The Ethnology of the ‘Moors’ of Ceylon

by the Hon. P. Ramanathan

[read April 26, 1888]

Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Society of Great Britain & Ireland, 1888; 10(36): 234-262.

Ramanathan Ethnology of ‘Moors’ of Ceylon 1888

Introductory Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan(1851-1930)

135 years ago, Ponnambalam Ramanathan (1851-1930) read a paper entitled ‘The Ethnology of the Moors of Ceylon’ at the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Society of Great Britain & Ireland. This paper has had a hostile reaction from the Muslim community of Ceylon. Muslims turned against Ramanathan’s justifiable view that Muslims in the island are none but converted Tamils of past centuries. This was contradictory to the dominant view espoused by the Muslim politicians and clerics such as Mohamed Siddi Lebbe (1838-1898) of that period; they claimed that were descendants of Arab traders of medieval ages, who had intermarried with the local women. If their claims had to be sustained, the Muslims in Ceylon, should have continued to use Arabic as the main language. But, this was not so. Muslims use Arabic for their prayers only. And in their routine day to day life, they had been using Tamil language, with a few Arabic words, springled in between. Even Siddi Lebbe preached his revivalism via Muslim Naisen newspaper, printed in Tamil!

If one were to identify the hallmarks of Muslim politics in Ceylon since Siddi Lebbe’s times, I’d label two items: crass opportunism and Cabinet positions as distinguishing identifiers. While majority of the indigenous Tamils practised confrontational politics for decades with the power holding Sinhalese majority, Muslims (though Tamil speaking) opted for what I tag as ‘parasitic politics’. Though many will deplore my use of ‘parasitic politics’ as a pejorative phrase, in reality it is an apt label – always be parasitic on the Sinhalese party that holds the power. Parasites have a distinguishing feature, in not allowing their hosts to die, though they will take advantage of the prevailing conditions favorably and weaken the hosts. Consider the political careers of Muslim leaders such as Razik Fareed (1893-1984), Badiuddin Mahmud (1904-1997), Muhammad Ashraff (1948-2000) and Rauff Hakeem (b. 1960). These Muslim politicians made Sir Pon Ramanathan as the chief villain of their community, for Ramanathan’s valiant advocacy that Muslims are none but converted Tamils in centuries past. Why?

In the aftermath of the 1915 Sinhalese-Muslim riots, Ramanathan argued with the British authorities to help Sinhalese detainees. According to historian K.M. de Silva, “The detainees included the Senanayake brothers – F.R., D.S. and D.C., D.B. Jayatilaka, W.A. de Silva, C. Batuwantudawe and Edmund and Dr. C.A. Hewavitarane (brothers of the Anagarika Dharmapala). A.E. Goonesinha…In the Legislative Council Ponnambalam Ramanathan, with all the moral authority of the elected representative of the educated Sri Lankans, rose to the defence of the Sinhalese leaders in a series of impassioned speeches notable alike for their fearless condemnation of the excesses committed by the British forces in suppressing the riots, and cogently argued refutation of the conspiracy theory. He opposed both the Acts of Indemnity, which placed the civil and military authorities beyond the reach of the law, and the Riots Damages Ordinance which imposed collective retribution in the form of a levy of compensation on all Sinhalese residents of specified localities, with no regard to whether or not they were implicated in the riots….’ [A History of Sri Lanka, C. Hurst and Co, London, 1981, pp. 381-385]

Two points need highlighting here: First, Muslim politicians were angry that in the aftermath of 1915 riots Ramanathan sided with the Sinhalese leaders who were detained, and sustained a campaign that they were descendants of Arabs and separate ‘ethnics’. Also that, Ramanathan had no right to represent them. The irony here is that, Siddi Lebbe’s successors like Razik Fareed, Badiuddin Mahmud, Muhammad Ashraff and Rauf Hakeem did the same thing in aligning with the Sinhalese, what Ramanathan did between 1915 -1918 for communal harmony. Secondly, the ingratitude of Sinhalese politicians (beginning from D.S. Senanayake – the first prime minister of the island) shown to the indigenous Tamils since 1930s is a lesson Tamils shouldn’t forget.

For curiosity, I checked 6 studies on Sri Lankan Muslims, published since 2005. These are as follows:

Victor de Munck: Islamic orthodoxy and sufism in Sri Lanka. Anthropos, 2005; 100(2): 401-414.

Dennis B. McGilvray and Mirak Raheem: Muslim perspectives on the Sri Lankan conflict. East West Center Washington, Policy studies 41, Washington DC, 2007, 59 pp.

Farzana Haniffa: Three attempts at peace in Sri Lanka. Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, 2011; 6(1): 49-62.

Sharika Thiranagama: Muslims and ethnic identity in Sri Lanka, In: Politique et religions en Asie du Sud, edited by Christophe Jaffrelot, Aminah Mohammad Arif, Editions de l’Ecole des hautes etudes en sciences sociales, Paris, 2012, pp. 241-263.

Suresh Noel Fernando: Islamism and Muslim minority in Sri Lanka, MA in Security Studies, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, 2018, 101 pp.

Esther Surenthiraraj and Nelufer de Mel: ‘Two Homes, Refugees in Both’: Contesting frameworks – The Case of the Northern Muslims of Sri Lanka. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2019; 7(2): 1044-1064.

While the first three (Victor de Munck, McGilvray and Raheem, and Farzana Haniffa) had cited the Ramanathan’s 1888 paper passingly with comments, the next three studies (Thiranagama, Fernando, as well as Surenthiraraj and de Mel) had omitted citing it. Omissions do indicate either half-baked scholarship or the lack of rigor for searching pertinent references by these authors. Thus it becomes obligatory to provide Ramanathan’s original presentation (nearly 8,450 words) in entirety.

Towards this objective, I present below, a re-formatted complete version of the original 1888 paper, with foot notes 1-47, numbered serially, and presented at the end of the text. I infer that Ramanathan’s cogent arguments (based on history, language, demography and social customs) that Muslims of Sri Lanka are converted Tamils of past centuries had NOT been refuted by any Muslim scholars to date. Also to be noted, is that in the final foot note of the text (foot note 47, in this re-formatted version), Ramanathan had cited other prominent specialists of 19th century Ceylon (Rev. James Cordiner, Simon Casie Chetty and A.M. Ferguson) who also were convinced that ‘Moors of Ceylon’ were ethnologically Tamils.

I.L.M. Abdul Azeez (1867-1915)

As I had mentioned above, Muslims contemporaries of Ramanathan were not pleased with Ramanathan’s hypothesis. They resented the tag that ‘their ancestors were converted Tamil speaking Hindus’. The leading personality in their campaign against Ramanathan’s view was I. L. M. Abdul Azeez (1867-1915). He published a rebuttal entitled ‘A Criticism of Mr. Ramanathan’s Ethnology of the Moors of Ceylon’ in 1907. Though I haven’t read this rebuttal, Abdul Azeez’s namesake – Jaffna born educationist and Senator Aboobucker Mohamed Abdul Azeez (1911-1973) had delivered a birth centenary address of I. L. M. Abdul Azeez on Oct 27, 1967. For those who are interested, the digital link to this birth centenary address is

According to A.M.A. Azeez’s address, I.L.M. Abdul Azeez had derived the word ‘Sonagar’ (which is commonly used by Tamils as a reference to Muslims) from ‘Songam’ which connoted the country of Arabia. But, if one reads Ramanathan’s treatise, his derivations and historical explanations for the words not only ‘Sonagar’ or ‘Sonahar’, but also other words of reference to Muslims such as marakkala minisu (by Sinhalese) and Chaaman-karan (by Tamils) are more elaborate and linguistically proper.

