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Abraham and Ashu

Posted by Maddy Labels:

What a strange name for a story, would be the first thought in a reader’s mind. A Malayali seeing this would balk, because he can imagine the complex undertaking straightway. I thought for a long time if I should make this a dry & factual article and decided against it, after all, others have done that already to this story, so I decided to focus more on the individuals in the story. Well, this story, my friends, will take you back to the Malabar between 1130 and 1150 and into the lives of an unlikely couple, Abraham Yiju and Ashu Nair.

Most people would not like to dwell too much on the environment and conditions around life in those days, but prosperous life and honest trade did exist at that time. It was a time before the Portuguese onslaught, a time of the powerful Zamorins, a time when many traders and expatriates from Europe lived on the shores of the Malabar. Syrian Jews lived in Cochin, Arabic Jews were all around, like our man Yiju, and the Bombay ports had Iraqi Jews and wealthy Parsees. The Malabar trade otherwise termed as the Karimi trade was in full swing.

This story deals with a Tunisian Jewish trader Abraham Ben Yiju, while he was based in Mangalore. The girl was a Nair called Ashu, though history books call her Ashu. I can, as a Malayali, be reasonably sure that Ashu was more an endearment and that Asha (means ‘wish’) was her real name. The story is set in Tulunad, near Mangalore.

It was an excellent book by Stewart Gordon called ‘When Asia Was the world’ that tipped me to this particular story. As you read about Yiju’s travails in the book you can see that this story had a deep impact on that author. However the strict historian Gordon did not in my mind do justice to a possible story within the story, which would have been about the relationship. He covered the historic trade angles and connections and so I decided to check out the background. It then turned out to be a story that had once fascinated the writer Amitav Ghosh to obsessively study Arabic & Hebrew and research the various characters at Oxford. Amitav Ghosh then penned his findings in an essay titled the ‘The Slave of MS.H.6’ (later featured in his book ‘The Imam and the Indian’) many years ago followed by a semi fictional historic work titled ‘In an Antique land” which I finished reading some months ago. This fascinating book deals with his own research and life in Egypt and touching on the story of Yiju, written in a style that is unique…Do read it if you can…

But first, a few words on how the story came out into the open after some 800 years. As we all know, Indians, especially South Indians, even with some knowledge of a better known (in those times, at least among the literary Brahmin classes) language Sanskrit, never bothered to properly document and record what happened around them, at least between the 8th to 18th centuries. Even the Granthavari’s written for local kings, related mainly to accounts and temple matters, not and observation of life around them. That work was left to the few mystified Western travelers, officials and traders who unfortunately exaggerated or twisted facts most of the time.

The main protagonist of this story, Abraham (Ibrahim) Peraya Ben Yiju wrote and received a number of (some 40-80 letters) letters to his trading partners in Egypt and Aden and these were stuffed by his daughter, after Yiju’s death, into what were known as Geniza’s located at a particular Synagogue (Ben Ezra synagogue in Fostat)at Cairo for eventual disposal (A Geniza or Genizah is an enclosed area within a synagogue where all papers containing the name of God are deposited for eventual burial). Fortunately they were not destroyed and the fascinating collection of 250,000 paper fragments have been collected and are still being sorted and studied by eminent historians since the turn of the 20th century. In the many thousands of documents it was relatively easy to track Yiju’s story by his fine & unique calligraphic handwriting.

So we go to the times (1130-1132) of the roaring spice trade, to the port (referred to by the Arabic word – Bandar, to Manjarur) of Mangalore where Jewish Abraham bin Perahya Ben Yiju started up the local office of master trader Madmun’s business after fleeing Cairo following (apparently) a blood feud. Yiju was a merchant from the Tunisian town of Al Mahdiyya, and was well known for his wealth & calligraphy skills. Working as a scribe with legal issues, he wrote and collected poetry, in addition to conducting trade of Iron, brass items, silk, pottery, betel nuts and various spices. Mangalore in Tulunad, at that time was prosperous and full or Arab traders, both Islamic and Jewish. The Tulu regions were populated with a number of Banias, Chetiars, Bunts and of course Nair’s, as the local people and suppliers of spices and other items for trade. Yiju himself was assisted by a Sesu chetty, a Nambiar and a Nair (Ashu’s brother, perhaps), in business dealings as was typical in Malabar. Walking around in fine clothes, he was a dapper businessman, charming the local populace, who by the way, and in Yiju’s own opinion, were mostly naked but for a ‘bandage’ round their loins (the Malabari dhothi), men & women alike.

