The Mendan (Mendon) is one of the bari lineages or surnames commonly found in Tulu communities of the Tulunadu/West Coast. Though the “Mendon” bari lineage is mainly distributed among Mogaveer and Sapaliga communities, other sister communities have allied bari names, such as “Menda” in Bunts. Infact the word Menda+an (≥ Mendon) is equivalent of the word Menda, since suffix –an is added in Old Tulu /Old Kannada to indicate a male person.
However, the Menda or Mendan surname/subcaste is not exclusive to Tulunadu. We find the Menda subcaste among Telugu speaking Velama Kshatriyas of Andha Pradesh/Telangana.
Menda villages in India
Once upon a time the Menda appear to have been distributed in many parts of the country as we can see in the distribution of some 27 village names that begin with Menda in different state such as Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharshtra, Meghalaya, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Uttara Khand. The Menda village names include Menda, Mendal Mendadi, Mendaki, Mendara, Mendaraka, Mendamal, Mendauli, Mendawali, Mendadi-konda, Mendan-kallur, Mendakwas, Mendarbahar, Menda-kheda, Mendangi, Mendabeda and Mendapalle etc.
It appears the Menda was an ancient tribal totem to begin with. The Menda in Pali/ Prakrit langauge means a ram.
In early cultures the ram appears to be a specially respected animal. As we find that the ram is the symbol of zodiac month of Aries or Mesha. Further the ram is considered an astral symbol of rulership. Aries is the first sign of the Zodiac, which signifies the ram-like attributes of leadership, authority, and other forefather-type characteristics.
Menda (Pali) =ram (intact male sheep). Menda/ Mendan: Totem of ram
Rams are male bighorn sheep, animals that live in the mountains and often settle arguments with fights that include ramming their heads into others. Not to be confused with mountain goats, rams can be identified by their long, curved horns; long fur; and split hooves.
The sheep (Ovis aries) is a quadrupedal, ruminant mammal typically kept and reared as livestock. An adult male sheep is called a ram and an adult female sheep is a ewe. Rams are intact male sheep used to breed ewes. Rams are often bigger, more muscular and have larger horns than ewes.
It is interesting that two versions of the bari lineage namely the Menda (among Bunts) and Mendan (among Mogaveers) exist in Tulunadu side by side. Since the ancient tribes were known to migrate from place to place in search of better pasture and living conditions, we can presume the two versions suggest two separate episodes of immigration into Tulunadu. There is a distinct possibility that the soldiers (kshatriya) from Tulunadu might have migrated to Telugu areas and settled or vice versa.
The retention of the Prakrit Pali name Menda probably also reflects the period of immigration of these tribes into Tulunadu. In Karnataka and Tulunadu it has been deduced that the Prakrit/Pali was the administraative language of the region in the early centuries of the Common Era probably upto 300 or 400 CE. The –an suffix in “Mendan” is a chacteristic of the Old Tulu/Old Kannada/Dravidian languages prevailing during the early centuries of the Common Era. These inferences may be useful in deducing the period of immigrantion of the tribes which can be fine tuned further based on other corroborative evidences.
African source of origin?
Geneological studies trace most of the tribes to an origin of ancient African homeland. It is interesting to note that ethnic groups named as Mende can be found among Mande tribes of African countries like Sierra Leone and Southern Province. One of the reference sources suggest that the African meaning of the term Mende is a warrior. Incidentally, it has certain parallelism with the term Pali term Menda which represents a ram an animal of warrior attitude.