ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Cultural memory of the slave: Remembering the kapiri of Cochin


Hussain Adeep - Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, Humanities and Social Sciences, Guwahati, India


45 – South Asian–Portuguese relationships from the fifteenth century to the present: Colonialism, interactions, and identities


 For over 500 years, the city of Kochi was occupied by three colonial powers. As a city that has cohabited with colonialism, Kochi retains a cultural memory suspended in time. The narratives and local histories of the city often do not feature in the ‘authorised’ histories or fit within the frameworks of established academic disciplines. This paper tries to understand how Kochi’s engagement with colonialism shaped the city. It intends to study how literary works encompass the process of remembering via colonial vestiges like shrines, myths and folklore.

Among many tales rooted in colonialism, the most revered are those related to the kapiri (black man). During the Portuguese period of Kochi, Europeans employed enslaved Africans. The Portuguese are said to have slain their black slaves and buried their treasures with them after the Dutch drove them out of Kochi, believing they would protect the treasures until the owners returned. These enslaved black people are remembered in Kochi through oral folklore and shrines dedicated to the kapiri muthapan (great ancestor) and are revered and seen as benevolent and kind ghosts. These shrines and microhistories are part of urban folklore. They feature in novels and stories, influencing the city’s imagination. This transoceanic solidarity of an oppressed people poses a challenge to the overarching frameworks of understanding colonialism. Texts being closely read are two novels: Ora Pro Nobis by P. Rafi and Adiyala Pretham by P.F Mathews.