THE MALAYARAYAN TRIBE
Origins and Traditions
The malayarayanas are found in the woodlands of Todupuzha, Meenachil and Changanasseri taluks of the Kottayam Division. They are class of hill tribes who are a little more civilized and have fixed abodes on the slope of high mountain ranges. The large numbers of them are Christians. The word ‘Malayarayan’ means ‘lord of the hills.’ The malayarayans of Arakulam give it out that they are the offspring of Gautama and Ahalya. They style themselves as ‘Karingal Brahmans.’ They claim superiority over all the other tribes in social status. They are called ‘Vazhiyammar’ by the Uralis of the Thodupuzha Range and Manimala Range. The term literally means ‘those who rule.’ The Malayarayan state that there are four kinds of Arayans. They are the Malayarayan (lord of the hills), the Nattarayan (Maharaja), the Katalarayan (lord of the sea), and the Ottarayan (the palanquin-bearers of the Maharaja).
They claim that their original home was at Chingampara and Karimala in the Rani reserve and that they migrated in all directions owing to stress of population. But all the weight of tradition points to migration from north to south. It is also said that they appear to have been the ancestors of the Kurumbas (the Pre-Dravidian tribes of Southern India.)
Malayarayans are short in stature, and not very long lived. They are as fair as the high caste Hindus, colored not black from race peculiarities and only sometimes black through circumstances. They represent a taller strain among the hill-tribes. They have a long head. They have short platyrhine noses. The nostrils are dilated. The hair is black and wavy and the eyes dark.
Problems Faced by the Malayarayans
The Malayarayans appear to have suffered from heavy disabilities in former times. The Puniat Raja, who ruled over those at mundapalli, made them pay head money – two chuckrams a head monthly as soon as they were able to work and similar sum as ‘presence money’ besides certain quotas of fruits and vegetables and feudal service. They were also forced to lend money if they possessed any, and bring leaves and other articles without any pretext of paying them, and that for days. The men of these villages were placed in a worse position than the slaves. The petty Raja used to give a silver-headed cane to the principal headman, who was then called ‘perumban’. The head money was popularly known as ‘thalakaram.’ It is said that these exactions came to an end under very tragic circumstances. Once, when the agent of the Raja went to recover thalakaram, the malayarayan pleaded inability to pay the amount, but the agent insisted on payment. The Arayans were so enraged that they cut off the head of the man and placed it before the agent saying here is your ‘thalakaram.’
The agricultural practices of the Malayarayans reveal the achievements and activities of primitive man. Among them may be mentioned shifting cultivation, clearing jungle, cultivation of food stuffs, and selection of fresh sites for cultivation, when the soil becomes toxic. Necessity for combination is felt by them for protection from wild animals. They live in groups of from ten to fifteen huts, close to water or in an open glade of the forest. Village affairs are regulated by a council of elders. The Ponamban and Panikan are the primary limbs of the council. Both had equal status. Ponamban was a title conferred on a deserving member by the Poonjat Chief. The Ponamban dealt with all offences in the village. If a man committed rape, the council met. The Ponamban reviewed the offence and awarded punishment which took the form of a feast or a fine. The feast is called “enanga sadhya.” The fine extended from ten to one hundred and one chuckrams. If a man was too poor to pay the fine, he had to present betel to all enangans, confess his wrong, and crave the pardon of the assembled men. Feasting followed. If he fail to do this, he was not admitted into their society.
The dead are buried in the vicinity of the habitations. When man breathes his last, information is sent round to all the enangans, who gather and choose the site for burial. The eldest son and nephew are the chief mourners, and they go round the site thrice strewing rice and fried paddy before the grave is dug. The grave is dug about sixty feet to the south of the hut. They then remove three shovels of earth from the site with the site with their faces turned away from it. The shovel is then handed over to the enangans who dig the grave to a depth of four feet. The grave diggers should not carry the corpse. The chief mourners go to the home of the deceased and the corpse is carried to the front yard of the hut. The nephew rubs the corpse with oil and washes it. It is then wrapped in a new cloth bought by the son and nephew. A cocoanut leaf is placed on the ground over which a cloth is spread, and the corpse is laid on it, head southward. All the enangans cover the corpse with a new cloth from each. At the two corners of the cloth near the head, rice and paddy are tied, while tulsi leaves and sandal are tied at the other two corners near the feet.
The religion of the Malayarayan may be described as a system of animism or spiritism, and his attitude to the supernatural is one of the reverential fear in the presence of certain supernatural is one of the reverential fear in the presence of certain supernatural powers and beings. The Malayarayan worships the spirits of his ancestors. It is considered that the death ancestor goes on protecting his family and receiving suit from them.
Magic and Wotchcarft
In all hamlets, there is a medicine-man whose duty it is to cure sickness. The medicine-man is taken to the house at night, a lighted lamp is placed in front of the house, some paddy and four chuckrams are placed on a leaf. The medicine-man becomes inspired, and asks why his services were required. Representations are then made, and he says that the sickness is the result of certain omissions, which should not be repeated. He then passes his hands over the afflicted man and shouts that the illness should leave him. The afflicted man is said to get relief.
The Malayarayans are hunters of wild beasts especially they eat black monkey. They draw toddy from wild palms on the hills. Drunkenness is their besetting sin. They are truthful and intelligent.
“The Malayarayan Tribe” in Tribes of the Southern Highlands, ed. Padmashri S.S. Shashi, 215-233. New Delhi: Anmol publication, 1995.