The Dutch and Kerala

alternate textDutch East India Company (DEIC)

Dutch had ruled Kerala in two ways. They had supremacy over the Kochi kingdom and direct control over forts and trading centers owned by them in Kerala. The Dutch annexed Kochi by defeating the Portuguese. Since then, the Kochi rulers considered the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) as their patrons. The crown of Kochi rulers bore the insignia of the DEIC.

Though the Dutch had never interfered in the administration directly, the Kochi Raja consulted every move with the Dutch Admiral. The ruler even sought DEIC’s permission to adopt members to the royal family. The ruler could arrive on decision regarding the affairs of the state after lengthy discussions with the DEIC. The ruler executed the decision through the Prime Minister. Major decisions were implemented after obtaining the consent of the DEIC. The ruler had no freedom to appoint or terminate his ministers. If the company men erred, only DEIC had the right to punish them. Similarly, the Maharajah had the right to punish only his subjects. The right to impose capital punishment was vested with the council of ministers including the representatives of the DEIC. Only Paliyath Achan (prime minister)had the privilege to pardon the accused. K.P Padmanabha Menon, in his work ‘Kochi Rajya Charitram’ (History of Cochin) says “Land tax was introduced in Kochi in 1762 and amendments were made in the next year. The state was divided into units called nadus for the convenience of administration. However, the ten kovilakams in the state were entrusted under a Karyakar. Accounts were monitored by Menons and assets by Yantrakars. Every desam had a chieftain appointed irrespective of caste and creed. These designations were the perpetual privileges of certain ancestral tharavadu.  Only they had the right to report the superiors the day to day affairs. Kovilakathu vathilukal were classified into vadakkemukham and thekkemukham under each sarvadhikaryakkar.  There was a valyasarvadhikaryakkar, to supervise the entire kovilakathu vathilukal.

Direct Rule by the Dutch
The Dutch had many forts and trading centers besides vast lands at Kochi. They were controlled by the commander/ the governor/the council. The capital of Dutch in the east was Djakarta (Batavia) and its governor general was the chief of the eastern region of the DEIC. He had director generals for looking after the trading centers. Thus, Malabar governor came under the director general of Batavia. If the administrator of Kochi happened to be a member of the council of Batavia, the post of governor was conferred upon him and others were mere commanders (Kamudharu). There was a body of council or sabha to help the governor/commander in administration. The commander was also a senior merchant. The council had the following members:

  1. Commander
  2. Fiscal
  3. Army Chief
  4. Warehouse Keeper
  5. Dispensier
  6. Junior Merchant
  7. Chief Representative of Kollam
  8. Secretary of the Council
  9. Interpreter
In 1667, the Kochi Fort was the major landmark were one would find concentration of the Dutch. Sooner, the warehouses of Kollam, Kayamkulam, Kodungallor, Kannur, Chettuva came under their control. As per the official records, trade centres existed in 20 places, including Malabar. They were under the control of governor general/governor/director/chief.

Moluccus Governor
Amboine ‘’
Bande ‘’
Macassar ‘’
Malacca ‘’
Ceylon ‘’
Coromonal ‘’
Cape of Good Hope ‘’
Solar Chief
Timur ‘’
West Coast of Sumatra ‘’
Cheribon ‘’
Malabar Commander
Samarang ‘’
Surat Director
Persia ‘’
Bengal ‘’
Batavia Governor General

In 1725, Nagapattinam became the centre of DEIC in the Coromondal Coast. It was also known as Chozhamandalam. Gradually, Nagapattinam assumed the status of the office of the DEIC in India. The following is the list of Dutch governors and commanders who served in Kochi:

