Page images
PDF
EPUB

MADRAS JOURNAL

OF

LITERATURE AND SCIENCE.

No. 2.-January, 1834.

lcutta and are to be depended on.

1.--Extract from the Memoir of the Survey of Travancore, com

piled by Lieutenant Conner.

(Continued from the 7th Page of our last Number.) Than Travancore and Cochin, few parts of the Peninsula present so great variety in its population, there is some difference of features and shade of colour, but they are still less distinguished by their habits and appearance, than alienated by prejudice and institution of cast. There is of course some analogy of character, and their manners too has a considerable affinity to those of their eastern neighbours, but each have peculiarities in their habits of domestic life, that mark a discrimination, in some points a much greater diversity, than would be inferred from their vicinity.

Receding a short distance from the coast, the character of the population perhaps somewhat improves. The provincial divisions present some varieties. To the south, probably arising from the deteriorating mixture of Vellaulers, they display an obstinate refractoriness, that it is often as necessary to coerce as to conciliate ; approaching north, particularly throughout Cochin, this waywardness of disposition is succeeded by a mild and peaceable demeanor ; their simplicity of manners is infinitely less vitiated than in other parts, at least it has received but little alteration from an intercourse with foreigners; with prejudices infinitely more insurmountable and unconnected by any interest or intercourse that could occasion community of sentiment, they assimilate to Europeans still less than any other natives, nor perhaps need we much regret their ignorance of them, as such association too often diminishes their respect, and taints, their virtues without abating their prejudices. The interior is seldom visited by Europeans, and to this perhaps may be ascribed the ready attention which the traveller experiences, but the natives by

have been compared with those used in

no means seek his acquaintance; indeed they are shy of strangers and retained by their attachment to the soil (which amongst all ranks is no where so powerful. It may be that the requisites for the support or enjoyment of life are here more limited or less difficult of attainment) for ever within the limits of their own village or district, they know or care little for other countries, have no curiosity, of adventure, and even an imperfect knowledge of their neighbours, whom they regard as inferior to them.

Generally speaking except the higher classes of Nairs, and the inhabitants of the most southern districts, the body of the population are of a more passive and docile temper than those of the other parts of the Peninsula, their composed deportment and languid gravity of disposition, is not easily heated beyond its usual temperature, and never hurried into that animated vehemence of vituperation, so common on the other coast on the most trifling occasions of dispute ; but it is easier still to stimulate their passions than excite their industry; their listless habits, in which the possession of slaves enables them to indulge, renders them averse to active labour, and except the very lower classes, whom a pressing necessity alone urges to diligence, they rather enjoy their possessions in lazy indolence, than increase them, at least at the expense of personal effort. It must be admitted however that mendicity is rare except amongst the christian population, who in fact furnish nearly the whole amount, which presents a greater and more disgusting variety of decrepitude than can be well conceived. Crime is not common, perhaps the more serious offences are less frequent than in the neighbouring countries ; if at distant intervals instances of atrocity do occur, they are mostly traceable to the Maupulays; even theft is comparatively rare, and altho' many of the lower classes are tempted by the facility of concealment and urgency of want, this vice is not particularly ascribable to them. Falsehood is the common stain of the native character, but the distance between promise and performance is particularly remarkable in Malliallum, at least this part of it. The inhabitants of which are characterized as perpetual liars, the charge tho' too general in its application, may not be entirely unfounded, but it must not be conceived inconsistent with the possession of many amiable qualities, though truth does not constitute one of them, and they may perhaps be considered as exercising many virtues as their neighbours, but not exactly of the same stamp, at least an abatement must be made on the score of continence which is by no means the most ready attribute of the community here. To mend their morals a more general diffiusion as well as improve

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

ment in the system of education is necessary ; ethics at present forms no part of their studies, which rarely advance beyond the first elements of knowledge, and such limited accomplishments only belong to the superior classes, who however are susceptible of higher attainments, particularly the Nairs, who have a quick apprehension, are admirable accountants, and perform the operation of writing (leaves every where being substituted for paper) with a rapidity and adroitness quite peculiar to themselves. The language spoken differs in the southern parts where it is largely intermixed with the Tamool, but we do not here observe that mixture of tongues so common on the other coast. The inhabitants of this, never speak any but their own, nor does even their intercourse with Europeans tempt them to acquire their language. Circar schools, two in each district, have been established for the benefit of the community at large, but it would infinitely improve their efficiency were the number as well as the plan (tho' it must be confessed the natives are little disposed to excursive knowledge) on a more enlarged scale. The inferior ranks are wholly untaught, but an alleviation of their physical wants must precede any mental improvement.

