Thiruvananthapuram: There were ‘Mukkuvars’ in the southern coast of Kerala, even before they started to be identified as a sub-group of Latin Catholics, but there is little literature about their history. In order to decode their history and traditional knowledge from their oral tradition, UNESCO has embarked on a documentation project. The project will be carried out with the support of the city-based ‘Friends of Marine Life’. Its founder Robert Panipilla says, “The community’s history and vast knowledge about the sea are locked in its language. However now, the language itself is disappearing. It is in this backdrop that the project assumes great significance.”
To give an idea about their knowledge of the sea, he talks about their ‘GPS’. Known by the name ‘Kanicham’, it was a method by which they could know the exact location of ‘underwater countries’, the varied marine ecosystems. It is a visual triangulation method with which they would map the sea using terrestrial references.
‘Mukkuvars’, ‘Arayars and ‘Maraikkars’ cannot be categorised as one community, as even their fishing methods are different. Johnson Jament, an academic from ‘Mukkuvar’ community, says, “Fishermen towards the north of Kollam, or the south of Kanyakumari use the net, while the ones in Thiruvananthapuram use hook and line. This indicates an in-depth knowledge of the reef ecosystems.”
They have formed a focus group which consists of 20 people from the community. The youngest members of the group are a little over 40 years. They are the one who went fishing with seasoned ‘Mukkuvars’ when they were just ten years. Then there are those from the community who went on to pursue higher education and gain expertise in other fields. “A person outside the community cannot contribute so well, as the knowledge of the language is important,” says Panipilla.