History of the Community

The agony and ecstasy of an exodus--Transformation of Shakthikulangara -


The story of the transformation of Shakthikulangara from being a sleepy hamlet to a prosperous township is a story of determination, incorrigible optimism, hard work and the indomitable spirit for survival coupled with the amazing grace of the Almighty.  The arrival of Norwegians to this forsaken place in the fifties of last century set the tone for the metamorphosis which could be a subject of study by social scientists.
The land mass that occupies the parish was not a natural choice for habitation as most of the place west of the present National Highway was a marshy stretch with a lot of coconut groves. The names like Erapoika ,Valavithoppu , Mattathoppu and Madammathoppu, chakittathoppugive us a glimpse of the geographic features  of the place. A transit walk through the land will enable us to re-capture the terrain of the land mass and theplight of the people who occupied this place. Stretches of marshy land with long line of coconut trees andpatches of filled up land mass with thatched huts –that was the Sakthikulangara of yester years. Access to potable water was a luxury. This was probably one of the deterrents for large scale migration to this area.. Fishing in canoes and coir making were the chief sources of income. People lived in huts or houses roofed with cadjan leaves.

In 1950s there were about 1065 houses in shakthikulangaracheri. There were about 500 canoes engaged in stake net ,castnet , drift net and purse seine net fishing  . According to a survey conducted by INP in early 1950s   density of population in Sakthikulangara was 10 per one acre of land, Of the population 43 % were children ,2.7 % people above 65 . Infant mortality rate was very high. In 1954 only 496 newborns out of 1000 survived. In 1957 the survival rate rose to 688. 1060 persons were engaged in fishing. The people suffered indifferent health due to malnutrition.

Doors for modernization were opened as early as 1930 when the Regent Maharani SethuLakshmibhai opened the Neenadakara bridge [14th June 1930] making the transport from Trivandrum to Alleppey easy.  It was Indo Norwegian Project  {INP} which was commissioned in 1953 and went up to 1963 that set the tone of modernization taking both Neenakara and Shakthikulangara to  the mainstream of organized development and to the international map of marine sea food processing and export. The thrust of the project was the modernization of fishing craft and gear with transfer of appropriate technology with the objective of increasing the production of marine wealth. With due research and trial and error the Norwegians ushered in mechanization to a group of fishermen used only to primitive fishing methods. The journey from introduction of out board engine fitted surf boats to big boats wasvery fast inviting investors to the field. Introduction of trawling methods was another breakthrough. Soon fish processing units and exporting firms sprang up changing the face of the place. Fr. Stephen Gomes who was the Vicar encouraged the people to take up the challenge of modernization. Along with the modernization a Norwegian medical team worked to boost the health status of people. It was as part of INP that safe drinking water came to this area making life safer.
With the setting up of full-fledged fishing harbors in both Needakara and Shakthikulangara mechanized fishing operation was highly professionalized. The introduction of the auctioning system createdfresh opportunities. Marine products processing went in for high sophistication and adoption of international standards.Fishing as a trade itself assumed a new dignity in par with other dignified trades. Meanwhile many pioneers in the field had to retreat from the field bringing in new entrepreneurs   to the arena. Shakthikulangara saw the rise and fall of many a stalwart as also the consolidation of trawlers, marine products processors and exporters and with new stars emerging in the horizon of sea food industry. Today the medium size boats have given place for mini ships with freezing facilities and capable of remaining in the sea for days together.

No community transcends its backwardness without educational development. It is seen that even in the midst of astute poverty some of the families ventured to impart English education to their children.  English Schools in Nagercoil  andTuticorin were the obvious choice for those who could afford.  Others opted for St .Aloysius School and Craven School. St. Joseph’s College in Tiruchirapally and St.Xavier’s College in Palayamkottai were chosen by some for college education. By 1940s and 50s St.Joseph’ School in Shakthikulangara took up the role of higher education for the faithful of this parish. No wonder some even took up the challenge to send their children to USA for education –something which no other parish could imagine. It was this thirst for education that paved the base for this sleepy hamlet to join the comity of civilized communities and produce people of eminence. Documentation in this regard is awaited.

With all the transformation at the fishing line the life style of the people saw sea changes. Huts gave way to bungalows and even mansions.  Exploration of opportunities both in other parts of the country and outside the country very especially in the Gulf Countries was a major breakthrough paving the way for finding fresh pastures. Mr. Silvester Alfred Fernandez is considered a pioneer in finding opportunities in the Gulf. Today there is a large number of Shakthikulangara people in all the Gulf Counties both as workers, andentrepreneurs. There are quite a few people running labour supply firms in Gulf Countries. Shakthikulangara people are now everywhere –USA ,Australia … We have a large diaspora with all its prospects and challenges. Paradigm shift from a state of total vulnerability and dependent work force to the adventurous status of investors was a long journey but so fast that social analysts are yet to study this social metamorphosis.

Increased social mobility gave way to a new generation of globally competitive investors and professionals capable of signing up and exploring new avenues in economic growth.  Along with economic growth the social capital of the community was enhanced beyond comprehension. .A new generation looking forward for higher education and finding a place in the emerging techno polis is springing up. The conflict between the latent secularization and the traditional belief {values} systems is evident. Struggle between traditional values and modernization is obvious waiting for an ultimate resolution. Tomorrow’s Shakthikulangara is no one’s guess. What can be stated without any hesitation is that this community has the internal reserve to survive in the face of shifting complex paradigms. What is awaited is the convergence of achievements to emerge as a creative force for transformation of social constructs and to meet the challenge to position itself as a model in social engineering with the tenacity to   respond to the dynamics of a fast changing world.

With all the transformation in the socio economic life of the people allegiance to the traditional faith and the Church remains a human constant with ample evidence of divine blessing. As everywhere else people here also know little about the world beyond their immediate perceptions and console themselves by filling in the gaps in the great journey that is life. But as a community that is ignited by faith and hope , the sacred, mystical, exotic and spiritual blend with the trajectories of mundane life.

The story of the transformation of Shakthikulangara is the story of an exodus, the agony and exodus of which has to be captured by the present generation. Exodus continues …. taking people to new pastures. Thanks be to God Almighty.