Sunday, 5 March 2017

Cannanore Fort, Part 2, & the Beebe of Arrakal

Figure 1. The former palace of the Bibi of Arrakal. [1]

One of the most interesting of the many Indian's who Thomas Baber came into contact with, and one who he evidently had a right regard for, was the Bibi of Arrakal, known today as the Arakkal Beevis.

"The old Beebe of Cananore having written a Petition the other day she wanted me to forward to you, but which I declined, not from any wish to with hold her Petition, but that it appeared more consistent with Propriety in her writing to you herself – Whether she has done so or not I know not, but if she has you will see her case (the Subject is her Lacadive Islands) fairly stated enough and will, I think agree with me that our faith has not been preserved to her – The Court of Directors under the idea that the Islanders were adverse to her Government, were of the opinion that it was not advisable to restore the possession of the Islands to her but that to the consideration in (money?) should be allowed her on account of them – nothing however can be so erroneous as the idea of the accession of the inhabitants to the Government, and it is but reasonable to approve that they would be far better treated by her than a Farmer or even Deputy, removed at such a distance from all control, I don’t know what the advantages are the Company at present derive from these islands, but when the Beebe says (which she has repeated to me) that she will pay the Company as much as ever they received from them, and will hold herself accountable to our Government or our Courts for all her acts, there can be no objection to restoring her to her rights – She has received no compensation, not withstanding the Court of Directors orders, -- Should you view the subject in the light I do, I shall be most happy to afford my personal aid in concluding with the Beebe, (or if necessary making a survey of the Islands themselves) any arrangement that would be most acceptable to Govt for, I am convinced the Old Lady would come into any terms to regain possession of her islands." [2]

Cannanore had been an important international trading port long before the Portuguese arrived off its shores.

A Muslim dynasty based at Cannanore had controlled much of the trade from the Northern Malabar Coast to the Gulf. Following the arrival of the Portuguese who tried to control the coastal trade, this same dynasty had helped to maintain the Indian Arab trade via its Laccadive homelands, circumventing the Portuguese naval blockade by adopting routes away from the Malabar coast.

This redoubtable family was traditionally led by a matriarch called the Beebee (or Bibi) of Arrakal. Although much diminished in status by Thomas Baber's time the Beebee was obviously highly regarded by Thomas, who tried to restore her rights and previous trading business.

The extent of the former trade carried on by the Beebee and her other Muslim trading partners is demonstrated by the following answers given in evidence by Thomas Baber to the House of Lords committee on the 31st March 1830.

When discussing Mopillas... he gave the following evidence when the following questions were posed to him by the members of the committee.

Therefore they invested the Fortunes they have had in Trade?


Do they trade much with the Coast of Arabia?


With the Persian Gulf?

Yes; with the Red Sea, especially Judda, Aden, Mecca, and Medina, and generally with all the Ports in the Red Sea.

Are their Vessels numerous?

They were; but they are not now Half what they were, in consequence of the Monopoly of Timber by the Government, who assumed and declared the Forests to be Royalties, instead of which, those in Malabar have been purchased or inherited in the same Way as every other Description of Landed Property.

Are they unable in consequence to build Vessels?

They were for some Years. I have seen several Applications, both to the Bombay and Madras Governments, requesting Permission to fell Timber themselves, or to purchase Timber of the original Proprietors; which Requests were invariably refused, on the Ground that the Timber was required for Naval Purposes.

Has it been used for such Purposes?

Yes, it has, to a great Extent: but a certain Portion has been sold, chiefly what is called the Refuse, or Second and Third Sorts.

What Description of Wood?

Chiefly Teak and Poon.

Who were the Purchasers of the Timber which was sold, which you call the Refuse Timber?
Arabs, Parsees, and occasionally some of the Inhabitants themselves.

What is the Size of the Vessels?

The Size of the Vessels was from One hundred to Five hundred Tons. I can mention the Names of some of the Ship Owners: the Beebee or Queen of Cananore. This Lady is Queen in her own Right.

How many Vessels has she?

She had previous to the Monopoly Nine; she has now Four or Five. Chowakkara Kunhy Packey, the Heir of old Moossa, a Man well known on the Western Coast, had Twelve; that is, Moossa himself had. These are reduced, I think, to Seven. I can mention their Names and Burthen.

What was the total Number of those Vessels?

At one Time, from Twenty to Thirty of from One hundred to Five hundred Tons Burthen, belonging to the above Two Persons and other Ship Owners; besides which there were other Descriptions of Vessels, such as Botillas, Dows, Dingeys, and Patamars and Munchoos.

Those smaller Vessels carried on the Coasting Trade?

