Thursday, January 13, 2005

Sri Lanka & the Sinhala People

SINHALADVIPA: The Island of the Sinhalese

The island of Sri Lanka, so called after the ancestors of the Sinhalese people, is natures generous gift to its people who have made it famous in history as "The Pear of the Orient". It is also the cradle of culture and civilization of the Sinhalese although the nation has been inhabited by Tamil, Muslim (traders of Arab origin), and the Colonial rulers of Portugal, Holland and England during its speckled history.

In ancient times many traders from the Middle East visited the island in search of gems,spices, ivory and peacocks. Mariners in distress at sea often sought the safe havens in the island. It's strategic location in the Indian Ocean first attracted invaders from South India and later from distant Europe as well. It was only the Arab traders who never attempted to colonize and capture the island during the long relationship with the indigenous people.

Lankadipa (island of Lanka) was known by several names from time to time. Some of them were, Thambapani, Sinhala-Dipa, Sinhaladvipa, Lanka, Lankadvipa, Ilam, Hsia-lan-shan, Palesimundu, Salica, Sarandib, Seilan, Seng-kia-la, Serendib, Seyllan, Sieladiba, Silan, Si-lan, Sigaldib, Sinhala, Sirandib, Sylen, Taprobana, and Taprobane.

The geogrpahical location of the island is lattitude 5.55 to 9.51 north and longtitude 79.41 to 81.53 east. The breadth of the island is 140 miles (east-west) and its length is 270 miles (north-south). Its area is 25,332 square miles (65,585 sq. km.). The average temperature of the island varies from Colombo 86 F (30C) to Nuwara Eliya 51.3 F (10.8C) in the tea-growing mountain central region. The rainfall varies from 5,459mm to 96 mm in Mannar.

As one travels by car from Colombo to the highlands of Kandy & Nuwara Eliya, 5000 feet above sea level, one sees the surface of the plains and hills painted with sketches of green and golden rice fields alternating with coconut, rubber and tea plantations. The hill country is cultivated by gushing streams that are fed by gurgling waterfalls cascading silvery stream of water all the way to the sea.

The geological structure of the island consists of Archaean, Jurassic, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and recent residual and alluvial deposits. The Miocene rocks may be seen under the peninsula of Jaffna and Minihagalkanda. The Tabbowa beds contain the development of rocks of the Jurassic age. The ancient crystalline rocks of Lanka are designated as Archaean and these are the most primitive rocks of the earths history.

The ancient people of Sri Lanka carried out iron industries. The material remains discovered from ancient sites confirm this. Certain legends mention hilly districts of Nuwara Eliya as iron smelting areas. Sites of ancient furnaces have also been found. Salt was also one of the ancient industries found within the island. Ancient routes were employed for transporting the salt from the sea coast into the hill country. Graphite, commonly called Plumbago, was also known from early times. Mining for gems continued from early times and Sri Lanka earned a very respectable reputation for precious and semi precious stones.

The highest mountain peak in the island is Pidurutalagala which is 8,292 feet above sea level. Other high peaks are Kirigalpotta 7,857 feet, Kolapatanahela 7,754 feet, Totapola 7,741 feet, and Samanala 7,300 feet. A series of isolated ridges like Gunner's Quoin (Dimbulagala), Westminister Abbey (Govinda Hela) and Bible Rock (Buthgala) rise in fortress like masses. The rock fortress of Sigiriya and the stretch of rocks at Dambulla, Dimbulagala, and the mass at Moneragala are among the best known. Another remarkable phenomenon appears in the region of Kurunegala. Here the summit of the long ridge of rock assumes shapes of elephant (atagala) and tortoise (ibbagala).

A number of hot water springs, that have earned a reputation for their curative value, are found in the Esatern and Southern Provinces as well as in the North at Keerimalai. The more famous of them are Kanniyai (near Trincomalee), Unavatura Bubula in the former Veddah country and near Tangalla and Hambantota.

The island is totally free from any volcanic activity. It'sposition in the Indian Ocean and its mineral wealth attracted entrepreneurs to visit the island in search of rare commodities. The islands sandy beaches bordering placid oceans of clear blue waters tempt present day visitors and tourists to seek fun and pleasure by basking in the tropical sunshine throughout the year.

Monsoon rains fall during the two seasons, viz South West Monsoon from May to September and the North East Monsoon from October to November to benefit the hill country with rain in abundance. The island receives a maximum rainfall of 5,459mm at Watawala and a minimum of 966mm at Mannar.

"Sinharaja Adaviya", a narrow strip stretching for 30 miles and lying in the wet zone of the Sabaragamuwa Province still remains as the sole surviving virgin tropical rain forest in Sri Lanka. Its ecology and beauty are greatly admired by lovers of flora and fauna. However, illicit timber felling is gradually denuding the irreplacable wealth of several plant species and animal life within destroying the forest slowly but surely.

The largest of the rivers within the island are the Mahaweli flowing eastwards, Kala Oya, Kelani Ganga and Kalu Ganga flowing westwards, and Walawe Ganga and Kirinda Oya flowing south. Their sparkling waters of silvery hue cascade down the valleys creating roaering waterfalls of enchanting beauty. The most picturesque of them are Diyaluma Falls (560 feet), Lakshapana Falls (377 feet), Aberdeen Falls (296 feet), Devon Falls (281 feet), and Dunhinda Falls (190 feet).

During ancient pre0historic times men roamed the jungles and lived in the rock caves during the wet weather. Ancient chronicles and stories mention Yakkhas, Rakhshasas, Nagas, and Nittewas having lived in those times. The only tribe that has survived until recent times is that of the Veddhas. The island was inhabited by these groups in the 6th century BC.

Sri Lanka possesses a variety of precious stones, gemstones,and other minerals. Beryl, Sapphire, Rubies, Amethyst, Topaz, Corrundum, Chrysoberyl, Tourmaline, Garnet, Zircon, Quartz, Felspar & Pearls are some of them. The gem bearing regions are found in the Sabaragamuwa, Kaluganga valley, Nuwara Eliya Plains and Maskeliya.

The ancient Kings built magnificent palaces, stupendous Dagobas, sculptured Buddha Statues and executed beautiful paintings of lasting value. Most of these artifacts and paintings suffered at the hands of marauding invaders from South India from time to time. The irrigation systems developed and designed by them, for the purpose of supporting agriculture and cultivation, were unsurpassed internationally during their time.

In ancient times the island was divided into three main areas, viz; PIHITIRATA (Rajarata), MAYARATA and RUIHUNURATA. In course of time, for convenience of administration and management, the old divisions came to be replaced by Provinces as follows:-

Province Capital City
Western Province Sri Jayawardhanapura (previously was Colombo)
Central Province Kandy
Southern Province Galle
Northern Province Jaffna
Eastern Province Trincomalee
North-Western Province Kurunegala
North-Central Ptrovince Anuradhapura
Uva Province Badulla
Sabaragamuwa Province Ratnapura


The Indo-Aryan people entered India somewhere about 1500BC from the North West and in course of time spread along the Indus and Ganges valleys. Having settled down the newcomers advanced rapidly and developed a typical culture and civilization. It is said that a group of persons belonging to the same Indo-Aryan stock arrived in Lanka and came to be known as the Sinhalese.

It must be clearly understood that the Sinhalese were not the indigenous aborigininal people of the island. The aboriginal inhabitants were called Yakkhas, Rakhshasas, and Nagas. Their racial identity remains to be settled for certain. Recent research and investigations have given rise to the possible theory that the Nagas may have been African-Arabs originating from Pharaonic Egypt who worshipped the asp thus earning the racial title of "NAGA" which means snake.

It is now generally agreed that Sinhala is one of the Indo-Aryan vernaculars like Marathi, Bengali and Hindi etc. What is not one hunbdred percent certain is the kingdom, East or West, from where they originated. There is a school of thought that believes that Vijaya and his followers left the Kingdom of Sinhapura in the east and traveled overland to the ports on the west coast which were known trading centers at that time.

Vijaya and his followers arrived safely in Sri Lanka. Local inhabitants showed some resistance at first. This was quite natural. Having overcome them the newcomers decided to settle down. Vijaya's ministers founded new villages and established a new kingdom.

The closest Aryan Kingdom was that of King Pandu and communication existed between the two. Messengers were sent to him with a letter to send the daughters of the King, maidens for the Ministers and a thousand families belonging to the 18 guilds. All of them arrived at the landing place known as Mahatittha. Thus, Vijaya established the royal dynasty in the new Kingdom of Lanka.

As Vijaya had no issue to succeed him he turned to his family and relatives in Sinhapura for help. His brother, Sumitta, who had succeeded his father as King sent Prince Panduvasudeva was sent along with 32 sons of Ministers. A Sakyan Princess named Bhaddakacca, the youngest daughter of Sakka Pandu, was also sent in the company of women friends. Vijaya pased away before the arrival of Panduvasudeva.

Panduvasudeva was crowned King of Lanka and Princess Bhaddakacca his Queen. Close links were established with the mother country and the newcomers began to develop and prosper. The cultural, social, and religious links with the eastern and central kingdoms of India provided the necessary assistance.