Lorna Dewaraja (1929-2014), in her 1994 book, ‘The Muslims of Sri Lanka – One Thousand Years of Ethnic Harmony 900-1915’ had provided a few annotations. These include,

‘Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who was then serving in the legislature propounded the theory in 1888 that the Muslims of Sri Lanka came from South India and were actually converted Tamils. The Muslims denounced Ramanathan’s contention and he was accused of trying to deny separate representation for the Muslims. It was argued that acculturation and admixture of blood did take place but that the first Muslims who came to Sri Lanka were Hashemites who left Arabia in the seventh century and hence they were an entity entirely separate from the Tamils…

‘Though we cannot wholly accept Ramanathan’s conclusion that the Moors of Sri Lanka are ‘ethnologically Tamils’ there was a considerable admixture of blood, Arab, Sinhala, Sri Lankan Tamil and South Indian. Despite the admixture that took place, and the manners and customs that were acquired, the individuality of the community was preserved on account of the cherished memory of its Arab origin and the emphasis that was placed on Islam as the basis of its communal structure.’

‘The Hashimite ancestry is again reminiscent of the attempts by the Sinhalese to claim a link with the Sakya clan, through Princess Bhadda Kaccana and thus establish kinship with the Buddha. Similarly, the Muslims of Sri Lanka would certainly cherish the memory of their connection with the family of Hashim from whence sprung the Holy Prophet.’

Suppose if this was the case and there is truth in it, the onus is on the Muslim scholars to provide convincing support for anti-Ramanathan view that their ancestors were not converted Hindu Tamils. How many were in the original composition of the Hashemites population that landed in Serendib then? From which location in Arabia did they arrive? Assuming all were men, whom did they marry? Why Arabic language had disappeared in the island, except in reading Quran for prayers?



The Text of Ramanathan’s 1888 Paper

[The words in italics are as in the original. The spellings are retained as in the original.]

 That section of our community which passes principally among our European settlers by the name of ‘Moors’ number, according to the last Census, about 185,000 souls. They are all Muhammadans. In the Sinhalese districts they occupy themselves with petty trade of all kinds, as pedlars and boutique (small shop) keepers. The poorer classes are mostly boatmen, fishermen, and coolies. In the Tamil provinces they pursue agriculture and fishing. In physique and features they closely resemble the Tamils, and as to the language they speak, it is Tamil, even in purely Sinhalese districts. I propose in this Paper to consider the nationality of this community.

In ancient Roman history the name Mauri frequently occurs as the inhabitants of Mauritania,1 the westernmost country of North Africa, washed by the Atlantic on the west and the Mediterranean on the north. They were a nomadic, idolatrous, and illiterate race, and for many years vainly resisted the religion and power of the successors of Muhammad. When they became converts to the new faith (A.C. 698-709) their great ambition was to learn the language and affect the manners of the Arabs. In the words of Gibbon, they were ‘proud to adopt the language, name and origin of Arabs.’2 The natives of Mauritania and of the regions extending eastwards to the Euphrates were known to the Greeks and Romans also by the name Saracens. It is matter of history how this

‘Countless multitude

Syrian, Moor, Saracen, fresh renegade,

Persian and Copt and Tartar in one bond

Or erring faith conjoined – strong in the youth

And heat of zeal – a dreadful brotherhood,’

Overran Spain and attempted to conquer Europe north of the Pyrennees, and how their fate was decided by the dreadful battle fought on the plains of Tours.3 When the Portuguese navigated the eastern seas in the fifteenth century, and found Muhammadans along the western shores of India and Ceylon, they gave them the names of Moros, which in English is ‘Moors’.4 In India that name is no longer used to denote Muhammadans; but in Ceylon we continue to use it in a loose way, as if our information will not permit us to speak definitely, or to identify the nationality of this people. I believe that the honorific Marakar or Marikar, which appears so often appended to a Muhammadan name both in South India and Ceylon, is a relic of Portuguese official language in a Tamil garb. It means ‘a man from Marocco’, the final ar in Marakar being the cpicene particle in Tamil denoting respect.5

In the Census Report of 1881 will be found a statement showing the distribution of the population of Ceylon according to religion and nationality. The total number of Muhammadans is given as 197,775, under the following ‘nationalities’:

Europeans – 1

Eurasians – 4

Sinhalese – 71

Tamils – 715

Malays – 8,857

Moormen – 184,536

Others – 3,591

Those who are classed as ‘others’ include Afghans 130; Arabs 450; Dekkanese 3; Hindustani 164; Javanese 3; Pathani 1,210; Tulukkar (Turks) 128 &c. We have fairly clear ideas of the nationality of these Muhammadans; but what is the nationality of the ‘Moormen’?

The Registra-General and other Commissioners appointed for the taking of the Census are not primarily responsible for the term ‘Moor’ representing a nationality in Ceylon. As I have said, our Portuguese conquerors applied the term to this community, not because that was the name it went by in its own circle or among its neighbours, but because, like the Moors of North Africa, its religion was Muhammadan. The political successors of the Portuguese – I mean the Dutch – took over the word and used it in a loose way to denote a class of people whose lingual and social characteristics they did not comprehend for several decades, either absolutely or relatively to the races which inhabit Ceylon and India. In the closing years of their rule, however, they were convinced that the ‘Moors’ of Ceylon were, in the main, Tamil Muhammadans.6 But before the discovery could stamp itself on official documents and pass current in official lips, the English had arrived and found a world of work to do in supplying the material and moral wants of the country, without the leisure for entering upon ethnological questions. Their first Census of which we have any returns, and which was ordered in 1824, was therefore necessarily erroneous in classification, if not enumeration. The old term ‘Moors’ was retained, as also I may say the old term ‘Malabars’7 for Tamils, who knew not that word even in dreams, as they say. The second Census taken in 1871, and the third and the last taken in 1881, eliminated ‘Malabars’ but retained ‘Moors’, evidently because the Commissioners and other European officials have lacked the time or the opportunity for studying that community. By a similar misapprehension the ‘Kandyans’ were thought to be different from the Sinhalese even as late as 1866.8

It is noteworthy that in the Report of the Census of British India for 1881 there are no returns relating to nationality, but language is taken as equipollent to it Surgeon-General E. Balfour, who is considered an authority on the sociology of Southern India, also uses language for nationality, as for instance in the following passage: – ‘The Haiderabad State has been formed from portions of four great nationalities the Canarese, the Mahratta, the Telegu, and the Gond. The number speaking the Gond language is not recorded, but out of a population of 9,845,594 the Telegu language is spoken by 4,279,108, the Mahratta by 3,147,746, and the Canarese by 1,238,519,’ &c.9 Webster defines nationality to be ‘a race or people determined by common language and character and not by political bias or divisions.’ Professor Max Muller narrows this definition as follows: ‘If there is one safe exponent of national character it is language. Take away’, says he, ‘the language of a people and you destroy at once that powerful chain of tradition in thought and sentiment which holds all the generations of the same race together  if we may use an unpleasant simile – like the chain of a gang of galley slaves. These slaves, we are told, very soon fall into the same pace without being aware that their movements depend altogether on the movements of those who walk before them. It is nearly the same with us. We imagine we are altogether free in our thoughts, original and independent, and we are not aware that our thoughts are manacled and fettered by language, and that, without knowing and without perceiving it, we have to keep pace with those who walked before us thousands and thousands of years ago. Language alone binds people together and keep them distinct from others who speak different tongues. In ancient times particularly ‘language and nations’ meant the same thing; and even with us our real ancestors are those whose language we speak, the fathers of our thoughts, the mothers of our hopes and fears. Blood, bones, hair and colour are mere accidents, utterly unfit to serve as principles of scientific classification for that great family of living beings, the essential characteristics of which are thought and speech, not fibrine, serum, or colouring matter, or whatever else enters into the composition of blood.’10 Of a similar opinion is Sir William Hunter, as may be seen from the following passage, which, by the way, is a propos to the subject discussed in this paper: ‘Many storms of conquest (besides the Brahmanical and Buddhist invasions) have since swept over the land (Madras Presidency), and a few colonies of Mughal and Mahratta origin are to be found here and there. But the indelible evidence of language proves that the ethnical character of the population has remained stable under all there influences, and that the Madras Hindu, Muhammadan, Jain and Christian are of the same Dravidian stock.’11

If therefore we take language as the test of nationality, the Moors of Ceylon, who speak as their vernacular the Tamil, must be adjudged Tamils. But as some ethnologists, like Dr. Tylor, maintain that language of itself affords only partial evidence of race,12 I shall dive a little deeper and prove that the conclusion I have arrived at is supported as much by the history of the Moors (so far as it may be ascertained) as by their social customs and physical features.

