J. Cameron’s exhaustive report on Chevayur gives a peek into life in the locality in 1866

Chevayur today is a bustling part of Kozhikode city. Landmarks dot it. Arterial roads slice through it to reach the Kozhikode Medical College. Residential colonies speck its landscape. But in 1866, it was merely hilly stretches with a handful of houses tucked away among foliage. It apparently also had a surfeit of men. So says an exhaustive “Report on the Village of Chevayur” by J. Cameron, assistant Collector.

What evinced such keen interest of the British in a sleepy neighbourhood is unclear. Though Cameron’s closing statement, “if a revision of this amsom were made now it would to all appearance bring a very considerable increase in revenue” gives a hint of future plans. Apart from it, no explanation is given for choosing Chevayur from a host of more popular areas in colonial Calicut. Though what he was documenting was neither a promising cultural, historical nor trade centre, Cameron remains undeterred. He gets down to task and does a rather comprehensive sociological survey of Chevayur. He records its population, popular vocation and crops cultivated.

An interesting nugget that emerges from this study is a rather distorted sex ratio in the region. He cites the last census in 1860, according to which in a population of a little over 4,000, 1,290 were male and only 882 female. There were only 698 female children against 1,400 male children. Cameron though doesn’t break much sweat on this anomaly and comes up with a rather simplistic explanation. “Too much reliance was placed on mere statements of the amsom people. True population does not in all probability fall short of 5,500,” he writes.

The dominant castes in the region were “nayars” and “tiyars” while the weakest community in terms of population strength were Christians with 10 people, writes Cameron. He also comes across people pursuing interesting jobs. “There are two people in the amsom who devote themselves to the making of umbrellas, a very indispensible article to the inhabitants of the Malabar. There is a particular tree kodapana whose leaves furnish the material,” writes a curious Cameron.

He paints the inhabitants of Chevayur as a content lot with no great aspirations. “No great income, their wants, in food and in clothing, are few and their luxuries still fewer. They appear quite prosperous and contented. Their agricultural produce has a ready sale in the Calicut bazaar,” he writes. It is unclear if this prosperity extends to all strata of society. He writes about the housing conditions. “Their houses are in general very neat and cleanly in appearance and are always substantially built.”

With Chevayur, Cameron faces the difficulties of venturing into unknown territory. “Never having been surveyed or measured ... its exact size or area cannot be given ...but it would appear to contain seven square miles or about 5,000 acres,” he says.

If there is a constant about Chevayur then and now, it obviously is the terrain. Cameron describes it as “a very broken and rocky country” with “small hills and undulating uplands.” Yet he says, “there is very little which is not carefully terraced out and cultivated occasionally.” In terms of appearance, Chevayur does not impress Cameron. “There is nothing approaching to even the semblance of a village within the boundaries of the amsom. Very few houses are to be met ....” The families, he writes, appear to live “by itself in a detached house which is usually situated in a cocoa-nut garden. It is much less correct therefore to speak of Chevayur as a village than to speak of it as a parish or as Malayalam amsom.”

Though not exactly a friendly terrain, Cameron’s records show earnest inhabitants who made optimum use of the available land. He documents the cultivation of two kinds of paddy in the region — kanni and magaram. Kanni, he writes, is sown in April and reaped in August/September while magaram is sown in September and reaped in January/February. In Chevayur of today, there is not much space for paddy. Though not a paddy haven, the region had an abundance of “cocoanut, jack and arecanut”, says Cameron. He appears to have done a few field trips and interviews for this report. He writes about jack fruit: “One tree will produce...10-25 fruits which are very large and sell for two to four annas each or more.”

About the variety of trees and plants, he writes, “and then there were mangoes and in interval between the cocoa-nut trees there is sometimes a little coffee, sometimes plantains, gingelly and sweet potatoes.”

Not being a “grazing country” Cameron says no animals, except that used for cultivation, are kept. So there are buffaloes, cows, goats and bandies. With these fine details, what Cameron manages for whatever purpose, is an effective re-creation of the way of life in a non-descript locality in the mid-19 century.