1902 Encyclopedia > Laccadives

(also known as: Laccadive Islands; Laccadive, Minicoy, and Amindivi Islands; Lakshadweep)

LACCADIVES, a group of coral reefs and islands in the Indian Ocean, lying between 10° and 12° 20' N. lat. and 71° 40' and 71° E. long. The name Laccadives (laksfta duipa, the "hundred thousand isles ") is that given by the people of the continent, and was probably meant to include the myriad Maldives ; they arc called by the natives simply Divi, "islands," or Amendivi, from the chief island. There are about nineteen separate reefs, containing, however, only thirteen islands, and of these only eight are inhabited. The islands have in nearly all cases emerged from the eastern and protected side of the reef, and have gradually extended towards the west over the shallow lagoon of which the rest of the space within the barrier-reef consists. The islands are small, none exceeding a mile in breadth, and lie so low that they would be hardly discernible but for the cocoa-nut groves with which they are thickly covered. The soil is light coral sand, beneath which, a few feet down, lies a stratum of coral stretching over the whole of the island. This coral, which is generally a foot to a foot and a half in thickness, has been in the principal islands wholly excavated, whereby the underlying damp sand is rendered available for cereals. These excavations - a work of vast labour - were made at a remote period, and according to the native tradition by giants. In these spaces [totant=" garden "] are cultivated coarse grain, pulse, bananas, and vegetables ; cocoa-nuts grow abundantly everywhere, and for rice the natives depend upon the mainland.

Population and Trade. - Of the eight Laccadive islands, four are directly under British rule and form part of the South Kanara collectorate in the Madras presidency. The other four (together with Minicoy, noticed below) form part of the estate of the bibi of Cannanore. The following are the names of the islands, with population in 1881: - Th.itisk Islands. Cannanore Islands.

making a total for all the islands of 11,287, a dense population for so small an area. Amini, Kalpeni, Androt, and Kawrati are the principal or tarwat islands, and in them only do the high caste natives reside. The others are called indacheri, or low caste islands. The people are Moplas, of mixed Hindu and Arab descent, and are Mohammedans. Their manners and customs are similar to those of the coast Moplas ; but they maintain their own ancient caste distinctions. The language spoken is Malayale, but it is written in the Arabic character. Reading and writing are common accomplishments among the men. The chief industries are the manufactures of coir and jaggery, the Laccadive coir being esteemed the best in India ; the various processes are entrusted to the women. The men employ themselves with boat-building and in conveying the island produce to the coast - in the case of the English islands to Mangalore, and in that of the bibi's islands to Cannanore. In each case the coir is taken by the ruling Government at lower than market rates, and the natives are not subject to any other taxation. At Mangalore they are paid partly in money and partly in rice, and the rates are not altered for many years. On the other hand the varying and oppressive tariff imposed upon the Cannanore islands has led to a diminished and inferior manufacture of coir, and to frequent complaints. This monopoly system, however fairly worked by the British Government, interferes with the trading capabilities of the natives, and puts them at considerable disadvantage with their rivals of Minicoy and the Maldives. The exports from the Laccadives are of the annual value of £17,000.

History and Gorernment. - .No data exist for determining at what period the Laccadives were first colonized. The earliest mention of them as distinguished from the Maldives seems to be by Albirnni (ci•e. 1030), who divides the whole archipelago (Dibajtit) into the Dinah Inizah or Cowrie Islands (the Maldives), and the Thrall. Kanbar or Coir Islamic (the Laceadives). See Journ.

September 1544, p. 265. According to native tradition, the islands were first occupied about a thousand years ago. The early polity, according to Mr Robinson, was patriarchal, conducted by a modalal, or chief inhabitant, and the heads of the principal families. Each island was independent. This kind of internal economy seems to have lasted until the advent of the Portuguese. During their independence the islanders were converted to -Islam by all Arab apostle named Mumba Mulyaka, whose grave at Androt still imparts a peculiar sanctity to that island. The kazee of Androt was in 1847 still a member of his family, and was said to be the twenty-second who had held the office in 'direct line from the saint. This gives colour to the tradition that the conversion took place about 1250. It is also further corroborated by the story given by lbu Ilatuta of the conversion of the Maldives, which occurred, as he heard, four generations (say one hundred and twenty years) before his visit to these islands in 1342. The Portuguese discovered the Laccadives in 1499, and built forts upon them, but about 1545 the natives rose upon their oppressors, and with the aid of the raja of Cherical exterminated them. For this aid the raja obtained the suzerainty of the group, but he afterwards conferred them upon the head of the Cannanore moplas for an annual tribute. The Cannanore raja ceased to pay this tribute about the middle of the 18th century. In 1784 the Amiui islands threw olf the yoke, and put themselves under the protection of Tippoo, from whom, at the fall of Seringapatam in 1799, they passed to the East India Company. The remaining islands had already in 1791 fallen into the 'lower of the Company by the storming of Cannanore, but by the peace of Seringapatam (1792) were permitted to remain under the management of the bibi at a yearly tribute. This has been often in arrear, and on this account these islands have been sequestrated by the British Government since 1877, to the general satisfaction of the inhabitants. See Mr Robinson's Report, Madras, 1574 ; Mr Hume in Stray Feathers, vol. iv., 1876, Calcutta.

Minicoy (called JIdliLue by the natives), a small island 5 miles in length, 108 miles south of Kalp6ni and 68 miles north of the Maldives,, belongs politically to the Laccadives in so far as it forms part of the estate of the bibi of Cannanore. The natives, however, are of the same race and speak the same language as the Maldivians. The population in 1881 was 3915. The people are well behaved, but of a very independent character; they are active and enterprising sailors, and lazy cultivators. They are divided into four classes, viz., yid/awns, the aristocracy, maluninies, the pilots and mates of vessels, klasies, smaller landed proprietors and sailors, and meleecheries, toddy drawers. Minicoy anciently formed part of the Maldive realm, but, probably in the 16th century, was given by a Maldive sultan to his brother. In 1607, when it was visited by Pyrard, it was governed by a lady who for greater security held it of the raja of Cannanore (Pyrard's Voyage, chap. xxiii.). The island has never been restored to the Maldive kings.

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