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ENDOGAMY - ITS RELEVANCE & FUTURE
By. Alexander J. Mapleton

Whenever and wherever two or more Kinanites* get together, there arises an increased sense of belonging, comfort and identity between them. Departing gets delayed, conversations never end, like when old classmates meet. The cementing force that binds us and gives us this feeling of being part of a big picture puzzle can be rightly attributed to one core custom, namely, endogamy. By definition, endogamy is the practice of "marriage within a particular group, caste, class, or tribe in accordance with set custom or law". Endogamy and Kinanayism* are inseparable. No one needs to reestablish this tradition. Even before the diocese of Kottayam was created for Kinanites, endogamy had been an established tradition for over 16 centuries. And this is bound to continue within or without the diocese.
Endogamy is perhaps one of the most emotionally charged and controversial issues we Kinanites face today. A good number of our youngsters and some of our adults are unsure about the relevance and future of endogamy. Those of us who have become used to thinking that the latest and newest are the best have less appreciation for the old or traditional. However, no tradition survives unless it has proven its worth over time. Endogamy is one such time-honored tradition. Its success in enhancing marital happiness and Christian family life should encourage all Kinanaya parents to present to their children the ABCs of endogamy.
What is endogamy all about? Is it relevant today as we enter the 21st century? Does it face a bleak future? Let us take a look at it from all angles. This discussion may prove useful to the present and future Kinanaya youth irrespective of whether they are growing up in North America or elsewhere. Hopefully, this will help them make up their mind more objectively about a most crucial life decision rather than feel compelled by the weight of traditions. Parents and elders may find this helpful to prepare them to discuss these very personal and timely issues with their near and dear ones in the privacy and comfort of their own homes. We, as a community, can also help shape our destiny in the coming century by critically evaluating whether this practice has served us well in the past and what it will do for us in the future.
ORIGIN: Biblical & Historical
Biblical tracings of endogamy take us to the days of one of the most illustrious and chosen forefathers from the Old Testament, Patriarch Abraham. The story is told of an elderly Abraham sending his servant under oath to his own native land and to his kindred to get a wife for his son Isaac. As you may recall, Rebekah was the woman thus chosen (Genesis: 24). We Kinanites trace our roots to Abraham. For example, look at the unique custom and wording used for the blessing given to youngsters and relatives by Kinanaya elders when on their death bed, "The blessing which God gave Abraham . . . I give to you".
Historically, there are two references. These are from two of our ancient songs, "Purathanappattukal." As most of us know, this collection of songs is among the few sources available to trace the history of Kinanites. Even though these songs were written probably several centuries later, the poets based their works on our traditions and folklore. The immigration song, "Nallororshlaym", narrates that before embarking on the ships, the emigrants with Thomas Kinayi "went to Ezra and obtained blessings" ( EzaRayil pukkavananugraham kaikonDu / ). Prophet Ezra (also known as Uraha) was held in high esteem by both Jews and Muslims, the principal inhabitants of the area besides Babylonian Jewish Christians. The blessings received from the shrine of Ezra's tomb exhort us to guard against intermarriage. Bible shows that Ezra insisted on pure lineage and denounced mixed marriages. Ezra believed that marriage outside the community will lead to apostasy or desertion of one's faith and religious beliefs. (Ezra 9, 10)
The second set of references are from the popular song "Innu nee njagaLay" ( )and the passages are (a) "Remember, do not sunder relations" ( BendhangaL vairveeDa-thorkuNa-maypozhum) and (b) "Do not turn away from faith ( PaadumaRiyaathirikkeNum ninghaLum).
On the face of the above, we are able to counter a number of allegations, such as that endogamy is not a Jewish tradition, that this tradition, considered by some as the tribal allegiance to blood, would have been abhorrent to early Christian evangelists, and, that this adoption occurred only after the 'sanskritization' of Kerala during the tenth century when, allegedly, Kinanites slowly transferred themselves into a clannish subcaste, following the Hindu social hierarchy. However, it may be safe to assume that the Hindu customs made it easy for Kinanites to practice their eliefs.
WHY ENDOGAMY?
