History of Cardamom Hills

The history of the Cardamom Hills can be divided into 3 distinct periods. Until 1860, the hills were inhabited almost exclusively by tribal populations. The government viewed the forests there primarily as a source of timber and other forest resources. Between 1880 and world war I1 timber harvesting continued, but plantation agriculture grew rapidly and became an equally dominant activity shaping land use. Tea, Coffee, Cardamom and forest tree plantations displaced the natural forest. Roads were built for political purposes, forest harvesting, dam construction and to ease access to the plantations. Population density though growing at a much higher rate than in the surrounding plains, remained low. Tribal groups retreated from plantation areas but managed to continue their traditional methods of shifting agriculture to the diminishing areas of natural forest. The 2nd world war, Indian independence, the process of state reformation in the 1950’s and internal state politics since 1957 transformed the High Ranges into a centre for landless migrants and wealthy land grabbers. They came, cleared the remaining forests and settled. Population density more than tripled, tribal groups retreated to scattered pockets and plantation style agriculture began a slow decline.

The Cardamom Hills came under the nominal control of Travancore state in 1755-1756 when Travancore conquered the small principality of Changanacheri. The hills rapidly became a source of government revenue. The Maharaja monopolized all the timber, and the Cardamom.(Lovatt,1972). In their survey of Travancore and Cochin states between 1816 and 1820, Lieutenants Ward and Connor found that disagreements over the collection of Cardamom has caused boundary disputes between Travancore and Cochin as early as 1808(Ward and Connor, 1827, P.42)