Those returned in the Census of 1881 as ‘Moors’ are to be found in every part of the Island. Their distribution according to number is as follows:

In the district of Batticaloa 27,000

In the city of Colombo 23,600

In the district of Kandy 22,000

In the district of Kalutara 12,800

In the district of Puttalam 12,500

In the district of Galle 11,000

In the district of Kurunegala 9,400

In the district of Nuwarakalaviya 7,300

In the district of Mannar 6,600

In the district of Badulla 6,000

In the district of Matale 5,900

In the district of Trincomalee 5,700

In the district of Kegalla 5,000

In the district of Matara 5,000

In the district of Colombo 4,300

In the district of Jaffna 2,600

In the district of Negombo 2,500

In the district of Ratnapura 1,500

In the district of Nuwara Eliya 1,400

In the district of Hambantota 1,200

In the district of Vavuniya-Vilankulam 700

In the district of Mullaittivu 400

This community, numbering (as I have said) nearly 185,000 souls, includes those who are commonly known in our Law Courts as ‘Ceylon Moormen’ and ‘Coast Moormen’. The former class represents (as I shall show13) the earlies settlers who have lived in this country for several generations. The latter class represents those who have arrived from either the coast or the inner districts of South India for purposes of trade, and who intend to return to their homes. Hence the distinction which the ‘Ceylon Moor’ draws between himself and the ‘Coast Moor’ when he calls himself Chonahan and his co-religionist from South India Chammankaran, a compound word made up perhaps of the Malay sampan, ‘boat’, and Tamil karan, (man)14 The Sinhalese being aware that not only the ‘Coast Moors’ but also the ‘Ceylon Moors’ came from abroad in sailing vessels, call them indiscriminately Marakkalaha, derived obviously from the Tamil word Maram ‘wood’ and kalam ‘vessel’. As to the respective numbers of these two classes, it was estimated in 1866 (on the evidence of several Muhammadan gentlemen) by the Sub-Committee of the Legislative Council which was appointed to consider and report upon the Muhammadan Marriage Registration Ordinance, that fully one-third of the ‘Moors’ along the maritime country from Kalpitiya to Matara are ‘Coast Moors’, and I have good reason for saying that much more than one-half of the ‘Moors’ in the northern, eastern and inland districts are also ‘Coast Moors’. It may therefore be concluded that the 185,000 Moors in the Island are divisible almost equally between ‘Ceylon Moors’ and ‘Coast Moors’. The English in South India call the Muhammadans from whom our Chammankarar are drawn Lebbes or Lubbays, most probably because Lebbe is a common ending to their names.15 The ‘Lebbes’ call themselves, and are called by the Tamils, Chonahar, on which term I shall comment hereafter.16

In order to appreciate the relations (social, lingual and physical) which the ‘Coast Moors’ bear to the ‘Ceylon Moors’, and which both bear to the rest of the Muhammadans in India, we have to remember a few facts brought to light by the Census of 1881. Of the fifty millions of Muhammadans on that peninsula, Bengal clams 21,800,000 (or 31 percent of the Hindus); Punjab 11,700,000 (or 51 percent); the North-Western Provinces and Oude 6,300,000 (or 14 pcerent); the Bombay Presidency 3,700,000 (or 18 percent); the Madras Presidency 1,900,000 (or 6 percent); Assam 1,300,000 (or 27 percent); the State of Haiderabad 930,000 (or 9 percent); Rajaputana 860,000 (or 9 percent); and Central India 510,000 (or 6 percent). It will thus be seen that Islam is as strong in North India, where Hindustani is the ruling language, as it is weak in the Madras Presidency, where Tamil is the ruling language. It is also certain that more than 50 percent of the Muhammadans of this Presidency are found in the districts of the extreme south, namely, Tinnevelli, Madura, Malabar and Tanjore,17 and that while nearly all the Muhammadans of Malabar are Mapillas, nearly all the Muhammadans in Tinnevelli, Madura and Tanjore are Lubbays. The figures, in round numbers, are these: Of the 1,935,000 Muhammadans, 515,000 are Lubbays (speaking the Tamil language); 496,000 are Mapillas (speaking the Malaiyalam language); and the rest are Shaiks, Sayyids, Pathans, and Mughals (speaking mostly the Hindustani language).18

Hindustani, as is well known, is a language of modern creation, being the camp language of the motley crowd of Mughals, Pathans, Persians, and Turks, and Punjabis, Hindis, Urdus, and other native inhabitants of India, who formed the soldiers and camp followers of the Muhammadan conquerors. The Hindustani-speaking Muhammadans of the present day in India are partly the descendants of this heterogenous body through Indian mothers. The wave of Islam, it is well to bear in mind, entered through the Punjab, gathered strength all along the North-Western Provinces, Oude and Bengal, and only feebly touched the Madras Presidency. As to the date of the conversion and the manner in which it took place in the Punjab, the following remarks of Mr. Ibbetson are valuable, as they throw some light into the course of conversion among the Tamil and Malaiyalam-speaking Muhamadans. Speaking of the Western Punjab, Mr. Ibbetson19 says: ‘Farishta puts the conversion of the Afghan mountaineers of our frontier and of the Gakkhars of the Rawalpindi division at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and it is certain that the latter were still Hindus when they assassinated Mohammed Ghori in AD 1206.’ Of the Eastern Punjab he remarks: ‘The people of these districts very generally refer their change of faith to the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707), and it is probable that the tradition very nearly expresses the truth. Under the Afghan dynasties, while the great provincial governors were always Muhammadans, the local administration would appear to have been in a great measure left in the hands of Hindu chiefs who paid tribute and owed allegiance to the Sultan of Delhi. It is tolerably certain that little attempt was made as proselytizing under the free-thinking Akbar. It would appear, however, that during his reign and those of his immediate successors the character of the administration changed considerably – a more direct and centralized control being substituted for an almost purely feudal system. The change gave the people Musalman governors in the place of Hindus, and must have greatly facilitated the systematic persecution of the infidel which was instituted by Aurangzeb, by far the most fanatical and bigoted, and probably the first who was a bigot, among the emperors of Delhi. The local traditions tell us that in many cases the ancestor of the present Musalman branch of a village community adopted Islam in order to save the and of the village from confiscation.’ And he continues: ‘In the eastern portion of the Punjab the faith of Islam in anything like its original purity was till quite lately to be found only among the Saiyads, Pathans, Arabs, and other Musalmans of foreign origin, who were for the most part settled in towns. The so-called Musalmans of the villages are Musalmans in little but name. They practiced circumcision, repeated the kalimah, or Muhammadan profession of faith, and worshipped the village deities. But after the mutiny (1857) a great revival took place. Muhammadan priests travelled far and wide through the country, preaching the true faith and calling upon believers to abandon their idolatrous practices. And now almost every village in which Musalmans own any considerable portion has its mosque, often a dome only, while all the grosser and more open idolatries have been discontinued. But the villager of the East is still a very bad Musalman. A peasant saying his prayers in the field is a sight almost unknown, the fasts are almost universally disregarded, and there is still a very large admixture of Hindu practice.’ This quotation, while showing that the Musalman religion was introduced into the Western Punjab in the thirteenth and into the Eastern Punjab in the seventeenth century, serves also to show that even in the premier province of Islam, the highway of all Muhammadan conquerors, its votaries are mostly converts from the Hindu races, which occupy that part of the country, without an appreciable admixture of blood with that of the foreigners. It further shows that favouring times and a succession of a few but zealous missionaries may effect in less than five, indeed two, centuries the conversion of hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of people, for the Punjab has nearly twelve millions of Muhammadans against nearly ten millions of Hindus.

