NATIVE LIFE IN TRAVANCORE
The REV. SAMUEL MATEER, F.L.S.
Of the London Missionary Society
THE HILL TRIBES
Various tribes of wild, but inoffensive mountaineers, occupy the higher hills and the mountains of Travancore, finding a rather precarious living by migratory agriculture, hunting, and the spontaneous products of the forests. The Hill men proper number close upon 12,000; and Ulladars, a hunting caste, 2,829. The Vedars are scarcely mountaineers, being found rather at the foot of the hills, and in a social condition very similar to that of the Pulayars. These hill people are most numerous in Neyattankara district, where fully a fourth of their whole number are found : the others are scattered over the mountains north and south of this centre.
These remarkable people are very rude and primitive in manners, and are generally regarded as the aborigines of the country. Bishop Caldwell, however, considers that they are not, like the Tudas of the Neilgherries, the surviving representatives of the earliest inhabitants of the plains, but, like the hill tribes of the Pulneys, the descendants of some Hinduised low-country people who were driven to the hills by oppression, or who voluntarily migrated thither.
The Kanikars. — The tribes living towards the south of Travancore are most usually designated by this term, while those in the north are more commonly called Mala Arayans. There are differences between these two classes, probably arising not from variety of origin but from their isolation on separate mountains or ranges which present physical obstacles to close or continued intercourse.
Kanikaran means “hereditary proprietor of land,” thus recognizing their ancient rights over the forest lands. They are sometimes spoken of as Velanmar “spearmen,” a cognomen which they disclaim, and which seems rather inappropriate, unless it has been suggested by the staff or pike which is always carried. They are also called Malei Arasars in Tamil, Mala Arayars in Malayalam, derived from arachan, chief, or more distantly from raja, king. The term means “hill kings “ or chiefs, and has nothing to do with “Aryan,” as applied to the Sanskrit people.
The Kanikars are generally very short in stature and meagre in appearance, from their active habits and scanty food. Some have markedly negroid features. The men go almost naked, having only a small strip of cloth round the loins. Men and women alike grow the hair long and tie it up in a knot behind, like the Cingalese. A few men of the better grade imitate the Sudra mode of wearing the hair. Their clothing and habits are generally uncleanly.
The women are rather better clad, and are very shy of strangers. They wear bracelets of iron or brass, and load the neck with countless strings of red beads or shells : leaden rings are also worn in the lobe of the ear.
The men always carry a cane basket slung upon their shoulders like a knapsack, containing a few necessary utensils, or used for bringing home the food or other articles which they may secure. They also carry a long staff, a heavy knife or billhook stuck in the waistcloth, and sometimes a bow and arrows.
The Kanikars live together in little clans, each hamlet under the patriarchal rule of a headman (Muttukani, the “stem” or principal Kanikaran), who is but one of themselves, but has great influence and authority over all his people. Their dwellings are very small, but neatly made of bambus and the elephant reed (Melocanna Rheedii), the leaves and stems being interwoven for walls as well as roof. Besides the huts on the ground, a number of booths are built on trees with large branches, a platform being made of sticks, and the hut built on this in order to be out of the way of mischievous elephants, tigers, &c. Access is obtained by a ladder or a single long bambu with the side shoots cut off on either side at a distance of a few inches.
These wandering husbandmen cut down a patch of forest, burn and clear it, and sow a crop, with little or no tillage. After cultivating this plot for two or three years, it is exhausted, and they move off in search of fertile land for a fresh field for operations, though not to great distances. They grow rice and millet, tapioca and sweet potatoes, as is done in the low country. This mode of cultivation yields a larger return for the same amount of labour than permanent plough husbandry, but is highly destructive of valuable forest lands. Their migrant habits arise partly from laziness : it is easier to cut down and burn new forest than to rear cattle, plant trees, manure land, and build houses. They, therefore, prefer this savage life, but should be encouraged to settle if possible : only by such means can they be reclaimed to civilisation and education, as has been done farther north.
From their intimate acquaintance with the forests and hills, the Kanikars can readily point out the places haunted by wild beasts, which they recognize by the smell, either to warn travellers against danger, or to guide sportsmen to their game. They strike fire by the friction of dry wood. A peg of the wood of Isora corylifolia (or of bambu) is taken and inserted in a small reed which is rapidly revolved on another piece of the same wood, this being the best for the purpose : in a few minutes smoke is evolved, then fire, which is caught in tinder contained in a small joint of bambu, and can then easily be preserved or carried about.
