Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’


It is true that there have been pirates who had been Englishmen. It is just that when English ships move to long distances, they come across enterprises that are not English in character. But then, when they become part of that world, they change.

However, an Englishman doing any such thing would be quite noticed and mentioned many times in many locations. In fact, there is a mention of one Englishman running an arrack trading business in the interior location of Madras Presidency, seen mentioned. His name is mentioned. However, there would be many other local people who did the same kind of peddling. But that would not evoke the same level of notice. And, it would be quite unwise to try to define pristine-English native character based on this information.

As to current-day England, the native-English population are living amongst feudal-language speakers. They are like the old good quality Anglo-Indian populations of in various locations in the subcontinent. Their easy affability was misinterpreted by the others, after the departure of the English rule. During the English rule, their easy affability had a sound logic. For, they were displaying a quality of refinement in the midst of a semi-barbarian feudal-language population. However, the moment the English rule departed, their easy affability became the definition of low class softness. Their women folk were quite easy defined with the lower indicant word ‘Oalഓൾ’ / Aval അവൾ. From this word platform, it is easy to address them as Inhi ഇഞ്ഞി/ Nee നീ. Their refinement was mentioned as the affability of sluts.

The same thing is currently happening to the native-English population, and they are not aware of it. That is the grand tragedy. In a spontaneous way to shield themselves, the men folk will become tougher and rude, and the women folk would turn masculine. The traditional grace of the native-English would get wiped out.

Now coming back to the pirates, there is this QUOTE in this book, Malabar.

QUOTE: He then sailed for the West Indies, was arrested in America by one of the noblemen (Lord Bellamont) who had helped to fit him out, was tried, condemned, and hanged in chains at Tilbury (23rd May 1701), and his property becoming forfeit, was presented by Queen Anne to Greenwich Hospital. This severe example did not, however, prevent others from following in his footsteps, END OF QUOTE.

The issue with this kind of quotes is that in modern times, there is a tendency to define England from the deeds of the misanthropes there. These deeds do not define England.

However, when we come to the South Asian Subcontinent, the scenario changes. This is due to the total roughness of the language codes and the rudeness it induces on the people.

QUOTE: Kottakkal.—At the mouth of the Kotta river, was a famous resort for pirates in former days. They made prizes of all vessels not carrying the pass of the Kadattunad Rajah, their sovereign, who was styled the lord of the seas END OF QUOTE.

QUOTE: Then, again; ships which came ashore were annexed by the chieftain of the locality. Moreover, a more piratical custom than this even was observed, in ancient times at least, for thus wrote Marco Polo respecting the kingdom of “Eli” (ante, p. 7) : “And you must know that if any ship enters their estuary and anchors there, having been bound for some other port, they seize her and plunder thecargo. For they say, ‘you were bound for somewhere else, and ‘its God has sent you hither to us, so we have a right to all your goods.’ END OF QUOTE.

These kinds of behaviour are the standard behaviour of the upper classes of the subcontinent. Their lower classes also join them in their spirited endeavour. It is part a display of loyalty, and part a chance to get a share of the booty. Imagine the plight of the women who had travel from Calicut to Tellicherry via sea! Travelling by sea was easier than by land, in those days due to the fact that there were no proper roadways across the huge number of mutually competing ‘rulers’ on the pathways.

QUOTE: And they think it no sin to act thus. And this naughty custom prevails all over these provinces of India, to wit, that if a ship be driven by stress of weather into some other port than that to which it was bound, it is sure to be plundered. But if a ship come bound originally to the place they receive it with all honour and give it due protection.” (Yule’s Marco Polo, II, 374.) END OF QUOTE.

The concept of Sin is not much there in the spirituality of the subcontinent, I think. Even the most pious person who is a government official has no qualms about taking a bribe or extracting a bribe by terrorising a man. Telling lies to a subordinated man or cheating him or breaking a word of honour given to him, is not an item of any special consideration. It is just a plane fact of life.

Only in English would these things seem like dishonourable acts.

QUOTE: The custom of taking ships and cargoes wrecked on the coast continued down to recent times, for the English factors at Tellicherry entered into engagements with three of the country powers for exempting English vessels from such seizure. But it was a custom which the Malayali chieftains broke through with extreme reluctance. The kings of Bednur were the first to grant immunity in 1736- 37, and thrice afterwards ratified it ; then followed the Kolattiri prince, on 8th May 1749, ratified in 1760; and finally the Kadattunad Raja granted similar immunity in 1761. END OF QUOTE.

The English Company was slowly changing the landscape from a semi-barbarian one to a better civil society. However, it took a lot of time. And at the end of it all, an insane idiot in England gave the land back to the same people, to make it semi-barbarian and then totally barbarian.

