African slave ghost-demi god of Kerala, India - Kappiri Muthappan !!

Kappiri Muthappan shrine.

The shrine for ''Kappiri Muthappan'', Mangattumukku at Mattancherry, near Kochi, Kerala, is well known through out Kerala and lots of people visit this shrine every day. The attraction here is a  friendly ghost  worshiped by local people. It is neither a Hindu nor a Roman Catholic shrine. As a matter of fact, there are no religious markings, no cross, no 'OM' symbol as one will find in the Hindu temples. No green flag of the Muslim place of worship; not even stone or brass idols. Surprisingly, there is no gopuram (tower) or spire or huge dome with a crescent. There is a simple  raised platform and tiled roofing over it. Simply, an unassuming place of worship or veneration.

The strange feature of this shrine is visitors to get their wish or wishes fulfilled, positively make some offerings. People light candles, sometimes they offer cigarettes. Other offerings include flowers, tender coconut, boiled eggs and even the local country brew - toddy (in Tamil Kaallu)! You may be compelled to say, ''Are the visitors crazy to offer cigarettes and toddy to the deity?'' Most of the people who come here are literate and know what they are doing and  are not screwballs as one may conclude.

Kappiri Muthappan shrine,Kerala,
Priscilla Horton as Ariel (good spirit), 1838.

Above image: Priscilla Horton as Ariel (good spirit), 1838. The part was played by females from the mid-1600s to about 1930. From that time, both males and females played the role.

However, despite living in a modern world, people are superstitious when it comes to matters like ghosts and spirits. Kappiri Muthappan is none other than the ghost of  an African slave pushed to the status of a Demi-God  by the locals. He was one among the slaves brought to Kerala during the Portuguese settlements here in the 16th century. In local slang'' Kappiri'' means  African slaves shipped to Kerala by the  Portuguese. The word Kappiri is derived from the Arabic word  kafir' (meaning non-believer) used by the Arab traders or travelers to refer to Africans. In the 16th century Kochi was a main slave trading center and the Portuguese, who brought in large number of Africans, treated them badly. They kept them in the poorly ventilated, filthy cellars or dungeons often shackled. 

When the Dutch arrived in Kerala, Portuguese influence declined and at one point of time, they overpowered the Portuguese. In the 17th century the Dutch, in a violent take over, pushed them out of Kerala for good. The Portuguese, having no time buried their riches in the deep trenches under large trees and slaughtered their African slaves in the belief  their ghosts would be around to guard the treasures left by them till they would get back, which did not happen. As years went by, locals had begun to believe in the ghost of  ‘Kappiri’ who rests on the wall called ''Negro wall''(Kappiri Mathil) smoking cigar. 

The Kappiri deity is a compassionate spirit-supposed to be a good ghost just like Shakespearean Spirit "Ariel" (of The Tempest) who had been trapped by the witch Sycorax in a "cloven pine. He is as good as Casper the ghost in the old TV cartoon serial. The ghost Muthappan  smokes cigars, drinks toddy, helps lost travelers and will ward off all evils. Hence many people throng this place.

13 - Drawing cartoons

In the near by areas, there are many old mango trees haunted by Kappiris. The people do not harm them; however, when the tress were cut, bad things did happen  in the past and many people here are strong believers in the super natural powers of Kappiri, the African ghost-supposedly the guardians of the Portuguese treasure troves. Construction workers did find some skeletons of African slaves in some places. Kappiris or African slaves who went through ordeals of torture and untold sufferings on the soils of Kerala in the 16th and 17th centuries under the Portuguese maniacs  and slave masters are revered by the local people here. Kappiris' legacy of sacrifice and powers in and around Mangattumukku at Mattancherry will continue for ever. Any way, it is a nice way of respecting our African brothers for their toils in Kerala under the Portuguese invaders who introduced '' Inquisition in Goa under Fr. Francis Xavier and caused untold miseries to the locals -Muslims, Hindus as well as local Christians. 

In Kerala, there is a  small  community  of  Gowda Saraswat Brahmins in the Cochin area and these people have been living there since 16th century. They migrated from Goa and nearby places where the Portuguese gave the peace-loving Brahmins all kinds of problems in the name of converting them to Christianity. Further, they introduced "Inquisition in Goa" under Fr. Francis Xavier - the worst forms of life threatening punishments under the expert guidance of preachers!! Later only the British put an end to these  religious fanatics.