Lakshadweep: An remoted island that grew to become a melting pot of cultures


“There’s a story that the individuals within the Lakshadweep Islands got here to know of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination 14 days after it occurred,” Dr N P Hafiz Mohamad, head of Sociology in Calicut College says.

Surrounded by the nice and cozy waters of the Arabian Sea and mendacity about 240 miles off the coast of Kerala, the Union Territory of Lakshadweep is politically and traditionally linked to India, however can be remoted from a lot of the developments happening within the Indian mainland.

The socio-cultural life within the islands is exclusive. Although inhabited by a majority of Muslim residents, Islam practised within the Lakshadweep is not like that adopted anyplace else within the nation. It’s a matrilineal society, additionally influenced by Hindu traditions and caste construction. Additional, though the islanders share ethnic, linguistic and cultural hyperlinks with the Malayalam talking individuals of Kerala, there’s important Arabic, Tamil and Kannada affect on Lakshadweep as nicely.

How Islam reached Lakshadweep and advanced

The invention and settlement within the islands is regularly related to the legend of Cheraman Perumal, the final of the Chera rulers in Kerala who ruled the area. A well-liked oral custom in Kerala means that the final Cheraman Perumal had a wierd dream following which he transformed to Islam and got down to Arabia for the sake of performing the Hajj. However he was to by no means return from Arabia and he settled and was later buried there.

When the Raja did not return to Kerala, a tributary prince, the Raja of Kolattunad (north Malabar), is thought to have despatched a search social gathering to search for him. This search social gathering, on being caught in a extreme storm, was caught in one of many Lakshadweep islands. Based on Lakshadweep’s custom, these castaways had been the primary settlers within the islands.

Scholar of Islamic research Andrew W Forbes, in his article, ‘Sources in the direction of the historical past of the Laccadive islands’ (2007) notes that whereas the story of Cheraman Perumal is tough to validate, “there could be little doubt that the primary settlers on the Lakshadweep islands had been Malabari sailors, fairly presumably castaways”.

He writes that although it’s unclear as to when the islands had been first settled, there’s sturdy proof to counsel {that a} sturdy wave of immigration occurred through the seventh century CE. These immigrants had been Malabari Hindus, together with Nambudiri Brahmins, Nairs, Tiyyars and doubtless Mukkuvans. “The present caste construction of the Lakshadweep islands in all probability dates to this era, as does the prevailing marumakkathayam matrilineal system of inheritance,” he writes.

Aside from the caste system, a pre-Islamic Hindu society within the islands could be deduced from the usage of the traditional Malayalam script, Vattelutu within the islands earlier than the usage of the Arabic script, the invention of quite a few buried idols, in all probability of Hindu origins, and the existence of a number of conventional island songs in reward of Ram and alluding to snake worship.

The historical past of how the Lakshadweep settlers transformed to Islam can be shrouded in fantasy and thriller. The method of conversion is credited to ‘Ubaid Allah’ who is thought to have been the grandson of the primary Caliph, Abu Bakr. He’s believed to have landed on the shores of Amini Island within the Lakshadweep whereas he was on a journey that the Prophet had requested him to undertake in a dream. As soon as in Amini, Ubaid Allah had received over the individuals of the island and thereby they transformed to Islam. Whereas this story is as soon as once more arduous to confirm traditionally, there does exist a tomb of Ubaid Allah contained in the Jami mosque in Androth Island, an object of nice veneration.

Forbes in his work is of the opinion that conversion to Islam within the islands occurred over an prolonged time frame by common contact with Arab retailers and sailors who had frequent commerce relations with the neighbouring Malabar coast from the start of the eighth century CE. It’s fairly potential that the Arab ships handed by the Lakshadweep islands from that point. Probably an Arab by the title of ‘Ubaid Allah’ performed an essential position within the conversion course of. However as Forbes explains, it’s actually clear that Islamic affect within the Lakshadweep got here by Arabic affect moderately than by the Mappila group of Malabar. “Lakshadweep islanders converse Malayalam with a larger admixture of Arabic than the mainland Mappilas, and write Malayalam within the Arabic moderately than Malayali script,” he notes.

“In contrast to north India, introduction of Islam within the Indian Ocean together with the Lakshadweep islands, Kerala, Tamil Nadu was accompanied by very much less political contest,” says historian Mahmood Kooria. “Islam was launched in these areas by different kinds however primarily business interactions,” he provides.

From the sixteenth century, the islands got here below the management of the Arakkal kingdom of Kannur, the one Muslim dynasty to have dominated in Kerala, and likewise a matrilineal one. The male head of the dominion was referred to as Adi Raja whereas the ruling queen was Arakkal Beewi. By the sixteenth century although, the Arakkal kingdom was regularly at loggerheads with the European powers. Though its management over buying and selling networks lowered additional time, the dominion drew status from its management over the Lakshadweep islands.

