Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’
Ezhava-side interests


Now, let me take up the Ezhava-side interests.

Even though there seems to be no documentary evidence mentioned in the book, Malabar, it is seen mentioned that the Ezhavas came from Ceylon. It is again seen asserted that they brought in the coconut tree from Ceylon. Since Ceylon and Travancore are quite nearby locations, it is possible that it was a common tree in both the locations. In fact, Ceylon is much nearer to Travancore than is Cannanore. As to anyone bringing the coconut tree to Travancore and from there to Malabar, there might not be any specific need to identify it with any one particular caste or population unless there is some documentary evidence to that effect. For, history literally goes backward indefinitely.

Since the traditional language of Travancore is seen being mentioned as being Tamil, it is quite possible that the Ezhavas also had some close Tamil links. However, as of now, there might be different populations who might be identified as Ezhavas. I do not personally have much information on Ezhavas, other than what is seen written in such books as Travancore State Manual, Native Life in Travancore, Castes and tribes of Southern India etc.

In the last two mentioned books, there are locations where some attempt to identify the Ezhavas with the Thiyyas is seen. In the Native Life in Travancore, there is this line:

QUOTE: In the far south on both coasts they are known as Shanars; in Central Travancore as Ilavars; from Quilon to Paravoor, Chogans; in Malabar, as far as Calicut, they are called Teers, or Tiyars; and still farther north Billavars, which appears to be a slightly altered form of Ilavar. END OF QUOTE

What was Rev. Samuel Mateer’s source of information that made him mention the Makkathaya Thiyyas of South Malabar as Ezhavas is not known. However, as I had mentioned earlier, the Converted Christian Church had its own self-centred aim in promoting an idea that the Travancore and Malabar were one single geo-political unit. However, it is again curious that Mateer has not mentioned the Marumakkathaya Thiyyas of North Malabar.

As mentioned earlier, the Ezhavas of Travancore had their own deities. Not necessarily that of the Brahmanical religion. However, being under the Nayars, as the both the two Thiyyas were in Malabar, there would naturally be a lot of worship systems wherein they collaborated with the Nayars.

It is similar to any kind of hierarchical systems. For instance, see the case of the Kerala police now. The DySp (deputy district police officer) is conducting a function. In that function, the Circle Inspector, the Sub Inspector, the Head Constable and the Constables would have different and certain definite roles to play. In a similar manner, in any sacramental function conducted by a Nair household, there would be many lower-placed populations who would willingly and joyously participate.

In a manner similar to the police constable being placed at the down-below fag end of the hierarchy, the lowest class populations would stand at the lowest levels. However, they would also participate. There would not be any antipathy towards the Nair household. For, this is the social system everyone is accustomed to.

[Incidentally the antipathy arises only when the lower-placed populations are allowed to rise up in social standing. Then they would start having terrible and vexatious memories of how they had been low-level servants of persons who they now perceive as equals. Generally in feudal language social systems, the lower-placed populations are never allowed to improve. Only utterly foolish English social systems allow the slave populations from elsewhere to rise up in social standing to their own levels. These populations later carry a lot of grudge towards the same people who helped them improve. As to the lower-placed populations in feudal language systems, they have a lot of gratitude and affection towards the higher castes who throw a few crumbs to them.]

The second item is that the Ezhavas are generally dark-skinned. As mentioned earlier, there were many Ezhavas who were fair-complexioned also. So, it is evident that there has been a lot of mixing up of population among the Ezhavas.

At the same time, it must also be admitted that in those days, the total population of Travancore had a darker hue to their skin. In Malabar, in those days, the dark-skin was more or less confined to the labourers who worked in the sun.

In Travancore, it was possible to find Nayars and even some Brahmin folks with dark-skin complexion. All this generally point to a genetically different population mix in Travancore.

The wider theme with regard to the skin-complexion is that dark-skin complexion is less liked by many people in the subcontinent. It is not that the dark-skinned persons are inferior or something like that. It is simply that dark-skin is seen as less lovely. However, beyond that, dark-skinned is slightly connected to lower-placed population groups in Travancore. However, in Malabar, since the lower-castes are also fair in skin complexion, this identification is not absolute. But then again in Malabar also, dark-skin is mentally connected to a lower class population.

The problem with the dark-skin complexion is that the dark-skinned populations themselves do not appreciate their skin colour. It is at this point that the dark-skin goes down. However, from a personal experience, it is generally seen that the dark-skinned people are capable of bearing the sun-heat much more than the fair-skinned.

There is some other observation that I have had that seems to connect the skin-colour with certain language-code effects. However, I cannot go into that here.

The second terrific problem that confronted the Ezhavas and all the lower castes in Travancore was them being kept out of all kinds of government jobs in the kingdom, other than menial jobs. Ezhavas would naturally try to stick close to the Nayar community, and at the same time try to keep all the castes below them at a distance. This more or less proves that they were willing collaborators of the social system. Their only complaint being that they are not allowed to move up. They were not keen that the castes below them should come up.

The social system and the various kinds of repulsions and attractions were designed by the feudal languages of the location. The language is seen mentioned as Tamil. How it became Malayalam might be a very curious story.