Van Rheede (1673-77) 
Jacob Lobo (1677-78) 
Martin Huysmen (1680-81)
Gulmer Vorsburg (1684-86) 
Isak van Deilen (1687-93)
Hendrick Zwaadercrool (1693-1698)
Peter Cocssart (1698)
Magnus Weckelman (1698-1701)
W. Moerman (1705-1709)
Barent Kentel (1709-1715)
Major Hans Berkman (1717-1724)
Jakob de Jong (1724-31)
Adrian Van Maten (1731-35)
Van Gollenese (1735-43)
Siersma (1748-…..)
Abraham Cornellis de Pahaye (1750-51)
C. Cunes (1751-57)
C.D. Jong (1757-61)
Wayerman (1761-64)
C. Breekpot (1764-69)
C.L. Snett (1769-71)
Moons (1771-1781)
Anglebeck (1781-93)
Janlam Bertus van Spall (1793-95)

Dutch Contribution to Kerala
The contributions of Dutch to Kerala had long term impacts. The Portuguese ruled Kochi for more than a century. Though the Dutch ruled for a short span, the British who came later emulated the Dutch. K.P Padmanabha Menon, K.M Panicker, Dr. T. A. Punnen and Prof. A. Sreedhara Menon had done in-depth study on Dutch.

The Dutch had more tolerance towards other religions than the Portuguese. The Portuguese blindly followed the sentiments of the Catholics which created much turbulence. Tension surfaced in the name of religion. The move to convert the Latin Dioceses to Catholics led to widespread protests. The assembly of Syrian Christians in front of the cross at Mattancherry is a major event in the religious history of Kerala. These protesters, holding the free end of the rope fastened to the cross vowed not to obey the priests and bishops of Latin Dioceses. This is known as the Rebellion of the Koonan Kurishu (1653). Since then, the Syrian Christians divided into two- Romo Syrians and Jacobite Syrians. The Protestant Dutch accepted the changes in the field of science and technology. The Dutch, though initially opposed the Roman Catholics, gradually changed their policies. Thus, in 1673, a Carmalite Church was erected. In 1682, they established a seminary at Varahpuzha.  Later, this came to be known as St. Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary. The Protestant Dutch in Europe reconciled with the changing scenario.

The Dutch bell at the temple of Varkala (now in Thiruvananthapuram district) and the lamps in the Harippadu Temple (Alappuzha district) were offerings made by the Dutch East India Company (DEIC).

Dr. T.A. Punnen, in his essay on Dutch in Kerala, Volume I, Kerala History Association, had evaluated the administration, reforms, exports, imports, religion and culture of the Dutch. “Dutch Hegemony in Malabar” and “Lanthakkar Keralathil” were the two books authored by Punnen.

The influence of Dutch in Kerala can be grouped under the following sub-headings:

  1. Botany & Medicinal Plants
  2. Agriculture
  3. Industry & Commerce
  4. Medicine
  5. History & Culture
  6. Administration
  7. Miscellaneous


alternate textHortus Malabaricus

This is the greatest ever contribution of the Dutch to the world of plants. Hortus Malabaricus literally means the ‘wealth of flora in Malabar’. Published in 12 volumes, between 1678-1703 from Amsterdam, this book is considered as the first book in which Malayalam alphabets were printed. There is a description of 780 plants in Latin with 781 diagrams in 1616 pages spreading across the 12 volumes. The names of plants are furnished in Malayalam, Konkani, Portuguese and Dutch languages. Printed in folio size, the illustrations were broad and neat. It is believed that only a few copies of the first edition were available in India. One among them is preserved at the Avittom Thirunal Granthasala at Kuriathy in Thiruvananthapuram. The library is named after the Late Prince of Travancore,Avittom Tirunal Rama Varma, who died at the age of eight. The Travancore Royal Family donated a set of Hortus Malabaricus to this library and Mathrubhumi daily took the responsibility of preserving the book. Even today, scholars visit this library to have a glimpse of Hortus Malabaricus.

