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.