Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Chee(na) Malabar

I pointed some of my relatives to the Zheng He story that I talked about in my previous post, and they came up with more possible remnants of the Kerala-China trade link. Zheng He's journey was actually near the end of many centuries of Kerala-China trade --- shortly after Zheng's journey the chinese emperor decided to re-isolate the country and shut down their merchant navy. Consolidating things that I mentioned in my previous post and things I've since found out about, here's a list of possible remnants of the cross-cultural contacts. I also found that many of the things on this list have been talked about, with more historical detail, in this article on the interesting site peppertrail.com.

The items are listed in order of decreasing plausability. To start with are three things that are explicity referred to as being Chinese by people in Kerala :

1. Cheena Vala "Chinese Fishing nets". My attempt to find images of nets in modern-day china that are similar to the ones in cochin proved fruitless, but I did find pictures of nets in vietnam and cambodia that look like the cochin nets and appear to be referred to in those countries as being from china. As Ammini Ramachandran of peppertrail.com says, some of the fishermen who man the nets in cochin, wear east-asian-looking conical hats.

Fishing Nets, Kochi, India

Fishing Nets, Chau Doc, Vietnam

2. Cheena Chatti "Chinese Pot" a.k.a a Wok. This is an essential tool in the making of Appams (described by Madhur Jaffrey to be a "cross between a french crepe and an english muffin") --- one of my favourite foods and one that far too few people know about. You need the hemispherical wok to swirl the batter to create the spongy (muffin-like) center and crisp (crepe-like) outer ring of the appam.

3. Cheena Bharani "(Large) Chinese vessel". Although I don't recall seeing one, they are apparently used widely in the "production & storage of 'Uppu Manga', a method of utilising ripe mangoes for long term use as a curry" [according to my uncle Ninan]. Here's a picture of one that I found courtesy of Binu Mathew's page of photos.

4. Porcelain : I haven't seen any myself but, according to the peppertrail.com article, there is old Chinese blue and white porcelain to be found in houses and antique shops in Kerala that is a legacy of trade with China. Levathes' book talks about the factories that were set up in China to produce large quantities of porcelain for export and says that "ample quantities of chinese porcelains have been found from the Philippines to East Africa".

5. Elaborate Sloping Roofs :My grand-uncle George pointed out the similarity between roofing in traditional homes in Kerala and East Asia. While this might be a function of similar environments generating similar artifacts, I think it is remarkable that temples in Kerala have the multiple-layered, sloping roofs that are so similar to temples in east asia but so different from temples in neighbouring regions (like Tamilnadu, which have tall stone gopurams).

Vadakumnathan temple, Thrishoor, Kerala

Buddhist Temple, Kyoto, Japan

6. Boats : This is also questionable, but some claim that the similarity of the river-boats of Kerala (vallams) to the river-boats of East Asia (sampans?) is also a legacy of the Chinese cultural interaction. I report you decide :

Vallam, Kerala (courtesy Raghu Ramachandran)

Sampan, China (courtesy darrellpeck.com)

7. Martial Arts : Some martial arts websites refer to Kalaripayattu, the traditional martial art of Kerala, as the mother of all martial arts. One controversial theory (proposed not just by wishful chauvinistic Indians, but by some East Asian sources as well) is that in 520 AD the Buddhist monk Boddhidharma travelled from South India (presumably Kerala) to the Shao Lin monastery in China and taught the monks there the martial-art that later became Kung Fu. There is really very little evidence to support this story, and as the wikipedia page indicates, many disagree with this theory, but it would be nice if true.

Kalaripayattu

Kung Fu

11 Comments:

Blogger Sunil said...

Asvin......this was a very nice post.

One little thing though....you seem to take Wiki very seriously.....but Wiki is full of flaws, as well as personal opinions. That's because ANYONE can edit any page (i've just done so myself), and there's not reliability of the information (though often it is good).

As far as kalari goes...there's a decent bit of documentation about Boddhidhamma going to the East from South India......and he did take some martial arts with him. Whether that evolved into kung fu or not is a different story....:-)

7/08/2005 12:09:00 PM  
Blogger ashvin said...

Fair enough. But I find wikipedia a useful link to provide because the information is usually pretty well-organized and condensed.

