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Of the London Missionary Society



Cotton not being grown in Travancore, and the people having hitherto been accustomed, even till recently, many of them by law obliged, to go half naked, and to wear only coarse qualities of cloth, the manufacture of this material is carried on to a very limited extent. Most of the calico used for clothing purposes is imported from other parts, and a Tinnevelly man may often be recognized in Travancore by his fuller clothing.

The climate does not appear to suit the growth of the cotton plant, though attempts were made, some twenty years ago, by the distribution of seeds, to introduce the better kinds of Peruvian, Persian, Bourbon, and other varieties. The raw material required for hand-spinning, and other purposes, is imported from British India. The statistics of forty years ago give the imports of raw cotton as 305 candies, or about 200,000 lbs. yielding duty 3,020 rupees; and those of last year state the tariff value as 26,675 rupees, admitted free of duty.

Hand-spinning of cotton was formerly practised to a greater degree than is now profitable, and by several castes — Chetties, Ilavars, Shanars, and Chaliyars. It was also tried in some of the Mission Boarding Schools, but dropped for more promising industries. To some extent spinning is still continued at Quilon and elsewhere; and in Trevandrum the Panars spin and twist gold thread.

But most of the thread used in the country for indigenous looms is English cotton twist of the coarser grades. This is now readily procurable of native dealers, and is not only cheaper, but liked as being evenly and easier woven. Number 20 is most used, but 30’s and 40’s are not uncommon; and even finer threads for some work. The warp and weft are usually alike.

The imports of white cotton twist in M.E. 1018, about forty years ago, amounted to only 30 candies, or 20,000 lbs. weight, paying duty 713 rupees. It is now wisely admitted free, mostly coming by land or backwater, to the value of between one and two lacs of rupees annually. Last year the tariff value was 152,370 rupees, say £ 15,237.

Weaving is carried on only in private looms or very small works, in the houses of the people. Many cultivators do a little during the intervals of agricultural labour. It is most practised in the South and at Shenkotta, where the people are Tamil and the climate drier. The largest number of looms is here, next in Quilon, and Shertala, and next in Pundalum; there are very few in the inland mountainous districts.

The old statistical tables of over sixty years ago state the total number of looms then as 4,170. The recent census does not give this item, as there is now no special tax on looms; but it supplies information as to the number of workers in dress and textile fabrics, mostly, except tailors, engaged in weaving operations. These workers are 8,687 in number, of whom the greater part are Hindus; some are Muhammadans, others Christians. The ordinary weaving class are called Chaliyars.

The Ilavars and Chetties, some of the barber caste, and others engage in this work. At Kottar there are Muhammadan weavers who make a useful cotton check cloth, the coloured yam of which is of fast blue dye.

Besides these, mention may be made of the Silk-weavers, or Pattunulkar of Kottar, a remarkable colony from the Bombay side, some of whom speak, besides the vernacular Tamil, a language called in the census “Nagaram.” They weave silk cloths for the use of the wealthier class.

The Chalippars of Trevandrum, about 1,300 in number, are also colonists, from the Telugu country, retaining their own language, who fabricate a coarse kind of sacking for gunny bags from the strong fibre of Crotalaria juncea which might be much more extensively cultivated.

Much of the cloth produced is of a very coarse quality, consumed in the vicinity of the towns where it is made, and adapted only to native use as waist and head cloths, &c. The looms are very rude and simple in structure, and the common cloths are woven by boys. In such a loom we have seen a cheap cloth woven from No. 20 cotton yarn, in pieces each about four feet long and twenty-six inches wide, selling for five chuckrams. The material cost about 4½ chuckrams for each piece, leaving only half a chuckram profit Of these cloths three a day were woven.

At Valrampuram there is a village of Chailiyar weavers brought from farther south by Dewan Oominy Tamby, who founded it in 1808, and intended it for an important commercial town. There are two neat streets with about a hundred houses of one story each, thatched, with small verandahs at the front, in which women and girls may be seen busy winding the thread. In the centre of the street stands a row of cocoanut palms, and devil temples of Ammen and Agastier occupy prominent sites. T

he people are pleasant looking, and seem fairly comfortable; but few, either of the children or adults, can read, and only one female out of the whole number of this caste in Travancore. Inside each house are from two to four looms for plain cotton cloth, mostly rather coarse. Some cloth, however, is made of 50’s yarn dyed dark blue, but not fast colours; and even some of 6o’s, which is sold at 16 fanams (about 2½ rupees) for a piece nearly six yards in length and of good width.

The shuttles are made of horn, or of the large reed (Melacanna Rheedii) the work of carpenters or Muhammadans, and thrown across from one hand to the other, without the English box and “pluckstick,” by which twice as much work might be done in a day. It would be highly desirable for the Sirkar to introduce a few light and simple looms of the English pattern, as they are now introducing English ploughs. Some help towards improvement might be had from the admirable Industrial Establishment of the Basle Mission at Calicut.

Several warping wheels are in use in this village — a great saving of labour and a convenience in rainy weather. Still some prepare the warp for the cloth in the old-fashioned way on posts, stuck upright in ranges in the street like a rope walk, boys running back and forth with the thread. Rice-water is used for dressing.

A yarn merchant has settled here and built a good two-storey warehouse, where he supplies English yarn from number 20’s to 40’s. The profits of weaving are less than formerly; all, young and old, having now to aid diligently in the work to obtain a living. Some fine head-cloths for females are made near Anjengo.

Though there is no export of cloth from Travancore, as was formerly the case to a small extent, it is difficult to assert that the weaving of cotton by hand has declined, as in most parts of India; probably it has not, for the population has increased in numbers and in comfort, and the custom of wearing civilised clothing has at the same time spread. In some places it is admitted that hand-loom weaving has decidedly increased.

In addition to the local manufacture, long-cloth, chiefly grey, coloured handkerchiefs, and other piece goods, have always been imported as needed to meet the demands of the population, from the neighbouring provinces and from Ceylon. These goods are now admitted duty free, except those brought direct from England or Ceylon.

The tariff value of imports of piece goods in M.E 1054 was 1,117,498 rupees, and in M.E. 1055 was Rs. 846,632. Take a large average of 10 lacs for piece goods and 2 lacs for yarn imported, and double it for retail cost, say 24 lacs of rupees would be the total sum spent by the 24 lacs of inhabitants in the country, or only one rupee per head per annum for clothing, not very much beyond what is spent upon tobacco ! Here is vast room for improvement.

English long-cloth is little used by the poor native population, and the low quality sometimes imported is complained of as giving less wear than countrymade cotton. They say that four or five common English steam-loom cloths will wear out for one native hand-made cloth; and that the former, when worn out, are useless even for wicks, so much required for oil lamps, burning away too rapidly.

Cotton cloth purchased by retail in a market in Travancore seems, as far as we can judge, to cost fully a fourth more than the retail price in England.

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