The Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505 after being blown off course while on their way to the Maldives and became interested in trading cinnamon. They deposed the kingdom based near Colombo but were not able to defeat the one at Kandy and didn’t subdue the Hindu Tamil king in northern Sri Lanka until 1619. They named the island Ceilão, introduced Catholicism and established themselves on the west coast of the island, They were able to convert many members of the fishing castes that lived along the coast to Catholicism.

By the late fifteenth century, Portugal, which had already established its dominance as a maritime power in the Atlantic, was exploring new waters. In 1497 Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and discovered an ocean route connecting Europe with India, thus inaugurating a new era of maritime supremacy for Portugal. The Portuguese were consumed by two objectives in their empire-building efforts: to convert followers of non-Christian religions to Roman Catholicism and to capture the major share of the spice trade for the European market. To carry out their goals, the Portuguese did not seek territorial conquest, which would have been difficult given their small numbers. Instead, they tried to dominate strategic points through which trade passed. By virtue of their supremacy on the seas, their knowledge of firearms, and by what has been called their "desperate soldiering" on land, the Portuguese gained an influence in South Asia that was far out of proportion to their numerical strength. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”: The Portuguese considered Sri Lanka an important site from which to maintain their dominance over Indian Ocean trade. At the onset of the Portuguese period, there were three independent kingdoms in Sri Lanka, a Tamil kingdom in the northern peninsula of Jaffna, a Sinhalese kingdom on the west coast in Kotte (near Colombo), and another Sinhalese kingdom in Kandy in the central highlands. The Kandy and Kotte kingdoms had been at war, and the Portuguese allied themselves with the weak king of Kotte, building a fort in Colombo and eventually annexing the Kotte kingdom. [Source: Robert T. Francoeur, Victor C. de Munck, Ph.D., Patricia Weerakoon, Ph.D., “Encyclopedia of Sexuality”, 2002]

The Portuguese established the port of Colombo in Sri Lanka. They traded for cinnamon, pearls, ivory, dyes, and gemstones and sent these items to Europe on Portuguese ships. Cinnamon was the primary trade item. The Portuguese initially had friendly relations with the king of Kotte — the strongest of the three kingdoms in Sri Lanka in the 16th century — and were able to establish a monopoly on the cinnamon trade. Eventually the Portuguese took over the Kotte kingdom and “forced their faith with fire and sword on 'heathens.’”

Portuguese rule was characterized by greed and intolerance but in many ways the Portugese left behind more cultural influences, especially in the cases of food and music, that the Dutch or British. Portuguese names such as de Silva, Fernando and de Fonseca are still common among low-land Sinhalese.

Europeans Come to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was colonized by Europeans for more than 500 years. Portuguese arrived in the early 16th century, then came the Dutch, who stuck around for two centuries until they were displaced by the British at the end if 18th century. The Portuguese and Dutch mainly controlled coastal region. The British establish control over the entire island in 1815. The Russian writer Anton Chekhov visited Ceylon for three days on his visit in November 1890. Afterwards he wrote, "I have seen Ceylon, which is paradise and Sakhalin which is utter hell." Sakhalin is a cold and stormy island in the Russian Far East.

Sri Lanka has been known since ancient times. The Greeks and Roman referred to Sri Lanka as Taprobane, and regarded it as the eastern edge of the world. The ancient Chinese called it the Island of gems. King Solomon reportedly sent emissaries to the City of Gems for precious stones to entice the Queen of Sheba. The six century Greek trader wrote "a great island...resort ships."

Early traders called Sri Lanka a "Second Eden! Pearls form Sri Lanka found their way ancient Rome. Sri Lanka is believed to have had a hand in supplying the Roman nobility with spices, perfumes, silks, ivory and pearls. Consumption of luxury goods had been criticised in Rome at as a drain on Roman wealth. Roman coins of the A.D. fifth century ave been found in Mantai, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and around Godavaya port in the southern Sri Lanka known as Ruhunu Rata.