The blessings that endogamy brings with it can be looked upon as different faces of a four dimensional (length, breadth, depth and essence) picture. Each one of these, supplements and complements the other. It is the combined effect that is compelling; if taken alone, each one may be found elsewhere.
Perhaps the foremost reason to continue practicing endogamy is preservation of the purity of our faith. There is every reason to believe that some of the great-grandparents of the original 400 immigrants of AD 345 to Kerala were contemporaries of Jesus Christ. As such, they may have heard him in person and experienced the miracles performed by him. These Christians are therefore described as of exemplary faith. In order to ensure the success of their evangelical mission and preserve the luster of their faith, the immigrants and their descendants insisted on marrying from within their own community. Prophet Ezra's denunciation of mixed marriages and his advice to adhere to pure lineage may also have left an indelible impression on the minds of these people. Thus, it is conceivable that the practice of endogamy among Kinanites in Kerala began as a means to an end, namely, the preservation of the purity of the Christian faith. With the passage of time, the original focus may have been lost raising doubts about whether we are Christians or Kinanites first.
Even though there exists great similarity in the way Kerala Catholics or St. Thomas Christians in general view and practice our faith, the harmony is never as pronounced as it is among fellow Kinanites. Remember, the identity of views helps to strengthen our faith in our Christian beliefs. Its importance will become clear when we begin our most responsible job: raising our own children on a sound, moral and Christian religious foundation. The greater the identity between the husband and the wife, the easier this task is.
Scientific studies by the psychologist Holland and many others have shown that marital harmony and happiness is at its best when there is good compatibility between the spouses' personality types and the characteristics of the environment. Since Kinanites as a community share many special habits, customs and traditions, chances of striking greater compatibility are naturally greater among members of our community. Proof of this is evident among new and old Kinanaya couples alike: the ease to blend in with their families and the community from the first day of their marriage is uniformly high.
What is the real meaning of compatibility? Compatibility is much more than physical matching or having similar tastes; it is much deeper. The religious beliefs and values we grew up with, the lifestyles and habits we are accustomed to, the social norms and mores: sharing all these are very important towards making our lives satisfying and happy.
Avoiding potential quarrels between spouses is all the more relevant today than ever before. This is because we now face more challenging times than the societies in which many of us grew up. Stresses at work, health factors, familial/parental responsibilities, social and material demands, economic pressures, and the loss of the stable support system (i.e., close family and friends) most of us were used to: all these place a great burden on each one of us and tend to destabilize our lives. To prevent us from crumbling under, to carry on our responsibilities honorably and satisfactorily, we need to conserve our resources in life. We must not waste our energy. Through marriage, we need to establish a sound partnership and friendship with someone from a most trusted and reliable source. How can we make the best choice? How can we reduce the risks surrounding one of the most important decisions of our lives? Fortunately, we can turn to a system that proved its worthiness and reliability for well over 16 centuries.
The thoroughness and the ease with which one can do the needed 'homework' in preparation for a marital alliance is yet another factor that strongly favors endogamy. Let us not forget that misplaced secrecy, undue haste and a blind faith can prove to be disastrous when marriage proposals are being seriously considered. Unlike revelations of 'skeletons in the closet' experienced by some in the west even after years of dating and sometimes cohabitation, a check on a potential Kinanaya bride or bridegroom is relatively easy even today. Often a phone call to a selected few may be all that it takes to give you a sufficiently detailed background history. To many of us, the stories of our family trees are an open book. Many among our people know enough of each other to come up with an intelligent guess as to the compatibility of a potential couple even before more serious talks can begin.
We are often told that a Kinanaya marriage is the envy of others, not in terms of pomp and splendor, but in its spiritual content and communal bonding. Every Kinanaya wedding celebration evolves into an intimate social event. No time is needed to befriend or socialize. The customary rituals that precede and follow the church wedding are equally heart-warming, memorable and significant for the couples and the families. There are few places on earth where you find such thoughtfulness, warmth and sense of security.