alternate text Itty Achudan Vaidyan
Itty Achudan Vaidyan's Vilakku Maadam (lamp house) at the Kollatt house.
The Dutch contact with Kerala became memorable with the compilation and publication of Hortus Indicus Malabaricus or Botany of Malabar. The monumental work deals in detail with the medicinal properties of herbs and plants. The work runs into twelve Volumes with seven hundred and ninety four illustrations. It was complied under the patronage of Hendrik Van Rheede. Originally it was published in Latin language and it is believed that superstition prevented many from venturing into the translation. Several years of hard work was required for the completion of the project. Joannes Casearius, a friend of Van Rheede supervised the whole work. The services of Indians and Europeans were sought for the collection of specimens. They searched all over the country to gather fresh specimens of plants and sent them to Cochin. The Dutch commander sought the collaboration of three Konkani Brahmins- Ranga Botto (RangaBatter) Vinaique Pandito (Vibayaka Batter and Appu Botto(Appu Bhattar) and an Ezhava Ayurvedic practioner, Itty Achuthan to select and identify these plants. They revealed the names of these species and expanded their medicinal value which testified their depth of knowledge. The plants were beautifully sketched by a Carmelite priest Matthaeus as Joseph. He had drawn up the plants artistically with scientific accuracy. Owing to the precision of his drawings, there is no difficulty to identify these plants. A description of each plant was written into Malayalam. Emmanuel Carneiro, a resident of Cochin translated in to Portuguese. It was further translated into Latin by Herman Van Douep, the secretary to the Government so that the Europeans had access to the work. The work was the first attempt of a scientific research in the field. It reveals to the world the medicinal wealth of Kerala in its plants and drugs. It also enriched the botanical science with a number of Indian plant names. It remains unsurpassed even today providing basic source of information on the flora of Kerala. The book has influenced the search of later Ayurvedic physicians. The grandiose work occupies a unique place of honour among the literary and scientific works of the land.

In the words of Dr B. Ekbal, former Vice Chancellor of Kerala University
alternate textDr B Ekbal
Hortus Malabaricus. This authentic work deals with the floral treasure and their medicinal properties. The original work in Latin, has twelve volumes. The book is not authored by a Malayalaee. This is the first ever work in which Malayalam scripts appeared in the printed form. Its first volume came out is 1678 at Amsterdam. It took another 133 years for the next Malayalam work in print –ie -Malayalam Bible printed at the CMS Church Mumbai, by Dr Buchanan. Kerala University published the English version of Hortus Malabaricus on its 325thanniversary in 2003 and followed by its Malayalam version in 2008. The efforts were taken by Dr K S Manilal. This is the second magnum opus produced by the Kerala University, the first being the Sahithya Charithram by Mahakavi Ulloor.

Why or what are the qualities which make this a great   work surviving centuries?It has fine details of the medicinal plants. Beyond that, it has recorded the role and influences of imperial powers, the culture, the society, and the history of the militia prevailed then in Kerala.

The Kolezhthu used by Itti Achuthan, the Arya script by Emmanuel Cornier and their valuable remarks reflects the evolution of Malayalam language also. When we analyse the history of printing we cannot but quote Hortus. Hendricks Andrea dean Van Reede (1636-1691) the Dutch Governor of Kochi in the second half of the 17th century is the author of Hortus Malabaricus. The work is immensely rich with knowledge of the medicinal plants of Asia in general. The medicinal qualities of the plants and the method of treatment are given at length. Itti Achuthan of Kollat family in Cherthala, a renowned physician had supplemented and shared his knowledge on medicinal plants. In those days, all write ups on science were published only in Latin-until Sir Isaac Newton brought out his work on Optics in English in 1704. This might be the reason why Van Reede opted for Latin. The original work has 1616 pages containing descriptions on 742 plants with 791 illustrations.

alternate textDr K S Manilal

The first chapter is on coconut palm and its medicinal value. The decoction of the root of coconut and dry ginger in boiling water is good remedy for fever-the book says. The pulp of the leaves mixed with coconut oil stops bleeding. The second chapter is on areca nut palm, followed by sugar cane, date palm, plantain, bamboo etc. The names of the plants in Malayalam were transliterated into Portuguese, then to Dutch and finally to Latin. Distortions of names in such circumstances cannot be ruled out. Dr Manilal has overcome such difficulties. The printing process began with the designing of text and illustrations on copper sheets. Each page carried the names of the species in Malayalam, Arabic, Roman and Devanagiri scripts. The complete illustration of each plant made identification easier.

