On Reading a Descriptive Memoir of Malabar
British colonialism in Indian soil had sustained its authority through the creation of the knowledge about the landscape and people. Several Indological and bureaucratic exercises had been instrumental in creating knowledge about the indigenous people. The colonial bureaucrats had devised survey modality to know about the indigenous. One such attempt was done in Malabar by Lt. Benjamin Swain Ward in 1824 and it culminated with the publication of A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar in 1906. Through this, Lt. B S Ward could ‘construct’ the landscape and people Malabar. This paper is an attempt to look A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar.
Keywords: Colonialism, investigative modality, knowledge-power analysis, Malabar, Malanadu, Desam-s
British Colonialism had shown much interest in identifying the geographical distinctiveness of Malabar and such efforts cumulatively resulted in the making of Malabar as a specified landscape. A substantial number of colonial officers including C.A. Innes, F.B. Evans, William Logan, Lt. Peter E Conner, Lt. Benjamin Swain Ward etc., had devoted their time, effort, and creative thinking in that endeavour. They had conducted extensive studies on and of Malabar. Out of these studies, the most remarkable one was that of Lt. Benjamin Swain Ward. He was a colonial surveyor who, indeed, surveyed the land of Malabar in July 1824 and the outcome of the survey came out under the title A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar in 1906. Being a colonial bureaucrat, Lt. Benjamin Swain Ward was assigned the task of conducting the survey of the land of Malabar and it would argue that his endeavours, at that direction, gave a specific identity to the land of Malabar in the political map of British Empire. The attempt follows is intended to examine the historical potential of the work A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar and how it was instrumental in sustaining the colonial power in Malabar.
The knowledge/power analysis pragmatized by Michael Foucault and the notion of ‘investigative modality’ suggested by Bernard S Cohn are being used in the analysis of the texts authored by Lt. Benjamin Swain Ward and Lt. Peter E Conner. Michael Foucault has developed a thorough basis for his knowledge/power analysis. He believed in the intricate connection between knowledge and power. Foucault firmly upholds the view that power produces knowledge (and not simply encouraging it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations”.1 A close and serious examination of power manifestations across the world would reveal that power could be established only thorough the making of knowledge. We can argue that knowledge alone does not make power and it could be mediated through the society.
In the sustenance of the British colonialism in Malabar, the imperial masters had developed a comprehensive knowledge about the landscape and the region for which they planned to integrate with the ‘global empire where sun never set’. Foucault postulates that the mechanisms of power have been accompanied by the production of effective instruments for the formation and accumulation of knowledge, methods of observation, techniques of registration, and research apparatuses of control.2 In that sense we can argue that the knowledge/power analysis could be used for finding out the reason for which the colonial surveys and other methods of data collection had been carried out in Malabar.
We can find a dialectical relation between colonialism and knowledge production. It has been properly and nicely acknowledged by Nikolas B Dirks. He states that “colonial knowledge, both enabled conquest and was produced by it; in certain important ways, knowledge was what colonialism was all about”.3 In the intentional changing of knowledge into power, the colonial state did several experiments. Their interventions could be found in fields like representations, certifications, documentations, investigations, writing histories etc., and each of them became tools to build the ‘colonial machine’. We would like to use the notion of ‘investigative modality’ of Bernard B Cohn to look at the method by which Lt. Benjamin Swain Ward collected data regarding the regions constituted the modern state of Kerala, in general, and Malabar, in particular.
Bernard S Cohn, having influenced by the knowledge/power analysis of Foucault, suggested ‘investigative modality’ to indicate the gathering of data about the subjects and its transformation into power manifestation. He affirms that “an investigative modality includes the definition of a body of information that is needed, the procedures by which appropriate knowledge is gathered. Its ordering and classification, and then how it is transformed into usable forms such as published reports, statistical returns, histories, gazetteers, legal codes and encyclopedia”.4 For the study of the region of Malabar, Lt. Benjamin S Ward used surveying as a method and by which he gathered all information about the land and its people, which had been utilized by the colonial masters for framing their policies in the region. The following attempt is to understand the construction of knowledge about Malabar through surveying by Lt. Benjamin S Ward and how it was instrumental in sustaining the power of the British in the region.
European Studies on Malabar Landscape
The arrival of Lt. Benjamin S Ward and surveying of the region of Malabar could not be analyzed in isolation. It should be viewed as a part of the ‘expansion of Europe’ which started in the 15th century. In the expansion of European capitalism, the region of Malabar had of great significance since the pioneer navigator Vasco Da Gama landed in the region. Since then, the Europeans had been targeted the region and they frequently visited there. Hence, we believe that a segment is to be there to describe the important notices of historical significance on Malabar. However, the intention is not to conduct a stock taking of European notices about the region of Malabar. So, we intend to have a section devoted to look at the important modern writers on Malabar.
However, the intention of the present paper is not to present a comprehensive analysis of modern works done on Malabar. Since the description of Lt. Benjamin S Ward is largely concerned about the landscape and people of Malabar, we would like to make a categorical narration of important works done on the landscape of Malabar. The systematic study of Kerala’s landscape began from the 16th century onwards.5 Prince Henry the Navigator has made certain path breaking interventions that were significant in multiple respects. The great achievements of the mariners of Prince Henry could not be seen as isolated heroic acts. Instead, there were very pervasive and cumulative activities under Prince Henry. “At Sagres, Henry had constructed a special cite for his exploration enterprise, that came to include an observatory, a chapel and an academy”.6 International experts were used to summon this place, so as to share and practice their knowledge about geography and astronomy. These scholars had used books, charts and correspondences to update their knowledge. Prince Pedro, the elder brother of Prince Henry had passion for collecting information about the world. In his visit to Europe, Prince Pedro had collected substantial information about India as well. Portugal had maintained close ties with Florence, where the representatives from around the world had met at the Ecclesiastical Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-41). It was in that council Prince Pedro reported to have met representatives from India also.7 This tradition and practices had continued even after them and it fashioned the motives and methods of Portuguese explorers. The first generation of explorers landed in India were moulded in that fashion had developed a curious way of looking the land they arrived.