Wise men save for a rainy day; they build an egg nest for use when in need. This wise practice comes alive in the tradition of endogamy. This is the essence of the fourth dimension. Often it is unseen in good times. When two Kinanites get married, it is more than just the union of two eligible youngsters. It is the coming together of two families along with their close relatives and friends. They want to assure them all prosperity. Yes, at the marriage they are there to rejoice and celebrate with you. And they are also there if and when you need help. Quarrels and differences of opinion etc. invariably do develop during the course of every married life. In industrialized societies, we always seem to be on the run. Sometimes, the courts have to step in to settle marital disputes. The professional counselor may be used. We Kinanites have been able to do things differently. Our parents, relatives and friends often help see that the small fires are put out in time. Or more appropriately, the couples jointly or singly often feel comfortable to seek out the advice or intervention of the elders proactively. They thus take charge before things get out of hand. This collective responsibility to preserve the integrity of marriage is definitely a boon to the Kinanaya people. Who wouldn't like to own this 'hazard insurance' which endogamy entitles you to?
SOME PERCEIVED DISADVANTAGES & VOICED CRITICISM
No social system is ever perfect. We must therefore look at the shortcomings so we can continually strive to overcome them or at least try to minimize their impact.
The most commonly pointed out drawback of endogamy is that our genetic pool is relatively small and therefore not very fertile or healthy. This is more a fantasy than a fact. Today we are a 200,000 plus strong community (Catholics & Orthodox) Historically speaking, the original missionary group of 400 immigrants belonging to 72 families were selected from seven different clans or stocks. A profile of our community can boast of leaders and men of distinction from every walk of life. There is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that our community shows a higher than average number of people with birth defects, mental illnesses or any other genetic aberrations.
That we suffer from a small pool of eligible youngsters for marriage, thus offering a very limited choice, is perhaps the loudest of all the complaints. In fact there is some merit to this. Until a few years ago, news of potential candidates was, by and large, by word of mouth. Since the forties and more prominently since the seventies, our people have spread out to every nook and corner of the globe. Our recent material progress and dispersion did bring with it some undesirable outcomes. The need for two-income families are more widespread than ever. More often, we also rush to find a spouse and to hold the wedding as quickly as we can. All these have caused a break down in personal and communal relationships.
Some solutions are in the making. Recently in Kottayam, we have established a formal worldwide registry of potential candidates. This new set-up needs a firm footing, a sound infrastructure, international accessibility and above all reliability and reputation to allow it to grow and fully develop. With good coordination, leadership, patronage and suggestions from and utilization by all sections of our people spread all over the world, it can and will fulfill its intended mission as a starting point or as an adjunct to the traditional modes of match-making.
A third deficiency usually presented is that we stand deprived of our potential to enlarge our circle of friends and social relationships and increase networking. But how does this result from the practice of endogamy? Do all social interactions or alliances begin or end with marriages? Our circle of friends or social contacts depend on our personality and our family's needs and abilities. Endogamy has no major part in building and/or maintaining our popularity and network. Practicing endogamy does not restrict us from making friends with others in the other communities in which we live.
Yet another criticism of endogamy is that our current population is not what it should have been. They argue that demographically, if all the immigrants of the Thomas Kinayi group were endogamous, our present population would have been in the millions. What is the substance of this argument? Are they claiming that the majority of our people deserted us? Nobody claims that each and every living descendant of the original immigrants has remained endogamous. Attrition from our community has occurred throughout these long sixteen centuries. And this will continue, and we will continue to honor their choices. But we also expect them to do the same. The reality is plain and simple: our future lies in our will and not in numbers. Our survival depends on our determination.
A few contend that endogamy is an extension of the Hindu caste system along with its evils into our community. Fortunately, this is far from the truth. However, a clear distinction must be drawn between casteism and ethnicity. Casteism creates class consciousness and is therefore devisive; ethnicity fosters fraternity. Kinanayism promotes unity based on blood relationship and ancestry.
Another serious criticism of endogamy is that it is unhelpful to God's call to a sacred duty, namely, that of spreading the word of God and to love one another. Unfortunately, our work to popularize Christ's mission on earth has not been publicized enough.
