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This article is an excerpt from
Castes and Tribes of Southern India
By Edgar Thurston, C.I.E.,
Superintendent, Madras Government Museum; Correspondant
Étranger, Société d’Anthropologie de Paris; Socio
Corrispondante, Societa,Romana di Anthropologia.
Assisted by K. Rangachari, M.A.,
of the Madras Government Museum.

Government Press, Madras



The Māppillas, or Moplahs, are defined in the Census Report, 1871, as the hybrid Mahomedan race of the western coast, whose numbers are constantly being added to by conversion of the slave castes of Malabar. In 1881, the Census Superintendent wrote [ that “among some of them there may be a strain of Arab blood from some early generation, but the mothers throughout have been Dravidian, and the class has been maintained in number by wholesale adult conversion.” Concerning the origin of the Māppillas, Mr. Lewis Moore states that “originally the descendants of Arab traders by the women of the country, they now form a powerful community. There appears to have been a large influx of Arab settlers into Malabar in the ninth century A.D. and the numbers have been constantly increased by proselytism. The Māppillas came prominently forward at the time of the Portuguese invasion at the end of the fifteenth century A.D.”

“The Muhammadan Arabs,” Dr. Burnell writes, “appear to have settled first in Malabar about the beginning of the ninth century; there were heathen Arabs there long before that in consequence of the immense trade conducted by the Sabeans with India.” “There are,” Mr. B. Govinda Nambiar writes, “many accounts extant in Malabar concerning the introduction of the faith of Islām into this district. Tradition says that, in the ninth century of the Christian era, a party of Moslem pilgrims, on their way to a sacred shrine in Ceylon, chanced to visit the capital of the Perumāl or king of Malabar, that they were most hospitably entertained by that prince, and that he, becoming a convert to their faith, subsequently accompanied them to Arabia (where he died). It is further stated that the Perumāl, becoming anxious of establishing his new faith in Malabar, with suitable places of worship, sent his followers with letters to all the chieftains whom he had appointed in his stead, requiring them to give land for mosques, and to endow them. The Perumāl’s instructions were carried out, and nine mosques were founded and endowed in various parts of Malabar.

Whatever truth there may be in these accounts, it is certain that, at a very early period, the Arabs had settled for commercial purposes on the Malabar coast, had contracted alliances with the women of the country, and that the mixed race thus formed had begun to be known as the Māppillas. These Māppillas had, in the days of the Zamorin, played an important part in the political history of Malabar, and had in consequence obtained many valuable privileges. When Vasco da Gama visited Calicut during the closing years of the fifteenth century, we find their influence at court so powerful that the Portuguese could not obtain a commercial footing there. The numerical strength of the Māppillas was greatly increased by forcible conversions during the period when Tippu Sultan held sway over Malabar.” [At the installation of the Zamorin, some Māppilla families at Calicut have certain privileges; and a Māppilla woman, belonging to a certain family, presents the Zamorin with betel nuts near the Kallai bridge, on his return from a procession through the town.] According to one version of the story of the Perumāl, Chēramān Perumāl dreamt that the full moon appeared at Mecca on the night of the new moon, and that, when on the meridian, it split into two, one half remaining in the air, and the other half descending to the foot of a hill called Abu Kubais, where the two halves joined together. Shortly afterwards, a party of pilgrims, on their way to the foot-print shrine at Adam’s peak in Ceylon, landed in Chēramān Perumāl’s capital at Kodungallūr, and reported that by the same miracle, Muhammad had converted a number of unbelievers to his religion.

Physique, race

The cephalic index of the Māppillas is lower than that of the other Muhammadan classes in South India which I have examined, and this may probably be explained by their admixture with dolichocephalic Dravidians. The figures are as follows:—


From the measurement of a very few Māppillas, members of the Hyderabad Contingent, and Marāthas, who went to England for the Coronation in 1902, Mr. J. Gray arrived at the conclusion that “the people on the west coast and in the centre of the Deccan, namely the Moplas, Maharattas, and Hyderabad Contingent, differ considerably from the Tamils of the east coast. Their heads are considerably shorter. This points to admixture of the Dravidians with some Mongolian element. There is a tradition that the Moplas are descended from Arab traders, but the measurements indicate that the immigrants were Turkish, or of some other Mongolian element, probably from Persia or Baluchistan.” The cephalic indices, as recorded by Mr. Gray, were:—


The number of individuals examined is, however, too small for the purpose of generalisation.


In the Census Report, 1891, it is noted that some Māppillas have returned “Putiya Islām,” meaning new converts to Islām. These are mostly converts from the Mukkuvan or fisherman caste, and this process of conversion is still going on. Most of the fishermen of Tanūr, where there is an important fish-curing yard, are Mukkuvan converts. They are sleek and well-nourished, and, to judge from the swarm of children who followed me during my inspection of the yard, eminently fertile. One of them, indeed, was polygynous to the extent of seven wives, each of whom had presented him with seven sons, not to mention a large consignment of daughters. On the east coast the occurrence of twins is attributed by the fishermen to the stimulating properties of fish diet. In Malabar, great virtue is attributed to the sardine or nalla mathi (good fish, Clupea longiceps), as an article of dietary.

“Conversion to Muhammadanism,” Mr. Logan writes, “has had a marked effect in freeing the slave caste in Malabar from their former burthens. By conversion a Cheruman obtains a distinct rise in the social scale, and, if he is in consequence bullied or beaten, the influence of the whole Muhammadan community comes to his aid.” The same applies to the Nayādis, of whom some have escaped from their degraded position by conversion to Islām. In the scale of pollution, the Nayādi holds the lowest place, and consequently labours under the greatest disadvantage, which is removed with his change of religion.

The word Māppilla

As regards the origin and significance of the word Māppilla, according to Mr. Lewis Moore, it means,

1) a bridegroom or son-in-law;

(2) the name given to Muhammadan, Christian, or Jewish colonists in Malabar, who have intermarried with the natives of the country. The name is now confined to Muhammadans.” It is noted by Mr. Nelson that “the Kallans alone of all the castes of Madura call the Muhammadans Māppilleis, or bridegrooms.” In criticising this statement, Yule and Burnell state that “Nelson interprets the word as bridegroom. It should, however, rather be son-in-law. The husband of the existing Princess of Tanjore is habitually styled by the natives Māppillai Sahib, as the son-in-law of the late Rāja.” “Some,” Mr. Padmanabha Menon writes, “think that the word Māppila is a contracted form of mahā (great) and pilla (child), an honorary title as among Nairs in Travancore (pilla or pillay). Mr. Logan surmises that mahā pilla was probably a title of honour conferred on the early Muhammadans, or possibly on the still earlier Christian immigrants, who are also down to the present day called Māppilas. The Muhammadans generally go by the name of Jonaga Māppilas. Jonaka is believed to stand for Yavanaka, i.e., Greek!”

[In the Gazetteer of the Tanjore district, Yavana is recorded as meaning Ionia.] It is, indeed, remarkable that in the Payyanorepāt, perhaps the earliest Malayālam poem extant, some of the sailors mentioned in it are called Chonavans. (The Jews are known as Juda Māppila.) Dr. Day derives the word Māpilla from Mā (mother) and pilla (child). [Wilson gives Māpilla, mother’s son, as being sprung from the intercourse of foreign colonists, who were persons unknown, with Malabar women.] Duncan says that a Qāzi derived the name from Mā (mother) and pilla a (puppy) as a term of reproach! Maclean, in the Asiatic Researches, considered that the word came from mahā or mohai (mocha) and pilla (child), and therefore translated it into children or natives (perhaps outcasts) of Mohai or Mocha. A more likely, and perhaps more correct derivation is given by Mr. Percy Badger in a note to his edition of the Varthema. “I am inclined to think,” he says, “that the name is either a corruption of the Arabic muflih (from the root fallah, to till the soil), meaning prosperous or victorious, in which sense it would apply to the successful establishment of those foreign Mussalmans on the western coast of India; or that it is a similar corruption of maflih (the active participial form of the same verb), an agriculturist—a still more appropriate designation of Moplahs, who, according to Buchanan, are both traders and farmers. In the latter sense, the term, though not usually so applied among the Arabs, would be identical with fella’h.” By Mr. C. P. Brown the conviction was expressed that Māppilla is a Tamil mispronunciation of the Arabic mu’abbar, from over the water.


