Nasrani’s Story: Documenting Family Histories

0

How wealthy Syrian Christians in Kerala blend desirable facts and myths to recreate family histories that benefit their positions within the social matrix of their society

How wealthy Syrian Christians in Kerala blend desirable facts and myths to recreate family histories that benefit their positions within the social matrix of their society

Donald, Nidhin, ‘Each family its own historian? : The case of Syrian Christian family histories’, Economic and political weeklyVol 57, Issue 28, July 9, 2022

Very few scholarly documents, other than ethnoreligious texts and hagiographies, have captured the lives of Syrian Christians or “Nasranis” – a privileged minority settled in Kerala. Whereas Kerala Christians written by Susan Visvanathan explores the cultures and practices of Syrian Christians (Yakobas), Privileged minorities by Sonja Thomas investigates the privileges enjoyed by the community through oral histories and ethnographies capturing the history and socio-economic conditions of the community, their interactions and assimilations with other social groups in Kerala. Nidhin Donald’s article, ‘Each family its own historian? : The Case of Syrian Christian Family Histories’, draws attention to a different aspect of community; the family histories documented by wealthy families in the Syrian Christian community used to maintain a hierarchically important position in society.

Documentation of family history

The study focuses on various aspects of the documentation of family histories, including the reconstruction of popular beliefs and myths, family histories supported by ecclesiastical genealogies claiming Brahminical and apostolic origins to establish the purity of the “vamshashuddhi” race. and “rakthashuddhi” blood, biographies of prominent family members used as evidence of their family greatness, descriptions of relationships with other social groups, family directories and folklores about the rich past of the community , among others.

Everyday history becomes the remembrance of the “memory of things said and done,” used to make sense of the present and anticipate the future. The article focuses on the historical knowledge constructed and produced in the form of family histories or “kudumba charitram” by upper-caste Syrian Christian families to understand how they mobilize, design their stories and use them to position themselves in their society. based on caste and religion.

In the recent present, many affluent Christian families have taken the initiative to create family histories. The author explains how the digitization of church registers, censuses and land records has contributed to this increase. Historically, although the wealthy have always maintained their genealogies or “vamshavali” using oral and written methods, the peak of consumer historiography among the affluent “Nasranis” is an example of propertied upper castes who profited from neoliberal capitalism in an attempt to maintain their elite status.

The author attributes modern family associations or “kudumbayogams” – a group of households that share a common male ancestor to the transition or evolution from oral histories and folklores to the printed texts of family history books, an attempt to maintain their blood genealogies. It is explained how transnational migration, post-liberalization, and economic opportunity have given families new functions, with family history committees formed to collect financial and archival information. These family stories speak of social changes in society from the perspective of individual families. Oral histories or “vaamozhi” are mainly used as an authentic method of data collection. Thus, family histories are shaped by beliefs from the past and given academic value by family historians who place them within social history, a sub-discipline of history that emerged after World War II. .

Maintenance of social position

Due to the number of activities involved in the process of writing family histories, including traveling to different parts of the country or interacting with religious networks and establishments, publishing such histories is only affordable for those who have the social and economic capital associated with certain classes. and caste settings. Families who document their story also endorse it with a readership beyond their family – researchers, scholars and local media in an effort to authenticate the document. The Church, politicians and caste organizations are involved in these acts of publicity as it is a mutually beneficial process.

Powerful families and communities are linked to each other within modern hierarchies as co-decision makers, sharing the same timeline of life through moments of historical significance. The promotion of documents recounting how the “Nasarani” families worked with other wealthy castes in the United States validates the relevance of the two communities as cooperative ruling elites in society. Thus, the cultural and economic capital has become a sine qua non for marking the role of these families in the accounts of the Church and the community, making them a “big family”.

Through the accounts of various family history texts, the author also explains how documenting the prominent role of their family ancestors in moments of historical significance conveniently distorts events and their consequences. For example, the humiliating experience of Dalits and the issue of labor and human dignity may outweigh the sympathy and intelligence of lawyer “Nasrani” who took legal action against Dalits in exchange for free labor that contributed to the community’s water crisis.

Syrian Christians and caste

Syrian Christian family histories have independent facts and pre-existing knowledge within the community mixed with historical accounts to create a cocktail of the family narrative. The Brahmin origin of the Syrian Christian family, a claim dating back to the arrival of Saint Thomas (Apostle) in Kerala, is an example of how the community justifies its dominant status and the purity of its blood, using of a story with minimal empirical evidence. In the Syrian Christian imagination, the family is a class, a caste and a religious institution. Family histories tend to tell stories that ascribe meaning to their caste, while affirming difference from others. For example, master-servant relationships where absolute control over the slave was a “right” and the benevolence of the master “Nasrani” is a theme that runs through their family histories.

Furthermore, three divisions mark the difference between the community and the others – the hierarchical separation of the lower castes, the competitive affinity with the upper caste Hindus “different in religion but close in social status” and the almost filial affinity with the Brahmins.

Thus, family history and its perspective on its place in society has an educational value because it is used as an instrument of social reproduction, which does not deny official historical documents but finds a place of honor in them.

The article describes the amateur historian’s attempt to construct ideal family types, placing the family ancestor in a position of entitlement within the complex caste and class structures of society. This need to have a glorious past filled with family grandeur refers to the aspirations of current bourgeois families. Furthermore, it shows the need for a higher caste and racial position in the middle of the social hierarchy among wealthy Syrian Christian families.

THE ESSENTIAL

The study focuses on various aspects of documenting family histories, including the reconstruction of popular beliefs and myths, family histories supported by ecclesiastical genealogies claiming Brahmanical and apostolic origins.

Everyday history becomes the remembrance of the “memory of things said and done,” used to make sense of the present and anticipate the future.

Syrian Christian family histories have independent facts and pre-existing knowledge within the community mixed with historical accounts to create a cocktail of the family narrative.

Share.

Comments are closed.