MANCHUKKAR - THE SEAFARERS OF MALABAR, A PHOTOGRAPHY VOYAGE WITH KR SUNIL, URU ART HARBOUR

Looking at maritime travels and travel-induced interconnectedness of various communities, their narratives and their collective sense of history and memory, many travel writers have described medieval and early modern Keralam as a world on the move. The realm of Keralam’s maritime world was so vast to encompass diverse sections such as: traders, seafarers, migrant labourers, masons, artisans, chefs, musicians, Sufis, scholars and saints. 

Recent archaeological excavations at Muziris have brought forth a variety of tangible evidences to Keralam’s trade linkages with Rome and the Arab world from the first century AD and frequent sailings of Arab seafarers back and forth since that period. The influence of travel reached its zenith in the modern era with constant exchange of people, goods and ideas across a wider region. The element of globality that the travel brought in had also affected culture and religious beliefs to the extent that, cultures that often seem so widely divergent were, in fact, in constant contact with each other in shaping art forms, rituals, lifecycle events and religious practices in Keralam.  

Malabar, the northern part of Keralam with high-value goods it possessed and exchanged and a vibrant seafaring tradition holds a pivotal position in the maritime history of South Asia. This place became the fulcrum of world trade and a meeting point of western and eastern trade routes. Major feature of the development of trade in Malabar was the migration of substantial merchant communities from widely dispersed lands. The long-distance trade also necessitated the presence of on-site agents from the other regions to represent the interests of traders sending goods from faraway places in many port towns of the region. 

The world of maritime trade connections tied the region to the far-flung port towns of Arabia, Central and South East Asia and East Africa. From the sixteenth century onwards, if not earlier, Malabar Coast was a major departure point for pilgrims and scholars bound for Southern Arabia; and throughout the nineteenth and early half of the twentieth century, it was the port of embarkation for long-distance travellers destined for Gujarat, Bombay, Swahili Coast, Eden and Muscat. Travel, trade and faith-based networks connected seafarers from Malabar across boundaries of space and culture. Different kinds of networks formed traversing across the region and making connections between and among individuals and communities. 

Looking at maritime travels and travel-induced interconnectedness of various communities, their narratives and their collective sense of history and memory, many travel writers have described medieval and early modern Keralam as a world on the move. 

The travel continued to provide the coastal villages of Malabar with a somewhat peculiar cosmopolitanism till the 1970s. These villages are heavily laden with stories, myths and songs derived from lives spent in the ocean. The narratives of travel and stories of miracles occurred in the sea also formed a significant part of religious folktales in the region. Long before print and mass-communication became widespread, these narratives played a key role in spreading ideas and beliefs within the maritime universe of Malabar. The cross-regional movements of continued up to the mid-1970, by then the borders of the nation-states (especially in the Arab Gulf region) became non-porous making ‘illegal’ entries next to impossible. 

The tradition of seafaring has long been a means of linguistic bartering between Malayalam and a wide array of trade languages. Malayalam is enriched with a vast vocabulary loaned from major languages of the sea; Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, Swahili etc. This cultural blend has also been the hallmark of art and literature in Keralam.

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HISTORIAN

DR.M.H. ILIAS

Professor & Director, School of Gandhian Thoughts and Development Studies, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala.

PHOTOGRAPHER

KR SUNIL

He finds extraordinary stories in ordinary people. Believes, you should be one of them; for that you should be the kind that loves humanity. He doesn’t carry fancy cameras, that would separate him from them.

ART ORGANISATION

URU ART HARBOUR

URU art harbour is a cultural hub situated at Kochi. URU seeks to be a space for collaboration and a continual hub for artistic, cultural, and intellectual exploration. Founded by Riyas Komu and Zoya Riyas.

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