Between the mid 13th century and the early 16th century there were five Sinhalese kingdoms in Sri Lanka. and attacks came from south India, China and Malaysia. At the time of the arrival of Europeans — the Portuguese — in 1505 there were two Sinhalese kingdoms — one at Kandy in the central highlands and another in Kotte along the southwest coast near Colombo — and a Tamil kingdom in Jaffna. Kotte was the principal seat of Sinhalese power, and it claimed a largely imaginary overlordship not only over Kandy but also over the entire island. None of the three kingdoms, however, had the strength to assert itself over the other two and reunify the island.

Following the decline of the Chola as a maritime power in the twelfth century, Muslim trading communities in South Asia claimed a major share of commerce in the Indian Ocean and developed extensive east-west, as well as Indo-Sri Lankan, commercial trade routes. As Europeans, namely the Portuguese, expanded into the region, this flourishing Muslim trade became an irresistible target for European interlopers. The sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church was intolerant of Islam and encouraged the Portuguese to take over the profitable shipping trade monopolized by the Moors. In addition, the Portuguese would later have another strong motive for hostility toward the Moors because the latter played an important role in the Kandyan economy, one that enabled the kingdom successfully to resist the Portuguese. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Buddhism was suppressed in Sri Lanka under European rule. Monasteries were expropriated and monks had renounce Buddhism and carry on their worship in secret while appearing to be good Christians. By 19th century Buddhism was at its lowest point but then began to come back. The British were more tolerant and new movements appeared and gained momentum. By independence in 1948 it was dominant religion once again.

Arrival of the Portuguese in Sri Lanka

The first Portuguese visiting Ceylon was Dom Lourenço de Almeida arrived in 1505 or possibly 1506. He arrived accidentally, after a storm and strong drove him to the island’s coast near Galle. Dom Lourenço’s fleet anchored off Colombo. A memorial of this first landing was erected on a boulder overlooking the Bay of Colombo. The Portuguese called the rock "Padrao" and placed a cross and the Royal Arms of Portugal on it. This landmark — with the inexplicable date of 1501 — could still be seen in the 20th century. [Source: Marco Ramerini, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com ]

Don Lourenço de Almeida, son of the Portuguese viceroy in India, was sailing off the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka looking for Moorish ships to attack when stormy weather forced his fleet to dock at Galle. The Portuguese made a great impression on the inhabitants of Sri Lanka. According to the Rajavaliya their report to the king said: "There is in our harbour of Colombo a race of people fair of skin and comely withal. They don jackets of iron and hats of iron: they rest not a minute in one place: they walk here and there; they eat hunks of white stone and drink blood (presumably wine), they give two or three pieces of gold and silver for one fish or one lime; the report their cannon is louder than thunder when it bursts upon the rock Yugandhara. Their cannon balls fly many a gawwa and shatter fortresses of granite.'

The news spread quickly and reached King Parakramabahu VIII of Kotte (1484-1508), who offered gifts of cinnamon and elephants to the Portuguese to take back to their home port at Cochin on the Malabar Coast of southwestern India. The king also gave the Portuguese permission to build a residence in Colombo for trade purposes. Within a short time, however, Portuguese militaristic and monopolistic intentions became apparent. Their heavily fortified "trading post" at Colombo and open hostility toward the island's Muslim traders aroused Sinhalese suspicions. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

The Portuguese envoys were conducted to the court by a circuitous way by which they took three days to reach Kotte, lying only six miles from Colombo: this has passed into a proverb in Sinhala, though the Portuguese were not taken in by the trick. Don Lourenço de Almeida’s first expedition built a wooden chapel and an agency in Colombo. These structures were abandoned a few years later. A treaty was concluded with the King of Kotte, then about two hours by foot from Colombo. In 1518, the Viceroy Lopo Soares de Albergaria landed at Colombo with a large fleet. At this time the Portuguese began to build a small fort named "Nossa Senhora das Virtudes" or "Santa Barbara". This fort was a triangular in shape surmounted by a central tower. Sinhalese soon besieged the fort, and around 1524 the Portuguese dismantle it. The Portuguese kept an Agent in the Island under the protection of the Sinhalese King at Kotte. Giving up of Colombo was a mistake. The colony of Muslims merchants immediately attempted to win back their supremacy in the Kingdon of Kotte and to re-conquer the cinnamon trade. However, they were to be defeated by the few Portuguese still presents in the Island.

