History of Malaysian Telugus: Economic Diversification and Job Specialization among Various Communities

Communities in Andhra Pradesh, just like in any other state in India, were organized along the lines of job specialization. Specialization helps more evolved economies to improve productivity, create surpluses and promote trade. Yes, specialization is not a new phenomenon. Many traditional economies around the world practiced community level specialization, with families passing down their trade to their next generation. Clans then developed around groups of families engaged in a common trade, and communal interaction, including marriages, always took place within one’s clan. In the 19th century, there were already a large number of communities in Andhra Pradesh specializing in non-agriculture primary sectors such as mining of gold and iron, fisheries, timber production and planting of cotton. The outputs from the primary sector fueled the growth of various post-harvest processing activities such as production of jaggery and sugar and production of flours (rice, millet and wheat) as well as other processing activities such as textile making, goldsmith and blacksmith trades and construction, including ship building. In comparison with the primary sector, the secondary processing segment remained relatively small in the state of Andhra Pradesh despite its relatively large population owing to a number of inherent factors. Firstly, a lot of processing activities were home-based – for example, people ground their own cereals and spices to be made into flours or powders. They raised their own livestock and made their own medicinal concoctions. Secondly, specialized processing activities were very labour intensive. It would take months to produce finished goods such as silk, jewelry or ironware. The processes leveraged traditional techniques and traditional tools. Although industrial revolution had begun transforming a large number of industries at that time across the European region, mass manufacturing techniques and use of steam and coal energy in processing activities was very limited in Andhra Pradesh. Lastly, processed outputs were relatively expensive and were the reserves of those who had the means to consume these goods. More importantly, goods produced during these times had a longer usage lifespan – ironware, goldware, silverware, woodwork, temples, houses and carts lasted over many generations which meant that demand for these products could only grow in tandem with the gradual growth in population. Some manufacturing activities however, such as ship building and repair works depended on export demand, namely from the foreign fleet crossing the Bay of Bengal, and demand in this segment grew tremendously during the 19th century as more Europeans companies ventured into the region. Occasional wars or conflicts in the state and neighbouring regions would also see some spikes in the making of artillery and traditional warfare items, but these were not part of the mainstay economy. Specialization is even more pronounced in Andhra Pradesh’s services sector at that time. Communities engaged in the services sector provided an array of highly specialized services that depended on skills handed down from one generation to another. The services sector involved the provision of services that do not involve the trade of goods, and which were provided on daily, weekly or monthly basis. Communities providing these services formed an integral part of the society in Andhra Pradesh and India at that time as they were highly depended upon for the sustainability of all communities and their own trades. The communities specializing in the services sector provided a wide range of services – from teaching of language and arts to services that were rendered to individuals and households from provision of laundry and grooming services, to services relating to upkeep of towns and public amenities. Overall, specialization was a key attribute of the Telugu society, as it was across all other states in India in the 19th century. With the impending waves of change, many of these specializations would metamorphosize into newer and more modern trades while some languished as modernization resulted in machines and corporations redefining how some of these goods and services are made and delivered. A very small niche of traditional economic activities remained unperturbed by the industrial revolution and influence of technology, and these are the evidence of the rich, diverse and highly evolved economic system that prevailed in Andhra Pradesh and India in the 19th century.   This article was first published here.

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