The Islam of the Mapillas in South India has an almost similar but earlier history. The tradition among them, as reported in the Imperial Gazetteer of India,20 is that in AC 844 an Arab ship, or bagala, was wrecked on the island of Chaliyam formed by the Beypur and Kadelundi rivers, and that the local Hindu ruler, whose policy was to foster trade, received kindly the thirteen Arabs who were saved, and granted them lands, whereupon other Muhammadans arrived, together with a few enthusiastic missionaries. The Mapillas, says the same authority, are Malaiyalam converts to Islam from various castes. ‘A sea-faring life, trade with Arabia, and Arab missionaries, led to extensive conversion among the Malabar fishing races. At one time, after the European nations appeared in Eastern seas, conversion was largely promoted by the Zamorin of Calicut, with a view to procure seamen to defend the towns on the coast.’21 The reason of the conversion is correctly given in the following passage: ‘Hindus found an early refuge from their own stringent caste laws, which debarred them from sea-faring pursuits, in the open arms of Islam.’22 Quilon was the principal port of Malabar which attracted traders from Arabia from the earliest times, but the Mapillas, previous to the seventh century, saw nothing in their tenets or practices worthy of acceptance or imitation, for, like themselves, the foreigners were idolatrous and exclusive. Indeed, up to the ninth century the Mapillas do not appear to have come in contact with Muhammadans. As already stated, it was only since AC 844 that the Arab Muhammadans who were wrecked at Chaliyam, and the missionaries who followed them, were able to offer to intending proselytes freedom from the trammels of caste, assurances of esteem, and protection and the privilege of messing together at the same board. From that time forward Quilon, called Kollam by the natives, and Calient (properly Koli Koddai, &cock fort)23 opened up to their inhabitants adventurous careers on the sea, through which alone in those days a competency was possible to those who held no lands of their own. The people had also the example of their Raja, Cheruman Perumal,24 who espoused the new religion, and, giving up kingdom and family, retired to Mekka. The converts, high and low, though devoted to Islam, adhere more or less to the present day to their own native customs and speak the Malaiyalam language.

Some centuries later we observe another town full of Muhammadans risen into importance on the south-eastern sea-board of the Tamil country, some five and twenty miles below the modern Tuticorin. Its name was Kayal-paddanam, or ‘the town Kayal,’ which is of special interest to us, because not only has it been the principal city of the Lebbes, but the tradition there – and indeed in Ceylon – is, that a colony there from settled at Beruwala, near Kalutara, which is admittedly one of the earliest centres, if not the very earliest centre, of Islam in the Island. In 1290 the condition of this town is described as follows by Marco Polo: ‘Cail is a great and noble city and belongs to Ashar, the eldest of the five brother kings. It is at this city that all the ships touch that come from the west, as from Hormos and from Kis (an island in the Persian Gulf), and from Aden and all Arabia, laden with horses and with other things for sale. An this brings a great concourse of people from the country round about, and so there is great business done in this city of Cail.’25 Bishop Caldwell. Commenting on this passage says: ‘Kayal stood originally on or near the sea beach, but it is now about a mile and a half inland, the sand carried down by the river (Tamraparni, on which it stands) having silted up the ancient harbor and formed a waste sandy tract between the sea and the town. It has now shrunk into a petty village.’ Consequent upon the desertion of the sea, another town had to be founded, which bears the same name, Kayal. Dr. Caldwell observes that it is admitted by its inhabitants that the name Kayal-paddanam has been given to it as a reminiscence of the older city, and that its original name was Chonakar-paddanam, or ‘the town of the Chonakar’, which, I have said, is the name applied by the Tamils to the Mapillas, Lebbes, and Moors, and assumed by these communities to distinguish themselves from the other religionists of Tamil India.

It appears to me that Kayal contains the keystone of the history of the Tamil Muhammadans, just as Quilon and Calicut contain that of the Malaiyalam Muhammadans. The tradition in Kayal is, that a few missionaries or teachers from Cairo landed there and made it their headquarters in the early part of the ninth century. In fact, it is said that Kayal, or Cail, is only another form of Cairo, properly Kahira.26 The simplicity of the new creed, especially at a time when the masses knew not whether to follow the Saivite sages or their opponents, the Vishnuite Achariyas, was so attractively preached that great numbers of Tamils of various castes were converted. Negapatam, Nagur, Atirampet, and Kilakkarai soon became other centres of proselytism. In the tenth century the Chola dynasty overthrew the neighbouring sister kingdoms of the Chera and Pandiya,27 and reigned paramount from the vicinity of Madras to Cape Comorin. It was doubtless subsequent to this period that the Tamil Muhammadans of South India became known as the ‘Choliya Muhammadans,’ or more commonly Choliyar, or people of the Tamil country called Chola-desam. To this day the Hindustani Muhammadan speaks of his southern co-relionist as ‘Choliya’, for, save as to religion, the vast majority of the Choliyar are Tamils in point of language, general appearance, and social customs, and for the following reason.

The men of Cairo, who are said to have originally settled at Kayal, could not have been very many: including priests and laymen, the proportion which they bore to the annually increasing number of native converts must have naturally diminished in an inverse ratio. In the course of a century, after the arrival of the foreigners at that town, it is perhaps too much to suppose that they could have represented even five percent of the proselytes. There are at the present day 164,000 Christians among the Sinhalese and 82.000 among the Tamils, against 422 missionaries and ministers, of whom only 110 are Europeans.28 For the purpose of accounting for all this conversion, is it necessary to assume that the European ministers, or their predecessors in office intermarried with the classes they had been converting? It might be said that the European clergy have either led a life of celibacy or come to the scene of their labours with their wives, and that the Egyptians and Arabs were situated differently. It is true that the latter had the sea-borne trade in their hands in the East previous to the advent of the Europeans, and were to be seen in almost every port of importance in India and Ceylon, but what evidence is there that, abandoning finally there own homes and their love of sea-faring life, they settled for good in South India or Ceylon in vast numbers? The mistake consists in assuming that a great proportion of the Africans, Arabians and Persians who navigated the Indian Ocean made new homes for themselves on these shores, as if the pressure of population in their old homes was too severely felt, or the advantages of the self-imposed banishment outweighed the sorrows of parting from their country, family and early associations. The truth, therefore, appears to be that only a small proportion of these traders domiciled themselves in South India and Ceylon, and that whatever changes have been wrought in the manners and customs of the native converts are due as much to contact with the passing traders as to the more permanent example and teaching of the smaller knot of resident foreigners. See, for instance, what vast changes have come over non-Christian Tamils and Sinhalese by mere association, in the course of business, with a handful of Europeans! But change of manners and customs does not indicate change of blood. Considering that not much more than 100 Europeans have labored in the cause of Christianity at any given period in the Island, and have made as many as 250,000 converts during three centuries, it may be concluded that the Egyptians and Arabs who settled at Kayal could not have infused their blood among the converts to so great an extent as to materially alter their character. Small as this fusion of blood must have been in the first instance, it would grow weaker and weaker as each generation of descendants got further and further removed from the original Arab or Egyptian ancestor. Hence it is that the Choliyas continue to be in point of language, features, physique, and social customs still Tamils in all respects except religion.