The Aryan Sakyan influence and way of life exerted the strongest psychological urge to folow Hindu practices both in spirit and action. The social structure was based on the Hindu family unit. Dharmasastras continued to direct all thinking, behaviour, and ceremonies. The customs and ceremonies observed at critical stages of persons from birth to death were strictly adhered to as was done by the Sakyan kinsmen in their motherland.

The family was recognized as the central unit of the social organization. Of course this family included a wider circle of closer relatives. father, mother, children, grand-parents, grand children, uncles and aunts formed the extended family circle at that time. The elders preserved the traditions and these were transmitted in family succession according to the rituals and religious beliefs. Tree spirits and nature deities were greatly respected, honored, and worshipped.

The Sinhalese adopted "Sihala Bhasa", a popular form of Indo-Aryan language. Agriculture formed the main source of food supply. Large tanks were built to store water to irrigate the rice fields. The vigorous activities of the newcomers in a new land helped the Sinhalese to develop at an alarming speed. Thus within a period of a little over 100 years the Sinhalese.

They occupied the Island as a single ethnic community for well nigh 700 years. In the 3rd century BC the Sinhala population embraced Buddhism and the entire population continued to live as Buddhists for nearly 1,000 years. Thereafter foreign ethnic elements began to arrive in the Island and some settled down as traders. Remnants of Chola armies were allowed to remain. Foreign Colonial powers left some of their people before they left also leaving behind a few Africans and Malays. The British imprted South Indian Tamils to supply cheap labor to the plantation industry in the central region.

Each of these ethnic groups brought with them their own language, religion and culture. The Moors introduced Islam, the Tamils brought back Hinduism, the Portuguese introduced Roman Catholicism, the Dutch brought the Presbyterian Christianity, and the British the Anglican Christian religion. Many poor Sinhalese and Tamils were converted to Catholicism and the other sects of Christianity in return for money, housing and education that the Missionaries freely distributed as a means to attract them. Some conversions took place from amongst the elite Sinhalese families too and these were mainly for political gain and special status within the Colonial regimes.

The Sri Lankan Tamils

Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, island republic in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of India, is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. Sri Lanka is separated from India by the Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar. Lying between the two nations is a chain of tiny islands known as Adam's Bridge. Sri Lanka is somewhat pear-shaped, with its apex in the north. The greatest length from north to south is about 440 km (about 273 mi); the greatest width is about 220 km (about 137 mi). The total area of Sri Lanka is 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq mi). The administrative capital of Sri Lanka is Sri Jayawardhanapura (Kotte); and Colombo is the largest city.

According to Hindu legend the greater part of Sri Lanka was conquered in prehistoric times by Ramachandra, the seventh incarnation of the supreme deity Vishnu. The written history of the country begins with the chronicle known as the Mahavamsa. This work was started in the 6th century AD and provides a virtually unbroken narrative up to 1815. The Mahavamsa was compiled by a succession of Buddhist monks. Because it often aims to glorify or to degrade certain periods or reigns, it is not a wholly reliable source despite its wealth of historical material.
The Mahavamsa relates that the island was conquered in 504 BC by Vijaya, a Hindu prince from northeast India. After subjugating the aboriginal inhabitants, a people now known as Veddas, Vijaya married a native princess, encouraged emigration from the mainland, and made himself ruler of the entire island. However, the realm (called Sinhala after Vijaya's patrimonial name) that was inherited by his successors consisted of the arid region lying to the north of the south-central mountain system.

Members of the dynasty founded by Vijaya reigned over Sinhala for several centuries. During this period, and particularly after the adoption in the 3rd century BC of Buddhism as the national religion, the Sinhalese created a highly developed civilization. Extant evidence of their engineering skill and architectural achievements includes remnants of vast irrigation projects, many ruined cities, notably the ancient capital Anuradhapura, and numerous ruined shrines called dagobas.

Foreign Control
The Cholas , were a Tamil-speaking people of south India, founders of a dynasty that dominated the area from the 10th to the 13th century. The Chola Kingdom, in what is now Tamil Nadu State, probably existed as early as the 1st century AD, but its prominence dates from the mid-9th century, when it began conquering neighboring territories. Rajendra I (reigned 1016-44), the greatest of the Chola kings, ruled Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Sri Lanka. He campaigned as far north as the Ganges River and sent naval expeditions to Burma and the Malay Peninsula. Kulottunga I (reigned 1070-1122) united the Chola domains with those of the Eastern Chalukyas in Andhra Pradesh, forming the Chalukya-Chola dynasty. It declined after 1200, finally dying out in 1279.

From the late 3rd century AD to the middle of the 12th century, Sinhala (Ceylon) was dominated by Tamil kings and by a succession of invaders from southern India. Native princes regained power briefly in the late 12th century and again in the 13th century. From 1408 to 1438 Chinese forces occupied the island of Sinhala, which had been partitioned into a number of petty kingdoms.

The Tamils
Tamil speakers make up the majority of the population of Tamil Nadu state and also inhabit parts of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh states, all situated in the southernmost third of India. Emigrant Tamil may be found in some parts of the Malagasy Republic, the Malay Peninsula, Myanmar (Burma), Indochina, Thailand, eastern Africa, South Africa, the Fiji and Mauritius islands, and the West Indies.

The Tamil area in India is a centre of traditional Hinduism. Tamil schools of personal religious devotion (bhakti) have long been important in Hinduism, being enshrined in a literature dating back to the 6th century AD. Buddhism and Jainism were widespread among the Tamil in the early Christian era, and these religions' literatures predate the early bhakti literature in the Tamil area. Although the present-day Tamil are mostly Hindus, there are Christians, Muslims, and Jains among them. In the recent past, the Tamil area was also the home of the Dravidian movement that calls for the desanskritization and debrahmanization of

Tamil culture, language, and literature.
The Tamil have a long history of achievement; sea travel, city life, and commerce seem to have developed early among them. Tamil trade with the ancient Greeks and Romans is verified by literary, linguistic, and archaeological evidence. The Tamil have the oldest cultivated Dravidian language, and their rich literary tradition extends back to the early Christian era.

The Chera, Chola, Pandya, and Pallava dynasties ruled over the Tamil area before the Vijayanagar empire extended its hegemony in the 14th century, and these earlier dynasties produced many great kingdoms. Under them the Tamil people built great temples, irrigation tanks, dams, and roads, and they played an important role in the transmission of Indian culture to Southeast Asia.

The Chola, for example, were known for their naval power and brought the Malay kingdom of Sri Vijaya under their suzerainty in AD 1025. Though the Tamil area was integrated culturally with the rest of India for a long time, politically it was for most of the time a separate entity until the advent of British rule in India.

The Sri Lankan Tamils
The Tamil in Sri Lanka today are of various groups and castes, and belong mostly to the Hindu religion. The Ceylon Tamil, constituting approximately half of them, are concentrated in the northern part of the island. They are relatively well-educated, and many of them hold clerical and professional positions. The so-called Indian Tamil of Sri Lanka were brought there by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries as workers on the tea estates, and they have been regarded as foreigners by the other ethnic groups. The Ceylon and Indian Tamil are organized under different caste systems and have little social intercourse with each other.

Ethnic, religious, and linguistic distinctions in Sri Lanka are essentially the same. Three ethnic groups--Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim--make up more than 99 percent of the country's population, with Sinhalese alone accounting for nearly three-fourths of the people. Tamil segment comprises two groups, viz; Sri Lankan Tamils (long-settled descendants from southeastern India) and Indian Tamils (recent immigrants from southeastern India, most of whom were migrant workers brought to Sri Lanka under British rule). Slightly more than one-eighth of the total population belongs to the former group. (immigrants from western India), and Veddas (regarded as the aboriginal inhabitants of the country) total less than 1 percent of the population.

The Sinhalese constitute the majority in the southern, western, central, and north-central parts of the country. In the rural areas of the Wet Zone lowlands, they account for more than 95 percent of the population. The foremost concentration of the Sri Lankan Tamils lies in Jaffna Peninsula and in the adjacent districts of the northern lowlands. Smaller agglomerations of this group are also found along the eastern littoral where their settlements are juxtaposed with those of the Muslims.

The Indian Tamils, the vast majority of whom are plantation workers, live in large numbers in the higher areas of the Central Highlands.

While the mother tongue of the Sinhalese is Sinhala--an Indo-Aryan language--the Tamils speak the Dravidian language Tamil.

Jaffna, in the North of the Island has always been the region of Tamil majority and used to be the capital of the ancient Tamil kingdoms. The social organization which evolved in this peninsular is very much akin to the Tamil districts of South India. The landowning cultivators, or Vellala, were the pivot of the social structure and also the holders of political and economic power. A number of lesser castes stood in varying degrees of service relationships to the Vellala. Hindu institutions were supported by the king and the people and were strengthened by the influx of Brahmans. Brahmanic temples sprang up in many parts of Jaffna and rituals and public worship were regularly held. The Tamil language struck firm roots in the island and became one of its indigenous lenguages. Tamil literary culture was fostered by the support of the Jaffna Kings and was enriched by the constant contact with South India, yet it developed an individuality in idiom and speech and acquired some linguistic characteristics that distinguished it from its South Indian parent.