Though thus familiar, from ages of experience, with the ways of the forest, these poor people are not gifted with even an ordinary amount of knowledge, not one of them being able to read or write, except very recently a few in Pareychaley Mission district, who have learnt to read a little and to sing Christian lyrics. They can never tell their own ages, and if asked, sometimes make absurd guesses. They are unable to count a hundred; over ten they lay down a pebble for each ten. They knot fibres of various climbing plants to express their wants. At Purattimalei twenty years ago, only one had seen a white man before; none had ever travelled to a greater distance from home than twenty miles.
In the south they speak Tamil, and Malayalam further north, but pronouncing very badly, as vichi for vithi. Words strange to the people of the coast, or archaic, are intermingled with their speech, as ‘kala’ (kalayi, second cultivation of a rice field), for a place where they have remained for two years; ‘’kuruma’’ (kurumba) a child; ‘yengachi’ where? for ‘yewide’ and patti (a fold), or wadi (an enclosure, entrenchment) for house; with other oddities in talk, which it requires some time to become familiar with.
They are said to pay homage to the Maharajah occasionally, when they address him without the customary honorifics, their boorish ways being good naturedly excused on the ground of their ignorance, and furnishing rather subject of amusement. The very large fruited “bambu plantain,” which produces but few fruits in a branch and those of great size, they used to bring as presents on such occasions. I formerly had difficulty in persuading them to part with a sucker of this curious plantain, as they fancied it must be reserved for the use of the Rajah alone.
The Kanikars are much imposed upon and overcharged in the purchase of beads, cloth, and ornaments, by the Muhammadan and other dealers; by the itinerant blacksmith, who comes round to repair their billhooks; and the goldsmith, who gives but little gold and much brass, and squeezes a good price somehow out of them, giving long credit and taking double when the harvest is reaped.
They ask large pay of the European planters, partly because they do not care to work at all unless under such inducement; partly, perhaps, from ignorance of the value of money and the difficulty of obtaining it, as formerly they never saw such a thing. The hillmen will not eat with Shanars or Ilavars, or still lower castes, but will take food cooked by Sudras. They do not eat the wild ox or buffalo, nor the grey or Hanuman monkey, but only the black species. They gather wild honey in the clefts of rocks and on branches of trees, and bring it home, or for sale, in joints of bambu. Being great smokers of tobacco, which they grow for their own consumption, they stop work frequently when employed on estates in weeding or clearing, to indulge in a smoke.
Till recently, none possessed wealth in coin, only hatchets, billhooks, knives, hoes, and other tools. Their traps for the wild boar and tiger are made with rough timber supported on a spring which falls and lets down the whole weight upon the animal’s back. They have no weapons, but are very ingenious at wickerwork of bambu, rattan, and reed. I have seen a bridge over a river, perhaps a hundred feet wide, constructed by them of such materials, over which a pony could pass. Their circumstances have greatly improved of late wherever coffee estates have been opened and worked; but those who are unwilling to take work are driven farther into the hills in search of fresh lands. “The fate of the hillkings, says Mr. Honiss, is rather sad. For ages past they have boasted of being the undisputed lords of the primeval forests.
“The elephant and tiger were their only foes; but with snares and traps they could hold their own against these enemies. But they could not resist the onward march of a superior race. The planter approaches them in a peaceable way, offering wages for their hire, but demanding as his right the land he has purchased.
The proud men of the woods decline to herd with coolies, and work like common people. As soon as the planter’s axe is heard, the hill kings pack their traps and desert their homes to establish themselves in another valley. In this way they have been driven from hill to hill and from valley to valley, until some have found now a safe resting place in the dense jungles of the lowlands of Travancore. If the planter wishes to penetrate some unexplored jungle, or cut a path in some out-of-the-way place, the hill men are ready to assist, and it is the universal testimony that they are more faithful to their engagements than their more civilized brethren from the plains.”
Though reckoned amongst the low castes in the Census and in vernacular works, the Kanikars are somewhat superior in several respects, and are by no means regarded with the abhorrence felt towards the Pulayars and others. Being credited with the possession of considerable influence over their local demons, other castes are afraid to offend them.
Marriage Customs. — The lowest age for marriage of girls is seven, for boys sixteen. Girls sometimes remain unmarried till near sixteen, “because no bridegroom has offered.” A youth desirous of marrying a girl visits her uncle, accompanied by four of his relatives who make the proposal. If agreed upon, the marriage day is at once fixed, and guests are invited by both parties by presenting betel and spices. On his arrival at the marriage house, the bridegroom presents a cloth to the bride’s mother, which is called amma vidu mundu — “mother’s house-cloth,” and five and a half fanams to her uncle if she has become marriageable; if otherwise, seven and a half fanams. The bride is then brought into the marriage shed amongst the company assembled.
