Thoothoor Mukkuvar History



The Process and Development

Vareethiah Konstantine*

‘A race of people is like an individual man:  until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its history, expresses its own culture and affirms its own selfhood, it cannot fulfil itself.’

-Malcolm X

Every great journey in history have begun with a small step. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat history, goes a famous saying. At this point of time and space, we, the ethnic group called the Mukkuva, are making a humble yet well conceived initiative: to learn ourhistory. For everything there has to be a first step. I tend to reflect over the origin of this effort- serial seminars on Mukkuva history.

The Thoothoor Island-  Unique and Special

The Thoothoor Island has to its credit, many firsts, which I keep recording consistently in my writings. This small island of eight plus coastal hamlets (of Tamil Nadu) has set examples to the rest of the Indian coast of how the concepts of  development can become a reality.

I have been watching with great interest this small coastal strip for the past over 30 years- the developments on many fronts- sports, education, arts, occupational mobility, entrepreneurship and conflict resolution; its dialect, culture and the exceptional fishing skills of its people.

Despite my academic limitations (perhaps due to my non-humanities background) I got absorbed into this sea of Mukkuva culture. I must thank a great soul- Mr. Albert Joseph  (of Erayumanthurai) with whom I came in contact some 20 years back. Recently I had a couple of sittings with Mr. Issac (of Martandanthurai), a voracious reader and thinker; and two other community leaders of our time Mr. M.Giltus (of Neerody) and Poet Geeyaar Thuthur.  I have had the privilege of working  with Mr. S. Rhymond (of Eraviputhenthurai) though for a short stint;  of having long and sustained interactions with men like Pulavar Saviour Bastin (of Chinnathurai).

*Associate Professor at St. Jude’s College, Thoothoor and State Coordinator, Tamil Nadu Pudhuvai Coastal Artists’ Collective. Contact: [email protected]

In one such interaction with Mr. Issac and Pulavar Saviour  I happened to make a reference to Late Mr. Joseph, the co-founder of the Coastal People’s Organisation (CPO). He was indeed a visionary, a trade unionist and an indefatigable social activist. He was the man behind theMagna Carta of the CPO, which are coming to reality today one by one. Suddenly the thought of two other great names crossed my mind. I couldn’t resist tracing the nativity of these three great souls. The late Fr. Francis Borgio Peters was the visionary who founded St. Jude’s College Thoothoor and the late Fr. John Lopez served at Colachel as its Parochial Vicar in the sixties when he took great pain to purchase a piece of land for establishing a school for his people. All three of them hailed from Pulluvila. Their socio-political background had something in common; they must have had some kind of exposure that inducted them into ‘institution building’. Pulluvilaians are best known as the Jews of South Travancore. Wherever they had been, they left their stamp. Intelligence, erudition, political acumen and vision are among the trade marks of their culture. There must be something unique about this soil which is a prospective area for anthropological and historical research…

The Thoothoor soil is unique in another sense. This small strip of coast land with the Arabian Sea, Ananda Victoria Martandavarma Canal, The Poovar Kayal and the Thengappatanam Kayal as natural bounderies, is pernhaps the most enlightened (in its class ofcourse) of the entire Indian coast. This island is blessed with  a think tank. The elites here are a force to reckon with. They can hardly be influenced by gratifications. These people were instrumental in resolving deep crises and grave conflicts. They continue to provide some kind of collective guidance, an ideological leadership to this ethnic community especially in conflict situations. There have been calamities, infighting, deep divides, issues and communal conflics now and then. Yet, this region has proved itself to be a healthy exception to the fisherfolks’ chronic dependence on Church in Travancore and Pearl Fishery Coasts. This nurses a hope in me that the Thoothoor island could set an example worth emulating; a light house for the eastern and the western coasts that professes the same Catholic faith for centuries.

