Oct 30, 2010

Is your distant cousin in Indonesia, aunt in South Africa and grandfather in West Indies?

My Canadian friend boasts of his ancestry to be a mix of Scottish and Norwegian. But I’m more than glad of what I am, and what my genes are composed of. 

The first humans on earth are said to have originated in Africa/ India 70,000 years ago. This has been bolstered by the tests done on the tribes of a village in Tamil Nadu, India who all carry the M130 gene which is one of the oldest genes of the humans. Dravidian (people of South India, majorly) gene characteristics have been preserved relatively well, unmixed with other races for a very long time. But that doesn't infer that Indians, in general remained intact their places and did not migrate. The country has seen huge waves of migrations throughout its long history.

Madras in 1925

The capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is Madras (Chennai). There is also a city called Madras in the Oregon state of the US. There is a Madras Street in Canterbury, New Zealand. There is a Madras Road in Cambridge, England and also in Glasgow, Scotland. There is a Madras Place in Islington, England and also in Glasgow, Scotland. There is a Madras Way in Southern River,  Australia and a Madras Crescent in Port Kennedy, Australia and a Madras settlement road in Cunupia, Trinidad. How on earth did these places in different corners of the world get the name of an Indian city?? Was it because of contemporary immigrants, or because of a historical settlement of a much older time? We don't have an idea. Had family trees been piously created and preserved by our ancestors, we could have had an answer today.

Hungarian Gypsies
Since ancient times, migrations to different countries have been pretty common and significant in India. During the recent centuries, the British had been responsible for such migrations, and now IT MNCs like Infosys, TCS and Accenture are! One of the most significant migrations after 1100 CE was from the state of Rajasthan and the Sindh region towards the west into Europe. They are the 11 million of those people that are scattered around the world today, who are none other than the Romani people or the Gypsies. Between 11th and 13th centuries CE, when the Chola Kingdom was in its height of power, they sent their fleet to and captured the Malay Archipelago (Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia) and Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. A huge emigration to South East Asia and a cultural mix happened during this period. During the Battle of Manila in 1762, the British used massive troops from Madras and this caused subsequent migrations into Philippines. Finally, the Abolition of slavery act seemed to have written the destiny of the Indian diaspora across the whole world in the following decades.

Immigrant Indians in Guyana ca. 1850
Since the abolition of slavery act left a void of laborers in their colonies, starting from the 19th century, the Britishers orchestrated the successive migrations, in the name of indentures. The first wave was in 1834 when Indentured workers from India (Bhojpuris) were sent to Mauritius to work in the sugarcane fields. (A century earlier, the Tamil construction workers had been sent here, by the French). Now these people form 70% of the country’s population. In 1838, another huge migration of indentured workers was initiated by the British. Starting with Guyana, there was an influx of over half a million to the Caribbean islands (Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, etc.). Most of them were from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, while people from Tamil Nadu forming the majority in Guadeloupe and Martinique. 1860 saw the first substantial migration to South Africa, of which the majority were from Tamil Nadu, forming a population of 1 Million today. In the later years, the Sikhs from the Punjab region were recruited in the British Indian army and most of them were working in Shanghai and Hong Kong. During Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations in 1897, they got to visit Canada, and this attracted a huge migration into Canada and the US. After independence, many Punjabis migrated to the UK mainly in the 1950s. Today, over 4.5 million of Sikhs live outside India. All these Indian diaspora have been complemented by immigration of professionals since the 20th century. 

Indulge yourself in building your family tree and a little genealogy research. No wonder if you happen to find your distant cousin in Indonesia, aunt in South Africa and grandfather in West Indies today!


  1. So, you mean that the people migrated from the then called Madras State to various countries named their locations there as Madras. OK. It is a good work on migration. Let all of us trace our roots and get interlinked and related to each one of us (the inhabitants of this Earth) and enter into one family - Global Family!

  2. Dear Hemz,

    Again interesting topic from you

    1.I post the chart of madras- how the name derived
    A.Madras --> Matharasa pattinam
    B.Mathrasa pattinam --> Mathuraanthagam
    C.Mathuranthagam ---> Marutham(A type of land)
    {People use to call madurai as maruthai}
    Mathuranthagam(A lake near Chennai town) D.Mathuranthagar(Lot of kings and knights hold this name, e.g Former king b4 Rajaraja chozhan.
    E.Madurai--> there are many madurai on literature,(kumarikandam/Leamurea/maana mathurai and so on)

    2.Leave it.. let's start a controversial topic which is older sanskrit and tamizh?? r u ready

  3. dear Hemanth, just got to read your blog by stumbling-upon. you forgot to mention about the indentured workers to then Malaya in the 19th century to work on the rubber plantations, etc and the ensuing migration of merchants, chettiars, teachers etc
    my father emigrated to Malaya in 1925 as a Tamil/Telugu teacher. my siblings and i were born and bred here as are my children and grandchildren

  4. Dear Jega,

    Thanks for visiting the blog! And thanks for the diaspora history! Something that might interest you is that the Dutch have preserved so many maps and other journals of the city of "Malacca". I got to read some at the Royal Library in The Hague, Netherlands. Please look for many more interesting articles on the blog's Facebook page as well! :)


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