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Malabar Manual Vol 2
William Logan

Position and Extent.—The island of Minicoy is situated in Lat. 8° 17' N. and Long. 73° 19' E, and is distant about 243 miles from Calicut. a dependency of the Cannanore family and so classed with the Laccadive group, it is situated about midway between the Laccadives proper and the Maldives, and the inhabitants belong to the latter race and speak Mahl. Its extreme length from, north-west to south-east is 6 miles, 1 furlong, 56 yards, and its greatest breadth 4 furlongs, 12 yards.

The area is 1,120 acres or 1¾ square miles. The island is long and narrow and in shape somewhat resembles a crescent, the convex of which faces east, whilst on the west there is a magnificent lagoon.

The northern portion of lagoon is deep and not very difficult to navigate. To the south of the main island, and separated from it by a channel about one-fourth of a mile wide, is a small island called Viringilli to which small-pox patients are transported to prevent the epidemic from spreading in the village.

Soil and Products.—Though the soil has every appearance of being fertile, yet the cultivation upon which the islanders almost entirely depend is that of the coconut palm, with which the whole island is more or less planted up. In the Pandaram plantations, there is a considerable amount of jungle interspersed with coconut trees. The wealthier islanders possess gardens which are secured against depredators by strong fences and locked gates.

The late Amin, Ali Malikhan, made a garden in which plantains, pumpkins, brinjals, beans, chillies, cucumbers, limes and betel vines were found to thrive excellently. There is also one small mango tree. No grain is cultivated, save a few plots of cholum. The jungle contains many trees, of which the banian and wild almond are the chief. The jungle products are much the same as in other islands. The Ittala plant, already mentioned as found in Bangaram, is also very common. The only marine product which calls for remark1 is the maas fish (Bonito), of which large quantities are annually cured and exported chiefly to Ceylon.

NOTEs: Conf., Vol. I, footnote p. 286. END OF NOTEs

Animals.—The number of cattle and goats in the island is very small ; there were only one of the former and ten of the latter in 1880. It is alleged that cattle cannot be bred in the island, as they are killed by mosquitoes and a kind of poisonous grass. The few to be found on the island are imported for slaughter at religious ceremonies.

People, their Customs and Occupation.—The inhabitants are divided into four classes, viz.-

1. Malikhans, corresponding to the Karnavar of the other islands.

2. Malumis (pilots).

3. Takkara (sailors and boatmen).

4. Melacheris, or kohlus as they are called (tree-climbers).

The boat-owners and holders of valuable property from the Pandaram upon a light quit-rent belong to the first class. The Malumis and Takkarus are sailors, and the Kohlus tree-climbers and servants.

The late Amin, Ali Malikhan, was the most influential man in the island, and, besides maintaining strict order, used to insist on a certain amount of respect being paid to him by the other islanders. In the island, he and the gumasta alone wore jackets as a mark of distinction, all others being prohibited from doing so whilst in the island, though out of it, e.g., in Calicut, other Malikhans are in the habit of dressing somewhat gaudily.

Amongst the women also sumptuary distinctions prevail, the lowest class being strictly prohibited from wearing silver or gold ornaments. In personal appearance and in their dress, manners and customs they differ considerably from the inhabitants the other islands. They are much smaller in stature, darker, and have very round faces. In disposition they are quiet and obliging.

The customs of the islanders are in many respects remarkable and bear no trace of having been introduced from Cannanore. One which is without parallel amongst any society of Mussalmans is that the men are monogamous. The custom forbidding men to have more than one wife at a time is so strong that even the late Amin, influential as he was, dared not break through it when he wanted a second wife.

Some of the men appear to be anxious that this custom should be abrogated by Government interference ; but the women, in spite of the number of spinsters amongst them, will not hear of it. The women appear in public freely with their heads uncovered and take the lead in almost every thing except navigation. In fact they seem to have as much freedom as there is in European countries.

Enquiry into their civil condition (e.g., whether they are married or unmarried) is regarded as an unpardonable affront. Unmarried men may converse with maidens, and courtship is a recognised preliminary to marriage. The girl's consent is in all cases necessary, and the Kazi will not perform the ceremony unless he has sent two mukris to ascertain that she is willing. After marriage the wife remains in her mother’s house, a very convenient custom where the men are mostly sailors absent from the island a great part of the year.

Three or four couples find accommodation in the same chamber, each enveloped in long cloth mosquito curtains. If the daughters are numerous they leave the parental roof in order of seniority, and the houses erected for them become their property. The men have no right of ownership over houses. Every woman in the island is dressed in silk. Their gowns fit closely round the neck and reach to the ankles. The upper classes wear red silk and earrings of peculiar fashion.