The Kanyakumari Coastal Artists’ Collective

In 2005, closely after the tsunami disaster, I chanced to interact, among others, with two great personalities- Rev. Dr. Francis Jayapathy s.j., and Professor Vethasagayakumar. The former had been organising special consultations and conferences at Carmel School Premises (Nagercoil) on the lifestyle ecology of fishermen and records on the Neidhal Thinai in literature since the Tamil Sangham Period. On and off I had also been invited to contribute in many fora- cosultations and the so called unconferences organised by literary groups, rights activists and change agencies as a voice from the fishermen community.

During the years 2005- 2006 I, along with Rev. Joseph Justus, a secular cleric from Kottar, embarked on a mission: documenting the impressions of officials, NGOs, clerics and lay persons on the post tsunami reconstruction. To me it was an exciting travel into the culture and life of the coastal ethnic groups of Kanyakumari. It threw light on my own ignorance over my own community and challenged me to go for a deeper understanding…

One month after the release of this documentation as an edited work entitled ‘Aazhip Peridarukkup Pin’ (After the Tsunami Disaster) on the II Anniversary of tsunami, Prof. Vedhasagayakumar called me over phone and gave me a crtical, comprehensive review of the work. The essence of his interactions with me and the seminal point that emerged in the Carmel transactions were essentially the same: ‘The coastal community must put in writing its life, lores and its past without loss of time. For such writings alone could initiate a dialogue with the land based communities and in doing so, the fisherfolks could bring themselves closer to their counterparts….’

Nearly for an year Prof. Vethasagayakumar had been mounting pressure on me to identify a few young thinkers from the coast with flair for writing and organise them. His idea was to expose these youth to the world beyond the Church. There were ofcourse a few I could spot out, but I found their dialect and outlook strongly accented with the dogmatic, prescriptive diction of the Church. At one point of time I was startled to find the ‘catholic cleric’ inside me who tends to dogmatise, prescribe and impose sanctions on fellowmen. To begin with, I felt, I must get rid of this ‘cleric in me’.  I hasten to add that my point is not to negate the teachings of the Church, but to travel beyond the Church. After all, beyonding is what religions are meant for.

Against this backdrop I began to meet select young people (gender neutral) from my coast and impressed upon them the need to stretch one’s learning beyond the Church, to converse with men of letters,  research and activism. We christined this small team of ours Kanyakuamari Coastal Artists’ Collective‘ (KCAC). The preliminary gathering took place at Colachel on December 27, 2007. Every month then on we invited a distinguished writer/ social science researcher  beginning with Joe D Cruz engaged ourselves in dialogue. Besides literary subjects, we had been handling topical issues of time relevance like fishing and mercantile harbours, Coastal Management Zone Draft Notification, mid sea killing and torture of Tamil fishermen, Fisheries Bill our regular meets. We appealed to Prof. Vethasagayakumar, a well known Tamil literary critic, to guide  us and he heartily agreed to. We appealed to Rev. Dr. Francis Jayapathy to provide us some space in Carmel School premises for our  literary meets and that too was instantly granted. Later I was to realise that such a collective was his dream too. Over 20 sessions and two anniversary special meets now, the collective has come a long way and has blossomed out as a state level movement- the Tamil Nadu Pudhuvai Coastal Artists’ Collective (TPCAC). About this period we felt it was time the trainees are moved from the nursery to the farm- to reach out to the excluded and marginalised fellowmen in the coast.

In the mean time (10th August 2008), at the instance of Mr. Melvin Vinoth, a veteran Latin Catholic activist from Valiathura and a close associate of mine, the KCAC arranged to pay Homage to the Mukkuva Warriors of the Colachel War (1741 AD) on the 267th Anniversary, in association with the Coalchel youth . It was suggested by many speakers that the Colachel War history must be reconstructed and the history of Mukkuvars must be researched, published and be included in the school curriculum. In furtherance it was decided to hold seminars on MukkuvaHistory. How ever, our attempt to organise one in 2009 couldn’t take off. The KCAC felt that such a programme must be secular and politically neutral while at the same time all efforts must be directed towards political empowerment of the coastal marginalised communities. Some of the conceived objectives of these transactions are:

Educate the younger generation the value of traditional wisdom of fMukkuvas

Rebuild the long forgotten tradition of the ethnic groups through listening to the elders