About Boddhidharma : apparently there is some confusion if he was from South India or Central Asia. And apparently the sources that say he was from South India are relatively recent (but the Encyclopedia Brittanica apparently says he was from south india). I inserted all the caveats to be on the safe side :)

7/08/2005 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous grace said...

is this a play on words? anything to do with chee malabar the rapper?

11/09/2005 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger ashvin said...

Yes; it's a play on words but has nothing really to do with chee malabar (i'd just heard the name but know nothing about him or his music).

11/09/2005 02:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was researching the history of ancient mosques in Kerala nad came to know that there is still a mosque named Cheeni Palli(Chinese Mosque)in Pantalayini Kollam built exclusively for Chinese Muslims visiting this ancient sea port.

11/29/2007 05:21:00 AM  
Anonymous masood malabari said...

The main commercial centre of Kollam is Chinnakada which is derived from China-kada or Chinese Store.In a Bhagawati temple near Chavara Thekkumbhagom(a few kilometres from Kollam town)you can still see a porcelain rooster which the chinese made as an offering to the goddess!

12/16/2007 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger ashvin said...

Thanks for the interesting comments Anonymous and Masood Malabari !

12/16/2007 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Feanor said...

Hi Ashvin,
Nice one. I saw your related Zheng He post as well. There was quite a bit of excitement (especially in China, where - as in many other parts of the world - anything that enhances their self-importance is promoted wildly! :) when Gavin Menzies wrote a book called 1421 - The Year China Discovered The World, in which he described the journeys of Zheng He rather well, but then went a bit overboard and made uncorroborated claims that the Chinese discovered Australia and the Americas. Have you read it? What did you think?

12/29/2007 03:07:00 PM  
Blogger ashvin said...

Hi Feanor,
Thanks for that comment. I haven't read Menzies' book. I did hear about his overhyped claims though.

1/01/2008 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also heard about the emergent words of Chee(na) in malabar, but I still questions what Chee(na) is all about. Was it the same China with current China?
Some facts:
1. It is true I can not find the common fishing net like thise in Cochin in China other in Southeast Asia.
2. Some theory said, that they who travels before 8cent.AD from China were not necessarily Chinese sailors, though they brought China merchandise, The Chinese empire hired the idigeneous Southeast Asian sailors to trade their things. Systematic Chinese seafaring traditions develop on Ming Dynasty. Before it is done by the pot-pouri of Arab-Austronesian-Indian sailors
3. has anyone found any traces or stories about Chinese settlement in Kerala (I am realy asking)... It will be indicated by the Mazu shrine...(Gooddes of fisherman)
4. Since I am an architect, I extremely doubt that the architectural resemblance is close to China.. Cambodia, Ceylon or Sumatra may be much closer..

Could anyone give me a hint, in what archaeological / historical texts the term Chee(na) was mentioned firtsly?
Will it be possible that Chee(na) can be anything that is situated in in the easter regions of Kerala? Kerala is the pivotal hinges of Arab-India and India-China interchange....

6/18/2008 12:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the discussion..
I also heard about the emergent words of Chee(na) in malabar, but I still questions what Chee(na) is all about. Was it the same China with current China?
Some facts:
1. It is true I can not find the common fishing net like thise in Cochin in China other in Southeast Asia.
2. Some theory said, that they who travels before 8cent.AD from China were not necessarily Chinese sailors, though they brought China merchandise, The Chinese empire hired the idigeneous Southeast Asian sailors to trade their things. Systematic Chinese seafaring traditions develop on Ming Dynasty. Before it is done by the pot-pouri of Arab-Austronesian-Indian sailors
3. has anyone found any traces or stories about Chinese settlement in Kerala (I am realy asking)... It will be indicated by the Mazu shrine...(Gooddes of fisherman)
4. Since I am an architect, I extremely doubt that the architectural resemblance is close to China.. Cambodia, Ceylon or Sumatra may be much closer..
5. I saw Kalari, It is more closer to Sumatran "Silat" (martial art) rather than Chinese kind of martial art like Kung-Fu or alike..

Could anyone give me a hint, in what archaeological / historical texts the term Chee(na) was mentioned firtsly?
Will it be possible that Chee(na) can be anything that is situated in in the easter regions of Kerala? Kerala is the pivotal hinges of Arab-India and India-China interchange....

6/18/2008 12:45:00 AM  

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