Similarly, a good number of cartographic representations began to appear even in the ancient time onwards. The Latin and Greek versions of Geographia of Ptolemy widely circulated in the fifteenth century western Europe. Ptolemy had prepared notes and attached maps to it. The circulated notes and maps were redrawn by later cartographers. Scholars who were dissatisfied with the Ptolemaic versions, have gone to prepare the details by themselves. The extant versions of Geographia consists of eight books. Chapters i to iv of Book VII are on India and the Fat East. Though not systematic as we do perceive today, they had contained some information, which helped the later writers to go ahead with their project of documenting India. The earliest cartographic depiction of India appeared somewhere in the 14th century. The Laurentian portulan of 1351 is the earliest map still extant, include and appeared India as peninsula.8 Having influenced by such cartographic documentations some retinues of the Portuguese explorers had done the task of documenting the landscape of Malabar. They had portrayed the land with all minutest details of day today lives of the people. Details of landscape and its features are also found in it.9
One of the important notices belonged to our present framework is that of Ludovico de Varthema,10 an Italian merchant who lived ad traded a few years from Calicut. When we look at the case of Portuguese legacy in documenting Malabar, Duarte Barbosa, who was the Secretary of the Portuguese factory in the Malabar port of Kannur for several years, came first in the list. He was there for a long period from 1500 to 1516 or 1517. Because of his proficiency in the local language, he could effectively liaison the maritime trade contacts of the Portuguese effectively. It is opined that “because of his long residence in Malabar, his official position, his acute powers of observation, and his linguistic ability that Barbosa was able to write description of Malabar customs which still is regarded as an authoritative source”.11 His description of Malabar is of prime historical value as he narrates the aspects of social, cultural and economic life of the period. Later Pires, Castenheda, Orta and Barros had written about Malabar and they owed much to Barbosa.
Let’s elaborate on Duarte Barbosa who made a commendable contribution in documenting Malabar. He begins his narration of Malabar from the north. In his narration geographical features, the living pattern human beings, culture of the people etc., are found place. While narrating the Kingdom of Kannur, the northernmost region of Malabar, Barbosa noted that its one boundary is Nileswaram river. He furthers the narration by adding details of estuary and the trade centred at Pazhangadi. To him, the geographical location is added to the commercial prowess of Thaliparamba as it was an entrepot in the trade between Malabar and Vijayanagar.12 It is further noted that “Barbossa’s activities enabled him to travel far and wide in the Malabar region and his clear understanding of the territorial extent of Malabar is a result of his travels”.13 It means that he could develop firsthand information about the region of Malabar as he travelled across Malabar.
There are instances in which Barbosa did identify places in terms of the demographic concentration. For instance, he mentions to Cragnate and Tremopatam as Edakkad and Dharmadam respectively as Moorish or Muslim dominated areas.14 Rivers are found place in the narration of Malabar in Barbosa. He had reported to be mentioned of “the territory of Cannanore is described as being separated from Calicut by Moorish towns on both sides of Anjarakkandy and Tellicherry rivers”.15 Barbosa further mentions to places like Tiramungiate (Thiruvangad), Manjim (Mahe) and Chombai (Chombala) etc., as the places were Nairs had concentrated in a substantial manner.16 He also noted that farther south of Chatua (Chettuvai) river, there was a high concentration of Christians of St. Thomas.17 From the foregone description it is quite clear that that even during the Portuguese, there were attempts, though isolated and unorganized, to document the land of Malabar with emphasis on demographic and geographic specificities. In that sense some pioneering works of documenting the land and people of Malabar could be seen in the 16th century itself. But his observations about the people of Malabar were jaundiced by religion. He described about the 18 castes and placed them in hierarchical order. But descriptions about them largely confined to their customs and occupations. His description has a defect since it does not mention to resource centres in the region.
Among the other Portuguese writers, Tom Pires gives the best account of the landscape of Malabar.18 The arrival of the Dutch provided a new dimension to the documentation landscape in Kerala. Johan Nieuhof, who accompanied the Dutch commander Van Goens during 1661-1662, gives a fuller description of the landscape.19 Unlike early travelers, he could distinguish between caste and religion. He treated the Hindus and Muslims as separate identities.20 The Portuguese remain economically and religiously motivated observers. But the Dutch perceived the Malabar Coast in terms of resources and commodities that could be purchased and transported. To the latter, the landscape was a business space.
Malabar had adorned a pivotal position in the trade landscape of the Dutch. Malabar coast was one of the 32 possessions of the Dutch East India Company in 1650.21 In most of these possessions the Dutch did not exercise absolute political authority. They were largely commercial residences only. Though the list of these possessions reduced to 22 in 1725, Malabar emerged as one of the strong centre placed under the commander.22 It is noted that “whenever a settlement was in charge of a Governor or the Commander the Dutch maintained forts and armed force and exercised some sort of sovereign powers”.23 In the mid 18th century, the Dutch could catch a substantial trade profits from Malabar. During 1780-86, the total trade profits from Malabar was 22,55,000 guilders.24
It is also significant that in their agreement with Marthanda Varma of Thiruvithamkur in 1753, the Dutch had agreed to keep neutral in the former’s attempt to grab the small principalities in Southern part. Further Marthandavarma consented to provide the Dutch 15,00,000 pounds of pepper at the rate of Rs.65 per candy from his hereditary possessions of in Thiruvithamkur and promised to another million from the the principalities he had conquered or might be conquered due to the neutral attitude of the Company.25 The Tellicherry Diaries of the British records that one candy of pepper was charged to Rs. 100 in 1740.26 It shows quite clear that the Dutch were eager to gain commercial concessions from the indigenous rulers they had confronted with. It is also noted that during the period from 1773-74 to 1779-80 the profit of separate branch of trade was enhanced from 14000 to 23000 and averaged to 18300.27 It makes clear that the Dutch had an eye on the commercial potential of the land, and they designed all their moves to attain that goal.
