Chapter 2 MT правка

So far, and in spite of the data which I have taken from the reports made by Kindersley and Whish, my story seems altogether legendary. As I do not wish to be suspected of the slightest exaggeration I shall base my story on the words of the Governor of Coimbatore himself, the High Honorable D. Sullivan, by using extracts from his reports to the East India Company that were published that same year. Our «myth» will thus carry the stamp of a purely official report. This work will, therefore, not appear — as seemed to be the case thus far — to be a passage taken from the half-fantastical history of two starving and almost dying hunters, seized by fever and delirium as a result of their privations and hardships, or as a simple reference to the story invented by the superstitious Dravidians. My book will be a true interpretation of the report of an English official and the outline of his statistical work concerning the «Blue Mountains.» Mr. D. Sullivan resided in Nilgiri and governed the five tribes over a long period of time. The memory of this just and good man will live for a long time to come; it still lives in the hills* immortalized by Ootacamund , build by him with its blooming gardens and its beautiful lake. And his books, accessible to all, serve as a proof and confirmation of all that I have written. Our story can only gain in interest by adhering to the authentic declarations of the former collector of Coimbatore
*His son is known throughout Madras; for several years he has been serving as one of the four members of the Council of the government of Madras. He lives nearly always in the mountains of the Nilgiri.
During my sojourn in the Nilgiri I personally examined the verified statements made by the numerous officials and missionaries concerning the Todas and Kurumbas; I compared their accounts and theories with the data contained in the books of Mr. Sullivan and with the authentic words of General Morgan and his wife — and I guarantee the absolute authenticity of all these reports.
I continue my story from the time when the surveyors returned to Madras after their miraculous escape.
The rumors concerning the newly-discovered country and its inhabitants, their hospitality and especially the assistance given by the Todas to the English heroes, grew to such proportions that the «fathers» awoke to the fact that it was their duty to consider the matter seriously.
A courier was sent from Madras to Coimbatore. Today this journey is made in twelve hours; at that time it took twelve days. In the name of the highest authorities the following order was sent to the «Governor» of the district: «Mr. John Sullivan, collector, is herewith commissioned to investigate the origin of the fabulous tales that are circulated concerning the ‘Blue Mountains,’ to verify their authenticity and to send a report to the authorities.»
The collector organized an expedition at once; not like the surveyors who hurriedly got together a handful of men that could easily be disbanded, but having at his disposal an entire contingent, which he equipped as if departing for the polar seas.
A whole army of Sepoys followed him, with several dozen war elephants, hundreds of sporting-chitas,* dogs and ponies, the rear guard was made up of two dozen English huntsmen. They carried gifts with them; for the Todas, arms — which they had never seen before — for the Kurumbas , turbans for the holidays, a head-dress with which they were not familiar. Everything was just as it should be. They carried with them tents and instruments; physicians accompanied them with a complete pharmaceutical outfit. Bulls to be slaughtered were not forgotten, and prisoners were taken along to blaze the trail where lives would be endangered by the blasting of rocks and the cutting of roads. The native guides were lacking, however; because all men of this calling had fled from the villages. The fate that befell the two Malabarites, during the first expedition, was still fresh in the memory of all. «Perhaps the natives will be held to answer,» said the frightened Brahmans, to which the terrified Dravidians added, «and perhaps even the English with their prestige will be made responsible, though the action of the Bar-sahibs remained unpunished thus far.»
*Chitas are domestic animals kept for hunting the wild boar, the wild goat and the bear. All hunters in India use them.
Three «great rajahs» sent envoys from Mysore, Vadiyan, and Malabar with instructions to implore the leader of the expedition to spare the district and its numerous population. They said the wrath of God may be delayed, but when it breaks out it will be terrible. This violation of the sacred heights of the Doddabetta and the Mukurthibetta might be followed by frightful disasters for the whole country. Seven centuries ago the kings of the Chola and Pandya dynasties , desiring to take possession of the mountains, departed at the head of two armies in order to fight the devas; but they had hardly passed beyond the borders of the mist when their troops and baggage were crushed by heavy rocks falling down upon them. There was so much blood shed on that day that for many miles the rocks were of a deep red hue and the ground itself was red. *
*In certain parts of the district, especially in Ootacamund, the rocks and the ground itself are really blood-red, but this is due to the presence of iron and other minerals. When it rains the streets of the towns and villages are orange-red.
Nothing moved the firmness of Mr. Sullivan. It is always difficult to make an Englishman yield. The British do not believe in the power of the gods; yet, on the other hand, everything the possession of which might be open to a controversy, belongs to them — by divine right.
Thus, the caravan of Mr. Sullivan started out in January, 1819, and began the ascent of the mountain from the side of Denaigoukot, making a detour to avoid the cascade, «the carrier of death.»
The following is a summary and an excerpt from the reports published by the collector, which the astonished readers of the «Courier of Madras» read on January 30 and February 23:
«I beg to inform the Most Honorable East India Company and their Excellencies the Directors that, in accordance with instructions given me . . . (date, etc.) I left (all details known) . . . for the mountains. It has been impossible for me to get guides, the aborigines declaring that these heights were the domain of their gods and that they preferred prison and death to a journey beyond the ‘mists.’ I therefore equipped a detachment of Europeans and Sepoys and on January 2, 1819, we began the ascent from the village of Denaigu Kotta, situated two miles above the foot of the Nilgiri. In order to give a description of the climate of these mountains I beg to enclose comparative tables from the first to the last day of our ascent.»
These tables revealed the following fact: Whilst from January 2 to January 15 the thermometer indicated in the entire Presidency of Madras 85 degrees to 106 degrees Fahrenheit daily, the mercury remained at a temperature of 50 degrees above zero as soon as we had reached 1,000 feet above sea-level, this temperature lowering in proportion to our approach to the summit, and, at a height of 8,076 feet showing no less than 32 degrees (-0 degrees Reaumur) during the coldest hours of the night.
