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Malabar Manual Vol 2
William Logan

Position and Extent.—This island is situated in Lat. 10° 34' and Long. 72° 57' E., and so is distant about 74 miles from Kalpeni and 35 from Agatti. The coral shoal is the least extensive of any. The length of the island from north-east to south-west is about 3½ miles and its greatest breadth about three-quarters of a mile. The area is 865-1/5 acres or about 11/3 square miles.

As usual the island is situated just within the reef on the east, whilst on the west there is a lagoon which at its widest part is about half a mile broad. At the southern end it would appear that there was formerly a separate island, but it is now connected with the main island by a narrow strip of land about 50 yards wide. The islets attached to Kavaratti are –

The former, a mere sandbank on a coral limestone foundation, lies about 15 miles to the north-west of Kavaratti and is frequently visited by the people of that island and by those of Agatti and Ameni for fishing purposes. A pile of stones with a stout post in the centre has recently been put up as a landmark to attract the attention of mariners. The tides here run strong and there is often great difficulty in landing owing to the surf.

About 37 or 40 miles to the south-west of Kavaratti lies the coral shoal of Seuheli or Seuhelipar. It is composed of Valiyakara (big shore) at the northern extremity of the lagoon and of Cheriyakara (little shore) at its southern extremity. These two islets were formerly the common property of the Kavaratti islanders, but were many years ago confiscated by the Pandaram. As in Bangaram and Tinnakara the coral substratum is imperfect in both islets so that no fresh water is procurable ; but for the same reason the soil is exceptionally damp and fertile.

Valiyakara is completely overrun witn jungle, throughout which scattered cocoanut trees occur. Unlike the jungle in the other islands it contains no screw-pine whatever. In the centre there are large trees of various kinds, the most common being a species of banian (Ficus Indica). At the eastern and western extremities, the jungle becomes smaller and is composed of a species of shrub resembling the Rhododendron called Kanni by the islanders. On the north the shore is composed of coral rock and the vegetation overhangs the water. On the other shores the beach is sandy.

Cheriyakara lies east and west and has an extreme length of three-quarters of a mile. Its breadth at the widest point does not exceed a quarter of a mile. The area is 81¾ acres. The beach is generally sandy and the lagoon in its immediate neighbourhood is very shallow, especially on the south and east where large sand flats are left dry at low tide.

Unlike Valiyakara it contains no jungle worthy of the name. The island is covered with coarse long grass and a kind of small shrub. There is a well the water of which though brackish is occasionally used for cooking and drinking purposes. Near the centre and at about 100 yards from the eastern shore there is an extensive shallow pond and marsh of stagnant water surrounded by a dense fringe of small shrubs. It serves no useful purpose whatever and might be filled up.

Soil and Products.—The soil of Kavaratti is poor and is unsuited for the cultivation of cereals or vegetables. Beans, plantains and brinjals and a few areca palms, tamarind trees and betel vines are, however, grown ; but the extent ot cultivation is very limited and is hardly worth the name. The people depend almost entirely upon their cocoanut cultivation which covers nearly the entire island. A leaf disease formerly affected many cocoanut trees. There are a considerable number of bread-fruit and lime trees ; the timber of the former is used for shipbuilding and by the toddy-drawers for making wooden vessels to hold toddy.

Animals.—The number of cattle and goats in 1880 was 137 and 193 respectively. The chief sea-products, besides fish, are cowries, tortoise and turtle. The latter is captured chiefly for its oil. The lagoon adjacent to Souheli affords excellent fishing. People, who visit Seuheli for fishing purposes, are allowed to pluck the cocoanuts required for their use free of payment. This privilege has existed for a long time.

People, their Customs and Occupation.—The same division of the inhabitants into classes or castes exists here as in Androth, but all castes claim to be janmis. A few who immigrated from other islands at the time of the great storm in 1847 are dependents of the Koyas ; some of the lower classes are topee-makers like those of Agatti. Melacheris are called Thandels at Kavaratti. The people are as a rule quarrelsome and litigious ; the Malumis are more numerous and influential than the same class on other islands.

Population, Sanitary Condition and Medical Aspects.—-The population of the island, according to the census of 1881, was 2,129, of whom 1,030 were males and the rest females. The number in 1848 was 2,060. The houses along the west coast of Kawaratti are built in a row and in close proximity to each other. On the east and south coasts they are scattered here and there and are built in the same fashion as those of Androth. The health of the island has of late been good. In 1039 M.E. (1863-64 A.D.) about 700 people are supposed to have died of cholera.

Education.- Malayalam school started at Kavaratti was closed for want of pupils. The number shown in the census report of 1881 as "instructed” and under “instruction’’ is 513.

Religion and Mosques.—The inhabitants are exclusively Muhammadans. The number of mosques in 1848 was 51. At Seuheli there is a mosque of rude construction and the tomb of a pious Tangal held in much veneration by the islanders. Many miracles are ascribed to him, and it is especially common to invoke his aid in storms or when distressed by adverse winds. The islanders say that when in a storm they make a vow to visit the shrine of this saint the sea at once goes down and the winds become favourable.

Manufactures and Trade.—The manufactures of this island consist mainly of coir-yarn. The number of boats owned bv the islanders in 1876 were 30 large and 126 small vessels.

Pandaram Lands and Income therefrom. - In this island as elsewhere the body of the island is the common property of the people. Over a part, however, the Pandaram asserts exclusive claims on the ground that it was formerly waste land and therefore the property of the raja. The claims were resisted by the people and gave rise to great discontentment and opposition on their part.

The Pandaram income is derived—

1st. From the trees on the Pandaram Pak (forbidden ground) to the south of the island which comprises about one-fourth of the total area. It is cut off from the body of the people’s plantation by an old wall probably thrown up while it was really waste, and as such no entry could be made on this land without a pass from the raja’s agent.

2nd. From the trees on padipadi (half and half) lands, the produce of which is equally divided between the Pandaram and the tenants.

3rd. From Nattagatta Karayma, a fixed rent on escheated trees in various parts of the island.

4th. From Chuttu Karayma, a fixed rent arbitrarily assessed on all trees growing with 40 koles (kole = 30 inches) of the seashore.

All these lands have been granted to tenants on cowle with the exception of Chuttu Karayma lands, the rents of which were relinquished in favour of the occupants of the adjacent holdings. The tax on lime trees was remitted, and the bread-fruit trees were brought under assessment.

Subdivisions of the Island.—The inhabited portion of the islands is divided into four cheris, viz.

1. Melacheri or Mecheri on the north-west coast.

2. Tekkecheri on the east coast.

3. Porakecheri to the south.

4. Pallicheri on the south-west shore.

Porakecheri is separated from Mecheri and Pallicheri by a small valley which was apparently excavated formerly for grain cultivation.

Commentary                MMVol 1               MMVol 2

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