Van Reede
’s remarks. Reede argued that Kerala was the best place for medicinal plants and the Dutch Military were benefitted by it. Ultimately Kochi was made the Dutch capital.

Earlier translation efforts were not fruitful. In 1720 two volumes were translated into Dutch. In 1774 John Hill translated one volume into English. However the credit of translating all the 12 volumes goes to Dr K S Manilal and the Kerala University. Hendrik Adriaan Van Reedee and Hortus Malabaricus: A contribution to the History of Dutch colonial Botany : J Heniger ; A A Balkema, Boston 1986 is the biography of Van Reede. This book also has to be translated into Malayalam and English as an appended reference resource.

Van Reede died while at Gujarat and his epitaph may be found somewhere in Surat. Still there are so many misgivings on this great work especially on the contributions of Itti Achuthan. Dr Manilal has authored a hand book on this issue titled Hortus Malabaricus and Itti Achuthan. (Mentor Books, Calicut Distribution: P K Brothers Calicut 1996). A collection of essays on Hortus Malabaricus titled Botany and History of Hortus Malabaricus: Routledge London 2004 is edited by Dr Manilal.
alternate textHortus Malabaricus - English version
The founder secretary of the Hortus Malabaricus Trust Cherthala A N Chidambaran has authored a book Hortus Malabaricus and Itti Achuthan (Kerala Sahithya Academy, Thrissur 2011). Joseph Antony has written a book on the efforts taken by Dr Manilal-“Haritha Bhoopadam-K S Manilal and Horthus Malabaricusintae rendam piraviyum” (Mathrubhumi books Kozhikode 2012). (From Grandhalokam)

Dr Manilal commenced his research on Hortus Malabaricus   in 1964 and three decades later Dr B. Ekbal, former Vice Chancellor of Kerala University assured Dr Manilal that Kerala University would undertake the publication of the work. Thus the English version gained news value. Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the then President of India released the English version at the Rashtrapathibhavan, New Delhi. The President informed that a division of Hortus Malabaricus would be opened at the Mughal Gardens of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Years later, the Malayalam version of this work was published by the University of Kerala.

Vaczy, C., Hortus Indicus Malabaricus and its importance for the Botanical Momenclature, pl.28.
Manilal, K.S, The Epigraphy of the Malayalam Certificates in Hortus Malabaricus, p.110.
Selections from the Records of the Madras Government: Dutch Records No.13.
Manilal, K.S., Botany and History of Hortus Malabaricus, New Delhi, 1980, p.11.

The Dutch Architecture

Bolgatty Palace, Kochi (Cochin)
The Dutch East India Company left behind certain important monuments as the vestiges of their occupation of the land of Kerala. The city of Cochin, the headquarters of the Malabar Command still bears the marks of the Dutch power, though their domination had gone forever. The Bolgatti palace, an impressive building constructed at the erstwhile Ramanthuruth of the Vembanad Lake by the Dutch in 1774 for their high officials still remain the greatest replica of the Dutch hegemony in Kerala. Following the departure of the Dutch it went under the British and thereafter under the Raja of Cochin and the Government of Kerala respectively. At present it is placed under the immediate supervision of the Kerala State Department of Tourism. Some of the churches and buildings still exist in Cochin are reminiscent of the Dutch contact with Kerala. The Dutch palace at Mattancherry is one of the oldest buildings built by the Europeans in India. The interior is decorated with mural paintings. The Dutch were fond of having country houses on some of the picturesque island in the back waters. They widely woods for construction purposes and they tried to combine the European style with the traditional style of Kerala architecture. The Governor and many of the upper strata of society had garden houses. A coat made out of medicinal plants for the Governor is still exhibited at the Padmanabhapuram palace which once remained an integral part of Kerala. Many improvements and additions were made with the lapse of time. In Chennamangalam the Dutch constructed another building for Pailath Achan. They also constructed the famous palace known as Kalikotta for Saktan Tampuran (1790-1805) at Trippunithura. The grand massive structure was made in the Dutch architectural style.