Now that years have gone since the first expeditions and the heights of the Nilgiri are covered with European settlements, while the City of Ootacamund has a permanent population of 12,000 inhabitants, all things being orderly and well-known, the climate of this admirable country still constitutes a miraculous phenomenon: at a distance of 300 miles from Madras at eleven degrees from the Equator, from January to December, the temperature, in spite of the Southwestern and Northeastern monsoons, ranges constantly between 15 to 18 degrees during the coldest and the hottest months of the year, from sunrise to sunset, in January as well as in July, at a height of a thousand feet as well as 8,000 feet. I am giving herewith the irrefutable proofs of the first observations of Mr. Sullivan:
The thermometer (Fahrenheit), on January 2nd, at a height of 1,000 feet marks as follows:
At 6 a.m., 57 degrees; at 8, 61 degrees; at 11, 62 degrees; at 2 p. m., 68 degrees; at 8 p.m., 44 degrees.
At a height of 8,700 feet, the same thermometer (Fahrenheit) indicates on January 15th:
At 6 p.m., 45 degrees; from noon to 2 p.m., 48 degrees; at 8 p.m., 30 degrees; at 2 a.m., the water was slightly frozen.
And that in January, approximately 9,000 feet above the sea-level.
In the valley, the thermometer marked on January 23rd at 8 a.m., 83 degrees above zero; at 8 p.m., 97 degrees; at 2 a.m., 98 degrees.
In order not to tire the reader I shall conclude this statement on the climate of the Nilgiri with the following table, comparing the temperature (Fahrenheit) of Ouotakamund, present capital of the «Blue Mountains,» with London, Bombay and Madras:
London ………. 50 degrees
Outtakamand (7,300 feet) …….. 57 degrees
Bombay ……………… 81 degrees
Madras ………………… 85 degrees
Nearly every sick person fleeing the boiling heat of Madras, in order to retreat into these beneficent mountains, was cured. During the first years that followed the founding of Ootacamund, i.e., from 1827 to 1829, only two dead
were counted among the 3,000 inhabitants already settled in this town and its 1,313 passing guests. The mortality, in Ootacamund, never exceeded 1/4% ; and we read in the observations of the sanitary committee: «The climate of the Nilgiri is rightly considered today the most healthful climate of India. The pernicious effect of the tropical climate does not persist on these heights unless one of the principal organs of the patient is irretrievably lost.»
Mr. Sullivan explains the secular ignorance of this marvelous country on the part of the people living near the Nilgiri, in the following way:
«The Nilgiri Mountains extend between 76 and 77 degrees Eastern longitude and 11 and 12 degrees Northern latitude. They remain inaccessible on the northern slope on account of their almost perpendicular rocks. On the southern side, as far as forty miles from the ocean, they are covered until this day with jungles that have never been explored, because of their being impenetrable; on the western and eastern sides they are surrounded and shut in by rocks with pointed peaks and by the hills of Kundah. It is therefore not surprising that, during centuries, the Nilgiri remained completely unknown to the rest of the world; moreover, the Nilgiri was protected in India against every kind of invasion by its character which is exceptional for many reasons.
«Taken together, these two chains, the Nilgiri and the Kundah, comprise a geographical surface of 268,494 square miles, filled with volcanic rocks, valleys and mountain gorges.»
It was for this very reason that, after having reached a level of 1,000 feet, the expedition of Mr. Sullivan was compelled to abandon its elephants and to throw away nearly all its baggage, it being necessary to climb higher and higher, and scale the rocks by means of cords and pulleys. The first day three Englishmen perished; the second day seven natives amongst the prisoners were killed. Kindersley and Whish, who accompanied Sullivan, could be of no help. The road so easily followed by the Badagas on their descent had entirely vanished; every trace of it seemed to have disappeared as by enchantment; nobody has found it again until this day, in spite of long and careful efforts. The Badagas pretended not to understand any of their questions; apparently the aborigines had not the intention of revealing all their secrets to the Englishmen.
After having conquered the principal obstacle, the steep rocks surrounding the mountains of the Nilgiri like a Chinese wall, and after having lost two more Sepoys and fifteen prisoners, the expedition began to gather the fruits of their efforts, notwithstanding all the difficulties which were still waiting for them. Climbing step by step to the heights, cutting steps into the rocks, or redescending, by means of cords, hundreds of feet into deep precipices, the Englishmen — at last, upon the sixth day of the journey — reached a plateau. There, in the person of the collector, Great Britain declared the «Blue Mountains» Royal Territory. «The British flag was hoisted on a high rock,» wrote Mr. Sullivan in a sprightly way, «and the gods of the Nilgiri became subjects of His Majesty the King of Great Britain.»
From now on the Englishmen began to encounter traces of human habitations. They found themselves in a region of «majestic and magic beauty»; but a few hours later «this picture vanished suddenly as by a miracle; we were again enveloped in fog. Imperceptibly a cloud had approached and surrounded us on all sides, though long since — as Kindersley and Whish believed — we had passed the region of the ‘eternal mists.»‘
At that period the meteorological department of the Observatory of Madras was unable to discover the true nature of this strange phenomenon and attribute it, as is done today, to its real causes.* Mr. Sullivan, therefore, to his great surprise, could do nothing but simply state this phenomenon and describe it just as it was observed to be. He writes: «During a full hour we felt ourselves very tangibly wrapped in a tepid mist, which was as soft as down, and our clothes became drenched from head to foot. We ceased to see each other at a step’s distance; indeed, the fog was very thick. Then the men, as a part of the panorama which surrounded us, suddenly came into vision — disappearing again as suddenly — in this azure damp atmosphere. In certain places, owing to the exertion of the slow and difficult ascent, the vapors became so intolerably oppressive and close that certain Europeans almost suffocated.»