Twelve (12) social levels of Tamils in the North.are given as follows:-
Vellalas - the land owners, cultivatorsMadapallies - who were meant to be the 'bastards' or royal descent.
Karayars - the fishermanChiviars - who were meant to be palanquin bearers i think.
Kusavers - pottery makers.Vannan - the washer people.Kammalars - who were blacksmiths
Koviars - domestic servants who had Sinhalese-origin
Thanakararas - who were apparantly elephant keepersNavalars - coconut pluckers
Chetties - the merchants/business/tradesmen
Kaikulars - who were weavers.

The influence of Hinduism has given rise to many famous temples, viz; Thiruketheeswaran in Mannar, Koneswaran in Trincomalee, and Munneswaram in Chilaw. Hindu's celebrate Thai Pongal, Maha Sivarathri, Deepawali, and Hindu New Year, as specuial festive occasions. Fridays are venerated as special holy days and they attend special services at the Temples. Customs of marriage and other social events differ amongst the Tamils based on whether they are Hindus or converted Christians.

The Tamils have contributed to the welfare of the country from time immemorial and many famous Tamil scholars, professionals, and businessmen, have been involved in the struggle for freedom from the Colonial powers. Many Tamils have also held esteemed office in the Legislative assembly and other high political altars, both under foreign colonial rule and even after the granting of independence.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Moors of Ceylon

The factual evidence of the origin of one of Ceylon’s minority communities, The Ceylon Moors, is very little known. It has been suggested that the expression came into being in much the same manner that the early European historians and writers applied the name, Gentoo, meaning Gentile, to all the inhabitants of Southern India without distinction.

In its present form, the word “Moor” is traced through the Spanish Moro and the Portuguese Mouro, either to the Mauri, the ancient inhabitants of Mauretari, now known as Morocco, or as Tennent, the famous historian of Ceylon suggests, to Maghrib (Morocco).

The Ceylon Moors do not lay any claim to, possible, African origin, just as much as they, rightfully, resent the suggestion that they are of Dravidian (Tamil) extract. It is not that they feel any discredit or insult attached to being classified as Tamils, but being of Arab descent, they take a natural pride in tracing their ancestry to a race of people who were, in their day, the pioneers of civilization in the East. More than this, it must be remembered that the Moors of Ceylon are Muslims without exception and being attached to the race to whom Islam was first revealed is certainly a status of great pride and distinction.

The beginnings of Arab settlement in Ceylon appear to be shrouded in oblivion. With the exception of the fragmentary relics of the distant past scattered over a period of many centuries, the story of the present day Moors, who are the descendants off these settlers, has remained unrecorded.

However meager the material available, there is sufficient evidence to show, to the unprejudiced mind, that the Ceylon Moors had their origin from among the Arab traders and settlers of old who traveled across the seas in search of trade and barter during the earliest times of the history of Ceylon.

It has been recorded that the early Arab traders, who visited Ceylon, settled in the coastal belt of Ceylon concentrating mainly in the South Western towns of Puttalam, Beruwela and the Southern ports of Galle, Matara, and even Hambantota.

Although Nevill gives the date of the domination of Kalah (the Southern port of Galle) by the Maharajahs of Zabedj as 100 B.C. O 700 A.D. he adds:

“The truth, however, is that there were Arabs in Ceylon ages before the earliest date in these conjectures.”

The “conjectures” occur in a foot note on page 607 of Tennent’s History of Ceylon and read as follows”

“Mounstuart Elphinstone, on the authority of Agatha cides (as quoted by Diodorus and Photius) says, that from all that appears in that author, we should conclude that two centuries before the Christian Era the trade between India and the ports of Sabaea was entirely in the hands of Arabs.”

Nevill goes on to say:

“The whole north-west coast and Jaffna has from the most ancient times been peopled by the Tamils and the Moors, thus accounting for the districts being under the Maharajahs of Zabedj, who extended their empire and ruled the Malay Islands, Kalah and Travancore.”

This establishes beyond doubt the connections of Arabia with Ceylon over two thousand years ago.

Sulaiman, an Arab trader and explorer, recounts his visit to Ceylon in 850 A.D. and mentions a pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak. One cannot think of an Arabian, ignorant of the language of the indigenous inhabitants of a country, unlike its people in every respect in regard to habits, customs, diet and observances, undertaking a long and perilous journey into the heart of an unknown country. This surely suggests that the Arabs had been in the country some time already, that they were known to the original inhabitants of Ceylon and wielded influence and were therefore permitted to travel far into the interior in safety and comfort.

Fifty years later, in the year 900 A.D. we hear of another Arab, named Abou Zaid, who supports the stories of Cosmas and Sulaiman and describes the still flourishing port of Kalah (Galle). Zaid’s narrations are based on the experiences of other travelers, one of whom was Ibn Wahab who included “Serendib” in his travels. Wahab like his predecessors made careful observations and collected much information regarding ancient Lanka for he is able to tell us that the Maya Rata or “Pepper Country”, one of the three oldest divisions of Ceylon, was situated between Kalah (Galle) on the coast and the Ruhuna Rata in the South East.

With no devastating wars, no politics and no intrigues, the Moors were able to concentrate their attentions on the accumulation of wealth alone. Meanwhile, the Tamils of the North made an occasional invasion into the territory of the Sinhalese Kings, only to be massacred and driven back later. This state of affairs continued, till in the Thirteenth Century, the Moors were in the zenith of their power. Trade had expanded on every hand and business flourished. Their influence increased proportionately and their Buddhist neighbours were beginning to receive them with cordiality and recognise the avowal and free performance of their religious rites.

The thriftless Sinhalese petty-trader and the improvident garden cultivator were disposed to overlook the Moorman’s sharp, bargain-making proclivities so long as the former realized that there was something to be gained by such forbearance on their part. For one thing, there was always the possibility of obtaining ready money from the Mussalman in an awkward and trying moment; the one against his crop of arecanuts or cinnamon the other in the form of a loan-of course at remunerative interest-when his rice-crop failed. As for the wealthier classes of Sinhalese feudal chiefs of the interior, they were satisfied to receive their supplies of salt from the coast and such luxuries articles of daily use which the Moors imported from abroad.

It was beneficial for both parties to live in peace, and this form of relationship was permitted to continue inndefinitely, since there was no clash of interests, the Sinhalese never having been a sea-faring race. The activities of the latter were confined to the mountain fastnesses, where they hatched their plots and schemed their intrigues. It was the northerners whom the Sinhalese had to prepare against, in the event of an inroad into their preserves in the North-Central Province, whilst the Moor made his profits and battened on the produce of the land.

The Moors of the Fourteenth Century, like their descendants of the present day, never missed the opportunity of driving a shrewd bargain. Where a Sinhalese country yokel still turned over a proposition in his mind, the Moorman saw at a glance, with the traditional instinct of his race, the business possibilities of an offer of any kind. The following historical incident which is related by Johnstone, besides illustrating this trait in their national character, throws some light on an obscure point in regard to the history of that community of the Sinhalese people who belong to the Salagama caste.

Up to the Fourteenth Century, the Sinhalese were not familiar with the art of spinning and the weaving of cloth. Of course, there were the primitive hand-loom and distaff, but the best articles produced locally were inferior in quality and coarse in texture, as insufficient to meet the wants of the whole population. Accordingly, they had to depend on India for their clothing.

Whilst things were in this state, a certain Sinhalese King issued proclamations offering handsome rewards to any person who would go over to India and bring some skilled artisans for the purpose of introducing the art of the manufacture of cloth in to Ceylon. About this time, a Moorman of Beruwella, in the Kalutara District-to the strong hold of the Moors and the Salagama people, respectively,-induced by the tempting offers made the voyage across Palk’s Strait and brought with him a bath of eight weavers of the Salagama caste, from a place call Saliapatanam.

There is a tradition that the eight persons referred to were drugged and bound and taken on board and that they only realised that were being transported to a foreign country when they had been many miles out at sea. It is stated that two of the victims rather than being the subjects of such deception, jumped overboard and were never heard of again.

According to others, these founders of the cloth-making industry in Ceylon were inveigled to the ship on the pretext that there was to have been an excellent opportunity of making a fortune by taking part in a particular game of chance which had been arranged, and that the vessel noiselessly slipped its moorings and sailed away whilst play was in progress.

However the case many have been, the weavers were accorded a cordial welcome upon their arrival in Ceylon. In due course they were presented to the King who treated them with every kindness in order to induce them to commence practising their craft locally. They were at the instance of the Court, married to women of distinction and given houses and lands. A manufactory was established for them in the vicinity of the Royal Palace and the highest honours were conferred on their chief. Amongst other things they were allowed the privilege of travelling in palanquins and were permitted to wear a gold chain on certain occasion.

By such methods as this, the Moors ingratiated themselves into Royal favour. This obtained for them a larger measure of indulgence which they in turn utilized in exercising their power to the fullest within their territory along the sea coast.

Prominent among the Moors of that period was Ibrahim, “the ship captain,” who entertained Batuta and his party at his mansion at Galle. The same historian in his referrence to Colombo, which he describes as “one of the largest and finest cities of Serendib” mentions “the Vizier, prince of the sea, named Djalesty” who had about five hundred Abyssinians.”

