Login    Forum    Search    FAQ

Board index » History & Archaeology » Colonial History (1505 – 1948)

Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 2 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: 15th of November, 1505 - 500 years ago today
 Post Posted: Tue Nov 15, 2005 3:43 am 
500 years ago today

15th of November, 2005
by Dr. Piyasena Dissanayake

The Portuguese were the first European aggressors to arrive in Sri Lanka. They arrived in the island on the 15th of November, 1505. Dharma Parakrama IX was the reigning monarch at the time with his seat of Government in Kotte. They assured the king that trade was the sole objective of their visit and sought permission to set up a trading post in Colombo. Believing in their assurances the king agreed to the request, despite a warning by the Arab traders in this country that in their experience of these white men in India, they could turn out to be treacherous in the end!

Proving the Arabs right, the Portuguese built a factory in Colombo in 1518 and began continuous presence in the country from the on. They gradually entrenched themselves in the kingdom and got themselves involved in the internal affairs of the country. The weak and irresolute nature of the king enabled the Portuguese to make him a puppet in their cunning hands. Finally the king was forced to agree to be a vassal and pay annual tribute!

By 1540, the Portuguese treachery was so successful that they succeeded in estranging the Sinhala monarch from his own subjects that he found himself now entirely at their mercy so much so that he (the king) had to appeal to the Portuguese to ensure the succession of his family to the throne. To give solemnity to their undertaking, an image of the king’s grandson ( Dharmapala), who was the only male child of the royal household, was made of ivory and gold, and dispatched it with a jewelled crown to Lisbon, where a formal coronation of the effigy of Dharmapala was held by the Portuguese Emperor.

A mural at the Kelaniya temple showing vandalism of Portuguese

In return for the recognition of Dharmapala as heir to the Sinhala kingdom, Dharmapala abandoned the national faith of Buddhism and professed himself a convert to Roman Catholicism. A party of Franciscan monks accompanied the Sinhala Ambassadors, who had accompanied the effigy to Lisbon, to Colombo from Lisbon. The Franciscans were permitted to preach the Gospel of Christ in all parts of the country. Thus the first Christian communities were established in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile the Portuguese had successfully extended their power as far inland as possible. And by the beginning of the 17th Century the territory under their direct control embraced the whole of the maritime districts including Jaffna Peninsula, and inland right up to the areas around the Kingdom of Kandy.

Their rule in the island was marked by a rapacity, bigotry, cruelty and an inhumanity unparalleled in the annals of any other European power. Their ferocity and their utter indifference to all suffering increased with the success of their army; their inhuman barbarities were accompanied by a callousness which knew no distinction between man, woman and child. To terrify their subjects and to bring home to them the might of the Portuguese power, they committed atrocities which, had they not been found recorded in the decades of their own friendly historians, seem to revolting to be true.

According to the Portuguese historian Faria Y. Sousa, "Babes were spitted on the soldiers’ pikes and held up that their parents might" hear the young cocks crow". Sometimes they were smashed to pulp between millstones, while their mothers were compelled to witness the pitiful sight before they themselves were tortured to death. Men were thrown over bridges for the amusement of the troops to feed the crocodiles in the river, which eventually grew so tame that at a while they would raise their heads above the water in anticipation of a welcome feast".

The Franciscan monks who accompanied the Sinhala Ambassadors on their return from Lisbon immediately set about their work of converting the Sinhalese. The Portuguese had as their motto ‘Amity, Commerce and Religion’ and nowhere were they more zealous than in the propagation of the gospel. Their instructions were "to begin by preaching, but that failing, to proceed to the decision of the sword." In 1546 the Emperor of Portugal sent a remarkable letter to his Viceroy in India, which was applicable to his officials in Sri Lanka as well. It said, "We charge you to discover all idols by means of diligent officers, to reduce them to fragments in whatever place they may be found, proclaiming rigorous penalties against such persons as shall dare to engrave, cast, sculpture, limn, paint, or to bring to light any figure in metal, bronze, wood or clay or any other substance or shall introduce them from foreign parts, and gainst those who shall celebrate in public or in private any festivities which have any gentile taint or shall abet them". These instructions were carried out to the letter. In instilling terror into whom they considered heathens, they destroyed the religious places of the Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims.

Some of the more significant and scared places that witnessed their brutality were the asking and destruction in 1588, first of Sinigama Devale and the world renown Wijayaba Pirivena at Totagamuwa and, thereafter famous temple at Devundara sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. In 1624 they sacked the (Shrines) Trincomalee. In a different form they acquired religious places of considerable wealth as in 1557, when they received on demand from king Dharmapala the Daladage at Kotte and the Rajamaha Viharaya at Kelaniya.

The success of the Franciscan monks reached its climax when Dharmapala was baptised as a Christian along with the Queen who took the name of Dona Caterina, after the Queen of Portugal. Dharmapala’s thanksgiving to the missionaries for his conversion was a ‘Sannasa’ gifting the Dalada Maligawa at Kotte and the historical shrines at Kelaniya, and the temple revenues in the island for the maintenance of the missionary establishments.