* During the monsoon rains, brought especially by the winds coming from the southwest, the atmosphere is always more or less charged with heavy vapors. The fog, forming first on the summits, spreads over all the rocks around the foot of the Nilgiri in proportion to the heat of the day, making room for the damp freshness of the evening. It is at that time that the vapors descend. Moreover, there are the constant evaporations of the swamps in the jungles. Owing to the thick foliage of the trees the ground conserves its humidity and the ponds and swamps do not dry out as in the valleys. It is for this reason that the mountains of the Nilgiri, encircled by a range of rocks, retain — during the greatest part of the year — all these vapors which afterwards transform themselves into mist. Above these mists the atmosphere remains always very pure and transparent; the fog is only visible from below — not from the summit. However, the savants of Madras so far have failed to solve the problem of the very deep blue color of the mists and of the mountains.
Unfortunately the physicists and scientists of the most Honorable Company accompanying Mr. Sullivan, proved to be unable at that time to fathom this phenomenon. One year went by and it was then too late to study it. Since the rocks which surrounded these mountains disappeared one after the other (they were blasted to make room for the construction of the roads of the Nilgiri *), the phenomenon itself ceased to be and left no trace. The blue belt of the Nilgiri vanished. Today the fog is not frequent; it forms only at the periods of the monsoon. On the other hand, the mountains have become still bluer and they are of a more vivid sapphire color if looked at from a distance.
*There is no more than one bridle-path today, the Silurian, from Metopolam; all others are dangerous, and only the walking coolies and their little ponies can follow them.
The first reports of the astonished collector praise the natural riches and fecundity of this marvelous country: «Everywhere we passed the territory was good. We learned from the Badagas that there were two harvests per year of barley, wheat, opium, peas, mustard, garlic and other kinds of herbs. In spite of the frosty nights in January we saw blooming corn-poppies. Evidently the frost in this climate does not impede the expansion of the flora. We found delicious water in every valley and mountain-gorge. Every quarter of a mile we found a stream which it was necessary to cross at the risk of one’s life; a great number of these streams contain iron, and their temperature is considerably beyond that of the atmosphere. . . . The chickens and domestic birds found with the sedentary Badagas are twice as big as their biggest relatives in England. And our hunters noticed that the game of the Nilgiri-pheasants, partridges, and hare, all of them of a distinctly red color — was also much bigger than in Europe. The wolves and jackals were to be found in great number. We saw tigers and elephants that have never seen the musket of man. They looked at us and turned away indifferently, without hurry, in their complete ignorance of possible danger. . . . The southern slope of the mountains, at a height of 5,000 feet, covered with tropical and entirely virgin forests, abounds in elephants of a peculiar color, almost black, and these elephants are bigger than those of Ceylon. The serpents are numerous and very beautiful; in the regions above 3,000 feet they remain inoffensive (which has been proved today). There are also innumerable monkeys to be found on every part of these heights.»
I must tell here, that the Englishmen slaughtered them without any mercy. * Poor unfortunate «first fathers of the human race.» And which are the monkeys that are lacking on the Nilgiri: the big black ones with downy hoods, the «langurs» — Presbytis jubatus, and the «lion-monkeys,» Inuus eilenus. The langurs live on the peaks of the highest rocks, in deep crevices, and they form isolated families as the real «primitive men of the caverns.» The beauty of their fur serves as a pretext for the European in his pitiless extermination of this very gentle and remarkably intelligent animal. The «lion-monkeys» are found only on the edge of the woods covering the southern slope of the «Blue Mountains,» coming out at times to warm themselves in the sun. At the sight of a human being these creatures flee into the dense forests of the Malabarian Mountains. They are called lion-monkeys on account of the close resemblance of the head to that of a lion, with a yellow and white mane and the tufted end of the tail.
*The native shikari, unless he is a Mohammedan, will never kill a monkey. This animal is sacred all over India.
In describing the flora and fauna of the «Blue Mountains » I do not follow the investigations and reports of Mr. Sullivan alone during his first ascent. At that time he knew very little about this district, and he described only what he saw on his way. I am completing his writing by adding, thereto the most recent discoveries that have been made.
At last the Englishmen came again upon the footprints of the real inhabitants and masters of the Nilgiri Mountains: The Todas and the Kurumbas. In order to avoid repetition, I shall only say this: The Englishmen gradually found out that the Badagas had been living together with the Todas for almost seven hundred years. At times they were seen in the fields of Coimbatore, where they went to see some of their relatives who were also Badaguas, descending by trails known only to themselves. The Todas and the Kurumbas, however, remained entirely unknown to the natives; today regular communications being established between Outtacamand and Madras, they never leave their heights. For a long time it was impossible to explain the unnatural silence of the Badagas as to the existence of these two races who lived together. At the present time the problem seems to be fairly well solved. It is due wholly to superstition — the origin and cause of which is still unknown to the European — but is well understood by the natives. The Badagas did not speak of the Todas, because the Todas were nonterrestrial beings for them, and gods whom they revered. To pronounce the name of the household gods, * whom they chose one day, is considered the greatest insult to these gods — a blasphemy which no native will utter, not even when threatened with death. As regards the Kurumbas, the Badagas dislike them as much as they worship the Todas. The simple word of «Kurumba,» though it be spoken in a low voice, brings ill luck to the one who pronounces it.
* Every Hindu family, though belonging to the same sect or caste, chooses from among the 33 million gods of the national Pantheon, a particular deity, called the household god.
After having reached, at a height of 7,000 feet, a large prairie of peculiar shape, the members of the expedition discovered a group of buildings at the foot of a rock, which Kindersley and Whish recognized at once as being dwellings of the Todas. These habitations made of stone, with no doors and windows, and with their pyramidal roofs, were impressed too strongly upon the minds of the two hunters to allow the slightest doubt. With one glance at the only opening in these houses serving both as door and window, the Englishmen saw that the houses were empty, though apparently inhabited. In the distance two miles from this first «village,» they beheld a picture worthy of the brush of an artist and «which surprised us beyond expression,» reports the collector. The native Sepoys who accompanied us, betrayed an intense and superstitious terror. A scene of the life of the ancient patriarchs unfolded before our eyes. In various sections of this large valley enclosed by high rocks, several herds of gigantic buffaloes were grazing, their horns decorated with bells and silver tambourines. Farther on they saw a group of venerable old men, long haired, with white beards and clad in white mantles.
