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Mammali Marakkar – Regent of the seas (Regedor do Mar)

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And his connections to the Maldives

The balanced trade networks between the Red Sea and the Far East had Malabar and Gujerat as the fulcrums with the Arabs controlling the west and the Chinese controlling the east. The delicate balance with traders spread over many ports in the Indian Ocean and smaller seas, working on a large amount of trust, ferried goods and spices, based not only on the barter system but also various currencies of the trade and gold. As the ships of the desert, the camel trains moved men and material over the northern Indian deserts and steppes, while the winds of trade or the monsoons moved small ships and junks between these distant ports.

Into this somewhat settled calm rushed in an unruly giant to disturb it, the Portuguese state sponsored colonial raider, who not only wanted the articles of trade, but also to control the sources and establish a complete monopoly of it all in the name of religion and their king. The reverberations of those attacks on the many eastern citadels have still not settled down to this day, for in their wake came other greedy players and nations in the name of development and renaissance, only to rip away the riches and leave entire regions in cesspools and poverty, after they left.

A group of traders working at the southern edges, based at Kayalpatanam, trading mainly in rice, moving the paddy from the rice growing regions (Orissa, Andhra as well and Canara) to the new port towns were the Marakkars. As demand in Malabar increased with improved profits from trade, some of them moved to Cochin and Calicut, while a few went as far as Cannanore, thus representing the three main kingdoms of medieval Kerala. I had previously covered these traders in an article on the Marakkars.

Starting with supply of rice, spices, pearls and goods to the rich Portuguese buyers, they came to the fore in Cochin markets. This continued until Portuguese Casados (Children from Muslim and Hindu consorts) took up that trade and became competitors to the Marakkar retailers. The Marakkars got incensed, for the casados had the backing of the powerful Portuguese who gave them many special concessions such as reduced customs duties and preferences to fill their ships first. This was the situation in the early part of the 16th century after Vasco’s second trip to Malabar and Albuquerque had taken over. The Marakkars of Cochin had enough, they decided to fight the Portuguese and in this found an able ally, the powerful Zamorin of Calicut. They moved from Cochin to Kotakkal, and with this started the reign of the Kunjali’s, otherwise known as the dreaded Calicut corsairs or the admirals of the Zamorin. Nevertheless, there was one interesting anomaly. There was a special type of Cochin Casado (Portuguese married to girls from Muslim families) and these Casados heavily influenced by their wives and in laws, got into cahoots with the rebelling Marakkars, helping them with capital diverted from the Portuguese and even having ships built for them by proxy. To top it all this was screwing up the Arab traders who were planning to move onto safer zones such as Surat, Kanara ports and so on.

As the Portuguese ventured eastward, after seeing that many other spices came from the far eastern countries, and took over the Malacca market where again the Marakkars had family interests controlling spice supplies, those traders had no choice but to accept the situation or go back home as their clout had been lessened. The Portuguese later tightened their grip on the Arabian seas and the Indian Ocean with the cartaz system enforced by their armadas and as expected the Malabar seamen got very few for their ships. The exasperated Kotakkal Marakkars took to policing the sea lanes and raiding their cargo ships, to break the Portuguese grip and succeeded to some extent, while the Portuguese settled down and festered in Goa.

But a few of the local traders had settled in Cannanore where another power play was going on, between the declining powers of the Kolathunaad– the Kolathiris and the new Muslim players headed by a rich and powerful Marakkar. That was a very interesting person named Mammali Marakkar in Portuguese records.  And interestingly his own fate and livelihood was controlled by his hold, connections and relations with the Maldives islands, some 350 miles away, islands which were small specks in the seas. How this large island archipelago influenced Malabar trade is an interesting subject which has been analyzed by Genevieve Bouchon at length. Her study casts light on so many areas which were and are still dark when it comes to the periods during which Malabar was under many kinds of Portuguese pressure and subjugation. In facts she implies that so little has been uncovered as most historians have limited themselves to inputs from the biased chronicles of a few Portuguese scribes, instead of studying the many reams and volumes of paperwork still available in Portugal. The correspondence available in Lisbon even includes correspondence from Malabar rulers and traders.