According to local legend, Djalesty was a petty sultan and had a band of powerful Moors and Africans who were alike valiant tighters on land with the scimitar, as they were pirates and plunderers, familiar with every creek and jungle fastness along the coast of Colombo. It is said that he lived in state, with all the pomp of a minor ruling potentate on an elevated headland overlooking the sea. A place called Rasamunakanda, in Mattkkuliya, in the north of Colombo is pointed out as the spot where he had his little fortress concealed behind the huge trees of the neighbouring hills. From this coign of vantage, the arch-pirate could spy an approaching merchant ship and his band of brigands always would be ready to swoop down in their small craft under cover of darkness and plunder the unsuspecting stranger.

It would appear that Djalesty is the individual referred to by John de Marignolli who was driven to Ceylon by adverse winds in the May of 1350 A.D. Marignolli, however, gives him another name. He states that he met a certain tyrant name Koya Jaan, “a enuch who had the mastery in opposition of the greater part of the kingdom. Marignolli must have been a Roman Catholic. His bitterness against the “accused Saracen” is easily explained, for he makes no secret of it that this sultan “in the politest manner” robbed him of the valuable gifts which he was taking to Europe, to the Pope.

When the early merchant sailors returned home to Arabia with ship-loads of rich merchandise, they undoubtedly spread the news of the productiveness of Ceylon and its natural beauties. The accounts of its wealth and the prospect of amassing fortunes attracted other adventurous spirits and yet other merchants followed in the trail of their sea-faring predecessors. In this manner many of their countrymen came to Ceylon, until in the course of time there was a small colony of Arabs in this country. Amongst those who made Ceylon their home was Hashim and his family who are mentioned by Denham in his census of Ceylon. Hashim arrived some time in the seventh or the ninth century according to this authority. It is said that Hashim was accompanied by his family and although the case is an isolated one, it is proof of the fact that there have been Arab women too in Ceylon at one period.

Denham’s story of this foundation of an Arab colony in Ceylon is supported by Johnstone who states that the Moors first permanently settled in the island in the Eighth Century, that they were of the house of Hashim and that they were driven from Arabia by the tyranny of the Caliph, Abdul Melak Ben Merwen.

The inauguration of a colony in this manner is not without parallel in history. There is a striking similarity between this incident and that of the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers inn America by the “Mayflower” in December. 1620. Like Hashim the heroes of the “Mayflower” left their home country for reasons of freedom and liberty; the one owing to religious persecution and the other owing to political intolerence, for we are left to infer that Hashim’s political creed was a danger to the tranquility of his country.

Had circumstances permitted the early Moors to continue indefinitely in the position which they held in Ceylon, it is possible that the subsequent history of this country would have been totally different. However, the appearance of Vasco da Gama in the East changed the trend of events completely. In 1498, the Portuguese navigator struck land at Calicut in South India, and this brings us to modern history. European dreams of colonial expansion had begun to materialise and when it had come to the day of navigators of the type of Columbus, Arab sea-power crumbled and disappeared.

The first Western nation to whom the Arabs had to yield pride of place as sailors was the Portuguese. With Arabia’s decline in naval importance, her foreign trade collapsed, and as a natural sequence the business of the local Moorish merchants suffered. Arab vessels ceased to call as frequently as before. Occasionally a fugitive pirate would show its sails on the dim horizon and disappear again in the distance. Those Arabs who had made Ceylon their home, with their children and grand children found themselves cut off from communication with Arabia, but their descendants have retained the religion and observances of their ancestors to the present day with that inward conservation which is a racial habit.

Under the altered circumstances, the less affluent Moors were driven to the land for a living. Many of them, nevertheless, continued to carry on a trade with South Indian ports in cinnamon and arecanuts. For this purpose they had to rely on the small coasting vessels or Champans (boats) and when opportunity offered, musk, cloth and brass were imported by them from the neighbouring continent. In the course of time, the Moors succeeded in establishing a fair trade with the Portuguese and later with the Dutch in regard to whom the Moor was the middleman. Those of them who had not the necessary capital to engage in export trade with India became pedlars and hawkers whilst a few made large profits through the exploitation of the salt pans on the Western and Southern sea-board. For many years afterwards, almost the entire inland trade in salt had been in the hands of the Moors. Just as their ancestors transported their merchandise overland by camel caravan, the local Moor in those days of difficult communication conveyed their salt from the coast to the Sinhalese Capital and other interior towns by means of the Tavalama or pack-bulls.

The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Aisatic Society, Vol:II, Part II, 1853, describes the Moors of the Chilaw and Puttalam districts as follows:

“They carry on a very extensive trade in rice, salt, indigo, chanks, cheya, etc. and by making advances to the natives for the purpose of repairing their tanks, were the means of keeping the northern part of the island inn a very prosperous condition. They are the most industrious class; they are traders, boutique-keepers, master-fishers, etc. They also deal largely in cattle and are frequent purchasers of Government taxes…They are for the most part confined to the immediate neighborhood of the sea; there are however Moor villages scattered about the interior……”

In reference to the civil rights of the Moors; it would appear that as early as 1804 they had so succeeded in enlisting the sympathy of the Britisher that a resolution was passed on the 5th August, publishing a code of Mohamedan Laws which were observed by the Moors residing in the area known as the Province of Colombo. It will be noticed that whilst the Portuguese and Dutch did everything that was possible to disregard the rights of the subjects of this history and wantonly wound their susceptibilities, the diplomatic Englishman took them under his sheltering protection, with that characteristic solicitude for subject races which distinguishes British rule in the most distant out-posts of Empire. Government’s attitude towards the Moors who were only a minority community even in those days could not have failed to impress the Sinhalese themselves who in thee territory of their own kings were not infrequently made the instruments of arrogant chiefs and intriguing ministers of the Royal Court.

The next outstanding event relative to the Moors of those pioneering days of British colonisation in Ceylon was the incident of 1814. In the November of that year, ten Moorish cloth merchants from the Coast who had gone into the interior for purposes of trade and barter were seized and punished on the orders of the Sinhalese King. They were so horribly mutilated and dismembered, that seven of them died on the spot. The three survivors managed to escape to Colombo, where their blood-curdling tales of the torture inflicted on them provoked the anger of the authorities. The Governor at the time, General Brownigg, considered the treatment meted to the Moors who were British subjects as an acts of aggression, and Major Hook immediately took the field and advanced as far as Hanwella. It is supposed that it was the commencement of hostilities on this occasion really that terminated in the overthrow of the Sinhalese kingdom and the annexation of the Kandyan Country. However, although the brutal massacre of the Moorish merchants is regarded by some as one of the immediate causes of the last Kandyan War, it is well known that there were numerous other contributory factors, the chief of which may be regarded as the long desire of the Britishers to be absolute masters of the whole of Ceylon. The Moors, of course, regarded the injury done to their kinsmen as the primary casus belli, and it is a noteworthy fact that whilst there have been a few petty insurrections on the part of the Sinhalese, since British conquest, the Moors, to the present day have remained loyal to the Union Jack.

It is about this time that Ceylon Moors were for the first time appointed to native ranks. One of the earliest of these was Hadjee off “Velassy” the distinguished, though little known Moor. A more popular individual was Uduman Lebbe Marikar Sheik Abdul Cader, the grandfather of the late I.L.M.Abdul Azeez, who in his day was a prominent member of the Moorish Community. “Sekady Marikar” by which name he was better known was appointed Head Moorman of Colombo by Sir Robert Brownigg, on June 10th, 1818. Several other appointments followed soon afterwards and the Moors were not only made chiefss in different parts of the maritime Provinces, but they were also admitted into the Public Service. The names of some of these with the offices which they held are to be found in the “Ceylon Calendar” of 1824 which was an official publication, published in book form those days. These names are mentioned here as indicating the status of the Moors a hundred years ago.

Head Moorman of Colombo, Uduman Lebbe Marikar Sheik Abdul Cader, Interpreter to the agent at Tamankaduwa, Mr. John Downing; Cader Shahib Marikar, Kariaper, or Head Moorman over the Temple at Welasse, Neina Marikar, Head Marikar of the Moormen in the jurisdiction of Tricomalie; Cader Sahib Marikar, Head Moorman under the collector of Galle; Pakir Mohadien Bawa Saya Lebbe Marikar and Samsi Lebbe Ali Assen, Head Moomen of Gindura; Slema Lebbe Samsy Lebbe, Head Moomman of Matara; Sekadi Marikar Sekadi Lebbe Marikar, Head Moorman of Weligama; Kasi Lebbe Sinne Lebbe Marikar, Head Moorman under the Collectors of Chilaw; Omer Marikar Sego Lebbe Marikar, Head Moorman of Puttalam; Neina Lebbe Bawa Marikar, Head Moorman of Kalpentyn; Sinna Tamby, Clerk and Storekeeper to the Deputy Assitant Commissary pf Hambantota; S.A.L.Munsoor Sahiboo, Storekeeper to the Assistant Commissary at Badulla.