As they found out later, they were the elders of the Todas who awaited them. The buffaloes were the sacred animals of the tuel (domain of the Temple) of this tribe. Around them, either half reclining, sitting, walking, or standing motionless, they saw about seventy or eighty men whose pose was exceedingly picturesque. All had their heads uncovered. At first sight of these magnificently formed giants the thought came to our esteemed and patriotic Englishmen that it might be possible to form a special regiment of these heroes after they had been sent to London as a gift to his Majesty the King. Later they realized the impossibility of putting this idea into practice. During the first few days the travelers were surprised and fascinated by the remarkable beauty of the Todas, who were not of the Hindu type. Their wives were seated at a short distance from them, with long hair well combed and hanging down on their backs; they also wore white mantles. Sullivan counted about fifteen; near by about six children were playing, entirely naked, in spite of the cold January weather.
In another description of the «Blue Mountains » * a companion of Sullivan, Col. Khennessy, writes ten pages on the difference between the Todas and other Hindus, for whom they had been mistaken for a long time, as their language and customs were unknown.
*»The Tribes of the Nilgherry Hills.»
«The Todas differ as distinctly in every way from the other natives as the Englishman differs from a Chinaman,» writes the Colonel. «Now that I know them better, I understand why the Badagas, whose relatives we encountered in the cities of Mysore before the discovery of the Nilgiri, consider these beings as belonging to a superior race, and almost divine. In fact, the Todas resemble the gods of mythology, as they were pictured by the ancient Greeks. Amongst the several hundred ‘fine men’ of these tribes, I have not yet seen one who would be under 6 1/4 feet in height. They are beautifully formed and their cast of face is of classic purity. . . . Their hair is thick, black, and shining; it covers the forehead, but is cut in the shape of an arc above the eyebrows and hangs down in the back in heavy locks. One can imagine how beautiful they are. Their moustache and beard, which are never cut, are of the same color as their hair. Their large eyes, brown, dark-grey or even blue, look at one with a deep, tender, almost womanly expression. . . . Their smile is gentle, happy and youthful. Even the extremely old men have strong white teeth, which are often very beautiful. Their complexion is clearer than that of the Karanese of the North. All are clad alike. Their garb is something like a Roman toga, made of white linen, one end of which is drawn under the right arm and then thrown backward over the left shoulder. In their hand they carry a stick with fantastic ornaments. . . . When I became aware of the mystic significance and the faith in magic power of those who possess it, this little bamboo cane two and a half feet long, worried me more than once. . . . I do not dare, I have not the right, to deny the truth of their belief and the accuracy of their statements after the many manifestations that I have seen. Though in the eyes of every Christian the belief in magic is always condemned as a sin, I do not feel I have the right to refute or to deride the facts which I know to be true, in spite of the aversion they arouse in me.»
But do not let us anticipate. These lines were written many years ago. Sullivan and Khennessy then saw the Todas for the first time and spoke of them officially. Notwithstanding the fact that this was the report of an official, it betrayed the same doubt and caused the same consternation and awakened the curiosity of everybody with regard to this mysterious tribe.
«Who are they?» Sullivan asks in his writings. «It was for the second time that they saw white men, but I was perplexed by their majestically calm attitude; it resembled so little the slavish manners of the natives in India whom we were accustomed to see. The Todas seemed to await our arrival. A very tall old man left one of the groups and came to meet us. He was fol-lowed by two others who carried in their hands cups made of bark and filled with milk. Stopping a few steps away from us they spoke to us in a language which was entirely unknown. Seeing that we had not understood one word of what they said they chose the idiom of ‘Small-Ialimais,’ then the Kanarese , which was spoken by the Badagas — after which we came to a better understanding.
«To these strange aborigines we were apparently beings belonging to another planet. ‘You do not belong to our Mountains. Our sun is not yours and our buffaloes are unknown to you,’ said the old men to me. ‘You come into the world in the same way as the Badagas — we are born differently,’ said another to me, and his words surprised me greatly. All that the Todas said to us led us to believe that, for them, we were inhabitants of a world of which they had heard a little but which they had never seen and whose inhabitants they had never met. They consider themselves as belonging to an entirely different race.»
When all the Englishmen sat down on the thick grass near the old men — the other Todas remained further away, behind — they learned that they had been expected for several days. The Badagas, who so far had served as their only link of communication with the rest of the world, i.e., India, had already informed them; the two hunters who had been saved by the Badagas from the «places inhabited by the Buffaloes» would be followed by white rajahs who would come into their mountains. The Todas also told Mr. Sullivan that for many generations a prophecy had existed among them; men would come from beyond the seas and would settle near them, as the Badagas had done; part of the grounds would have to be granted to them, and they would have to «live with them as brothers in a family.» «Such is their will,» added one of the old men, pointing towards the buffaloes; «they know better what is good or bad for their children.»
And Mr. Sullivan adds: «At that time we did not understand this enigmatical phrase concerning the buffaloes and it was only later that we comprehended its significance. The meaning, though strange in itself, is not unknown to us, in India, where the cow is considered sacred and taboo.»
