Oral Testimony as Historical Source Material for the Reconstruction of the Judicial History of Shipping in India (1600-1800)

Keywords: folk songs, Indian Ocean, littoral societies, maritime history, maritime perceptions, oral traditions


This study was an attempt to understand how the available alternative source materials, such as oral testimonies can serve as valuable assets to unveiling certain aspects of maritime history in India. A number of themes in maritime history in India failed to get the attention of the generation of historians, because of the paucity of written documents. Unlike in Europe, the penning down of shipping activities was not a concern for the authorities at the port in India. The pamphlets and newsletters declared the scheduled departure of the ship in Europe but, in India, this was done verbally. Therefore, maritime history in India remained marginalised. Hence, in this article, I make an endeavour to perceive how the oral testimonies can help shed some new light on certain aspects of maritime history in India, such as life on the ship, maritime practices, and perceptions among the littoral people in coastal societies. This article also outlines an approach on how the broader question on the transformation of scattered maritime practices among coastal societies can be adapted and transferred into an organised institution of law by the nineteenth century, and how these can be pursued in future. I also suggest in this article that the role of Europeans, especially the British, in the process of transformation, can be investigated further through oral testimonies in corroboration with the colonial archival records.