Our community, right from its first missionary voyage of AD 345 to the present time, has actively supported evangelisation efforts through both manpower and material resources. A large number of our people have, at all times, responded to the call of vocations. We continue to serve as religious personnel all over the world in various capacities. Well over a thousand of our members have served in the missions during the past few decades. This missionary zeal is even brighter today: out of 360 Kinanaya priests, 136 are diocesan priests, while 224 are missionaries. The jewel on the crown of our missionary work is Bishop Abraham Virutha- kulangara, of Khandwa diocese in Madhya Pradesh. He is from our Kallara parish. In 1986, our diocese established the Missionary Society of Pius X exclusively for various activities related to evangelisation outside our community. Very recently, the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church has selected our diocese to adopt the mission eparchy of Rajkot headed by Mar Gregory Karotemprel (who has been named Apostolic Visitor to North America.)
Secondly, we cannot assume that successful conversion to Christianity can be assured by letting the new converts marry within our community. Successful conversion can occur without marital bonds. I would like to share a personal experience. The year was 1944. World War II was raging. I was very young. There was widespread famine and unemployment in coastal Kerala. Poor people fled to the midland in search of food and shelter. A mother and her two young daughters aged 10 and 12 years, all ill and malnourished sought refuge at our home. The mother was suffering from elephantiasis. They belonged to a "backward" community. My parents and grandmother took them in, and nursed them to good health. We were able to educate the young girls and employ all of them. Eventually, they embraced Catholicism. When the time came, we were able to arrange for their marriage to young men from very similar backgrounds. The mutual bonds and love we have with these families are still strong even after a lapse of over forty years. They are still good Christians.
Our community's pioneering efforts under the late Bishop Chulaparambil to bring about reconciliation with members of the Syrian Orthodox Church in the 1920s did yield some good returns. Leaders like the late Archbishop Ivanios (Trivandrum) and Thomas Mar Deocores, the late Metropolitan of Chingavanom (a Kinanite) were directly influenced by our bishop. Today, we have grown to 14 parishes under the Malankara rite to accommodate all those who chose to return to the Church of Rome. We are thus a unique community in that we are the only diocese with two distinctly different rites, the Syro- Malabar and Syro-Malankara.
Some critics question the purity of our race. They refer to stories of Thomas Kinayi marrying an Indian lady for a second wife. They contend that similarities in facial or physical features (physiognomy) between many of our members with the Dravidian race prove their point. But then, all of us know someone in our community who has naturally reddish hair. This occurrence throughout the community refutes claims that our gene pool has been diluted. If it had been, this trait would surely have been lost. So, even if we were to make use of modern testing procedures including DNA, the veracity of this criticism is neither easy to prove nor disprove. Further it is very unlikely that we as a community would take pains to preserve our heritage and separate identity all through these 1600-odd years, if we disbelieved our ancestry.
One final criticism is that the continued preservation of this exclusive ethnicity is self serving. The claim is that, using this, Kinanites have been able to extract socio- political bargains in Kerala during the past few decades. Is this inherently wrong? No, certainly not. Minorities are, by constitution, afforded certain protections and privileges. Further, why did it become a necessity for us and Bishop Makil and the two other bishops of the Syro-Malabar rite to petition Rome and create a separate eparchy in 1911? Will many of our people have received collegiate education had we not had our own colleges? Historically, every human race did what it could to protect its interests and meet their needs. Exploitation and injustice are what we must avoid at all costs; safeguarding our rights is our duty.
STREAMLINING THE SYSTEM
Endogamy as a tradition and Kinanaya as a community can be preserved and perpetuated only if a sizable number of our members do honor it now and therefore wish to retain it. No doubt, there is room for modernization and revitalization of what we have been practicing for the past many centuries. Let it not lose its credibility or allow the blame to fall upon the system. Here are a few suggestions to consider.
1.Parental advice & planning
Action has to begin at home and early on in life. Only committed parents, grandparents and elders can do a good job. Preferably and more convincingly, the children also need to see and experience the above described beneficial effects firsthand in their own homes. Parents and youngsters must jointly plan their future in a timely and responsible manner. A search of three to six months or even one year for a spouse may not always give satisfying choices.