Notwithstanding racial traditions, obstinately observed by the Todas, the English ethnologists liked to consider them as the «survival of a proud tribe whose name and other characteristics, however, remained perfectly unknown to them.» On such a firm basis they constructed their hypothesis which consisted in the following: this «haughty» tribe most probably inhabited in days of old (the period remains unknown) the low territories of the Deccan, near the river; and their herds of sacred buffaloes (which, by the way, were never considered sacred in India) were grazing there long before their future rival, the cow, monopolized the people’s veneration. It is also supposed that this same «haughty» tribe drove back with cruelty and arrested the uninterrupted descent of the Aryans, or the Brahmans of Max Miiller, from the «Oxus River» who came from the mountains of the North (or the Himalayas).
This friendly hypothesis, which most probably had been made at first sight, was reduced to nothingness before the following fact: The Todas, though indeed a «haughty tribe,» carry absolutely no arms and have no recollection of any instruments of that kind. They do not even have a dagger to defend themselves against the wild animals, nor do they keep a watch-dog for the night. It is evident that the Todas conquer their enemies by means differing altogether from anything that might recall «armed force.»
According to Mr. Sullivan, the Todas legitimately maintain their rights over the «Blue Mountains» as their secular property. They affirm — (and the secular neighbors confirm their words) — that this right dates back into antiquity; all are unanimous in declaring that the Todas were masters of these mountains, when the first detachments of other tribes, the » Mulu-Kurumbas,» arrived. Then came the Badagas, and last the Kotas and the Irulas . All these tribes asked and received permission from the Todas who lived alone on these heights, to inhabit the mountains. For this authorization, all the tribes paid a contribution to the Todas — not in money, as money was unknown on these heights before the arrival of the Englishmen, but in kind; several handfuls of seed belonging to the fields of the Badagas; several objects made of iron by the Kotas, which were necessary for the construction of the houses and for the domestic life; roots and berries and several kinds of fruit from the Kururmbas — and other gifts.
All the five races were entirely distinct from one another, as we shall see very soon. Their language, their religion and their customs, as well as their types, have nothing in common. In all probability these tribes represent the last survivors of prehistoric races who were the aborigines of southern India. Though it was possible to obtain certain knowledge concerning the Badagas, the Kotas, the Kurumbas and the Irulas , history, as far as the Todas are concerned, has left no traces in the sands of time. Judging from the sepulchres and certain ruins of temples and pagodas found on the «Hill,» it is probable that not only the odds but also the Kurumbas must have attained this degree of civilization in prehistoric times. The Todas use signs which resemble the cuneiform inscriptions of the ancient Persians.
But what have we to be concerned with in the distant past of the Todas? Today they are a patriarchal tribe whose entire life is centered on the sacred buffaloes. It is for this reason that many authors, when speaking of the Todas, come to the conclusion that they adore the buffaloes as gods, thus practicing zoolatry. This is not true. Their religion has, as far as we know, a far more elevated character than that of a simple and vulgar adoration of animals.
The second report and the following written by Mr. Sullivan is still more interesting. However, as I do not quote the words of the respectable English official unless they serve to confirm my own observations and studies, I shall not repeat them here. I shall only make here some complementary statistical statements made by Mr. Sullivan and other officials concerning the five tribes of the Nilgiri.
The following is a concise summary of the pages written by Col. Tornton:
(1) «The Irulas were the first we encountered behind the cascade, on the slope of the mountains. They inhabit caves made of earth and feed on roots. Since the arrival of the English they are less savage. They live in groups of three or four families and number approximately one thousand in all.
(2) «The Kurumbas live above them. They are divided into two branches: (a) The simple Kurumbas who live in huts constituting villages; and (b) the Mulu-Kurumbas of repugnant appearance, extraordinarily small, who live in real nests on the trees and resemble monkeys rather than human beings.»*
*Note: Though in other districts of India there are tribes showing the same general features and having the same names as the Irulas and Kurumbas, they differ very greatly from these two, especially from the Kurumbas who are real scarecrows and evil spirits avoided by the other tribes, with the exception of the Todas, the kings and masters of the «Blue Mountains.» As you know, «Kurumba» is a Tamil word meaning «dwarf.» And whilst the Kurumbas who live in the valleys are just aborigines of small size, the Kurumbas of the Nilgiri are often not higher than three feet. These two tribes have no conception whatsoever of the most elementary necessities of life and have not evolved beyond the lowest stage of the savage, preserving all the characteristics of the most primitive human race. Their language resembles more the warbling of birds and the guttural sounds of the monkeys than a human language, though sometimes you hear words belonging to many ancient dialects of Dravidian India. The Kurumbas as well as the Irulas do not count more than one thousand.
(3) «The ‘Kotas.’ This race is even more strange. They have no conception of the distinction of castes and they differ as much from the other tribes of the mountains as they differ from the natives of India. Though just as savage and primitive as the Kurumbas and the Irulas , living on trees and in mounds like moles, they have at the same time a remarkable mastery in the art of working gold and silver, as blacksmiths and as potters. They have the secret of the preparation of steel and iron, their knives as well as all their other arms, surpassing by their flexibility and their sharpness and their extraordinary durability, all that are made in Asia or Europe. The Kota uses only one weapon, which is as long as a spear and very sharp on both sides. He uses it against the boar, the tiger and the elephant — and he is always victorious over the animal.* The Kota never betrays his secret for any sum of money. None of the tribes of the mountain work professionally. How the Kotas came to know their secret still remains an enigma to be solved by the ethnologists. Their religion has nothing in common with the religion of the other aborigines. The Kotas have no idea of the gods of the Brahmans and worship fantastical divinities which do not take any material form with them. The Kotas, as far as we are able to count them, do not number more than 2,500.
*Today, where it has been known for a long time that the Kotas possess this secret, they receive orders for knives and for the sharpening of arms. For a very ordinary instrument with a clumsy blade, but made by a Kota is paid several times as much as is the price of the best knife from Sheffield.
(4) «The Badagas or ‘Burghers.’ The most numerous, the richest and the most civilized of all the five tribes of the Nilgiri. As ‘Brahmanists’ they divide themselves into several clans. They number about 10,000 and are occupied with agriculture. The Badagas adore — one does not know why — the Todas and give them godlike honors. To the Badagas the Todas are superior to their god Siva.