During his 17 plus years in Mangalore (It was as explained previously, known as Manjrur), he continued his prosperous relationship with the Aden based chief trader Madmun Ibn Bandar, the most powerful of them all. (Aden was the principal trading post for Malabar and it is in Aden that Cain and Abel are supposedly buried!). Trade then was based very much on trust as communication was slow and in the form of letters carried in ships, some lost. These were the letters that eventually landed up in the Geniza. As they were letters of business communications, the personal life was only obliquely evident. It also transpires that Yiju started a brass works in addition to trade offices, where they repaired old brass lamps, locks and fixtures.

It was around Oct 17th 1132, that Yiju met Ashu and his next actions were perplexing and annoying to the other Jewish traders, to say the least. He promptly freed her (Goitein’s impressions) for she was some kind of a ‘wasifa’ servant or slave (instead of making her his consort, he drew a deed of manumission with Ashu) and lived with her the entire two decades he was in Mangalore, begetting children, one named Surur and a daughter Sitt Al Dar (another son died early). His personal demands to his trading partners at Aden included Kohl, silk carpets, jewelry and other expensive items for Ashu. Yiju’s life moved on smoothly till 1149.

Ashu, was a Nair woman from Cannanore or some other part of North Kerala like Balipatanam, and considered to be a beauty (SD Goitein). Here again there is confusion. While some historian’s say that Ashu was renamed Berakhah, Stewart & Ghosh believed Barakah was the name of Yiju’s sister in Tunisia. There are hints in the letters that a monetary debt to Ashu’s brother may have forced the marriage, but the union nevertheless proved to be a happy one. Ghosh also believes that Yiju was at times irritated by the special Nair family ties and the strong relations Ashu had with her matrilineal family

Herein lay more confusion. Yiju had a choice of a number of Jewish women in Cochin and other trading ports, why did he choose Hindu Ashu and remain with her? Was it because Cochin Jewish women were of Syrian origin? More likely, he fell in love with Ashu. It is unlikely that a person lived with a woman for 11 years and had three children by her if they did not love each other. Ghosh himself concludes thus – If I hesitate to call it love, it is only because the documents offer no certain proof.

Abraham Yiju left Mangalore with his children in 1149 when the Norman Conquest resulted in chaos around Tunisia and his siblings in Tunisia were in mortal danger. He was also determined to find a proper suitor for his daughter, planning to marry her off to any eligible son of his brothers. Ashu, sadly, remained in Mangalore (Stewart however believes she went to Egypt).

Yiju’s son Surur died a few years later, aged 20, but his daughter Sitt al dar survived and Yiju himself moved to Yemen. Later Yiju went back to Egypt to marry her off in style. His attempts to find a proper Jewish suitor from his own family turned out to be an arduous task as her mother (as we know now) was not a pure Jew. Kenneth Seeskin in his book ‘The Cambridge Companion to Maimonides’ confirms that Yiju did have legal problems (probably because the children were termed ‘black’ Jews – Judeus Pretos)with his marriage to Ashu and that the learned Moses Mamonide’s helped solve many of them after they got back to Egypt. Finally, after a lot of turmoil and search, Yiju decided to get her married to his elder brother’s son Perahya though he was not too happy with the boy’s stature and tried to delay the marriage further. The marriage finally took place after his death (this somehow conflicts Ghosh’s view that the marriage took place when Yiju was alive), on Aug 11th, 1156.

Curiously the boy Parahya did make a good name for himself in the Egyptian Jewish community and became a judge. Here again the story takes an interesting turn. Perahya wanted to return to Sicily but Yiju’s daughter (you can divine Ashu’s strong Nair character here!!) refused to accompany him and so Perahya settled down in Alexandria. To settle this dispute a case was lodged and the wife won the suit (Shulamit Reif – Cambridge Genizah collections).