In a paper read by Sir William Hunter29 before the Society of Arts on the Religions of India, he refuted the idea that ‘Islam in India is that of a conquering creed which set up powerful dynasties, who in their turn converted, more or less by force, the races under their sway,’ and pointed out that the part of Northern India which is most strongly Muhammadan is the part most remote from the great centres of Muhammadan rule. ‘The explanation is,’ he said, ‘that in Northern India Islam found itself hemmed in by strongly organized forms of Hinduism of a high type, on which it could make but slight impression. Indeed, Hinduism here re-acted so powerfully on Islam that the greatest of the Mughal soverigns, Akbar, formally renounced the creed of the Prophet and promulgated a new religion for the empire constructed out of the rival faiths’. He then described the process of conversion as follows: the Muhammadan missionaries and adventurers penetrated into outlying districts far removed from the influence of the higher forms of Hinduism, and preached there to the masses who were socially of low standing. And he continues: ‘To these poor people, fishermen, hunters, pirates, and low-caste tillers of the soil, whom Hinduism had barely admitted within its pale, Islam came as a revelation from on high. It was the creed of the governing race; its missionaries were men of zeal, who brought the Gospel of the unity of God and the equality of man in its sight to a despised and neglected population. The initiatory rite rendered relapse impossible, and made the proselyte and his posterity true believers for ever.’

In the early part of this paper30, I said that about one-half of the number of those whom the Ceylon Census returned as Moors were ‘Coast Moors’, that is, ‘Choliyas’, or, as the English call them, ‘Lubbays’. In the district of Batticaloa, which is the premier district of Islam in the island, the Muhammadans call themselves as ‘Soni’ or ‘Choni’, which appears to be only another form of Choli. Indeed, Mr. Pybus, who was accredited in 1762 by the Government of Madras to the court of the King of Kandy, speaks of the inhabitants of the Eastern Province, where he landed as ‘Choliyars and Malabars’. He evidently believed that all those whom we call Moors were ‘Choliya’ for he says: ‘Such trade as the island affords (exclusive, I mean, of what the Dutch reserve to themselves) is carried on by Choliars, of whom there are great numbers at all the principal settlements belonging to the Dutch and along the sea coast; many at Candia and others interspersed in villages in different parts of the country.’31

We are now in a position to deal with the question whether the ‘Ceylon Moors’ have a history different from that of the ‘Choliyas’ (‘Lebbes’, ‘Coast Moors’) which I have just outlined. In the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society Sir Alexander Johnston says: ‘The first Muhammadans who settled in Ceylon were, according to the tradition which prevails among their descendants, a portion of those Arabs of the house of Hashim who were driven from Arabia in the early part of the eighth century by the tyranny of the Caliph Abd-al-melek Ben Merwan, and who, proceeding from the Euphrates southward, made settlements in the Concan, in the southern parts of the peninsula of India, on the island of Ceylon, and at Malacca. The division of them which came to Ceylon formed eight considerable settlements along the north-east, north and western coasts of that island, viz., one at Trincomalee, one at Jaffna, one at Mantota and Mannar, one at Coodramale, one at Puttalam, one at Colombo, one at Barbaryn, and one at Point-de-Galle.’32

It is difficult to conceive an array of bagalas sailing together in those early ages for over two thousand miles on the fitful Indian Ocean, and making for the different ports above mentioned in different parts of the island, as if there were agents in those places appointed to receive the unfortunate men. But a grander difficulty exists. The Arab exiles were, or were not, accompanied by their wives and daughters. If they were so accompanied and settled with them in purely Sinhalese districts like Kalutara and Galle, why did they abandon both the Arabic and Sinhalese and take to the Tamil? Or, if they came to Ceylon without their women and took Sinhalese wives, why has the same survival of the Tamil language occurred? It is impossible to accept this version of wholesale Arab colonization. It is too elaborate and inexplicable. But the crowning absurdity of the tradition remains yet to be mentioned. Hashim, the son of Abdul Manif, was the father of Abdul Muttalib, who was the father of Abdullah, and grandfather of Muhammad the Prophet. In so great veneration is the memory of Hashim held by the Arabs, that among them the family of Muhammad are called Hashimites, as Mr. Keene says in his Oriental Biographical Dictionary: consequently, the Ceylon Moors would all be Sayyids! – which they are not, and no not profess to be, being only Sunnis of the Shafai sect. Sir Emerson Tennent discredits the story for other reasons. He observes: ‘The Moors, who were informants of Sir Alexander Johnston, probably spoke on the equivocal authority of the Tohfut-ul-mujahidin, which is generally, but erroneously, described as a narrative of the settlement of the Muhammadans in Malabar. Its second chapter gives an account of the manner in which Muhammadan religion was first propagated there, and states that its earliest apostles were a Sheik and his companions who touched at Cranganore about AC 822, when on their journey as pilgrims to the sacred footprint on Adam’s Peak.’33 The tradition reported by Sir Alexander Johnston may be a wild exaggeration of that mentioned in the Tohfut-u-Mujahidin, or of that which prevails among the Mapillas, to the effect that their conversion was due to the Arab mariners who were wrecked off Beypur in AC 844. At any rate, there is a tradition in Ceylon, which is referred to by Casie Chitty34 (and, so far as the circumstances, but not the years, are concerned, is not at all improbable), that the ancestors of the ‘Ceylon Moors’ formed their firs settlement in Kayal –paddanam in the ninth century, and that many years afterwards, in the 402nd year of the Hijra, corresponding to AC 1024, a colony from that town migrated and settled at Barberyn (Beruwala), I have already called attention to the belief current in South India that Beruwala is a colony of Kayal.

The discrepancy between the dates of colonization given in the tradition reported by Casie Chitty and that reported by Sir Alexander Johnston is irreconcilable, as the one refers to the early part of the ninth century and the other to the early part of the eleventh century. In this state of conflict we naturally turn to the history and literature of the Sinhalese for some light. The Mahavansa makes no mention whatever of the Moors (Yonnu, Marakkalayo); but the Rajavaliya35 records that a great number of them arrived in 1505 from Kayal-paddanam, and attempted to settle by force at Chilaw, and were beaten back by Dharmma Parakrama Bahu. An earlier reference is contained in the Paravi Sandesa (‘Pigeon Message’), a poem written by Totagamuwe Rahula Sthaviro, and addressed to the god Vishnu at Devundra (Dondra) Devale. The pigeon is made to start from Jayawardhana Kotte (the modern Cotta near Colombo), where Sri Parakrama Bahu (1410-61) was then ruling, and to fly along several villages to Dondra, carrying the prayer that that monarch might be preserved and blessed. One of the villages on the route is Beruwala, which is described to be in the occupation of ‘cruel and lawless Banburas’ (scil. mlechchas, ‘barbarians’). Another poem, the Kokila Sandesa, written by Irugal Kulatilaka Sami, in the same reign, alludes to Beruwala in similar language. I have not had time to get at earlier references in Sinhalese literature, but I suspect none such exist. We have, however, some information from foreign sources. In 1350 John de Marignolli was wrecked on the coast of Ceylon at ‘Perivilis’, which is supposed to be Beruwala. ‘Here’, he says, ‘a certain tyrant, by name Coya Jaan, an eunuch, had the mastery in opposition to the lawful king. He was an accursed Saracen.’ i.e. Muhammadan. We are also told that by means of his great treasures he had gained possession of this part of the country. He robbed De Marignolli of the valuable gifts he was carrying home to the Pope.36 Ibn Batuta visited the island six years earlier (in 1344), but makes no mention whatever of Beruwala, though it lay directly on his route from Galle to Colombo. He refers to Galle as a small town, to Colombo as the seat of a pirate in command of five hundred Abysinnians, and to Battalah (Puttalam) as the capital of a Tamil king, Arya Chakkaravartti, ‘one of the perverse and unjust’, as the devout traveler says, but of whose hospitality he is loud in praise.37