In March, 1825, Sir Edward Barnes, Governor of Ceylon, appointed the first Moorish Notary Public, “Sekady Marikar,” “for the purpose of drawing and attesting deeds to be executed by females of the Mussalman religion.” The fact that there was not a single Moorish lawyer in the island in 1825 and that the community is today represented in all the learned professions and has two elected representatives in the Legislative Council, indicates the advancement of this section of the population during the intervening period of a hundred years. Again, it is worthy of note, that the Moors who had not one among their number in 1825 who was capable of holding a brief before even the Minor Courts of Justice, in the year 1904 weilded such influence as to be able to insist on the rights of their lawyers to appear in their Fez-caps before “My Lords.”

The regime of Sir Wlimot Horton, 1831-1837 which is notable for the establishment of the Legislative Council, the running of the “First Mail Coach in Asia,” the abolition of compulsory labour and the publication of the first news paper in Ceylon, also saw the repeal on June 1st, 1832 of the Dutch Resolution in Council of February 3rd, 1747, by which Moors and Tamils were prohibited from owning property or residing within the Fort and Pettah or Colombo.

Up to this time, according to the old order of things, various section of the public had separate residential areas allotted to them. For example, the Moors were, confined to Moor Street which is designated Moors Quarters in old maps of Colombo, the Colombo Chetties lived in Chetty Streett or Chekku Street, as it was also known, the brassfounders in Brassfounder Street, the barbers in Barber Street and silversmiths in Silversmith Street, whilst the “dhobies” lived in an area called Wahermen’s Quarters.”

The removal of these restrictions led to an influx of Moors into the business quarters of the City. Gradually they began to acquire property in the Pettah of Colombo and in the process of time nearly all the immovable property here, which originally belonged to the descendants of the Dutch passed into the hands of the Moors. It is significant that a large proportion of the shops and other buildings in Petttah today belong to this community, whilst all that remains to the descendants of the Hollanders who excluded the Moors from this area, is their ancient Kerkhof behind “Consistery Buildings.”

Having established themselves in business here, the Moors were now able to carry on a flourishing trade without any hindrance whatever, and strangely enough they count amongst their chief patrons, the Burghers who are the descendants of the Dutch. Although all professions and occupations were thrown open to this hitherto oppressed class of people, true to the instincts inherited from their Arab forefathers the Moors largely engaged in trade and amassed fortunes, whilst education suffered. It was in comparatively recent times that the efforts in this direction of the late Mr. A.M.Wapche Marikar, a building contractor; the Muslim Educational Society and the United Assembly were crowned with success. After more than a generation of patient endeavour, the Moors slowly began to realise the extent of the disadvantage encountered on every hand owning to a lack of modern education. The introduction of up-to-date business methods, strongly contrasted with the primitive systems of exchange and barter and it became necessary to be properly equipped in order to meet the competition from other quarters. Other communities were forgoing ahead in the march of progress and the Moors as a community were badly left behind. These considerations led to a wider interest in education, and the more progressive Moors sent their sons to the best schools at the time. Of these the most popular institution seems to have been Wesley College, due perhaps to the proximity of this institution in those days to Moor Street still the stronghold of the Moors. There had been no Muslim Schools at the time, with the exception of the small classroom attached to most mosques where the Muslim youth is instructed in the Koran and receives an elementary knowledge of the reading and writing of the Muslim Zahira College, at Maradana, although it was proclaimed with much gusto, did not for very many years rise above the level of an elementary school. It is only during the last decade that it has mushroom-like sprung into prominence under the energetic direction and untiring zeal in the cause of enlightenment by its present principal, the Hon. Mr. Jaya B.A.,London.

Of those Moors who engaged in trade, a large majority became shopkeepers. Their chief articles of merchandise were cloth, hardware, crockery, household goods and groceries. A few exported areca nut to South India and still continue to do so, and a fewer still became planters and made large profits in the days of “King Coffer” which preceded the tea-growing industry. Several continued to be dealers in precious stones, having gained distinction in this line since Dutch times when they were credited with an export knowledge of pearls and gems. To the present day the leading firms, which deal in jewellery and precious stones are conducted exclusively by the Moors. One of these had even found it necessary in order to provide a nearer depot for its numerous European patrons.

Wesley College OBU 1989 in Australia

Pic: Back L-R Anton Blacker, Natty Princs, Langston Joseph, Vernon Nugera, Henry Duckworth, Rod Shockman, Norman de la Harpe, Allister Bartholomeusz, Spencer Mack, Douglas Mack. Front L-R Gerald de Zylwa, Harry de Vos, Terry Robertson, George Robertson

The Burghers

The Sri Lankan Burghers

The Dutch Burger Union of Ceylon - its founding and growth

by Deloraine Brohier

Many Sri Lankans pass and re-pass the round-about from where several roads radiate, which has given to the junction the colloquial term - thun mulla. Few though, in their motor vehicles or as pedestrians, in their hurry, pause to look up at a tall building of unique architectural design which stands at this point. It is conspicuous and has remained so, for many years. Fortunately it has not yet been hidden away or crowded in by structures more modern of style and unimaginative in shape, as trends have developed in the passing years.

Significant of fa├žade, it stands deep in a lawn front and a triangle of garden. From the porch it rises to an upper storey, with glass-fronted windows. But the most striking feature of the facade and one which stands out to the eye, is the step-gabled ends of its two wings. This feature is what makes it unique and identifies with many buildings in Holland's old towns and quarters, which date back to the periods of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The building at the intersection of Havelock Road, Reid Avenue and Bullers Road, now Baudhaloka Mawatha - and which has led to the name thun mulla, does not go back so far in the centuries. It came up only in the early years of the present century. The prominent building we have so high-lighted is the Dutch Burgher Union Hall - library and social meeting place of a small community who are identified in the polyglottal mix of peoples in Sri Lanka as - Burghers.

From many a pen of an older generation, as also by this writer, have flowed explanations of - who are the Burghers. It is not therefore my intention to elucidate on the subject here, be it to say that the term came to be associated with a group of people who originally came out to Sri Lanka, under the flag of Holland and who chose to settle in the island over the period from the mid-seventeenth century to the closing of the eighteenth century.

Largely of Dutch and Flemish origin, some were also from the more northern European countries, and quite a few others who called themselves Huguenots - French Protestants. Collectively, this was the "Hollandsche Natie" who served officially under the United Dutch East Indies Company - the Veerinde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) in the years known in Sri Lanka's history as the Dutch period.

The year 1802 which marked the signing of the treaty of Amiens, saw a change of colonial occupation of the island when Ceylon was made a Crown Colony of Great Britain. With the switch of power there emerged a new life and status for those who officially had served under the Dutch Company, in their varying capacities and others, private emigres who had come out as merchants and traders. For reasons personal and those determined by the terms of the hand-over of power, it has been estimated that about 900 families of the Hollandsche Natie opted to remain in Ceylon. They took an oath of allegiance to George III of England and accommodated themselves to changes that developed under the British.

This small overflow of people who had moved with the history of Ceylon from one colonial regime to another were now designated "the Dutch and Burgher inhabitants of Ceylon." With time the term came to be abbreviated to - Burghers. Let me now digress briefly to qualify the term Burgher. In this we have no better authority than Mr. R.L. Brohier, who has stated:

"Burgher is not an ethnographic name and has nothing to do with race. The term is of historic origin and refers to a political community which had a distinctive character when it entered under the sway of the British Government." (R. L. Brohier: footnote in Changing Face of Colombo)

Brohier elucidates that the community known as the Burghers, came to be so designated on a "generic basis" - the term signifying a conferment of citizenship on a group of peoples. And some have retained the identity of their origin to this day.

The Burghers, like many other groups of peoples who came to live under the British colonial system did so by a common community of interests. As an eminent writer of the past has described: "...they passed their days in peaceful co-existence and purposefully linked by common interests, blended freely on terms of racial amity with neighbour and friend" - moving freely on occasions of sadness and gladness -" in the common object of promoting the most easy and friendly terms of inter-communal fellowship."

After roughly one hundred years of British colonial rule if was however felt that the time had come when the Dutch Burgher descendants associate together - for a recognition of themselves, as having "an origin, history and character of their own." R. G. Anthonisz, a leading member of the community at the time however voiced the sentiment that "a union among the Dutch Burghers was not going to disturb any of the existing friendly relations they had with members of other communities."

An informal meeting was first held at the Lindsay hall, Bambalapitiya on November 12, 1907 men and women of the Dutch Burgher community, distinguished each in their own right , by professional achievement and of social standing ment to air opinion. In the outcome, a resolution was carried unanimously which read: "That this meeting is of opinion that a union of the Dutch Burghers of Ceylon, with the object of promoting the moral, social and intellectual well-being of the community is very desirable."

Hector van Cuylenburg, called to the chair on the occasion, said in his inaugural address that he felt the time had come for them, as a community to "coalesce". If there was an association of the kind proposed the members of it would frequently meet and there would be a bond amongst all the Dutch Burghers in Colombo and the outstations."
To the present generation of readers the names of those who were then appointed as a Committee, to frame rules, enrol members and carry out the preliminary, arrangements for the formation of such a union, will signify little relevance. There was F.C. Loos (member of the legislative Council) R. G. Anthonisz who rose to be head of the Archives Department, J. R. Toussaint of the Ceylon Civil service. There were medical men, surgeons and physicians like Drs. W. A. van Dort, L. A. Prins and Andreas Nell, legal luminaries like Allan Drieberg and F. H. de Vos; senior officers in the government's technical departments, engineers and surveyors. P. D. Siebel was a successful businessman and the first florist in Ceylon, A. R. Koch a leading photographer in society and there was, Ceylon's first woman doctor, Dr. Alice de Boer. In the months that followed discussions and informal meetings of the core group took place and the burning of much midnight oil in formulating drafts of the Rules and Registrations of the union.

