Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Cheapness of Children at Malabar.

The following article taken from a book published in 1858, includes an account of the sale of children in Malabar. In this case desperate parents faced with famine or food shortage are selling their children to European's.

It is not possible to date the account, but other accounts in the book can be dated, and these appear to be up to 50 years older than the book.

"He depicts the melancholy effects of a famine, caused by a real scarcity of rice, or sometimes an artificial one, contrived by the native government. An ordinary consequence is, to see mothers offering to sell their children, and fathers both wife and children. But it should seem that the bonds of relationship among these devotees to Seeva, have a slightness that gives way to a much less violent force than that of the last extremities of famine :—"

" Malabar children are generally a cheap commodity at Anjengo. At the end of the rainy season, when there was no particular scarcity in the interior country, I purchased a boy and girl, of about eight or nine years of age, as a present to a lady at Bombay, for leas money than a couple of pigs in England. I bought the young couple, laid in two months provision of rice and salt-fish for their voyage, and gave each of them four changes of cotton garments, all for the sum of twenty rupees, or fifty shillings. English humanity must not pass a censure on this transaction : it was a happy purchase for the children ; they were relieved from hunger and nakedness, and sent to an amiable mistress, who brought them up tenderly, and, on leaving India, provided for their future comfort ; whereas, had I refused to buy them, they would assuredly have been sold to another, and probably have experienced a miserable bondage with some native Portuguese Christian, whom we do not reckon among the most merciful task-masters."
"A circumstance of this kind happened to myself. Sitting one morning in my verandah, a young fish-woman brought a basket of mullets for sale ; while the servant was disposing of them, she asked me to purchase a fine boy, two years of age, then in her arms. On my upbraiding her for want of maternal affection, she replied with a smile, that she expected another in a few weeks, and as she could not manage two, she made me the first offer of her boy, whom she would part with for a rupee. She came a few days afterwards, with a basket of fish, but had just sold her child to Signor Manoel Rodriguez, the Portuguese linguist; who, though a man of property and a Christian, had thought it necessary to lower the price to half a rupee. Thus did this young woman, without remorse, dispose of an only child for fifteen pence."[1]

It is also not entirely clear where these events took place. However the East India Company had employed a family of Portuguese linguists at Tellicherry called Rodriques, over three generations.  The earliest one was Pedro Rodriques who was working for the EIC by 1753.  This son Domingo was active by the 1780's and had managed to make sufficient money by trade, that he had acquired an estate at Calay.

This estate which lay outside Tellicherry had had to be abandoned during the wars with Hyder and Tipu in the 1780's. When the EIC and their Nair allies drove Tipu's army away, the EIC claimed the land.

Pedro's grandson Marco Antonio Rodriques tried to reclaim the property during the 1792 Malabar Commission. It is possible Signor Manoel described in the quote above was from this family. It is possible he was Marco's son.

In 1830 Thomas Hervey Baber wrote a description of how in 1803 he was offered two children for sale by a man he encountered by the road, whilst out riding one day.
The Commissions Report mentions that many slaves were sourced from the Alleppey and Travancore districts for sale to the French settlement at Mahé and to Dutch settlements.

[1] Fosteriana, consisting of thoughts, reflections, and criticisms, of John ... page 288.
By John Foster published in 1858. Although this book was published in 1858 the texts which are quoted in the book appear to date back between 50 and 75 years earlier than the published date.