The Rich Cultural Heritage of Sri Lanka Kaffirs

The Afro-Sri Lankans are a vibrant community with a rich cultural heritage that spans several centuries. Their roots can be traced back to African countries, with their ancestors willingly or unwillingly migrating to the Indian Ocean region. Their journey eastwards differed from their fellow Africans who traveled westwards across the Atlantic Ocean.

Throughout history, Afro-Sri Lankans played diverse roles in society. They served as mercenaries, musicians, road-builders, railway-line constructors, domestic servants, and even divers in pearl fisheries. Despite their significant presence on the island, there is a lack of written history about the Afro-Sri Lankans. In Asian literature, people of African descent are referred to as Habshi, Sidi, or Kaffir/Cafre/Caffre. In Sri Lanka, they are commonly known as Kaffirs, a term that originated from the colonial era. It is important to note that the term is merely an ethnic label and not a racial epithet.

The Afro-Sri Lankans brought with them rich oral traditions, and it is crucial to document their history. Although the Portuguese period of colonization waned, the Afro-Sri Lankans remained an identifiable ethnic group. However, the last remaining community of Afro-Sri Lankans in Sirambiyadiya has been marginalized due to the absence of Portuguese influence and the end of European colonization.

In contemporary Sri Lanka, the Afro-Sri Lankans are a small minority in a diverse country comprised of various ethnic groups. The ethnic composition of Sri Lanka includes Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Sri Lankan Moors, Indian Tamils, Malays, Burghers & Eurasians, Veddhas, and Kaffirs. While the Afro-Sri Lankans are not explicitly mentioned as a separate group in recent census reports due to their dwindling numbers, their unique identity remains significant.

Language and religion have played vital roles in Afro-Sri Lankan culture. They spoke Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole, a language that facilitated communication in the multilingual environment of the island. A remarkable aspect of Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole is its survival without obliteration by the Dutch and the British, the successive colonial rulers. The robustness of the language eventually gave way to English, which became the lingua franca for external communication and trade.

Religiously, Afro-Sri Lankans were predominantly Roman Catholics, inheriting their faith from the Portuguese colonizers. The Afro-Sri Lankans were part of a larger Portuguese Burgher community, sharing cultural and religious ties. Roman Catholicism acted as a binding force for the Afro-Sri Lankans, fostering a sense of identity and community.

Music, song, and dance have also played integral roles in Afro-Sri Lankan culture. The Afro-Sri Lankans have preserved their Portuguese identity through their music and dance traditions. The Afro-Sri Lankan music group, led by Marie Jacinta, showcases the vibrant Portuguese influence in their performances. Traditional songs such as “Senhor Sanantoni” and “Singale Nona” continue to be sung, preserving a piece of Afro-Sri Lankan history. The Kaffrinha dances, a fusion of African, Portuguese, and Sinhalese elements, have become an integral part of contemporary Sri Lankan culture.

While Afro-Sri Lankans have faced marginalization, they continue to assimilate into Sri Lankan society. The younger generation, influenced by evolving socio-economic conditions, is deviating from traditional roles and seeking opportunities abroad. Despite the decline of the Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole language, Afro-Sri Lankans remain connected through their shared musical and choreographic heritage.

The Afro-Sri Lankans’ journey is a testament to resilience and the ability to maintain their cultural identity amidst changing times. They play an essential role in adding diversity and vibrancy to Sri Lankan society. To learn more about the Afro-Sri Lankan community and its rich cultural heritage, visit DHPL Travels for a deeper understanding of Sri Lanka’s fascinating history and cultural tapestry.

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