Chapter XVIII. The Inhabitants of the Neilgherries.

There are five different races now settled upon the Blue Mountains:--

1. Bergers, The mass of the population; supposed to be about ten thousand.
2. Erulars, & The Wild men dwelling on the woody sides of the hills; about two thousand.
3. Cooroombars,
4. Kothurs, & The old inhabitants and owners of the land; about three thousand.
5. Todas,

The Bergers, Vaddacars, (180) or, as the Todas call them, the Marves, are an uninteresting race of Shudra Hindoos, that immigrated from the plains in the days of Hyder or Tippoo. They attempt to invest their expatriation with the dignity of antiquity by asserting that upwards of four centuries ago they fled to the hills from the persecutions of Moslem tyrants. This cast affects the Lingait or Shaivya (181) form of Hinduism, contains a variety of sub-families, speaks a debased dialect of modern Canarese, and still retains, in the fine climate of the Neilgherries, the dark skin, the degraded expression of countenance, and the puny figure that characterise the low caste native of Southern India. They consider the wild men of the hills as magicians, and have subjected themselves to the Todas, in a social as well as a religious point of view, by paying a tax for permission to occupy their lands. They have been initiated in some of the mysterious practices of the mountaineers, and have succeeded in infecting the minds of their instructors with all the rigid exclusiveness and silly secrecy of their own faith. It redounds, however, to their credit that they have not imitated the debauched and immoral habits which their lords have learned by intercourse with strangers. There is nothing remarkable in their dress, their manners, or their habitations; they employ themselves in cultivating the soil and acting as porters, beaters, labourers, and gardeners.

The Erulars (182) and Cooroombars (183) are utter savages, very much resembling the Rankaris of Maharatta Land and the Bheels of Candeish. Their language, a kind of Malayalim, proves that they were originally inhabitants of the plains, but nothing more is known about them. They dwell in caves, clefts in the rocks, and miserable huts, built upon the slopes of the mountains, and they support themselves by cultivation and selling wax and honey. In appearance they are diminutive, dark men, distinguishable from the highest order of Quadrumana by the absence of pile upon their bodies, and a knack of walking on their hind legs. Their dress is limited to about a palm's breadth of coarse cotton cloth, and their only weapon a little knife, which hangs from a bit of string to the side. They are rarely seen. When riding about the wild parts of the hills you occasionally meet one of these savages, who starts and stands for a moment, staring at you through his bush of matted hair, in wonder, or rather awe, and then plunges headlong into the nearest thicket. Man is the only enemy the poor wretches have reason to fear. By the Todas, as well as the Bergers, they are looked upon as vicious magicians, who have power of life and death over men and beasts, of causing disease, and conjuring tigers from the woods to assist them; they are propitiated by being cruelly beaten and murdered, whenever a suitable opportunity presents itself. The way in which this people will glide through the wildest woods, haunted by all manner of ferocious foes, proves how fine and acute the human senses are capable of becoming when sharpened by necessity and habit.

In investigating the origin of the Kothurs, Cohatars, (184) or Cuvs, the usual obstacles,--a comparatively unknown language, and the want of a written character,--oppose the efforts of inquirers. The palpable affinity, however, between the Toda and Kothur dialects, proves that both the races were originally connected, and the great change (185) that has taken place in the languages, shows that this connection was by no means recently dissolved. Why or how the separation took place, even tradition (186) does not inform us; but the degraded customs, as well as the appearance, dress, and ornaments of the Kothurs point most probably to a loss of cast, in consequence of some unlawful and polluting action.

The Kothurs show great outward respect to the Todas, and the latter return the compliment more substantially by allowing their dependants a part of the tax which they receive from the Bergers. They are an industrious and hard-working race; at once cultivators and musicians, carpenters and potters, bricklayers, and artizans in metal as well as in wood. Their villages composed of little huts, built with rough wattling, are almost as uncleanly as their persons. Every considerable settlement contains two places of worship, for the men do not pray with the women; in some hamlets they have set up curiously carved stones, which they consider sacred, and attribute to them the power of curing diseases, if the member affected be only rubbed against the talisman. They will devour any carrion, even when in a semi-putrid state; the men are fond of opium, and intoxicating drinks; they do not, however, imitate the Todas in their illicit way of gaining money wherewith to purchase their favourite luxuries.

