Tirunelveli: It is not just the Chettiar families living abroad who are riled that their children growing up without any understanding of their cultural heritage. Even uprooted communities, which trace their lineage to the Chettiars who migrated to faraway lands and never returned home, are now searching for their roots.
One such instance is the ‘Chetti Melaka’ community from Malacca reaching out to the Centre for Diaspora Studies (CDS), Manomaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, expressing an interest in sharing their hybrid culture with the Tamil audience.
Deviltry Parasurama, spokesperson of the Chetti Melakas, contacted CDS director Samuel Asir Raj last week requesting him to include his name in the list of participants in the ‘Global Tamilscape - International conference on the Journeys of the Diaspora Tamil People across the Globe,’ scheduled for October 2017.
"I was surprised to learn from him that Chettiars settled in Malacca in Peninsular Malaysia 500 years ago adopted to the local customs by marrying Malay and Chinese women, which had resulted in a unique blend of cultures," observed Samuel Asir Raj, who is also professor of Sociology.
About 200 Chettis from some 40 families are now living within Kampung Chettis in Gajah Behrang, Malacca and Parasurama has also sent a picture of Chetti men marrying a Malay girl following the traditional Chettiar wedding rituals at the Sri Muthu Mariamman temple recently.
Ever since Samuel Asir Raj started the CDS in May 2015 , which is a first of its kind in Indian academia to study the Indian Tamil diaspora spread across the globe, he has been receiving nuggets of important historical information about Tamil diaspora from eminent scholars working on these areas from the universities across the world.
For instance, Professor Chi P Phan from the University of California has thrown light on settlements of Tamils in Vietnam during the 19th century and how deeply they were integrated into Vietnamese culture over many generations, but at the same time financially supported the freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose when he formed Indian National Army to fight the British army. "Even Tamil words have integrated with the languages of South East Asian countries," he pointed out.
"Of course Tamils had a long trade history with South East Asia countries since the Sangam Age and we have archaeological evidence, copper plates and Tamil literature to prove it, but what interested me is untold stories of migration to British colonies from the 18th and 19th centuries."
When Samuel Asir Raj travelled for sociological research into the interior villages in Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts, he was intrigued when people there have stories to narrate about their family's diaspora history. “Be it Nadars, Reddiyars, Dalits or Muslims, their forefathers have travelled to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, Sri Lanka and Burma to work either as labourers in coffee or tea estates or as Kankaniyars (man power agents in modern language) or as small traders,” he pointed out.
At the moment there is a diaspora population of more than 70 million of Tamils spread in over fifty countries of the world. “I want their stories to be told to younger generations,” he added.
The CDS has also signed a MoU with Harvard and Cambridge Universities and with heritage centres in Singapore and Sydney to promote this research. They are also planning to introduce a one-month course for diaspora studies on Tamil history, language and culture.