Thursday, July 9, 2009


Overseas Telugus and a Need for Documentation
by Bhaskar Teegela

Diaspora has now become a fashionable expression to many who use this term. With their presence in many countries for several decades, and in some cases more than two centuries, Overseas Telugus have turned into an influential transnational diaspora community. It would not be a surprise if this community is going define and influence, not only the economics and politics of the hostlands, but also of the socio-political and economic structures of the homeland, Andhra Pradesh. The present essay outlines the migration of Telugus to distant lands over centuries, and also introduces briefly to our new website
Telugus/Andhras have a rich legacy and history of migrating and exploring new places, inland and maritime. First mentioned in Aitareya Brahmana as exiled sons of Viswamitra, Andhras are always on move and exile and migration is at the core of their history. Battles and spread of religion, more importantly, trade and commerce took them to distant places beyond our boundaries and, in due course some made these destinations their homes. The ocean currents always transported the inherent Telugu culture- the language, values and beliefs, traditions and practices- along with men, goods etc. The migration of Andhras over centuries can be classified into three kinds basing on the historical time period- the pre-colonial, the colonial and the post-colonial. The following sections briefly describe each of the varieties. Historical accounts of Andhra migration can be traced back to the rule of Satavahanas when maritime trade played a crucial role in the migration of Andhras for commercialpurposes. The Greek text, Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, gives and authentic account of the Andhra’s maritime trade, the trade routes, information on the ports like-Kantakossyla, Koddura (Gudur), Allosygne, and Motupalli, the facilities for incoming traders, and outgoing merchants etc. The maritime travel to various other countries also had religious and cultural reasons like exploring new civilizations, the scriptures of other countries etc.
The post Satavahana period saw migrations to the SouthEast and China. Many religious leaders went Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Bali etc and spread the tenets of Buddhism and various aspects of Andhra culture. Other instances of Andhra presence is the Sailendra Vamsam of the Kalinga Srisailam established the Sri Vijaya empire in Palambangu (Sumatra island), carried trade with Java, Malaya, Siam, Borneo and Cambodia. The kingdom also propagated and spread Mahayana Buddhism. Also, the King Parameshwara of Sri Vijaya Empire travelled from Palambangu to Singapore and other areas in the SouthEast and ruled effectively for five years. The work by Madini Somunaidu refers to the availability of sasanas (inscriptions) in Sanskrit, Vengi and Pallava lipi, and the kansya idols of Avalokateeshwara in Malacca city denote the presence of Telugus and influence of art and architecture in the SouthEast Asia. After Satavahanas, it was during the rule of Kakatiyas that overseas commercial activity flourished. The famous Motupalli (also called as Desiyuyyakkondapattnam) inscription of Ganapatideva, the Abhaya Shasana, mentions of assurance and concessions to the merchants leaving the Indian coast and in coming traders from abroad. The dynasties in the ancient and medieval Andhra never discouraged the maritime trade and overseas travel was always boosted as it added to the treasury of the kingdom. Neither there were any caste regulations to travel nor was a question of losing one’s caste identity with the travel.
The rule of Bahmanis saw the arrival of the first Europeans on the Indian soil, the Portuguese traders on the West Coast, and the rule of East India Company from 1600 in eastern parts of India. It is during this period that sea travel and losing caste identity was linked. Any travel abroad was resulted in loss of the caste identity (kalapani). Excommunication and purification ceremony was followed in the case for travellers. The colonial period and consequent induction of Zamindari system during the British rule worsened the plight of the peasants, added to the misery resulted by frequent famines and drought. The system was designed to collect exuberant taxes in form of ‘peshcush’ that finally affected the peasants. High taxes, lack of effective irrigational systems (except for anicuts on Godavari and Krishna in 1847 and 1853 respectively) and frequent famines- the Andhra famine of 1805-1807, Nellore famine-1811, Guntur-1833, and the famous crop failure of 1839, have left peasants in dire situations. On the other hand, the destruction of local handcraft industry, in light of protectionism employed by European nations to protect their local industry, had finally ended the everlasting trade links with the European market (where silk from Berhampur, muslin from Srikakulam, chintzes of Machilipatnam were traded briskly). Heavy transit duties and ‘Moturpha’, corruption and inefficiency of the East India Company (especially the judiciary), negligence towards education too have accelerated the misery of the peasant. The suffering of the peasants was so severe under the Crown that Lokaranjani, a Telugu journal, complained in October 1875 that the ryots were better off under the Company’s administration than under the crown. Around these decades, many Telugus left to the British colonies as indenture, kangani, and maistry labourers to work on the sugar and coffee plantations. Telugu speaking areas of Vizagapatnam and Ganjam were the main recruiting districts in South India for the indenture labour. As early as 1824, with the annexation of the Lower Burma, the British began to recruit labour for the economic expansion of Burma. The recruitment process included many Telugus. The following sections briefly deal with each of the colonies where Telugus emigrated in one of the forms-indenture labour, kangani labour, maistry labour, free or passage migrants, and assisted labour emigration.