2. Eliminating Biases & Prejudices
Many parents and many more of our youth are unfavorably biased or have mixed feelings about boys and girls from the other hemisphere. There are some adjustment problems, or more appropriately, there is need for opportunities to learn about the other culture. In reality, these are not too difficult to overcome. We must not be blinded by our preconceived images. All boys and girls growing up in the West do not have loose morals or live-in friends. All boys from India are not ultraconservatives and unhelpful with household chores. Our searches excluding the other hemisphere do leave us poorer with fewer choices than otherwise.
3.Doing needed Homework
A word of caution to parents and elders! Always do what it takes to thoroughly check out the background when proposals are made. Many parents are eager to marry off their daughters so long as the boy is from the western hemisphere. The old thinking, "Once married, everything will be O.K." is wishful and irresponsible.
4. Realistic Match-Making
It is not uncommon to find that the siblings or parents of many candidates project unrealistic expectations. They tend to place the income-potential of the prospective spouse above all other considerations including character and upbringing. As such, these searches may get restricted to one or two groups of professionals. In a way, this is similar to the trend of going after the largest dowry. This makes it abundantly clear that most of our frustration stems from our own selfishness, unrealism and haste. Such unreasonable searches are what often lead us across the communal boundaries. We must exercise good judgment. We need to be accommodating, patient and persevering. The fact remains: no one ever meets or finds a perfect match. The ability to adapt, adjust, forgive and forget is what can assure success in marriage.
5. Role of Socio-Cultural & Other Groups
Our socio-cultural organizations both youth and adult at local and national levels and the church must also do their share to promote and facilitate the practice of endogamy. Their job is to directly and indirectly help minimize the drawbacks and maximize the opportunity for positive human relationships. The youth are eager to understand how this practice will work for them. Some of them have genuine fears. So they are watching and waiting. We can overcome their misgivings by letting them progressively develop a sense of confidence and security with our tradition.
Our youth who grow up in small or relatively isolated Kinanaya communities do feel deprived of their opportunity to interact and socialize with other fellow Kinanites of their age. This can only be solved by instituting and increasing the number of regional and national youth activities. We must foster communications among the youth using all possible channels such as written, spoken and computerized. Towards this end, modern technology can be of immense help and we must take full advantage of it.
As a community, we should also give wide publicity to successful weddings, recognitions or awards received etc. by our people. These will let our youngsters see for themselves how these can very well be their own stories.
CONCLUSION
Honoring the heritage and following traditions are taken as outward expressions of reciprocating parental love and respecting one's roots But beyond this, there is a lot to gain from continuing to practice our time- honored custom of endogamy. The overriding benefit is the stability and strength of individual families, the building blocks of any community, thus giving us lasting harmony and happiness. Every human naturally longs for a sense of honor and pride in belonging. Every endogamous Kinanite can feel this way about him/herself and his community. However, we must guard ourselves from vanity and loose talk. A sense of belonging is the goal; a sense of superiority is unacceptable.
It is also wise to consider the conditions we live in now and how we foresee our future. How different are we from the days of Bishop Makil? Do we feel ready to merge completely with the rest of the world? Once we abandon endogamy, there is no return; our disintegration and disappearance as an identifiable community will be brisk and quick. Imagine the fate of a well sealed bottle of ink thrown into the sea. Until the seal is broken, the ink bottle is able to hold its contents. Once broken, in no time, the ink is diluted by the waters. We are like that bottle. To keep endogamy or not to keep it, the choice is ours; so is our future. Let our decision be wise. Let it serve us well during our lif etime and also the many generations yet to come!
Alex J. Mapleton , MA, MPH, PT, is a physical therapist and health gerontologist. He is ma rried to Molly (Chazhikatt) and has five children. He and his family have lived in the US since 1968. He is the producer of "Nazaranippattuka l" and is the president of the Kinanaya Catholic Association of Neva da*The new spelling as suggested by Rev. Dr. Jacob Kollaparampil based on the study done and published in The Babylonian origin of the Southists among the St.Thomas Christians.
Note: Mr. Maplet on is a Knanaya Catholic and some of the historical facts may not be the view of the Knanaya Jacobites. However his views on Endogamy is something the Knanaya Jacobites can agree on

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