Yes; and some of the largest of them go up to Mocha, Judda and other Places in the Red Sea; also to Muscat, Bushire and Bussora, in the Persian Gulf; Porabunder, Cambay, Cutch, Sind, and a long Way up the Indus.

To what Town on the Indus did those Vessels go; did they go to Hydrabad or Sind?
Yes; I believe they go up so far at least. I have seen Bales of Cashmere Shawls brought amongst the Return Cargoes.

Are you aware whether they have ascended the River of Punjab?

No; I am not aware of any Communication with the Punjab Rivers. They go up the Indus; but I am not aware of their going there further than that. I know that Peishwoor Merchants have come down in Sind Boats.

Trade to a considerable Extent is carried on to Shiccapore, is it not?
No, I am not aware of that.

What are the Articles which are exported in those Vessels to the Red Sea?

Pepper, Cardamums, Rice, Paddy, (or Rice in the Husk,) Grain of all Descriptions, Arrow Root, Ginger, Cocoa Nuts, Kopra, (Kernel of the Cocoa Nut,) Cocoa Nut Oil, and Coir, which is made from the Fibres of the Cocoa Nut. The Value of the Produce of the Cocoa Nut Tree alone, exported from the Western Coast, is supposed to be an Hundred Lacs of Rupees.

From what Ports do those Exportations chiefly take place?
From Cochin, Chowgaut, Panany, Tanore, Perperangady, Beypoor, Calicut or Kohicote, Quilandy, (which is a favourite Arab Port,) Kotah, Barragurry, Mahe, Tellicherry, Cananore, Cavai, Bekklum, Mangalore, Cundapore, Onore, Cumpty, Seedashagur, besides numerous intermediate Ports.

Is Quilandy a good Port?

Yes; there are more of the Arabs congregate there, and more Mosques, than in any other Port on the Coast. The Mopillas here are the fairest of all the Mohamedans.

Can Vessels of 700 Tons enter every one of those Ports?

They can approach as near as a Thousand Yards of the Shore with perfect Safety, nearly all along the Coast.

Are they safe in those Ports during the Monsoons?
No; the strongest Vessel that was ever built could not ride out a Malabar Monsoon. One or Two Attempts have been made within my Observation, but they were obliged to go off.

Where do they go to when they are obliged to go off?

To Bombay; some to Cochin, where there is a very fine River.

What are the chief Importations from the Red Sea?
Coffee, Dates, and Gold Dust; Almonds, Kissmisses, (dried Grapes,) Prunes, Gums, Drugs, Perfumes, Elephants Teeth. There are several others which I cannot call to Recollection at this Moment; but chiefly, however, they bring Specie, in Venetians or Sequins and Dollars.

Do you know how far up the Red Sea those Vessels go?
The full Extent of the Red Sea. Very few of the Malabar Vessels go up that length, but they have Agents or Commercial Dealings the whole Way to Suez.

How far do the Vessels go?

To Cosheir, I think.

Have you heard of their being frequently lost?

No; very rarely indeed.

What Time do they occupy in going and returning?

They generally go before the Monsoon, and return after the Monsoon; or rather from January to April, and return from the Beginning of August to January.

From what Part of the Coast of Arabia do the Arabs chiefly come?

Chiefly from Arabia Felix.

From any principal Port?

From Aden, Judda, Mocha and Muscat, and all the Ports at the Mouth of the Red Sea.

Is much Trade carried on with Muscat?

A great deal, particularly with the Port of Cochin.

Are you aware whether any great Difficulties were experienced by the Merchants who come down the Indus?

No, I am not aware of any. Pirates were common some Years ago, but they are all destroyed, I believe, now.

The Question applies to the Navigation of the Indus itself?

No, I am not aware of any Impediment. I have often talked to the Sind Merchants whom I have met with at Tellicherry, Calicut, and Mangalore, but I have never been apprized of any particular Difficulties.

What are the Returns from Sind?

Cotton Piece Goods are all I can call to Recollection just now, except Shawls; but chiefly Specie. I think they generally purchase their Return Cargo with Money, which is so valuable to them.

It is very sad that today the ancient palace that the Bibi inhabited and which she was almost certainly visited at by Thomas Baber is now empty and decaying.  A recent article about the palaces fate can be found here..

[1] From by Sajeev
[2]Taken from a much longer letter by Thomas Baber to Sir Thomas Munro on the 25th June 1817. OIOC Private Papers IOR:MSS. F151 / 43 folio 50 – 54. to Sir Thomas Munro.
[3]From: British History Online Source: Affairs of the East India Company: Minutes of evidence: 06 April 1830. House of Lords Journal Volume 62. URL: Date: 22/08/2004


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