By the light of these passages, and the circumstance that the Sinhalese did not know in the early part of the fifteenth century any more of the colonists who were found settled at Beruwala than that they were barbarians, we may safely conclude that Beruwala had not been seized upon by the Muhammadans in 1344; that that hamlet, Galle, and Puttalam, which were commonly believed to have received the earliest Muhammadan settlements, did not contain any such colonies at that period; and that, though Arabs, Egyptians, Abysinnians, and other Africans may have constantly come to and gone from Ceylon, as merchants, soldiers, and tourists, long before the fourteenth century, comparatively few of them domiciled themselves in the Island; and that the settlement at Beruwala, which the Ceylon Muhammadans generally admit to be the first of all their settlements, took place not earlier than the fourteenth century, say AC 1350. We may also safely conclude that this colony was an offshoot of Kayal paddanam, and that the emigrants consisted largely of a rough and ready set of bold Tamil converts, determined to make themselves comfortable by the methods usual among unscrupulous adventurers. Having clean shaven heads and straggling beards; wearing a costume which was not wholly Tamil, nor yet Arabic or African even in part; speaking a low Tamil interlarded with Arabic expressions; slaughtering cattle with their own hands and eating them; given to predatory habits, and practicing after their own fashion the rights of the Muhammadan faith; – they must indeed have struck the Sinhalese at first as a strange people deserving of the epithet ‘barbarians’. It is only natural that other colonies should have gone forth from Kayal paddanam, and not only added to the population of Beruwala but settled at other places, such as Batticaloa, Puttalam, &c. With the advent of the Europeans, communication with ‘the fatherland of the Chonahar’ (as Kayal is known) and Ceylon grew feeble, and during the time of the Dutch must have practically ceased, because the Muhammadan settlers, from their obstinate refusal to become Christians, became objects of persecution to the Hollanders, who imposed all manner of taxes and disqualifications on them. The distinction which the ‘Ceylon Moor’ drawn between himself and the ‘Coast Moor’ (Chammankaran) is evidently the result of the cessation of intercourse thus produced and continued for several decades between the mother-country and her colonies.

Having thus shown that the history of the Moors of Ceylon, no less then the language they speak, proves them to be Tamils, it remains to consider their social customs and physical features. But I do not propose to dwell at length on these points, not only because they are apparent to most of us who reside in the Island, and this paper has far exceeded the limits I set upon it, but also because, in January last, when Mr. Bawa’s paper on the marriage customs of the Moors of Ceylon was read, I pointed out what the requirements of a marriage were according to the law of the Prophet, but how different were the rites and customs practiced by the Moors, and how many of those customs, such as the stridhanam (independent of the mohr), the alatti ceremony, the bridegroom wearing jewels though prohibited by the law, the tying of the tali, the bride wearing the kurai offered by the bridegroom, and the eating of patchoru, were all borrowed from the Tamils. I also commented on other customs, such as the absence of the purdah system (or rigid seclusion of women), and of prayer in the streets and other public places, both of which customs are foreign to Tamils, but germane to Egyptians and many clans of Arabs.

I shall therefore pass on to their physical features. Of these, the best marked race-characters, according to Dr. Tylor,38 are the colour of the skin, structure and arrangement of the hair, contour of the face, stature, and conformation of the skull. On all these points there is, in my opinion, no appreciable difference between the average Tamil and the average Moor. If he were dressed up like a Tamil he would pass easily for a Tamil, and vice versa. As regards cranial measurements, I would add that in a famous trial for murder (known as ‘the Chetty street murder case’), in which I appeared in 1884 as counsel, I had to be in consultation with three of our leading doctors of medicine and surgery (having large experience of the country and its people)39 on the question whether the skull produced in the case was the skull of a Tamil or not, and they were unanimously of opinion that it might be as much the skull of a Moorman or a Sinhalese as of a Tamil: so difficult would it be to distinguish between the skulls of the three sections of our community! The results of Prof. R. Virchow’s inquiry into the physical anthropology of the races of Ceylon, as contained in his paper on the Veddas of Ceylon and their relation to the neighbouring tribes40, are unfortunately of little value from his want of local knowledge, which prevents him from discriminating between the right and the wrong information given by the writers on Ceylon whom he quotes, and from his candid admission that the skulls submitted to him were too few, if not of doubtful identity. Commenting upon the Moorish skull, for instance, he says: ‘So far as I can learn, there is only one skull of a Moor in Europe…It is accordingly orthodolichocephalic and chamaeprosopic. A further comparison is scarcely desirable, because from a single skull no judgment can be formed as to whether it is really typical of the race.’41 And he mentions that, until of late only a single Tamil skull was known in Europe, and that his conclusions are based upon an examination of this skull and of three others forwarded to him as Tamil skulls from Colombo. Besides the question of the identity of these skulls, it appears to me that four cannot be taken to be typical of the Tamil race. As the upper classes of Tamils cremate their bodies, a legitimate comparison with the other races, class for class, would be always a matter of difficulty.

I do not feel myself free to conclude this paper without making a few remarks on the name by which the ‘Ceylon Moors’ and the ‘Coast Moors’ (Lebbes, Choliyar, Chammankarar) are known among the native races of India and Ceylon in the midst of whom they live. The Sinhalese call them Yonnu and the Tamils Chonahar. It is supposed by those few of the Moors who would (like the Mauri of old, described by Gibbon) ‘adopt the language, name, and origin of Arabs, that this very name of Yonnu or Chonahar is evidence of the origin of the Moors from Arabia’, because Arabia in Sanskrit is Yavana, in Pali Yonna, and in Tamil Chonaham or Sonaham.

The descent of Yonna from Yavana must be conceded on the analogy of lona, Pali for salt, being derived from the Sanskrit lavana; but it may be contended that Chonahar with a long o cannot be traced as clearly from the Sanskrit. A more direct derivation, it has been pointed out to me by the Rev Father Corbet, is from the Arabic shuna, ‘a ship of war’, and shuna could easily have become shona through Hindustani, which often tends to change the long u into o. If this be so, Chonahar (in which har would represent the Tamil plural form) would mean warlike people. Father Beschi, in his Tamil dictionary, says that the name is a corruption of ‘Chola-nahara people’. Mr. C. Brito42 thinks it is derived from sunni, as the bulk of the Moors are Sunnis of the Shafai sect.

But even if we accept the position that Chonahar is derived from Yavana, it does not at all follow that the Moors are Arabs, for the long and shifting history of the Yavanas in India, which is now well known, points to a different conclusion. They are mentioned in the Maha Bharata with the Sakas (Scythians), Pahlavas (Persians), Kambojas, &c., to denote warlike races outside the limits of India, and differing from the Indians in religious faith and customs. The term Yavana43 having been identified with Ionia, Dr. Hunter has shown in his delightful work on Orissa44 how the Ionians ‘at once the most Asiatic and the most mobile of the Greek colonists in Asia Minor’, came to be confounded by the Persians as early as BC 650, and through by the Indians, with the whole Greek race. After Alexander the Great’s expedition to India at the close of the fourth century BC, the term Yavana was applied in Indian literature to the Greeks. In the rock inscriptions of Asoka, for instance, Antiochus, the Greek king, whose eastern dominions covered great portions of western Asia, is referred to as ‘Antiacho, the Yona king’ (BC 250); and Patanjali (BC 150) records ‘that the Yavanas eat lying down.’ Since the invasions of Alexander and Seleucus, the Ionians had established themselves beyond the Indus, and even gone as far as Oude, for the Sanskrit grammarian just mentioned records that the Yavanas laid siege to that city. They then pushed their way to the Buddhist kingdom of Magadha, and advanced into Orissa as Buddhists, where they founded a Yavana dynasty. Being expelled therefrom in AC 473, they moved southwards, overthrew the Andhra kingdom, the capital of which was Warangul (half-way between the Godaveri and Haiderabad), and ruled in that part of the country till AC 963, when their downfall occurred amidst a great religious revival whch ended in the overthrow of Buddhism and the re-establishment of the Saiva faith From this period the Ionians disappear from Indian history, being most probably absorbed by the war and persecution which characterized the times. But the name Yavana survived as meaning a people who came from the north and brought in new religious rites. ‘These’ says Sir William Hunter, ‘were the two crucial characteristics of Yavanas in the Hindu mind, and in the end they led to the transfer of the name to a people more widely separated by race and religion from the Ionians than the Ionians from the Hindu. For the north was agains about to send forth a race of invaders bringing with them a new faith and destined to establish themselves upon the wrecks of native dynasties and native beliefs. The Muslim invasions of India practically date from the eighth century, when the Arabs temporarily conquered Sindh. The first years of the eleventh century brought the terrible Mahmud Sultan, whose twelve expeditions introduced a new era into Hindustan. From this time it becomes difficult to pronounce as to the race to which the term Yavana applies. At first, indeed, the Musalman invaders, especially in Southern India, were distinguished from the dynasties of Ionian Yavanas by the more opprobrious epithet of Mlechchas. But as Islam obtained firmer hold upon the country, this distinction disappeared; and popular speech, preserving the old association of northern invasion and a new creed with the word Yavana, applied it indiscriminately to the ancient Ionians and to the new Musalmans. Before the Muhammadan power, the heretic and the orthodox dynasties of Indian alike collapsed, and in a few centuries the ancient Yavanas had ceased to preserve any trace of their nationality. All former differences of race or creed were pulverized in the mortar of Islam, and the word Yavana grew into an exclusive epithet of the Musalmans.’ Prof Weber has emphasized these views in his History of the Indian Literature45, and proves conclusively that the Arabs and other Muslims were the last to receive the name Yavanas. From the ninth to the fourteenth centuries the Muhammadans in South India were known as Mlechchas, or ‘barbarians’, just as the Sinhalese knew them in Ceylon in those ages as Bamburo. In later days they knew them as Yonno, while the Tamils learnt to use the word Chonahar.

