Friday, March 17, 2006

Origins of Malayalees-?

The origin of Malayalee ethnic identity is as intriguing as the people themselves. Here I'm trying to reconcile their matrilineal society which is supposed to be the earliest form of social structure with their language that is supposed to be the youngest of the major South Dravidian languages. However, I'm not saying anything new about their origins as I read about it during my primary school days. Let's see about the present theory.

Malayalee was Tamil once upon a time:
The present theory is that region of Kerala was inhabited by proto-Tamil people. Unlike the regions of Tulu Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu the region of Kerala was not inhabited until neolithic times. And the distinct Malayalam literary language branched from Proto-Tamil-Malayalam around 900CE. Since Tamils had distinct Tamil identity a millennium back before literary Malayalam started branching we can safely assume that Malayalees were Tamils once. However, my question is whether the people inhabited Kerala were Proto-Tamils or Proto-Tuluvas.

The uncomfortable Tulu connection:I am not really comfortable bringing up this Tulu-Malayalee connection for the simple reason that I am not sure if I was hallucinating when I read that text book in Kasaragod. I used to visit my grandparents house in Kasaragod during my summer holidays. I came across an old Kannada text book in the godown. I'm not sure if it was a text book or a general book related to Kerala history. There it was mentioned that Malayalees were basically Tuluvas. However, they did not like Tuluvas using the word for mother to father and the word for father to mother! And that was one of the reasons they developed their own distinct language. Well, Tuluvas do use mother to father and father to mother if you go by present day South Dravidian languages. But not so if you go back 1000 years(atleast in the case of Kannada). Tulu father is amme(r) and mother appe(r). In Kannada it used be amman and abbe, I suppose.

It was Proto-Tulu and not Proto-Tamil:
The reason author gave for Malayalees developing a distinct identity from Tuluvas might be hilarious; but I believe a big chunk of Malayalees were basically Tuluvas (or Proto-Tuluvas) in the past and Namboothiris might not be the only one.

Let us see the tree of South Dravidian languages. It is obvious that Proto-Tamil-Kannada and Proto-Tulu branch earliest from the Proto-South-Dravidian. So we infact had free Proto-Tuluvas to inhabit the region of Kerala along with ..ahem...Proto-Tamil(?). Who did? Now compare the culture of Tamil Nadu and Tulu Nadu. You will get the clear picture. The two factors that show that it was Tuluvas who inhabited the region of Kerala(at least the Malabar region) are;

1. Matrilineal system(Marumakkatayam in Kerala and Aliya Kattu in Tulu Nadu)
2. Spirit worship (Theyyam in Kerala, Nema in Tulu Nadu)

Probably, Tulu and Malayala regions continued connection could also be seen in the fact that Namboothiris consider themselves a branch of Tulu Brahmins.

Matrilineal system:
I strongly believe that matrilineal system was once widespread in both Tulu Nadu and Kerala but became irrelevent/absent in the case of weaker castes due to economic and religious dependency. I believe patrilineality in Kerala and Tulu Nadu was just an absence of matrilineal system.

According to William Logan's Malabar manual (19th century), the castes in Malabar and Travancore that practiced Marumakkatayam were;

Payyannoor Namboothiris, Kshatriya, Tirumalpad, Nayar, Urali, Andor, Pallichan, Kushavan, Vyabari, Kolayan, Chembotti, Pisharodi, Variyan, Nambi, Teyambadi, Attikurichi, Eradi, Vallodi, Nedungadi, Vellutedan, Chaliyan, Tiyan.

Also, in North Malabar and Lakshadweep Malayali muslims kept their matrilineal traditions intact. This fact could be used to understand why Malayali Christians and big chunk of Tiyas did not practice Marumakkatayam.

Matrilineal system can sustain itself only when females have economic and religious freedom, especially the former. The caste system was enforced on Kerala society medieval period 13-14th century onwards. Since because of matrilineal system there was no male community identity, a rapid degradation of families that were declared low followed. The females of those families lost their individual identity.

