Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’


There are people in India who write about famines in British-India. They claims that these famines were caused by the English rulers. These claims could be far from the truth. Actually, it is only in very recent days that these kinds of claims are being noticed.

There was indeed a terrible social situation which was actually noticed even by visitors from Britain to the British-India and to the native-kingdoms. This was a land with enough and more natural resources. However, the majority people lived like dirt.

There were people who blamed the English rule. This was actually a nonsense. The actual degradation of the majority people had nothing to do with the English rule. The real villain was the feudal languages. People were grouped in hierarchical layers. The top layer people crushed, cheated and exploited the layers below them. And at the same time, worshipped and adored the layers above them.

So, it was a sort of willing self-destructive mentality.

Physical labour was seen as distasteful. Each layer pushed down the physical labourer part to their lower layers.

In such a terrible social mentality, whatever goodness and beneficial acts were done by the English administrators, nothing will seep down. For, each one of the social layers would see to it that the lower layers do not get any benefit which might give them leeway to come up.

This is actual truth.

Now, about the actual food eating condition of the people has to be mentioned. The slave castes literally lived on bare subsistence food.

See the series of QUOTEs I am posting from Travancore State Manual of the living condition of the peoples in the native-kingdom ruled by a native king:


1. Pulayas:

“The food of these Pulayans is fish, often cooked with arrack and with the liliaceous roots of certain water plants.

Their food is chiefly rice, as they are employed in its cultivation, to which they add vegetables and fruits grown in the small plots usually allotted them by their masters. The rice is boiled and eaten with coarse curry, or only pepper and salt. It is also parched, or beaten flat, but they have no skill in baking or cookery.

Not long since, a Pulayan escaped from a cage prison in South Travancore. When again caught, he confessed that he had run off because he had been starved for four days, the peons pocketing the allowance for food.

2. The Kanikars are generally very short in stature and meagre in appearance, from their active habits and scanty food.

3. Pariahs: The flesh of cattle left dead by the roadside is their perquisite, and it is their partaking of this food that excites the abhorrence of ordinary Hindus, who venerate the cow.

The Pariahs eat the carcases of cows and other animals which have died of old age or disease, even when almost putrid. These are cut up for distribution by the females principally, and after partaking of this disgusting food, their odour is insufferable.

4. The Valans: Their food is scanty, and never includes eggs, milk, or rice cakes. Their dress is unclean and poor, the children going quite naked, and often suffering from indigestion, worms, and other diseases; while the parents are so ignorant that they do not even know the use of such a simple remedy as castor oil.

5. During the months of scarcity the Vedar women go to the jungle, and dig up various kinds of wild yams and tubers with pointed sticks of wood which they always carry, and boil and eat these roots. The Pulayars, likewise, hunt for crabs, tiny fish, and snails, in the irrigation channels, eggs of red ants, the winged white ants, or anything else to fill the stomach and satisfy the cravings of hunger.

6. Roots, vegetables and fruits form a considerable proportion of the food of the population, especially of the poorest classes, who have little besides when rice is scarce or dear. The forest and hill people dig out wild, stringy yam-roots from the jungle as food in the hot season. Every native grows something, if he can, around his own dwelling for home use.

7. The poorer class of cultivators generally go to their work at six o’clock in the morning, and return at the same hour in the evening. Only when the work is unusually difficult or pressing do they take solid refreshment at noon. They get food warm and abundant in the evening only.

8. Conversation with a slave:

“What are the wages of slaves in other districts ?”

“Half an edungaly, with a trifling present once a year at Onam.”

“In sickness, is relief given by the masters ?”

“At first a little medicine, but this is soon discontinued. No food is supplied.”

“What is your usual food ? “

“Besides rice when able to work, often only the leaves of a plant called tagara (Cassia tora) boiled; and for six months the roots of wild yams are dug from the jungle.”

“How do you get salt?”

“We exchange one-sixth of our daily wages in paddy for a day’s supply of salt”

“Not having proper food, the children are weak and unable to do hard work, therefore they are not paid any wages until they are fifteen years of age;

9. They are kept toiling in manuring, planting, or reaping through the day in the agricultural season, mostly with the blazing sun beating on the bare head, and the feet in mire or water, and return in the evening, fatigued and hungry, to their wretched huts to boil their rice and eat it with salt and pepper.

10. Sudras (Nayars – higher caste) do not eat beef, but mutton, poultry, &c.

11. Syrian Christians (land owners): Food. — There are no prejudices against any particular kind of food. Beef is ordinarily not procurable, therefore not eaten. Rice and curry is a favourite dish.

12. The cheapest food in Travancore, except home-grown roots and fruits, is rice. Of this adults require about a pound and a half daily, and it costs something like a penny to a penny farthing per pound. Rice is not nearly so nourishing as wheat or oatmeal, and should be supplemented, as it usually is among vegetable feeders, with pease, milk, or butter. Numerous varieties are grown, and nice distinctions made of flavour and individual taste.

13. Rice, the staple food of the people, is not commonly ground into flour, but boiled whole and eaten with curry — that is, highly spiced meat, fruit, or vegetables; other grains, as millet, &c., are ground into flour, and boiled into a kind of porridge or pudding.

14. The social circumstances and daily life of the poor low-caste or slave women, who are obliged to labour for their daily support, and sometimes have nothing to eat on any day on which they remain idle, present a direct contrast to the comfort of these just described, as might be expected from the condition of extreme and enforced degradation in which they have been so long kept, and the contempt and abhorrence with which they are universally regarded. Yet they are human as well as their superiors. They work hard, suffer much from sickness and often from want of food, and generally, like all slaves, also form evil habits of thieving, sensuality, drunkenness, and vice, which increase or produce disease and suffering.


This is the real condition of the food intake of the various peoples of Travancore. The higher castes and the Syrian Christians did have good food. The lower castes had food bare enough to just survive.

If that be the condition of Travancore, see what was the