The Melacheri women are restricted to the use of a dark striped silk of a coarser quality. Every husband must allow his wife at least one candy of rice, two silk gowns and two under-cloths a year. He also presents her on manage with a fine brass betel pouch (brought from Galle) and a silver ornament containing receptacles for lime and tobacco and instruments of strange forms intended for cleaning the ears and teeth.

The husband retains the power of divorce, and it is not the custom of the island to pay dower. Bathing tanks are set apart for the use of the women, and men are not allowed to intrude on that part of the island behind the village where the women congregate of a morning to prepare the coconut husks for the manufacture of coir.

Population, Sanitary Condition and Medical Aspects.—The population, according to the census of 1881, numbered 3,191, of whom 1,412 were males and the remaining, 1,779, were females. In 1867, three vessels were lost in a cyclone at Calcutta, and it is estimated that the number of men that perished then was 120.

The sanitation of the island is excellent. The houses of the people are built close to each other in rows. The rows run parallel to each other from the beach inland or east and west and are eight in number, each of which has a distinct name. One long cross road and several smaller lanes intersect the village.

The walls of the houses are of undressed stone and plastered as in Kalpeni, but the style of architecture is quite different. Each has a long verandah running throughout its whole length off which the various rooms open. In front is a small yard which is fenced or wailed off from the street and the entrance protected by a neat tatty screen.

The houses of the wealthy have kitchens and store-houses attached to them, and also wells inside their yard. The poorer classes get their water from public wells in the streets or from the well of the nearest wealthy man. Some wells have also been sunk in the uninhabited parts of the island for public convenience, to each of which there belongs a long stick with a coconut shell cup at the end to draw water with.

The wells are all square in shape and the sides built up and plastered ; the water obtained from them is excellent. There are also six large built tanks with parapets and steps used for bathing purposes. The village is in good order as regards conservancy and the streets are daily swept.

The custom of the islanders in regard to sanitation and the interment of the dead is valuable and most beneficial. There are three separate burying grounds in remote parts of the island for persons who die of small-pox, cholera and leprosy. The precaution of separating lepers is maintained ; on the appearance of the disease, the sufferer is called before the Kazi, and if the leprosy is pronounced to be contagious, he is expelled to the north of the island where a place is set apart for the purpose.

A hut is built for him and he exists on supplies of food and water which his relatives bring at intervals and leave on the ground at a safe distance. There is a boundary line beyond which lepers are not permitted to proceed.

The islanders have a horrible superstition that in the night time goblins may be seen clawing at the leprous parts, and the leper habitation seems to be generally regarded with dread. The poor patients receive only occasional treatment during the visits of the European officers ; small-pox patients are invariably transported to the island of Viringilli to prevent the disease spreading in the village, but if it becomes epidemic, those attacked are allowed to remain and be treated in their own houses.

The health of the island is fairly good, but there is a very unwholesome practice among the people who, in order to protect themselves from mosquitoes, sleep on cots surrounded by thick linen curtains, thus inhaling accumulated foul air. In the evening swingcots are used to keep off the mosquitoes.

Education.—There are hardly more than three individuals in the island who can speak or read Malayalam. The language spoken is Mahl, and there is therefore great difficulty in communicating with the islanders. The majority of the upper classes and a few of the Melacheris have learnt the Koran character in the mosque schools, and many of the men of the upper classes have picked up a knowledge of Hindustani and Tamil in the course of their voyages to Ceylon and the Bay of Bengal.

Religion, Mosques and Cemeteries.—The inhabitants are exclusively Muhammadans. There are about 20 mosques and 26 cemeteries. The cemetery at Viringilli is used for small-pox patients die there and for those who perish at sea, whatever be the cause of death. The reason given in the latter case is that the disease being unknown, it is safer to bury the bodies at a distance.

There is also a small ground to the south on the main island in which are buried those who die on the maas-boats, as also Kohlus who, taking up a temporary residence in the big south Pandaram to draw toddy, die there.

Near here is the grave of a holy man to whom prayers are offered to quell the raging of the sea. Deceased violent lunatics are buried to the north at a place called Runnagatta. The lepers have their own cemetery within the limits of their holding. In all cases the Mukri and sextons of the Jamath mosque go and perform the prescribed rites and give decent sepulture.

Manufactures and Trade.—The manufactures of Minicoy are the same as those of other islands. The coir is a little dark in colour but much finer in quality than that produced in the other islands. This is due to the coconut husk being allowed to grow hard and woody before being soaked for fire.

