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Kaffirs in Sri Lanka - Descendants of enslaved Africans
The Kaffirs were brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, Dutch and British
 
 
The Kaffirs were brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, as a part of the naval force and for domestic work. Portuguese seafarers carried the first kaffirs to what was then Ceylon in the 1500s, most likely from Mozambique. Later, British colonists brought others to fight against Ceylonese armies in "kaffir regiments."

Kaffirs are very similar to the African populations in Iraq, Iran and Kuwait, and known in Pakistan as Sheedis and India as Siddis. The Siddis, Sheedis and kaffirs don't know about each other, and only a few of their educated countrymen know who they are or where they came from. But even in a part of the world where most people have dark skin, these South Asian Africans stand out.

 
 
Copyright 2005 LankaLibrary.com
July 10, 2005

The Kaffirs: lost tribes of Africa

IN Sri Lanka, an ethnic group known as kaffirs live simply in thatch-roofed houses set among palm trees on the western coast, integrated with other Sri Lankans but noticeably different.

The Kaffirs were brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, as a part of the naval force and for domestic work. Portuguese seafarers carried the first kaffirs to what was then Ceylon in the 1500s, most likely from Mozambique. Later, British colonists brought others to fight against Ceylonese armies in "kaffir regiments."

Whatever their African origins, the Kaffirs were exposed to and have assumed Portuguese culture. Not surprisingly, there was intermarriage between the Portuguese Burghers and Kaffirs who belonged to the same culture set ; they spoke Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole and were Roman Catholics.

In addition to physical features -- some Sri Lankan kaffirs wear braids or Afro hairstyles and have retained remnants of their African heritage in dance, music & speech. In Sri Lanka, the several hundred kaffirs live among the palm trees around Puttalam on the northwest coast and near the eastern city of Batticaloa. Most of them are Catholics ("kaffir" is an Arabic word that denotes someone who is not a Muslim).

These Kaffirs perform African songs in a creolized Portuguese.

The Kaffirs are mainly chena cultivators but a few have found employment in the Puttalam Salt Pans, the Puttalam hospital and in local government offices as peons and labourers. Although they have withstood cultural pressures from the other ethnic groups for a long period, they are now blending into multiethnic Sri Lanka due to cross-cultural marriages.

Kaffirs are very similar to the African populations in Iraq, Iran and Kuwait, and known in Pakistan as Sheedis and India as Siddis. The Siddis, Sheedis and kaffirs don't know about each other, and only a few of their educated countrymen know who they are or where they came from. But even in a part of the world where most people have dark skin, these South Asian Africans stand out.

There seems to be only a few thousand of these Kaffirs in Sri Lanka but they represent the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to the island within the past several hundred years. These Blacks have distinct recollections of Africa. The Siddis, Sheedis and Kaffirs are among the lost tribes of Africa.

 
 

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