(5) The Todas are also called Todawaru. They are divided into two big classes. The first is the class of the priests known under the name of Tirieri ; the Todas who belong to this class devote themselves to the service of the buffaloes, are under the oath (the French text says ‘are condemned to’) of celibacy, and are practicing an incomprehensible cult which they hide most carefully from the Europeans and even from the natives who do not belong to their tribes. The second class is that of the Kuttan, or ordinary mortals. The first, as far as we know, constitute the aristocracy of the tribe. In this little prolific tribe we have counted seven hundred men and — according to the statements of the Todas — their number never exceeds this figure.»
In order to show how much this subject was considered to be of interest, let us add to the reports of Mr. Sullivan the opinion of the authors of a book published in 1853 by order of the East India Company, «The States in India,» an article on the Nilgiri. It is here that the following is said about the Todas:
«This very small tribe has of late attracted the serious and enthusiastic attention not only of the tourists of the Nilgiri, but also of the ethnologists of London. The interest evoked by the Todas is very remarkable. They have deserved in no ordinary degree the friendly feeling of the authorities of Madras. These savages are depicted as an athletic race of giants admirably well formed, who were discovered quite accidentally in the interior of the Ghats. Their demeanor is full of grace and dignity, and their appearance can be described in the following way.
Here follows the portrait of the Todas which we already know. The chapter on the Todas is concluded by the description of a fact on which I lay much stress owing to its profound significance and its direct relation to the events which we ourselves witnessed, and which we repeat, feeling that we are completely ignorant of the history and the origin of the Todas.
«The Todas use no weapons; they only carry a little bamboo cane which never leaves their right hand. All efforts to penetrate the secret of their past, their language and their religion, bring absolutely no result. It is the most mysterious tribe amongst all the population of India.»
Mr. Sullivan found himself very quickly conquered by the «Adonises of the Nilgiri,» as they were called by the most ancient colonists and planters of the «Blue Mountains.» The collector of Coimbatore was the first, and perhaps a unique example in Anglo-India, of an English official, a bar-sahib, who fraternized so openly and entered into such intimate and friendly relationship with the aborigines, his subjects. As a compensation for the gift to the Company, of a new piece of land in India, Mr. Sullivan was immediately raised to the position of «General Administrator» of the «Blue Mountains.» And Mr. Sullivan lived thirty years in these mountains; he died there.
What was it that attracted him in these beings? What really could there be in common between a civilized European and men as primitive as the Todas? To this question, as well as to many others, nobody as yet has been able to answer. Was it the unknown, the mysterious, that attracts us like the void, and, causing a vertigo, drags us forward into the abyss? From a practical point of view, the Todas are, of course, nothing but savages who are completely ignorant of the most elementary manifestations of civilization. In spite of their physical beauty, they are rather dirty. But we are not concerned with their exterior envelope; the problem lies in the inner world, in the spiritual aspect of this people.
First of all, the Todas absolutely do not know what lying is. There is no word in their language to express «lie» or «false.» Theft, or the slightest appropriation of something that does not belong to them, is absolutely unknown to them. It might suffice if we read what Captain Garkness has to say on this subject in a book published by him. He calls them «a strange tribe of aborigines,» and in order to convince himself of the fact that such qualities are not only the product of our civilization, the famous traveler says, as follows: «Having lived in Outtacamand for twelve years, I declare categorically never to have met in civilized countries such religious respect for the right of meum et tuum (mine and thine) as amongst the primitive race of the Todas. This sentiment is inculcated in their children from early childhood. We (the English) have not found a single thief among them! . . . To deceive, to lie, seems absolutely impossible for them — they don’t know what it is. As with the natives of the valleys of Southern India, lying — to them — is the vilest and most unpardonable sin. The most tangible proof of this most profound sentiment is manifested on the heights of the Peak of Doddabetta, under the form of their unique temple; it is consecrated to the dethroned goddess ‘Truth.’ While the inhabitants of the valleys often forget this goddess and her symbol, the Todas adore both, keeping, in theory and in practice, the sentiment of the sincerest and unalterable respect for the idea as well as for its symbol.
This moral purity of the Todas and the rare qualities of their soul attracted not only Mr. Sullivan but also many missionaries. One must understand the value of these eulogies expressed by men who are not much in the habit of praising beings on whom they themselves made no impression.* And it is perfectly true that from the day of the arrival of the missionaries and of the Englishmen in general, until the very last day of their sojourn they made no greater impression on the Todas than on simple statues of stone. We have known some missionaries and even a bishop who, when preaching publicly on Sundays to their crop of «well-born people,» were not afraid of pointing to the Todas as an example of morality.
*Until this day, i.e., in 1883, in spite of all the efforts of the missions, no Todd has been converted to Christianity.
But there is something still more captivating in the Todas — if not in the masses, in general, and to the statisticians, in particular, at least to those who have dedicated themselves heart and soul to the study of the more abstract sides of human nature, it is the mystery which they feel when in contact with the Todas, and their psychic power, of which I spoke before. We shall have much to say of these two profound aspects of their soul.
The collector spent ten days in the mountains, returned to Coimbatore, then went on to Madras in order to submit his complete report on his expedition into the «Blue Mountains» to the Central Office of the Company. After having thus performed his duty, Sullivan returned to the Mountains which he already loved, and to the Todas who interested him tremendously. He was the first to construct a European house there, each stone of which was brought to him by the Todas. «Where did they take those beautiful stones which were so marvelously cut? This still remains a mystery,» writes General Morgan.
From the first day the collector became the friend, the protector and the defender of the Todas, and for thirty years he incessantly stood up for them and protected them and their interests against the cupidity and the usurpations of the East India Company. He never called them otherwise than the «legal lords of the soil,» and he compelled the «respectable fathers» to reckon with the Todas. For many years the Company paid a rental to the Todas for the forests and the fields which they yielded to them. As long as Mr. Sullivan lived he allowed nobody to offend the Todas and take possession of those grounds which the Todas looked upon as being their sacred pastures, which fact was specified in the contracts.