Historian Manu Pillai says “the Portuguese made sturdy efforts to take over the island, and within the mid-sixteenth century there was a bloodbath of tons of of locals by them. Nevertheless, as a result of the Portuguese got here to phrases with mainland rulers just like the Kolathiri and Arakkal, the islands would have ultimately loved a level of safety.”

An analogous diploma of insulation can be seen through the interval of British colonialism within the Malabar coast. Whereas the Arakkal kingdom was compelled to give up most of its land in Malabar, they had been allowed to retain a part of the Lakshadweep in return for a tribute to the East India Firm. Arakkal management over the islands in actual fact continued until as late as 1908 once they lastly went to British arms after a chronic battle. In return it was determined {that a} tribute of Rs 23000 can be given yearly in 12 month-to-month installments to the Arakkal household.

Although the islands shared historic relations with Islamic society within the Malabar area, it additionally had its variations. The Muslims of Kerala are popularly recognized as Mappilas. Kooria explains that although the time period initially was used to determine Kerala Muslims, Jews and Christians, after British colonisation it got here to be related to Kerala Muslims alone in widespread creativeness. “Because the Muslims of Lakshadweep didn’t bear the method of colonisation in the identical method as did the Malabar area, they weren’t recognized with the identical time period,” he says. He provides that culturally the Lakshadweep inhabitants shared hyperlinks with Kerala, however they shared the same relationship with different areas of South India like Karnataka as nicely because it was below the rule of Tipu Sultan for a very long time. In truth the islands’ geographical proximity and social interactions with a number of completely different cultures is the rationale why this moderately small area has as many as three major languages: Malayalam, Jazari and Mahl.

Within the late colonial interval and after Independence, the Lakshadweep was a part of the Malabar district. It’s only in 1956 through the reorganisation of states that the Lakshadweep islands had been separated from the Malabar district and organised as a separate Union Territory for administrative causes.
“When it comes to familial relationships, the Muslims of Lakshadweep are nearly the identical because the Muslims of the coastal area of Kerala. However economically and politically they share a whole lot of variations,” explains Mohamad. “There is no such thing as a Muslim League within the islands which is likely one of the greatest events in Kerala.”

A matrilineal society

What actually marks out the Islamic society of Lakshadweep from the remainder of India is the lengthy current custom of matriliny whereby lineage and property is succeeded from mom to daughter.

Anthropologist and feminist scholar Leela Dube in her ebook, ‘Matriliny and Islam: Faith and society within the Laccadives’ (1969), explains the distinctiveness of a matrilineal society in Islam when she writes, “maybe nowhere would a social system seem so incompatible with the ideology of Islam and demand a lot adjustment and lodging as in a matrilineal society.”

Kooria says “the islanders consider their practise in matriliny is just not regardless of of Islam however due to Islam.” In different phrases, they make sense of their matrilineal practises by way of Islam. “They consider that the Prophet lived along with his first spouse, Khadija in a matrilocal system. That is the non secular sanction for his or her matrilineal practise,” says Mohamad.

Talking in regards to the roots of matriliny within the islands, Pillai says “one custom has it that Amini, Kalpeni, Andrott, Kavaratti, and Agatti are the oldest islands that had been inhabited, and sure households right here declare to be descendants of converts to Islam from Nair and Namboodiri Brahmin households on the mainland. Matriliny was practiced by Nairs and a number of other different castes, and was a part of Kerala’s cultural sample. Its existence in Lakshadweep can be a part of the identical sample.”

Kooria explains that the practise of matriliny within the islands can’t be seen in reference to Kerala alone and that it’s generally discovered among the many Muslims of the Indian Ocean area like in Mozambique, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tanzania and many others.

Nevertheless, the geographical isolation of the Lakshadweep has ensured that the islanders weren’t subjected to the form of European colonial affect or the affect of standard Islamic concepts from different elements of the Muslim world just like the reformist Mujahid motion in south-west India within the Thirties. Consequently, not like that in different elements of the Indian Ocean, the matrilineal custom within the Lakshadweep has additionally been most lengthy lasting.

In more moderen occasions, nevertheless, the affect of contemporary life and a nuclear household system has impacted the standard matrilineal practise within the islands. Maryam Mumtaz (29) a resident of Kalpeni island says that with youthful individuals shifting out looking for jobs and households changing into smaller, property is now getting divided. “If the reforms to develop the islands as a vacationer hub doesn’t take into consideration the intrinsic tradition of the individuals, then the breakdown of our conventional methods of dwelling will solely intensify additional,” she says.



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