine.

Thousands of bodies were strewn on the road and this famine too was called the ‘skull famine’ probably from the number of unburied bones. But, according to the local story, as the dying people beat their heads together in agony, it is called ‘skull famine’, the gazetteer says.

Two partial famines are recorded in 1814 and 1824. The 1814 famine is known as ‘Baisagi Bara’ or drought famine and lasted for two months. There was another short two-month famine in 1824 due to the failure of rains and it seems to have extended up to Belgaum.
In 1832, the failure of rains and immigration of the destitute from the country to the north of Krishna caused great scarcity of food throughout the  district. The food prices shot up and the poorest were reduced to eating grass.

In 1866, the district was again visited by famine, the result of a succession of bad seasons. Many were reduced to beggary and still more left their homes in search of food. The government introduced the famine relief works and the old and infirm who could not work were fed by private charity at Dharwad, Hubli, Navalgund, Naragund, Annigeri, Basapur, Bhadrapur, Gadag, Dambal, Karajgi, Haveri, Devihosur and Ron.

However, the most disastrous was the famine of 1876-77 that was coupled with the outbreak of cholera and a large number of people were killed by small pox and fever. Compared with 1872, the 1881 census shows a fall of 1,06,764 in population.
The normal yearly increase of one per cent during the remaining years gives 1,75,000 as the loss of population caused by death and migration in 1876-77.

Hence, this important landmark in unravelling the mystery of Annigeri skulls may help the researchers and historians take up further studies.

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