To sum up. It has been shown that the 185,000 Moors in the island fall under two classes, ‘Coast Moors’ and ‘Ceylon Moors’, in almost equal numbers; that the ‘Coast Moors’ are those Muhammadans who, having arrived from the Coromandel coast or inner districts of South India as traders or labourers, continue steadily to maintain relations of amity and intermarriage with their friends in South India: and that such ‘Coast Moors’ are Tamils.

As regards the nationality of the ‘Ceylon Moors’, numbering abou 92,500 out of the 185,000, we have ample reasons for concluding that they too are Tamils – I mean the masses of them; for, of course, we meet with a few families here and there – say, five percent of the community, or about 5,000 out of the 92.500 – who bear the impress of an Arab or other foreign descent. Even the small coterie of the Ceylon Moors, who claim for themselves and their co-religionists an Arab descent, candidly admit that on the mother’s side the Ceylon Moors are exclusively Tamil. All that remains to be proved, therefore, is, that their early male ancestors were mainly Tamils. For this purpose I have sketched the history of the Ceylon Moors. I have shown the utter worthlessness of a tradition among them that a great colony of Arabs of the house of Hashim made settlements at Beruwala and other parts of the island, and have adduced reasons for accepting as far more probable the tradition reported by Mr Casie Chetty, that the original ancestors of the Ceylon Moors formed their first settlement at Kayal paddanam, and that many years afterwards a colony from that town – ‘the father-land of the Chonagar’ – migrated and setted at Beruwala. I have further shown how similar the history of the Ceylon Moors is to that of the Coast Moors; how intimately connected they were with each other till the Dutch began to persecute them in Ceylon; how the intercourse between the mother-country in South India and Ceylon was arrested about 150 years ago; and how the distinction arose thereafter between the Ceylon Moors and the Coast Moors. By tracing in this manner of their history, that is, there descent, I arrive at the conclusion that the early ancestors of the ‘Moors’, Ceylon and Coast, were mainly Tamils on the father’s side, as admittedly they were exclusively on the mother’s side.

Then, considering their social customs, I have pointed out how closely they are a copy of Tamil institutions. I have also touched upon their physical features and called attention to the opinion of some of our leading doctors of medicine and surgery, that the skull of a Moorman cannot be distinguished from that of a Tamil. In complete conformation of the inference drawn from these arguments is the evidence afforded by language. The vernacular language of the Moors is, as I have said, Tamil, even in purely Sinhalese districts. What diversities of creed, custom and facial features prevail among the low country Sinhalese and the Kandyan Sinhalese, between Tamils of the Brahmin or Vellala castes and of the Paraya caste! And yet do they not pass respectively as Sinhalese and Tamils, for the simple reason that they speak as their mother-tongue those languages? Language in Oriental countries is considered the most important part of nationality, outweighing differences of religion, institutions, and physical characteristics. Otherwise each caste would pass for a race. Dr Freeman’s contention, that ‘community of language is not only presumptive evidence of the community of blood, but is also proof of something which for practical purposes is the same as community of blood,’46 ought to apply to the case of the Ceylon Moors. But, of course, in their case it is not language only that stamps them as Tamils. Taking (1) language they speak at home in connection with (2) their history, (3) their customs and (4) physical features, the proof cumulatively leads to no other conclusion than that the Moors of Ceylon are ethnologically Tamils.47


Footnotes to the Paper

Note by Sachi: The original version had footnotes printed at the bottom of each each page. For reading a printed text, this format was comfortable to the eyes. But for digital reading in the screen, cumulating the footnotes at the end of the text is more appropriate. Thus, I present the foo notes below, in serial numbers from 1 to 47. Ramanathan’s etymological descriptions for the derivation of words such as marikar, marakkalaha, Malabar, Chamman karan, Hambantota, Chammanturai, Lebbe, Chonahar, yavana are educational and interesting too.

  1. Known to the Greeks as Maurusia, and in later days to the Portuguese as Maruecos, and to the French as Marocco. In English it is Marocco, and less correctly Morocco.
  2. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, VI, p. 353 (Dr. Smith’s ed.)
  3. Harris, who accompanied the British mission to Morocco last year (1887), gives a vivid account of the present condition of the Moors in the pages of the Illustrated London News, from which I quote as follows: ‘The Moors, like all other dynasties, have risen and fallen, and though their fall was not as the fall of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, or Rome, yet it was to themselves as disastrous as any, for though they were not exterminated, they had to fly back to their wild African soil, where year by year they are sinking deeper into ignorance and bigotry. They have lost their activity, these Moors of today. Instead of leading his soldiers to battle, their Sultan sits in splendid halls, passing his life in indolence, save when, now and again on the march from one capital to another, he deigns to chastise some erring tribe with fire and sword. The Moors, whose ancestors once conquered in almost every war they undertook, sit and sigh and sing quaint ballads to Granada, their mountain home in the Sierra Nevada, and weep now and again over the keys of the houses which their ancestors possessed in Spain.’ (Sept 24, 1887).
  4. So Hindus were called by them Gentios, in English ‘Gentoos’. This word, too, has disappeared in India.
  5. I do not see my way to deriving the word from the Arabic markab, ‘a ship’, because the Tamil personal noun formed from it would be markab-karan or markab-al, not marikar. In Sinhalese, a Moor is commonly known as marakkalaha, the tandal or head of a boat (cf. gan-vahe, ‘chief of a village’), and marakkalaha cannot be evolved from markab-ahe, but is descended almost letter from the Tamil word marakkalam, ‘a wooden vessel’.
  6. See Valentyn, ch. XV, p. 214.
  7. Bishop Caldwell says – ‘The Portuguese arrived first on the western coast of India, and naturally called the language they found spoken on that coast by the name by which the coast itself had long been called by their Arab predessors, viz, Malabar. Sailing from Malabar on voyages of exploration, they made their acquaintance with various places on the eastern or Coromandel coast, and also on the coast of Ceylon, and finding the language spoken by the fishing and sea-faring classes on the eastern coast similar to that spoken on the western, they came to the conclusion that it was identical with it, and called it, in consequence, by the same name, viz., Malabar, a name which has survived to our own day amongst the poor classes of Europeans and Eurasians. The better educated members of those classes have long learned to call the language of the Malabar coast by its proper name, Malayalam, and the language of the eastern coast Tamil.’ – Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages, Introd., p. 11 (2nd edition, 1875).
  8. In his Gazetteer, p. 115, Casie Chetty (writing in 1834) said – ‘The vast difference which the Kandyans exhibit in their customs as well as in their life style of dress has led almost all European writers to treat them as a distinct race of people.’ And the Government Agent of the North-Western Province said, in 1866, that the population of his Province consisted of ‘Kandyans, Sinhalese, Moors, Malabars and Mukkuwas.’ (Sessional Papers of the Legislative Council, 1866, p. 217). He ought to have said ‘Sinhalese and Tamils’, for the last three classes are Tamil.
  9. Cited in the Indian Census Report for 1881, vol. I, p. 201.
  10. Chips from a German Workshop, III, p. 265 (‘Cornish Antiquities’)
  11. Gazetteer of India, s.v. ‘Madras Presidency’.
  12. See article ‘Anthropology’ in Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition, p. 119.