A tali worth four chuckrams, is handed to the bridegroom, who after adoring the Sun with it in his hand, holds it near the bride’s neck, and his sister standing behind ties it on. He also hands over a cloth to his sister, who puts it on the bride. The headman offers some “advice” to the husband as to the management of his wife, beginning his rule with mild measures and proceeding to extremities only by degrees as required. The heads of his discourse are said to be as follows : —
1. Cholli kodu — Teach by words.
2. Nulli kodu — Teach by pinching — slight punishments.
3. Talli kodu — Teach by blows. Next,
4. Talli kodu — Cast her away (at last, if she will not obey !)
On that day a feast is held at the bride’s house, and on the following day at the house of the husband. The richer families spend 100 fanams on the feast, while the poor simply entertain their guests with betel -nut to chew and Indian hemp to smoke.
The dowry consists generally of mattocks, axe, a large chopping knife, brass cups, earthen vessels, and such like. Having no landed property, no dowry of this kind can be given. If there be anything to inherit, the nephew is the heir.
The ceremony practised on the occasion of pregnancy is called vayaru pongala, when boiled rice is offered to the Sun. First, they mould an image of Ganesha, and setting it in a suitable place, boil the rice. To this they add for an offering aval, or flattened rice, parched rice, cakes, plantain fruits, young cocoa-nuts, and tender leaves of the same palm, with the flower of the Areca palm. The headman then commences dancing and repeating mantrams. He waves the offerings to the Sun.
The name is given to a child when it is able to sit on the ground, say at the age of three or four months. The usual names are very much the same as those used by other people — Parappankani, Sattan, Eiyan, Madappan, Vikkiran; and for women — Eechi, Valli, Kannammei, Pumalei, Parappi. They were willing to tell us the names of their wives.
On first giving rice to a child, a feast is held, and an offering presented to the jungle demons.
Sickness and Death — When any one takes ill the headman is at once consulted; he visits the sick and orders two drumming and singing ceremonies to be performed. A whole night is spent in dancing, singing, drumming, and prayer for the recovery of the patient. The offerings consist of tapioca, flour, and cocoanuts, along with the articles previously mentioned. After some time, the headman, with manifestations of demoniac possession, reveals whether the sufferer will die or not. If the former, he repeats a mantram (kudumi vettu mantram, formula on cutting off the topknot), and cuts off the sick man’s kudumi. This being a sign of approaching death, the relatives and others pay their last visits to the sick.
After death, a mixture of ganja (hemp), raw rice, and cocoanut is put into the mouth of the corpse by the son and nephews; and it is buried at some distance from their abode, mantrams being repeated over the body. Occasionally one is cremated. The relatives bathe before returning home, and cannot take any of the produce of their lands till the death pollution is removed, fearing that wild beasts will attack them or destroy their crops.
To this end a small shed is built outside their clearing on the third day, three measures of rice are boiled and placed in a cup or on a plantain leaf inside the shed; then all bathe again and return home. On the seventh day all this is repeated, the old shed being pulled down and a new one put up. On returning to their dwelling, they sprinkle cow dung on their houses and in the yard, which finally removes the defilement. People in better circumstances make a feast of curry and rice for all present.
Ceremonies with reference to Cultivation. — When intending to clear some land, the headman is invited; three edungaly measures of rice and six cocoanuts are presented to him. These he takes to a suitable plot of forest-land, makes an offering, and first clears a small portion with his own hand; then the others follow. These offerings are repeated at the burning of the felled timber, and the sowing of the seed, plantain fruits and other articles being added.
On the first appearance of the ear, they spend two nights in drumming, singing, and repeating mantrams at the field, putting up a tattu, or platform on four sticks as a shrine for the spirits, where they offer raw rice, tender cocoanuts, flowers, &c.
At harvest-time, a sufficient quantity of rice being beaten, sweetmeats are prepared, and cocoanuts, plantain fruits, and flowers added to these for a general offering to the various spirits, such as Ayiravilli, “he of a thousand bows;” Madan Tamburan, “the Cow-like Lord;” Mallan Tamburan, “the Giant Lord;” Matthandan Pey, “the Sun Demon;” Pucha Mallan Pey, “the Cat Giant Demon;” Athirakodi Pey, “the Boundary Flag Demon,” and a great many others whom they regard as deities. They wait upon the headman for the manifestation of the gods, then devour the offerings.
