A short history of the Kolis
The Kolis first arrived on the islands of Mumbai around the 12th century AD. Regular intrusion by foreigners forced them into an environment that was hard to access, where they could protect themselves. These islands, dotted with mangroves and marshes, provided the perfect cover. It was also where they eventually found their livelihoods as fishermen. They migrated from the banks of the Son and Vaitarna rivers, and earned the identity of Son Kolis and Vaiti Kolis, respectively. Their habitats came to be known as koliwadas, about 39 of which survive today.
It is believed that the Kolis were originally Buddhists and a few adopted Christianity when the Portuguese colonised Mumbai in the 16th century. The foreigners also christened the islands Bombay, as Mumbai was once known as. This was followed by the rule of the British in the 17th century, who received the islands as part of a marriage settlement between King Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, sister of the king of Portugal. Once a port was established on the coast, trade flourished, which in turn led to rapid growth and urbanisation in Mumbai.
The Kolis on the other hand depended on the many water bodies for their survival and many of them continue to do so even today.
Mapping the Ecosystems
After extensive conversations with the older generation of Versova Koliwada, the team at Bombay61 arrived at a map. It shows the expanse of the Versova Creek and the rivers that eventually flowed into it. The interactions also brought out historical narratives regarding the ecosystems in terms of the quality of water, vegetation and types of fish. This illustration elucidates this environment from the generational perspective of the Kolis.