In this article we will concentrate on this Mohammed Ali Marakkar or Mammali Marakkar a.k.a Mammali, and how he circumvented the trade embargo by befriending the rulers of the remote islands of Maldives, today known as the Maldives. His 30 year domination of Cannanore trade culminated in the strengthening or for that matter even the establishment of the Arakkal dynasty. Even this discussion, the exact connections between the Mammali and the Ali Raja’s of Cannanore will remain unclear. Did a successor of Mammali Marakkar end up as the Arakkal Ali Raja? What connections did the Mammali have with the Arakkal Swaroopam? Let’s try and find out.

The earliest mention of Mammali or Mammali is in 1494, from the chronicles of Maldives and is connected to palace intrigues connected to the reinstating of Sultan Kulu Mohammed to the throne with the help of the Adi Raja. Let us therefore assume that this marakakr settled down at Kolathunad much earlier and were in cahoots with the Maldives people even before the Portuguese sailed to India, trading in partnership with the Kolathiri king.

There is a reason for this assumption, for we know that Chinese and Arab ships did veer off to the Maldives archipelago and spend year long periods living there until the following monsoon as their ships got repaired and stocked. Maldives was certainly a good depot for them, they could get ‘muta’ wives easily as recorded by travelers and life there was relatively calm. Supplies were available, thanks to stockpiles controlled by Malabar traders. Fresh water, dried fish (for long voyages) and coir were abundantly available there. Another Maldives trading commodity was cowries (kavidi - Cypraea moneta was used as money by Arabs and for many other purposes) or small ornate shells. Even the Genoese voyager Girolamo de Santo Stefano had reached Maldives in 1497, starting out through the established Red sea route. It also appears that Gujarati traders sometimes dropped off their goods in Maldives for the Chinese to pick up and move to Malacca and mainland China, and this was possibly due to the difficulty of the sea junks to sail into shallow Malabar ports. However Maldives desperately needed one commodity and that was the rice picked up from Kanara growers and supplied by the Marakkars, presumably Mammali from Cannanore

It is assumed that the Mammali extracted a heavy toll for his support for Sultan Kulu Mohammed at Maldives and his reinstatement on the throne in 1494. The agreement covered the Mammali’s sole right to trade in Maldives coir and dried bonito (chooda) fish in Malabar (It looks like all the coir roping came from the islands, in those times). Note here that the Lacadives islands lying further north had longstanding relations with the Kolathiri rulers as early as the 11th century.

As the Portuguese came and built forts at Cochin and Cannaore, the main Muslim partner mentioned at Cannanore is the Mammali, who armed with permits and together with Pokker, supplied rice to the Franks, and had a large credit facility with them (the Portuguese brought in gold payment on the return voyage to India).

The Cabral voyage followed and the Portuguese established a settlement in Cannanore after all kinds of problems at Calicut. Vasco followed and it can be assumed that Mammali represented the Muslim traders in meetings with the Gama. In the years which followed, the Portuguese who were gaining a position of power, started to trouble the Marakkar merchants of Cannanore and we see reports in 1506 of a swindle by the Gama’s, both father and son, who pressurized Mammali and Cherian Marakkar to supply 25 bahars of cinnamon but paid nothing for it. As the animosity between them and the franks increased, down south the Marakkar boats were making life difficult for the Portuguese ships patrolling the waters and embargoing trade. The Muslim traders of Cannanore were getting disillusioned as the price fixed for spices and being paid by the Franks, was too low. They were further alarmed when the Kolathiri allowed the Portuguese to build a military fortress housing 250 soldiers at Cannanore. This was particularly vexing as the Marakkars had the responsibility of collecting rice from Mangalore and other Canara ports and supplying them to Calicut. This would surely be affected by the new Portuguese controls.