These demons are supposed to be peculiar to the hills, to reside in large trees, and rule the wild beasts, restraining them from mischief. No images or sacred stones are used, but a small stone may be taken when required as an idol or fetish.
The Kanikars have not much idea of the soul or immortality. When asked, they say, “Who can tell?” Some with whom we conversed said they knew nothing of a hell, or of the wicked going there. Some of their superstitions are connected with the serpent; for example, a vein in a certain granite rock is said to have been caused by a snake creeping over it before it hardened.
Some days are lucky, as Monday for sowing seed, Wednesday for building, Friday for reaping. They observe two days in the year as fasts, the dates of which they learn from Muhammadans or Hindus, who come to them with rice or other articles for sale.
These wild men are usually ranked above the more civilized Hindus of the plains in point of morals. Though rude, hardy, and courageous, they are inoffensive, and are regarded as somewhat truthful, honest, chaste, and hospitable. Men may stay in their villages as long as they like, but must be very reserved and careful respecting the women. It is said that formerly individuals amongst them guilty of adultery were punished with immediate death. Some, however, have two wives if they can get both wives to agree together. We have met with individuals who scarcely seemed to understand the distinction between good and evil.
The great vice of these mountain men is drunkenness, through the almost universal prevalence of which they are constantly in distress. It is cruel and wrong to offer them strong drinks.
Some of our preachers on a tour came upon a large number of them assembled with jars of arrack, &c., to offer to their deities, and to drink. The headman was intoxicated, and while the Christians were speaking, he shouted, “Children, make a pile of wood at once to burn these fellows. They are come from the white men to take us to their company and make us eat beef.”
So the preachers had to make their escape.
When the Christian religion is recommended to them, they reply that if they embraced it, the jungle-demons would be offended, and send elephants and other wild beasts to kill them, and destroy their cultivations. “Why, then,” it was asked, “do not the Europeans suffer, who cut down the forests?” to which they answered, “ As the white men worship a mighty God, the demons take their flight from their presence.”
Jungle fever also is attributed to the agency of these deities, and they remove from a place where it prevails. Some altogether refused to hear our exhortations. When they see books in the hands of the Christian teachers, they will say, “Do you come to destroy us by bringing the wrath of the demons upon us?” One woman said, “I have only two children; do not kill them by teaching them your Vedam.”
The Muhammadans, dreading the loss of their influence and opportunities for cheating these simple people, endeavour to hinder them from receiving instruction, even in reading, by saying, “These people want to make you all Christians, then the devils will desert you so that you shall become the prey of wild beasts. If you learn letters the English will carry you away to foreign lands in ships.”
Efforts have from time to time been made by the Mission for their benefit, especially in Pareychaley and Trevandrum districts, but the deadly fever of the hills has sometimes proved fatal, or prostrated the catechists employed, and but little success has been met with. The hillmen are now often addressed by the catechists of the Cooly Mission labouring amongst the Coffee Estates.
Mr. Emlyn writes : — “The spirits so much feared in the plain, are not supposed to concern themselves with the moral conduct of men; all they are thought to care about is to be honoured with pujah, sacrifices, and offerings. The divinities of the hills are believed to have a moral law. It is a pity their prophets have said nothing against drinking. Drink is the curse of the Kanikars. Their belief, too, that learning to read is a religious act, a sort of initiatory step to another religion, and, therefore, displeasing to their gods, is another serious evil.
Coffee planting in this country seems as if largely intended, in the Providence of God, for the good of this hill tribe. In the plantations Kanikars and Christians meet and work together, and some of the latter are not backward in showing what the Lord has done for them in spiritual as well as in temporal things, and they urge their companions to accept the same blessings. In these plantations, too, catechists, and occasionally missionaries can speak with as many Kanikars as take employment there, and staying there at night, can spend the day in preaching in the unhealthy valleys below.
These people have already learnt one or two valuable lessons. One is, that the spirits they worship have no power over Christians from Europe and the plains. When Europeans and native Christians began planting on the hills, some of the Kanikars went to their priests, and in the most solemn and religious manner got awful curses pronounced on their new neighbours. All were to be utterly destroyed unless they went away. This was done repeatedly, but nothing happened.
Some of the priests now declare that it is in vain to curse Christians, or, as they call them, ‘the people that have books.’ Another lesson they have learnt is that Christianity is a civilizing and an elevating religion, and a good religion for this life generally. The people that live nearest the abodes of the Kanikars are Pariahs and Puliahs, our converts from these castes, and their Sudra masters. The hillmen despise the Pariahs and Puliahs, but they see that our converts from these castes have wonderfully improved since becoming Christians — some of them even to become superior to themselves. A few more lessons learnt, and He who is the Truth will, we trust, be welcomed as their Teacher and Saviour.”