The most important study on the landscape of Malabar was done by Francis Buchanan, who visited the land under the orders of Lord Wellesly during 1800-1801. K N Ganesh equates the study of Buchanan with that of ‘survey modality’ explained by Bernard S Cohn. 28 Buchanan visited the region through the land route. In the measurement of land, he did use the parai-kandam and tried to convert it into square kilometer. But it is noted that the values of forest lands were assessed not in terms of their ability to sustain the livelihood of a population that included tribal people, or their value in terms of the surplus collected by the landlords, but purely based on the value and potential for export a product.29 However, none of these writers could do justice to the task of documenting the land in terms of their geographical setting, resource concentration and habitual pattern. The relevance of Lt. Benjamin S Ward must be assessed in this point of time.
Arrival of Lt. B S Ward and his Legacy
As stated at the outset of the paper, the core emphasis of the present attempt is to look ‘architectural identity’ of Lt. Benjamin S Ward exhibited in the survey of Malabar started in 1824, which resulted in the creation of A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar. In the printed version, we can find the names of both Lt. Benjamin S Ward and Lt. Peter E Conner as the authors of the works. Hence, it is essential to have a description about its authors. Lt. Benjamin S Ward was born in 1786 and after his apprenticeship at the Observatory Survey School he was deputed to assist John Mather in the Mysore Survey in 1801. From October 1804 onwards he assisted Colin Mackenzie in many surveys and was promoted as Sub Assistant in 1805. He joined the XXIV Native Infantry and put in charge of Observatory Survey School in 1811. As an achievement of his painstaking works, Colin Mackenzie entrusted him the duty of the Survey of Travancore in 1816 which was completed in 1820. In 1824 he started the survey of Malabar. After the completion of surveys at Madurai and Trichnapally, he resigned from service. Soon he proceeded to South Africa, where he died in 1835 at the age of fifty.
To conduct the survey of both Travancore and Cochin, Lt. Benjamin S Ward was assisted by Lt. Peter Eyre Conner. He was born on 20th August 1794 and did get training at the Madras Military Organization. In 1810s his experience as a surveyor got enriched since, he participated several leading surveys. To conduct the survey of Kalahasti-Tirupati, in 1810, he was directed to assist James Garling. He had also served in the Goa Survey during 1811. Due to his expertise and knowledge, once again he got the opportunity to associate with James Garling in the survey of Sonda district. Another notable survey carried out by Lt. Peter E Conner was that of Coorg. He joined Lt. Benjamin S Ward in the survey of Travancore on 22nd December 1817. By the end of 1820, the Travancore survey was completed, and Lt. Peter E Conner was transferred to Hyderabad. He died of cholera on 29th April 1821.
We would like to state that confusion does persist regarding the authorship of the work A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar. Generally, the names of both Lt. Benjamin S Ward and Lt. Peter E Conner are assigned as the authors of the work A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar. But we can see that, even though both belonged to the department of the Surveyor General, the work was seemed to be authored singly by Lt. Benjamin S Ward. It is noted in the editor’s preface that in the available printed copy, the authorship is attributed to Lts. Benjamin S Ward and Peter E Conner. But on a verification of the facts and later records on the survey, it must be concluded that this work was undertaken by Lt. Ward alone. The Malabar survey was started by Lt. Ward in July 1824. Lt. Conner was died on 29th April 1821. Hence, it could not be said to be joint work of Lts. Benjamin S and Peter E Conner.30
To understand the methodology and the style of narration of Lt. Benjamin S Ward, it is essential to make a brief sketch of the two volumes of Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States apart from the work A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar. We can see that Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States written by Lts. Ward and Conner has made a significant contribution to the geographical and topological knowledge of Travancore and Cochin regions. The credit of the work lies in the fact that it was written at a time when the geographical knowledge was not developed as at present. In the history of Modern colonialism, we can see that surveys were conducted to meet the revenue, commercial and military demands of the colonizers. But the works under present consideration, apart from being their status as colonial texts, they provide clear indications to the socio-economic life of the people in the regions.
The Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States (Vol.I) is notable on account of its description of the regions concerned. The work begins with a description of the name of the region. The authors do subscribe the Parasurama legend regarding the formation of region.31 Since their prime intention was to assess the extent of the region, they proceeded to document the width of the area. Special attention is given to the distribution of surface and it is being measured in square miles.32 We can see exactness and accuracy in these descriptions, and it could not be found elsewhere. Throughout the narration about the extent and number of regions, the authors are very much concerned about the accuracy and we can find several instances for it.33 It could be found in the description of details about the persons who paid land taxes and garden taxes.34 While discussing the composition of the towns and principal places the authors make caste and religions as the classification categories. The places like Pandalam,35 Mavelikeray,36 Kaviyoor 37 etc., were some of the important Nair dominating regions. The Brahmin concentration of the region of Vaikkom has been rightly acknowledged .38 Similarly, the Christian domination and the churches in and around the area have been properly documented by them.39 The places of worship of the Hindus have been referred as pagodas.40 We can argue that the authors were highlighted the caste and religious orientation of the occidental regions and by which they cater to the colonial need of making a segmented society.
While describing the topography of the region, they gave pre-eminence to the sources of water in the region. A section is devoted in describing the rivers in the regional state of Travancore. The monsoon fed nature of rivers in the region has been noted by them. The description further included details about the origin, extent, the cultural importance, the agricultural significance etc., of the rivers. In making the region water rich, the lakes do play a great role and it has been understood by them. A good piece of narration could be found on them. While identifying the region as one depended upon the control of water and irrigation systems, the authors share the view of Carl Wittfoggel on Oriental Despotism.41 While explaining the natural features of the region, they speak about the abundance of the region in having a diversified forest. The involvement taken by the government in the administration of the forest resources, especially the timber has been noted.42 The government understood them as the sources for making money. In order to substantiate their data, the authors have used tables showing details.
In the work we can find a section devoted to the treatment of agriculture. They show the primitive nature of agriculture by stating that “agriculture here is equally rude as in other parts of the peninsula”.43 The social base of the cultivating folk largely consisted of the Nairs apart from southern districts where the Vellalar-s engaged in agriculture.44 The fields were classified based on the seed capacity and they referred to fields with two to three thousand purras of land.45 We can see that in certain occasions the ‘colonial bureaucrats’ within the writers overcome their personality as independent surveyors. Furthermore, they had a clear idea about the land and its yield since it had high demand for fixing the land tenure. Hence, we can argue that the surveyors were more concerned about the revenue of the empire.