When speaking about piracy which was done with the total cooperation of the local small-time rulers, there is a wider matter being missed. It was the total helplessness of the common populations, mainly the lower castes. A simple lower-most You, He, She, (ഇഞ്ഞ്, ഓൻ, ഓള്) is enough to erase all rights to dignity, self-respect and right to social stature. For these people, the very movement from one place to another in a secure ambience would have arrived only when the English Company brought down the powers of the lower thugs, who were the higher castes and classes.

But then, if the truth be mentioned, the higher castes also suffered from terrible problems. For the lower castes were not angels. They, if not properly subordinated, were rude and insulting. Their very glance at the higher caste women would be totally profane and degrading, if they do not acknowledge their subservience. The Brahmin women would not budge out of their agraharams (Brahmins’ only villages).

QUOTE: From thence they sail with the wind called Hippalos in forty days to the first commercial station of India named Muziris (ante, p. 78), which is not much to be recommended on account of the neighbouring pirates, who occupy a place called Nitrias nor does it furnish any abundance of merchandise. END OF QUOTE.

What a way to praise a location! India’s first commercial station is unapproachable, due to pirates. And what about the word ‘India’? Could it really be ‘India’ or something like ‘Inder’, ‘Indies’ &c. In the 1950s, when the whole administrative systems founded by the native-English came into the hands of the Indian/Pakistani bureaucrats, they must have felt a huge freedom to do what they wanted with anything in their hands. For, they had no qualms about anything going spoilt. They had got everything free.

QUOTE: He then proceeds to describe the pirates of Melibar and of Gozurat, and their tactics in forming sea cordons with a large number of vessels, each five or six miles apart, communicating news to each other by means of fire or smoke, thereby enabling all the corsairs to concentrate on the point where a prize was to be found. END OF QUOTE.

What a wonderful leadership and purposefulness! Maybe some Indian professor in some US University would be able to prove that it was actually these ‘Indian’ pirates who had discovered Morse code and other Telegraphic codes. It is possible that he would pull out of his pocket some palm-leaf book, in which Morse code is very clearly written in ancient Sanskrit. Well, off course, Samuel Morse stole it from this ‘great’ ‘Kerala’ scientific book!!!

QUOTE: Meanwhile the coast pirates were busy, and in 1566 and again in 1568 those of Ponnani under Kutti Poker made prize of two large Portuguese vessels. In one of these ships it is said no less than a thousand Portuguese soldiers, “many of them approved veterans,’’ perished either by the sword or by drowning. Kutti Poker’s adventurous career was however cut short in 1569, for after having made a successful raid on the Portuguese fort at Mangalore, he fell in with a Portuguese fleet as he was returning south off Cannanore, and he and all his company “received martyrdom.” END OF QUOTE.

The above incident would be piracy only partially. For, a fight between the Arab side and the Portuguese side for the monopoly of the pepper trade was an ongoing event. Even though Kutti Poker might be mentioned as a sort of great ‘Indian freedom fighter’ for the nation that was going to be created much later, the fact remains that he was only fighting for the interests of his own team and that of the Egyptian King.

QUOTE: “And he (the Zamorin) and his country are the nest and resting place for stranger thieves, and those be called ‘Moors of Carposa,’ because they wear on their heads long red hats ; and thieves part the spoils that they take on the sea with the King of Calicut, for he giveth leave unto all that will go a roving liberally to go ; in such wise that all along that coast there is such a number of thieves, that there is no sailing in those seas, but with great ships, and very well armed ; or else they must go in company with the army of the Portugals.” — (Eng. Translation. END OF QUOTE.

The hint that the king of tiny Calicut was in partnership with Muslim pirates can be taken to be true to some extent. However, that was the way the subcontinent was before the arrival of the English rule. It is seen that the King of Badagara was actually a sort of king of pirates. It was all terrible times. Woe to the women folks who got into the hands of a group which did not have ‘respect’ for them!

For ‘respect’ in feudal languages is a shield. Oru ഓര് is protected. Olu ഓള് is molested.

Even King Marthanda Varma of Travancore, when he wanted to go on a pilgrimage to Rameshwar, asked for a Sepoy regiment of the English Company to accompany him and lend him and his family security. That was the land and the times.

QUOTE from Travancore State Manual by V Nagam Aiya: In 1784 the Maharajah proposed a pilgrimage to the holy island of Ramesvaram not only as a piece of religious duty but also to acquaint himself with the manners and customs and the methods of administration followed in the neighbouring countries. His Highness was accompanied by a large retinue and was escorted by a few companies of sepoys belonging to the English and some officers of the Nawab, as he had to travel through the countries of the Poligars, a set of rude and lawless chieftains. END OF QUOTE

If this be the case of a king, imagine the terrors that lay upon an ordinary family. If they are of low caste, they cannot even travel on the road.

QUOTE: and in the half way is Cottica, which was famous formerly for privateering on all Ships and Vessels that traded without their Lord’s Pass.” END OF QUOTE.

That was about the Raja of Kadathnad (Badagara).