Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’
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Laccadive Islands

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When speaking about Laccadive Islands, it must be mentioned that these Islands became part of current-day India, due to the fact that they were under British-India. Otherwise, there is nothing to categorise them as India, other than that certain Islands there had been under the control of the tiny Ali Raja kingdom of Cannanore. Whether this hold was a willing subordination or forced one is not known to me. However, there is some mention in this book wherein it is seen that some of the Islanders were not very happy with the subordination to the tiny kingdom of Cannanore town. I think that this subordination was made by the Arabian or Mappillas traders or seafarers who might have doubled up as pirates also.


QUOTE: This form of patriarchal administration was suited to the rude state of society on the islands, but corruption and its concomitant baneful influences were rampant, and goaded the islanders into open rebellion and resistance of the Cannanore authority. END OF QUOTE.


So, it is conceivable that the Ali Raja rule was more of a forced one.


QUOTE: The islanders state that it was surrendered by them to the Cannanore house on condition of protection being afforded to them against the Kottakkal Kunyali Marakkars, the famous Malayali pirates, who used to harry the island periodically. END OF QUOTE.

However, there are other contentions in this book, Malabar, which gives a different historical route of how the Islands came into the possession of a very tiny kingdom, more or less confined to the Cannanore town and suburbs.


As to the presence of pirates inside the sea around this place, there are some references to the pirates of South Asia mentioned in Ibn Battuta’s Travels in Asia and Africa.


See this QUOTE about the Minicoy Island from that book: The Indian pirates do not raid or molest them, as they have learned from experience that anyone who seizes anything from them speedily meets misfortune. END OF QUOTE.


It may be mentioned that quote is from an English translation of the book done by translated by H. A. R Gibb who was a lecturer in Arabic, School of Oriental Studies, University of London. Naturally, the Arabic word for would have been translated as India, because England was understood in England to be ruling ‘India’.


Beyond that, Minicoy is not part of the Laccadive Islands, but still it is in the nearby vicinity.


QUOTE: 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. END OF QUOTE.


That might not be the whole story.


QUOTE: The islands numbered 1 to 4 yielded annually during the ten years 1865-66 to 1874-75, during which period the islanders had broken loose from the Raja’s control and exported their produce without any restriction, END OF QUOTE.


So, naturally the effect of the English rule in the Malabar area was a sort of rebellion in the Ali Raja controlled islands.


QUOTE: The Portuguese made a settlement on the island of Ameni, but were shortly afterwards (about A.D. 1545) exterminated by poison owing to the intrigues of the Kolattiri princes.


About 1550, the Kolattiri Raja, who no doubt found the islands to be, after the advent of the Portuguese, an irksome possession, conferred them, it is said in Jagir, with the title of Ali Raja (Raja of the deep or sea), on the head of the Cannanore family, the stipulated peishcush being either 6,000 or 12,000 fanams.


It is said that this tribute continued to be paid, but probably with more or less irregularity as the fortunes of the two houses waxed or waned, by the house of Cannanore to the Kolattiri princes till the middle of the eighteenth century. The Bednur invasion and subsequently that of Hyder Ali led to the dismemberment of the Kolattiri kingdom and to the independence of the Cannanore house, who retained the exclusive possession of the islands as allies of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan END OF QUOTE.


The above information might be the history how the islands came under the tiny Arakkal kingdom.


QUOTE: The Cannanore islands became at the disposal of the Company by the storming of Cannanore towards the end of 1791, and were further ceded with Tippu’s entire dependencies in Malabar by the Treaty of Seringapatam in 1792. This southern or Malabar group of islands, along with Cannanore itself, are still held by the Cannanore family at a peisheush of Rs. 15,000 (less the remission above mentioned), alleged to be one-half of the profits derived from the trade with the islands and from the lands at Cannanore—a tribute which, though adopted only provisionally at the time of the first settlement, has remained unaltered to the present time.


The Malabar islands have, in recent years, been twice sequestrated for arrears of revenue, and at the present time are under the direct management of the Collector of Malabar END OF QUOTE.


There will definitely be a difference in the administration of the Ali raja’s officials and that by the English Company officials.


QUOTE: In 1827 the price of coir suddenly fell from Rs. 60 to Rs. 20 or less, but considering the profits derived from the coir monopoly for so many years previously, the (English Company) Government held with regard to their Canara islands that they could not fairly call on the islanders to share in the loss by low prices, and no change whatever took place in the Government islands. In the Cannanore islands (Ali rajas domain), on the other hand, the nominal price payable to the islanders was reduced from Rs. 30 to Rs. 22 subject to the same deductions as before (viz., 10 per cent, import duty on coir, 10 per cent, export duty on rice and 1 per cent, on account of sundry expenses), and to further aggravate the evil, the commutation price of Rs. 2¼ per muda of rice was maintained, notwithstanding the fact that the market price at that time was only Rs. 1½. END OF QUOTE


This is a typical example of the concern showed by the English Company administration towards the problems faced by the people. In the location where the native kings held the power, there was scarce concern how the people fared.


QUOTE:

a) Their coir was dried again and beaten in bundles at Cannanore with a view to reduce its weight.

(b) Deductions were made on account of old debts which were never proved to their satisfaction.

(c) The raja’s agents exacted presents.

(d) There was considerable delay in settling the accounts and allowing the vessels to return to the islands.

END OF QUOTE.


The above is some of the few ways in which the Ali Raja’s officials squeezed the Islanders, as per this book, Malabar.


QUOTE:

1. The free supply of salt to the islanders was recognised by Government in February 1880.

2. The tax was abolished with the sanction of Government, conveyed in their order of 23rd February 1880.

3. When the land has been all thus settled, it will probably become possible to abolish the trade monopolies with their irksome restrictions, and to throw the island trade open.

END OF QUOTE.


This is the way the English Company rule attended to the issues of the islanders.


QUOTE:

This form of patriarchal administration was suited to the rude state of society on the islands, but corruption and its concomitant baneful influences were rampant, and goaded the islanders into open rebellion and resistance of the Cannanore authority. END OF QUOTE.


These things might not find their way into modern academic history. May be Ali Raja’s also enjoy the status of ‘freedom fighters’ against the ‘evil’ English rule.


QUOTE: It is somewhat difficult to define what is the occupation of the Karnavar class, as they rarely do anything save bullying their dependents or quarrelling among themselves ; END OF QUOTE


The above statement is reflective of the foolish understanding that every man should work for others. In a feudal language society, working for others, is a very demeaning item. This is an experience that the native-English will get to know if they become forced to work under feudal language speakers in a feudal language ambience.

See this QUOTE also:

The men are the laziest, and it was with great difficulty that they were got to do some cooly work during the periodical visits of the officers to the island. END OF QUOTE.


The fact is that doing cooly work under feudal language speakers is not a very attractive proposition for anyone with some sense of upper-class sensitivity.

QUOTE: Nearly all the work is done by the women, and, besides their usual work, the women of the Melacheri class have, on the return of the odams from the coast to carry the bags of rice, etc., from the vessels to the houses of the consignees receiving one seer per bag as cooly. END OF QUOTE.


This again might serve to protect the social status of the family. It is a very complicated scenario in feudal languages systems.