However, in this work we can find certain points worthy of being mentioned. In certain occasions the judicious historian’s mind in them points to their limitations. For instance, the authors have no hesitation to say that they were unable to trace the successive steps that led to the war which took place in 1808.46 They were not attempted to make any hypothetical explanation to the political developments in 1808. Furthermore, the authors do have a modern outlook about the position of women in the then society. They mention that the stature of women is inferior to that of their neighbours.47 It makes very clear that the authors had the ‘critical eye’ to look at the condition of women in that society.
A close study of work under consideration would reveal that there are certain methodological and factual errors committed by them. Methodologically, the authors were not much concerned about the language of the indigenous people. They did not try to paraphrase the Malayalam words into English. It might be due to the reason that, the work was written for the pragmatic purpose of understanding the Malayalam speaking people than to find out their meanings. For the authors, the local language seems to be a handicap in the proper understanding of the indigenous people. They also made certain factual errors which need to be explained. For instance, cherrikul is the designation given to those lands on the summit and slopes of hills that have been leased for cultivation.48 But, the cherikkal lands refer to the lands kept and managed by the ruling houses or chiefs.49 Another factual error committed by the authors is related to the identity of Kaniayans and Panans. They observe that “the kunneans and paunans are merely divisions of the Eelavar tribe”.50 But despite these limitations the authors could keep justice to the task of surveying. This work instead of dealing with the minutest details of the regional states of Travancore and Cochin, discusses the general features, both geographical and topological, of the two native states.
The next work under present consideration is the Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States (Vol.II). The work has two parts, in which the first deals with the regional state of Travancore and the second is on the native state of Cochin. Unlike the first volume of the present work, this book largely deals with the specific details of the territorial divisions within the regional states of both Travancore and Cochin. The first part of the work contained descriptions about the eighteen districts or Mandapathumvathukkal in the regional state of Travancore which starts from Augusteshuer to Changanachairy.51 The constraints of time and space do not allow us to detail all aspects of the districts mentioned in the text. We would like to present a general frame of description found in the book. The narration of each district or Mandapathumvathukkal is fashioned in such a way with notes under various sub-headings, the name of the person who conducted the survey and a table showing the multi-dimensional aspects of the district.
The first part of the description starts with a note on the extent and boundary of the district. It states the location of the district with its boundaries. While stating the boundaries they were specific to the presence of geographical factors like sea,52 hills and mountains,53 and backwaters.54 Apart from that, specific mention is made to the nearby indigenous ruling houses. The description further makes indication to the extent of the district and it is being noted in square miles. The extent of the cultivable land, especially paddy and coconut cultivation, forest land, coastal region etc., is also referred. The historical importance of these notices lies in the fact that, they helped us to understand the extent of paddy cultivation during the period under discussion and the changes happened in the field of agriculture in the succeeding years.
Notes on the divisions and the subdivisions of the districts constitute the next item in the text. It refers to the internal divisions of the districts in the regional state of Travancore and it has been attested by later historians.55 They further refer to the capitals of each district, forts in the districts, marketplaces, rivers, water reservoirs, mountains, hills, woods, cattle, animals, minerals, mines etc. It would be argued that they largely focused in the matters of economic importance in the regional state of Travancore, since it was of great relevance in the revenue generation and its administration.
The whole survey of the eighteen districts in the regional state of Travancore had been carried out by a team under the leadership of Lt. Benjamin S Ward and it is being indicated by his name with signature. To substantiate and to explain more lucidly they have given a table detailing all aspects of importance. The table contained details like the number of villages, estimated extent under paddy cultivation, population in square mile, number of houses, paddy fields with virippu and mundakan, number of puray kandums, number of purayidams,56 number of garden holders, coconut, areca and jackfruit items under revenue to the government, toddy shops, number of agricultural implements, bullocks, cows and buffaloes, reservoirs and wells, religious buildings, public buildings etc. The second section of the table does contain details on Census which was mentioned as Chanashoomaree.57 Different heads of caste and religious importance have also been included in the table and traditional caste hierarchy in Kerala with Brahmin at the top etc., are also incorporated in the table. The last inclusions in the list seem to be so interesting since, it includes the total number of males and females in the regional state of Kochi.58
The table given at the end of each section provides us enough space for interpretative exercises. The table does contain details about quantity of houses in each villages and towns. A close examination of the data would compel us to conclude that density of population was decided by the agricultural production of the region and it had impact on other developments. For instance, Aulopolay in the Umbullapolay district had 3517 houses since the region consisted of 363343 coconut, areca and jack fruit trees under revenue to the Government and the region has 882 religious buildings.58 It makes quite evident that the agriculturally productivity was the basis of all developments. Furthermore, caste wise statistics of the inhabitants of the region is also given and the details gathered could be corroborated with Samuel Mateer’s Native Life in Travancore.60
The second part of the Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States (Vol.II) deals with the native state of Cochin. Unlike the region of Travancore, the Survey of Cochin was more due to effort of Peter E Conner. Out of the fourteen surveys mentioned in the work, nine were done by Peter E Conner. Furthermore, in the table appended to the text, Peter E Conner added additional information on the location of villages marked in terms of their distance from the religious important places like churches, pagodas (temples) etc. It attests the importance given to religious centres by the colonial surveyors. From the foregone analysis we could find that a typical style of description was developed by them. They were much concerned about the extent and boundary of the regions they surveyed. Agricultural productivity of the region was another qualification for being studied a land. But the narration on human habitation, largely, confined to religiously important places like pagodas (temples), churches etc. But exceptions could also be found.61
The Case of A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar
As stated elsewhere, an analysis of A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar62 would help us to substantiate the space of Lt. Benjamin S Ward not only as a colonial surveyor but also as a prodigy who could distinguish the identity of Malabar in the political and administrative landscape of India. Before proceeding, we would like to state a brief note on the region of Malabar, since it was essential for us in our present endeavour. The name Malabar has been alternatively assigned to the landscape of Kerala from the time of Cosmos Indicopleustus (6th Century AD). It is observed that the name is reminiscent of the word Malanadu which literally means ‘the hill country’.63 But when it comes to the modern times, the name Malabar ascribed to denote the northern segment of the present Kerala state and its formation was essentially related to the campaigns of Tipu Sulthan. The treaties of Srirangapatam, after the defeat of Tipu Sulthan in the third edition of Anglo-Mysore conflict and signed on 22nd February and 18th March 1792, provisioned to transfer the region of Malabar to the English.64 Consequently, based on the recommendations of General Ambercromby, Governor of Bombay, two commissioners, Mr. Farmer and Major Dow were appointed to carry out administration in Malabar.