As a result, the conversions that took place after the enforcement of caste system resulted in Christian and Muslim families that did not belong to matrilineal traditions. However, the pre-caste system families, the ones converted to Islam around 9-10th century CE and the isolated Malayalee Hindus in Lakshadweep who converted to Islam followed the matrilineal traditions due to self-sustained identity of Malayali women.

Probably, the situation went worse in Tulu Nadu were only feudal caste and prosperous Jains(Jainism has nothing to do with matrilineality; the people were matrilineal from the beginning) remained matrilineal.

However, I do believe many of Malayalee communities have Tamil beginnings(especially in South Kerala).

How Tuluvas became Malayalees?:Well, it has to do something with the strong Tamil kingdoms that ruled over the region of Kerala for almost a millenium. When Tuluvas in Kerala adopted Tamil (Proto-Tamil-Malayalam?), their Tulu tongue twisted it to such an extent that language became distinct.


anoop palghat said...

I liked ur article. I really think there should be further research on ur point. tamil influence came very latter on only. And i think tamil influence is even increasing these days due to tamil movies in kerala. (LOL).
Things like girls marrying their uncles and such filth was never accepted by mallus.

Manjunat said...

I liked ur article.

And i think tamil influence is even increasing these days due to tamil movies in kerala. (LOL).

I am sure beyond Kasaragod people are already bilingual!

Things like girls marrying their uncles and such filth was never accepted by mallus.

Is that your criteria for a distinct identity?

North Indians have unfavourable opinion against cross-cousin marriage that is practiced by southerners including Malayalis too. Does that make north Indians somewhat special (or purer) than southerners?

anoop palghat said...

cousin marriage is legitimate in pakistan. Nearly 50% pakis in U.K are married to their cousins. Well could be slightly exaggerated. Cross cousin marriage is practised in most parts of the world. Also i think nairs and mappilas only practised that custom, although not at all compulsory.

I think the hijras (transvestite) are not present among mallus. but found in all other south indian and north indian states other than north easterners. Just an observation.

Manjunat said...

My fault. I should have made it clear that I don't mind cousin marriages, uncle-niece, aunt-nephew marriages as long as those are not forced. But it appears it is/was forced for certain gains or because of certain prejudices.

I have not come across any studies that say north Indians have some kind of genetic advantage as they don't practice consanguineous marriages.

totto said...

This is hypothesis.I dont disagree that the malyalees have tulu influence but it cannot be regarded as the predecessor of mallu language or culture.According to me,malayalees are an evolved version of the tanjavoor brahmins-who, i assume are a mix of aryans and dravidians.I,a christian malayalee have evidence of my long lost lineage till my ancestors who were brahmins.They were converted by St.Thomas.And of course they spoke Pure Tamil i assume.

Manjunat said...

This is hypothesis

I dont disagree that the malyalees have tulu influence but it cannot be regarded as the predecessor of mallu language or culture.

Until somebody points me to the evidences that the common attributes of Malayalis and Tuluva-s was "influenced" (either by Tuluva-s to Malayalis or vice versa), I'll hold on to my belief that similarity is because of common beginnings.

my ancestors who were brahmins.They were converted by St.Thomas.

That certainly reinforces my argument on why Malayali Christians do not show any matrilineal tradition. I believe all the Christians converted before 15th century were Brahmins who followed patrilineal tradition.

sudar said...

fuck and forget system of sambandham is the culture of mallus I agree. after having a fuck with namboodiris u feel u r superior......any way we tamils ruled u for most of the history. infact every king of kerala was a tamilian

Manjax Wafer said...

Malayalis who claim superiority certainly have Tamil origins as I don't see much difference between your and their under education.

Biju said...

This is a mere hypothesis, We have well documented history from Sangam ages till now, clearly shows Malayalis are part of Tamil Society. Ancient Tamilakam consists of numerous tribes, each has it's own culture, dialects and lifestyle. Eventually all mixed up and become Tamil. Later on influx from North altered language, culture and lifestyle in Tamilakam. If you observe closely there is not much difference between Tamil and Malayalam. Also both have a million of things in common. What made Kerala unique is our exposure to Northerners, Westerners a lot. Tamil Nadu exposed to Telugus, Marathas and accepted many things from them made them unique in food like sambar, dosa and dresses, temples, practices are heavily influenced by Telugus. Southern Kerala and South Tamil Nad resembles a lot in many ways. Only Kasaragod and few malabar regions resembles to Tuluvas. It's interesting that Tuluvas are once part of Tamilakam and ruled by branch of Pandyan dynasty. Tulu and Kodagu more related to Tamil/Malayalam than Kannadigas. So, I could assume Tuluvas are infact branched out of ancient Tamil/Malayalam culture than vice verca.

