The journeys of Mancukkar have spawned various forms of oral histories and local narratives all across northern Malabar. Their travel accounts are a richly rewarding source of geography, ethnography and cultural history. As short narrative texts, they provide channels for knowing best the cultural and anthropological settings in each seafaring community, though sometimes they may easily cross the boundaries between reality and imagination. The stories of miracles and divinity widely circulate among them make statements of freedom from the prison-like confines of the realist-rationalist conventions. There are several interesting dimensions to such narratives as the particular mode of travel, which has for all practical purposes been referred to as ‘illegal’ without proper documents and had many painful experiences attached to each journey.  

In their telling, which takes shape in different forms-individual’s spoken memories, recollections and narrative accounts of events and experiences- the complexities of the seafarers’ lives often become a non-linear narrative and thus contradictions and ambiguities are unavoidable. It is also important to note that the Mancukkar, presumably, have their own substitute or sometime even a rival version for each historical event. 

The themes range widely from the simple individual renditions of traumatic experience of travel to the collective hardship involved in the adventurous journeys. The detailed descriptions of travel also shed light on the nature of movement of people and goods in the Arabian Sea during that period. However, the scope of their memories can’t be limited to the personal exercise of telling the stories of past. It rather can be extended to a collective effort to re-tell the history of ‘the land’ in an alternative way. They are especially useful for learning about ordinary travellers’ perceptions of a plethora of historical events which are generally not recorded in the ‘standard’ versions of history. The traditional histories of the region, based mainly on the colonial records, show an inevitable tendency to omit such memories of past generated by the ordinary trans-regional travellers and migrants. Nationalist histories have, of course, not accommodated them as they fall outside the bounds of nation-state. 

This work is presented in the form of a set of memories and life-stories. Each story is of travel, pain previously unheard of and mobility of a group of people, we are emboldened in calling them a community, because of shared memories of past and collective rendering of them. Each story is intimate to them, but may be sounding mythical to others. Many of their stories of travel either begin from or end in a particular place, Malabar. Unlike many other seafaring groups, they wrote a little about their experiences, but narrated a lot through telling life-tales, folklore and songs.

The journeys of Mancukkar have spawned various forms of oral histories and local narratives all across northern Malabar. Their travel accounts are a richly rewarding source of geography, ethnography and cultural history.

The stories narrated in this work evocatively express the ambiguities and tensions no less than the opportunities that the travels of Mancukkar brought, mediated by rituals and narratives. Two major kinds of narratives used in this work are memories and life-stories. Unlike the memories of other travellers, those of Mancukkar’s are with full of stories about the risk they had taken and narrow miraculous escapes they had encountered. Remembrance of a collective misfortune is a major feature of all such narratives of travel, especially when the experiences of travel include disasters, people found solace in memorizing it. 

The significance of the narratives documented here lies mainly in their attempt in re-conceptualising ‘the history of Keralam’ which is otherwise understood as a practice or a set of practices of past of ‘land- based’ communities happened within specific territorial units. These narratives are unique resources as they give a voice to the people whose voices are otherwise unheard in the mainstream narratives of history. Offering an alternative to the ‘standard histories’, these narratives can be put in the category of ‘histories from below.’ They take recourse to historical events- indirectly in most of the cases, but intermesh each one with a ‘subaltern’ rendering. 






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



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.



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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