Thus finally, Ashu’s daughter’s final action of thrusting all her father’s letters into the Geniza, instead of destroying it, made us all the richer, providing us with a detailed view of life in Aden, Egypt and Malabar of the 12th century….

And what happened to Ben Yiju after Sitt Al Daar’s marriage? Nobody knows for sure. Ghosh (as well as Stewart) believes that he could have returned to Ashu in Mangalore for the one reason that there exists no death certificate in the Egyptian Jewish records of that period.

Well, the story does not end there. A group researching how the gene mtDNA-haplogroup D landed up in European Jews, opine that such a group could have come to Europe via Ashu or her daughter who came with Yiju!! But that is yet another topic.

Footnotes –You can (I believe) see the deed of manumission (Deed of freeing from authority or slavery) between Ben Yiju and Ashu at the Institute of the Peoples of Asia at Leningrad. No other ‘marriage’ certificate has remained intact for so long a time, in history.

My belief was that this deed was made by Yiju for the only purpose of making the Yiju offspring legal in their Jewish community back home and ensuring legal succession (Yiju was a wealthy man). I am not sure about Nair slaves (consider also that Ashu was not thrown out of home or lost caste- as she had a fruitful relationship with her family all the time) at that time or that Ashu would have wanted such a manumission document. Ghosh in his book the ‘Imam and the Indian’ Page 220 concurs with this since the event was celebrated with fanfare, the document (like today’s wedding card!)was more a public announcement of the betrothal and legality than an act of manumission.

The deed starts with the usual proclamations supporting the lord (Quoted from SD Goitein’s A Mediterranean Society – Vol 2, Community) (The translation is by Goitein though I believe that the words Mangalore and Tunisia did not exist in 1132)

In the city of Mangalore, the royal city which is situated on the great sea and which is under the jurisdiction of our Lord Daniel, the great prince, the head of the great Diaspora, of all Israel, the son of our Lord Hisday, the great prince……

Some of my notes are fertile speculation as Yiju did not quite explain his personal relationship with Ashu and novelist Amitav Ghosh was the first to really tie them up (after historian SD Goitein’s discovery), but nevertheless, it is based on a small amount of documented fact. Ghosh’s research was actually to identify a slave called Bomma, a Hindu associate of Yiju, otherwise known in history to scholars as the mystic slave MS H.6, referred to in the Geniza fragments.

Point to ponder


In Hebrew, Nair means candle. So how would Yiju have written Nair to signify Ashu’s caste? Yiju btw may have meant Yago which in North Africa & Spain signified Jacob.

Seeskin states on page 53 of ‘The Cambridge Companion to Maimonides’ that Ashu was renamed ‘Berakah’ daughter of Abraham. Now did he mean Sitt Al Daar the daughter or Ashu?

Most documents I referred to mention Yiju’s brass workshop located at Manjarur. History buff’s like CKR feel the factory could have been at Naduvarambu (near Muziris). It could very well have been so though the Genizah documents have still not shed much light on this aspect.

References
How Padma Sri Award winner Amitav Ghosh researched the story
SD Goitein – The man who started it all with the transcripts
A window into Jewish Medieval life
Other
relevant books
The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection
The Jews in Sicily book 1, 383-1300, by Shlomo Simonsohn

Picture – Actual fragment of Ben Yiju’s writing from the Penn Arts and Sciences website, thanks

Edit - Asha has been replaced with Ashu - Asha is a relatively new term, so I will stick to what the records show

14 comments:

  1. Nikhil Narayanan

    I wonder how you manage such trivia and manage to weave a story around.

    Good piece again Maddy.