Since then, the region witnessed the gradual development of an administrative structure which initiated their active intervention in all aspects of life. In 1792 Jonathan Duncan and Charles Boddam were appointed as Joint Commissioners. On 30th March 1793 the rule of the Superintendent came into being with two administrative divisions called northern and southern with headquarters at Tellicherry and Cherpulasserri respectively. In 1800 the control of Malabar was handed over to Madras from the Bombay presidency and Major Macleod became the first principal collector on 1st October 1801. The years followed witnessed several studies, enquiries and surveys meant to gather information about the people in the region as the colonial ruling house believed that it alone could make the empire eternal. The compilation of A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar should be analyzed in this framework.
Several surveys and studies have been carried out in Malabar before the endeavours of Benjamin S Ward. So, it is necessary note about the surveys that preceded to that of A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar. The first planned survey of the English in the region of Malabar was carried out by Captain Reynolds who had accompanied Lt. Col. Hartley, who led the campaign against Tipu Sulthan. His intention was to prepare a map of Malabar to facilitate the anti-Tipu campaigns. He prepared a map of Malabar and made a Survey of the Malabar Coast and Calicut Country.65 In 1792 John Johnson, of the Bombay Engineers Group, surveyed the boundaries of Malabar. Later in November 1792, Lt. George Lobey Emmitt of Bombay Infantry started a survey of Malabar with the assistance of Lt. Bryce Moncrieff and Lt. Charles Woodington of Bombay Engineers Group and the final report was published in July 1793. His survey was named as the Survey of the Northern Superintendency and it included the details of Coorg, Wayanad and Mount Eli (Ezhimala) with the coast as far as Nileswaram. As a part of the survey, they also prepared the maps of the northern and southern districts of the Malabar province. The experiences that Lt. Bryce Moncrieff had while assisting Lt. George Lobey Emmitt helped the authorities for being deputed him to conduct a survey of the Southern province of Malabar in October 1795. It is noted that the survey of Malabar from 1790 to 1823 by Lt. George Lobey Emmitt and Lt. Bryce Moncrieff was inadequate in details and it did not provide a complete or reliable map of the Malabar region.66
As stated at the outset of the paper, there is confusion regarding the authorship of the work A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar and indications are quite evident to the authorship of Lt. Benjamin S Ward. The survey was reported to be started in 1824, three years after the death of Lt. Peter E Conner. The time of the survey conducted also worth to be noted. Lt. Benjamin S Ward conducted the detailed survey of the land of Malabar in 1824 after the Kurichya revolt and, possibly, the survey had an intention to prevent the occurrences of such other ‘disturbances’ against the British empire in future. Lt. Benjamin S Ward begins the book by giving a general description of the province of Malabar. It is noted that “this province in the western coast of India extends from 10o 12’ to 12o 15’ north latitude and between the parallels of 75o 10’ and 76o 50’ East Longitude. The identification of Malabar in terms of its geographical positioning, i.e., latitudinal, and longitudinal basis, could be found here and such a documentation of Malabar is unprecedented.
The description proceeds by giving further details on the region of Malabar. It is stated that the region is divided into 18 Taluks or districts, containing 2,222 Deshoms67 or villages, few or none of them are compact, the houses being scattered on the skirts of the cultivation. We can see that in the description, the author does give importance to the locally used administrative terms like Desams and it makes clear that being a colonial bureaucrat the author is attempted to trespass into the traditional administrative terminology of Malabar. The knowledge about the traditional administrative system of Malabar, with its merits and demerits, would help the British to exert their power more effectively on the people. The data were being collected through the modality of investigation.
In the narration, instead of stating ambiguous data, the author was inclined to give specific figures. For instance it is stated that “by the census taken in 1827, the whole population amounted to 10, 22,215 which gives 160 individuals to the square mile…..Its superficial area is 6262 square miles, 788 is estimated to be under rice cultivation and 120 square miles by extensive gardens”.68 The validity of the above reference lies in the fact that exact details of demography and land utilization were given for the first time. It was to serve the colonial need to provide the real numerical strength of the people in the region. The details of the land utilization were to fix the revenue and such matters of administration.
Lt. Benjamin S Ward could not escape from the colonial project of segmentation in terms of casteism. The imperial writers were fond of identifying India as a nation made of religious, caste and such other fragmentary elements.69 The same idea is being shared by Partha Chatterjee in his Nation and its Fragments.70 In the narration of A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar, the various caste groups were identified along with the centres of their habitation. The coastal towns were largely inhabited by Mopla71 merchants and Mookwars or fishermen and the principal towns or seaports were Tellicherry, Calicut, Cannanore and Ponnany (Ponnani) inhabited by various castes.72 But we can see that the towns, being the cosmopolitan landscape, provided the conveniences of habitation to everyone irrespective of their caste position. The painstaking nature of the survey is evidenced when the author provides a lengthy description on the nature of paddy cultivation in the region.73
While tracing the economic history of the region of Malabar during the late 18th and early 19th centuries we can rely on A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar. The table given at the end of the description contains information related to the imports and exports two and from Calicut and Tellicherry. A table is also given to substantiate the volume of trade.74 An analysis of the table would reveal that both Calicut and Tellicherry maintained balance trade in favour of them. Furthermore, Tellicherry imported more than what did in Calicut. It might be due to the high concentration of English at Tellicherry than in Calicut. Further, Calicut ranked ahead of Tellicherry in exporting, since they could gather the exportable items from its interior regions. A note is also given about the climate of the region of Malabar. The ‘general description of the province of Malabar’ is concerned more about to explore the commercial potential of the region. The descriptions are designed or fashioned in such a way to cater the colonial aspirations of making use of the commercial potential of the region.