The first meeting of the Dutch Burgher union took place on Saturday January 18, 1908, at the Pettah library Hall. A large gathering was present, for 267 persons had already enroled as members. Elected as the first president was Frederick Charles Loos M. L. C; honorary secretary was R. G. Anthonisz and a committee of 45 members, of which 15 were residing in the outstations. The draft Constitution having been passed the Dutch Burgher union could be said to have been established. The records of this first meeting and the early meetings of the union can be found well-documented in a worthy publication which, from March 31, 1908, came out on a regular basis. This is known as the Journal of the Dutch Burgher of Ceylon.

The DBU journals are a rich source of information - archival chronicle and memoir - which scholars and academicians, writers and journalists of the present generation may well be advised to consult.
Committees were formed for purposes ethical and literary, for genealogical research, for social services, entertainment and sport. The feast of St. Nikolaas, December 5, beloved by Dutch children was introduced to the Union in its first year and was held in the Public Hall, Colombo. The tradition of this festival continues to this day.

The need of an office and committee rooms was felt as urgent for in its initial months Dr. Andreas Nell sublet to the DBU, two rooms at Sea View, Kollupitiya, also used as a Reading Room for members. Thus we soon find in the DBU's records that a "Building Committee" is mentioned for the raising of funds for a permanent house.
There can be seen to this day set into the wall in the foyer of the hall, a copper plaque inscribed, which gives acknowledgement to:

"William Edward Vandersmagt de Rooy through whose exemplary zeal and unswerving persistency, the erection of this hall, in the year 1913 became possible."

A building company was formed and shares were made available to members. Planners and architects, engineers and designers then went into industry as a block of land was found in an area in the city which was opening out at the time - pre First World War.

More salubrious was Colombo as it reached out beyond the Fort and Pettah in the early years of this century.
The Borella burial site or Kanatte and the Havelock race course in the Cinnamon plantations, had come into use shortly before the turn into the 20th century and Buller's Road cut through scrub jungle and was a gravel road.
The populace of the older city of Colombo were moving to the littoral strip along the Galle Road, the inlets of the Beira Lake or to the Cinnamon Gardens. Today's city zones - three, seven, five and four reflected quite a different geographic picture. Airy residential homes encircled by large gardens were linked by sandy tracks and foot-paths lined with spreading flowering trees. Buller's Road, now the Bauddhaloka Mawatha was lonely and little used, made more forbidding by the fact that half-way along it was the Asylum for those mentally disturbed.

My mother, when a timid teenager, described in later years her fear to take a carriage ride along this stretch, while my father recalled boyhood rambles with his uncle in koombi kalle where they hunted hare and thalagoya in what is known today as Jawatte Road. Reid Avenue was then named Serpentine Road and there was no broad thoroughfare to connect Buller's Road with the Galle Road.

The Dutch Burgher Union Buildings Company purchased an extensive extent of land in the area we have described - and a building soon reared up, at the junction of Buller's Road and Serpentine Road. The hall, as it was to be called was in elegant setting, handsome in style. From the two gates, a drive swung round a carpet of lawn, bordered in flowers, to a front porch. There was provision of ample, space at the rear of building for horses and carriages, which gave way in a later era to the motor car. Tennis courts and a netball court provided activity for the younger members - and gives the reader an idea of the extent of land originally owned. A vestibule on the ground floor led on to a spacious public room for lectures and for dancing in that it had well-sprung teak flooring. A beautifully carved, wooden staircase led to the upper floor - to billiard and card rooms, a drawing room arranged with comfortable chairs for informal entertaining, a bar and a reading room lined with a well-chosen collection of books; residential quarters for outstation members with a rear staircase for their convenience, had also been thought of.

The years went by and the Dutch Burgher Union took on a character of its own. It was inevitable that there were changes in the surroundings in which it stood. Blocks of residential buildings came up all around and a link with the Galle Road, which came to be known as New Buller's Road, found that the DBU lost large strips of garden in acquisition, whilst escalating property rates saw the Buildings Company selling off its outer peripheries.

Through the war years, the First and Second World Wars, and especially in the conflict 1939 to 1945, troops of Dutch forces serving in the Asian war zones, sailors and airmen, found release in festive events in the Hall. The lovely mosaic floor in the foyer, depicting a Dutch sailing ship riding the waves, is a token of their appreciation.
Down the years men who made outstanding contribution to the country and to the community took office as Presidents. Their names, inscribed on polished brass, is a record, as also early paintings and portrait photographs in a later era which keep them in memory.

The generation who saw the birth of the Dutch Burgher Union and the building of the Hall have, with time, faded away - their names forgotten by the present younger generation. But the traditions and standards they set live on with their sons and daughters. To these, such as the writer, and with a few others, old scenes of happier days surface in memory. The laughter of children at play every December 5th; St. Nikolaas, dressed in Bishop's regalia, riding in on a tall white horse, black pete by his side who dispensed sweets and toys. A young girl's "coming out" dance, the band playing the old-waltz or fox-trot as she stepped out with her first beaux watched by fond "mamas" who sat through the night stiff-backed chairs arranged around the ball room. Then there were those grand occasions when Ceylon attained Independence and our first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake was honoured, or Lord Soulbury, Governor General graced a reception.

Unforgettable too were those afternoons when special Dutch Teas were served. The Hall was arranged with little square tables covered in crisp white linen: poffertjest hot off the pan came served with cooled sugar syrup, bolo-fiadho oozing treacle and fogutte filled with minced cashew and pumpkin preserve, while not forgetting the thick slices of broeder spread with butter and a slice of Edam cheese with its deep red rind.

As a school girl the writer with other Dutch Burgher friends, enjoyed the novelty and importance, dressed as traditional Dutch girls in bright skirts and starched organdy aprons, wearing quaint lace-edged pointed bonnets and wooden clogs. Yes, days gone away are ever sweet to linger upon - as we contemplate that the Dutch Burgher Union has notched ninety years of history.

The Colombo Chetties

The History of the Colombo Chetties of Sri Lanka
By Shirley Pulle Tissera

The Colombo Chetties form an integral part of Sri Lankan society. They are a separate ethnic group different from the Tamils, Moors, Malays, Burghers, and the majority Sinhalese community.

In the census of 1946 (Vol I Para I) the Superintendent of Census, Mr. A.G. Ranasinghe, states that the Colombo Chetties must receive mention in a racial distinction of Ceylon. The term does not include the Nattukottu Chetties who have formed themselves into a guild for carrying on business in Ceylon and are only temporary residents of the Island.


The Colombo Chetties belong to the Tana Vaisya Caste. The Vaisyas compose nobility of the land, and according to the classification made by Rev. Fr. Boschi, were divided into 3 distincts tribes or castes. The highest sub-division being the Tanya Vaisya or merchants followed by Pu Vaisya or Husbandmen and Ko Vaisya pr Herdsmen. The Tana Vaisyas are commonly called Chetties. Their earliest ancestors inhabited Northern and North Western India near Coorg and Benares. In the eleventh century they were driven to the South of India by the conquest of Muhammad of Ghazini and settled in places like Nagapatnam, Tanjore, and Tinnevelly. It is from here that they traded with Ceylon from the Malabar and Coramandel coasts.

The present day term Chetty is identified with the original term Sethi in Pali, Hetti or Situ in Sinhalese. This is how the community is recorded in history. There is an association of the term Hetti in Sri lankan nomenclature in names like Hettiaratchi, Hettigoda, Adihetty, Paranahetti, Hettige, Hettigamage, Hettipathirana, Hettihewa, and Hettimulla. A nursery rhyme used a play by children down the centuries has reference to Chetties and their connection to Royalty, "Athuru Mithuru Dambadiva thuru, Raja kapuru Hettiya, Alutha gena manamalita haal pothak garala..."
According to Professor H. Ellawala (Social History of Early Ceylon), Sethis first came to Sri Lanka just after the arrival of Vijaya and his followers. The account goes on to show that some maidens sent to Lanka by the King of Madura at the request of Prince Vijaya were Sethis (Vaisya Stock). In the same edition Profesor Ellawala goes on to state that Prince Sumitta and his seven brothers who came to Lanka to guard the sacred Bo Tree were sons of a Deva Sethi from Vedissa City in Avanthi. Therefore their sister (Queen of King Asoka and mother of Mahinda and Sangamitta) was also a Sethi.

Reference is also made in Prof. M.B. Ariyapala's Society in Medieval Ceylon, to Setthi's participation in the inauguration of kings in ancient Ceylon. (C.M.Fernando JRASCB Vol XIV No.47 Page 126). In an article in the same edition a comprehensive write up is given of Setthi's (page 104). It also refers to Setthi's during the time of Vijayabahu I (CV 59.17)

The Nikaya Sangrahaya (ed Kumaratunga), the Madavala rock inscriptions refers to a high official by the name of Jothy Sitana who set his signature to a grant of land.

