Introduction / History
The Laccadive Mappilla live in the Lakshadweep Islands off the southwestern coast of India. Malayalam is the state language of Kerala and its script has been significantly influenced by Arabic. The term mappilla is a combination of two words: maha, which means great and pilla, which is an endearing term that means child.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The people of the islands migrated from the Kerala coast around the seventh century. They came as Hindus, but later converted to Islam. The Laccadive Mappilla attribute their conversion to the work of an Arab missionary. The Muslim communities resulted from the unions of Arab sailors and merchants with native women. The islanders have been in contact with the mainland Mappilla through trade and sporadic migrations. The Laccadive Mappilla are unique in that they have maintained a matrilineal society (line of descent is traced through the women) in spite of their Islamic beliefs.
The Lakshadweep Islands are covered with coconut trees, which provide the basis of the Laccadive Mappilla's economy. The coconut supplies coir (the husky fiber, which can be used to make ropes or mats) and copra (coconut meat). These products provide the main industries on the islands. Vinegar is also derivative of coconut sap and is sold on the mainland. Breadfruit (an evergreen timber tree with edible fruits) runs a distant second to coconut in economic importance. Other foods that are raised include papayas, plantains (banana-like fruits), yams, sweet potatoes, maize, and beans.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Each island has various mosques and one or two schools for religious education. Within the last ten years, the government has made efforts to establish high schools and primary schools for girls.
Since 1956, the Laccadive Islands have been a Union Territory with the headquarters of administration at Calicut on the mainland. The local administration of each island is carried out by an Amin, who is appointed by the Administrator of the Laccadive Islands. He is usually selected from the Island Council of Elders, which consists of the heads of lineages.
The common matrilineal unit in the islands is called Taravad, in which individuals trace their descent by a common ancestress in the female line. For example, the right to share in property passes through female members. This system began centuries ago when the men were needed to manage negotiations in trade. Their periodic absence from the island facilitated the adoption of matrilineal blood lines. Maintenance of individually owned property was only possible if the women who stayed behind could officially speak for the family on the man's behalf.
Monogamy (one husband, one wife) prevails among the Laccadive Mappilla, in spite of the fact that Islam may allow a man to have as many as four wives. Cross cousin marriages are preferred, and marriages usually take place shortly after puberty. The man has true authority over his wife only if he stays with her until after all of her male relatives have died. He is then able to manage her property. A man has little authority over his children. Divorce is easy and common; over half of their marriages end in divorce.
The Laccadive Mappilla belong to the Shafite School of the Sunni branch of Islam. Their religion has the typical characteristics of Islamic beliefs and practices, in addition to certain local features that have developed according to their particular way of life. Every child has to read the Koran completely in Arabic at least once, but the meaning is not explained to them. Priesthood is inherited through the females.
What Are Their Needs?
The Bible, the Jesus film, and some Christian broadcasts are available in the Malayalam language; however, very few of the islanders have responded to the Gospel. Prayer is the key to reaching them for Christ.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to India and share Christ with the Laccadive Mappilla.
* Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film among these people.
* Ask God to use the few Laccadive Mappilla believers to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask the Lord to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through intercession.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of India's governmental and religious leaders to the Gospel.
Bethany World Prayer Center