“The chief characteristic of the Māppillas,” Mr. Govinda Nambiar writes, “as of all Mussalmans, is enthusiasm for religious practices. They are either Sunnis or Shiahs. The Sunnis are the followers of the Ponnāni Tangal, the chief priest of the orthodox party, while the Shiahs acknowledge the Kondōtti Tangal as their religious head. There are always religious disputes between these sects, and the criminal courts are not seldom called in to settle them.” In an account of the Māppillas, Mr. P. Kunjain, a Mappilla Government official (the first Māppilla Deputy Collector), states that “there are a few Moplahs in the Ernād and Waluwanād tāluks who are the followers of the Kondōtti Tangal, and are, therefore, believed to be heretics (Shias). The number of these is dwindling. The reason why they are believed to be heretics, and as such outcasted, is that they are enjoined by their preceptor (the Tangal) to prostrate before him.

Prostration (sujud), according to strict doctrines, is due to God alone.” At Mulliakurichi in the Walluwanād tāluk there are two mosques. One, the Pazhaya Palli, or old mosque, belongs to, or is regarded as belonging to the Kondōtti sect of Māppillas. The other is called Puthan Palli, or new mosque. This mosque is asserted by the Ponnāni sect of Māppillas to have been erected for their exclusive use. The Kondōtti sect, on the other hand, claim that it was erected by them, as the old mosque was not large enough for the growing congregation. They do not claim exclusive use of the new mosque, but a right to worship there, just like any other Muhammadan. The Ponnāni sect, however, claim a right to exclude the Kondōtti people from the new mosque altogether. In September, 1901, there was a riot at the mosque between members of the rival sects. The Māppillas have a college at Ponnāni, the chief seat of their religious organisation, where men are trained in religious offices. This institution, called the Jammat mosque, was, it is said, founded in the twelfth or thirteenth century A.D. by an Arab divine for the purpose of imparting religious instruction to youths of the Muhammadan community. The head of the institution selects the ablest and most diligent from among the students, and confers on him the title of Musaliar. He is then appointed to preach in mosques, and to explain the meaning of the Korān and other sacred writings. There are other religious offices, as those of the Kāzi, Katib, and Mulla. The highest personages of divinity among them are known as Tangals. In the middle of the last century there was a very influential Tangal (Mambram Tangal), who was suspected of fomenting outbreaks, and who conferred his blessing on the murderous projects of his disciples. Of him it is stated that he was regarded as imbued with a portion of divinity, and that the Māppillas swore by his foot as their most solemn oath. Earth on which he had spat or walked was treasured up, and his blessing was supremely prized. Even among the higher class of Māppillas, his wish was regarded as a command.

Mr. A. R. Loftus-Tottenham informs me that “it is quite common now for Māppillas to invoke Mambram Tangal when in difficulties. I have heard a little Māppilla, who was frightened at my appearance, and ran away across a field, calling out ‘Mambram Tangal, Mambram Tangal.’ The Tangal, who had to be induced to leave Malabar, went off to Constantinople, and gained great influence with the Sultan.” In 1822 it was recorded by Mr. Baber, in a circuit report, that the Tarramal and Condotty Tangals “pretend to an extraordinary sanctity, and such is the character they have established, that the people believe it is in their power to carry them harmless through the most hazardous undertakings, and even to absolve them of the most atrocious crimes. To propitiate them, their votaries are lavish in their presents, and there are no description of delinquents who do not find an asylum in the mosques wherein these Tangals take up their abode, whether pursued by the Police, or by their own evil consciences.” There is a legend current on the Kavarathi island of the Laccadives that a Tangal of that island once cursed the crows for dropping their excrement on his person, and now there is not a crow on the island. On another occasion, hearing the cries of a woman in labour, the Tangal prayed to God that the women of the island might suffer from no such pains in future. So strong is the belief in the immunity from the pangs of child-birth which was thus obtained, that the women of the neighbouring islands go over to Kavarathi for delivery, in order to have an easy confinement.

In connection with Māppilla superstition, Mr. Tottenham writes as follows. “A beggar died (probably of starvation) by the roadside in Walluvanād tāluk. When alive, no one worried about him. But, after he died, it was said that celestial voices had been heard uttering the call to prayer at the spot. The Māppillas decided that he was a very holy man, whom they had not fed during his life, and who should be canonised after death. A little tomb was erected, and a light may be seen burning there at night. Small banners are deposited by the faithful, who go in numbers to the place, and there is, I think, a money-box to receive their contributions.” Mr. Tottenham writes further that “the holy place at Malappuram is the tomb of the Sāyyids (saints or martyrs) who were killed in a battle by a local military chieftain. These Sāyyids are invoked. At Kondotti there is a very pretentious, and rather picturesque tomb—a square building of gneiss surmounted by a cupola—to one of the Tangals. Near it is a small tank full of more or less tame fish. It is one of the sights of the place to see them fed. At the great festival called neercha (vow), the Māppillas go in procession, headed by banners, elephants (if they possess them), and music, and carrying offerings to the head-quarters (Malappuram and Kondotti are the principal ones) of some Tangal, where they deposit the banners, I think at the tomb of the local saint, and present the offerings to the Tangal. At Malappuram, an enormous crowd of ten to twenty thousand assembles, and there is a great tamāsha (popular excitement). You will sometimes see a man with his hair uncut, i.e., he does not cut it till he has fulfilled the vow.”

There is a tradition that, some centuries ago, one Sheik Mahomed Tangal died. One night, some Māppillas dreamt that his grave, which was near the reefs, was in danger of being washed away, and that they should remove the body to a safe place. They accordingly opened the grave, and found the body quite fresh, with no sign of decomposition. The remains were piously re-interred in another place, and a mosque, known as Sheikkinde Palli, built. The Māppillas of Calicut celebrate annually, on the 15th day of Rajub, the anniversary of the death of Sheik Mahomed Tangal, the date of which was made known through inspiration by an ancestor of the Mambram Tangal. The ancestor also presented the Mullah of the mosque with a head-dress, which is still worn by successive Mullahs on the occasion of the anniversary festival. “The festival goes by the name of Appani (trade in bread). A feature of the celebration is that every Moplah household prepares a supply of rice cakes, which are sent to the mosque to be distributed among the thousands of beggars who gather for the occasion. A very brisk trade is also carried on in these rice cakes, which are largely bought by the charitable for distribution among the poor. On the day of the anniversary, as well as on the day following, prayers are offered up to the souls of the departed.

According to a legend, the pious Sheik, during his travels in foreign lands, arrived at Achin disguised as a fakir. One day, some servants of the local Sultan came to him, recognising in him a holy man, and begged his help in a serious difficulty. Their Sultan, they said, had a favourite parrot which used to be kept in a golden cage, and, the door of this cage having been inadvertently left open, the parrot had escaped. On hearing of the loss of his favourite bird, the Sultan had threatened his ministers and servants with dire punishment, if they failed to recover the bird. Sheik Mahomed Koya directed the servants to place the cage in the branches of a neighbouring tree, assuring them that the parrot would come and enter his cage. Saying this, the holy man departed. The servants did as he had bidden them, and had the gratification of seeing the bird fly into the cage, and of recovering and conveying it to their master. The Sultan asked the bird why it went away when it had a beautiful golden cage to live in, and a never failing supply of dainty food to subsist upon. The parrot replied that the beautiful cage and the dainty food were not to be compared with the delights of a free and unfettered life spent under the foliage of feathery bamboos, swayed by gentle breezes. The Sultan then asked the bird why it had come back, and the bird made answer that, while it was disporting itself with others of its species in a clump of bamboos, a stifling heat arose, which it feared would burn its wings, but, as it noticed that on one side of the clump the atmosphere was cool, it flew to that spot to take shelter on a tree. Seeing the cage amidst the branches, it entered, and was thus recaptured and brought back. The Sultan afterwards discovered that it was the fakir who had thus miraculously brought about the recovery of his bird, and further that the fakir was none other than the saintly Sheik Mahomed Koya Tangal. When the news of the Tangal’s death was subsequently received, the Sultan ordered that the anniversary of the day should be celebrated in his dominions, and the Moplahs of Calicut believe that the faithful in Achin join with them every year in doing honour to the memory of their departed worthy.”

