1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Laccadive Islands

LACCADIVE ISLANDS, a group of coral reefs and islands in the Indian Ocean, lying between 10° and 12° 20′ N. and 71° 40′ and 74° E. The name Laccadives (laksha dwipa, the “hundred thousand isles”) is that given by the people of the Malabar coast, and was probably meant to include the Maldives; they are called by the natives simply Divi, “islands,” or Amendivi, from the chief island. There are seventeen separate reefs, “round each of which the 100-fathom line is continuous” (J. S. Gardiner). There are, however, only thirteen islands, and of these only eight are inhabited. They fall into two groups—the northern, belonging to the collectorate of South Kanara, and including the inhabited islands of Amini, Kardamat, Kiltan and Chetlat; and the southern, belonging to the administrative district of Malabar, and including the inhabited islands of Agatti, Kavaratti, Androth and Kalpeni. Between the Laccadives and the Maldives to the south lies the isolated Minikoi, which physically belongs to neither group, though somewhat nearer to the Maldives (q.v.). The principal submerged banks lie north of the northern group of islands; they are Munyal, Coradive and Sesostris, and are of greater extent than those on which the islands lie. The general depth over these is from 23 to 28 fathoms, but Sesostris has shallower soundings “indicating patches growing up, and some traces of a rim” (J. S. Gardiner). The islands have in nearly all cases emerged from the eastern and protected side of the reef, the western being completely exposed to the S.W. monsoon. The islands are small, none exceeding a mile in breadth, while the total area is only about 80 sq. m. They lie so low that they would be hardly discernible but for the coco-nut groves with which they are thickly covered. The soil is light coral sand, beneath which, a few feet down, lies a stratum of coral stretching over the whole of the islands. This coral, generally a foot to a foot and a half in thickness, has been in the principal islands wholly excavated, whereby the underlying damp sand is rendered available for cereals. These excavations—a work of vast labour—were made at a remote period, and according to the native tradition by giants. In these spaces (totam, “garden”) coarse grain, pulse, bananas and vegetables are cultivated; coco-nuts grow abundantly everywhere. For rice the natives depend upon the mainland.

Population and Trade.—The population in 1901 was 10,274. The people are Moplas, i.e. of mixed Hindu and Arab descent, and are Mahommedans. Their manners and customs are similar to those of the coast Moplas; but they maintain their own ancient caste distinctions. The language spoken is Malayalim, but it is written in the Arabic character. Reading and writing are common accomplishments among the men. The chief industry is the manufacture of coir. The various processes are entrusted to the women. The men employ themselves with boatbuilding and in conveying the island produce to the coast. The exports from the Laccadives are of the annual value of about £17,000.

History.—No data exist for determining at what period the Laccadives were first colonized. The earliest mention of them as distinguished from the Maldives seems to be by Albírúní (c. 1030), who divides the whole archipelago (Díbaját) into the Dívah Kúzah or Cowrie Islands (the Maldives), and the Divah Kanbar or Coir Islands (the Laccadives). (See Journ. Asiat. Soc., September 1844, p. 265). The islanders were converted to Islam by an Arab apostle named Mumba Mulyaka, whose grave at Androth still imparts a peculiar sanctity to that island. The kazee of Androth was in 1847 still a member of his family, and was said to be the twenty-second who had held the office in direct line from the saint. This gives colour to the tradition that the conversion took place about 1250. It is also further corroborated by the story given by the Ibn Batuta of the conversion of the Maldives, which occurred, as he heard, four generations (say one hundred and twenty years) before his visit to these islands in 1342. The Portuguese discovered the Laccadives in May 1498, and built forts upon them, but about 1545 the natives rose upon their oppressors. The islands subsequently became a suzerainty of the raja of Cannanore, and after the peace of Seringapatam, 1792 the southern group was permitted to remain under the management of the native chief at a yearly tribute. This was often in arrear, and on this account these islands were sequestrated by the British government in 1877.

See The Fauna and Geography of the Maldive and Laccadive Archipelagoes, ed. J. Stanley Gardiner (Cambridge 1901–1905); Malabar District Gazetteer (Madras, 1908); G. Pereira, “As Ilhas de Dyve” (Boletim da Soc. Geog., Lisbon, 1898–1899) gives details relating to the Laccadives from the 16th-century MS. volume De insulis et peregrinatione lusitanorum in the National Library, Lisbon.