    -Nikhil

  1. CKMadhusudan

    A Nair Jew! Incredible! How research can lend lead to new leads! Can Ashu be a Nair? If she was a Nair would she not be addressed as Ashu Amma, rather than Ashu? Was she an outcaste? Ostracism was known to take place for presumably silly reasons, during those days. It can also be Arashu common name amongst Tamilians. Anyway your research is no doubt opening new vistas.
    I don’t know much about the DNA research conducted to determine the migration of a group from one place to another. But from your article I understand that mtDNA-haplogroup D has made its unique presence in European Jews. If that is the case, surely, Ashu could not have single-handedly contributed the genes to the ‘Jewish gene Bank’!

  1. Isa das

    www.equalitybasedonthesoul.com
    I would like to address certain linguistic and philosophical similarities common to both Jews and Hindus, which may open up a broader discussion.

    1. Names of God,
    a. The most holy of all names of God for a Jew is KNA or KANA, Rabbi's have slapped my face when I have said this name out loud.
    This is considered to be the most intimate name for God in the Old Testament. Where it is translated, "I am a jealous God,
    have no other gods before you", the literal Hebrew translation is, "My name is EL KNA, have no other gods before you."
    This name expands to KRE ShTN as Rabbi Aryeh Kapln,in Meditation and the Kabbalah explains
    "On Monday, you must intertwine the associated name "KRE ShTN""

    b, From a Vedic (Hindu) view point, Kana is also an affectionate name of Krishna, The pronunciation used above "KRE ShTN" is very similar to
    the way south Indians pronounce Krishna.

    2. Abraham and Brahma: Very few know that there are two Abrahams in Jewish philosophy
    a. There is a description of how the universe was in chaos until Abraham appeared. It is said, "Over the whole, there hovered Tohu (chaos)
    and as long as Tohu dominated,the whole world was not in being or existence. When did that key open the gates and make the world fruitful?
    It was when Abraham appeared." [Genesis II 4] As explained in the introduction to the Zohar The Soncino Press LTD--London New York
    There is also this reference one needs to ponder It is said, "Angels are supposed to have no back and four faces, so always to be able to behold God."
    [Talmud, cf. Ezek i. 6]

    b. In the First Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, there is a long description of how Brahma created the planets, stars etc. It is well know that the Brahma
    of this universe has 4 heads.

    3. DEMIGODS AND ANGELS have the same function in both trations.
    a. The Midrash teaches, "There is no blade of grass that does not have a constellation (Mazal) over it, telling it to grow." [Sefer Yetzirah 4.6]
    "As commentaries explain, 'God's providence works through the angels, but the angels, in turn, work through the stars and planets. As some authorities put it,
    the angels are, in a sense, like souls to the stars. Thus, for example, some sources speak of the stars as having intelligence, but the commentaries note
    that this is actually speaking of the angels that are associated with them.'" [Sefer Yetrzirah 4.6]

    b. The Vedic conception is that there are many specially empowered demigods who help manage the affairs of the universe including the planets of our solar system.
    The controlling demigods, although not eternal them selves, function within various posts that exist as long as the universe exists. For example,
    one of the principle demigods is Lord Indra. Indra is the name of the post, but the particular demigod who occupies that post during a given period
    has his own personal name. Just like President of the United States is a post, but there have been many presidents throughout history.

    4. Durga in the Bible?
    a. "He summoned to issue from the side of Darkness a kind of female moon, which rules over the night, and is associated with Adonai, the Lord of all the
    earth. In his days, the moon was magnified and reached her fullness. A thousand mountains rose before her, and she blew them away with a puff. A thousand
    mighty rivers flowed before her, and she swallowed them at a draught. Her nails reached out in a thousand and seventy directions and her hands in twenty-
    four thousand, so that nothing could escape her. Thousands of bucklers clung to her hair. From between her feet went forth a youth who stretched from one
    end of the world to the other with sixty clubs of fire..." [Zohar]

    b. The Vedas describe the ghastly form of Goddess Kali, another name for the Goddess Durga. There is a reference of Goddess Kali in the Srimad-
    Bhagavatam in the history of Jada Bharata, when she manifested herself to protect him. It is stated, "Intolerant of the
    offenses committed, the infuriated goddess Kali flashed her eyes and displayed her fierce, curved teeth. Her reddish eyes glowed, and she displayed her
    fearsome features. She assumed a frightening body, as if she were prepared to destroy the entire creation. Leaping violently from the altar, she
    immediately decapitated all the rogues and thieves with the very sword with which they had intended to kill Jada Bharata. She then began to drink the hot
    blood that flowed from the necks of the beheaded rogues and thieves, as if this blood were liquor.

