William Logan’s Thiyars of North Malabar

William Logan’s thesis “Malabar Manual” is studded with facts and figures and meticulously compiled .He drew heavily on his position as District Collector of Malabar to compile statistics and access historic records. It helped that he could speak Malayalam, Tamil and Telegu and his scholarship stands out, through his attention to detail, and his striving to piece together the likely course of history. As he writes in the preface “…I have drawn nearly all my information from the district records. the earliest of these ,in my office at Calicut, go back to the seventeenth century, and from the year 1725 an almost unbroken series of very ponderous manuscript volumes records …”.But scholarship has its limitations in the absence of documented records and the need to piece together historic events based on popular beliefs. Logan has this to say of his thesis ,” Many things I would no doubt find wherein my knowledge was defective , and many more still in which fuller investigation would through new, and perhaps altogether different light on what seems plain enough now.” Nevertheless his sense of balance, notwithstanding the European slant from time to time , is arguably the best commentary we have on the people of Malabar.

The Origin of the Thiyars.

In the section “Caste and occupations” Logan has this to say .

” A certain class called the planters – that is to say the caste now known as the Tiyar (Divipar =islanders) or Iluvar (Simhalar,Ihalar =Cingalese) – were entrusted with the duty of planting up the waste lands . There are specifically referred to elsewhere in the same deed as the Islanders with a headman of their guild. Two of their specific privileges are also mentioned in the deed, namely, the “Footrope right (for mounting trees) “and the “Ladder right (for a similar purpose)”. He goes on to say ,” The Tiyar or Ilavar caste were the planters of the ancient Hindu constitution , and this character they still to a very large extent retain , as they hold to the present day a practical monopoly of tree climbing and toddy drawing from palm trees.

One of the caste names (Tiyan ) denotes that they came originally from an island , while the other caste name (Ilavan) denotes that that island was Ceylon …….. In their migration into Malabar they are traditionally stated to have brought with them the Tenkay – maram , that is , the southern fruit tree , alias the coconut palm .” The former caste name is used on the coast and in North Malabar generally , the latter is applied to them chiefly in the Palghat and Valluvanad Taluks. In Noth Malabar the cast generally follows the Marumakkatayam system of inheritance, while in South Malabar the descent of property is generally from father to son”.

“Both men and women of the North Malabar caste are remarkably neat in appearance , although like Nayars their clothing , both of men and women , is extremely scanty, and they are besides extremely careful as to personal cleanliness . The head-quarters of the caste may be said to lie at and round the ancient European settlements of the French at Mahe and of the English at Tellicherry .The women are not as a rule excommunicated if they live with Europeans ,and the consequence is that there has been among them a large admixture of European blood ,and the caste itself has been materially raised in the social scale. In appearance some of the women are almost as fair as Europeans , and it may be said in a general way that to a European eye the best favoured men and women to be found in the district are the inhabitants of ancient Kadattunad, Iruvalinad , and Kottayam , of whom a large proportion belong to the Tiyan or planter community “

I guess if I was sipping cocktails with William Logan ,he would tell me that the Thiyyas of North Malabar in all probability migrated from Ceylon or Sri Lanka as it is now called and the “white stain” was due to the admixture with Europeans ; and I would clap him on the back and say, hey Billy boy , you said the Thiyyas of North Malabar came from “an island” , so Crete it could be , cant it??? !!!

There is an extremely interesting commentary on the Caste system by William Logan in the Malabar Manual , which I shall leave for the next blog post.


Author: hari008

Business Leader , Mentor and Executive Coach with a long track record of achievement , developing high performance teams and mentoring team members who now hold responsible positions in several leading companies

9 thoughts on “William Logan’s Thiyars of North Malabar”

  1. The Thiyyas who follow Marumakathayam are in North of Kora Puzha and south of Ezhimala.In South Malabar people in the same social ranking are known as “Thandars” and in South Kerala “Ezhavar”.Thandars and Ezhavars follow Makathaym. In olden days this was one of the reasons for not having many inter marriages..Kindly read my earlier views expressed in this blog
    Logan clearly indicates Srilanks [Ceylon] and hence it is not correct to connect Island of Crete to this .Best wishes

  2. Another good source is ‘CASTES and TRIBES of SOUTHERN INDIA’ by E. THURSTON.

    Here are some excerpts:

    The Tiyan’s account for nearly 20% of the total population.
    The Tiyan’s have been summed up as the middle class of the west coast
    who cultivate the ground, take service as domenstics, follow trades and professions – anything but soldiering, of which they have an utter abhorrence.