Provide a platform for the elders to relate their past and expertise

Reconstruct the ethnic history, lores and customs

Document the culture, heritage, arts and life style ecology of the Mukkuvas

The Colachel War Commemorative Seminar

The Seminar with the theme ‘Mukkuvar: History, Life, Future‘ was conceived by the Tamil Nadu Puchuvai Coastal Artists’ Collective. The iedea of organising a seminar commemorating the 269th Anniversary of the Colachel war sparked from Mr. Melvin Vinoth. This seminar took place at Chinnathurai on 25th July 2010. The All India Catholic Federation (Trivandrum) and the (of Thoothoor youth working in U.S.A.) were the corganisers. The attendance was qualitative and rich. Eighty three select participants from Trivandrum to Kovalam (Kanyakumari) attended. Mr. Melvin Vinoth spoke on Mukkuvar and the Colachel war while Dr. J. Albaris enumerated the hidden history of Kanyakumari Mukkuvas. Pulavar Saviour Bastin presided and Poet Geeyaar Thoothoor and Mr. Leo Pereira of Shangumukhom also addressed the audience. Earlier, Dr. Vareethiah Konstantine briefed the gathering on the rationale and scope of the seminar. Mr. John Fredy Simon ( proposed the vote of thanks. Books on our coast authored/edited by Dr. Vareethiah Konstantine were presented to the guests; The  participants were given a copy each of the book on Fisheries Bill (2009) and a reprograph of an article titled ‘The Socialhistory of Kanyakuamari Mukkuvar‘, both by the same author.

The response to the first seminar was overwhelming. It centred around future programmes.

Continue similar meaningful and futuristic interactions among the community (Mrs. Stellency, M/s J. Michael Nayagam and C. Berlin)

Bring out publications on the transactions in such seminars/ meetings (Mr. S. Varghese).

Publish the transactions of the seminar in journals/ periodicals in order to diseminate the knowledge of Mukkuva history (Capt. J. Michael Nayagam)

Take the message to the women folks in our hamlets, especially to the headload fish vendors (Janet)

This forum must equip itself to deal with matters of concern to fisherfolks like ensuring  right price for the catches (Franklin Gomez, Trivandrum) and timely relief for loss of life at sea (Jeesal Mary, Eraviputhenthurai).

Document our history as  we are in a now-or-never situation (Adv. Mumin Al-Haq, Mondaikaadu Puthoor)

Establish a Journal on Coastal heritage; Establish a Historical Reseach Centre and a Coastal Heritage Centre; Establish a mass media/ Folk arts unit to propagate our heritage; Conduct another seminar for the elites and activists from the Thoothoor island on a title like ‘Our dream village’ (Dr. P. Selvaraj)

The event has served as a launch pad for continued activities on the subject matter.

The publication work connected with the seminar is in progress. The proposed volume is to include some relevant writings of Fr. Pancretius and Dr. Vareethiah Konstantine, besides the presentations and responses in the semiar.

The Seminar Series

Inspired by the overwhelming response, we planned to organise a series of seminars. Attempts will be made to organise one programme at each of the eight hamlets in collaboration with one or more local secular agency. Every programme will centre around a different group of people from the community-

Senior elites’ meet

Senior fishermen meet

Senior headload fish vendor Women’s meet

Mechanised boat fishermen’s meet

Marine Entrepreneurs’ meet

Scientists and Software Experts’ meet

Academics and Activists’ meet

Performing Artists and Folklorists’ meet

Some Healthy Practices ….

As an end result, we fervently  hope, some futuristic ideas might emerge for the community to build on. The programmes so organised need to be apolitical, secular and free from fiscal constraints. We must build on our human resources and  never on ‘funded projects’, we believe. For, the hundreds of crores of rupees pumped through the NGOs could hardly bring a change. The ideal thing is to convince the beneficieries to bear the small cost of these events. The idea has begun to pay dividends. The First seminar (at Chinnathurai) was partially supported; the second event at Eraviputhenthurai was jointly sponsored by the Educational Development and Charitable Trust, Chinnathurai and the Kamalappan Development Trust, Eraviputhenthurai; for the third event proposed at Thoothoor (Senior fishermen’s meet), the Nethaji Library Thoothoor and have come forward to host. People are craving for a change and they are willing to support any constructive effort they believe will benefit the community. They need to be convinced of the sincerity of purpose, transparency, consistency and people’s participation.

