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Kings Warriors Traders Fishers - (Parathavars/Paravas/Bharathars) - 3

Paravas Conversion :

Da Cruz next writes to his benefactor in Lisbon in 1533, explaining his sad state, he even complains of being imprisoned and put into chains together with the black heathen. It appears that he then fled to Quilon to escape the authorities in Cochin. Quilon then was supplying pepper to the state of Vijayanagara and Bengal, and Da Cruz seizing the opportunity, offers to stop this and requests that he be made the factor at Quilon (did not happen). He also requests permission to take up the horse trade (the Portuguese Crown had the monopoly then). In 1535, he gets a reply extending his loan repayment by two more years and permission to trade horses. Accordingly he gets a hold of some 12 horses, goes to the southern kingdoms, sells them to the Sultan of Ma’abar, but never gets paid. What took place between then and 1537 is interesting. In 1537, he writes his last letter, accounting for the conversions of the Paravas, to the king and stressing his involvement in it.

Back at Tuticorin, things were not going well for the Paravas. They had been used to fishing for oysters and pearls and paid a small subsidy to the kings of Quilon/Travancore, Kayattar and Tumbichi Nayak. In 1516 it appears that Muslims took over the whole pearl fishery on a lease from Udaya Marthanda Varma. The Portuguese wanting a share of the profits managed to wrest out a share of the by way of a tribute from the local kings against threats of attack. Joao Froles was sent to take control of the area and with that what followed was a long 14 year war on the pearl fishery coast between the Muslims and the Portuguese. In 1528, following a defeat of the Moors by De Mello, retribution had to be paid to the Portuguese. The Moors forced the Paravas to pay additional tributes from the pearl fishing. The Paravas were soon reduced to virtual slavery, and the situation had become very tense indeed, for it was after centuries and for first time in history that the Paravars had lost their right over the pearl fishery.

It was on such a tense day in Tuticorin during 1534, when as usual, a Parava woman went out to sell her home made Paniyarams. As it appears from the texts of Teixeira, a Muslim insulted her and the lady promptly went home and complained to her husband. The enraged man went out and a fight ensured with the Muslim, during which the Muslim cut off an earlobe of the Parava, a great insult indeed for they wore large ornaments on their ears which extended down to their shoulders. So the honor of the entire community was compromised, as Schurhammer reports. The two groups went at each other’s throats and a great many were killed. The Muslims of neighboring towns joined the fracas and the Paravas were systematically decimated (in fact a bounty of 5 fanams per head were initially paid to the mercenaries, but as the heads piled up, this was reduced to one fanam). The Paravas had nowhere to go and were in a dire situation with no hope (A little exaggeration can be seen in these accounts - since the Muslims needed the Parava to eventually go out to sea and continue with their business and pay them the taxes).

It was into this mess that the indebted Joa Da Cruz strayed. The Paravas talked to him and explained their desperate plight. Seeing an opportunity to redeem himself, Da Cruz suggested that they convert and get allied to the Portuguese to save themselves. The Paravas, seeing no other alternative, agreed.

As the Portuguese patrol boats returned to Cochin, Cruz and 15 Parava patangatins (3 prominent chiefs and other seniors) sailed with them. Meeting Pedro Vaz the captain at Cochin, they requested for protection, agreeing to conversion and asked for more priests to effect the conversion of their people back home. Pedro Vaz was leery about the whole thing, perhaps considering Da Cruz’s precarious relationship with the Cochin bureaucracy and agrees only after the Paravas returned with another 70 of their people. Miguel Vaz, the friar from Goa was at Cochin at that time and quickly did the baptisms. Many of the people who converted including the chief took the name of their savior the Chetti/Nair Joao Da Cruz (resulting in confusion for historians who thought Joao da Crus went and settled among the Paravas as their headman).

The Moors(Muslims) getting wind of what was going on tried to prevent the conversions. They sent two of their heads to Cochin with eight expensive pearls, cotton goods and 20000 fanam to bribe the captain against it, through Cherina Marakkar who was a popular moor in the Portuguese good books. Pedro Vaz would not budge, and obtained further support from his boss Nuno Da Cunha at Diu. In Feb 1536, two ships sailed back to Tuticorin with Da Cruz, Miguel Vaz, the converted paravas and other priests. During the course of the next year, the entire caste of Paravas of many thousands had been converted, mainly by Miguel Vaz and his helpers Pedro Goncalves and some others from Cochin (Not St Xavier who came years later). The Paravas contributed 75000 fanams per annum to the Portuguese for protection; a figure considered exorbitant by Miguel Vaz, who complained and got it reduced to 60000.

As Teixiera was to write – And that is how our lord saved so many souls by means of one torn earlobe!!

Joao returned back to Cochin around 1537, stopping at Travancore on the way offering the King of Travancore horses if he would consent allowing fisher folk in his area also to convert like the Paravars. As you may recall the Travancore kingdom was soon going into war against the Vijayanagar king and desperately needed horses.

The Marakkars were not happy about the situation and their final desperate retaliation involved all three Pate, Kunhali and Ali Ibrahim. The resulting sea and land fight off Cape Comorin was an interesting one and best recounted another day, for that is not today’s topic. The Zamorin involved at the tail end died a broken man, in 1540.

Francis Xavier came to the Paravars in 1542-44, to work amongst them and go on to become a saint.


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