It is recorded, in the Annual Report of the Basel Medical Mission, Calicut, 1907, that “cholera and smallpox were raging terribly in the months of August and September. It is regrettable that the people, during such epidemics, do not resort to hospital medicines, but ascribe them to the devil’s scourge. Especially the ignorant and superstitious Moplahs believe that cholera is due to demoniac possession, and can only be cured by exorcism. An account of how this is done may be interesting. A Thangal (Moplah priest) is brought in procession, with much shouting and drumming, to the house to drive out the cholera devil. The Thangal enters the house, where three cholera patients are lying; two of these already in a collapsed condition. The wonder-working priest refuses to do anything with these advanced cases, as they seem to be hopeless. The other patient, who is in the early stage of the disease, is addressed as follows. ‘Who are you?’—‘I am the cholera devil’. ‘Where do you come from?’—‘From such and such a place’. ‘Will you clear out at once or not?’—‘No, I won’t’. ‘Why?’—‘Because I want something to quench my thirst’. ‘You want blood?’—‘Yes’. Then the Thangal asks his followers and relatives to give him what he asks. A young bull is brought into the room and killed on the spot, and the patient is made to drink the warm blood. Then the Thangal commands him to leave the place at once. The patient, weak and exhausted, gathers up all his strength, and runs out of the house, aided by a cane which is freely applied to his back. He runs as far as he can, and drops exhausted on the road. Then he is carried back, and, marvellous to say, he makes a good recovery.”


“The most important institution,” Mr. A. S. Vaidyanatha Aiyar writes, “among the Māppilas of Malabar is the office of the Mahadun (Makhdūm) at Ponnāni, which dates its origin about four centuries ago, the present Mahadun being the twenty-fifth of his line. [The line of the original Makhdūm ended with the eighteenth, and the present Makhdūm and his six immediate predecessors belong to a different line.] In the Mahadun there was a sect of religious head for the Māppilas from Kodangalur to Mangalore. His office was, and is still held in the greatest veneration. His decrees were believed to be infallible. (His decrees are accepted as final.) The Zamorins recognised the Mahadunship, as is seen from the presentation of the office dress at every succession. In the famous Jamath mosque they (the Mahaduns) have been giving instruction in Korān ever since they established themselves at Ponnāni. Students come here from different parts of the country. After a certain standard of efficiency, the degree of Musaliar is conferred upon the deserving Mullas (their name in their undergraduate course). This ceremony consists simply in the sanction given by the Mahadun to read at the big lamp in the mosque, where he sometimes gives the instruction personally. The ceremony is known as vilakkath irikka (to sit by the lamp). When the degree of Musaliar is conferred, this sacred lamp is lit, and the Mahadun is present with a number of Musaliars. These Musaliars are distributed through the length and breadth of the land. They act as interpreters of the Korān, and are often appointed in charge of the mosques. When I visited the Jamath, there were about three hundred students. There is no regular staff of teachers. Students are told off into sections under the management of some senior students. The students are confined to the mosque for their lodgings, while most of them enjoy free boarding from some generous Māppilla or other.”

I am informed by Mr. Kunjain that “Mulla ordinarily means a man who follows the profession of teaching the Korān to children, reading it, and performing petty religious ceremonies for others, and lives on the scanty perquisites derived therefrom. The man in charge of a mosque, and who performs all petty offices therein, is also called a Mulla. This name is, however, peculiar to South Malabar. At Quilandi and around it the teacher of the Korān is called Muallimy, at Badagara Moiliar (Musaliar), at Kottayam Seedi, at Cannanore Kalfa, and north of it Mukri. The man in charge of a mosque is also called Mukir in North Malabar, while in South Malabar Mukir is applied to the man who digs graves, lights lamps, and supplies water to the mosque.”

The mosques of the Māppillas are quite unlike those of any other Muhammadans. “Here,” Mr. Fawcett writes, “one sees no minarets. The temple architecture of Malabar was noticed by Mr. Fergusson to be like that of Nepāl: nothing like it exists between the two places. And the Māppilla mosque is much in the style of the Hindu temple, even to the adoption of the turret-like edifice which, among Hindus, is here peculiar to the temples of Siva. The general use nowadays of German mission-made tiles is bringing about, alas! a metamorphosis in the architecture of Hindu temples and Māppilla mosques, the picturesqueness disappearing altogether, and in a few years it may be difficult to find one of the old style. The mosque, though it may be little better than a hovel, is always as grand as the community can make it, and once built it can never be removed, for the site is sacred ever afterwards. Every Māppilla would shed his blood, rather than suffer any indignity to a mosque.” The mosques often consist of “several stories, having two or more roofs, one or more of the upper stories being usually built of wood, the sides sloping inwards at the bottom. The roof is pent and tiled. There is a gable end at one (the eastern) extremity, the timber on this being often elaborately carved.”

One section of Māppillas at Calicut is known as “Clap the hand” (Keikottakar) in contradistinction to another section, which may not clap hands (Keikottāttakar). On the occasion of wedding and other ceremonies, the former enjoy the privilege of clapping their hands as an accompaniment to the processional music, while the latter are not permitted to do so. It is said that at one time the differences of opinion between the two sections ran so high that the question was referred for decision to the highest ecclesiastical authorities at Mecca.

The Māppillas observe the Ramazān, Bakrid, and Haj. “They only observe the ninth and tenth days of Muharam, and keep them as a fast; they do not make taboots. A common religious observance is the celebration of what is called a mavulad or maulad. A maulad is a tract or short treatise in Arabic celebrating the birth, life, works and sayings of the prophet, or some saint such as Shaik Mohiuddin, eleventh descendant of the prophet, expounder of the Korān, and worker of miracles, or the Mambram Tangal, father of Sayid Fasl. For the ceremony a Mulla is called in to read the book, parts of which are in verse, and the congregation is required to make responses, and join in the singing. The ceremony, which usually takes place in the evening, concludes with, or is preceded by a feast, to which the friends and relations are invited. Those who can afford it should perform a maulad in honour of Shaik Mohiuddin on the eleventh of every month, and one in honour of the prophet on the twelfth. A maulad should also be performed on the third day after death. It is also a common practice to celebrate a maulad before any important undertaking on which it is desired to invoke a blessing, or in fulfilment of some vows; hence the custom of maulads preceding outbreaks.”

A colonial writer's history

For a detailed account of the fanatical outbreaks in the Māppilla community, which have long disturbed the peace of Malabar from time to time, I must refer the reader to the District Manual and Gazetteer. From these sources, and from the class handbook (Māppillas) for the Indian Army, the following note relating to some of the more serious of the numerous outbreaks has been compiled.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the Māppillas massacred the chief of Anjengo, and all the English gentlemen belonging to the settlement, when on a public visit to the Queen of Altinga. In 1841, seven or eight Māppillas killed two Hindus, and took post in a mosque, setting the police at defiance. They, and some of their co-religionists who had joined them, were shot down by a party of sepoys. In the same month, some two thousand Māppillas set at defiance a police guard posted over the spot where the above criminals had been buried, and forcibly carried off their bodies, to inter them with honours in a mosque.


An outbreak, which occurred in 1843, was celebrated in a stirring ballad. A series of Māppilla war-songs have been published by Mr. Fawcett. In October, 1843, a peon (orderly) was found with his head and hand all but cut off, and the perpetrators were supposed to have been Māppilla fanatics of the sect known as Hāl Ilakkam (frenzy raising), concerning which the following account was given in an official report, 1843. “In the month of Mētam last year, one Alathamkuliyil Moidīn went out into the fields before daybreak to water the crops, and there he saw a certain person, who advised him to give up all his work, and devote his time to prayer at the mosque. Moidīn objected to this, urging that he would have nothing to live upon. Whereupon, the above-mentioned person told him that a palm tree, which grew in his (Moidīn’s) compound, would yield sufficient toddy, which he could convert into jaggery (crude sugar), and thus maintain himself.

