Nayar - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Traditionally the Kerala economy was extremely complex. The main Subsistence food was rice. It was supplemented by a wide variety of root vegetables and some leafy ones, eggs, fish, poultry, goat meat, and for most of the population (apart from Nayars and Nambudiri Brahmans) beef or water-buffalo meat. All of the Brahmans (about one percent of the population) and some of the higher-ranking Nayars (especially those that intermarried with Brahmans, see below) were vegetarian. Today, the diet includes bread and many other wheat Products as well as Western vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. It is hard to separate commercial activities from trade, but it is important to note that every village supports a large number of tea shops, toddy shops, general stores, and rice mills, as well as numerous other enterprises. Kerala has probably more small-size printing and publishing establishments than anywhere in the world.

Industrial Arts. Industrial arts unique to Kerala include a wide variety of products made from coconut fiber, the very advanced manufacture of traditional Ayurvedic medicines for worldwide distribution, the crafting of exceptionally fine gold jewelry in intricate traditional designs, bell metalwork, until recently very delicate ivory work, and the construction of traditional seagoing boats and ships. The newer products made in the region are discussed in the next section.

Trade. Apart from the fact that the society was extremely hierarchical with several layers of nonworking overlords, the region was not self-sufficient in rice production (the main subsistence grain) even in the fifteenth century. (Vasco da Gama reported seeing ships carrying rice in the port of Calicut in 1498.) However, the port of Calicut and many lesser ports were grand emporiums for export by sea in this period. Traders came from China, from the Middle East, and even from Rome. Because of the great demand in Europe for black pepper (at that time grown only in Kerala), one of the places Columbus was trying to reach when he sailed west was the port of Calicut. Apart from black pepper, many other items were traded there: other spices, copra, gems of many kinds, peacock feathers, rice (used medicinally in ancient Rome), teak and mahogany, elephants and ivory, and cloth of various kinds, including both cotton and silk. Today Kerala exports pepper, cashew nuts, frozen freshwater fish and seafood, woven textiles, and (to other parts of India as well as many third-world countries) paper and paper products, condoms and other rubber products, coir rope and other coir products, radios and watches, fruits, and fertilizers. However, Kerala's major export today consists of people, primarily Educated people, both to the Middle East and to the developed world. There are large numbers of Nayars working as doctors, lawyers, nurses, scholars, and other professionals in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.

Division of Labor. Since the Nayars are part of an extremely hierarchical society with complex caste and class distinctions, it is hard to describe the division of labor simply. Traditionally, Nayars formed the militia of the countryside, as well as functioning as landlords. In some villages they were the highest level of landowners, in other villages they held the land on lesser tenures. In the extreme north of Kerala and in some parts of Cochin-Travancore, poor Nayar households actually worked the land. But in the rest of Kerala, while Nayars (both males and females) might supervise production, they did not work in the fields. This arrangement has changed to some extent in very recent times. Where Nayars worked in agriculture, the division of labor between the sexes was the same as that followed by other Malayali groups within a given region (though there were and are regional differences Between the north and the south).

Land Tenure. Traditional Kerala land tenure resembled the feudal system in Europe, with several levels of subfeudation and infeudation. Land was owned either by an Individual, an unpartitioned family, or a temple. The owners derived their income from rents or customary payments by their tenants and lesser tenants or subtenants. Often the Nayars were the tenants, the Tiyyars or Ezhuvas the subtenants, and the agrestic slave castes the manual laborers. However, there were some Nayar owners and some Nayar subtenants. A series of land-tenure laws was passed starting in the late 1920s in Travancore, culminating in major land-reform laws in the early 1970s and a series of supreme court decisions that provided not only for permanence of tenure but also for the gift of actual ownership rights to the lowest rung of tenants in the former hierarchy. As a result, one finds today a large class of small landowners, an even larger class of landless laborers, and a small number of larger landowners (some of whom were former tenants and held land from a number of higherranking landowners) who have found ways to circumvent the legal land ceilings.

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Sarah Berner
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Dec 28, 2011 @ 7:19 pm
I feel really stupid asking this, but what does "Partition' mean as used in this writing? I need a scholarly answer, if posssible.

Thanks, Sarah Berner
DKM Kartha
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Feb 26, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
Partition in the context of Kerala means this: The traditional Nayar family (and other matrilineal caste families) held land in common with one KaaraNavar, the oldest male, as the head of the Tharavaad (undivided ancestral family) and all his sisters and their children living in the same hosue or at the same homestead. This structure started falling apart under various forms of pressure such as Land Reform by the rulers or governments. then the family property was divided or partitioned among the sisters and the brothers, but the sisters got one share for herself and one each for all her children, while the brother got only one share. The Tharavaad being matrilineal and matrilocal the bothers and sisters lived together, while the brothers' children grew up with their mothers in other Tharavaads. The partition was a big event and sometimes were initiated by men who wanted to get a larger portion of the family property if it was partitioned before his sisters started enlarging their families through childbirths. In some cases, the wife of a Kaaranavar wanted him to ask for partition because she wanted to move to a new house with him as the new patrilineal housefold was becoming fashionable. I am writing all this from the history of my family rather than after reading a text. Kathleen Gough has written anthropologically about the Nayar, who are a unique social group in Keralam. I am a Nayar and my last name indicates we were the commanders in the Nayar armies when the individual warriors and warrior clans were integrated by us for fighting for the Lords and later the King. My original family was partitioned into two, and then there was a big partition before I was born, sometime in the early forties and I remember hearing my mother and grandmother talking about it. I think my grandmother was still brooding over this cataclysmic event although it had happened 20 years before the 50's when I heard her talk sadly about it. The nuclear did not agree with my widowed grandmother whose three male children had gone away to Mumbai (Bombay in those days) to search for a living as land was becoming an uncertain sustenance.

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