As the Toda (187) race is, in every way, the most remarkable of the Neilgherry inhabitants, so it has been its fate to be the most remarked. Abundant observation has been showered down upon it; from observation sprang theories, theories grew into systems. The earliest observer remarking the Roman noses, fine eyes, and stalwart frames of the savages, drew their origin from Italy,--not a bad beginning! Another gentleman argued from their high Arab features, that they are probably immigrants from the Shat el Arab, (188) but it is apparent that he used the subject only to inform the world of the length and breadth of his wanderings. Captain Harkness discovered that they were aborigines. Captain Congreve determined to prove that the Todas are the remnants of the Celto-Scythian race, which selon lui, inhabited the plains, and were driven up to the hills before the invading Hindoo; he even spelt the word "Thautawars," to sound more Scythic. He has treated the subject with remarkable acuteness, and displayed much curious antiquarian lore; by systematically magnifying every mote of resemblance, (189) and, by pertinaciously neglecting or despising each beam of dissimilitude, (190) together with a little of the freedom in assertion allowed to system-spinners, he has succeeded in erecting a noble edifice, which lacks nothing but a foundation. The metaphysical German traced in the irreverent traditions (191) of the barbarians concerning the Deity, a metaphorical allusion to the creature's rebellion against his Creator; the enthusiastic Freemason warped their savage mystifications into a semblance of his pet mysteries. And the grammar-composing Anglo-Indian discovered unknown niceties in their language, by desiring any two Todas to do a particular thing, then by asking them how they expressed such action, and, lastly, by recording the random answer as a dual form of the verb.

When every one theorises so will we. The Todas are merely a remnant of the old Tamulian tribes originally inhabiting the plains, and subsequently driven up to the mountains by some event, (192) respecting which history is silent. Our opinion is built upon the rock of language.

It has been proved (193) that the Toda tongue is an old and obsolete dialect of the Tamul, containing many vocables directly derived from Sanscrit, (194) but corrupted into

          Words so debased and hard, no stone
          Is hard enough to touch them on.

Thus, for a single instance, the mellifluous Arkas a-pakshi--the winged animal of the firmament,--becomes Hakh'sh-pakh'sh, a bird. In grammar it is essentially Indian, as the cases of the noun and pronoun, and the tenses of the verb demonstrate; the days of the week, and the numerals, are all of native, not foreign growth. The pronunciation is essentially un-Indian, (195) true; but with grammar and vocabulary on our side, we can afford to set aside, even if we could not explain away, the objection. A great change of articulation would naturally result from a long residence upon elevated tracts of land; the habit of conversing in the open air, and of calling aloud to those standing at a distance, would induce the speaker to make his sounds as rough and rugged as possible. This we believe to be the cause of the Bedouin-like gutturalism, which distinguishes the Toda dialect. We may observe that the Kothurs, who work in tents, have exchanged their original guttural for a nasal articulation; and the Bergers, who originally spoke pure Canarese, have materially altered their pronunciation during the last century.

The main objection to our theory is the utter dissimilarity of the Toda, in all respects, physical as well as moral, to the races that now inhabit the plains. This argument would be a strong one, could the objector prove that such difference existed in the remote times, when our supposed separation took place. It is, we may remind him, the direct tendency of Hinduism to degenerate, not to improve, in consequence of early nuptials, the number of outcastes, perpetual intermarriage, and other customs peculiar to it. The superiority of the Toda, in form and features, to the inhabitants of the lowlands may also partially be owing to the improvement in bodily strength, stature, and general appearance that would be affected by a lengthened sojourn in the pure climate of the Blue Mountains.

The Todas, as we have said before, assert a right to the soil of the Neilgherries, and exact a kind of tax (196) from the Bergers. Their lordly position was most probably the originator of their polyandry and infanticide; (197) disdaining agriculture, it is their object to limit the number of the tribe. According to their own accounts, they were, before the date of the Berger immigration, living in a very wild state, wearing the leaves of trees, and devouring the flesh of the elk, when they could get it, and the wild fruits of the hills; this they exchanged for a milk diet; they are now acquiring a taste for rice, sweet-meats, and buffalo meat.

The appearance of this extraordinary race is peculiarly striking to the eye accustomed to the smooth delicate limbs of India. The colour is a light chocolate, like that of a Beeloch mountaineer. The features are often extraordinarily regular and handsome; the figure is muscular, straight, manly, and well-knit, without any of that fineness of hand and wrist, foot and ankle, which now distinguishes the Hindoo family, and the stature is remarkably tall. They wear the beard long, and allow their bushy, curly locks to lie clustering over the forehead--a custom which communicates to the countenance a wild and fierce expression, which by no means belongs to it. The women may be described as very fine large animals; we never saw a pretty one amongst them. Both sexes anoint the hair and skin with butter, probably as a protection against the external air; a blanket wound loosely round their body being their only garment. Ablution is religiously avoided.