The migration to South Africa occurred as a part of the indenture system from the Madras Presidency. In fact the first ever-Indian migrant to the colony was a Telugu, Baboo Naidu, in July 1885Apart from a large number
of Naidus (Naidoos), the migrants included peasants, farm labourers, clerical, teachers, Kamsala and Kummara. A few Komatis also migrated but lost their caste identity in subsequent generations. Apart from their presence in the indenture labour, the Andhras were known for their active involvement in business networks along the coast of Natal, Durban and Pietermartizburg. Subsequent generation of Telugus were involved not only in the distribution of food and household goods but also owned cinema halls, garages,and some as transport operators and laundry owners. Presently, they are into all professions alongwith ventures in local business.
Telugus have migrated to the Mauritius islands began as early as 1836 as a part of the indenture labour system, to work on the sugar plantations. It is often said that the first ship that carried Telugus to Mauritius was one Ganges from the port of Korangi in coastal Andhra. Later on they spread all over the island moving away from the erstwhile plantations and settled in towns like Piton, Rochewpire, Tyack, St. Pierre, Beau- Vallan and Quatre- Bones, Riviere Du Rempart, Chemin Grenier, Flacq, Mahebourg, Casis (Port Louis), L’escaillier, and Goodlands. Most of the Telegus in Mauritius have their origins from the following places in the
erstwhile Madras Presidency-Bimli (Bheemilipatnam/Bheemunipatnam), Vizagapatam (Visakhapatnam or Vizag),
Thoonee (Tuni), Uncole (Ongole), Bimlipatam (opp.cit), Oopada (Uppada), Alleepuram (Alleepuram), Nabobpettah (Nawabpeta), Ganzam (Ganjam), Vizianagaram (Vizianagaram), Alamunda (Alamanda) and a
few from Hyderabad. They have completely lost contact with their places of origin over the years. Two centuries of life overseas have not let them down and forget their origins. The Telugu temple, the Telugus festivals and the Telugu language have played an invaluable role in the lives of the Telugus in Mauritius.
Temples like the St. Pierre Vishnu Mandiram, the Simhadri Appanah temple at Beau Vallon, and the Lau Lora Prasanna Venkateshwara temple (considered as the chinna tirupathi). Festivals like Rama Bhajanamu, Simhadri
Appanah Puja, Govinda Puja (or Govinda Mala) and the Ammoru pandaga have become the symbols of Telugu culture and tradition in Mauritius. Lately ugadi and Andhra day are celebrated with pomp and joy. Early teachers like Somanah Somiah, Veerabhadroo Elliah, Linga Ramasamy, Venkatasami Veerasamy have took inspiration from their teacher Pandit Gunnayaa Ottoo whose life was dedicated to the spread of Telugu language. Telugu is taught in more than 100 schools at primary level and nearly 8 at Secondary level. Currently there are 70000 Telugus on the island and Mauritius Andhra Maha Sabha is an umbrella organisation for their cultural life, with more than 85 branches. Of late, Mauritius Telugu Cultural Centre Trust’s foundation stone was laid on Ugadi Day by our Hon. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in his recent visit to Mauritius. This trust is going to play a vital role in the promotion of Telugu culture on the island.
Telugus formed a part of the kangani labour to migrate along with Tamilians and Malayalese to the Malay Peninsula. The main recruiting centres were Vizagapatnam and Nagapatnam. The labourers mainly worked on the rubber plantations, oil palms, and coconut plantations. There were also instances of the labour working on the road construction, drainage, sanitation, electricity board and railways too. The whole process of recruitment was based on systematic network among villagers (generally from same family or family and extended kin- kinship was also a factor), maistry and the agent. Most of the migrants are from the castes- Gavara, Kapu (sometimes called as Telaga also in coastal Andhra) and Velama (the richer section among them are called Velama dora). The remaining is from chakali (washer man), mangali (barber) and others. The word maistry usually denotes head of a group of construction/ repair/ or coolie workers in coastal Andhra. Another word/ term mentioned is ‘Dandelu’ or ‘ Tandelu’ which literally means ‘dandunu elevadu’ (one who rules/directs the group). The Telugu Association of Malaysia was initially formed in the Lower Perak, Perak on the 17 th August 1955 under the banner of Malaysia Andhra Sangamu. The official registration (17th Feb 1956) and the Inaugural General (14 th Oct 1958) followed. From 16 th December 1963 it was known as Malaysia Andhra Sangamu and later from 1983 as Telugu Association of Malaysia. The association has been very active over years to encourage generations of Telugus to learn Telugu and use it in daily life and is actively promoting its ideals through its branches.
The first batch of Telugus arrived in Fiji along with other south Indians on the vessel ELBE in 1903 to the Nakulau Depot as indenture labourers. Like all other Telugu emigrants, the Fiji Telugus too promoted their
culture. Language was one dominant factor that separated Telugus from other Indian communities, and caused certain rifts in the Indian community. The sirdars who are generally from the north India could not
comprehend the south Indian languages until they could speak broken Hindustani. At last on 20 th April, 1941 under the chairmanship of David Robert “ The Dakshina India Andhra Sangam of Fiji” was given birth to promote Telugu language.