The nuts are not gathered from trees but are allowed to ripen and fall on the ground. Maas-fish is cured and exported largely to Ceylon. In 1876 there were 8 large and 33 small vessels. The former increased to 9 in 1882. Of these, two go to the coast, the Maldives and Ceylon, and the others to the Bengal side.

There are 11 maas-boats, to one of which every one in the island belongs. Men get a share of the fish in addition to their wages. The maas-boats are excellently built, with deep keels, fine lines, and a large allowance of beam. They carry a large square mat sail with a linen try-sail behind it. They are nicely finished off and painted and go very fast under sail. The islanders are skilful sailors.

The sides of the boats are of coconut and probably do not last long. The islanders have a very good assortment of ship-building tools and are very well skilled in their use. The Pandaram had three vessels, of which one, which could not be repaired except at an enormous cost, was sold by public auction at Beypore in 1883. The other two vessels are still in the island. The customary rates of payment to the crew of the Panadaram vessel are as follows : —

In the case of small vessels each sailor gets on the day of embarkation 60 coconuts, 4 lbs. of jaggery and 4 lbs. of rice. This is about the equivalent of Rs. 1-8-0. During the voyage he gets 1 lb. of rice and two coconuts a day. The tindal gets twice and the malumi four times the allowance of a sailor. When the larger vessel sails, each sailor receives 100 coconuts, 28 lbs. of jaggery and 22 lbs. of rice on embarking and rations as above.

Pandaram lands, their Tenure and General Remarks.—The land is the property of the community, and is managed by the Pandaram, i.e., the Government. Private property in the soil is unknown, but improvements, such as houses, coconut and other trees, etc., belong to the persons who make them.

The Malikhans or chief men state that their forefathers voluntarily surrendered the island to the Cannanore Raja on his undertaking to protect them against pirates. Every tree in the inhabited part of the island has the mark of its owner cut upon it, so that disputes respecting the ownership of trees have been very rare.

The principal sources of revenue are—

(1) Valiyapattam or pattam payable by certain Malikhans.

(2) Attiri-pattam or sea-shore pattam.

(3) Pattam on tottam or garden.

(4) Poll-tax at the rate of 20 lbs. of coir per male and 6 lbs. per female. The families of Malikhans, one married female in each house, all unmarried adults and toddy-drawers are exempt from this tax.

(5) Sugar-tax in the nature of a poll-tax on toddy-drawers.

(6) Cowrie monopoly.

(7) Produce of the Pandaram trees.

(8) Tax (in rice) on large vessels trading with Bengal.

(9) Tax (in maas-fish) on fishing boats.

(10) Hire of Pandaram boat at 14 per cent on fish taken.

There is no coir monopoly in this island, and this fact explains chiefly the absence of disaffection towards the raja.

Divisions.—The island is demarcated into nine large blocks—

(A) The great north Pandaram.

(B) North Moiluth grant.

(C) Leper settlement.

(D) South Moiluth land.

(E) Malikhan land.

(F) Central Pandaram.

(G) Attiri Pandaram (containing most of the village site).

(H) Eastern block (containing rest of the village tottams and Pandaram plots).

(I) Great southern Pandaram.

NOTE.- The village (blocks G and H) is divided for purposes of administration into attiris (sea-shore or male assemblies) and varangis (female assemblies). Of the latter, there are ten, which lie in order from north to south, thus : —

1. Bodu, 2. Kudahe, 3. Punghilolu, 4. Aludi, 5. Setivalu, 6. Kandamatu, 7. Hanimagu, 8. Olikolu, 9. Digu, 10. Kolu. The attiris correspond in name to the varangis except that No. 7 lies inland from No. 6, and the head-man of No. 6 having charge of the attiri, that is, sea-shore, is head-man of both Nos. 6 and 7.

To each varangi there is a head-woman. The Malumi (pilot) and Malikhan (chief men) castes are independent of these attiri and varangi organisations, which are formed exclusively of the two lower castes, viz., Takkarus (sailors) and Melacheris (tree-climbers), and which exist for the public services (male and female) of the community. Each attiri and varangi has a special place of meeting, and the sexes being told off to certain well-defined services, there is no clashing of authority.

The head-men control all the men and youths of their attiris. The head-women exercise authority over all females and over boys until the latter are old enough to join in the services performed by the males of the attiris, that is, till they are about 7 years of age. The different castes are located in the village thus :

Each attiri has a number of maas-fishing boats. The owner of the boat gets 14 per cent of the catch of fish, the rest is divided equitably among the attiri.

Lighthouse.— A fine lighthouse, constructed by the Trinity House has been recently erected at the south end of the island in block I. The light was first exhibited on the 2nd February 1885.

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