Monday, April 9, 2012

Malabar at Zanzibar

Two super-stars of  malayalee cinema
Mammootty and Mohanlal
                      Suivre en français ici

      In French, the word malabar is used to designate a man who is physically strong and well built, a muscle man, so to speak.  This word has been transmitted to us French through the sailors, because in its primary meaning, a malabar is a docker, whom the western sailors have come across in the Easten harbours and who originates from the Malabar coast in India.  This region belongs to the Indian State of Kerala, and derives its name from the malayalam  മലബാര്‍ /malabār/,  itself derived from  the ethnonym /malay/ meaning « inhabitant of Kerala ; one who speaks malayalam ».

    But the very root of this word comes from the proto-dravidian word  /*màl/ ( മല  /mala/  in malayalam, மலை /malay/  in tamil...)  meaning « mountain, hill », since the state of Kerala is delimited by the sea on one side and by a hilly area on the other, which serves  as a natural border.

    When we French people hear the word malabarwhat immediately comes to our mind is the thick pinkish chewing gum that we call malabar, which became popular in the 1970s, and whose icon is a non Keralite body-built blond muscle-man.  The relationship between the chewing gum and its muscled icon underlines how strong a jaw we need to chew this gum !

    The words Malaysia and Malaysian  could as well be derived from the dravidian « mala », although another hypothesis states the name of the Melayu river located on the nearby island of Sumatra as a more probable origin.

     The second part of the word malabar probably originates from the arabic  برّ /barr/ « land, country », which is used in other toponyms, as is the case for Zanzibar whose persian name زنگبار /zangibār/ comes from the arabic  زنجبرّ /zanjbar/  meaning « the land of the blacks (زنج /zanj/)».

    Moreover, the Spanish word barrio « slum » was borrowed  from the arabic  برّيّة /barriyat/ « open land».

    From this same root comes the catalan barri, which designates a place which is inhabited outside the city, from which are derived the French pyrenean patronym Dubarry and its counterparts Barielle, Barriol or Barrios.


  1. Actually Malayalam is the name of the Language or Name of the land .It can be Tamil origin .In Tamil Mala means hill and aal means people....So as per Tamilians the Malayalam is the people from the land where they see Hills...actually west side of Tamil naadu is western Ghats and after that between the Arabian sea located is the land malayalam or Kerala.

    1. Thanks for the precision Vipin. As we say in french, you're a malabar...

  2. In sanskrit 'malla' means a man with a strong body.

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