The effect produced by Mr. Sullivan’s report in Madras was electrifying. All those who suffered from diseased livers, from the climate, from fever and from all other diseases which the tropics bestow so prodigiously upon the Europeans — if they had the necessary means for traveling — rushed towards Coimbatore. Formerly a poor village, Coimbatore developed in a few years to a district town. Regular communications between Metopolam, at the foot of the Nilgiri, and Ootacamund,* a small town founded in 1822 at a height of 7,500 feet, were soon established. The entire bureaucracy of Madras soon made their quarters there from March to November. Town after town, house after house, rose on the blooming slopes of the mountains, like mushrooms after April showers. After Sullivan’s death, the planters seized almost the entire territory situated between Kotagiri and Ooty. Profiting by the fact that the «masters of the mountains» had reserved for themselves the highest peaks of the Nilgiri for the pastures of the «sacred buffalo,» the English usurped nine-tenths of the «Blue Mountains.» The missionaries, who would not let the opportunity slip by, mocked at the natives and their faith in the gods and the spirits of the mountains; their efforts remained useless. The Badagas were not shaken in their faith in the Todas, though the Todas had soon to content themselves with the bare peaks of the rocks which they now share with the langurs. Although the «fathers» of the Company — and after them the governmental bureaucrats — continued, on paper, to bestow upon the Todas the title of «legal proprietors of the ground,» they as always, acted like «lords toward barons.»
*It is, in general, simply called «Outti,» and we also shall use this name from now on when mentioning this town.
At that time nobody paid attention to the Kurumbas. Since the arrival of the English the Kurumbas seemed to be swallowed up by the earth, as if they really were what they appeared to be, gnomes of repugnant appearance. Nobody mentioned them, nobody saw them during the first years. Then they began to show themselves little by little, and began to settle at the edge of the swamps and under the humid rocks. Their presence, however, was soon noticeable. How? We shall tell this in the following chapter. Let us first turn our attention to the Todas and the Badagas.
When the newly recognized «order of things» was organized and research work was begun for establishing statistics concerning the discovered tribes, our respectable ethnologists encountered unsuspected difficulties. It was impossible for them to surmount the obstacles which came in their way when trying to solve the problem of the origin of the Todas; after twenty years of strenuous effort they had to admit that it was impossible to learn anything certain on this subject and all they could do was to add the Todas to the other tribes of India. «It is easier to reach the North Pole than to penetrate the soul of a Todd» writes the missionary, Mr. Metz. And Col. Khennessy adds: «The only information which it was possible for us to obtain after so many years is the following: the Todas affirm that they have inhabited these mountains since the day when the ‘King of the Orient’ presented them to them; they have never left them; never did they descend from their heights. But at what historical period did this unknown ‘king’ of the Orient live? We are told that 197 generations of Todas have inhabited the ‘Blue Mountains.’ If we count three generations for one hundred years (though we see that the Todds live to a very old age), it seems — if we believe their affirmations — that they settled on these mountains about 7,000 years ago. They insist on the fact that their ancestors landed on the Isle of Lanka (no error in this name as well as in the others), coming from the East, ‘the horizon of the rising sun.’ These grandfathers served the ‘ancestors of King Ravana,’ mythical monarch-demon, conquered by the not less legendary Rama, about twenty-five generations ago — i.e., by adding a thousand years to the first figure, which would constitute a genealogical tree the roots of which touch a past of 8,000 years.* All we can do is accept this legend, or confess frankly that no other facts exist which could throw light on their mysterious past.
* For the name of Lanka, the monarch conquered by Rama, and the number of years mentioned above, see «La Mission des Juifs» by Saint-Yves d’Alveydre. Note by Mr. Semenoff.
Who, after all, are these beings?
The problem is evidently very difficult; its solution has not advanced a single step since 1822. All efforts on the part of the philologists, ethnologists, anthropologists and all the other who came at different periods from London and Paris, have been without success. On the contrary, the more the savants tried to penetrate the mystery of the Todas the less the information obtained seemed to agree with scientific facts. All indications could be summarized in one statement: the Todas did not belong to ordinary humanity.
Such statements, however, could find no place in the «history of the peoples of India.» Finding that the surest information obtainable was inadequate, the savants found consolation in inventing certain hypotheses of which we are going to cite these that are most interesting:
The first of the theorists was the scientist, Mr. Lechenault de la Tour, botanist of the King of France. This respectable savant, in his letters* expressed his conviction — one does not know why — that the Todas were a cross-breed of Bretons and Normans thrown by shipwreck on the Malabarian coast. Cross-breeds had been found in the Caucasus; why should they not be found in the Malabarian Mountains? This hypothesis found the approval of many savants.
* Part of these letters appeared from June 17, 1820, to December 15, 1821, in the «Journal of Madras.»
Unfortunately, this poetical supposition was soon destroyed by a fact; neither the language nor the mode of thinking of the Todas contained the following words: God, cross, prayer, religion, sin. The Todas ignore every expression recalling monotheism or deism — useless to mention Christianity. Nor can the Todas be considered as pagans, as they adore nobody and nothing except their own buffaloes — I insist on the word «Own,» as they do not honor any other buffaloes, of other tribes. Milk, some berries and certain other fruit of their woods are their only nourishment. They never touch the milk, cheese or butter of other buffaloes that could not be their Sacred providers. The Todas never eat meat; they do not sow, nor do they reap. They consider every occupation inferior except taking care of the buffaloes and tending their herds.