    5. (BRAHMAN) EFFULGENCE
    a. "The Most Recondite is beyond cognition, but reveals of Himself a tenuous and veiled brightness shining only along a narrow path which extends from
    Him, and this is the brightness that irradiates all. This is the starting point of all esoteric mysteries, itself being unknowable." [Zohar IV 146b]

    b. The Absolute Truth is expressed as Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavän." [Srimad Bhagavatam.1.2.11] Brahman refers to the impersonal all-pervasive spirit.
    That is the same as the brahmajyoti, the effulgence of the Lord.

    6. METATRON AND MAHA-VISHNU
    a. It is said that a personality named Metatron cooperates with God to teach the young. While God devotes the last three hours of the day to this work,
    Metatron is in charge during the remainder of the day. (A.Z. 3b) [Everyman's Talmud, II, III] Regarding the revolving sword or flaming sword that
    revolves, it is said "the manner in which the sword rotates depends on the readiness of the individual attempting to enter. If he is worthy, it becomes the
    mirror through which he perceives, while if he is not worthy, he is burned out and cut off by the fire of this sword. The one who oversees the sword,
    preventing the unworthy from entering, is the angel Metatron." [Meditation and Kabbalah p 80 Chapter 4, Teachings of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia]
    "Metatron is therefore not a proper name at all but a designation for the whole category of celestial powers performing a mission."
    [Origins of the Kabbalah, III, 6]

    b. In the creative process,it is from Maha-Vishnu that all of the universes emanate, Sudarshan Cakra (flaming sword that revolves) controlled by Visnu similarly
    punishes and grants liberation. "Without illumination,nothing can be seen, especially in this material world.
    The illumination in this world emanates from the effulgence of Sudarshan, the original vision of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
    The illuminating principles of the sun, the moon and fire emanate from Sudarshan.
    Similarly, illumination by knowledge also comes from Sudarshan." [Srimad Bhag. 9.5.7, Purport]
    Also there is a series of Visnu expansions each with a chakra.

    7. THE LORD IN THE HEART
    a. When the soul is about to descend to this world, it first goes down to the terrestrial Garden of Eden and sees there the glory
    of the souls of the righteous, and then goes down to Gehinnom and sees the wicked who cry "Woe, woe", and find no compassion. That holy form (God)
    stands by him until he emerges into the world, after which it keeps him company and grows up with him." [The Zohar 43b] [KI TAZRIA (LEVITICUS)]

    b. In the Bhagavad-gita "Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as
    the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul, Paramatma." [Bg. 13.23]

    8. GURU AND RABBI
    a. In Judaism, knowledge is also passed from the rabbi to his students, but not everyone is qualified to become a student. "As a matter of law, the
    sages state that these mysteries 'cannot even be taught to a single individual, unless he is wise enough to understand with his own knowledge.' Even in
    such a case, the complete tradition was only given over to the head of the group, and he would then only instruct those whom he saw fit. Only individuals
    possessing the highest qualities of scholarship and piety would be admitted to the circle of initiates." [Introduction to the Bahir, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan]
    It is also stated that "One who reaches the highest level cannot reveal it to anyone. All he can do is give over the keys, so that the enlightened individual
    can open the gates which are sealed to exclude the unworthy."
    [Meditation and Kabbalah, p 79]


    b. In Vedic culture, although a guru would speak to whoever wanted to learn the Vedic science, he was traditionally very selective whom he would
    initiate as his disciple. He would only accept those persons who qualified themselves by humble submission and service. Lord Krishna states in the
    Bhagavad-gita, "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master, inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized
    soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth."