In the year 1205 AD there existed a minister of great influence among our forebearers named "Kulande Hetti". His name is engraved on a rock in Polonnaruwa.

The Gadaladeniya slab inscriptions of the 16th century mentions Situ in a list of officials. The Political History of the Kingdom of Kotte (1400-1521) by Dr. G.V.P. Somaratne (page 51) states that the Alakeswara family of Kotte originated from Setthi stock.

In the book titled Culture in Ceylon in Medieval Times by W. Geiger (page 110); "A prominent part of the mercantile society in Ceylon were the Setthi's but we do not get a clear notion of their social position, probably they were like the Setthi's in the Jatakas (ref R. Fick 1.1 pages 257) the gerat bankers and stood in close proximity to the Royal Court."
Of the three brothers who rebelled against King Wijayabahu I, one was Sethinatha, a chief of the Setthi's, since the other two were court officials of the highest rank, the three were evidently Sinhalese noblemen ( Sethinayake is the name of Lambakanna. It was probably his title.

The Mahavamsa Vol III records the arrival in Ceylon of seven sons of King Mallawa of Mallawa Rata accompanied by Chetties who carried suitable gifts for the King of Ceylon. In return the King bestowed titles and also grants of land engraved on slabs in villages such as Kelaniya, Toppu, Ballagala, Bottala, Hettimulla etc. marked out and granted free from duties "to remain as long as the sun and the moon endure". Among the Chetties who presented gifts to the Kings were Epologama Hetti Bandara and Modattawa Chetty. The donors were honored with titles such as Rajah Wanniah, Rajaguru Mudiyanse and Mallawa Bandara.

The late President, His Excellency J.R. Jatawardena's first paternal ancestor was a Colombo Chetty. In the mid 17th century one of his male ancestors married a Sinhalese by the name of Jayawardena from Welgama, a village near Hanvalle, and from that time took the name of Jayewardena acording to his biogrpahy written by Prof. K.M. de Silva and Howard Wriggins. The mother of his grandchildren is also a Colombo Chetty.


The Chetties were a community dealing in trade and commerce and would naturally see the advantage of adopting the religion of the rulers. Being a cultured and educated community, the colonisers found an useful link between themselves and the indigenous population, although many prominent Chetty families during the eighteenth and nineteenth century were converted to Christianity.

Many Churches were built by the Chetties. The Church of St. Thimas was built in 1815 facing the Colombo Harbor by the Protestant branch of the Chetties. It is traditionally maintained that St. Thomas the Apostle preached here on his journeys to preach the Gospel on his visits to the Malabar and Coramandel coasts.


Some of the dress of the Colombo Chetties was aptly described by John Capper in his 'Sketches of the Old Ceylon". He wrote that they appeared in peak cornered hats, short jackets, cloth and slippers or jutas. They had rings in their ears. Another picturesque description was by L.P. Leisching in his "Account of Ceylon". He described the educated class of Colombo Chetties of older times who were mostly employed in Government Services as wearing a neat dress consisting of a curiosuly folded turban of white cloth, a short bodied and full skirted white coat and white trousers with a silk handkerchief or scarf around their necks with socks and shoes. This was their regular costume. On important occasions they appeared in gold trimmed turbans and shawls and very rich material for their suits.
The Colombo Chetty ladies of that period were very conservative in their apparel and dressed gracefully without exposing their limbs. Their original dress consisted of a sort of cloak (Sarasa) worn over the head. t was very heavily starched abric of bluish black or deep reddish brown color. The "Sarasa" had an overall printed floral pattern also of a very dull color edged with a border of the same color. The blouse was of white cotton or could be lace on a special occasion. The sleeves were three-quarters length with cuffed ruffs or edged with lace. They wore a camboy or cloth of similar color as the "Sarasa" which had a decorative weave of gold or silver thread for special occasions like weddings. They wore no shoes but had ornamental rings on their toes. The neck was decked with gold ornaments. They wore a chain called "Arriyal" with a jewelled pendant called "Padakkam". The married ladies wore the "Thali" different in design to the ones worn by married Tamil ladies. Their ears were pierced both on the upper and lower parts. The "Koppu", a coin like ornament adorned the upper part and the lower lobe with earrings called "Thodu".

Book review
Carving a niche with a distinct contribution

"History of the Colombo Chetties", edited and compiled by Deshabandu Reggie Candappa. Reviewed by Anne Abayasekara

In the mosaic that forms the Sri Lankan na- tion, we are privileged to have - apart from the two major communities of Sinhalese and Tamils - several small ethnic groups who have made their own distinctive contribution to the country.
Most of us are aware of the term "Colombo Chetty" but are rather vague as to who the people are and to whom it applies. Since this community has intermarried with both the Sinhalese and Tamils and since some of them have adopted Portuguese names during the Portuguese period here, there has been some confusion in identifying them.
It was due to representations made to the Government by the Sri Lanka Chetty Association in 1983, and prolonged deliberations held between the Ministry of Home Affairs and a delegation from the Colombo Chetty Association, that the Colombo Chetties received official recognition as a distinct ethnic group on January14, 1984. This was announced in a Govt. circular "which also ensured that thereafter Chetties will be registered as such in all Govt. documents."

I gleaned all this from the excellently produced and informative book, "History of the Colombo Chetties" that was published in December, 2000. Those of us who are comfortably ensconced in the majority communities are often insensitive to - or unaware of - the struggle that small ethnic groups may have in gaining recognition as a separate entity within the larger framework of a nation. Books such as this one give us the opportunity to learn about the traditions, culture and customs that are unique to one particular group of whose identity we may have been in ignorance. As a child growing up in my 'home' village, I heard the term "Hetti" used and thought it applied to Indian traders. Now I gather that the term Chetty is interpreted as Setthi in Pali, Hetti or Situ in Sinhalese, Etti in Tamil and that in all historical records Colombo Chetties are referred to as Setthi or Situ.

The book is lavishly illustrated with interesting photographs, both ancient and modern. The frontispiece of a Colombo Chetty gentleman in traditional garb - peak cornered hat, bangle-like rings on his ears and a silk scarf loosely knotted round his neck - is very impressive. The back cover is adorned with a somewhat amusing (to modern eyes) sketch of a Colombo Chetty shown full-length in flowing attire and pointed slippers and carrying a distinctive kind of parasol, taken from a series of sketches of "The Sir Lankan Law Court Types" executed by Van Dort. Illustrious members of the community and some well-known families - the Chittys, Alleses, Muthukrishnas, Perumals, Vidurampulles and Candappas are featured.

The Editor has also reproduced one of the late E.C.B. Wijeyesinghe's delightful articles in his series "Of Men and Memories", entitled 'The Story of a King'. Written in his own inimitable style, E.C.B. relates the old story that one of the Three Kings who followed the star to the stable in Bethlehem where the Christchild lay, came from the East and that legend has it that he was a Colombo Chetty by the name of Perumal-"not a common or tea-garden Perumal, but an Ayyam Perumal whose offsprings are found in executive suites in many parts of the World."
ECB goes on to say that there have been many claimants to this role among the Chetties, among whom are the Candappas, Anandappas, Aserappas, Rodrigopulles, Casie Chettys, Alleses, Fernandopulles, Brittos, Babapulles, Ondaatjes and Cadiramens. Colombo Chetties weren't confined to the capital city but spread their roots in other parts of the island and for the record there are clear group photographs with captions, of Chetties of Dankotuwa, of Thoppuwa, Welihena and Puttalam.

To pick a few notables at random from the long and impressive list compiled here, there was Dr. Michael Ondaatje (not to be confused with today's famous author of that name who must be one of his descendants). This eminent physician came to Sri Lanka in June 1659 on the recommendation of the Maharajah of Tanjore to attend on the wife of the Dutch Governor Van de Mayden who was stricken with a rare disease that had baffled both Dutch doctors and native ayurvedic physicians. She responded to his treatment and the grateful Governor not only rewarded him with money and jewels, but appointed Dr. Michael Juri Ondaatje the first Doctor of Colombo, the first Colombo Chetty to hold this post. He died in Colombo in 1714.

The late President J.R. Jayawardene's first paternal ancestor was a Colombo Chetty and there is an excerpt from the biography of J.R. authored by Prof. K.M. De Silva & Howard Wriggins, in support of this. Don Adrian Jayawardene, J.R.'s paternal great-grandfather, descended from a Chetty family, but two or three generations earlier, a male of this family had married a Sinhalese by the name of Jayawardene from the village of Walgama near Hanwella and had taken on the name of Jayewardene and by the time Don Adrian arrived on the scene at the tail-end of the 18th century, "the process of 'Sinhalisation' of his family had been completed."