History of Trade in Sri Lanka

James L. A. Webb Jr. Wrote in History of World Trade Since 1450": “The Singhalese and Tamil communities of Sri Lanka had long participated in the wide currents of Indian Ocean maritime trade. Before 1450 the three principal regional trades were to the eastern and western coasts of India, to southwest Asia, and to Malacca. These regional trades were complex in that a number of ethnic groups participated and employed a wide variety of currencies. Indian and Sri Lankan merchants, principally financed by Indian banking firms, handled the trade to India. Arab Muslim merchants carried on the commerce between Sri Lanka and West Asia. Malaccan merchants traded with Sri Lanka, on the edge of their Southeast Asian and Chinese nexus of commerce. [Source: James L. A. Webb Jr. “History of World Trade Since 1450", Thomson Gale, 2006]

“The Sri Lankan goods traded into these regional networks were areca nuts (a stimulant chewed with betel leaves), elephants, precious gems, pearls, chanks (a sea-shell), and cinnamon. The principal imports were rice and cloth. These patterns continued in the midst of political change throughout the period 1506 to 1796, during which the Portuguese and then the Dutch attempted to impose their administrative control over certain export goods. During the nineteenth century the British substantially altered these regional trades through the extension of their commercial control over India, parts of southwest Asia, and Malaysia, and through the creation of extensive export-oriented plantations in the Sri Lankan highlands.

“In 1506 the Portuguese arrived on the southwestern coast of the island. In 1533 they established their control over the export of cinnamon through a contractual agreement with the king of the lowland state of Kotte. Both Portuguese and Muslim smugglers, however, regularly violated the Portuguese cinnamon monopoly, and the Portuguese Crown vacillated between a policy of royal monopoly and one of open trade in the spice. The Portuguese did succeed in binding new groups into onerous obligations to collect the tree's bark, and in increasing the volume of cinnamon exports to European, West Asian, and Indian markets, particularly in the seventeenth century. Individual Portuguese may have made fortunes in the cinnamon trade; the profits to the Crown appear to have been very modest. The Portuguese also attempted to impose on Singhalese farmers a system of the compulsory sale of areca nuts at below market prices, but with little success. The overall thrust of the Portuguese policies was to capture by administrative control a share of the benefits of these export trades.

“The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) ousted the Portuguese from the Sri Lanka littoral in 1658. The VOC attempted to impose a monopoly on Sri Lankan external trade in 1670 in all commodities except for rice. This exception was made because the volume of rice imported to the island was large, and the VOC lacked the shipping capacity to carry on the trade. The Dutch were unable to enforce effectively their monopoly, and as in the Portuguese period, a great deal of officially prohibited trade took place. The Dutch also reversed their policies more than once and never settled upon a course of action that worked to their satisfaction. The Dutch efforts to dominate the Sri Lankan export trades — again, with the exception of cinnamon, as in the Portuguese period — were only partly effective.

Portuguese Trade in Sri Lanka

Following the decline of the Chola as a maritime power in the twelfth century, Muslim trading communities in South Asia claimed a major share of commerce in the Indian Ocean and developed extensive east-west, as well as Indo-Sri Lankan, commercial trade routes. As the Portuguese expanded into the region, this flourishing Muslim trade became an irresistible target for European interlopers. The sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church was intolerant of Islam and encouraged the Portuguese to take over the profitable shipping trade monopolized by the Moors. In addition, the Portuguese would later have another strong motive for hostility toward the Moors because the latter played an important role in the Kandyan economy, one that enabled the kingdom successfully to resist the Portuguese. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The Portuguese soon decided that the island, which they called Cilao, conveyed a strategic advantage that was necessary for protecting their coastal establishments in India and increasing Lisbon's potential for dominating Indian Ocean trade. These incentives proved irresistible, and, the Portuguese, with only a limited number of personnel, sought to extend their power over the island. They had not long to wait. *

After the Portuguese had established themselves, the royal monopolies were: 1) Cinnamon, first collected by the Balagama people under Rajasinha I. They were organized under the Captain of the Mahabadda; 2) Areca and pepper, which the owners were compelled to sell to the Government at a fixed price; 3) Precious stones, in Sabaragamuwa; 4) Elephants, which were sold in India; and, 5) lastly, the Pearl Fishery. [Source: Rhajiv Ratnatunga, Lakdiva Books E-text]

