A survey done in 1807 updates data on the population, crops and cattle of Calicut and surrounding areas

(A weekly column on the region’s past culled from historical documents.)

They took stock of everything — life and livelihood. In 1807, the British did a relatively exhaustive survey of Calicut and the neighbouring regions in the province. The ‘Kannahshamary’ or census, accounts the men and women, cows and horses, and coconut and jackfruit trees. In what they called the statistical account abstract, men out numbered women and the bulk of the people were classified “sundry persons”.

The accounting was done as per the instructions of the Principal Collector of Malabar. In his letter dispatched in August, 1807, the Sub Collector also sends across scrolls of data. To take “accounts of the trees” was a vital instruction and the Sub Collector writes he has complied.

When it comes to accounting the men and women, the Sub Collector says he has checked and cross-checked. “In order to the greater accuracy of the accounts of population it became necessary to revise those first taken whereby a considerable augmentation was discovered,” he writes. A stumbling block in his way was the “prejudices in the minds of the natives” in giving out the strength of the family.

This census marks a surge in population, he writes. “Although the number of inhabitants in this statement much exceeds any previous accounts with which I am acquainted yet I deem the compilation moderate in this division where the population has increased greatly within these few years,” he writes.

The survey is done for Calicut and four other taluks with data for each furnished separately. When it comes to population, the number of women is clocked lower than the number of men. Since the Sub Collector does not elaborate on the data with observations from the field, the reasons behind many numbers remain hazy.

Against 39,240 men, including boys, there were only 36,932 women in the region. It is unclear if reluctance to part with information contributed to the uneven figures. While the number of men and women were almost similar at 24,837 and 24,595 respectively, the dip is registered in the number of girls. For 14,403 boys in the region, there were only 12,337 girls.

Work productivity was a significant yardstick in the survey. In a population of 76,172, only 1,486 were tagged cultivators. Barring this miniscule number, the rest were marked under “sundry persons”.

When it comes to cattle, cows were the preferred livestock. There were 7,432 cows compared to 6,420 buffaloes in the region. Sheep and goats were reared too. Horses then were a tiny number – 13 for the entire region.

It is in the accounting of trees that the British take a keen interest. They keep a close tab on trees in different stages of growth. With yield, production and revenue the yard stick, the trees are marked for the present, future and past. They are classified as bearing, past-bearing and young trees. Coconut, of course, tops the list with 4,45,291 bearing plants. Other popular cultivations were predictably jackfruit and mango. The “soopary” or beetle nut too had takers with 1,53,411 bearing plants in the region. Tamarind clocked a meagre 127 bearing trees, but the Sub Collector in his letter mentions, some delay in the collecting data on this particular tree. There was a lone bearing “Wattom pooly” tree here, according to the survey.

Sandalwood did not hold much charm among the cultivators. The survey says there were no sandalwood trees worth cutting in the region. A relatively popular plant like cardamom too yielded zero results. Pepper, the incessant lure, is taken stock of. Documented are 5,374 bearing pepper vines. A notable absentee in this survey is teak. Teak from the region was extensively used for building vessels and so too for business during this time period. But the British steer clear of taking stock of the tree’s strength in this particular account. Another commonly cultivated crop today, rubber, of course was not around then. The Sub Collector accounts for 13,64,820 trees in Calicut and Polwye of which 6,50,581 were productive, bearing trees.

Source: Regional Archives Kozhikode