Extracted from Sarandib by Asiff Hussein
The Moors of yore unlike those of today commonly bore nicknames. M.M. Thawfeeq (Muslim Mosaics. 1972) refers to the practice of calling individuals and later their families by nick-names in the Theruv area (Old Moor Street, New Moor Street, Messenger Street, Barber Street, Grandpass, Wolfendhal and environs in Colombo) in the early part of the last century. Some nick-names, he says, may appear derogatory, some flattering, but none, he is certain, were given with malice. “It just happened that there were scores of Hamids, Yoosoofs, Haniffas, Mohideens etc in that concentration of Ceylon Moors”.
The easiest way out, he says, was nick-names emphasizing their attributes, penchant, and failings – even physical defects. He gives as patta-perus as such nick-names were called, Baba (Baby), Colenda (Infant), Echchi (Miserly), Pushana (Indolent), Shoththian (Feeble-handed), Shemata (Brown or Tan), Dada-bada (Noise made when walking), Munda kan (Big-eyed), Poona kan (Cat’s eye), Madayan (Fool), Jemmi (Jewel) and Poo (Sweet). There were others like Karupati (Jaggery), Kochchika (Chillie), Pila kotta (Jak seed) and Porichcha koli (Roast Chicken) though it is not certain whether they were appellations characterizing their tastes for certain items of food. There were yet others like Bembi, Kulla, Gongan, Pangathu, Jadipana, Vengallam, Kappadiar, Kosthapal and Vyra-Ooshi. Some of these were dubious while others possessed a meaning such as Kostapal ‘Constable or gunner’ and Kappadiar ‘ship captain or owner’. Vyra-Ooshi probably means a kind of gem.
M.M.B.Ansari (Some Nicknames of Sri Lanka Moors in Geneological Tables of Sri Lanka. Moors, Malays and other Muslims by A.I.L.Marikar, A.H.Macan Markar and A.L.M.Lafir. 1981) also gives a selection of interesting nicknames that prevailed among the Moors of yore, among them Aana Bulingi ‘Swallower or Elephants’ (M.L.M.Fauz), Baang Koli ‘Turkey’ (P.L.M.Abdul Majeed), Koli Kunji ‘Chick’ (Sesma Lebbe of Grandpass), Porichakoli ‘Fried Chicken’ (Abdur Rahim of New Moor Street), , Kumbala Mashi ‘Maldive Fish’ (Marikar, father of Mohamed Jamaldeen), Karapothan ‘Cockroach’ (Abdul Aziz of Grandpass), Kochchika ‘Chillie’ (Oduma Lebbe Marikar), Katchcha Karupatti ‘Bitter Jaggery’ (Oduma Lebbe Marikar), Shappatayan ‘Flat Nose’ (Abdul Hassen Hajiar), Velli Baba ‘Silver Baby’ (M.M.M.Ghouse), Vengalam ‘Loud-mouthed’ (Vangalam Noordeen), Poskoapa ‘Large Bowl’ (The father of M.L.H.A.Mohideen of Wellawatte), Bavulthavaly ‘Stomach ache’ (S.M.Hassim Nana’s maternal grandfather) and Anjishazathu Mapulle ‘Five Cents Bridegroom’ “who traveled as such in a decorated tramcar with his entourage” (Father of Falil, at one time assistant at A.M.A.Marzuk’s textile shop).
There was also Batcha (Said to have originated from the Turkish title Pasha) given to Abdur Rahman of ‘Pasha Villa’ of Dematagoda Road, Colombo 9 and Baas Ootar (from Dutch Baas ‘Chief Workman’ or ‘Work Supervisor’) given to the progeny of A.M.Wapche Marikar, the famous Bas or builder reputed to have built many of Colombo’s landmarks. Indeed, individuals so nicknamed have given their names to entire families such as Pullekutti Sherifdin (Boys and girls Sherifdin, so called after the many children he had), Vellibaba Ghaus (Fair baby Ghaus) and Koli Amin (Poultry Amin). These names are however not borne by these families, but ascribed to them by others. Prominent Moor families, especially in the Colombo area are still said to be known by nicknames such as Shottiyan (People of Property), Poskopa (Waterbowl), Baas (Builder) and Vengalam. In Macan Markar’s Short Biographical Sketches (1977) we come across references to personalities such as Saheed Mohamed of the Goodaku family, Mohamed Ismail of the Shooriyan family and Mohamed Haniffa of the Kushi family. Gudakku literally means ‘hookah’ or ‘hubbly bubbly’, a device for smoking, Shooriyan ‘sun’ and Kushi ‘fart’.