Nagercoil in the 18th Century …
as explained by the missionary Reverend Duthie. Let us walk down memory lane along with Rev Duthie through the length and breadth of Nagercoil. The words of Rev Duthie are reproduced here. You will find it very interesting
Solitary or “rogue elephants” are occasionally met wandering about alone in the forests. The larger mammalia fortunately do not often descend into the low country. These are always dangerous. A real time story, four of the Nagercoil Christians were descending the mountains from a coffee plantation in which they had been employed, when one of these “rogue “elephants rushed upon them. They ran, and did not venture to look back till they had gone a long distance. Then it was discovered that one of their party was missing. Hastening to the nearest chapel, they called some of the Christians to accompany them in search of the body of their comrade, and found it crushed and mangled by the savage brute. This animal killed altogether seven or eight persons.
Wild elephants are caught in large pits dug in the paths which they frequent, and concealed with a slight covering of twigs, earth, and grass. They are afterwards trained for six or twelve months, and accustomed by degrees to work and to enjoy a measure of liberty. The studs of elephants are employed by the Travancore Government for dragging timber in the forests and labouring at public works. Every year some are entrapped, and about 1,000 pounds of ivory collected. I have seen a single large tusk which weighed nearly 80 pounds.
Tigers and leopards, or cheetahs, are also common and often dangerous. Rewards are paid by the Government for their destruction. During 18G9 the skins of 23 royal tigers and 112 cheetahs, killed by natives, were brought to the Dewan's office for the reward. Their depredations had been on the increase. Poor people are sometimes seized, carried off, and devoured by the tigers. An instance of the boldness and audacity of these beasts was related to me by the gentleman to whom it happened. He had a little house near his estate in the mountains, with a back room in which a cow was secured at night. One evening while sitting reading he heard a scuffling noise in the back room, and stepped into it to discover the cause. The cow was gone. A tiger had actually been bold enough to enter and carry it off. Next day he found the remains partly devoured, and watched the whole of the succeeding night in a tree to have a shot at the predator; but the night was so dark that this proved impracticable. Several species of deer are found in these mountains.
The smallest is a beautiful creature about the size of a hare, and most graceful in its form and movements. Another species is the spotted deer, about the size of a calf; and a third, the sambhur, dark brown in colour, is as large as an ordinary ox. There are also antelopes, and the wild goat or ibex.
The wild oxen, found only in the more retired parts of the forests, are enormous animals, fully as large as the- finest prize cattle in England. The hulls measure sometimes over six feet in height at the shoulder, and are possessed of immense muscular power.
Long-tailed monkeys gamhol in the most amusing style in the lofty forest trees. The Hanuman, or sacred monkey, is about three feet in height, and quite black. They are generally vicious and intractable in a state of captivity.
The following amusing story of one of these monkeys is told by Rev. J. Duthie : —
“One day a gentleman succeeded in catching one of these animals, which turned out to be of a very vicious disposition, and it was resolved to send him to a neighbour who had expressed a wish to have him. A strong basket was procured, into which, after no inconsiderable trouble and manoeuvring, he was safely lodged. Jacko was furious ; but the coolie who had been engaged to carry the load set off with it on his head, without any fear or misgivings, for the basket was strong and the lid carefully fastened down. He had not gone far, however, when, to our surprise, we heard screams proceeding from the direction in which Jacko had just been conveyed, and upon going out to see what the matter could be, we found the entire juvenile community of the station hailing towards the scene of the disaster, where stood the poor unfortunate coolie, screaming and gesticulating in a most piteous way.
The people of India shave off all the hair of the head except a tuft on the crown, which on the present occasion proved to be very convenient, for Jacko, having torn open the bottom of the basket, seized hold of this tuft on the head of the coolie, to which he held on withrelentless grasp. The more the poor man exerted himself to get rid of his basket, the more forcibly Jacko held on, till the friendly interference of the boys who had gathered to the spot succeeded, amid much merriment, in delivering the coolie from his perilous and ridiculous position."*
Another species is the small grey monkey, common throughout India. There is also a very pretty animal, called the wanderoo, or lion monkey. The body is covered with short black hair, and a long white beard or mane surrounding the face gives it a very odd appearance. The last two species are often tamed and kept as pets for children.
Other animals occasionally met with are hyenas, bears, sloths, wolves, and flying squirrels. The pangolin is a kind of armadillo, three or four feet long, which digs holes in the earth with its powerful claws with marvellous facility. Wild hogs are very mischievous to the cultivations near the foot of the hills.
The larger mammalia fortunately do not often descend into the low country. Here in the low country the greatest annoyances are jackals, with their diabolic howlings, which one can hardly distinguish at first from the cries of a woman in anguish or of children being murdered. These animals lurk in quiet retirement through the day, but come forth in the evening and hunt about in packs all night in search of prey. The porcupine, or “spiny pig," as it is called, is very destructive to succulent roots, which it digs up and devours. Hares are not uncommon.
The mungoose, somewhat like a weasel, but larger, is very valuable as a foe to the cobra and other venomous serpents. Being wonderfully agile, it worries and torments the snake till it twists itself up in a coil; it then springs upon it,and seizing it by the neck soon despatches it. These nimble creatures are rarely bitten, but even then, strange to say, the venom appears to produce no effect. The mungoose is easily tamed, and makes itself very useful about a dwelling-house in the destruction of snakes and vermin.