The Ezhavas in Travancore were under the Nayars as were both the two different populations known as Thiyyas in Malabar. However, it is quite doubtful if the common Ezhava in Travancore or common Thiyya in Malabar would be aware of each other. In fact, way back in 1970s, I did understand that not many common persons in Malabar had heard of a caste called Ezhava. At the same time, in 1982, when I mentioned Thiyya in my college in Trivandrum, not even one person could understand what that caste was. In fact, it was a very curious incident that one of my college-mates understood it as some kind of Brahmin caste (something like Elayathu), seeing the casual manner in which I had mentioned the word Thiyya.

With the establishment of the English-rule in Malabar and the establishment of a close relationship between the Travancore kingdom’s government and the English administrators in Madras, the detachment and disconnection that Malabar and Travancore had between each other broke down at the official levels. It is possible that the Malabar district higher officials would have immense chance to meet and interact with the Travancore government higher officials in some common meeting place in Madras meant for the senior civil servants.

It might be true that at among the seafaring and fishermen folks from Malabar and Travancore, there would be much contact. However, it is seen that generally the fishermen folks and such other traditional seafaring populations seem to be from a common population group. Even though they were good at their work, they were generally kept at a distance by the people who live and work in the land areas. As of now, all these distance and disconnections are melting down.

Even though these kinds of melting-downs of social barriers are very easily understood as some kind of great social reformation, the fact remains that unless these kinds of changes are forcefully directed by some higher-quality people like the native-English, what ultimately comes out is a highly profanity-filled communication group. In fact, the worst qualities of the mixing groups get diffused into everyone. The good qualities simply fade out.

The knowledge of Malabar and its people and location would be slowly filtering into the Travancore region by way of the Christian Church also. When mentioning the Christian Church, it must be very carefully mentioned that a huge majority of the traditional Christian populations in Travancore and Malabar had nothing to do with the establishment of the English rule in the subcontinent. I will take up that point later.

When the English administration in Madras exerted pressure upon the Travancore government, the lower castes were given a lot of liberties for the first time in centuries. It is sure that it is this freedom that gave the social condition for persons like Sree Narayana Guru etc. to come up. Otherwise it is quite conceivable that if any Ezhava man were to set up a Brahmanical temple and make a totally cantankerous statement that it was an Ezhava Sivan that he was consecrating, he would have been beaten to a pulp then and there, along with huge stream of profanities to add insult to injury.

Generally there was a punishment used by most ruling kings and other small-time and big-time royals in the Subcontinent. That is impalement. If the higher classes feel that they had been slighted, they would complain to their rulers who would catch the miscreant and impale him. In fact, there is the incident of the so-called Pazhassi raja (he was not actually a raja, but just a family member of the ruler of Kottayam, who had the chance to occupy the title of raja during the melee caused by Sultan Tippu’s rumpus in Malabar.) of Kottayam near Tellicherry, impaling certain Mappillas because of some ‘respect’ issue. This was the first cause of consternation for the English administration with regard to him. Impaling means, hammering iron nails through the body to sort of fix it to a wooden pole or board.

Velu Tampi who occupied the post of Dalawa of Travancore for quite short period had this habit. He would also impale persons as a sort of quick punishment. In many cases, it was seen as quite effective. The Muslims in Travancore also had this experience from him. There might be need to study why there is so much antipathy for the Muslims in the subcontinent. It is due to a range of issue. Each different in different locations. I will try to take that up later.

Even though the Ezhavas were experiencing a lot more freedom, still they were a lower-placed population who could not get a government job. The issue of a government job in the subcontinent is that it is not at all like a government job in England. A government job in the subcontinent is not really a job, but a social position. All the lower grade words will get deleted with regard to the person who gets a government job. An ‘avan’ will become an ‘Adheham’ in Malayalam. An ‘aval’ will become an ‘Avar’ in Malayalam. This is something not understood or known in English. Naturally no sane individual from the higher caste would allow such a change to come upon a lower caste man.

It would be like household servant in the subcontinent being allowed to sit on the dining table and eat along with the members of the household. It would be a terrible infliction on the householders. The language codes insist that the servant maid has to sit on the floor and eat. She has to be addressed as a ‘Nee’ and she has to use ‘respectful’ words to the householders. If she is allowed more freedom and allowed to sit on the dining table, she would start addressing the householders with a Nee. And she would refer to the landlady as an ‘Aval’.

Without understanding all this, it would be quite unwise to define the terror that the Nayars felt in allowing the Ezhavas and other lower castes to come up. It was this perfectly mischievous deed that the Christian missionaries from the London Missionary Society were doing in Travancore kingdom. They were interfering into a social system they did not understand. And the more terrible part of their deed in Travancore was that they were developing a new language called Malayalam. This new language was to contain all the local feudal codes. So, in that sense the Christian Church was doing a social interference in Travancore, which was totally opposite to what the English administration was doing in Malabar. In Malabar, as elsewhere in the subcontinent, the English administration was trying hard to crush down the native feudal languages. More so, after the Minutes on Indian education was ratified by the English East India Company administration. Macaulay had clearly mentioned that the native languages here were ‘rude’.

The fact that the Thiyyas of Malabar, who by caste hierarchy were on the same pedestal as the Ezhavas, as being just below the Nayars, were in a social system where there was no statutory restrains on them would have been a most painf