They bear a general resemblance to the people of the other coast, but have a greater symmetry of person, a fairer complexion, more mild and agreeable features ; nor do we ever see amongst them that shrewd over reaching cast of countenance, so common there; natural deformity is rarely met with, but some diversity of exterior is observable; allowing however for the difference, that coarser fare, greater exposure and severer labour will produce, a great family likeness is perceptible throughout, they have (particularly among the higher orders) an expressive, pleasing though not always fine physiognomy, generally a delicate formation of person, which is rather perhaps below than above the ordinary standard. The stature of the women is inferior to that of their neighbours, but their attractions rather condensed, than diminished, give them claim to a more than equal measure of perfection, particularly those of the Nairs, who have a soft fulness of form, and elegant but fragile contour, while a carriage singularly graceful, lends additional and dangerous allurements to their dusky charms. To their precosity must be ascribed their early decay, with them their is no intermediate space between the freshness of youth, and decrepitude of old age. Rank and cast experience here a degree of homage that in other parts of the Peninsula would neither be required nor given. In the presence of a superior, and each exacts the same observance

that he pays, the Moondoo is removed from the head or shoulders, the hands united are raised for a moment, when the right is applied to the mouth, which is partly free from this polite barrier during the interview, or rather the laxity or rigour with which it is guarded depends on the relative ranks of the parties. This address would appear rather obsequious than respectful, but deserves not the charge of servility. Amongst the higher order of Nairs, an elegance, almost dignity of demeanour, natural and superior to acquisition is not

uncommon.

Most of the superior classes substituting physical purity for more material virtues make frequent use of the bath, ablution is a necessary preliminary to meals, the superior orders practice endless subsidiary ones, but they are too fastidious in their notions of defilement, as they can scarcely leave their house, or be approached by any of the lower classes, without undergoing some supposed pollution, many of the very lowest ranks (whose name is an invective) 80 strongly feel the odious peculiarities attached to them that they fly on the approach of a superior ; contact with them is regarded as contagion, and with even the middling ones viewed only as a less deep stain. To avoid the communication of such a taint when delivering any article, they place it on the ground, putting a leaf under it and retire ; indeed to avoid contact all classes throw rather than hand what they may be desirous of giving ; it may be added that this feeling, so destructive of social intercourse, extends to the very lowest ranks, who view as a species of contamination the touch of those beneath them in precedence. The women have a profusion of dark hair, which they carelessly dispose in a knot on the top of the head, on the fore part of which the men wear a single lock, which arranged with artful foppery is an object of vanity with the young ; in every instance this internal vegetation is removed several times in the course of the year ; even the eye brows marked only by a thin line of hair share the denudation ; we could perhaps wish the retrenchment extended to the nails of the hands, particularly those of the right, which are regarded as becoming in proportion to their length.

If nudity be considered as provoking sensuality, the costume of the people may afford some excuse for that ascribed to them, its simplicity would denote its antiquity. The various classes have little diversity of garment, nor indeed is any seen throughout the country; even foreigners (inhabitants of the eastern province &c.) assuming the vesture of it, which requires but few cloths, consisting chiefly of a cloth (known by the term Moondoo) passed round the waist and reaching to the knees (amongst the more wealthy classes, it extends to the ancles) forms a short petticoat or kilt, a handkerchief thrown loosely over the head and covering the shoulders form a sort of cowl, this is substituted for a turband, it is occasionally tied though commonly left flowing, but in either case affords no protection against the sun, their chuttries (and they consider them an indispensable part of their equipment) are supposed sufficiently to answer this purpose, indeed some of their ordinances direct that the head and feet shall always remain uncovered, a precept very generally observed ; in the latter instance, the colour of the cloth worn is slightly tinged, with indigo, its texture rather than quantity differs with the ability of the weaver : it is often or generally so transparent as to shade rather than conceal the outline. The female costume is somewhat similar, but (inverting the usual order of things) has a more masculine appearance, a portion of the cloth, forming the short petticoat being passed between the legs and fixed in the girdle behind ; this scanty vesture reaching only to the knees, the upper part of the person is permitted to remain uncovered, as a handkerchief thrown carelessly over the head and bosom is worn with no view to concealment, indeed on ordinary occasions entirely dispensed with, the eye is at first startled with so much nudity, perhaps arrested by its novelty, to which however it becomes readily reconciled, but it is impossible not to admire the unsuspecting simplicity, that endures the gaze of surprize insensible of being its object. Their costume it must be confessed leaves more to engage the attention, than pique the curiosity, but the display is as often productive of disgust as admiration, a greater fastidiousness might perhaps desire that it allowed less scope for either ; their drapery however scanty is sometimes arranged with singular grace, if we could desireits folds somewhat ampler, a wish for their superior comfort must have a large share in exciti the sentiments. The children go naked till the fifth or sixth year, and most of the lower classes it may be said are almost always so, as the little rag that decency requires can scarcely be called cloathing ; amongst half the population the wardrobe of an individual will not exceed the value, it it reaches it, of two Rupees, and thrice that amount would purchase a handsome suit ; the comparative wealth or poverty of the different classes is not easily distinguishable* in their dress, nor do they display much taste for splendour, in their ornaments, which are rarely increased in

* A few marks carelessly arranged and made with the powders of sandal substitutes the intricate hieroglyphics, tbat on the other coast seem to de

note cast.

« PreviousContinue »