Sunday, 12 August 2007

On to Manantoddy

Leaving Sultan Bathory, we were soon retracing our steps west towards Kalpetta, before turning off north west towards Manantoddy.

We were hoping to try to find the forest guest house which we understood to be beyond the town.

The drive proved to be along some very beautiful valleys lined with paddy fields, which were in the course of being harvested.

The farmers seemed genuinely pleased and somewhat surprised to see us, and waved friendly at us as we passed by.

Passing through Mananthavadi we headed out towards Thirunelly. Stopping several times to ask the way, we passed a Forest Headquarters before heading up into an increasingly dense and beautiful forest.

This high forest must be the nearest thing to the forest that Thomas must have experienced, and which he so obviously enjoyed. I would have loved to have had the chance to explore it, but my driver was horrified at the thought of going into the trees. It was full of snakes and very dangerous animals in his opinion. Quite possibly he is right.

Eventually as the track grew narrower and narrower we eventually reached a remote village, where monkeys appeared to out number people, and beyond it a forest camp.

On enquiring of a group of workers we were told that the camp was closed and the forest bungalow was not available. I couldn't help wondering, if this was not selective translation, as I think our driver didn't really fancy a night out in the wilds. Reluctantly turning around and returning to Manantoddy, our journey was rewarded however, because we spotted a tribal village complete with the same types of high watch towns built up against trees, that Thomas Baber describes in his 1833 paper "An Account of the Slave Population in the Western Peninsula of India, especially on the coast of Malabar... As contained in the Replies of T. H. Baber, Esq. to the Questions referred to him by the Right Honourable, the Commissioners for the Affairs of India.” on the conditions of the natives on the Malabar Coast.

Later in 1830 Thomas Baber gave evidence to a committee of the House of Lords in which he described the terrible state of these slaves. Answering questions put by the members of the committee he stated: -

What is the Character of Slavery in Malabar?

They are absolute Property, as much as the Cattle upon a Man's Estate; they are bought and sold in the same Way. A Slave generally sells from Five Rupees to about Twenty, or about Ten Shillings to Forty Shillings; when leased out the usual Patom or Rent is Four Fanams, which is about Two Shillings a Year. I could give a List of the several Castes comprising the whole of the Slave Population. There are upwards of 100,000 of them in Malabar alone, and they are in that abject degraded State that it is Matter of Astonishment that no Legislative Provisions have been enacted to improve their Condition. The very Appearance of them, particularly those in the Eastern and Southeast Parts, bespeaks their Wretchedness. Small in Stature, spare Arms and Legs, with large Stomachs, in fact more like Baboons than Men. Perhaps there is no Person who has had the Opportunity I have had of seeing and knowing these unhappy Creatures.

How are they dressed?

In the most retired Parts of the Country, with nothing but a Plaintain Leaf tied round their Waists; in the more open and cultivated Parts, a Waist Cloth, perhaps about Three Feet in Length and about a Foot broad, secured by a Knot in Front.

In what Kind of Labour are they more generally employed?

Agriculture; never as Domestic Servants. They are not allowed to come within a certain Distance of several of the Hindoo Tribes, or their Houses. Mopillas employ them occasionally in Domestic Labour.

But the Hindoos never?


Are they all Natives of the Soil, or are any imported?

There are none imported now, I believe. There were some imported from Travancore and Cochin, or rather kidnapped; many of them free-born Children, stolen during the Night-time. Many of them I discovered on the Plantation of a Native-born British Subject.

Was he convicted of having kidnapped those Slaves?

No, though he ought to have been. His Agents, that is, Persons in his Employ, were brought to Trial, and I think discharged in consequence of some Scruples on the Part of the Mohamedan Law Officer.

Did it appear that he was cognizant of their having been kidnapped?

The Resident of Travancore, Colonel Munro, sent me a Letter, which this same British Subject had written to him, soliciting his (the Resident's) Protection of his (the Writer's) Agent, who had been taken up in Travancore for this very Act, and requesting he would obtain his Release on whatever Terms might appear to him reasonable. This Letter, and all the Correspondence it gave rise to, I can produce, if it is their Lordships Pleasure.

What became of the Children?

I sent the whole of them back to their Parents, for which I received, through the British Resident, the Thanks of the Government of Travancore.

Can you speak as to the Character of Slavery in any other Part of the District?

In Canara, Malabar, Coorg, Wynând, Cochin and Travancore, it is of the same Description, and perhaps the whole Slave Population amounts to 400,000 Souls.

Is their Condition, as far as you have had Occasion to observe, much the same throughout all that Range of Country?

I think in Canara the Landholders treat their Slaves better than they do in Malabar, from the Circumstance of the Landholders being better Farmers and in better Circumstances.

In fact the Effect of the very heavy Demands of the Government from the Landholders falls on the Slaves?

To a certain Extent, certainly; as far, that is, as impoverishing their Proprietors.

That causes them to exact more severe Labour?

It is not on account of the Labour they exact, but that they do not subsist them as they ought to do. Often may they be seen in the wildest Part of the Forests and Mountains, digging for wild Yams for their very Subsistence.

They are quite a different Race from the other Inhabitants of the Country?

Quite different.

Is there not some Idea that they were the Aborigines of the Country?

They are supposed to have been the Aborigines of the Country. Their History, which, like all the other Indian Stories, is wrapped up in Fable, is as follows; Srb Parasu Rama was incarnated to destroy the Rajahs (Kheterees) then oppressing the Earth. After Twenty-one different Battles, he slew them all. To expiate which, it being a great Sin to slay Heroes, called Virahatirju dosham, he went to Gokernum, and having there performed Sacrifices, and prostrated himself to Varuna, he made the Ocean retire, and thus created 160 Kadums of Land. (Footnote *) He then went and brought the Arya Brahmins of the Sixty-four Grams, and to induce them to remain he went in Search of the wild People who inhabited the Forests and Mountains, collected them, and presented them to the Brahmins as Adiars, or Slaves, since which Period they have been considered as Jelm Property equally with the Soil itself.

These towers had been manned by slaves in the 1820's when Thomas travelled the area. The slaves had been tied to the land and were bought and sold together with the land.

It is hard to imagine the events he described taking place in such a beautiful area. These farms must look very much as they had done in his day. The buildings still match his descriptions.

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