Migration of Telugus to the West, especially to the US is a post-colonial phenomenon. In the post-great war period, the post-colonial societies emphasized on the technical and professional competence that required manpower to run various institutions. On the other hand, many independent nations from the colonial rule suffered with one major problem- underemployment. This period also saw the emergence of a favourable
immigration 1 climate to the US, institution of scholarships funding the research/study of the meritorious and recruitment of the qualified technical manpower from India. The major factor that facilitated and favoured the
recruitment of Indians was their capabilities of comprehending good English, which by then has become a universal link language for communication. Telugus formed a part of this recruitment process and migrated to the US beginning as early as 1950s as students and engineers initially. The later years saw the migration of doctors (the Vietnam War crisis), family reunion and the software engineers. The post-1990 Telugu emigration to the US saw migration of the software engineers on a large scale on the widely known H1 B visa programme.
As many of the readers of this article are well aware of the activities of the US Telugu, I will only briefly touch on them. Telugu associations like TANA and ATA, (I have a list of 40 plus such associations in the US in the section here on Associations) and many others are trying to promote Telugu culture among the successive generations. They are also helping the motherland, A.P, through their foundations. Recently, all these associations are trying to link up with the Government of AP for several of its development works (many of you know about the TANA’s collaboration with Naandi, and ATA’s collaboration with CII). There are other kinds of platforms like the Vanguri Foundation, AVK Foundation, Texas Sahiti Sadassu, Silicon Andhra and many other literary bodies which are trying to promote the literary activities, both in homeland and the US. Along with the above,the online activism of US Telugus is evident from their participation on e-groups like Racchabanda, which has become the centre of literary-activities promotion among US and other Telugus. This reminds me of also, the Ganasudha radio programme in the US, which is trying to encourage the younger generations to participate in its programmes, and thus promote the Telugudanam.
Although many Telugus to UK migrated as doctors and spread in almost all cities of the UK, there is this section of Telugus in Preston, which I would like to mention. The first generation of Telugus who migrated to Preston migrated mostly from Burma as industrial workforce in the woolen mills and cotton industries of Preston and Bradford- as supervisors, managers, mechanics, fitters, spinners, winders etc. The main villages from
where the majority of Telugus have come to Preston are Rameswaram, Aravalli, Juttika, Penumantra, Mallepudi (all from West Godavari district), and Ravulapalem (in East Godavari district). They have Andhra Social and Cultural Organisation, which also is the place of worship, the Venkateshwara temple. The successive generations are into almost all professions- lawyers, doctors, engineers etc. The European Telugu Association acts as the platform for all the Telugus in Europe and UK, and France. It is very interesting to note that
many of these European nations has two kinds of Telugus- the direct migrants from Andhra Pradesh, and the descendents of old migrants from Mauritius, South Africa, Malaysia etc. Telugu migration to Australia is entirely a post-colonial type as researchers, teachers, on exchange programme beginning from 1960s. They formed a part of the India League. The later years saw the birth of the South Indian Students Association (unregistered). Usually meet on the weekends for common cooking, celebrate festivals. By 1985, there are nearly 60 Telugu families in Sydney and as many in Melbourne too. Celebrating Ugadi, Deepavali in a rented hall
was a custom. Some families volunteer to organise initially. But as families grew in number, it was thought an association is a must. In the year 1978, both Telugus and Tamils wanted to build the Sri Venkateshwara Temple in Sydney, and was finished in 1985. But as late as 1992, there was no Telugu Association in Australia. In 1988, Telugu Paluku magazine and Telugu schools by families in Melbourne. In 1992, 200 each Telugu families in both Sydney and Melbourne started the Telugu associations. Presently there are two prominent Telugu associations- Telugu Association of Australia in Melbourne and Telugu Association in Sydney. The Sydney association released a quarterly newsletter in English called Vahini.
The advancements in the field of communication technology have accelerated the emerging networks among overseas Telugus. The networks build bridges to link the overseas Telugus and its diaspora that extends from Fiji on the east to USA on the west, and also with the motherland, Andhra Pradesh. This has resulted in a strong affiliation towards each other and helps s in reinforcing the Telugu identity among the diaspora. With a view to provide a single platform for all the information and resources on Overseas Telugus, we recently activated the site The main purpose of this site is to make it an information resource . The site would be a platform for information on --

History of Telugu diaspora (origins, destinations, population figures,Telugu associations, Foundations,Literary organisations and people associated)
Telugu culture and Identity in countries with considerable number of Telugus
Networks and Linkages between the Telugus overseas and Andhra Pradesh (political, business and socio-cultural)
Helping the old Telugu diaspora members to trace their roots
Making the site a resourceful platform for information on Telugu diaspora
I thank Dr. David Bala Lingiah, a person of Telugu origin, born in Mauritius, migrated to Scotland, for his encouragement in writing this article.

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