After saying this, the person disappeared. Moidīn thought that the person he saw was God himself, and felt frantic (hāl). He then went to Taramal Tangal, and performed dikkar and niskāram (cries and prayers). After two or three days, he complained to the Tangal that Kāfirs (a term applied by Muhammadans to people of other religions) were making fun of him. The Tangal told him that the course adopted by him was the right one, and, saying ‘Let it be as I have said,’ gave him a spear to be borne as an emblem, and assured him that nobody would mock him in future. Subsequently several Māppillas, affecting hāl ilakkam, played all sorts of pranks, and wandered about with canes in their hands, without going to their homes or attending to their work. After several days, some of them, who had no means of maintaining themselves unless they attended to their work, returned to their former course of life, while others, with canes and Ernād knives (war knives) in their hands, wandered about in companies of five, six, eight, or ten men, and, congregating in places not much frequented by Hindus, carried on their dikkar and niskāram.

The Māppillas in general look upon this as a religious vow, and provide these people with food. I hear of the Māppillas talking among themselves that one or two of the ancestors of Taramal Tangal died fighting, that, the present man being advanced in age, it is time for him to follow the same course, and that the above-mentioned men affected with hāl ilakkam, when their number swells to four hundred, will engage in a fight with Kāfirs, and die in company with the Tangal. One of these men (who are known as Hālar), by name Avarumāyan, two months ago collected a number of his countrymen, and sacrificed a bull, and, for preparing meals for these men, placed a copper vessel with water on the hearth, and said that rice would appear of itself in the vessel. He waited for some time. There was no rice to be seen. Those who had assembled there ate beef alone, and dispersed. Some people made fun of Avarumāyan for this. He felt ashamed, and went to Taramal Tangal, with whom he stayed two or three days. He then went to the mosque at Mambram, and, on attempting to fly through the air into the mosque on the southern side of the river at Tirurangādi, fell down through the opening of the door, and became lame of one leg, in which state he is reported to be still lying. While the Hālar of Munniyūr dēsam were performing niskāram one day at the tomb of Chemban Pokar Mūppan, a rebel, they declared that in the course of a week a mosque would spring up at night, and that there would be complete darkness for two full days.

Māppillas waited in anxious expectation of the phenomenon for seven or eight days and nights. There was, however, neither darkness nor mosque to be seen. Again, in the month of Karkigadam last, some of the influential Māppillas led their ignorant Hindu neighbours to believe that a ship would arrive with the necessary arms, provisions, and money for forty thousand men; and that, if that number could be secured meanwhile, they could conquer the country, and that the Hindus would then totally vanish. It appears that it was about this time that some Tiyyar (toddy-drawers) and others became converts. None of the predictions having been realised, Māppillas, as well as others, have begun to make fun of the Hālar, who, having taken offence at this, are bent upon putting an end to themselves by engaging in a fight.”

Since the outbreak near Manjeri in 1849, when two companies of sepoys were routed after firing a few shots, European troops have always been engaged against the Māppillas. On the occasion of that outbreak, one of the Māppillas had his thigh broken in the engagement. He remained in all the agony of a wound unattended to for seven days, and was further tortured by being carried in a rough litter from the Manjeri to the Angādipuram temple.

Yet, at the time of a further fight, he was hopping to the encounter on his sound leg, and only anxious to get a fair blow at the infidels before he died. It is recorded that, on one occasion, when a detachment of sepoys was thrown into disorder by a fierce rush of death-devoted Māppillas, the drummer of the company distinguished himself by bonneting an assailant with his drum, thereby putting the Māppilla’s head into a kind of straight jacket, and saving his own life. In 1852 Mr. Strange was appointed Special Commissioner to enquire into the causes of, and suggest remedies for, the Māppilla disturbances. In his report he stated, inter alia, that “a feature that has been manifestly common to the whole of these affairs is that they have been, one and all, marked by the most decided fanaticism, and this, there can be no doubt, has furnished the true incentive to them.

The Māppillas of the interior were always lawless, even in the time of Tippu, were steeped in ignorance, and were, on these accounts, more than ordinarily susceptible to the teaching of ambitious and fanatical priests using the recognised precepts of the Korān as handles for the sanction to rise and slay Kafirs, who opposed the faithful, chiefly in the pursuit of agriculture. The Hindus, in the parts where outbreaks have been most frequent, stand in such fear of the Māppillas as mostly not to dare to press for their rights against them, and there is many a Māppilla tenant who does not pay his rent, and cannot, so imminent are the risks, be evicted.” Mr. Strange stated further that “the most perverted ideas on the doctrine of martyrdom, according to the Korān, universally prevail, and are fostered among the lower classes of the Māppillas. The late enquiries have shown that there is a notion prevalent among the lower orders that, according to the Mussalman religion, the fact of a janmi or landlord having in due course of law ejected from his lands a mortgagee or other substantial tenant, is a sufficient pretext to murder him, become sahid (saint), and so ensure the pleasures of the Muhammadan paradise. It is well known that the favourite text of the banished Arab priest or Tangal, in his Friday orations at the mosque in Tirurangādi, was ‘It is no sin, but a merit, to kill a janmi who evicts.’” Mr. Strange proposed the organisation of a special police force exclusively composed of Hindus, and that restrictions should be put on the erection of mosques. Neither of these proposals was approved by Government. But a policy of repression set in with the passing of Acts XXII and XXIV of 1854.

The former authorised the local authorities to escheat the property of those guilty of fanatical rising, to fine the locality where outrages had occurred, and to deport suspicious persons out of the country. The latter rendered illegal the possession of the Māppilla war-knife. Mr. Conolly, the District Magistrate, proceeded, in December, 1854, on a tour, to collect the war-knives [477]through the heart of the Māppilla country. In the following year, when he was sitting in his verandah, a body of fanatics, who had recently escaped from the Calicut jail, rushed in, and hacked him to pieces in his wife’s presence. He had quite recently received a letter from Lord Dalhousie, congratulating him on his appointment as a member of the Governor’s Council at Madras. His widow was granted the net proceeds of the Māppilla fines, amounting to more than thirty thousand rupees.

In an account of an outbreak in 1851, it is noted that one of the fanatics was a mere child. And it was noticed, in connection with a more recent outbreak, that there were “several boys who were barely fourteen years old. One was twelve; some were seventeen or eighteen. Some observers have said that the reason why boys turn fanatics is because they may thus avoid the discomfort, which the Ramzan entails. A dispensation from fasting is claimable when on the war-path. There are high hopes of feasts of cocoanuts and jaggery, beef and boiled rice. At the end of it all there is Paradise with its black-eyed girls.”

In 1859, Act No. XX for the suppression of outrages in the district of Malabar was passed. In 1884, Government appointed Mr. Logan, the Head Magistrate of Malabar, to enquire into the general question of the tenure of land and tenant right, and the question of sites for mosques and burial-grounds in the district. Mr. Logan expressed his opinion that the Māppilla outrages were designed “to counteract the overwhelming influence, when backed by the British courts, of the janmis in the exercise of the novel powers of ouster, and of rent-raising conferred upon them. A janmi who, through the courts, evicted, whether fraudulently or otherwise, a substantial tenant, was deemed to have merited death, and it was considered a religious virtue, not a fault, to have killed such a man, and to have afterwards died in arms, fighting against an infidel Government.” Mr. MacGregor, formerly Collector of Malabar, had, some years before, expressed himself as “perfectly satisfied that the Māppilla outrages are agrarian. Fanaticism is merely the instrument, through which the terrorism of the landed classes is aimed at.”

In 1884 an outbreak occurred near Malappuram, and it was decided by Government to disarm the tāluks of Ernād, Calicut, and Walluvanād. Notwithstanding the excited state of the Māppillas at the time, the delicate operation was successfully carried out by the district officers, and 17,295 arms, including 7,503 fire-arms of various kinds, were collected. In the following year, the disarming of the Ponnāni tāluk was accomplished. Of these confiscated arms, the Madras Museum possesses a small collection, selected from a mass of them which were hoarded in the Collector’s office, and were about to be buried in the deep sea.

In 1896 a serious outbreak occurred at Manjeri, and two or three notoriously objectionable landlords were done away with. The fanatics then took up a position, and awaited the arrival of the British troops. They took no cover, and, when advancing to attack, were mostly shot down at a distance of 700 to 800 yards, every man wounded having his throat cut by his nearest friend. In the outbreak of 1894, a Māppilla youth was wounded, but not killed. The tidings was conveyed to his mother, who merely said, with the stern majesty of the Spartan matron of old, ‘If I were a man, I would not come back wounded.’ “Those who die fighting for the faith are reverenced as martyrs and saints, who can work miracles from the Paradise to which they have attained. A Māppilla woman was once benighted in a strange place. An infidel passed by, and, noticing her sorry plight, tried to take advantage of it to destroy her virtue.