The Dutch pulled down the old Portuguese fort and built up a strong fort in Cochin to suit their need and convenience in 1697. During the Dutch occupation of Cochin they made several changes in the town. Many houses were built in the gabled architecture. Quays were erected for the loading of ships and vessels. The Dutch introduced many amenities in the town. In 1721 there Dutch built a cemetery in Fort Cochin. After the burial of the only survivor of the Dutch family in the cemetery it was declared a protected monument. The Dutch changed the names of the streets once inhabited by the Portuguese.  Among them were de Linde Straat (Lime Tree Street), de Lily Straat, Heere Stratt (Gentleman street), de Petercile Straat (Parsely Street), de Bree Straat (Board Street), de Osse Straat (oxstreet), de Burger Straat (Citzen Strret), de Smee Straat (Smith Street) and de Kalven Straat (Calf Street). The Dutch named the boat jetty as de Boom port since its entrance was protected by a beam lying in the water. Thus in many instances the Dutch East India Company left their imprints on the soil of Kerala. Now most of their forts and castles were in ruins and some of them disappeared. Their places of worship continued to flourish  under the management of other Christian denominations.

Newhaff & Hendrick Adrian van Rheed

It was the Dutch commander of Kochi Hendrick Adrian van Rheed who authored Hortus Malabaricus. Born to the Lord of Dracunstein, Earnest van Rheed and Elezebeth Utenev in 1636, van Rheed joined the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) at the age of 20. He reached Kochi as an ordinary employee. His tactical move against the Portuguese made him popular and was promoted as the Captain. After a short stint at Ceylon, he was transferred to Malabar. John Newhaff, another Dutch Captain, reached Kochi and participated in the fight with the Portuguese. He served in Kollam and Tuticorin between 1661-1666. Amidst, conflicts and annexations, he found time for an analytical study of the flora in Malabar. He had elaborately recorded the extraction of camphor from Karuva, the export of Kacholam (a plant similar to ginger) and the methods of producing medicines from Kudagapala. He further described at length, the available medicinal plants and their uses. Years later, van Rheed compiled the findings of Newhaff in his magnum opus Hortus Malabaricus. van Rheed’s analytical study on the flora of Malabar led to the following assessment of medicinal plants in Malabar.

  1. Kerala was in possession of palm leaf manuscripts on the medicinal plants.
  2. There were scholars in this field.
  3. The “doctors” treated illness based on these palm leaf scrolls.

Newhaff perhaps would have gathered information from the above sources. When van Rheed landed in Kochi as commander, research on medicinal plants was gradually gaining popularity. Not only the European countries, but their colonies needed medicines. Moreover, the Arabs, who distributed medicines to European nations, could not meet the demand. The DEIC suggested a search for medicines in Ceylon. This would have urged van Rheed to pursue research on medicinal plants/ flora of Malabar. This, he thought, would be an asset for the DEIC. But, things turned out in a different direction. van Rheed was deprived of the right ambience to continue his study. So he converted his residence at Kochi to a herbarium and a chemist was appointed as his aid. Johans Caeserias, a scholar and a priest, enlisted the medicinal plants in the Malabar region and sketches of the plants were made. The artist and the botanist who helped van Rheed were army personals. The images were embossed on copper plates. An expert team was developed to complete the work. Emmanuel Carnniro, a Dutch blacksmith, translated the information from the palm leaves possessed by the native vaidhyans into Latin. Ranga Bhatt, Vinayaka Bhatt, Appu Bhatt were the pundits in the Malabar region and Kollottu Ittiachyuthan, another vaidhyan from Cherthala, made a major contribution in realizing Hortus Malabaricus. The affidavit signed by these scholars form part of the book. Only Ittiachyuthan was designated as a physician. 