After the ‘general description of the province of Malabar’ the author provides a lengthy and nicely organized description on the fourteen taluks in Malabar. The description starts with the Kuvvoy 75 taluk and ends with Chowkkad76 district. It is also structured in the same way as did in the Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States (Vol.II). The author explains about the geographical features (like mountains, hills, passes, soil types etc.), conveniences for connectivity (like roads, canals etc.) and sources of water (like rivers, water reservoirs, tanks etc.). In addition to that a lengthy table is appended at the end of each description and it does contain indication to the location of villages spread in a taluk or district. It is being given because of their longitudinal and latitudinal positioning.
A reading of the narrations made in this text would convince us about the painstaking effort carried out by them to compile this work. Descriptions on each point were prepared by giving due care and attention. The narration indeed provides a photographic image of the Malabar society during the period under discussion. Throughout the text, places were being located based on their longitudinal and latitudinal positioning.77 While explaining places like capitals, markets and other important regions due importance is given to the habitation of religious and caste groups.78 The descriptions do help us to create a picture of Malabar with special emphasis on its landscape, trade routes etc., during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
In detailing the Kuvvoy (Kavvayi) Taluk, the author begins with its geographical location with narrating the boundaries it surrounded with. The total area of the Taluk is added here. Further full-length description on the total land types, like paddy fields, estuaries, rivers, flat plains, hills, mountains, and forests are given. It might be meant for the revenue farming. A note on the total population of the taluk is also given. From an administrative point of view, the description of divisions and sub-divisions are of prime importance. There were “8 divisions and those again sub-divided into 18 amsam-s containing 138 desam-s or estates”.79 Muslims in the taluk were largely engaged in commerce and cultivation. At Thaliparamba, a substantial population of Namboothiris and Nayars could be found. Further, there was the most famous Thrichambara temple is located. At Ramanthali also a significant Nair population had existed. The taluk had some significant place in the maritime history as the places like Pazhayangadi was famous for trading activities. Roads and boats were largely used for the transportations. But it is noted that most roads were of pity in condition.80 In order to facilitate the trading activities a canal was made at the expense of Arakkal Beebi.81 Ezhimala is the important place in this taluk. In the taluk there was a powerful network of roads that facilitated and fostered the movement of both men and materials. While giving details of total population in the taluk, the book mentions to the groups like Namboothiris, Nairs, Thiyyas, Mappilas, Cherumars, Panias etc.
While narrating the Kotium (Kottayam) taluk, the author mentions to similar descrptions. Kottayam was divided into 22 subdivisions, and subdivided into 34 amsham-s and contains 269 desham-s. Along with paddy cultivation, the taluk had produced some agricultural products of commercial importance.82 Similarly, there were some religiously important places like mosques, churches and temples and they added to the prowess of the taluk. Mahi river is the important river in this taluk and it helped the free flow of commercial products from one place to other. The extensive roads in this taluk also facilitated trading activities. Details of mines and mineral are also found here. Interestingly, the taluk had notable production of textiles, arrack, jaggery, coconut oil, sesamum and caster.83 Cheracul (Chirakkal) is the next taluk. It is a similar to all other taluks in terms of its properties. It had a mixed population in terms religious groups. It was divided into 9 sub-divisions, these again divided into 19 amsham-s that contain 92 desham-s. There were several angadi-s or marketplaces, largely dominated by Mappilas. A detailed narration on the forts, markets, religious institutions are added here. Valapatanam river is the important river in the taluk and it had helped the trading activities as like other taluks. The region is intersected with different roads leading to Kannur.84 The details of population with emphasis on the presence of criminal castes were meant for the demarcating people on casteist lines.
While detailing the Kartanad (Kadathanad) taluk, the book is initially focusing on its natural boundaries. Mahe or Monthal river is one of its boundaries. Kadathanad is divided into 11 sub-divisions, which in turn sub-divided into 31 amsham-s that contained 146 desham-s. In this taluk we could see the French settlement of Mahe and Badagara, being an important trade centre, attracted people from around the world. The tlauk is well connected via road and river networks. There were around 40 iron smelting places were there in the taluk and it is indicative of the presence of iron ore there. By the census of 1827 the total population of the taluk was amounted to 59,397.85 Being the very extensive taluk in Malabar, Coorumbanad (Kurumbranad) is divided by Kadathanad in the north. It had Kottakkal or Kuttiady river as the natural boundary. The taluk is divided into 12 subdivisions and these again into 35 desham-s containing 263 desham-s. Koyilandy and Kottakkal on the coast were the important urban centres in the taluk. Being a Mappila town, Koyilandy had attracted traders from all over the world.86 The taluk is connected with roads, and rivers and it helped in the expansion of commercial activities.
Calicut, being an important taluk, had a commendable position in the British records. There wre 12 subdivisions, 21 amsham-s that contain 128 desham-s. Unlike other taluks, there were several towns in this taluk and the primary reason could be the trans-marine trade contacts. There were several centres with the concertation of Muslims and Hindus and we could see the religious centres devoted to these groups. The roads, rivers and canal system ensured the free mobility both commodities and people. Population of the taluk is consisted of 66 castes and we could see the identification of society in terms of casteist or communal lines. After Calicut, Ernaud (Eranad) taluk came next. It had 10 subdivisions, these gain into 26 amsham-s and that into 116 desham-s. In this taluk, the tahsildar from his bungalow at Majeri had carried out the administration. A well knitted network of roads and rivers made the mobility easier.87 Total Population of the taluk contained 59,129 in 50 castes.88
Shernaud taluk is the next taluk in the found in The Descriptive Memoir of Malabar. It is divided into 11 subdivisons, they in turn divided into amsham-s and there were 175 desham-s. The capital of the taluk is Thirurangadi and the taluk had a significant Muslim population. Parappanangady and Kadalundi were the most important Muslim towns. There were extensive road and river networks.89 The total population was calculated to 66,267 and half of them were Muslims. One fifth of the total population were Nairs and the remaining were divided into 42 castes. Narration is given to taluks like Bettudnaud, Nedunganaad, Wullavanad, Wynad, Paulghaut etc. Most of the descriptions found on different taluks in colonial Malabar touched on aspects the the geographical positioning of them. Further the author has given importance to understanding a taluk in terms of the caste and religious divisions prevalent there. Instead of perceiving a locality in terms of its totality, the book performs the colonial agenda of dividing people on narrowest lines. In many occasions the The Descriptive Memoir of Malabar performs the task of giving inputs to the colonial machine to rule over Malabar ‘effectively’.