In a community well-known for its Christian (particularly Roman Catholic) links, and for the many priests and nuns it produced, it may be news to some, as it was to me, to learn that the Ven. Soma Thero of Vajirarama Temple, Bambalapitiya, and founder of the German Dharmaduta Society was born Victor Pulle, the son of Colombo Chetty parents. Many illustrious names are mentioned , among them: E.C. Alles, the first Colombo Chetty to obtain the F.R.C.S (England), and one-time President of the Ceylon Medical Association; George Chitty, Q.C., Justice M.F.S. Pulle, Justice Christie Alles, George Candappa, P.C., Chevalier L.A. Perumal, Dr. Christopher Ondaatje, CEB, financier & philanthropist, who has written the foreword to this book; Mano Muthukrishna-Candappa, Managing Director of the Polytechnic and much else besides Abraham Peter Casie Chitty, an outstanding businesman of the early 20th century. This should suffice to show how members of the Chetty community have made their own unique contribution as citizens of Sri Lanka.

The preface to this book contains a quotation from a speech made by Sir Herbert Stanley, KCMG, Governor of Ceylon, when he addressed the students of a college in Colombo in January 1928. I cannot refrain from reproducing it here because it sounds almost tailor-made for us in the tragic position in which we find ourselves today. These are the words that Governor Stanley spoke 73 years ago and they sound prophetic.

"If the communities preserve their own traditions and are prepared to put into the common stock the good which they have inherited from their ancestors, there is every hope that we may build up, here in Ceylon, a happy and united Ceylon; ....... by our common devotion to Ceylon and our common desire to make her a better country for our children, than she has been for our fathers." I say 'Amen' to that

The Colombo Chetty community
Island Features 27 Jan 2002

-Their roots, branches & history

Review by Manel RatnatungaDo you want to know who the Gratiaen Award Ondaatjes are? From where did they come, and who married who, and who are their children? Our mothers’ generation would have revelled in a book such as this and would have spent many delicious hours discussing what ATS Paul has written in this marvellous WHO’S WHO about the Chetties. For us today, a wonderful font of knowledge about a very vibrant community of our nation.

Names we have all heard - the Muttukrishnas, Aserappas, Casie Chitties, Pauls, Fernandopulles, Candappas to name a few are all here in a scintillating run of their dazzlingly brilliant achievements along the generations.
The first Ceylonese Medical Officer of Health; Founder President of the Association of Surgeons of Ceylon, who achieved the rare distinction of obtaining both the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians and the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The first Ceylonese Director of a British Company (Lewis Brown) rising to be its Managing Director; the first Ceylonese to be a member of the High Court of Justice of the Netherlands; first to act as Crown Counsel; first to import an automobile and an air conditioner; first to introduce neon advertisement (Berec ad. on top of the Savoy Cinema). A Chetty was admitted into the Colombo Club for Europeans only. Then there is Lady Corea. Do you know who her father was? And who was Mabel, the patron of Bishop’s College? And who, the lovely Vanaruha?

ATS Paul, the surgeon, writes with the precision of his surgical skill. Neat, tidy, precise. He tells that Chetty merchants were visiting Ceylon in their own sailing vessels carrying diamonds from Golconda, emeralds from Rajasthan, rubies from Burma and so on from various states of India from pre-Buddhist times. Their arrival here is documented in our history during the time of King Rajasinghe II and the governorship of the Dutch. Once they settled in Ceylon, these traders and money-lenders dropped out of the money-lending livelihood as it was considered repugnant and switched to the learned professions where they rose to great heights of fame.
We learn that the Chitty legal luminary, who owned one of the first imported automobiles, used a rickshaw to go from his home Stafford House to the Supreme Court. That his son drove the family American carriage drawn by an Australian horse to Royal College at about the age of ten. ATS has not explained why their neighbors objected to this. All his children were educated at home and the boys went straight into Form 1 at Royal College and walked away with many prizes.

The book takes you on a romp through Colombo when fields and forests lay beyond Pettah and the Fort, from where a wild elephant might emerge. Do we know Pettah was originally Jampettah and why? And that it was just a village street owned by the Colombo Chetties. And why ‘Colombo’ Chetty? How did that name come into being?
I must admit I never knew half these interesting facets about a clan of people who have made great contribution to our nation and belong with pride to Sri Lanka. This easy to read compilation is a MUST for our public and private libraries.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Miss Universe 1955

Maureen Hingert - 2nd from Right - 2nd Runner Up Miss Universe Contest 1955

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The One Cent Toffee Man

One cent toffee seller

Daily Mirror Fri Feb 5 2004

It was the early sixties.

The “princely” sum of thirty-five cents given to me by my parents as the allowance for lunch at school was more than enough for a sumptuous meal. The St. Joseph’s College canteen had a money’s-worth of food. Two slices of bread with seeni sambol cost seven cents; an oven fresh fish bun or a beef roti was also seven cents; a cup of limejuice five cents.

But my aim was to save even those few cents, so I could buy a novel or a magazine like Sports and Pastime from a mobile bookstore situated in front of the Maradana Railway Station at the end of the week. The Sports and Pastime, an Indian publication, which was the only sports magazine available in town, was a hit in Sri Lanka. The postcard sized photographs it carried of childish faced Rohan Kanhai, leg-glancing Neil Harvey, Veda-Mahattaya-type-spectacle-wearing Alf Valentine; sweater-wearing Hanif Mohammed or the long final stride of Wesley Hall or Fred Trueman had their due places in our scrapbooks. For the purpose of saving a few cents to buy this mag or for any other book I needed, I would prefer to have a stroll towards Mariakade area and back via Maradana during the lunch interval. But on some days, especially on school cricket match days, I was tempted to spend a few cents on buying some toffees. That was when the “One Cent toffee Seller” was at our College grounds.

Almost forty long years have lapsed since the days of this toffee seller but whenever a new schools cricket season commences, for me, the picture of him emerges through the pages of score cards of the inter-collegiate matches.If you were a spectator at the school matches in the Colombo North area during the early years of the sixties, certainly you would have been a customer of our hero - the one-cent toffee seller.

He was big made, wore a dusty white sarong and a coat. A broad black belt around the tummy kept his sarong neatly in place while the Hitler type moustache painted signs of toughness on his face. Yet his appearance was impressive. He was a regular visitor to the school grounds on match days. Armed with an old leather bag filled with toffees, he mingled with school children saying aloud “one cent toffee - - - one cent toffee”.

He was here, there and everywhere during a match and was keenly followed by scores of his admirers, the school children. The sweetmeat he sold was brownish in colour and was neatly wrapped in a tissue paper. Although the toffee was rock hard, it was nice and tasty. Five cents worth of toffees, I mean five pieces of his sweetmeat, would be enough to keep you busy during a session of play, noon to the milk interval, or milk to tea interval as the play kept going those days.

I must admit that although most of the schoolboys were not very much keen on his product, the toffee seller’s mere presence was very much looked forward to. He was a crowd puller, not for his toffee selling business, but for the cricket stories he carried with him. He was a storehouse of cricket information. Without television, without proper cricket publications, we were then solely relying on what used to appear on the sports pages of our newspapers and occasionally on the wireless cricket commentaries on a test match abroad, which sounded more or less like the waves of the sea.

Therefore our hero’s cricket talk had extra appeal and was eagerly listened to. His assessments on the strength of other school teams were of pinpoint accuracy. He would tell you, that your school would find difficult against a particular team; a batsman of another school would definitely cause a run havoc against your school; or one of your bowlers would be the match winner in another match.

He was well conversant with the statistical aspect of the game too. He was a walking Wisden to us at a time when the famed annual was beyond our reach. “Do you know what happened in Australia last week?” he might ask us. We the cricket- mad schoolboys would be tight lipped. “The Aussies who lost the second test to England by 7 wickets, this time, taught cricket to their age-old opponents. You know this time they have won by eight wickets”. And as he always did, he went through the name list of his favourite Australian team, Lawry, Simpson, O’Neill, Neil Harvey, Peter Burge, Booth, Davidson, Ken Mackay, Benaud, Mckenzie and Barry Jarman. Instantly, his favourites became our heroes as he went on telling about their heroic deeds. Whilst listening to him, we felt the joy of reading a cricket article, the joy of listening to a cricket commentary and the joy of witnessing a “Test” match (at the time, Test status for our country was not even dreamed of). And he was the one who taught us to see the real beauty of this fine game.

Whilst all these were happening he was on his business, selling a toffee after toffee to the curious listeners. And at the end, he would count his income in front of us, sometimes distributing the left overs to the children and promising that he would come another day with much more cricket stories provided we give him a pledge of buying more toffees.

Sometimes we would find him at another school venue holding their flag high. But when confronted later, he would have all the tricks in his pocket, deviating our attention to his favourite cricket story, the story of the tied Test. In our own imaginary world, we would wonder how Joe Solomon’s throw hit the stumps; the stupidity of Davidson, Grout and Meckiff to get run out; the leadership of Frank Worrel. After all our one cent toffee seller had made all these cricketing giants as if our own, and had made the scene as lively as an unfolding movie.

Like winter had given way to spring and spring to summer, one cricket season after another season, became a past era in the calendar. By the time the mid sixties dawned, one-cent toffee seller’s visits to our College grounds faded gradually. And in one season, we found him missing. No more one-cent toffees; no more cricket stories. No one knew what had happened to him and no one cared even to look for him. And by then, the five-cent bus ticket from Wattala junction to Elakanda had increased to ten cents.Could you expect to have a toffee for one cent any more?