Van Reede

Though van Rheed was keen to bring out the information in the book format, his superior officers took his effort as a hobby and never considered it serious. Van Rheed was held responsible for a diminished procurement of pepper in Malabar. As per his request, he was freed from the responsibility of commander. On 13th May, 1677, he reached Batavia. He carried with him his findings. For one year, he served as the chief of DEIC and in 1678 he returned to Amsterdam and started compiling his work. The first volume was published in 1678 and the next in 1679. In 1684, Van Rheed was appointed as the commissioner of the DEIC in Asia. He arrived at Kochi in 1691. On 15th December, in the same year, he boarded a ship to Surat from Kochi. He died on his way to Surat. His mortal remains were laid to rest at the Dutch Cemetery in Surat. The last two volumes of Hortus Malabaricus (the XIth and XIIth volumes) were published posthumously in 1692 & 1693.

Contributions of the Dutch in Agriculture
Portuguese took the initiative to familiarize the flora of Kerala. They introduced the wide varieties of plants in their colonies spread over Asia and Africa. The Portuguese imported Amaranthus, cashew, pineapple and red chillies to Kerala from Brazil. Similarly, papaya, aathi, guava were also introduced by them. Whether the import of red chillies was from Peru or Brazil is still uncertain. However, the Dutch never had the intention to propagate the flora and fauna to the Dutch colonies. But they implemented several measures to improve the yield of coconut, paddy, pepper and cardamom. They owned many estates in Ceylon. The swaying palms along the coastal belt were the contributions of the Dutch. Though, the vast plantations of coffee in Kerala were popularized by the British, the Dutch had already introduced coffee cultivation in Kochi. Cantervisscher, in his book ‘Letters to Malabar’ had reported the possession of coffee plantations in Ceylon and if it proved successful, it would be introduced in Kochi.  The experiment with coffee plantations in Kochi was a failure. So, they turned their attention on tobacco cultivation. Japanom tobacco (tobacco from Jafna) was popular in Kollam, Porakkadu and Karappuram. Indigo was brought from Surat and the Dutch trained the fishermen at Eranakulam, Alangadu, Varaapuzhaand Venduruthiin Indigo cultivation. The demand for spices which were once considered “wild growths” had more takers mainly from European countries. When the local rulers realized the monitory value, they concentrated more on the cultivation of spices. Pepper was in great demand. The French and the Dutch compete to import more pepper. Coir and toddy, the main byproducts of coconut cultivation, too yielded currency. Coir was used in the construction of boats, canoes and ships. Europeans imported coconut oil for the production of wax and soaps.

The Dutch introduced the procurement of goods in huge go-downs. The Portuguese, who were great navigators, transported the goods overseas. They erected forts on coastal areas to store goods. They procured pepper directly from the farmers and also indirectly from the rulers. This created trade agents. The Dutch entrusted the tenants to cultivate the requirement of agricultural produce. Coconut palms which yielded low were cut down.

The Dutch played a key role in reviving the trade and commerce in Kerala. They introduced weaving and brought expert weavers from Tuticorin to impart knowledge in dyeing. The commercial policies of the Dutch enhanced the trade of Kochi, Kollam, Anchuthengu and Kolachal.Kochi was the major port where vessels from Mecca, Persia, Surat, Bombay and Coromondel anchored. Vessels from Muscat brought dates, perfumes, incent sticks, asafoetida, kadukka, eratti madhuram, ghee, butter, fish, semi-precious stones, salt, gum, red cloth and vedi uppu . The export to Muscat included sugar, spices, iron, sandal, cardamom, wood works, dry ginger, turmeric, castor seed, crockery, rice, coconut, incents, camphor, coconut fiber and coir. During this period Kochi became a renowned port in the world.