The flying fox is the largest of the numerous species of bats, measuring upwards of four feet in expanse of wing, the body being as large as that of a chicken. On the wide spreading banyan trees, near temples, these creatures may be seen in multitudes hanging by one leg, with the head downwards and the wings wrapped round the body, looking very like black bottles hung in rows upon the branches. Here they sleep all day long. Towards evening they awake and fly in groups in search of fruits and other food. They are destructive to the ripening fruit in orchards and gardens. The flesh is said to be good eating.
Birds of brilliant plumage, graceful form, and sometimes pleasant song, abound in the forests, jungles, and cultivated lands of Travancore. The Brahminy kite, a very handsome bird with brown and white plumage, is regarded as the vehicle of Vishnu, to Avhom it is therefore sacred. Oh Saturday afternoons crowds may be seen assembled and looking up towards the sky; they fast and continue gazing upward till sunset. If the sacred kite appears, it is worshipped; if not, the unlucky gazers return home in great heaviness of heart.
Amongst other birds may be mentioned the tall adjutant, or marabou stork, some of the feathers of which are highly prized; the curious hornbills (sometimes incorrectly called toucans); herons and cranes in the marshes and backwaters, which are supposed to be very lucky to the beholder; owls, whose hoarse hoot is supposed to presage pestilence or misfortune; the woodpecker, constantly tap-tapping the trunks of trees in search of insects; the magnificent golden oriole, and the brilliant bhie jay ; splendid kingfishers, sitting patiently and silently on an overhanging branch, then darting down like an arrow into the water to seize the fish on which they prey ; ringed parakeets, in large flocks, harshly screaming as they fly ; sunbirds, little larger than humming-birds, flitting gaily from flower to flower; with the rarer wild goose and duck, the quail, grouse and partridge, the cuckoo, dove, and hundreds of other species.
The mynah, which may be regarded as a kind of starling, is often taken young, caged, and trained to utter a few words. The jungle fowl, a small bird with brilliant plumage, but singularly shy in its habits, is perhaps the original of the common domestic fowl. The weaver bird, one of the family of finches, builds a long pendent bottle shaped nest, which hangs from the end of a branch, and is entered from beneath, quite out of the reach of monkeys and serpents. The tailorbird, a little warbler, actually stitches leaves together with cotton, which it gathers for the purpose, to form its nest in the cavity; I have sometimes found these in garden shrubs quite close to the window of my study. Crows abound everywhere: their impudence and thievery are astounding; I have known them carry off the wick and smaller portions of a brass lamp while it was being cleaned at the back of the bungalow.
One of the finest sights that can be enjoyed is that of a flock of peacocks flying about in the jungles. A learned missionary, Dr. Caldwell, even conjectures that certain huge old specimens of the baobah tree (which is not indigenous to India, but belongs properly to Africa), found only at several ancient sites of foreign commerce, may, for aught we can tell, have been introduced into India, or planted, by the servants of King Solomon.*
It is often supposed in England that the birds of India do not sing, and are remarkable only for their fine plumage. But this is an error. The bulbul is a lively and agreeable warbler, as are other birds of the thrush family. A species of shrike sings most charmingly, and the Indian nightingale is exceeded only by the European species. The white-headed mynah, Indian robin, stonechat, and a species of flycatcher, are sweet songsters. The notes of the jungle mynah are very varied and pleasing. A species of lark which is frequently kept in a darkened cage, sings very sweetly, and learns to imitate exactly the notes of other birds and even animals. There are also several mimicking birds, and many others which utter strange or curious sounds or cries.
The largest and most formidable of the reptiles of Travancore are crocodiles, which may often be seen lying sunning themselves on the grassy banks of the rivers and backwaters, or swimming in the water with only the upper portion of the head visible or lying in a hole in the bank of the river with the head protruded and the mouth wide agape, ready to snap upon any living thing which may come within reach.
There are two species of crocodiles, the smaller and more common, generally six or seven feet in length, and not ordinarily dangerous to human life ; the larger reaching the length of eighteen or twenty feet. The latter are more dangerous; still, one does not often hear of lives being lost by them in this part of India. But the most noxious of all the reptiles, and indeed one of the most incessant discomforts and ubiquitous perils of life in India, are the snakes and serpents of every kind, including the enormous boas, or rock snakes, which, infest the mountains, measuring up to seventeen feet or more in length, the deadly venomous cobras, the beautiful bright-coloured and striped sea-serpents, and all the varieties of lesser snakes.
But there is a sufficient number of cobras and vipers to cause great danger to the poor people who are compelled to walk abroad after dark, and in unfrequented places. When accidentally trodden upon they instinctively turn and bite, in self-defence as it were. Many deaths consequently occur.
A large brazen gilt image of the serpent is worshipped at Nagercoil, and carried out in procession,like other idols, once a year.
By the census of 1865 in Travancore it appears that the population is 51,718, of which 5,700 are Brahmans, 23,000 Sudras, 3,500 native Christians of all sects, 4,600 Mohammedans, 70 Europeans, and the remainder low caste Hindus.
These are the very words of the great Rev Duthie
How do you feel folks. Is this myth or truth. Is castro speaking about Nagercoil or is castro out of his wits. Yeah.. I do understand. Castro is perfectly alright and this was the Nagercoil of those days. Many of the animals and birds described here have not been seen by us even in Zoos. (I can be contacted in firstname.lastname@example.org)