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Coir in the History of Lakshadweep

            Coir twisting is one of the oldest industry of the territory which hasplayed a vital role in the political destiny of the islands. It is said that the Arab vessels used to come to the islands to collect ‘cordio’ which was very essential for sailing in the Arabian Sea.  The coir trade was one of the motivations which prompted the Portuguese to retain a foothold upon the islands.  The Ali Rajahs were keeping the islands as a priceless possession and jealously guarded their interest in the coir trade.  In 1765, Bommaly Rajah established a monopoly of purchase of coir on the islands.  The price paid to the people was just half of the market value and this was paid in rice at a commutation rate.  The harsh enforcement of the monopoly gave rise to the revolt in 1784 of the northern islands which could secure much easier terms from Tippu Sultan.  The people could not, however, get rid of the monopoly  altogether and it persisted even during the British Rule.  But after the independence, the monopoly is working as a welfare scheme on a no-profit- no –loss basis.  According to this, the Administration receives coir  from the public from all the islands except Minicoy and issue rice in exchange on  commutation rate fixed from time to time taking into account the quality and price of coir as well as of rice.  This scheme has been successful in warding  off any possibility  of starvation in the islands.

The Coconut Rope Islands

            ‘To these islands, ‘ wrote the Arab geographer Idrisi in the in the twelfth century, ‘come the ships of Oman to gather coconuts and cut wood and build their vessels.  They stay on the islands building their ships, and then sail home in them. ‘ Though the Laccadives are mere fly specks in the vastness of the Arabian Sea, it was easy to see why the Arab sailors had come across them, for they lie directly in the track of ships sailing from the south of the Arabian peninsula to the west coast of India.  The island’s groves of coconut trees would have provided excellent boatbuilding rope for the Arabs – indeed Sohar herself was fastened together with Laccadive coir; and the Agatti men who had stitched her together were Laccadive islanders”.