Portuguese Take Over Kotte

Palace intrigue and then revolution in Kotte threatened the survival of the kingdom. The Portuguese skillfully exploited these developments. In 1521 Bhuvanekabahu, the ruler of Kotte, requested Portuguese aid against his brother, Mayadunne, the more able rival king who had established his independence from the Portuguese at Sitawake, a domain in the Kotte kingdom. Powerless on his own, King Bhuvanekabahu became a puppet of the Portuguese. But shortly before his death in 1551, the king successfully obtained Portuguese recognition of his grandson, Dharmapala, as his successor. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Portugal pledged to protect Dharmapala from attack in return for privileges, including a continuous payment in cinnamon and permission to rebuild the fort at Colombo on a grander scale. When Bhuvanekabahu died, Dharmapala, still a child, was entrusted to the Franciscans for his education, and, in 1557, he converted to Roman Catholicism. His conversion broke the centuries-old connection between Buddhism and the state, and a great majority of Sinhalese immediately disqualified the young monarch from any claim to the throne. The rival king at Sitawake exploited the issue of the prince's conversion and accused Dharmapala of being a puppet of a foreign power. *

Before long, rival King Mayadunne had annexed much of the Kotte kingdom and was threatening the security of the capital city itself. The Portuguese were obliged to defend Dharmapala (and their own credibility) because the ruler lacked a popular following. They were subsequently forced to abandon Kotte and retreat to Colombo, taking the despised puppet king with them. Mayadunne and, later, his son, Rajasinha, besieged Colombo many times. The latter was so successful that the Portuguese were once even forced to eat the flesh of their dead to avoid starvation. The Portuguese would probably have lost their holdings in Sri Lanka had they not had maritime superiority and been able to send reinforcements by sea from their base at Goa on the western coast of India. *

Portuguese, Sitawake, Jaffna and Kandy

The Kingdom of Sitawake put up the most vigorous opposition to Western imperialism in the island's history. For the seventy- three-year period of its existence, Sitawake (1521-94) rose to become the predominant power on the island, with only the Tamil kingdom at Jaffna and the Portuguese fort at Colombo beyond its control. When Rajasinha died in 1593, no effective successors were left to consolidate his gains, and the kingdom collapsed as quickly as it had arisen. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Dharmapala, despised by his countrymen and totally compromised by the Portuguese, was deprived of all his royal duties and became completely manipulated by the Portuguese advisers surrounding him. In 1580 the Franciscans persuaded him to make out a deed donating his dominions to the king of Portugal. When Dharmapala died in 1597, the Portuguese emissary, the captain-general, took formal possession of the kingdom. *

Portuguese missionaries had also been busily involving themselves in the affairs of the Tamil kingdom at Jaffna, converting almost the entire island of Mannar to Roman Catholicism by 1544. The reaction of Sangily, king of Jaffna, however, was to lead an expedition to Mannar and decapitate the resident priest and about 600 of his congregation. The king of Portugal took this as a personal affront and sent several expeditions against Jaffna. The Portuguese, having disposed of the Tamil king who fled south, installed one of the Tamil princes on the throne, obliging him to pay an annual tribute. In 1619 Lisbon annexed the Kingdom of Jaffna. *

After the annexation of Jaffna, only the central highland Kingdom of Kandy — the last remnant of Buddhist Sinhalese power — remained independent of Portuguese control. The kingdom acquired a new significance as custodian of Sinhalese nationalism. The Portuguese attempted the same strategy they had used successfully at Kotte and Jaffna and set up a puppet on the throne. They were able to put a queen on the Kandyan throne and even to have her baptized. But despite considerable Portuguese help, she was not able to retain power. The Portuguese spent the next half century trying in vain to expand their control over the Kingdom of Kandy. In one expedition in 1630, the Kandyans ambushed and massacred the whole Portuguese force, including the captain-general. The Kandyans fomented rebellion and consistently frustrated Portuguese attempts to expand into the interior. *

