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Malabar Manual Vol 2
William Logan

Position and Extent.—The island of Agatti, situated in Lat. 10° 51' 30" N. and Long. 72° 28' E, and lying about 35 miles north-west of Kavaratti, is the most westerly of the Laccadive group. In formation it somewhat resembles Kalpeni. Like that island, it lies north-east and south-west, and has on its western side a fine lagoon. The coral shoal upon which it stands is between 6 and 7 miles in length and from 3½ to 4 miles in breadth. On the east, the reef is situated close to the beach and beyond it the water deepens rapidly ; whilst on the west, the reef trends outwards so as to enclose the lagoon, which at its broadest point is more than two miles wide, and in this direction beyond the reef the slope of the coral shoal is very gradual.

Besides the main island, the reef also encloses the small uninhabited island of Kalpitti situated to the south of Agatti proper and separated from it by a narrow and shallow channel. The main island is long and narrow, being nearly 5 miles in length, whilst its greatest breadth is under 1,000 yards.

The southern portion consists of a long narrow strip averaging for more than 2 miles of its length little over 100 yards in width. The total area of the two islands is 716 acres or nearly 11/8 square miles, Agatti comprising an extent of 688½ acres and Kalpitti 27½ acres. At a distance of about 5 miles to the north lie the uninhabited islands of –

1. Bangara (115 acres),

2. Tinnakara (76¾ acres),

3. Parali (10 acres),

but these, though situated upon what is no doubt an extension of the Agatti coral shoal, are enclosed by a separate range of reefs and the channel between is deep.

There are two entrances into the lagoon navigable by the island vessels, viz., one situated close in shore at the north-western extremity of the island, and the other on the west side of the lagoon. The former is the passage ordinarily used by the island vessels, but the latter is the largest. At high water, there is in this passage about 7 feet of water and inside the lagoon a depth of several fathoms is obtained. As the lagoon is fairly free from coral rocks its navigation is easy.

Soil and Products.—The soil is comparatively sterile. About two-thirds ofthe island are under cocoanut cultivation and the rest is waste, but there are no large jungles. The lands claimed by the Pandaram are of small extent and as the cultivation is very imperfect and the quality of the soil poor, only a small revenue is obtained from them in this island. Some attempts have been made to form a tottam (artificial low land) for the cultivation of cereals, but the extent is trifling and the quality very poor.

The only grain raised is a sort of vetch (payar), but the quantity is small. The islanders also cultivate sweet potatoes and plantains to a small extent, and there are a few bread-fruit trees, lime trees, one areca palm and betel vines. A plant called Ittala grows in Bangara, from the root of which a sort of tapioca is obtained and used as diet for invalids. The fauna and flora of Agatti are the same as in the case of Kalpeni and Androth, save that in this island and in Kavaratti there are no crows.

Animals.—The islanders possess 110 cattle and 46 goats and the usual domestic fowls. One islander introduced a pair of rabbits from the coast a few years ago and they seem to thrive well. The sea products are the same as those of Kalpeni. Fish of many kinds is abundant and the inhabitants are very expert fishermen.

People, their Customs and Occupation.—This island is a melacheri or low caste island, but the division of the people into castes according to occupations that exist in the other islands is also found here, viz. ; —

(a) Karnavars (principal inhabitants),

(b) Urukars or sailors, and

(c) Melacheris or tree-climbers.

In disposition the inhabitants are the most enterprising and energetic, and are also very hospitable and cheerful. Both in person and in their habits they are very cleanly. The language differs slightly from that of the other northern islands and bears a closer resemblance to Tamil in interrogative suffixes. Thus they use "a" for "o” as the interrogative affix, e.g., "orangiya," did you sleep ?

Of the men belonging to the two lower classes only about half permanently reside in the island. The others go and settle on the coast, either in Malabar or Canara, as topee-makers (cap-makers), and as the price obtained for a topee varies from Rs. 5 to Rs, 15, this is a pretty profitable employment. As this occupation deprives the karnavar (or headmen) to a large extent of the personal services of their dependents, it is not very popular amongst them. Besides topee-making those who settle on the coast are in the habit of chanting the koran at private houses, for which they get their food and a small present.

Population, Sanitary Condition and Medical Aspects.—The population of the island, according to the census of 1881, was 1,375, of whom 672 were males and the rest females. In 1848 the population numbered 1,545.

The houses are built much in the same style as those of Androth, but they differ in two important respects. First, there is no central hall off which all the rooms open, and, secondly, the back verandah is within and not outside the outer wall of the building.

As in Androth, the walls are built of quarried slabs of coral free stone, but these are not kept in position by posts. As they whitewash the outer walls of their houses, they have a cleaner and brighter appearance than in any of the other islands. The doors and barred windows also are usually painted black or green, and in respect of ventilation they are superior, as they are built with eaves, and the rooms have barred windows. The people also pay more attention to conservancy than those of the other islands, and all house-refuse is collected in one spot and either used for manuring the cocoanut trees or burnt from time to time.

No epidemic has visited the island of late years, and the only prevailing complaints are eye-diseases and skin-diseases.

Education.—Secular education is more neglected here by the people than in Androth.

Out of 30 boys, with whom a school was established in 1878, only 11 appeared for examination in 1880. There are four mosque schools, at which about 60 boys and girls of the better classes are taught the Koran.

Religion and Mosques.—The people are, as in other islands, exclusively Muhammadan. The number of mosques in 1880 was 27, of which 19 had cemeteries attached to them. The number of mosques in 1848 was 35.

Manufactures and Trade.—The manufactures and trade of this island are the same as in other islands and call for no special notice. The number of boats owned in 1876 was 121, of which 18 were large and the rest small. The total number prior to 1847 was 68.

Survey and Cowles.—The survey of the island has been completed and a portion of the Pandaram lands has been granted on cowle or lease.

Subdivisions of the Island.—The island is divided into three cheries or subdivisions, viz., 1. Edacheri, 2. Vadakancheri and 3. Tekkancheri.

General remarks.—In June 1880, a British steamer, named the "Mahableshwar,’" was wrecked on the reefs of this group of islands.

Commentary                MMVol 1               MMVol 2

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