This kind of existence proves sufficiently that there is little in common between the cross-breeds of the Middle Ages and the Todas. Moreover, it is necessary to recall that the Todas never use weapons and never shed blood, which causes them a kind of sacred terror. All mountaineers of the Caucasus, northeast of Tiflis, have preserved arms and instruments of the Middle Ages in great number; their customs carry the imprint of the Christian faiths.* The Todas have no knives of any kind — neither old-fashioned nor modern. The theory of Lechenault de la Tour is wholly improbable.
* These mountaineers betray their German origin by the way they eat their sausages and brew their beer. Their militia, armed for war, is clad in coats of mail and helmets with visors. They carry a cross on the right shoulder.
Then came the old Celto-Scythian theory, remodeled many a time but always in favor, and which, in this case, as in many others, freed the savants from embarrassment. When a Todd dies he is incinerated together with his favorite buffalo, on which occasion very curious rites are performed; if the deceased was a «priest» seven to seventeen of these animals are sacrificed.
But buffaloes are not horses; and the type of the Todas is very European, reminding one of the natives of the south of Italy or of France — a physiognomy very different from the one of the Scythians, as far as we know.
Lechenault de la Tour fought a long time for his ideas, but when he saw them derided he abandoned his theory. The hypothesis of the Scythians is still taken seriously, in spite of its improbability.
The next on the scene was the eternally rejected but always resuscitated theory of the «lost tribes of Israel.» The German missionary, Mr. Metz, assisted by certain of his British colleagues who like himself — were gifted with flaming imagination, went with enthusiasm into the study of this theory. However, to refute all these fantastical affirmations, it might be sufficient to repeat that the Todas never worshiped any god, still less the God of Israel.
The unfortunate German, full of holy piety, lived with the Todas and tried to understand them, for thirty-three years. He lived their daily life, following them from place to place;* he washed himself only once a year, lived only on dairy products, and finally became so fat that he began to suffer from dropsy. Metz became attached to the Todas with all the power of his honest and loving heart, and though he had not converted any of them to the Christian religion, he boasted of having learned their language and of having spoken of the Christ to three generations of Todas. However, when other Europeans attempted to verify the sayings of the German, they found that all his allegations were untrue.
*Though the Todas are not Nomads and have house, they change their residence quite frequently in order to find better pastures for their buffaloes.
They first learned that Metz did not know half a word of their language. The Todas had taught him the Kanarese dialect which they use when talking to the Badagas and the women of their tribe. Metz knew nothing of their secret language which the Elders spoke when holding council, or when executing their unknown religious ceremonies, in the tirieri — a sacred habitation which is severely guarded, and which sometimes is subterranean, situated behind the stable of the buffaloes. This temple is consecrated to a cult which nobody knows, except the Todas. The wives of the Todas themselves are ignorant of this secret language — or perhaps are they forbidden to speak it? As far as the illumination of the Todas through Christianity is concerned, poor Mr. Metz, when transported to Ooty, sick and almost dying, frankly confessed that during these thirty-three years of common life he had not succeeded in baptizing a single Todd, either man or child. However, he hoped «to have sown the seed of future education.»
But even there disappointment waited for him; the Jesuit fathers, coming from the occidental side of Malabar, had arrived on the Nilgiri; they, in their turn, tried to recognize in the Todas a colony of ancient Syrians converted to Christianity, or being at least Manichean.* They made researches for a long time. Using their skill and habitual shrewdness, the Jesuits succeeded in establishing relations with the Todas. They did not succeed in obtaining their confidence but established good friendship with these ordinarily silent savages, and — to their great joy — for they detest the Protestants still more than the pagans — they learned that Metz might have lived with them for centuries in the most intimate friendship without making the slightest impression upon them.
*The Jesuit fathers tried to prove, one day, that the Todas, like the ancient Manicheans, worship the «light» of the sun, of the moon, and even that of an ordinary lamp. Such demonstration would certainly not demonstrate Manichaeism. Moreover, the Jesuits lied when affirming it. The Todas laughed very much at this idea when they spoke to Mrs. Morgan and myself about it. They have, on the contrary, a profound aversion to the light of the moon.
«The white man’s language resembles the chattering of the myna (a kind of talking bird) or the gabbling of monkeys,» said the old Todas to the Jesuits who, in their self-sufficiency, did not go into the meaning of this ambiguous compliment. «We listen, and we laugh…… What need have we of your gods while we have our great buffaloes?» they added. And they told how Metz proposed to replace their faith in the buffaloes by the religion of those who stole their pastures and daily humiliated them.*
*Books and works by the missionary Jesuit Fathers on the Coast of Malabar.
Though the Todas maintained the same attitude towards the disciples of Loyola as they did towards Metz, the Jesuits ridiculed the honest German and spread anecdotes about him in the whole of Southern India. We know and could name Jesuits who, with all their power, tried to confirm the natives in their faith in the Might of Satan rather than permit their conversion to Protestant Christianity.
These events took place about ten years ago. Since then, the missionaries of these two religions have abandoned their efforts to convert the Todas. They finally realized that their endeavors would mean nothing but a loss of time. And yet, in spite of the absence of all religious sentiment, all writers and all the inhabitants of Ooty unanimously admit that nobody in India is as honest, moral and charitable as the Todas. This handful of patriarchal savages, without family, without history, without the slightest manifestation (at least visibly) of faith in sacred principles, except their adoration of the dirty buffaloes, have conquered all Europeans by their childlike ingenuity. At the same time the Todas are very far from being a barbarian people, as is demonstrated by their astounding capacity in speaking several languages, and their power in maintaining secrecy as far as their own sacred language is concerned.
Sullivan tells, in his Memoirs, how he held conversation with the Todas for hours and that he finally remained speechless and listened with profound astonishment to their judgment of the English. «Spontaneously and very justly the Todas understood our national character and our faults.»
So far I have shown to the reader the general traits of the Todas; I have told all or nearly all that is known of them in India. And I can now begin the story of my personal adventures and the observations I have made amidst this tribe which is so little known and so mysterious.