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mercredi 21 décembre 2011


The Tribe of Malabars

During a recent conversation in Paris, I was told by a Reunionese that she belonged to a Tribe of Malabars from the Island of Reunion. My objection that there is no tribe by the name of Malabar and that Malabar is the name of a geographical entity, I was only showing my ignorance!
Most of the French of Indian origin in Reunion are descendants of indentured labourers brought over from Tamil Nadu by the French in the 19th century. They came mainly from Pondicherry, the French possession and were Tamils (Tamoul in French). They quickly lost their religion and language, which had also happened to other Tamoul migrants to French possessions such as Martinique.
What I did not know was that it was common practice to refer anyone from South India as Malabars, especially among the French and Dutch colonizers (who had their share of Hindus in present day Suriname) and had colonized Malabar coast for nearly 150 years. Thus the Tamoul indentured labourers, who came from the lower strata of the Hindou society, were referred to as Malabars and proudly kept that name to this day.
It is interesting to read Tamoul names in either anglicised or frenchified versions: Jean-Paul Virapoullé  is the current Senator from Renion and mayor of St Andre in Reunion. In Trinidad and Guyana most of the Hindou names are Anglicized and written down as they are pronounced. Basdeo (a former TT politician)  or Jagdeo (the latter is the current PM of Guyana, I think),  and in Dutch speaking Surinam, Ameerali (VP of Surinam)