The Mala Arayans. — In treating of these people we cannot do better than make extracts from the valuable account given by Rev. H. Baker, junr., in a pamphlet entitled “The Hill Arrians,” published in 1862. Mr. Baker was very intimately acquainted with the Arayans, and was one of their most distinguished benefactors — the apostle and father of the Christian converts whom he was privileged to gather from this tribe. We shall add to that first published monograph, further observations by himself and others, rearrange, and bring up the whole to the present date.
The majority of the hill tribes are divided into small wandering bodies, living for a few months in a particular spot, and then deserting it for another as soon as their scanty crop of grain is reaped. The Mala Arayans, however, have their fixed villages, and reside generally on the western slopes of the higher range of mountains or their spurs. Their villages consist of houses scattered all over the steep hill sides, like birds’ nests perched among the rocks.
They are often lovely spots, in a ravine not accessible to elephants, near to some gushing rivulet falling over granite rocks, and surrounded by gigantic trees and palms, rarely at a less elevation than two or three thousand feet above the sea. Many of their houses are good substantial erections of wood and stone, built by workmen from the plains, and after the fashion common to the Western Coast; but in many cases they prefer temporary huts of mud, bambu, and grass-thatch, as the survivors often dislike living in a dwelling in which the head of the family has died. Small huts are also built in trees for watching and security from wild beasts.
“The Arayans are for the most part short in stature, and not very long-lived. But the feverishness of the climate in the districts they inhabit is enough to account for any physical degeneracy of race. They are as fair as the high-caste Hindus, the women frequently beautiful, proving that the aborigines of India were not black from race peculiarities, but only sometimes black through circumstances.”— (Collins.)
Those who live on the Melkavu range being near large Romo-Syrian villages are more civilized, perhaps, than other Arayans.
By the Government officials they are called “Mala Velans,” and are considered to rank in caste above all mechanics, and equal to Muhammadans and Jews. Sudras do not deem themselves polluted by contact with these respectable and independent people, while they keep Chogans at a distance for fear of defilement The Chogans, however, consider themselves superior to the Arayans. The more degraded Malei Arasars in the south, who speak Tamil, are not allowed by them to be of the same race.
The Arayans are some of them rich, being large cultivators of the hill slopes, which they clear of jungle in the dry season, sowing during the rains. This gives them abundance of rice. Little terraces are cut out on the steep ascents to prevent elephants from getting at them, and some protection is obtained by high and strong fences piled up of wood from the trees that have been felled. Every man, however, has to watch with loaded guns during seed-time and harvest, to protect the crops from elephants, deer, and other animals, as well as from swarms of birds which destroy the crops, and tigers and leopards which kill the cattle.
They are also frequently exposed to danger of drowning in the swollen torrents during the monsoon, to falls from trees and precipices which they climb to procure fruits and honey, and to the occasional ravages of small-pox and other diseases. The headman of one village is considered very wealthy, his annual crops yielding him ten or twelve thousand parahs (say four or five thousand bushels) of paddy, besides other grain, pulses and roots.
They will not often work for hire, and are very averse to carry loads. All their produce is carried in baskets, which are slung on the shoulders; and every son has his own room in the family house, into which no one intrudes excepting himself and the wife. There is a general store for provisions for the family, which is provided by all in common: but each individual has, in addition his own cultivation and store, to provide for his private wants. The collection of old coins, jewels, and other valuables, hoarded up by some is very great. They dispose of their hill produce at the markets in the plains. They are free and somewhat intelligent in their manners, more truthful and generally moral in their habits than people of the plains. They are great hunters of the wild beasts and game which abound in their hills, and relate a tradition giving them special permission to eat the black monkey.
From this they are called by the low country people kurangu tinni “monkey eaters.” Though sometimes spoken of as an inferior race by the Hindus, yet we generally find them looked upon as beings in alliance with some powerful demonolatry; and presents are abundantly bestowed in order to prevent their curses producing ill-effects. Nayars often deprecate in no measured terms prognostics of evil uttered by a hill-man, without reference to his caste or tribe. Doubtless the defenceless low castes have found it tend to shield them from worse oppression to make pretensions to spiritual powers of this kind.
As a rule, the names of individuals among this hill tribe are not Hindu; they severally signify some peculiarity, as Kannan — “the eyed one; “Pottan — “the deaf one; “Thadian — “the fat one,” for men : and for females, Madura — “the sweet one; “Shangam, and also Ponna, “the golden one; “Chakra — “the sugar one.” Where the people are under the influence of the Nayars, there only we meet with names from the Shastras.
