Kappiri Muthappan: From slaves to folk deity

Published: 10th June 2013 08:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th June 2013 08:21 AM   |  A+A-


Every day, as the dusk falls, Shyamala would light a lamp in a small stone structure in front of her house. Once in a month, she would offer meat, toddy, cigarettes and boiled eggs to the deity installed in the structure, hoping that it would ward off all evils.

The folk deity who goes by the name ‘Kappiri Muthappan’ is a saviour not only for Shyamala’s family.

Around 15 families living at Veli, Fort Kochi and Mattancherry worship the deity, a cigar-smoking treasure-guarding spirit, which has its roots in Africa.

The lore goes like this: when the Portuguese arrived in Kerala, about 500 years ago, they brought with them many ‘Kappiris’ or native Africans as slaves. But the whole scene changed when the Dutch usurped power from them. It was a violent takeover.

With little time to take away their amassed wealth,they buried them in deep trenches along the bodies of ‘kappiris’ whom they slaughtered, in the fervent belief that their ghosts would guard these treasures. But the Portuguese never returned.

As the years passed by, the tale assumed the nature of a myth and the people started believing in ‘Kappiri Muthappan’ who rests on a wall called ‘Kappiri Mathil’ (‘Negro’ wall), smoking a cigar.

Jaya Ramesh Pai says she has observed the ritual from the day she bought the house where she is living now.

“When I bought the house, the stone structure was there and the previous owner said that it would do me good if I observe the ritual. I light the lamp everyday and give the offering once in six months,” she said.

Jaya said being a Brahmin, she offers the deity bread, cigarettes and delicacies made of rice flour, instead of meat. The offerings are later consumed as ‘prasadam’.


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