The word ‘survey’ in English has a variety of meanings: to measure, to look over, to examine, to inspect or to supervise. In the specific context of British India in the late 18th century, it meant “a form of exploration of the natural and social landscape”.90 The usage of survey as an investigative modality involves multiple activities: “from the mapping of India to collecting botanical specimens, to the recording of architectural and archaeological sites of historical significance, or the most minute measuring of a peasant’s field”.91 In his elaboration of survey modality in colonial India, Cohn does add certain other specificities. To him: “ In the context of colonial India, the concept of “survey” came to cover any systematic and official investigation of the natural and social features of the Indian empire” .92 The systematic survey of India was commenced in 1765, when Robert Clive assigned the task of doing it to James Rennell and it is not surprising that it was in the same year that marked the Treaty of Allahabad to end the company heyday on India. After India’s transfer under the imperial yolk, it was quite essential to devise a methodology that could tap all the potential of India in a lengthy and comprehensive manner. The survey initiatives carried out in India under the direction of the British had produced a substantial corpus of information. Doing the survey soon became a part of the official engagement in colonial India. After the acquisition of each territory, they had done extensive surveys and as a result a comprehensive data under various heads like zoology, geology, botany, ethnography, economic products, history and sociology were produced.93 In that sense, the surveys in colonial India had gone beyond the documentation of territories, instead they had caricatured the landscape in its totality.
The fall of Mysore to British was the crucial juncture in the development of survey modality in South India. Being the Governor General of India during 1798 to 1805, Lord Wellesley urged the “need for the systematic collection of information about the natural resources, the arts and manufactures, the social and economic conditions of the inhabitants of the newly acquired territories of south India”.94 The early decades of 19th century were a period of surveys in South India. There were three surveys- Colin Mackenzie, Francis Buchanan and Benjamin Heyne- who had conducted at the orders of the then Governor General Lord Wellesley. Such surveys had produced voluminous in the forms of Buchanan reports, Mackenzie collection, Brown collection etc. In Malabar, Lt. Benjamin Swain Ward had led the task of compiling the available information in a full-length manner. He reported to have conducted extensive surveys with the help of British administration in Malabar and his findings formed the content of A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar. In his collection methods, Lt. B S Ward had taken the model of Colin Mackenzie.
Similar was the case of Knowledge/Power analysis. Foucault defines power as “the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate, and which constitute their own organization”.95 In his discussion on power, Foucault noted that unlike medieval period, where the power is operated through violence, power in modern period is operated totally in a novel way. In the 17th and 18th centuries, new mechanisms of power were invented, and it required ultra-specific procedural techniques. It is largely body politics. Further Foucault sees a reciprocating relation between knowledge and power. He devised a specific methodology to study the relation between knowledge and power. There is a dependency of power on knowledge and power does reproduce knowledge suited to its needs.
To Foucault, “power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another: that there is not power relation without the correlation constituting of field of knowledge nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constituted as same time power relations”.96 Here Foucault is subscribing the notion of ‘knowledge produces power’. The British in Malabar, as elsewhere in the world, were eager to produce knowledge about the land and the people. The case of The Descriptive Memoir or Malabar offers a specific instance in which a colonial surveyor did extensive survey of Malabar in the first quarter of the 19th century and it helped the colonial masters to frame their administrative structures and policies in Malabar. The Descriptive Memoir or Malabar is a powerful narrative that strengthened the British understanding about Malabar, and it helped the British to strengthen their power over the landscape.
The survey of Malabar conducted by Lt. Benjamin S Ward in 1824 has served the colonial purpose of knowing about the region to be ruled. The data were being collected by conducting surveys and investigations about the land and its people. The information collected about the land and people by means of investigative and survey modalities have been fed the colonial masters to frame their policies. Hence, we witness the transformation of knowledge into power. Furthermore, colonialism in its task of state building encourages the process of ‘otherization’97 and it was carried out by the colonial machinery itself. The years that succeeded the period of Lt. Benjamin S Ward witnessed more direct rule of the colonial masters.
However, there were several points worthy to be applauded. Firstly, the description of the work did underline the effort that had been used for writing this book. The author had collected the information on all aspects of the society from the people themselves. Measurements about distances were taken directly by the survey party themselves. In addition to that he had talked to the indigenous people in their languages and it is evidenced in the increased use of Malayalam words in the text. The present work may be called as the first one which effectively and scientifically used the longitudinal and latitudinal descriptions of places. The work, indeed, is an attempt to construct the region or landscape of Malabar, which has been thematised for several unscientific and ahistorical explanations and expressions earlier. We argue that the credit of making Malabar out of the traditional notices lies with Lt. Benjamin S Ward. An artist who can draw according to the description of Lt. Benjamin S Ward could re-enact the regional landscape of Malabar during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
2. Colin Gorden, (ed.), Michael Foucault: Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings-1972-1977, Harvester Press, Brington, 1980, p.102.
3. In his forward to Bernard S Cohn, Colonialism, and its Forms of Knowledge: The British In India, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996, p. IX,
4. Bernard S Cohn, Op.cit.,p.5.
5. Further information on European contact with India could be found in Donald F Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe: The Century of Discovery (Vol.I, Book No.1), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1994 and Joan-Pau Rubies, Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through Western Eyes, 1250-1625, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
6. Donald F lach, Op.cit., p.52.
7. Francis M Rogers, The Travels of the Infante Dom Pedro, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1961, Chapter iii.
8. Donald F lach, Op.Cit., p.66.
9. William B Greenlee (Ed.), The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India, Hakluyt Society Publications, Ser.II, Vol.LXXIX, London, 1939.