    9. VEDIC AND JEWISH CALENDARS
    a. The current Hebrew year is 5767. In this calendar, the year in which Adam was created is counted as year one. If we then count the Biblical
    genealogies from the time of Adam, we find that over 5,000 years have elapsed since the time he was formed. However, the Kabbalists clearly say that other
    human beings existed before Adam, and this is even supported in scripture [Drush Or HaChaim] The fifth cycle was the one that brought life, and this took
    place around two and a half billion years ago. Around 974 generations before Adam, or some 25,000 years ago, man developed all of the physical and mental
    capabilities that we possess today...but he still lacked the divine soul that would make him a spiritual being. God then created Adam, the first true human
    being with a soul, 'and He blew in his nostrils a soul of life'. [Genesis 2.7] [Sefer Yetzirah 4.15]

    b. The Vedic calendar states that Kali-yuga lasts 432,000 years, out of which we have passed about 5,000 years.


    10.The Ecstasy of Chanting The Names Of God
    a. People who have dedicated their lives to the service of God may at times feel unlimited joy or ecstasy while engaged in prayer. It is said, "Permute
    the letters back and forth, and in this manner, you will reach the first level. As a result of the activity and your concentration on the letters, your
    mind will become bound to them. The hairs on your head will stand on end and tremble. Your lifeblood is in your heart, and regarding this it is written,
    "the blood is the soul" [Deuteronomy 12:23]. It is likewise written, "The blood in the soul will atone" [Leviticus 17:11]. This blood within you will begin
    to vibrate because of the permutations that loosen it. Your entire body will then begin to tremble, and all your limbs will be seized with shuddering. You
    will experience the terror of God and will be enveloped with fear of Him. You will then feel as if an additional spirit is within you, arousing you and
    strengthening you, passing through your entire body and giving you leisure. It will seem as you have been anointed with perfumed oil, from head to foot.
    You will rejoice and have great pleasure. You will experience ecstasy and trembling--ecstasy for the soul, and trembling for the body.
    [Meditation and Kabbalah, Treasury of the Hidden Eden p85-86]

    b. The stage of bhava, love of God, is manifested by eight transcendental symptoms, namely inertness, perspiration, standing of hairs on end, failing in
    the voice, trembling, paleness of the body, tears in the eyes, and finally trance. [Srimad Bhag. 2:3:24 Purport]

    11. GOD'S BEAUTY
    a.The Jewish scriptures describe a vision of God. "His head is a treasure of fine gold. His locks are hanging, black like the raven." In both
    Talmudic and Kabbalistic traditions, one of the interpretations is that it relates to a vision of God; "when He is visualized in battle, He is seen as a
    young man with black hair." [Sefer Yetzirah Ch 6.1]

    b.The Vedas refer to the form of the Lord. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated, "the Lord is super excellently beautiful on account of His
    open and merciful smile and His sidelong glance upon His devotees. His black hair is curly, and His garments, waving in the wind, appear like flying
    saffron pollen from lotus flowers. His glittering earrings, shining helmet, bangles, garland, ankle bells, waist belt and various other bodily ornaments
    combine with the conch shell, disc, club, and lotus flower to increase the natural beauty of the Kaustubha pearl on His chest." [Srimad Bhag. 2.24.47-48]

  1. Calicut Heritage Forum

    What a fascinating true story stranger than fiction! And so delicately reproduced !! Congratulations, Maddy.
    I was first introduced to the mystery of Yiju through Nayan Chanda's scholarly work, 'Bound Together' (2007)http://www.amazon.com/Bound-Together-Preachers-Adventurers-Globalization/dp/product-description/0300112017)It gave me sleepless nights till I managed to reach Goitein. In fact his Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders follows up on the marriage of the daughter. When no reply was received to his letter, offering his daughter's hand to the brother's son, Ben Yiju settled in Aden, promised his daughter to a boy from the first family in the town, and the girl lived in the house of her future inlaws for three years. Then word came from the family; he learned that the eldest son of a brother of his was a scholarly person. Immediately he went back on his promise to the Adenese family; but everyone understood that 'the son of my brother has more rights to her than strangers.'Having arrived in the capital of Egypt, communication with his family (who then lived as refugees in Sicily) again became severed, and again there were many who asked for the hand of the daughter of the India trader. But Ben Yiju remained adamant. Finally, seven years after the first offer made in the letter from Aden, the wedding between the cousins was celebrated. At least here the daughter displayed the Nair tradition of abandoning one husband and taking another with ease! But her act of preserving the letters for posterity was definitely not inherited from her Malayali gene! It must have been the Yiju strain.
    I am not sure about Kodungalloor, but one has not heard much about Mangalore as a medieval port.The letter only mentions Malabar. This needs to be probed further.
    Anyhow, thanks once again for a great post.
    C.K.Ramachandran