The areas the Portuguese claimed to control in Sri Lanka were part of what they majestically called the Estado da India and were governed in name by the viceroy in Goa, who represented the king. But in actuality, from headquarters in Colombo, the captain-general, a subordinate of the viceroy, directly ruled Sri Lanka with all the affectations of royalty once reserved for the Sinhalese kings. *

Portuguese Administration of Sri Lanka

The Portuguese did not try to alter the existing basic structure of native administration. Although Portuguese governors were put in charge of each province, the customary hierarchy, determined by caste and land ownership, remained unchanged. Traditional Sinhalese institutions were maintained and placed at the service of the new rulers. Portuguese administrators offered land grants to Europeans and Sinhalese in place of salaries, and the traditional compulsory labor obligation was used for construction and military purposes. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988]

The Portuguese Government of Lanka was subject to the Viceroy at Goa. At its head was the Captain General, with his residence at Malwana he was spoken of by the natives as the king of Malwana, with the title of Highness He was assisted by a Vedor da Fazenda, in charge of the revenue, and by an Ouvidor or judge. The `City of St. Lawrence' or Colombo was administered by a Chamber or municipal body. [Source: Rhajiv Ratnatunga, Lakdiva Books E-text ]

The country. was divided into four disavanies or pro vinces; each under a Disawa or governor, who possessed much greater powers than under the native kings. These provinces were Matara, including the whole of the pre\esent Southern Province and the Kolonna Korale, the Kalutara District and the Salpiti Korale; the Four Korales, comprising the northern part of the Kegalla District with the Siyane and Hapitigam Korales; the Seven Korales, or the Alutkuru Korale, the whole of the North Western Province, and in theory much of the North Central; and Sabaragamuwa, that is the Three Korales and Bulatgama of Kegalla District, the Howagam Korale, and the Ratnapura District less Kolonna Korale. The disavanies thus radiated from Kotte. A Disawa of Negombo appears in 1640. Each Korale or division of a disavany was under an Adigar, the later Korale Vidane or Korala, each pattu or subdivision was under an Atukorala, while in each village were mayorals or kariyakaranno, supervised by a Vidane in the case of the royal villages and those granted during pleasure or for a life or term of lives to Portuguese and others. All or almost all the land was held by service tenure, often military in character; there was little revenue in cash.

Portuguese and Religion Sri Lanka

The Portuguese tried vigorously, if not fanatically, to force religious and, to a lesser extent, educational, change in Sri Lanka. They discriminated against other religions with a vengeance, destroyed Buddhist and Hindu temples, and gave the temple lands to Roman Catholic religious orders. Buddhist monks fled to Kandy, which became a refuge for people disaffected with colonial rule. One of the most durable legacies of the Portuguese was the conversion of a large number of Sinhalese and Tamils to Roman Catholicism. Although small pockets of Nestorian Christianity had existed in Sri Lanka, the Portuguese were the first to propagate Christianity on a mass scale. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Sixteenth-century Portuguese Catholicism was intolerant. But perhaps because it caught Buddhism at its nadir, it nevertheless became rooted firmly enough on the island to survive the subsequent persecutions of the Protestant Dutch Reformists. The Roman Catholic Church was especially effective in fishing communities — both Sinhalese and Tamil — and contributed to the upward mobility of the castes associated with this occupation. Portuguese emphasis on proselytization spurred the development and standardization of educational institutions. In order to convert the masses, mission schools were opened, with instruction in Portuguese and Sinhalese or Tamil. Many Sinhalese converts assumed Portuguese names. The rise of many families influential in the twentieth century dates from this period. For a while, Portuguese became not only the language of the upper classes of Sri Lanka but also the lingua franca of prominence in the Asian maritime world. *

In ecclesiastical affairs the Island formed part of the diocese of Cochin, whose Bishop governed through a Vicar Genral. The first missionaries were Franciscans, but shortly after 1600 the Jesuits, the Dominicans, and the Augustinians came into the field in addition to the secular clergy. The Franciscans had been given the temple villages by Dharmapala in 1591, but were deprived of them by the civil authorities, whose indifference and opposition to the enterprise of the clergy was a matter of grievance. In the three Franciscan' Colleges,' attached to `the monasteries, there were taught religion, good manners (viores), reading, writing and arithmetic, singing, and Latin. There were also parish schools; of these in Jaffna the Franciscans had twenty-five and the Jesuits twelve. The latter Order also had colleges in Jaffna and Colombo for higher education. All education was free. [Source: Rhajiv Ratnatunga, Lakdiva Books E-text ]