She immediately invoked the aid of one of the martyrs of Malappuram. A deadly serpent rushed out of a neighbouring thicket, and flew at the villain, who had dared to sully the chastity of a chosen daughter. Once, during a rising, a Māppilla, who preferred to remain on the side of order and Government, stood afar off, and watched with sorrow the dreadful sight of his co-religionists being cut down by the European soldiery. Suddenly his emotions underwent a transformation, for there, through his blinding tears and the dust and smoke of the battle, he saw a wondrous vision. Lovely houris bent tenderly over fallen martyrs, bathed their wounds, and gave them to drink delicious sherbet and milk, and, with smiles that outshone the brightness of the sun, bore away the fallen bodies of the brave men to the realms beyond. The watcher dashed through the crowd, and cast in his lot with the happy men who were fighting such a noble fight. And, after he was slain, these things were revealed to his wife in a vision, and she was proud thereat. These, and similar stories, are believed as implicitly as the Korān is believed.”

It is noted by Mr. Logan that the custom of the Nāyars, in accordance with which they sacrificed their lives for the honour of the king, “was readily adopted by the Māppillas, who also at times—as at the great Mahāmakham twelfth year feast at Tirunāvāyi—devoted themselves to death in the company of Nāyars for the honour of the Valluvanād Rāja. And probably the frantic fanatical rush of the Māppillas on British bayonets is the latest development of this ancient custom of the Nāyars.”

The fanatical outbreaks of recent times have been exclusively limited to the Ernād and Walluvanād tāluks. There are quartered at the present time at Malappuram in the Ernād tāluk a special Assistant Collector, a company of British troops, and a special native police force. In 1905, Government threw open 220 scholarships, on the results of the second and third standard examinations, to Māppilla pupils of promise in the two tāluks mentioned above, to enable them to prosecute their studies for the next higher standard in a recognised school connected with the Madras Educational Department. Twenty scholarships were further offered to Māppillas in the special class attached to the Government School of Commerce, Calicut, where instruction in commercial arithmetic, book-keeping, commercial practice, etc., is imparted in the Malayālam language. In 1904, a Māppilla Sanskrit school was founded at Puttūr, some of the pupils at which belong to the families of hereditary physicians, who were formerly good Sanskrit scholars.

At a Loyalty meeting of Māppillas held at Ponnāni in 1908 under the auspices of the Mannath-ul-Islam Sabha, the President spoke as follows. “When the Moplahs are ranged on the side of order, the peace of the country is assured. But the Moplah is viewed with suspicion by the Government. He has got a bad name as a disturber of the peace. He is liable to fits, and no one knows when he may run amock. From this public platform I can assure the Government as well as the public that the proper remedy has at last been applied, and the Moplah fits have ceased, never to return. What the remedy was, and who discovered it, must be briefly explained. Every Moplah outbreak was connected with the relapse of a convert. In the heat of a family quarrel, in a moment of despair, a Hindu thought to revenge himself upon his family by becoming a convert to Islam. In a few days, repentance followed, and he went back to his relatives. An ignorant Mullah made this a text for a sermon. A still more ignorant villager found in it an opportunity to obtain admission into the highest Paradise. An outbreak results. The apostate’s throat is cut. The Moplah is shot. Deportation and Punitive Police follow. The only rational way to put a final stop to this chronic malady was discovered by a Hindu gentleman.

The hasty conversions must be stopped. Those who seek conversion must be given plenty of time to consider the irrevocable nature of the step they were going to take. The Mullahs must be properly instructed. Their interpretation of the Koran was wrong. There is absolutely nothing in our scriptures to justify murders of this kind, or opposition to the ruling power. The ignorant people had to be taught. There was no place in Paradise for murderers and cut-throats. Their place was lower down. Three things had to be done. Conversion had to be regulated; the Mullahs had to be instructed; the ignorance of the people had to be removed. Ponani is the religious head-quarters of the Moplahs of the West Coast, including Malabar, South Canara, and the Native States of Cochin and Travancore. The Jarathingal Thangal at Ponani is the High Priest of all the Moplahs; the Mahadoom Thangal of Ponani is the highest authority in all religious matters. It is he that sanctifies the Musaliars. The Mannath-ul-Islam Sabha at Ponani was started under the auspices of the Jarathingal Thangal and the Mahadoom Thangal. Two schools were opened for the education of new converts, one for boys and the other for girls. Strict enquiries were made as to the state of mind and antecedents of all who seek conversion.

They are kept under observation long enough, and are admitted only on the distinct understanding that it is a deliberate voluntary act, and they have to make up their minds to remain. Some six thousand converts have passed through our schools since the Sabha was started. The Musaliars are never sanctified until they are thoroughly grounded in the correct principles of our religion, and an assurance is obtained from them that they will never preach rebellion. No Musaliar will break a promise given to the Thangal. The loyalty of the Musaliars and Mullahs is thus assured. Where there is no Musaliar to bless them, there is no Moplah to die as a martyr. The Mullahs are also taught to explain to all villagers that our scriptures condemn opposition to the ruling power, and that loyalty to the Sovereign is a religious duty. We are also trying to spread education among the ignorant villagers. In order further to enlist the sympathies of the people, extensive charities have been organised. Sixteen branches of the Sabha have been opened all over South Malabar and the States of Travancore and Cochin. A very large number of domestic quarrels—divorce cases, partition cases, etc.—have been settled by arbitration through these branch associations. It is an immense power for good.”

The Māppillas have been summed up, as regards their occupations, as being traders on the coast, and cultivators in the interior, in both of which callings they are very successful and prosperous. “In the realm of industry,” it has been said, “the Moplah occupies a position, which undoubtedly does him credit. Poverty is confined almost exclusively to certain wild, yet picturesque tracts in the east of Malabar, where the race constitutes the preponderating element of the population, and the field and farm furnish the only means of support to the people. And it is just in those areas that one may see at their best the grit, laboriousness, and enterprise of the Moplah. He reclaims dense forest patches, and turns them into cultivated plots under the most unfavourable conditions, and, in the course of a few years, by hard toil and perseverance, he transforms into profitable homesteads regions that were erstwhile virgin forest or scrubby jungle. Or he lays himself out to reclaim and plant up marshy lands lying alongside rivers and lagoons, and insures them from destruction by throwing up rough but serviceable dykes and dams. In these tracts he is also sometimes a timber merchant, and gets on famously by taking out permits to fell large trees, which he rafts down the rivers to the coast.

The great bulk of the Moplahs in these wild regions belong purely to the labouring classes, and it is among these classes that the pinch of poverty is most keenly felt, particularly in the dull monsoon days, when all industry has to be suspended. In the towns and coast ports, the Moplahs are largely represented in most branches of industry and toil. A good many of them are merchants, and get on exceedingly well, being bolder and more speculative than the Hindus of the district. The bulk of petty traders and shop-keepers in Malabar are also Moplahs, and, in these callings, they may be found at great distances from home, in Rangoon, Ceylon, the Straits and elsewhere, and generally prospering. Almost everywhere in their own district they go near monopolising the grocery, hardware, haberdashery, and such other trades; and as petty bazar men they drive a profitable business on the good old principle of small profits and quick returns. No native hawker caters more readily to Mr. Thomas Atkins (the British soldier) than the Moplah, and, in the military stations in Malabar, ‘Poker’ (a Moplah name) waxes fat and grows rich by undertaking to supply Tommy with tea, coffee, lemonade, tobacco, oilman stores, and other little luxuries.”

“Some Māppillas,” Mr. A. Chatterton writes, “have taken to leather-working, and they are considered to be specialists in the making of ceruppus or leather shoes. In Malabar the trade in raw hides and skins is chiefly in the hands of Māppillas. Weekly fairs are held at several places, and all the available hides and skins are put up for sale, and are purchased by Muhammadans.” Some Māppillas bind books, and others are good smiths. “The small skull caps, which are the universal head-gear of Māppilla men and boys, are made in different parts of Malabar, but the best are the work of Māppilla women at Cannanore. They are made of fine canvas beautifully embroidered by hand, and fetch in the market between Rs. 2 and Rs. 3.”

