'Mappila': Identity and semantic narrowing

Joseph Koyippally Joseph
2017 IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science  
Mappila, the generic name for the Kerala-settled West Asian diaspora which gradually got integrated with the indigenous community, has undergone semantic narrowing to meanthe Muslims of North Kerala (Illias 436 fn. 4)since thetwentiethcentury. However, neither all Muslims of North Keralaare mappilas nor is North Kerala the only place of Muslim mappilas. Moreover, there are also non-Muslim mappilas in Kerala. The West Asian trade settlements which came up in the southern, central, and northern
more » ... ral, and northern Kerala established communities in those regions through marital alliances with the local community, and are qualified by words referring to their religious affiliations such as ‗Jewish'(Yuda mappila), ‗Christian' (Nasrani mappila) and ‗Muslim' (Jonaka mappila) (Malieckal 300; Županov 99).The meaning of the term got narrowed when the Muslim mappilas began asserting their identity due to political reasons that threatened their identity. Etymological explanation of the word ‗mappila'is sociologically illuminating. The meaning of the word, a combination of ma and pillai(Logan 191; Mayaram, Pandian and Skaria; Miller, Mappila 30-32; K. P. Menon 534-37; Thurston 458; Miller, Encyclopaedia VI.45), is not yet satisfactorily explained.Although pillai [‗son'] is generally accepted asa term of endearment and intimacy, an honorific title, and a title of Nairs, the meaning of mais debated. Ma has different meanings in the source languages of Malayalam. In Sanskrit, its meanings could be ‗mother' [‗mother's son'] or ‗great' as abbreviation of maha [‗great son'], and ‗not' [‗not son' i.e., ‗son in law', probably a foreigner in matrilineal Kerala]. In the first sense, mappila is a child born to Arab fathers in local costal woman, as mother, ma, was to take care of the child, pillai, as the fathers never claimed for the children (Day, 1863: 366). As a title of honour it was used by the Nayars and Christians in Travancore and probably by the early Muslim immigrants (Logan, 1951: 191). The Dravidian word mappila meansbridegroom (Moore, 1870: 13), who to the community of the bride is ‗not son', but an endeared one. Tamil retains this sense and it connotesa maritalrelation, and got to mean the descendants of west Asian traders who married local women (Miller, Hindu-Christian Dialogue 50).It was extended to the locals who accepted customs of the migrants. The editor ofThe Travels of Ludovico d' Varthomaregards mappila as a derivation ofthe Arabic colloquial ma fellah [not farmer]. It highlights the west Asians' occupation as trading as distinct from agriculture (Badger 1890: 123).
doi:10.9790/0837-2201060813 fatcat:qytddtejsratlliui6jeqsbnla