The language is Malayalam, with several words, however, not known on the coast. Only in three Arayan villages does the custom of Nepotism hold, and there because the Zemindar has compelled them to do so; but still they have outwitted him by making it obligatory on cousins to marry. In all other Arayan settlements, children invariably inherit their father’s property.
At all Arayan feasts, particularly weddings, husbands and wives eat off the same plantain-leaf, sitting side by side; this shows their relationship. After thus eating together the bridegroom ties the tali on the bride’s neck, and a collection is made for the happy couple, which is concluded by the bride taking possession of any brass cooking vessels or gold ornaments in the house, saying, “This is my father’s : “then her husband appropriates them. The marriage rite is held as sacred and indissoluble.
A child, when a month old, is seated in the father’s lap and fed with a little sweetened rice; the omission of this ceremony implies it to be illegitimate. The maternal grandfather, and other near relatives repeat the ceremony. The birth of each child renders the mother impure for a month, when she must reside out of the village, and cannot cook, or go near the springs, or enter the provision grounds, or touch any implement or vessel. She generally lives in a hut in a tree. The father also is impure for a week and must not eat rice; but, like the mother, must live on roasted roots and water. A funeral prevents the family from entering their cultivation for a week.
The Arayans bury their dead; consequently there are many ancient tumuli in these hills, evidently graves of chiefs, showing just the same fragments of pottery, brass figures, iron weapons, &c., as are found in other similar places. These tumuli are often surrounded with long splintered pieces of granite, from eight to twelve or fifteen feet in length, set up on end, with sacrificial altars and other remains, evidently centuries old. Numerous vaults too, called Pandi Kuri, are seen in all their hills. They stand north and south, the circular opening being to the south; a round stone is fitted to this aperture, with another acting as a long lever, to prevent its falling out; the sides, as also the stones of the top and bottom, are single slabs.
To this day the Arayans make similar little cells of pieces of stone, the whole forming a box a few inches square; and on the death of a member of any family, the spirit is supposed to pass, as the body is being buried, into a brass or silver image, which is shut into this vault; if the parties are very poor, an oblong smooth stone suffices. A few offerings of milk, rice, toddy, and ghee are made, a torch lighted and extinguished, the figure placed inside the cell and the covering stone hastily placed on; then all leave. On the anniversary, similar offerings being made, the stone is lifted off, and again hastily closed. The spirit is thus supposed to be enclosed; no one ventures to touch the cell at any other time.
The objects of Arayan worship are the spirits of their ancestors, or certain local demons supposed to reside in rocks or peaks and having influence only over particular villages, or families. The religious services rendered to these are intended to deprecate anger rather than to seek benefits; but in no case is lust to be gratified, or wickedness practised, as pleasing to these deities.
The woodcut on the following page represents one of their effigies of ancestors. It is a brass image about three inches in height, the back of the head hollow, the hands holding a club and a gun. This represents a demonized man of wicked character, who lived about a century ago. He is said to have beaten his wife to death with a club, wherefore the people joined to break his skull, and he became a malignant demon. Another image carried an umbrella and staff and had a milder countenance — this was a good demon. One such image is kept in each family, in which the spirit is supposed actually to reside. They were also put into the little square chambers described above.
Rev. W. J. Richards, of Cottayam, has favoured me with the following history, which throws much light upon this curious superstition : —
“Talanani was a priest or oraclerevealer of the hunting deity, Ayappan, whose chief shrine is in Savarimala, a hill among the Travancore Ghats. The duty of Talanani was to deck himself out, as already described in this book, in his sword, bangles, beads, &c., and highly frenzied with excitement and strong drink, dance in a convulsive horrid fashion before his idols, and reveal in uneathly shrieks what the god had decreed on any particular matter.
He belonged to the Hill Arayan village of Erumapara (the rock of the she-buffalo), some eight or nine from Melkavu, and was most devoted to his idolatry, and rather remarkable in his peculiar way of showing his zeal. When the pilgrims from his village used to go to Savarimala — a pilgrimage which is alway, for fear of the tigers and other wild beasts, performed in companies of forty or fifty — our hero would give out that he was not going, and yet when they reached the shrine of their devotions, there before them was the sorcerer, so that he was both famous among his fellows and favoured of the gods.