The Māppillas take an active share in the fish-curing operations along the west coast, and the Mukkuvans, who are the hereditary fishermen of Malabar, are inclined to be jealous of them. A veteran Mukkuvan, at the time of my inspection of the Badagara fish-curing yard in 1900, put the real grievance of his brethren in a nutshell. In old days, he stated, they used salt-earth for curing fishes. When the fish-curing yards were started, and Government salt was issued, the Mukkuvans thought that they were going to be heavily taxed. They did not understand exactly what was going to happen, and were suspicious. The result was that they would have nothing to do with the curing-yards. The use of salt-earth was stopped on the establishment of Government salt, and some of the fishermen were convicted for illegal use thereof. They thought that, if they held out, they would be allowed to use salt-earth as formerly. Meanwhile, the Māppillas, being more wide-awake than the Mukkuvans, took advantage of the opportunity (in 1884), and erected yards, whereof they are still in possession. A deputation of Mukkuvans waited on me. Their main grievance was that they are hereditary fishermen, and formerly the Māppillas were only the purchasers of fish. A few years ago, the Māppillas started as fishermen on their own account, with small boats and thattuvala (tapping nets), in using which the nets, with strips of cocoanut leaves tied on to the ropes, are spread, and the sides of the boats beaten with sticks and staves, to drive the fish into the net. The noise made extends to a great distance, and consequently the shoals go out to sea, too far for the fishermen to follow in pursuit. In a petition, which was submitted to me by the Mukkuvan fish-curers at Badagara, they asked to have the site of the yard changed, as they feared that their women would be ‘unchastised’ at the hands of the Māppillas.

“Small isolated attempts,” Major Holland-Pryor writes, “to recruit Māppillas were made by various regiments quartered in Malabar some years ago, but without success. This was probably owing to the fact that the trial was made on too small a scale, and that the system of mixed companies interfered with their clannish propensities. The district officers also predicted certain failure, on the ground that Māppillas would not serve away from their own country. Their predictions, however, have proved to be false, and men now come forward in fair numbers for enlistment.” In 1896, the experiment of recruiting Māppillas for the 25th Madras Infantry was started, and the responsible task of working up the raw material was entrusted to Colonel Burton, with whose permission I took measurements of his youthful warriors. As was inevitable in a community recruited by converts from various classes, the sepoys afforded an interesting study in varied colouration, stature and nasal configuration. One very dark-skinned and platyrhine individual, indeed, had a nasal index of 92. Later on, the sanction of the Secretary of State was obtained for the adoption of a scheme for converting the 17th and 25th regiments of the Madras Infantry into Māppilla corps, which were subsequently named the 77th and 78th Moplah Rifles. “These regiments,” Major Holland-Pryor continues, “at present draw their men principally from Ernād and Valuvanād. Labourers from these parts are much sought after by planters and agents from the Kolar gold-fields, on account of their hardiness and fine physique. Some, however, prefer to enlist. The men are generally smaller than the Coast Māppillas, and do not show much trace of Arab blood, but they are hardy and courageous, and, with their superior stamina, make excellent fighting material.”

In 1905 the 78th Moplah Rifles were transferred to Dēra Ismail Khān in the Punjāb, and took part in the military manœuvres before H.R.H. the Prince of Wales at Rawalpindi. It has been observed that “the Moplahs, in dark green and scarlet, the only regiment in India which wears the tarbush, are notable examples of the policy of taming the pugnacious races by making soldiers of them, which began with the enlistment of the Highlanders in the Black Watch, and continued to the disciplining of the Kachins in Burma. In the general overhauling of the Indian Army, the fighting value of the Moplahs has come into question, and the 78th Regiment is now at Dēra Ismail Khān being measured against the crack regiments of the north.” In 1907, the colours of the 17th Madras Infantry, which was formed at Fort St. George in 1777, and had had its name changed to 77th Moplah Rifles, were, on the regiment being mustered out, deposited in St. Mark’s Church, Bangalore.


It has been said of the Māppillas that “their heads are true cocoanuts; their high foreheads and pointed crowns are specially noticeable for being kept shaven, and, when covered, provided with only a small gaily embroidered skull-cap.”

The dress of the Māppillas is thus described in the Gazetteer of Malabar. “The ordinary dress of the men is a mundu or cloth, generally white with a purple border, but sometimes orange or green, or plain white. It is tied on the left (Hindus tie it on the right), and kept in position by a nūl or waist string, to which are attached one or more elassus (small cylinders) of gold, silver, or baser metal, containing texts from the Korān or magic yantrams. A small knife is usually worn at the waist. Persons of importance wear in addition a long flowing garment of fine cotton (a kind of burnoos), and over this again may be worn a short waistcoat like jacket, though this is uncommon in South Malabar, and (in the case of Tangals, etc.) a cloak of some rich coloured silk.

The European shirt and short coat are also coming into fashion in the towns. A small cap of white or white and black is very commonly worn, and round this an ordinary turban, or some bright coloured scarf may be tied. Māppillas shave their heads clean. Beards are frequently worn, especially by old people and Tangals. Hajis, or men who have made their pilgrimage to Mecca, and other holy men, often dye the beard red. Women wear a mundu of some coloured cloth (dark blue is most usual), and a white loose bodice more or less embroidered, and a veil or scarf on the head. In the case of the wealthy, the mundu may be of silk of some light colour. Women of the higher classes are kept secluded, and hide their faces when they go abroad. The lower classes are not particular in this respect. Men wear no jewellery, except the elassus already mentioned, and in some cases rings on the fingers, but these should not be of pure gold. Women’s jewellery is of considerable variety, and is sometimes very costly. It takes the form of necklaces, ear-rings, zones, bracelets, and anklets. As among Tiyans and Mukkuvans, a great number of ear-rings are worn. The rim of the ear is bored into as many as ten or a dozen holes, in addition to the one in the lobe. Nose-rings are not worn.

“Incredibly large sums of money,” Mr. P. Kunjain writes, “are spent on female ornaments. For the neck there are five or six sorts, for the waist five or six sorts, and there are besides long rows of armlets, bracelets, and bangles, and anklets and ear ornaments, all made of gold. As many as ten or fourteen holes are bored in each ear, one being in the labia (lobe) and the remainder in the ala (helix). The former is artificially widened, and a long string of ornaments of beautiful manufacture suspended to it. As strict Sunnis of the Shafi school, the boring of the nose is prohibited.”


I have in my possession five charm cylinders, which were worn round the waist by a notorious Māppilla dacoit, who was shot by the police, and whom his co-religionists tried to turn into a saint. It is noted, in the Gazetteer of Malabar, that, though magic is condemned by the Korān, the Māppilla is very superstitious, and witchcraft is not by any means unknown. Many Tangals pretend to cure diseases by writing selections from the Korān on a plate with ink or on a coating of ashes, and then giving the ink or ashes mixed with water to the patient to swallow. They also dispense scrolls for elassus, and small flags inscribed with sacred verses, which are set up to avert pestilence or misfortune. The Māppilla jins and shaitāns correspond to the Hindu demons, and are propitiated in much the same way. One of their methods of witchcraft is to make a wooden figure to represent the enemy, drive nails into all the vital parts, and throw it into sea, after curses in due form. A belief in love philtres and talismans is very common, and precautions against the evil eye are universal.

In 1903, a life-size nude female human figure, with feet everted and turned backwards, carved out of the wood of Alstonia scholaris, was washed ashore at Calicut. Long nails had been driven in all over the head, body and limbs, and a large square hole cut out above the navel. Inscriptions in Arabic characters were scrawled over it. By a coincidence, the corpse of a man was washed ashore close to the figure. Quite recently, another interesting example of sympathetic magic, in the shape of a wooden representation of a human being, was washed ashore at Calicut. The figure is eleven inches in height. The arms are bent on the chest, and the palms of the hands are placed together as in the act of saluting. A square cavity, closed by a wooden lid, has been cut out of the middle of the abdomen, and contains apparently tobacco, ganja (Indian hemp), and hair. An iron bar has been driven from the back of the head through the body, and terminates in the abdominal cavity. A sharp cutting instrument has been driven into the chest and back in twelve places.