Senior Elites’ Meet

On 5th  September 2010 the Senior Elites’ meet was organised at Eraviputhenthurai (St. Catherine Hall) chaired by Mr. M. Giltus (Neerody).  Poet Geeyaar Thoothoor, Pulavar Saviour Bastin, M/s S. Rhymond, M. Jerabin, I.Oliver Joy,  M. Vincent, A. Vincent, M. Clasayyan, A. Mariadasan, A. Jenas, George Miranda and Stanislaus Anto also adorned the dais. Local programmes in three hamlets partitially impeded the attendance (53 participants). Pulavar Saviour Bastin (Educational Development and Charitable Trust, Chinnathurai) honored each of the dignitaries with a shawl.  Dr. Vilfred Kamalappan (Kamalappan Development Trust, Eraviputhenthurai) presented  books on our coast as mementos to all the guests. The  welcome address by Pulavar Saviour Bastin was followed by an introductory note of Dr. Vareethiah Konstantine.

Mr. Giltus recalled in his presidential address the ace strategies of conflict management of yester years. He paid rich tributes to the senior leaders of the past. Mr. S. Rhymond consistently presented the history of formation of Fishermen societies in Thoothoor island three decades ago and the development these societies brought here. Mr. Oliver Joy and Poet Geeyaar Thoothoor touched up on some aspects of Mukkuva history refering to the previous seminar. Mr. A. Mariadasan spoke on the current trends of occupational mobility in Mukkuva community and the career development in the past. The meeting came to end with Capt. Michael Nayakam’s vote of thanks.

One step ahead with books. . .

Reading and writing are two simultaneous processes inevitable for upward mobility in any oppressed community. As for the so called elites, there is little reading outside curriculum. The habit of reading needs to be inculcated in the young minds. At TPCAC, we make it a habit to popularise and present books on our people written by our people. In place of a garland or a shawl, we make it a point to present such books to honour the dignitaries. We arranged book stalls of Kaaalachuvadu and Thamilini at the II anniversary of the Chennai Residing Mukkuvar Welfare Society last January;  another stall at the II Anniversary of  the Kanyakumari Coastal Artists’ Collective at Carmel School Premises in March 2010. It would be nice to consider  putting up book stalls during festivals in our hamlets among other arrangements.

Closing note

Before I conclude, I would like to gratefully record here the valuable role of some agencies in these efforts. The, and carried this programme to our people away and abroad as well.The transactions are uploaded in their sites. TheBharathavar Malar (Mumbai) and Alaivaaikkarayil (Thoothukudi) brought the message to the people in their journals; the local agencies made this effort see the day light with their sponsorship/ hosting/ participation.  The Tamil Nadu Pudhuvai Coastal Artists’ Collective (TPCAC) consciously divides its time and resources between literary meets and documentation and meet-the-people programmes. My friends at TPCAC deserve high appreciation for the clarity of vision and deep commitment to the cause of educating their brethren. There are well wishers, too many to list here, who show keen interest in initiatives of this kind. A salute each of them.

We look up on the senior elites and fishermen leaders to teach and guide us, to relate their experience and expertise, that the generations to come may make fewer mistakes. After all, we are fellow humans sharing the earth with generations past, present and future.

Janani, 53-23, K R Puram (west),

Thoothoor-620 176, TN., India.

[email protected]

11th Sep. 2010.




– Document Source and update found in

COLACHEL WAR COMMEMORATIVE SEMINAR SERIES MUKKUVAR: HISTORY, LIFE, FUTURE The Process and Development Vareethiah Konstantine* ‘A race of people is like an individual man:  until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its history, expresses its own culture and affirms its own selfhood, it cannot fulfil itself.’ -Malcolm X Every great journey in history have begun with…

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