Speaking of the political significance attached in modern days to linguistic affinities, Sir Henry Maine says – ‘If you examine the bases proposed for common nationality before the new knowledge growing out of the study of Sanskrit had been popularized in Europe, you will find them extremely unlike those which are now advocated, and even passionately advocated, in parts of the Continent. For the most part the older bases theoretically suggested were common history – common, prolonged subjection to the same soverign, common institutions, common religion, sometimes a common language, but then a common vernacular language. That people not necessarily understanding one another’s tongue should be grouped together politically on the ground of linguistic affinities assumed to prove community of descent, is quite a new idea. Nevertheless, we owe to it, at all events in part, the vast development of German nationality: and we certainly owe to it the pretensions of the Russian Empire to at least a presidency over all Sclavonic communities’ – Village Communities in the East and West, p. 210 (3rd edition)

As regards the relation between Tamils and Moors, it is not a question of ‘linguistic affinities’, but a ‘common vernacular language.’

Dr. Tylor admits that, ‘as a rule, language at least proves some proportion of ancestry – affords at least partial evidence of race.’ (page 120, art ‘Anthropology)

By tracing the history, that is, the descent of the Moors, I confirm the evidence afforded by the language used by them. And I still further strengthen my conclusion by showing that their social customs and physical features are in the main Tamil.

  1. See p. 255 [Note by Sachi: Ramanathan refers to the bold Tamil converts who had arrived at Beruwala, from Kayal paddanam in Tamil Nadu, around AD 1350.]
  2. In Crawford’s Malay Dictionary, jung is given for ‘a large native vessel’, prau for ‘a boat’, and sampan for ‘a small boat’. For a ‘vessel of European build and form’ he gives kappal, which is of course Tamil. If Chamman-karan is not to be derived from sampan, is it too much to derive it from chaman, ‘things’, ‘wares’, in which case it would literally mean ‘a dealer in wares, a pedlar’? Cf. Chammankodu, the name commonly given for Bankshall street in Colombo?; Hambantota, in the Southern Province; Chamman-turai, in the Batticaloa district.
  3. I have not been able to ascertain whence the word lebbe or lubbay is derived. Freytag, in his Arabic-Latin Dictionary, gives labib (pl. alibba) as meaning ‘intelligent, prudent’ (literally, ‘having a heart,’ lub), and lubbaika as meaning ‘here I am, I am your servant’ &c. He further says that in the Hamasa, p. 789, lubbay is used as a noun, whether substantive or proper he does not mention. Perhaps lubbay, when affixed to a name, mean ‘a pandit, a learned man’.

The ‘Moors’ say it means ‘priest’, but the religion of Muhammad does not admit of priests, as we understand it. It recognizes imam, the leader at prayers, and a khatib, the preacher. A maulavi is a teacher, and muezzin is a crier who summons the congregation to prayers.

  1. See p. 257
  2. The Muhammadans in the Madras Presidency are distributed as follows in its twenty districts –

Malabar 652,000

Madura 141,000

Tanjore 112,000

Cuddappah 98,000

Tinnevelli 90.000

Kistna 87,000

South Kanara 83,000

North Arcot 82,000

Karnual 82,000

Bellary 70,000

Nellur 61,500

Salem 51,000

South Arcot 49,000

Godaveri 39,000

Coimbatur 38,000

Trichnopoly 34,000

Chengalput 25,000

Vizagapatam 21,000

Ganjam 6,000

Nilgiris 3,500

City of Madras 50,000

  1. See Hunter’s Imperial Gazetteer of India, s.v. ‘Madras Presidency’ and ‘Malabar’.
  2. See Report of the Census of British India, vol. III, p. xix
  3. VI, p. 247, and vol. II, p. 330 (1st edition)
  4. IX, p. 23 (2nd edition)
  5. VI, p. 247 (1st edition).
  6. But see, Hobson Jobson, ‘Quilon’
  7. He was a Tamil, and Viceroy of the Pandiyan king for the country along the western coast of India, from Cape Comorin to Gokarna in the South Canara district. In his day the people of Malayalam were Tamils, who so loved Cheruman that he had no difficulty in proclaiming his own independence. The work entitled Keralolpatti refers to his times. See also Mr. Logan’s Manual of Malabar, published recently, and believed to be a work of high authority, the author having been Collector of the District for many years.
  8. Yule’s translation, vol. II, p. 357
  9. Perhaps there is some truth in this tradition, seeing that in the marriage contract or kaduttam (properly kaditam, Tamil for ‘a paper’) the mohr is always stipulated to be paid in ‘Egyptian gold’. The same currency is referred to in the Ceylon kaditam.
  10. These three Tamil kingdoms occupied the whole of South India. The Chola kings originally reigned north of the Kaveri, having for their capital a city near the site of the modern Trichnopoli. The capital city of the Pandiyans was Madura, and that of the Cheras, Karur, in the district of Koimbatur.
  11. Ceylon Census for 1881.
  12. On February 24, 1888.
  13. See p. 241
  14. Mission to the King of Kandy, pp. 36 and 41.
  15. I, p. 538.
  16. Tennent’s Ceylon, vol. I, p. 630, note (1).
  17. Ceylon Gazetteer, p. 254.
  18. Upham’s translation, p. 274.
  19. Yule’s Cathay, p. 357.
  20. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, vol. VII, p. 56, of the extra number.
  21. ‘Anthropology’ in Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition, p. 111.
  22. J.L. Vanderstraaten, MD, Surgeon Major L.A. White, MRCS, and Dr. W.G. Vandort, MD, CM.
  23. A.S. Journal, Ceylon Branch, vol. IX, pp. 350-495.
  24. A.S. Journal, Ceylon Branch, vol. IX, p. 451.
  25. Yalpana Vaipava Malai, Appendix, p. 82.
  26. Rajendra Lal Mithra identifies yavana with Sans. Yuvan, Lat. Iuvenis, as indicating the ‘youthful’ or new race of Asiatic Greeks. See, Indo-Aryans, vol. II, p. 177.
  27. I
  28. Page 220, note.
  29. Art, on Race and Language, Review, p. 739, March 1877.
  30. Besides our Dutch rulers, who believed that the Moors were only Tamil Muhammadans, other authorities, who have mixed and moved with the people of Ceylon and taken pains to study them, may be cited: such as the Rev. James Cordiner, whose duties as Director of all Schools in Ceylon during the administration of Governor North, 1798-1805, afforded him great opportunities of collecting information and judging on all matters connected with the sociology of the Island. At p. 139 of his work on Ceylon he declares that the Moors are Tamils by race.

I would mention also the name of Mr Simon Casie Chetty, who was a Member of the Legislative Council of Ceylon for some years since 1838, and whose opinions are recorded in his Gazetteer.

The editors of the Ceylon Observer, in their issue of December 10, 1885, said, ‘We believe that fully 80 percent of the Muhammadans of Ceylon are Tamils.’

And Mr. A.M. Ferguson, C.M.G., who has lived and labored in Ceylon for over fifty years, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, held on January 26, 1888, observed, in reference to the Paper read on that day, as follows: – ‘The obvious reason why the marriage customs of the Muhammadans were mainly Tamil was due to the fact, that most of the proselytes made by Muhammadans in South India and Ceylon were from the Tamil race.’

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