Personal laws

“The Māppillas of North Malabar,” Mr. Lewis Moore writes, “follow the marumakkathāyam system of inheritance, while the Māppillas of South Malabar, with some few exceptions, follow the ordinary Muhammadan law. Among those who profess to follow the marumakkathāyam law, the practice frequently prevails of treating the self-acquisitions of a man as descendible to his wife and children under Muhammadan law. Among those who follow the ordinary Muhammadan law, it is not unusual for a father and sons to have community of property, and for the property to be managed by the father, and, after his death, by the eldest son. Mr. Logan alludes to the adoption of the marumakkathāyam law of inheritance by the Nambūdris of Payyanur in North Malabar, and then writes ‘And it is noteworthy that the Muhammadans settled there (Māppillas) have done the same thing.’ Mr. Logan here assumes that the Māppillas of North Malabar were Muhammadans in religion before they adopted the marumakkathāyam law of inheritance. There can, however, be but little doubt that a considerable portion, at all events, of these so-called Māppillas were followers of marumakkathāyam rules and customs long before they embraced the faith of Islam.” “In the case of the Māppillas,” Mr. Vaidyanatha writes, “it is more than probable that there were more numerous conversions from marumakkathāyam families in the north than in the south. The number of makkathāyam adherents has always been small in the north. According to marumakkathāyam, the wife is not a member of the husband’s family, but usually resides in her family house. The makkathāyam Māppillas, curiously enough, seldom take their wives home. In some parts, such as Calicut, a husband is only a visitor for the night. The Māppillas, like the Nāyars, call themselves by the names of their houses (or parambas).” It is noted by Mr. P. Kunjain that the present generation of Moplahs following marumakkathāyam is not inclined to favour the perpetuation of this flagrant transgression of the divine law, which enjoins makkathāyam on true believers in unequivocal terms. With the view of defeating the operation of the law, the present generation settled their self-acquisition on their children during their lifetime. A proposal to alter the law to accord with the divine law will be hailed with supreme pleasure. This is the current of public opinion among Moplahs.

It is recorded in the Gazetteer of Malabar that “in North Malabar, Māppillas as a rule follow the marumakkathāyam system of inheritance, though it is opposed to the precepts of the Korān; but a man’s self-acquisitions usually descend to his wife and family in accordance with the Muhammadan law of property. The combination of the two systems of law often leads to great complications. In the south, the makkatāyam system is usually followed, but it is remarkable that succession to religious stānams, such as that of the Valiya Tangal of Ponnāni, usually goes according to the marumakkathāyam system. There seems to be a growing discontent with the marumakkathāyam system; but, on the other hand, there is no doubt that the minute sub-division of property between a man’s heirs, which the Korān prescribes, tends to foster poverty, especially amongst petty cultivators, such as those of Ernād and Walavanād.”

It is unnecessary to linger over the naming, tonsure, circumcision, and ear-boring ceremonies, which the Māppilla infant has to go through. But the marriage and death customs are worthy of some notice. “Boys are married at the age of 18 or 20 as a rule in North Malabar, and girls at 14 or 15. In South Malabar, early marriages are more common, boys being married between 14 and 18, and girls between 8 and 12. In exceptional cases, girls have been known to be married at the age of 2½, but this only happens when the girl’s father is in extremis, since an orphan must remain unmarried till puberty. The first thing is the betrothal or settlement of the dowry, which is arranged by the parents, or in North Malabar by the Kārnavans. Large dowries are expected, especially in North Malabar, where, in spite of polygamy, husbands are at a premium, and a father with many daughters needs to be a rich man. The only religious ceremony necessary is the nikka, which consists in the formal conclusion of the contract before two witnesses and the Kāzi, who then registers it.

The nikka may be performed either on the day of the nuptials or before it, sometimes months or years before. In the latter case, the fathers of the bride and bridegroom go to the bride’s family mosque and repeat the necessary formula, which consists in the recital of the Kalima, and a formal acceptance of the conditions of the match, thrice repeated. In the former case, the Kāzi, as a rule, comes to the bride’s house where the ceremony is performed, or else the parties go to the Kāzi’s house. In North Malabar, the former is the rule; but in Calicut the Kāzi will only go to the houses of four specially privileged families. After the performance of the nikka, there is a feast in the bride’s house. Then the bridegroom and his attendants are shown to a room specially prepared, with a curtain over the door. The bridegroom is left there alone, and the bride is introduced into the room by her mother or sister.

In North Malabar, she brings her dowry with her, wrapped in a cloth. She is left with the bridegroom for a few minutes, and then comes out, and the bridegroom takes his departure. In some cases, the bride and bridegroom are allowed to spend the whole night together. In some parts of South Malabar, it is the bride who is first conducted to the nuptial chamber, where she is made to lie down on a sofa, and the bridegroom is then introduced, and left with her for a few minutes. In North Malabar and Calicut, the bride lives in her own house with her mother and sisters, unless her husband is rich enough to build her a house of her own. In South Malabar, the wife is taken to the husband’s house as soon as she is old enough for cohabitation, and lives there. Polygamy is the rule, and it is estimated that in South Malabar 80 per cent. of the husbands have two wives or more, and 20 per cent. three or four. In North Malabar, it is not usual for a man to have more than two wives. The early age at which girls are married in South Malabar no doubt encourages polygamy. It also encourages divorce, which in South Malabar is common, while in the north it is comparatively rare, and looked upon with disfavour. All that is required is for the husband to say, in the presence of the wife’s relations, or before her Kāzi, that he has ‘untied the tie, and does not want the wife any more,’ and to give back the stridhanam or dowry. Divorce by the wife is rare, and can be had only for definite reasons, such as that the husband is incapable of maintaining her, or is incurably diseased or impotent. Widows may remarry without limit, but the dearth of husbands makes it difficult for them to do so.

“When a man dies, his body is undressed, and arranged so that the legs point to Mecca. The two big toes are tied together, and the hands crossed on the chest, the right over the left; the arms are also tied with a cloth. Mullas are called in to read the Korān over the corpse, and this has to be continued until it is removed to the cemetery. When the relatives have arrived, the body is washed and laid on the floor on mats, over which a cloth has been spread. Cotton wool is placed in the ears, and between the lips, the fingers, and the toes, and the body is shrouded in white cloths. It is then placed on a bier which is brought from the mosque, and borne thither. At the mosque the bier is placed near the western wall; the mourners arrange themselves in lines, and offer prayers (niskāram) standing. The bier is then taken to the grave, which is dug north and south; the body is lowered, the winding sheets loosened, and the body turned so as to lie on its right side facing Mecca.

A handful of earth is placed below the right cheek. The grave is then covered with laterite stones, over which each of the mourners throws a handful of earth, reciting the Kalima and passages from the Korān. Laterite stones are placed at the head and foot of the grave, and some mailānji (henna: Lawsonia alba) is planted at the side. A Mulla then seats himself at the head of the grave, and reads certain passages of the Korān, intended to instruct the dead man how to answer the questions about his faith, which it is supposed that the angels are then asking him. The funeral concludes with distribution of money and rice to the poor. For three days, a week, or forty days, according to the circumstances of the deceased, Mullas should read the Korān over the grave without ceasing day and night. The Korān must also be read at home for at least three days. On the third day, a visit is made to the tomb, after which a maulad is performed, the Mullas are paid, alms are distributed, and a feast is given to the relations, including the deceased’s relations by marriage, who should come to his house that day. A similar ceremony is performed on the fortieth day, which concludes the mourning; and by the rich on anniversaries. Widows should keep secluded in their own houses for three months and ten days, without seeing any of the male sex. After that period, they are at liberty to remarry.”

Concerning the Māppillas of the Laccadives, Mr. H. A. Stuart writes as follows. “The customs of the Māppillas of the Laccadive islands are peculiar. The people are not called Māppilas, but (1) Kōya, (2) Mālumi, (3) Urukkāran, (4) Takru, (5) Milikhān, and (6) Mēlāc’chēri. No. 1 is the land and boat owning class, and is superior to the rest. Nos. 2 to 5 are pilots and sailors, and, where they are cultivators, cultivate under No. 1. No. 6 were the slaves of the first division; now they cultivate the Kōyas’ lands, take the produce of those lands in boats to the mainland, and pay 20 per cent. of the sale-proceeds to the Kōya owners. The islanders generally dress like ordinary Māppilas. The Mēlāc’cheris, however, may use only a coarser kind of cloth, and they are not allowed intermarriage with the other classes.