“Now, while things were in this way, Talanani was killed by the neighbouring Chogans during one of his drunken bouts, and the murderers, burying his body in the depths of the jungle, thought that their crime would never be found out; but the tigers — Ayappan’s dogs — in respect to so true a friend of their master, scratched open the grave, and, removing the corpse, laid it on the ground. The wild elephants found the body, and reverently took it where friends might discover it, and a plague of small-pox having attacked the Chogans, another oracle declared it was sent by Sastavu (the Travancore hill boundary god, called also Chattan or Sattan) in anger at the crime that had been committed; and that the evil would not abate until the murderers made an image of the dead priest and worshipped it.
This they did, placing it in a grave, and in a little temple no bigger than a small dog kennel. The image itself is about four inches high, of bronze. The heir of Talanani became priest and beneficiary of the new shrine, which was rich in offerings of arrack, parched rice, and meat vowed by the Arayans when they sallied out on hunting expeditions. All the descendants of Talanani are Christians, the results of the Rev. Henry Baker’s work. The last heir who was in possession of the idol, sword, bangle, beads, and wand of the sorcerer, handed them over to the Rev. W. J. Richards in 1881, when he had charge for a time of Melkavu.”
Lamps to the memory of their ancestors were kept burning in little huts, and at stones used to represent the spirits of their ancestors. At one spot, where the genii were supposed to reside, there was a fragment of granite well oiled, and surrounded by a great number of extinguished torches.
A most fearful demon was said to reside in a hollow tree, which had been worshipped by thousands of families. They did not know the precise hole in which the symbol was to be found; when discovered, it looked like the hilt of an old sword. One deity was said by the priest of a certain hill to have placed three curious looking rocks as resting-places for himself on his journeys to the peak; but he could not answer the objection, “How could a god want to rest, or how was it he could not place his seat quite upright, or in the pleasant shade of a grove?”
Cocoanuts are offered to famous demons residing in certain hills. It has been observed that in cases of sickness sometimes Arayans will make offerings to a Hindu god, and that they attend the great feasts occasionally; but in no case do they believe that they are under any obligation to do so, their own spirits being considered fully equal to the Hindu gods.
Each village has its priest, who, when required, calls on the “Hill” (mala), which means the demon resident there, or the Pretham, ghost. If he gets the afflatus, he acts in the usual way, yelling and screaming out the answers sought. The devil-dancer wears the kudumi, and has a belt, bangles, and other implements; and invokes the demons in cases of sickness.
They have some sacred groves, where they will not fire a gun or speak above a breath; they have certain signs also to be observed when fixing on land for cultivation or the site of a house, but no other elaborate religious rites. In choosing a piece of ground for cultivation, before cutting the jungle they take five strips of bark of equal length, and knot all the ends together, holding them in the left hand by the middle. If all, when tied, form a perfect circle the omen is lucky, and the position in which the cord falls on the ground is carefully noted by the bystanders.
The Arayans draw toddy from two wild palms of the hills, and much arrack is taken to them from the low country; drunken fits are common, but though their fights are sometimes desperate, the filthy language commonly used by Hindus is never heard. Drunkenness is their besetting sin, and makes the middleaged look older than they really are; while the young men, from exercise in the clear mountain air, have a healthy look. They grow tobacco, steep it twelve hours in a running stream, dry, and pound it. Instead of areca nut, they chew the bark of a tree.
These mountain men were in former times terribly fleeced and oppressed by their rulers, and by powerful neighbours. The Sirkar required each individual to furnish a certain quantity of wax and wild honey and firewood for temples without remuneration; also to assist in catching elephants. They were otherwise free even from paying land-tax. The Kanikal people, though freemen, paid head money for themselves and all males who had died within the previous ten years, besides the usual land-tax and ground rents and taxes on fruit trees; and were besides fleeced by the local petty officers. The services required furnished occasion for continual annoyance and exactions, men being seized by the officials to carry cardamoms from the hills to the boats without pay; and if they hid themselves, as was natural, the women were caught, beaten, locked up, kept exposed to the sun and the pouring rain, and all sorts of indignities were inflicted. They also had to complain of some of their cows being killed, others stolen by the tax gatherers, so far from the central authority; and worse than all, some had been beaten and expelled from lands which their forefathers’ sweat had bedewed for years untold. The Arayans of Todupuley, it is said, are still much oppressed by their Muhammadan neighbours.
The Puniattu Rajah, who ruled over those at Mundapalli, made them pay headmoney — two chuckrams a head monthly as soon as they were able to work — and a similar sum as “presence money,” besides certain quotas of fruit and vegetables, and feudal service. They were also forced to lend money if they possessed any, and to bring leaves and other articles without any pretext of paying them, and that for days. The men of these villages were thus placed in a worse condition than the slaves. This petty Rajah used to give a silver-headed cane to the principal hillman, who was then called Perumban, “cane-man.”
