Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’
VED from VICTORIA INSTITUTIONS
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Ali Raja

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When speaking about north Malabar, and especially about the locations between and including Tellicherry and Cannanore, three families are mentioned. One is the Chirakkal family, next the Kolathiri and the third the Arakkal family.

The first two are connected and I think can easily get mixed up. The third one is also known as the Ali Raja family. It is generally seen mentioned nowadays that the meaning of Ali is Sea or Ocean. I do not know in which language Ali becomes Sea or Ocean. I think it is a mistake which must have originated from this book, Malabar purportedly written by William Logan.


In this book, a general tendency to write the Malabari and Malayalam zhi (ഴി)as li (ലി) is seen. From this perspective, I think that actual word was not Ali Raja, but Aazhi Raja. Aazhi (ആഴി) does mean Sea or Ocean. However, since the family was Muslim, and the name Ali is a Muslim name, the shift in the English pronunciation was widely accepted without much demur. And from English, the name pronunciation must have diffused into Malabari and Malayalam also. So that as of now, the name must be Ali in all the afore-mentioned languages.


Even though the kingdom has been mentioned several times in this book, as far as I can discern, it is a very tiny bit of place. I feel it was more or less confined to certain parts of Cannanore town. In the heydays of its existence, it must had occasion when it might have had some larger existence. I am not sure about that.


See the words of Hamilton: QUOTE: “Adda Raja, a Mahometan Malabar prince, who upon occasion can bring near 20,000 men into the field. END OF QUOTE.


The number 20,000 in the above statement might need to be imbibed with a pinch of salt. 20000 was the number of soldiers assembled by the Mogul Diwan at Murshidabad to attack Robert Clive and his native infantry. It was indeed a very huge assemble of soldiers.


However, the Arakkal family has had some kind of ownership of certain islands in the Laccadive Sea. This ownership must have come upon this tiny kingdom by their supporting the Arabian trading ships that came from Egypt. It is also possible that the Mappilla seafaring family known as the Kunhali family of Badagara area may also have supported them in this. The Arakkal family’s hold on the Laccadive islands was more or less tenacious, I think, holding on against the overall antipathy for the more or less exploitative control over the disunited islands and the island populations.


There is the name of Arakkal Bibi, or Beevi or Beebee found in this book, Malabar. This denotes the title holder of ‘queen’ of this family. Since the family system was matriarchal, it is the Beevi who is mentioned in this book as representing the family and ‘kingdom’. However, there is evidence in this book itself that the actual players in decision-making were the male members of the family, with the Beevi being only namesake tile-holder of family head.


The next point is that the word Bibi, Beevi and Beebee is seen mentioned in the book, Malabar, in the history over the centuries. So naturally there will be different individuals holding this title one after another over the years. There seems to be no mention of these individuals, other than the sterile word Bibi, Beevi or Beebee. The situation looks quite similar to the ‘Zamorin’ word representing another tiny, but still much bigger kingdom that that of the Bibi.


QUOTE: Cheraman Perumal, the text goes on to say, encouraged merchants and invited Jonaka Mappillas (Muhammadans) to the country. In particular he invited a Muhammadan and his wife to come from his native land of Aryapuram and installed them at Kannanur (Cannanore). The Muhammadan was called Ali Raja, that is, lord of the deep, or of the sea. END OF QUOTE.


So, that was how this family came into being. There is another local story with a slight variation in circulation in Cannanore.


QUOTE: On the 26th of the same month the Prince Regent took and destroyed the Mappilla settlement at Valarpattanam, killing 600 men, women and children END OF QUOTE.


Ali Raja’s relationship with the Kolathiri and also with Kottayam raja were at times strained.


QUOTE: In their letter of 14th March 1728 to Bombay the factors reported that “Ally Rajah .... is sailed for duddah, and all his country save Cannanore entirely destroyed by the Prince.” The next news of him received in October, through Bombay, was that he had been poisoned at Jeddah by his minister, and that all his effects had been seized on account of presents promised to the prophet’s tomb. END OF QUOTE.

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QUOTE: The Bibi of Cannanore was next prevailed on in November- December 1734 to surrender her claims to the island out of fear that the Canarese or French would take it, and owing to her inability to retake it herself and keep it securely. If it was to be in any other hands than her own, she preferred that it should be taken possession of by the English. END OF QUOTE.


The ‘she’ in the above passage might not really any ‘she’. It would be a decision taken by the men folk. And it might be their preference to see that the island is in English hands, rather than in the hands of Canarese or the French. The former being dangerous feudal language speakers. And the latter also with the same infliction but also quite unsteady.


QUOTE: The weakness of that prince was avarice, and Ali Raja of Cannanore, helped by the French, had been “spiriting up” the Prince Regent with money and creating dissensions between him and the English factory. END OF QUOTE.

This was the state of the geopolitical location where the English Company tried to establish a trading relationship. Everyone was fighting against each other. Even inside the Kolathiri family, there were various groups, all seeking ways to usurp the title of the king.


It is seen that when feudal language speakers set up beachheads inside native-English nations, those locations also start exhibiting similar social infections. That of the nation fighting against itself. This is very much evident in the case of the USA now.


QUOTE: Ali Raja repaired at once to Mahe with 500 men. But his reception seems to have cooled his ardour for the French alliance, and after this powerful French fleet had sailed away without even attacking Tellicherry, he soon sued the English factors for peace and stated his hearty repentance. END OF QUOTE.


The native-kings were shifty and always doing things which were not direct, but from behind the back. There is indeed a culture here in which it is seen that cheating another person, or doing something against him behind his back are seen as great personal capacities. The direct manner of dealing is not encouraged by the feudal language codes.


QUOTE: In September 1755, Ali Raja of Cannanore organised a big buccaneering expedition in close alliance with Angria. He sent 3,000 men with guns in 70 native small craft (manchuas) and large boats to ravage the Canarese country. This expedition attacked Manjeshwar and obtained there a booty of 4,000 pagodas, besides 100,000 more from a private merchant. They also landed people to the north of Mangalore, marched 18 leagues inland to a very rich pagoda called “Collure” and carried off booty to the extent, it was reported, of no less than 4,000,000 pagodas. END OF QUOTE

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Till the entry of the English rule, there was no far-sighted aim to create any enduring social or administrative system in the subcontinent. Everyone acted in the most selfish manner.


QUOTE: On the 11th Ali Raja of Cannanore, without giving any notice to the factors of his intention, surprised the French fort on Ettikulam Point at Mount Deli and most barbarously massacred the garrison of 20 men. END OF QUOTE.


This was done because the support of the English Company was on their side. However, it seems to be a show of power done without the permission of the English Company officials.


QUOTE: On the 11th March 1761 the Kolattiri Regent wrote to the Chief to say that Ali Raja of Cannanore had given the greatest affront possible to the Hindu religion by putting a golden spire on the top of one of his mosques, it being contrary to their established rules to have a spire of gold on any edifice throughout the coast except on the principal pagodas ; and only those of Taliparamba, "Turukacoonotu" in Kottayam, and "Urupyachy Cauvil" at Agarr were entitled to the distinction. War ensued: the Court of Directors’ orders were peremptory and forbade the factors from interfering, except as mediators, in the disputes among the country powers. END OF QUOTE.


These fights are innately encoded into the social culture of the location. The moment one si