If any such marriage takes place, the offender is put out of caste, but the marriage is deemed a valid one. The current tradition is that these Laccadive Māppilas were originally the inhabitants of Malabar—Nambūdiris, Nāyars, Tiyyas, etc.—who went in search of Chēramān Perumāl when the latter left for Mecca, and were wrecked on these islands. The story goes that these remained Hindus for a long time, that Obeidulla, the disciple of Caliph Abu Bakr, having received instructions from the prophet in a dream to go and convert the unbelievers on these islands, left for the place and landed on Amēni island, that he was ill-treated by the people, who were all Brāhmans, but that, having worked some miracles, he converted them. He then visited the other islands, and all the islanders embraced the Moslem faith. His remains are said to be interred in the island of Androth. Among this section of the Māppilas, succession is generally—in fact almost entirely—in the female line. Girls are married when they are six or seven years old. No dowry is given. They are educated equally with the boys, and, on marriage, they are not taken away from school, but continue there until they finish the course. In the island of Minicoy, the largest of the islands, the women appear in public, and take part in public affairs. The women generally are much more educated than the ordinary Māppila males of the mainland. The Kōyas are said to be descendants of Nambūdiris, Mēlach’cheris of Tiyyans and Mukkuvans, and the rest of Nāyars. Whatever the present occupation of Kōyas on these islands, the tradition that Kōyas were originally Brāhmans also confirms the opinion that they belong to the priestly class.”

Laccadives [Lakshadweep]and Minicoy

In a note on the Laccadives and Minicoy, Mr. C. W. E. Cotton writes that “while it would appear that the Maldives and Minicoy were long ago peopled by the same wave of Aryan immigration which overran Ceylon, tradition ascribes the first settlements in the northern group to an expedition shipwrecked on one of the Atolls so late as 825 A.D. This expedition is said to have set out from Kodungallūr (Cranganore) in search of the last of the Perumal Viceroys of Malabar, a convert either to Buddhism or Islam, and included some Nambudris, commonly employed, as Duarte Barbosa tells us, on account of their persons being considered sacrosanct, as envoys and messengers in times of war, and perhaps also for dangerous embassies across the seas. Some support may be found for this tradition in the perpetuation of the name illam for some of the principal houses in Kalpeni, and in the existence of strongly marked caste divisions, especially remarkable among communities professing Mahomedanism, corresponding to the aristocrats, the mariners, and the dependants, of which such an expeditionary force would have been composed. The Tarwad islands, Ameni, Kalpeni, Androth, and Kavarathi, were probably peopled first, and their inhabitants can claim high-caste Hindu ancestry. There has been no doubt everywhere considerable voluntary immigration from the coast, and some infusion of pure Arab blood; but the strain of Negro introduced into the Maldives by Zanzibar slaves is nowhere traceable in Minicoy or the northern Archipelago.” In a further note, Mr. Cotton writes as follows.

“The inhabitants of Androth, Kalpēni, Kavaratti and Agatti, are Māppillas, almost undistinguishable, except in the matter of physical development, from those on the mainland. The admixture of Arab blood seems to be confined to a few of the principal families in the two ‘tarwad’ islands, Kalpēni and Androth. The islanders, though Muhammadans, perpetuate the old caste distinctions which they observed before their conversion to Islam. The highest caste is called Koya, in its origin merely a religious title. The Koyas represent the aristocracy of the original colonists, and in them vests the proprietorship of most of the cocoanut trees and the odams (ships), which constitute the chief outward and visible signs of wealth on the islands. They supply each Amīn with a majority of his council of hereditary elders (Kāranavans).

The lowest and largest class is that of the Melacheris (lit. high climbers), also called Thandēls in Kavaratti, the villeins in the quasi-feudal system of the islands, who do the tree-tapping, cocoanut plucking, and menial labour. They hold trees on kudiyan service, which involves the shipping of produce on their overlord’s boat or odam, the thatching of his house and boat-shed, and an obligation to sail on the odam to the mainland whenever called upon. Intermediately come the Malumis (pilots), also called Urakars, who represent the skilled navigating class, to which many of the Karnavans in Kavaratti belong. Intermarriage between them and the less prosperous Koyis is now permitted. Monogamy is almost the universal rule, but divorces can be so easily obtained that the marriage tie can scarcely be regarded as more binding than the sambandham among the Hindus on the coast. The women go about freely with their heads uncovered. They continue to live after marriage in their family or tarwad houses, where they are visited by their husbands, and the system of inheritance in vogue is marumakkathāyam as regards family property, and makkatāyam as regards self-acquisitions.

These are distinguished on the islands under the terms Velliyāricha (Friday) and Tingalāricha (Monday) property. The family house is invariably called pura in contradistinction to Vīdu—the wife’s house. Intermarriage between the inhabitants of different islands is not uncommon. The islanders are very superstitious, and believe in ghosts and hobgoblins, about the visible manifestations of which many stories are current; and there is an old māmul (established) rule on all the islands forbidding any one to go out after nightfall. Phantom steamers and sailing ships are sometimes seen in the lagoons or rowed out to on the open sea; and in the prayers by the graves of his ancestors, which each sailor makes before setting out on a voyage, we find something akin to the Roman worship of the Manes. The Moidīn mosque at Kalpēni, and the big West Pandāram at Androth are believed to be haunted. There are Jārams (shrines) in Cheriyam and Cheriyakara, to which pilgrimages are made and where vows are taken, and it is usual to chant the fatēah on sighting the Jamath mosque in Androth, beneath the shadow of which is the tomb of Mumba Mulyaka, the Arab apostle to the Laccadives.”

In his inspection report of the Laccadives, 1902, Mr. G. H. B. Jackson notes that “the caste barrier, on the island of Androth, between the Koya and the Malumi class and the Melacheris is as rigid as ever. It divides capital from labour, and has given the upper classes much of the appearance of an effete aristocracy.” In a more recent inspection report (1905), Mr. C. W. E. Cotton writes as follows. “Muhammadans, owing to their inordinate love of dress, are apt to give an exaggerated impression of wealth, but I should think that, despite the laziness of all but the Melacheris, the majority of the inhabitants (of Androth) are well-to-do, and, in this respect, compare very favourably with those of the other islands. The Qazi and several other Karnavars, who have a smattering of the Korān, go to the mainland, and, in centres of superstition, earn considerable sums by their profession of extreme learning and piety. The long satin coats (a canary yellow is the fashionable tint) procured in Bombay or Mangalore are evidence of the financial success of their pilgrimages. It is perhaps fortunate that the Koyas have discovered this additional source of income, for, though they continue to own nearly all the cargo-carrying odams (boats), their position as jenmis (landlords) has been seriously jeopardised owing to the repudiation of their obligations as Kudians by many of the enterprising Melacheri community.

The Melacheris are now alive to the fact that, as their tenure is not evidenced by documents and rests upon oral assertions, they have a very reasonable chance of freeing themselves of their overlords altogether. The Mukhyastars are quite a representative lot. Sheikindevittil Muthu Koya is a fine specimen of the sea-faring Moplah, and the Qazi, twenty-fourth in descent from Mumby Moolyaka, the Arab who converted the islanders to Islam, struck me as a man of very considerable attainments. In his report on the dispensary at Androth (1905), Mr. K. Ibrahim Khān, hospital assistant, states that “the quacks are said to be clever enough to treat cases both by their drugs and by their charms. They actually prevent other poor classes seeking medical and surgical treatment in the dispensary, and mislead them by their cunning words. Most of the quacks come to the dispensary, and take medicines such as santonine powders, quinine pills, purgatives, etc. They make use of these for their own cases, and thus earn their livelihood. The quacks are among the Koya class. The Koyas are jenmis, and the Malims and Melacheris are their tenants. The latter, being low classes, always believe them, and depend upon their landlords, who are also their physicians, to treat them when they fall sick. The islanders, as a rule, have no faith in English medical treatment. The rich folks who can afford it go to Malabar for native treatment; only the poorer classes, who have neither means to pay the quacks here nor to go to Malabar, attend the dispensary with half inclination.”

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