Health Services
The roles played by the Dutch in health services and tending orphans were worth emulating. The Dutch who had an upper hand in Kochi, focused on local medicines and methods of treatment. They used herbs to heal the wounds of soldiers and patients. Van Rheed had reported the wide protest by the DEIC in utilizing a medicated oil obtained by the distillation of certain roots. As the number of lepers increased, the Dutch conducted house to house visits to identify the patients who were later cured. This noble mission was interrupted for a couple of years and the lepers count increased. Governor Moens, immediately took steps to resume the house to house visit. All natives, including slaves were insisted to undergo a checkup. A special financial aid was set apart in the budget. The Dutch were aware of the contagious diseases through water. They transported drinking water from Aluva to Kochi. The slaves and the company employees fetched water in boats. The portable water were sold free for DEIC and to others for a price. They established separate orphanages for boys and girls.

The Dutch presented a cot made of 64 medicinal woods to the ruler of Travancore, Anizham Tirunal Marthanda Varma, which is now displayed in the Padmanabhapuram Palace. The Dutch built palaces and mansions in Kochi.  The most popular among them are the Bolgatti Palace. The Portuguese built the Mattancherry Palacefor the Kochi Maharajah in 1557. After a century, the Dutch renovated it. Later, it was expanded encompassing Palayannor Bhagavathy Temple. Since then, the palace is known as the ‘Dutch Palace’. The Bolgatti Palace, built in the island Mulakukadu, has backwaters on three sides. It was a magnificent edifice erected in 1744. One can see a number of tombs of the officials of the DEIC. Ponjikkara and Raman Thuruthuare known for Dutch architecture. The rooms are vast and expansive. The broad fore court were adorned with gardens. Reports and memoirs of the Dutch governor and commanders threw light on the history of Kerala. They form the foundation for the historians and the reports were true and the facts presented as such.

The contributions of John Newhaff, Moens, Van Rheed, Rev Philips and Canter Visscher in recording the history of Kerala is stupendous.  The language, the attire, customs and practices and the administration created a sense of curiosity in the minds of the Dutch.  Renowned historians had authored history of Kerala based on Cater Visscher’s letters. K Sivasankaran Nair has translated Newhaff’s letters into Malayalam.

Newhaff compared Kerala with the Netherlands. He was in Kerala in connection with his military services. He adopted several strategies to gain control over Kerala. In between he found time to document the history with available materials. He was in Kerala for five years between 1661 and 1666.

alternate textThe houses were built using bamboos and coconut fronds

According to him, “Kerala is the region where people use Malabar language (Malayalam), for communication and is located 50 league south of Goa and extends, up to Kanyakumari. Malabar reminded him of Holland as the region had a number of inland pools and canals for transport. The rivers are lees deep and unsuitable for vessels and barges. Like the people of Holland, the people of Malabar squat on the floor for meals. He had also recorded the presence of bats and wolves as if in Holland and had observed that the bats were intoxicated after consuming nectar form coconut flowers. Wolves fed on dead bodies at the grave yards, and on new moon days the pack of wolves howled. The houses were built using bamboos and coconut fronds. Roofs of certain houses were covered with copper. Each house had a forecourt, with three rooms. Temples and palaces were made of granites and were built on the banks of rivers or fresh water pools.

alternate textPalm Trees

The utensils were made of coconut shells. Rich people used metal vessels. Rice, meat, fish, spices, fruits, milk and eggs were their main food.  They consumed toddy daily. Very few were vegetarians. The army men ingested opium.

