Monday, October 08, 2012

Franks, Firinghi & Farangs

Yesterday, torn between two choices, I finally grabbed Christopher Hibbert's The Great Mutiny: India 1857 (Penguin 1980) for my latest train reading. I had been torn between Turkey (I promised a Parramatta Turkish restaurant family that I would begin a Turkish series) and India.

I had been half planning to go to Turkey next year if I could find some way of at least funding my trip through writing. This time two years ago I was in Athens. Since then with the exception of a weekend in New Zealand to watch Australia get thrashed by Ireland (Ireland celebrates in the Rugby, Random musings on family & New Zealand), I haven't been out of the country. Since then, various members of my family must have visited a dozen countries. Now eldest is going to North Africa later in the month. I feel kind of left out!

Turkey was and still is on my list for it would enable me to extend my knowledge of past and present to the east. However, finally my history interests took me still further east, to India. I actually know a fair bit about Indian history, but I now want to extend my knowledge working especially west. The blurb finally decide me. suggesting that it was all, really, a ripping yarn. And, indeed it is. However, what caught my eye and triggered this post was the the word Firinghi or, alternatively, Feringhee for European. Surely, I thought, that's a variation on the word Franks, and indeed it is. According to it is a "name used in India for "European," 1634, from Pers. Farangi, from Arabic Faranji (10c.), from O.Fr. Franc "Frank" + Arabic ethnicsuffix -i. The fr- sound is not possible in Arabic." 

Now why on earth would that interest me? Well, we forget how ideas and concepts travel. In the days of the Byzantine Empire, the term Franks was used to describe the Roman Catholic people and principalities coming from the eastern part of the European peninsular. From there, the term went into Arabic and well beyond. The Thai word Farang for European comes from the same source, with equivalent terms in Kymer and Malay.

It's a good example of the way that ideas flow, and that's one of the things that I am interested in.  Little did Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur (1483-1530), the founder of the Mughal Empire, know that those incoming Franks or Firinghi who arrived during his reign posed such a threat. How could he? They were a hell of a long way away, living on the outer periphery of the world he knew as educated man. In that sense, they didn't count in the geopolitics of the time.    


Rummuser said...

Firang or firangi is still used in India to denote any Westerner. All Mongol looking people, even Indians from the North East of the country are called Cheeni and all blacks are called Kaley. Kaalaa being the word in Hindi for black.

Firang is also used derogatorily to refer to an Indian who behaves like a Westerner!

Jim Belshaw said...

Some things don't change, Ramana, or change only slowly!