But there is another side to the picture We must put a De Sa against a De Azevedo. The clergy, though they were keen on the service of His Majesty as well as on the service of God, usually were on the side of the people against their oppressors. The fact that their converts, as in Japan, retained the Christian religion in spite of lack of clergy and active persecution by the Dutch, speaks much in their favour, and such a result cannot have come from a nation wholly bad. In another sphere to the Portuguese is due the introduction of chillies, tobacco, and a number: of foreign fruit trees. And one cannot withhold admiration for the pluck and endurance with which a few hundred men, fighting in a tropical climate, succeeded in reducing so large a territory. It is interesting to speculate what the history of Lanka would have been had the Portuguese not ventured to India. There seems to be little doubt that the kingdom of Vijayanagar would have collapsed earlier than it did, and that the south of India and with it possibly Lanka would have fallen under Muhammadan rule.

Intermixing by the Portuguese in Sri Lanka

Marco Ramerini wrote in “The Burgher of Ceylon”: “The Portuguese were from the beginning (Afonso de Albuquerque) the first to experiment a colonisation based on colonies of Portuguese citizens "casados". Since the Portuguese women were few, mixed marriages were encouraged between the Portuguese and the Asians. Albuquerque tried to create a new Portuguese nation in Asia to make up for the lack of people from Portugal. [Source: “The Burgher of Ceylon” by Marco Ramerini]

This method of settlement was extremely successful. In fact, after a century of this colonisation, in practically every outpost of the empire, there were colonies of mixed Portuguese, that spoke Portuguese, were Catholic and were better suited to the tropical climates than the European-born Portuguese. Thanks to this strategy, the Portuguese succeeded in withstanding the siege of the Dutch in Ceylon for nearly 60 years.

Portuguese Military in Sri Lanka

In military matters the Captain Major of the Field was the chief Portuguese officer under the Captain General; his headquarters were at Menikkadawara. The principal fortresses were Colombo, Galle and Jaffna. The Portuguese troops wore either casados or married men, only called upon in an emergency, and the soldados, whose. discipline practically disappeared in time of peace, all who then were little better than brigands. This is not surprising,as at one time service in Lanka was an alternative to prison. [Source: Rhajiv Ratnatunga, Lakdiva Books E-text ]

The native levies or Lascarins were under the Disawa, and under the supreme command of the Vikramasinha, the Senevirad of earlier times.: He alone under the kings of Kotte with the exception of the royal family was allowed the use of a palanquin. The Lascarins, who served for fifteen days at a time, were armed with swords, bows and arrows, spears or muskets. The artillery attached to these levies consisted of gingals; these were light portable pieces of ordnance, somewhat after the fashion of an enormous pistol supported in front by two. legs and throwing a ball of some four to twelve ounces in weight, and were fired by the gunner in a sitting posture.

The Portuguese do not seem to have employed elephants in warfare, though these beasts were used by Rajasinha I. in besieging Colombo, and, with swords and knives fastened to their trunks, were wont to lead the van of the Sinhala army. Jaffna was under a separate administration, subject however to the Captain General, the chief officers being the Captain Major of the Kingdom, the Factor and the Ouvidor. Mannar was under a Captain, who lost much of his importance when Jaffna was conquered.

In the army the total lack of discipline in time of peace and the peculation of their pay by their superiors turned soldiers into armed highway robbers. The constant wars added to the harassing of the people by perpetual services led to the depopulation of much of the country, and at the end of the Portuguese rule the Disavany of Matara could only supply 1500 Lascarins against 4000 under De Azevedo. The popular discontent was not allayed by the destruction of the temples, an unwise proceeding in the unsettled state of the country, though it is only fair to say that in certain cases, such as that of the Munnessaram. pagoda, the temples were destroyed in retaliation for the burning of churches.

