Unravelling a 17th century multilingual school

The history of this school stretches back to three centuries, with traces of the early phase of colonialism and a much-lauded legacy of pluralism.

A group of local history enthusiasts associated with Nattukoottam, a Kottayam-based history and heritage group, have begun working on the history of the Kottayam Dutch school, or ‘Elanthakalari’ in local parlance -- one of the oldest foreign language schools in the country.

350th year of inception

Largely forgotten by the books on Kerala history, the memories of the school that taught Dutch, Latin, Sanskrit, and Malayalam are now being revived on the 350th year of its inception.

Nattukoottam initiative

The various aspects of the Elanthakalari, the details of which had been lying buried in the oubliette of history for centuries now, were presented and discussed during a seminar organised by Nattukoottam in association with the Department of Malayalam, Baselios College, Kottayam, here on Saturday. The session was followed by the screening of a documentary on Elanthakalari, produced by Akhil Puthuppally.

Established in 1668 by Herman Hasancamp, a Dutch linguist, the school operated from the Thali Fort in Thazhathangadi under the patronage of Kothavarma Raja, then head of the erstwhile Thekkumkoor Kingdom.

The institution, wound up its operations about two decades later, probably with the British kingdom gradually expanding their influence over the region.

“The story of the school is also the story on the foundation of the trade relations between the Dutch and the Thekkumkoor,” said Rajeev Pallikonam, a journalist who is undertaking the research project. A researcher of local history, he chanced upon the presence of a Dutch school in the erstwhile kingdom while going through the archives on the Dutch East India Company.

“More details of the school could be found in the biography on Henrik Adriyan van Reed tot Drakestein and Horthus Malabaricus, authored by him. However, no other official records could be found on the school, which probably was the first organised school for foreign languages in India, forcing me to take up the research project,” he explained.

Importance in trade

Going through the documents, Rajeev surmises that the institution was established to facilitate communication between the Dutch traders and the local community and it might have lost its importance after the death of Kothavarma Raja.

As to the circumstances leading to its closure, he suggests a change in the colonial trade relations and the supply of language experts outstripping the demand as a few among the many possible reasons.

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Printable version | Sep 12, 2022 8:28:47 am |