The Portuguese promised that they would not curtail rice shipments and that they were only interested in a blockage of Calicut’s Red sea trade. But the blockage would also create severe problems for the Marakakrs with the Vijayanagar rulers (lucrative horse trade) as well the Marakkar standing with the Islamic institutions in Mecca and other capitals. The Kollam carnage and the seizure of a ship full of horses in 1506 followed and the Muslims in Cannanore rose against the Portuguese. The matter was finally settled with the intervention of the Vijayanagar Narasimha Raya and the local naduvazhi. The Portuguese also tried to calm matters by offering protection for the Cannanore ships traveling to Gujarat for textiles. All this while, the persona of Mammali is largely behind the scenes, but it was in 1507 that a body floated to the shore, and it turned out to be that of the nephew of Mammali Marakkar. Apparently a Cannanore ship possessing all the right paperwork and cartaz’s, was waylaid by Portuguese ships who thinking it a Calicut ship, scuttled it.

Mammali finally came to light, leading the protests and a procession of furious moplahs to first Loureco de Brito and later to the Kolathiri, showing himself as their leader in Cannanore. He also contacted his brethren at Kotakkal and the Zamorin responded quickly sending 24 guns and 18,000 nairs for their support. The Kolathiri abstained as he was in a mourning period. The Portuguese fort was sieged and a long battle ensued spanning 5 months and a monsoon, which by itself is an amazing story for its intrigues and complexity. Military help was solicited by the Portuguese from Cochin and finally peace was negotiated with Mammali.

As the Portuguese eyed Goa, a new player arrived, which was Alfonso Albuquerque, who spent a short period in Cannanore before moving to Goa. MamMaldives was present in all important discussions and the Portuguese realized that if they needed coir for moorings and to repair and re-caulk their ships, they had to depend on Mammaly and his supply of coir from the Maldives. But the situation was to change as the Portuguese after conquering Goa started to harass all shipping in the western seas. On top of it, Kulu Mohammed (in fact the previous Kulu Mohammed died in 1509 and was succeeded by his nephew Hasan) was unseated in 1512 and apparently fled to Cannanore. The Mammaly’s hand was suspected in this intrigue and he then obtained fresh agreements including a couple of islands and a large annual tribute, from the new king. There was good reason for all this, as Mammali had other ideas, to create a base far from the Portuguese, in the Maldives where by this time he had placed his own people and created a base to operate from. A new spice route was being created to the Red sea.

Albuquerque of course tried to force Mammali to renounce his control over Maldives to the Portuguese saying that the islands was under the sovereignty of Portugal. Mammali at that juncture was in a troubled situation with Kulu Mohammed, who himself was facing fresh rebellion in Maldives. So he negotiated with Goa by offering 100 bahars each of coarse and fine coir fiber coupled with backing from Kolathiri and the local Portuguese factor Rabelo. Albuqurque who had his mind busy with other issues did not press it further, and this was to prove to be a turning point for what was to follow.

The Guajarati’s also reacted violently against the Portuguese when they heard that the Maldives were being eyed by the Portuguese. In fact they had lost heavily after the Franks took over Malacca. Their trade in cowries and other goods were threatened. In addition, they together with Bengali Nakhudas were the first to use Maldives as a transshipment point since they could not approach Pulicat and Calicut due to Portuguese pressures and threats. Soon the Maldives had taken over the importance which these two ports had in the early 15th century and you can now imagine the power the Mammali of Cannanore had as the controller of an alternative safer route to various destinations including the Red sea, making him the Moplah Champion. The regent of the Seas or the Adi raja had announced his arrival.

As Biju states in his fine thesis - The Maldive atolls, lying beyond the control of the Portuguese, were transformed into the hub of an alternative trade route for the Asian traders connecting the western and eastern parts of the Indian Ocean. This increasing importance of the Maldives and the political control exercised over the Maldives by such Cannanore Mappila merchant magnates as Mammali Marakkar continued more or less till the end of the sixteenth century. However, it seems that this influence gradually faded away during the seventeenth century, when the local ruling lineage re-ascertained its power over the islands.

After Albuquerque’s departure to Malacca, the Portuguese were more crusading in their activities and they reduced their major procurement from the Marakkars. The Marakkars retaliated by supplying adulterated pepper to the Portuguese and diverting the best to the Red sea and Venetian ports, via Maldives.

