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Sri Lanka  

People and Ethnic Groups updated

Yakkas & Nagas Veddhas Singalese  
Tamil Muslims & Moors Malay - "Ja Minissu"
Burghers  Colombo Chetties Ceylon Jews 
Nittevo Caste System in Sri Lanka Rodi 
Naming Conventions & Genealogy Sri Lankan Personalities Gypsies

According to the estimates, in 1995, there were 18,112,000 people living in Sri Lanka. The poulation density was 289 Per Sq. Km. Average annual growth rate was 1.37% and the average life expectancy 67.5 years (males 66 years, females 69 years. The population consists of multi ethnic groups: Sinhalese 74%; Tamil 18%; Moor (Muslims) 7%; others (Burghers, Eurasians, Malay, Veddha) 1%. Largest ethnic group divided into low-country Sinhalese (subjected in coastal areas to greater colonial acculturation) and Kandyan Sinhalese (more traditional upland dwellers, named after Kingdom of Kandy, which resisted European encroachments until 1815-18). Tamils divided into Sri Lankan Tamils (on island since early historic times) and Indian Tamils (brought in as plantation labor in the nineteenth century). The Sinhalese moved from north India and conquered the island, in the 6th century; Tamils arrived in the 11th century (Ceylon Tamils) settling in the northern and eastern sections of the island; and Arabs came in the 12th and 13th centuries (Ceylon Moors). The British imported more Tamils (Indian Tamils) from south India in the late 19th century to pick tea on their estates in the central highlands.

Yakkas,  Rakshasas & Nagas - ( Yakas , Yakos, Naagas )

Veddhas - Sri Lankan Aborigines 

"I was born in the forest. My ancestors come from here. We are the forest beings, and I want to live and die here. And even if I were reborn only as a fly or an ant, I would still be happy so long as I knew I would come back to live here in the forest." - Uru Warige Tissahamy

Sri lankan Gypsies:  Ahikuntika



Muslims (Moors)

There have been Muslims in Sri Lanka for well over a thousand years. Trading dhows plied the waters between the Middle East and the island known to Arab sailors - like the legendary Sinbad - as Serendib even in pre-Islamic times. The first Muslim merchants and sailors may have landed on its shores during the Prophrt Muhammad's life time. By the 10th century this predominantly Arab community had grown influential enough to control the trade of the south-western ports, whilst the Sinhalese kings generally employed Muslim ministers to direct the state's commercial affairs. In 1157 the king of the neighbouring Maldive Islands was converted to Islam, and in 1238 an embassy to Egypt sent by King Bhuvaneka Bahu I was headed by Sri Lankan Muslims.

Thousands of Muslims in northern Sri Lanka were ordered to leave their properties by the LTTE in 1991. They were only allowed to take minimum of their posessions and limited amount of cash. Everything else got confiscated by the Tamil Tigers. This act is described by some as ethnically cleansing the North. Tamil Tigers later apologised to Muslims after it was heavily criticised by human rights activists. 'Tigers say Tamils are discriminated against by Sinhalese. But they did the same thing against Muslims,' said a senior peace envoy from Norway to the BBC Sinhala service.

Malay - "Ja Minissu"

A group of Malay women in traditional Malay costumes


When the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505 they brought soldiers and other supporting staff. Those who settled down got married to local women and a new ethnic group was born. Soon, the Dutch and the British followed. The descendants of the union between the colonisers and the locals came to be known as Burghers.

The term Burgher was defined by Chief Justice of Ceylon, Sir Richard Ottley, in an authoritative pronouncement, when he gave evidence before the Commission which was appointed in connection with the  establishment of a Legislative Council in Ceylon in 1883. He stated that,
"The name Burgher belongs to the descendants of the Dutch, Portuguese and other Europeans born in Ceylon, and the  right to distinction must not be decided by the Country from which their father or paternal ancestor came. So whatever the number of generations through which  the family has passed in this Island, if the male ancestors were Dutch,  Portuguese and or other Europeans, whoever may have been the female parents, if the parents were married, the offspring would be Burgher. If the parents were not married, the country of the mother would  decide the question. If the right to be denominated Burgher be once lost by the legitimate father being a Cingalese or other Indian, it cannot be recovered."

The Colombo Chetties ( Colombo Chetty )

Ceylon Jews

Sri Lankan BlacksNew

  • Sri Lanka's Lost Tribe - The Nittevo (The Nittevo are said to have been a dwarfish race of men who lived in the Mahalenama region now within the Yala East Intermediate Zone and the Tamankaduva area. These folk are believed to have been exterminated by the Veddas about 250 years ago)
  • Ethnic Distribution in Sri Lanka - Map
  • Sri Lankanness : do we have 'races' or, are we hybrid?  ( Sri Lankan in todays multi-ethnic and pluralistic context within the territory Sri Lanka)
  • Ethnic Diversities and linkages in Sri Lanka ( Prof. Stanley Tambiah, after years of painstaking research, has come to the conclusion that the Sinhalese and the Tamils share many parallel features of "traditional caste, kinship, popular religious cults, customs and so on.)  

    Caste System of Sri Lanka

    When the Portuguese began to trade extensively with South Asia, they quickly noticed a fundamental difference between South Asian societies and those of other world areas. In India and Sri Lanka, societies are broken up into a large number of groups who do not intermarry, who are ranked in relation to each other, and whose interactions are governed by a multitude of ritualized behaviors. The Portuguese called these groups casta, from which the English term caste is derived. In South Asia, they are described by the term jati, or birth. According to traditional culture, every person is born into a particular group that defines his or her unchangeable position within society.  

    Rodi: Sri Lanka's Untouchables

    Naming Conventions & Genealogy of Some Sri Lankan Families
    Sri Lankan Personalities  

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