There is nothing that is not peculiar in the manners and customs (198) of the Todas. Ladies are not allowed to become mothers in the huts; they are taken to the nearest wood, and a few bushes are heaped up around them, as a protection against rain and wind. Female children are either drowned in milk, or placed at the entrance of the cattle-pen to be trampled to death by the buffaloes. The few preserved to perpetuate the breed, are married to all the brothers of a family; besides their three or four husbands, they are allowed the privilege of a cicisbeo. The religion of the Toda is still sub judice, the general opinion being that they are imperfect Monotheists, who respect, but do not adore, the sun and fire that warm them, the rocks and hills over which they roam, and the trees and spots which they connect with their various superstitions. When a Toda dies, a number of buffaloes are collected, and barbarously beaten to death with huge pointed clubs, by the young men of the tribe. The custom, it is said, arose from the importunate demands of a Toda ghost; most probably, from the usual savage idea that the animal which is useful in this world will be equally so in the next.

The Toda spends life in grazing his cattle, snoring in his cottage, and churning butter. The villages belonging to his people consist of, generally speaking, three huts, made with rough planking and thatch; a fourth, surrounded by a low wall, stands a little apart from, and forms a right angle with the others. This is the celebrated Lactarium, or dairy, a most uninteresting structure, but ennobled and dignified by the variety of assertions that have been made about it, and the mystery with which the savages have been taught to invest it. Some suppose it to be a species of temple, where the Deity is worshipped in the shape of a black stone, and a black stone, we all know, tells a very long tale, when interpreted by even a second-rate antiquary. Others declare that it is a masonic lodge, (199) the strong ground for such opinion being that females are never allowed to enter it, and that sundry mystic symbols, such as circles, squares, and others of the same kind, are roughly cut into the side wall where the monolith stands. We entered several of these huts when in a half-ruinous state, but were not fortunate or imaginative enough to find either stone or symbols. The former might have been removed, the latter could not; so we must believe that many of our wonder-loving compatriots have been deceived by the artistic attempts made by some tasteful savage, to decorate his dairy in an unusual style of splendour. Near each village is a kraal, or cattle-pen, a low line of rough stones, as often oval as circular, and as often polygonal as oval. The different settlements are inhabited, deserted, and reinhabited, according as the neighbouring lands afford scant or plentiful pasturage.

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Ye who would realise the vision of the wise, respecting savage happiness and nomadic innocence--a sweet hallucination, which hitherto you have considered the wildest dream that ever issued from the Ivory Gate--go, find it in the remote corners of Toda land, the fertile, the salubrious. See Hylobius, that burly barbarian--robust in frame, blessed with the best of health, and gifted with a mind that knows but one idea--how to be happy--sunning himself, whilst his buffaloes graze upon the hill side, or wandering listlessly through the mazy forest, or enjoying his rude meal of milk and rice, or affording himself the lazy luxury of squatting away the rainy hours round his primitive hearth. What care has he for to-day: what though of to-morrow? He has food in abundance: his and his brothers' common spouse and dubious children, make up, strange yet true, a united family; he is conscious of his own superiority, he claims and enjoys the respect of all around him. The use of arms he knows not: his convenient superstition tends only to increase his comforts here below, and finally, when Hylobius departs this transitory life, whatever others may think of his prospects, he steps fearlessly into the spirit-world, persuaded that he and his buffaloes are about to find a better climate, brighter scenes, and broader grass lands--in a word, to enjoy the fullest felicity. Contrast with this same Toda in his rude log hut amidst the giant trees, the European pater-familias, in his luxurious, artificial, unhappy civilized home!

But has not your picture of savage felicity its reverse?

Yes, especially when uncivilized comes into contact with semi-civilized or civilized life. Our poor barbarians lead the life of hunted beasts, when Tippoo Sultan, incensed with them for being magicians and anxious to secure their brass bracelets, which he supposed were gold, sent his myrmidons into their peaceful hills. They are now in even a worse state. (200) The "noble unsophisticated Todas," as they were once called, have been morally ruined by collision with Europeans and their dissolute attendants. They have lost their honesty: truth is become almost unknown to them; chastity, sobriety, and temperance, fell flat before the strong temptations of rupees, foreign luxuries, and ardent spirits. Covetousness is now the mountaineer's ruling passion: the Toda is an inveterate, indefatigable beggar, whose cry, Eenam Kuroo, "give me a present!" no matter what,--money, brandy, cigars, or snuff--will follow you for miles over hill and dale: as a pickpocket, he displays considerable ingenuity; and no Moses or Levi was ever a more confirmed, determined, grasping, usurer. His wife and daughters have become vile as the very refuse of the bazaar. And what can he show in return for the loss of his innocence and happiness? True, he is no longer pursued by Tippoo, or the neighbouring Polygars: but he is persecuted by growing wants, and a covetousness which knows no bounds. He will not derive any benefit from education, nor will he give ear to a stranger's creed. From the slow but sure effects of strange diseases, the race is rapidly deteriorating (201)--few of the giant figures that abound in the remote hills, are to be found near our cantonments--and it is more than probable that, like other wild tribes, which the progress of civilization has swept away from the face of the earth, the Toda will, ere long, cease to have "a local habitation and a name" among the people of the East.