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Kerala – The Spice Coast

The words of Pliny were bitter when he wrote, “both pepper and ginger grow wild in their respective countries, and yet here we buy them by weight like Gold and Silver.” How true it is when Sir George Birdwood said ! “It is interesting to speculate on the part of the humble pepper creeper of Malabar has played in shaping world history. As is well known Columbus was on the look out for pepper when he stumbled on America. It was pepper that brought Vasco Da Gama to Malabar, the subsequent interest the nations of the western Europe took in Indian affairs and its far reaching effects on world civilizations are too well known to deserve mention here”.

"The history of Europe is the history of Malabar spice trade" said F.J. Richards. But rarely do we recognize the influence Kerala and her spices had, even on the rise and fall of powers from time immemorial. Pliny in the Ist century A.D. wrote, "the subject is one well worthy of our notice seeing that in no year does India drain us of no less than 550,000,000 sesterces ($ 22 million)..." All know that he was refering to the spices and pearls brought from Kerala of the Indian subcontinent.

How many countries and peoples have come to her shores for the precious commodities of Kerala - the pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, almug and the pearls. The visit of Pero De Covilhan of Portugal about a decade before the coming of Vasco da gama is discribed by Bishop Mathews "He saw more over Kozhikode, (a flourishing port of Kerala then) strange, gorgious city of thatched houses and half naked man, of cocoa palms besides the beach, of gold and jewels, of elephants and pepper. Especially pepper ! Pepper may not mean much to us, but in that age, it ranked with precious stones. Men risked the perils of the deep and fought and died for pepper."

And they came from Assyria, Babylon, Israel, Greece, Rome, Arabia, China... Portugal, Netherlands, France, England.... “Risking the perils of the deep and fought and died for pepper". Their coming started some time in the 3rd millinnium B.C. The Assyrians and Phoinicians came first and it was for cardamom and cinnamon. The Egyptians then came for the spices to make perfumes for their prettier sex ,for the ingredients to keep their dead perpetuity by mummification and for the pearls to adorn their wives.

The Greek name "zingiber" for malayalam's "inchi" (ginger) and the "oryzi" for the Tamil word "Arisi" (rice) stand as monuments of the greek trade with Kerala. The Europians like Portuguese, Dutch and English took all the pains to circumvent the Cape of Good hope competing with the Arabian traders for their direct trade in spices with Kerala. Every body knows how much their