Justice System of the Portuguese in Sri Lanka

The Disawas possessed civil, including judicial, as well as military jurisdiction over the natives of the country. Further, a tribunal of the Captain General's `banacas' (banneka or basnayaka) or secretaries assisted him in the disposal of such cases as came before him. Every year what may be called assizes were held in the country, for the primary purpose of collecting the marala or death duty, one maralleiro for each disavany appointed by the Bandigerala, originally perhaps a treasury officer, visiting his province, assisted by two interpreters of the laws, a sheriff and a secretary. [Source: Rhajiv Ratnatunga, Lakdiva Books E-text]

Under the native kings, if there were no male heir to a service holding, the whole eseheated to the Crown; otherwise it was heritable on payment of one-third of the movables of the deceased. This last share was that taken by the Portuguese in the former ease also, Christians being exempted from this impost. The assizes dealt not, only with the estates of deceased persons, but also with civil and criminal matters, such as debt, theft, and murder. If the murderer was arrested within sixty days the General or Disawa condemned him to death offhand, but had no power to do so after the elapse of that period, when the criminal could confess at the assizes and compound. No such privilege, however, existed where a low caste man had killed one of high caste. Questions of caste such as irregular marriages also came before the assizes, and the ordeals of oil, red hot iron, and the like were in use. A sanctuary existed. at Galle for all crimes save treason, false coining, and murder of a sheriff or judge. The system of criminal jurisprudence should be compared with that prevailing in the tenth century.

So much has been published as to the iniquities of the Portuguese that little remains to be said. Corruption and peculation prevailed in all departments of the administration. The Sinhala had chosen to abide by their own laws at the meeting at Malwana in 1597. These were never codified, and much of the tyranny and violence suffered by the people was due to the Portuguese under the influence of avarice carrying out the native system of government to its logical conclusion, regardless of the restraining influence of custom. For example, areca undoubtedly was a monopoly of the last Kandyan kings, and we have seen in the tenth century that fruit trees could be cut down in the villages: both these rights were carried to excess by the new lords to the total impoverishment of the people. Under the old government the chiefs had a wholesome fear of the king, who, if a strong ruler, suffered no tyrant but himself; under the Portuguese every lord of a village, nay, every petty headman, assumed powers which would not have been tolerated before. It must be remembered that the worst enemies of the villager often were his own fellow-countrymen; the Vidanes were as bad as any Portuguese village lord, and the Lascarins in 1636 actually prayed for Portuguese instead of Sinhala Mudaliyars and Arachchis, a prayer curiously reminiscent of a similar request by the people at Kandy in 1815.

Travels and Adventures of Joao Ribeiro (1641 to 1659 )

Joao Ribeiro was 19 when he came to Ceylon to serve in the Portuguese army. He rose to the rank of Captain and was in the thick of fighting during the next eighteen years both against the forces of Rajasinha II, the Kandyan king, and the Hollanders who dislodged the Portuguese, capturing Colombo in 1656 and Jaffna in 1658. In his old age in Lisbon Joao Ribeiro wrote one of the interesting books on Ceylon of his time, which takes its place by the side of Robert Knox’s famous work dealing with the Kandyan kingdom. [Source: “Ceylon of the Early Travellers” by H.A.J. Hulugalle, published by Arjuna Hulugalle Dictionaries]

Ribeiro was the son of a "barreteiro" or cap maker by profession of Lisbon. He left his native city in March 1640 in the fleet, which brought a new viceroy to India. The voyage took six months. In Ceylon the Portuguese were in a bad way. They had lost Negombo and Galle to the Dutch. The viceroy found an empty exchequer in Goa but felt that something had to be done to retrieve the situation in Ceylon. He fitted out a fleet consisting of "sixteen galliots and fustas, with four hundred soldiers and some brave Captains", under the command of Dom Filippe Mascarenhas, a man of great wealth, which arrived in Colombo in eleven days.

Ribeiro’s prologue to his work says: "These memoirs cost me more to acquire than to commit to writing, because they were obtained not from hearsay, but from toil and experience. To commit them to writing I had not to steal the time from any other occupation. They are not published for the display of rhetoric or style, for such should not be expected from a soldier who has spent the best years of his life in war. They are due to my regret that there is no one willing to occupy himself in placing on record the greatness and the events of Ceiloa so that they may reach the notice of everyone".