Manjax Wafer said...

And what makes you think that Sangam culture wasn't influenced by northern culture? Why shouldn't the idea of classifying people come from the northerners' worldview? Do you mean to suggest Tamils imposed their culture (the so-called Tamilakam) by ruling over Tuluvas?

And what is your idea of culture (or the Dravidian culture) by the way? One fine day people started writing about this region thus a culture was created in that region at that point of time?

Anonymous said...

@Anoop Palghat : Even we are sure Malayalees weren't Tamilians. Because Kerala society practiced organized prostitution in the name of sambantham . A system where anyone can legally sleep with anyone else . Tamilians would never approve of such filth . At least we know who our parents are .

ramalingam sambandam said...

It is un believable that malayalis originated from Tamils,my arguements are

While in Tamilnadu,chastity is the most cherished virtue in a woman, and no woman is supposed toneven think of a nother man, in Kerala, a woman can have affairs with many men at the same time.

In Tamilnadu,every man wanted a son to bear his name, in Kerala, the son doesnt know who his father was.

In Tamilnadu, the soldier is known for straight fight in battlefield,but Malayalis were experts in guerilla war(striking from behind)

The aryanisation of Tamilnadu began in 1st century AD,and by the time Cilapadikaram was written,aryan customs were well entrenched,

Where as the aryanisation of Kerala took place in the thirteenth century

Anonymous said...

u r crazy ! hijras r present in all population. and genetically Muslims who marry cousins are superior to north indians

Murli Nair said...

intelligent analysis. mallus r no different from tamils except mallus dont hv self respect like tamils. they slavishly adopt foreign culture even sometimes pretending they r not mallus!

Manju Edangam said...

Looks like this stupid post attracts even stupider comments.

Goutam Gokul said...

Malayali cultural genesis can be traced to their membership in a well-defined historical region known as Tamilakam, encompassing the Chera, Chola, and Pandya kingdoms and southern coastal Karnataka.

The arrival of Cochin Jews, Syrian and Namboothiri communities, a new distinct culture took shape. This was again elaborated upon by centuries of contact with foreign cultures through spice trade. Portuguese Latin Christians, Dutch Malabar, French Mahe, English, Arabian communities which arrived since 1498 have left their mark making Kerala more colorful, vibrant, secular and diverse place.

Malayali's can now be seen in all the countries of the world with the excellence of adaptation to any culture, food habits, language.

Manju Edangam said...

Malayalam language became mainstream once the Tamil rule ended. Not sure what you mean by distinct Malayali culture.

Non-brahmin Malayalis were culturally homogenous in Malabar region (and show cultural continuity with Tulu region). South Kerala was somewhat different and likely closer to south-western Tamil region culturally(In the past, there was antagonistic relationship between North and South) .

Christianity, Judaism and Islam created their own distinct identity out of Malayali identity.

Namboodiris introduced distinct Indian caste identity to the society. The literate aspects of it became part of the mass identity(or Hindu) once they lost their pre-eminence in the society.

Anonymous said...

I am so shocked by the comments here. I am a Malaysian living in Singapore but of Indian origin by race. One thing people say about Indians here is that the Indians are divisive and constantly fighting among themselves and lacking in unity. This article and and posts here prove it to be so true. The Chinese have so many dialect groups but they are far more united and easier to work with. INdians need to learn from them cooperation and mutual respect. Get your shit together guys and stop flinging it at each other.

S sulaiman said...

Moplah are early muslim in the world and arab traders' decendents

Manju Edangam said...

Sulaiman: Why not descendants of Malayali women who married Arab men (who came here for trading)?

Strictly speaking, even that is a partial story. By population genetics, only 10% of the male lineages belong to Arab men. The rest are from present day nation state India.