  1. Maddy

    Nikhil - The Geniza fragments and Indian ocean trade is something that I have been perusing for over 6 months now - this is a story relevant to Malabar & quite factual history actually. except for the relationship exploration!!

    CKM - It is established in Yiju's papers & marriage certificate (I believe)also that Ashu was a Nair woman. How she got involved with Yiju is mysterious. The DNA thing is probably nonsense. It was just a discussion between some researchers that reached nowhere.

    Isa Das - Thank your for your detailed comment. While it is not really connected to this story, I will try & check it out.

    CKR - The geniza fragments cover four generations of Yiju's family history. The full story of the research has still not come out for various copyright reasons. The India book part 1 has finally come out (but exorbitantly priced at approx $350/-). Like you, I spent many a sleepless night thinking of Yiju's life.

    About Mangalore, I had been skeptical too but Ghosh's research and statements are conclusive that Yiju had his address on the letter MS.H.6 with Manjarur on it.

    I would also recommend that you all read 'In an Antique Land' by Amitav Ghosh. I have seen the book in all DC books stores. It is another insight into this story but in more detail.

    If you recall Ibn Batuta had also mentioned of Manjarur as a thriving port north of Malabar.

    I understand that another of Ghosh's sources on Mangalore is 'East Africa and teh Orient' by Neville Chittick.

  1. Eye for India

    Very interesting story.
    And yes, I remember reading Amitav Ghosh's book. So this story does not come as a surprise. In fact. i want to know more. I hope we find more stuff from that period to help us understand life in those times.

    Keep blogging!

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Eye for india..

    the Yiju story comes from some 70 fragments. there are 250,000 fragments in all. So one can imagine that there is more out there

  1. Paula

    Nice writing! I just finished reading "In an Antique Land", I was a little confused and honestly still am. Reading what you wrote cleared up a few things.

  1. PKujal

    This is an incredible story. As an economist it fascinates me. It highlights the role of endogenous institutions (before the GATT etc..) to facilitate trade. In fact, it is said that it was common to marry into families whom one wanted to trade with (for trust bulding). In fact an economist at Stanford has documented how contracts were enforced between Maghrebi traders. He did most of his reasearch based on Geniza documents. See paper at link http://www.stanford.edu/~avner/Greif_Papers/1993%20Greif%20AER%201993.pdf.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Kujal..
    yes, it was a good method adopted then, and even today..it was not just in trade but also between kingdoms etc. Throughout history marriage has been used to cement relationships between families, in many cases for strategical or business reasons, not just monetary.

  1. mukthar mohammad

    I am confused how a Nair be in tulunadu...people of tulunadu speaks tulu but nairs are malayalees.....I am also of the opinion that whether manjarur may be the corrupted form of mazuri in kerala which was famous for its trades

  1. mukthar mohammad

    Whether manjarur could be the corrupted form of mazuri a well known port in west coast of India in kerala rather than Mangalore...and also what a Nair has to do in tulunadu...people there speak tulu...but there are quite a large population of Muslim In around Mangalore who speaks corrupted form of malayam called bearys. Who are local converted to Islam during the Arab trade.

  1. mukthar mohammad

    I am confused how a Nair be in tulunadu...people of tulunadu speaks tulu but nairs are malayalees.....I am also of the opinion that whether manjarur may be the corrupted form of mazuri in kerala which was famous for its trades

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Mukthar..
    Majarur is mangalore.
    Actually Ashu used to live around neeleswaram or valarpatanam, not in mangalore. The copper factory of Yiju was in Mangalore.