    The Tiyas have recently been summed up as follows:
    The Tiyas have always been characterised by their persevering and enterprising habits. A large
    percentage of then are engaed in various agricultural pursuits, and some of the most profitable industries of Malabar have from time out of mind been in their hands. They are exclusively engaged in making toddy and distilling arrack.Many are professionsl weavers, the malabar mundu being the common kind of cloth made by them. The various industries connected with coconut cultivation are also successfully carried out by the Tiyas. For example the manufacture of jaggery is an induistry in which a considerable number for Tiyas are profitably engaged.
    The preparations of coir from coconut fiber is one of their heriditary occupations and this is done almost wholly by their women at home. They are very skilfull in the manufacture of coir matting and allied indistriues.

    Commerical pursuits are also common among them. Apart from agricuture and industrial inclinations, the Tiyas give evidence of a literary taste which is commendable in a people who are living under conditions which are anything but conducive to literary life. They have among them good sanskrit scholars whose contributions have enriched malayalam literature; physicians well versed in hindu systems of medicine; and well known astrolgers who are clever mathematicians.

    In British malabar, they have made considerable progress in education. In recent yeras, there has been gaining ground among the Tiyas a movement which has for its object the social and material improvement of the community. Their leaders have very rightly given a proniment place to Industry in their schemes of progress. Organisations for the purpose of educating the members of the communcity on the importance of increased industrial efforts have been formed.

    1. Many thanks for this excellent post .It’s good to read of these things from several sources and also at times conflicting points of view.. Will get down to reading the reference you mentioned .I will be posting a few more snippets from William Logan’s book and this includes his views on the caste system .I found it very interesting .Regards,Hari

  3. On the fair color of some Tiyas…from CASTES and TRIBES of SOUTHERN INDIA

    The marumakaktayam system which obtains in north malabar, has favoured temporary connections between European men and Tiyan women, the children belonging to the mother’s tarvad. Children bred under these conditions are often as fair as Europeans. It is recorded in the report of the malabar marriage commision 1894, that in the early days of british rule the Titan women incurred no social disgrace by consorting with Europeans. Happily the progress of education and the growth of wholesome public opinion have made shameful the position of a European’s concubine; both races have thus been saved from a mode of life equally demoralising to each.

    I have learnt from a respectable and educated Tiyan gentleman that this union is looked upon with contempt by the respectable class of people and by the ortodox community. I have been futher informed that such women and children with their families are under a ban and that respectable Tiya gentlemen who have married the daughters of European parentage are not
    allowed to enjoy the privilege of the caste. Women of respectable families do not enter into such comnections with Europeans.

    1. You are quite right in this Anil .To the best of my knowledge and at least during the time of our great grand parents such liaisons with the Europeans was resulted in social boycotting .This may be the reason the Thiyyas retained their cultural heritage .Regards, Hari

  4. Personally, I don’t quite follow the argument of English blood as the reason for fairness among the Thiyyas. The Iyer/Iyengar communities of Tamil Nadu are a good example. There are people in those communities with dravidian looks are well as Central-asian/European looks. Yet no one says this is because the Iyer/Iyengar women took european husbands, but instead, various Aryan migration theories are handed out to explain this.

    The marumakkatayam is also prevalent among Nair communities. So following that argument, we must see an equal number of fair Nairs too.

    To my mind, fifty or hundred years is too less a time for tens of thousands of fair thiyyas to be produced from a few Europeans in the 19th century.

    Central asians and Europeans have been visiting Kerala for thousands of years. We know that for certain. I would favor a theory which accounted for these ancient people as the primary source of fairness among the Thiyyas. The English of the 19th century were naturally attracted to a people bearing resemblance to their own women and thus perhaps ventured to have connections with them. My 2 cents.

    1. Hi Anil , Your point of view merits consideration.Your submittion that ancient associations may also have contributed to the physical features of a race or caste is well founded .Thank you very much for your observations.Regards,Hari

  5. Hi Anil, being an regular follower of your blog….The only way thiyars can be better defined as working class or take up any service or duty to defend their family and home land . Political killings as an example Ferocious warriors which can seen, how engrained in our DNA , we love blood shed for a cause.

    At the same time we have earned our living not imposing upper class Scyhe on others, we never demanded respect but commanded respect.

    Hope so everyone is in line with me.

    It my view my understanding.

  6. Dear Sir ,I hope you know about thiya community, Known as Thiya billawa/ Mallayali billawa/Belchada etc, belonging to Mangalore and Udupi (Tulunadu) who speaks Tulu and a dialect of which is a mixture of Both Tulu and Malayalam.

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