Further issues cropped up both at Maldives and with the Portuguese and we see Mammali trying to bring about a coup at Maldives and installing his brother Icha poker on the throne. But things were heating up in Maldives as well. To counteract the influence of Mammali, a Maldive King Baba Abdullah now sought the alliance of the Portuguese, and undertook to render them a tribute on condition that they would compel Mammali to get lost. This was accepted by the Portuguese while Sultan Kulu Mohammed returned to the islands.

Albuquerque who had enough of the issues with Mammali complained to King Manuel and the Portuguese decided to trim his wings. The Portuguese tried to get the Kolathiri to help as Albuquerque had other pressing issues at Goa, but the Mammali outwitted them by tying up with the Sarvadhikari of the Kolathiri. The Portuguese sent a ship to Maldives to take care of the situation but they were all massacred by the Mammali’s men. At Malabar, Portuguese cartaz’s were forged and sold to Calicut traders and Mammali also banned banning all Moplah dealings with the Portuguese. Albuquerque deciding that the Cannanore people were ‘hostile and contemptuous’, had no alternative but to arrange a meeting with Mammali, the Kolathiri sarvadhikari, Koya Pakki, Fukr Husseyin and Icha poker. Mammali was given an ultimatum to leave the Maldives within 5 months and Albuquerque ordered that a fort be built by the Portuguese at Maldives to enforce his orders. He then tried to get the Kolathiri to dismiss his minister and ordered his governor not to grant any more cartaz’s to the Kolathiri’s ships. TO make things worse, he issued impromptu, 49 cartaz’s to Calicut traders.

The Kolathiri had no choice but to remove his old nambiadiri and put in a new person who the Portuguese found malleable. Mammali who was boxed in, agreed to let go all the income he got from Maldives to the Portuguese and gifted Albuquerque with a lot of expensive gifts of diamonds, emeralds and so on. Icha poker was removed from the Maldives throne. But the Portuguese had decided that Cannanore could no longer be trusted for they knew Mammali would get back to his old ways soon. In addition the Portuguese wanted to send ships from Malacca directly to Lisbon without stopping at Goa or Cochin. He wanted the route clear of hostility which presently was coming from Maldives.

During this period, the Calicut ports were largely deserted. The Kotakkal Marakkars had been depending more on piracy to keep themselves busy and fed. Albuquerque cleverly decided to sue for peace with the Zamorin instead with all the troubles at Cannanore. A new game had started and the Cannanore markets now started looking deserted as the Portuguese swung towards Calicut. With Goa and Calicut keeping the Portuguese busy, Maladies was forgotten for a moment and Mammali swung back into action. He established control over the islands again, working behind the scenes. Soon Albuquerque died, on his return from Ormuz.

The Portuguese lost interest in Mammali for a while and the Kolathiri was preoccupied with other wars. His powers were now unchecked and was formally known as the regent of the seas, the Adi raja. He reclaimed the tribute from Maldives, and decided to retake Malacca. The house of Arakkal had started to take birth. The commodities of South Asia began to move to Red Sea through the straits of Karaidu and Haddumati (opposite the ports of Sumatra) via Maldives, a route which now bypassed the control of the Portuguese. This strong Cannanore-Maldives linkup now made the movement of commodities from the Indian Ocean world to the Mediterranean markets, possible.

By 1517 however the winds change direction again and the new Adi raja was threatened by the sanction given to Lopo Soares who had returned after Red sea exploits. Lops sailed to Maldives, met Kulu Mohammed and demanded that a fort be set up there, Kulu Mohammed demurred, allowing only a feitoria. Somehow Mammali working with the governor got the new Soares agreement cancelled and diverted part of his profits to the Portuguese. A status quo was reached for the time, and Mammali was made the official tax collector of Maldives (in cahoots with Lopo Soares). Until 1519 coir was faithfully delivered by Mammali to Goa. Calicut had already been quietened, now Vijayanagar was forgotten and the new Maldives cinnamon and gem trade route gained ascendance. Mammali placed a number of his men in the islands and made the islanders go against the Portuguese. The Portuguese also fared very badly at their new ports in Ceylon and long distance sailing was also problematic due the horrible state their ships were in. Goa was going bankrupt and the Portuguese colony was in the decline. In fact the Frank captain in Ceylon had to take loans from all people, the Mammali Marakkar.