10. G.P. Badger (Trans.), The Travels of Ludovico de Varthema, Hakluyt Society, London, 1863.
11. Donald F lach, Op.cit., p.347-348.
12. Manuel L Dames (ed. and trans.), The Book of Duarte Barbosa, (Vol II), London, 1921, p.79.
15. Cited in Donald F lach, Op.cit, p.351.
16. Manuel L Dames (ed. and trans.), Op.cit., ,p.85.
19. Johan Nieuhof, Remarkable Voyages and Travels into the best Provinces of West and East Indies, Churchill’s Collection of Voyages, Vol.II, London, 1803.
20. K.N.Ganesh, Op.Cit.,p.183.
21. A Galletti, The Dutch in Malabar, Madras, 1911, p.3
22. Ibid., p.4.
23. Ibid., ,p.4.
24. Ibid., p.5.
25. Ibid., p. 24.
26. Cited in A Galletti, Op.cit., p. 24
27. Ibid., p. 35.
30. Editor’s preface to Lts. Ward and Conner, A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar, Kerala State Gazetteers Department (Reprint), Thiruvananthapuram, 1995.
31. Lts. Ward and Conner, Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States (Vol.I), Kerala State Gazetteers Department (Reprint), Thiruvananthapuram, 1994 a, p.1-2.
33. The total area of the Travancore principality has been measured as 6,7303/4 Sq. Miles and it consists of 2,908 villages. Ibid., pp.3-6.
35. Pandalam is mentioned as Pundalum. See Ibid.,p.12.
36. Mavelikkara is referred as Mavelikeray. See Ibid.
37. The place of Kaviyoor is called as Kavioor.
38. The name of the region has been written as Vyekkum. Ibid.,p.15.
41. Carl August Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism, Vintage Books, 1981.
42. Lts. Ward and Conner, Op.Cit., 1994a,p.42.
45. Purras mentioned is equal to parrahs, a unit of grain measurement in traditional Kerala. Ibid.
48. Cherikkul refers to the Cherikkal lands in Kerala. Ibid.,p.66.
49. K N Ganesh, Agrarian Society in Kerala, in P.J. Cherian (Ed.), Perspectives on Kerala History, Kerala Gazetteers Department, Thiruvananthapuram, 1999,p.141.
50. The names like Kunneans, Paunans and Eelavar denote Kaniyans, Panans and Ezhavar respectively. Lts. Ward and Conner, Op.Cit., 1994a,p.145.
51. Lts. Ward and Conner, Geographical and Statistical Memoir of the Survey of the Travancore and Cochin States (Vol.II), Kerala State Gazetteers Department (Reprint), Thiruvananthapuram, 1994 b, p.1. Agusteshuer and Changanachairy refer to Augusteswaram and Changanassery respectively.
55. P. Shungoony Menon, History of Travancore from the Earliest Times, Trivandrum, 1983.
56. From 9th Century onwards we can find the notices of Purayidams or house sites owned and occupied by individuals. For more information see M.R.Raghava Varier, Further Expansion of Agrarian Society: Socio- Economic Structure, in P.J. Cherian (Ed.), Op.Cit.,p.82.
57. Chanashoomaree is the equal word in Malayalam to indicate Census.
58. Lts. Ward and Conner, Op.Cit., 1994b, p.10, pp.15-16,pp23-24, pp.33-34 pp.41-42 etc.
59. Ibid., p.179.
60. Samuel Mateer, Native Life in Travancore, Asian Educational Services (Reprint), New Delhi, 1991.
61. Lts. Ward and Conner, Op.Cit., 1994b, p.32, pp39-40,p.60 etc.
62. Lts. Ward and Conner, Op.Cit., 1995.
63. Sreedhara Menon, A Survey of Kerala History, Madras, 2000,p.12.
64. Irfan Habib, State and Diplomacy under Tipu Sultan: Documents and Essays, Tulika New Delhi,1994.
65. Editor’s preface to Lts. Ward and Conner, Op.Cit.,1995.
67. Deshoms refers to Desams in traditional Kerala. See Jineesh.P.S, Household as form of Social Power in Medieval Kerala: A Study of Tachcholi Pattukal, (Unpublished M.Phil. Dissertation) University of Calicut, Thenhipalam, 2005.
68. Lts.Ward and Conner, Op.Cit.,1995, p.1.
69. For specific studies on Colonial justification see C A Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India 1780-1870, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999 and C A Bayly, Indian Society and the Making of British Empire, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002.
70. Partha Chatterjee, Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Post-Colonial Histories, Oxford University Press. New Delhi, 1994.
71. Moplah refer to the group of Mappilas. To understand their origin and history see Stephen F Dale, Islamic Society on the South Asian Frontier: The Mappilas of Malabar 1498-1922, Clarendon Press, 1980.
72. Lts.Ward and Conner,Op.Cit. 1995,p.3.
75. Kuvvoy indicates to present day Kavvayi in the present district of Kannur.
76. Chowkaad means Chavakkad in Thrissur district.
77. Lts.Ward and Conner, Op.Cit, 1995, p.25, p.60 etc.
79. Lts.Ward and Conner, Op.Cit, 1995, p.25
80. Ibid., p.26.
81. Ibid., p.27.
82. Ibid., p.39.
83. Ibid., p.44.
84. Ibid., p.62.
85. Ibid., p.73.
86. Ibid., p.82.
87. Ibid., p.114.
88. Ibid., p.118.
89. Ibid., p.127.
90. Bernard S Cohn, Op.cit., p.7.
91. Ibid., p.7.
92. Ibid., p.7.
93. Ibid., p.7.
95. Michael Foucault, History of Sexuality (Vol.1), Pantheon Books, New York, 1978,p. 92.
96. Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Vintage Books, New York, 1995, p.27.
97. David Scott, Colonial Governmentality, in Jonathan Xavier Inda (ed.), Anthropologies of Modernity, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2005, p.12.
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Dale, Stephen F, Islamic Society on the South Asian Frontier: The Mappilas of Malabar 1498-1922, Clarendon Press, 1980.
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