Among these wild but most interesting tribes the late Rev. Henry Baker, junr., began, about 1849, a good work of evangelizing and civilizing, which he carried on in the teeth of many difficulties and perils which would have discouraged a less resolute man, travelling on foot by the jungle tracks, crossing bridgeless streams, climbing the hills to their romantic settlements, and once spending nights in a hut in a great tree for protection from the wild elephants. Great opposition was experienced from the heathen, especially in the Puniattu Rajah’s country. The inquirers were beaten by some of the Rajah’s servants, made to stand in water up to their very necks “in order to wash Christianity out of them;” kept in stocks for days, chillies rubbed in their eyes, and their heads tied up in bags and in loosened head cloths filled with the large black ground-ants and red tree-ants.
Mr. Baker was privileged to baptize many hundreds of the Arayans, instructing them and forming them into congregations. This good work is still cared for by other missionaries, and is likely to extend. There are now about 2000 Arayan Christians in congregations, situated chiefly north of Puniattu and around Mundakayam, all within a radius of thirty-six miles from Cottayam — an imperishable memorial of Henry Baker and his indefatigable labours. At Melkavu a church has been substantially built of stone on a site about 2,000 feet above the sea-level.
The Christians still suffer persecution from rich Muhammadans and Nayars in the neighbourhood, who fear the loss of their gains if the hillmen are taught to read, and from the Sirkar’s underlings, who try to obtain money on false pretences. The need of trained agents is now much felt for the guidance and growth of these new churches. Very recently the inhabitants of two hills near Melkavu have expressed their desire to be instructed, and asked for teachers. Thus is “the wilderness made glad, and the parched desert become like a garden of the Lord.”
Several other tribes dwell in the hills, as Ulladars, a true jungle tribe of wild and timid savages, whose subsistence and life are miserable and pitiful. They are without settled villages and civilized clothing, wandering within certain boundaries prescribed to each division, living a few months in one spot till the crop of ragi is reaped, then decamping to another place more likely to be productive of wild roots. They subsist chiefly on wild yams, arrowroot, and other esculents, which they find in the jungle, and for the grubbing up of which they are generally armed with a long pointed staff. They also further enjoy the fruits of the chase, and are adepts in the use of the bow and arrow. The arrow they use has an iron spear-head, and an Ulladan has been known to cut a wriggling cobra in half at the first shot. When armed with guns they make excellent sportsmen.*
They were claimed as the property of celebrated hill temples, or great proprietors, who exacted service of them, and sometimes sold their services to Nairs, Syrians, and others. A few Ulladars in the low country say that they or their fathers were stolen in childhood and brought down as slaves.
A small number of Uralis wander over the Todupuley hills, building their huts on trees like the Arayans. They entertain a singular aversion to buffaloes, whose approach they anxiously avoid; and are expert in the use of the bow. Uralis and Ulladans are said to intermarry. The former, originally slaves, were employed by their Nair masters in cultivating rice on the lower slopes of the hills; they afterwards migrated to the high lands, changing their quarters annually, and obtaining good crops of rice from forest clearings. They are first-rate guides, and some of them particularly useful in carrying heavy loads. From the practice of polyandry, they are, like the Tudas on the Neilgherries, fast diminishing in numbers.
These tribes generally consider themselves superior to the Palayars and Pariahs.
The Mannans are also a wandering people, little, strangelooking, mountain-men, hardy, and very black, speaking bad Tamil, much employed by the Sirkar to collect cardamoms, keep watch, &c. They rarely cultivate anything but ragi.
There is also a hunter caste called Pulayars, which Mr.Baker considers to be nearly the same as the Uralis, except that their speech is Tamil. He also met with a few miserable beings calling themselves HILL Pandaram, without clothing, implements, or huts of any kind, living in holes, rocks, or trees. They bring wax, ivory, and other produce to the Arayans, and get salt from them. They dig roots, snare the ibex of the hills, and jungle fowls, eat rats and snakes, and even crocodiles found in the pools amongst the hill streams. They were perfectly naked and filthy, and very timid. They spoke Malayalam in a curious tone, and said that twenty-two of their party had been devoured by tigers within two monsoons.
These jungle tribes have generally the same rules and notions respecting women, property, demonology, &c., as the Arayans, and look upon the people of the plains as immigrants to the country. The Sirkar recognized headmen among the Mannans and Arayans, and gave them swords and other insignia, still preserved among them.