According to Newhaff, there were five categories of people, besides Christians and Muslims. They were the rulers, Brahmins or priests, army men or Nairs, traders, Paravars and Pulayars, the backward classes.   Brahmins were revered. But most of them were priests and very few were defense personnel.  Only Brahmins were permitted to perform pujas. They abstained from taking non vegetarian food and wore footwear.
alternate textArmy men or Nairs
The attire was palathar and covered the torso with a long thin white cloth. The Brahmin wore nose rings in gold studded with precious stones. They adorned their hand with bangles. They never maintained contact or relation with other communities. There existed a small community of Brahmin who were escorted by a small team, who kept others from intersecting their path. They shouted ‘Pooh..Pooh’ (go away....go away). The men of this community never engaged in marital life and consumed a kind of fruit which had the capacity to suppress the physical desires.

Nairs or Warriors: They were trained warriors. They hold drawn sword. The men and women adorn the ear lobe with rolled cadjan leaf initially and then with silver or gold. Muslims were escorted by Nairs and he might be a youngster or adolescent. But their very presence of Nairs, Muslims had a sense of security.  Physical contact even by mistake with lower caste would pollute the Nairs. They were best wrestlers as well.

alternate textOrnaments
Newhaff further observed that a male member of the Nair family is permitted to marry once. But the women had the privilege to marry thrice.   The three husbands gave her their share to run the family. They lived peacefully and they take turns and kept a drawn sword in front of the bedroom.  The community followed the matrilineal system of succession in which the power was transferred to brother and sister’s sons.

Tapping toddy and making handicrafts from the coconut products were the occupations of the Tiyyas. Paravars were after the shell animals and while the Pulayars and Arayars depend on fishing. Paravars were converted to Roman Catholics. It was St Francis Xavier who reached India in 1540 absorbed them into the RC community. When Newhaff reached Malabar, there were 2500 Christians, and it increased to 4,000 when he left Malabar.

Malabar Muslims were highly money minded. The rich Muslims and the pirate Muslims always carried arms. The traders wore red cap and sometimes covered their head with a long robe, decorated with tassels.  They grew beard and not moustache, the long upper clothe made of silk or cotton reached beyond the knees.  They tucked money in the silk kerchief. 

alternate textOil Extraction
According to Newhaff, only the Zamorins had the power to mint coins. The ruler never entered into wedlock but maintained relation with a woman of his choice. The offspring had no right to rule as they follow the matrilineal form of succession. When a ruler dies, the mourning lasts for 13 days and the new ruler takes over the charge. The new ruler vow to conquer the regions if any lost by his predecessor. After assuming power rice grain is sprinkled on his head. He stood facing the east and chanted certain verses from the scriptures. Only the ruler had the power to punish. Dipping hand in boiling oil, holding fast on red hot metal, forcing to dive on water bodies inhabited with crocodiles were some methods of punishment.

Newhaff recorded incidents of Sati, in which widows self immolates in the pyre of her dead husband.  To mask her wail, drums were played loudly. Sati was not compulsory. But in such places, the widow is kept away from the mainstream.

The wedding, Newhaff witnessed, had the bride and groom arriving the venue of elephant back. The procession halted in front of the houses of friends and relatives.  Sweets and coconuts were distributed to the participants.

According to Newhaff, the New Year was observed on the first of Malayalam month Kanni. Malayanman or Malalayalam is the language prevalent in Malabar. The people used processed cadjan leaves and stylus. The cadjan leaves were of same dimension. The collections of such leaves were threaded using silk.

alternate textSnake Worship
Newhaff says Nairs were staunch believers.  They conducted feasts in the temples on auspicious days. The rich distributed gold or silver coins along with the betel leaf and areca nut. They believed that serpents were God sent for the sins committed.

Newhaff was the first Dutch to study the flora and fauna of Malabar. Within his short stint in Malabar he recorded the medicinal values of the flora. The making of camphor, its use, the medicinal properties of Kacholam, kadukkappale, trees yielding fruits similar to oranges;  kudampuli, kattarvazha, agathi, kottam, kozhimji, fig, cotton, marotti, kanjiram, chembakam, pavizhamalli, elanji, coconut etc.