There are many fuller descriptions of Portuguese rule in Ceylon by contemporary writers like de Queyroz, de Barros, Couto and Friar Negrao. Captain Ribeiro’s account was based on the first-hand experience as a soldier. Though his memory may have failed him sometimes, his is a sober and responsible piece of work by a man of faith and understanding. "The worst", he says, "is that in spite of everything, someone who reads or hears this might say - and with a certain amount of reason - that these are exaggerations and falsehoods, to ascertain if I can obtain reward and acquire some reputation for myself. I therefore protest before Jesus Christ that I have set out no matter which is fictitious, but the pure and simple truth". Captain Joao Ribeiro died in Lisbon in November 1693.

Joao Ribeiro on Ceylon

Ribeiro always regretted that the Government in Portugal did not do enough to retain Ceylon, which to him was "the loveliest parcel of land, which the Creator has placed upon this earth." He thought that the Portuguese should have settled in Ceylon in larger numbers than they did. If a beginning had been made with smaller settlements, the larger would have volunteered if they heard the success of the former. "Thus", he writes, "Ceiloa would have been peopled, our forces united, our countrymen enriched and delivered from anyone who could oppress them at any time, and our Kingdom becomes the most prosperous and wealthy the world has ever seen, as in the remarks I have still to make". [Source: “Ceylon of the Early Travellers” by H.A.J. Hulugalle, published by Arjuna Hulugalle Dictionaries]

He argued that Ceylon had resources of which few countries of its size could boast. "Its cinnamon is the best in the world; its gems are in such abundance, and only diamonds and emeralds are wanting; its elephants are the most prized of any within our discoveries, its pepper is the finest in the East, the pearls and seed pearls of its waters are considered very excellent...Methinks those who declared that this Island is the terrestrial Paradise, did so not in consequence of its fertility or the profusion of every kind of dainty to support life, not for the blandness or the healthiness of its climate, nor for the Footprint two palms long which the gentiles have fabricated to attract veneration to the spot but because, while its extent is limited, it produces such abundance of riches". There was also its strategic position.

Ribeiro’s description of the country, its people and their habits is based on shrewd observation and is a valuable contribution to the social history of the time. Land tenure, administration of justice, rites and ceremonies, food habits, medical practice, nature of marriages and customs of the Sinhalese, wild animals, the pearl fishery and peculiarities of elephants are among the subjects with which he deals in the first part of the book. The pearl fishery brought men from many countries. Ribeiro writes:

"Half a league to windward on the same shore all the businessmen who come there assemble and a free Fair is held, laid out like some gallant city with streets and rows of shops; where they collect every kind of merchandise which our discoveries trade in with the nations of Europe and the whole of Asia. For this purpose they bring their gold, silver in bars and wrought, all kinds of precious stones, amber, perfumes, carpets, meleques, money, with the rarities of all the provinces of the world, in such a fashion that if there is anything anywhere of which one can spend time and money in seeing it, it is this great Fair. From the surroundings is brought every variety of food, and though the people are numerous and of various races and religions - Christians, Jews, Moors and Gentiles - they can all obtain the food to which they are accustomed.

"Here everything is bought and sold which each one would like to take to his own country - not only pearls, but everything on which profit can be made". The Fair lasted fifty days and it must have been among the most famous of its kind in the East. Like others who came to Ceylon and lived to write about it, Ribeiro describes Adam’s Peak, the sacred mountain of Ceylon. "This mountain", he writes, "is one of the wonders of the world, for although it is situated twenty leagues inland, on a clear day sailors can see it the same distance out at sea".

Ribeiro was a man of religion. He often invokes the name of the Supreme Being. When the Constantino de Sa fell in battle, he says: "At last wounded by bows and arrows he yielded up his soul to the Creator". Although he glosses over the cruelties of the Portuguese he does not always condemn the Sinhalese rulers. For example he writes that, after the battle of Gannoruwa, in which the Portuguese were completely routed, "the King and the Prince of Uva issued orders not to kill the Portuguese who remained alive".

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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