At Maldives, Baba Abdullah and Kulu Mohammed continued their quarrels and complaints about Mammali to the Portuguese. The Sultana Buraki rani another Maldives royal player went against Mammali, who quietly moved the trade ports and godowns to the southern islands of Addu and Huvaddu. The Gujarati trader’s joined the Mammali’s men in harassing the Portuguese in Maldives. In 1520 the fort at Cannanore had also been destroyed, and by 1521 the Ceylon fort was damaged. The Portuguese chieftains who were tasked to bring control fought with each other and by 1521 Mammali has driven the franks out of the island. By 1523, the Portuguese faced revolt in Gujarat, Canton, Ormuz and Vijayanagar as the Zamorin and the Cochin king fought each other. Was it all planned, was it the end game of the Mammali? Food for thought.

In 1522, the name Mammali stops appearing in records, and it is not clear what happened. A new name appeared, that of Balia Hachem (Valia Hashim). Into this sea of turmoil, the old man Vasco Da Gama was deputed once again to bring about control. During a meeting, Balia hacem handed over a ‘pirate’ to Gama, could it have been Mammali? This pirate was executed by De Menezes, who took over from Gama after the old man met his fate in Cochin. The Moplahs revolted and the Kolathiri lost face since the Portuguese had executed one of his subjects. In Calicut the Portuguese fort was under siege and they lost it soon, while in Maldives, the Bukari Rani was exiled.

By 1545, two decades after Mammali vanished, the house of Arakkal had been created, the strength of which increased while the Kolathiri power declined. The new lord were formally titled the Ali raja, and their tales have been explained in great detail by historians KKN Kurup and recently by Biju John, in his thesis.

What is the connection between the Marakkar and the Ali raja? Was it always just Mohammed Ali or Mammali with no Marakkar surname? There was some suspicion that the Mammali was probably the Ali Raja himself and not Mammali Mercar as Tome Pires surmised based on Bouchon’s opinion that the Mercar probably came from mistranslation of Ararkal.  And there is also the distinct possibility that the title Mammali of Cannanore was held by different persons, and not just by one as commonly felt. But it is now clear that he was a trader in the 1500’s moving to Cannanore from Cochin, and not a titular ruler such as the Ali Raja.

On the other hand, the Arakkal family starts formally only with the Arakkal Ali Raja from 1545, two decades after the Mamaly Marakkar vanished. Nevertheless the family tree provided by the Arakkal clan dates all the way back to the 12th century, though not showing any Mohammed Ali in the list of rulers.
From the study, one thing becomes evident, that the biggest challenge the Portuguese had to face was not the armed hostility of any Malabar ruler, but clever manipulators and thorns in their flesh like Mammali who worked for but mostly behind them, and succeeded in diverting a good amount of trade through the Maldive route, to the Red sea buyers. Mammali therefore deserves a more prominent place in Malabar history, one that he never had.

Regent of the Sea – Genevieve Bouchon
The Ali Rajas of Cannanore: status and identity at the interface of commercial and political expansion, 1663-1723– Biju John Mailaparambil
The Máldive Islands: An Account - Harry Charles Purvis Bell
Portuguese Cochin and the maritime trade of India 1500-1663 – Pius Maldiveskandathil
Maritime Malabar and the Europeans – KS Mathew (ed)
Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society, Issue 80
The Voyage of François Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, By François Pyrard
Arabian Seas, 1700 – 1763 - Rene J. Barendse
Portuguese Encounters with Sri Lanka and the Maldives: Edited by Chandra Richard De Silva
Ezhimala: The Abode of the Naval Academy By Murkot Ramunny
People of the Maldive Islands – Clarence Maloney