When the Portuguese gained mastery over the island below the Kandyan hills, they adopted more rigorous method in their missionary activities. The missionaries could see in Buddhism nothing but the abhorrent creation of the devil they did not stop to inquire what the principles which were taught by its sages nor what the ideals after which its lofty philosophy it was their duty to God to destroy Buddhism by every means in their power.

No trouble was spared to achieve that object; monasteries were razed; and their priceless treasure looted. Libraries were set on fire whosoever dared to worship in public was visited with death. The great Buddhist educational institution at Totagamuwa and Keragala, which had carried on the traditions of Taxila and Nalanda were destroyed and their incumbent killed. Buddhist religious edifices, which had taken generations to build were completely destroyed. Never was a glorious civilization and a noble culture more brutally destroyed. The work of centuries was undone in a few years.

The Portuguese occupation of the country brought nothing but ruin and disaster to the people. Brigandage, naked and unashamed, had taken the place of statesmanship. Their vicious actions destroyed the customary law of the country. Years of misrule and oppression had earned for the Portuguese nothing but execration and hatred. In place of the humane and co-operative spirit that existed among the indigenous people for millennia, they introduced a way of life based on crass materialism and cut throat competition, which eventually led to the emergency of a ruling elite, which had grasped neither the essence of the Western culture nor the noble values of our own national culture!

 Post subject: Landing of the Portuguese
 Post Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2005 1:42 am 
Landing of the Portuguese

by Stanley E. Abeynayake
@ The Island / 22Nov2005

On November 15, 1505 nearly five hundred years ago, the Portuguese entered Colombo Harbour, an accident by which the way was paved for the establishment of Portuguese dominion of the maritime provinces of Sri Lanka. They ruled those parts for a period of 153 years - 1505-1658. It has special historical significance for all Sri Lankans — their first arrival in Colombo by sailing from Galle.

The ‘Conquests’ of De Queyroz give some very interesting details of that unexpected event.

The Portuguese Viceroy of India, Don Francis de Almeda, had in November, 1505 despatched his son Don Laurenco de Almeida from Goa to pursue some pirates who had Maldive Islands as their base of operations and terrorrorised the south coast of India. When nearing the Maldives, however, Don Laurenco’s squadron already driven by contrary winds, was finally caught in the eye of a fierce storm. Seeing the impending danger, he summoned his captains to a conference at which was present the chaplain of the fleet, father Vincent, a Catholic priest of St. Franciscan sect and a man of known sanctity.

In the midst of indecisive counsel, some of the captains urging him to going forward, others pleading to return to Cochin, Don Laurenco appealed to the chaplain.

"Father," he asked, "what Jonas will put an end to this temperate? For were it in my power, I should try the impossible to carry out the order. I have not so much because of the prize that would be secured by this expedition, but rather that I might not seem to be wanting in my duty.

"The secrets of God", replied Father Vincent, are known to Him alone and to those who by His favour therein them. I trust in the same Lord that towards morning I shall be able to give a better solution, for in matters of such import, all hurry is rash".

They agreed to follow his advice, and Father Vincent spent the whole night in prayer. By morning the wind had abated and, after saying Holy Mass, at which Don Laurenco and his captains assisted, Father Vincent expressed as follows:

Brethren the purpose of God in divesting our course will be shown by his Divine Majesty Himself. For, before beginning Mass I placed under the after stone two writings, in which I begged him to show us whether he as pleased we should sail for the Maldives or back to Cochin, and looking for them afterwards, I found neither. And thus there was no way for the wind to carry them away, I conclude that Heaven is leading us in another direction for the greatest service of god."

Father Vincent’s words were received with mixed feeling. Some shared his pions expectations, other particularly the sailors, took the gloomiest view for the storm continued, the squadron sailing before the wind and the prevalent feeling was that they might all be wrecked at any moment.

But as De. Queyroz tells us, "by a dispensation of heaven, when they least expected it they came in sight of the port of Gale (Galle) at the extremity of the Island of Ceylon God wishing thereby to show them that He did not lead them to India to be pirates, but to be conquerors."

They anchored in Galle where they remained for a few days profiting meanwhile to take in fresh water, provisions etc. and to institute enquiries about the country into which providence had led them unwittingly.

They them heard that further up along the western coast, there was another harbour, larger than that of Galle and hearer Cota (Kotte), the capital of the kingdom where the Sinhalese King resided. The squalls therenpon set sail again and entered Colombo Harbour on November 15, 1505 nearly five hundred years.

The affairs in Sri Lanka, them renowned as Ceylan at that time that is beginning of the 16th Century were in a most critical situation. All the trade of the Island was in the hands of the Moors. The weather which this trade brought them rendered them powerful and gave them a great ascendancy over the native rulers of the country.

They took profit of their quarrels and sustained by the Zamorin Muslim King of Calicut whose subjects they were, their aim at this time was to become the absolute rulers of western Sri Lanka — Ceylan. The arrival of the Portuguese saved the Sinhalese from the slavery of the Moors. The Sinhalese owe to the Portuguese despite their vandalism, barbariarism or savage ways their national existence. Had not the Portuguese landed then in our country there would be no Sinhalese today; they would have all become Moormen as it happened in the Maldives, Indonesia, Malaysia and even in some parts of India.

However, the most valiant soldier King Rajasinha I, whoruled from 1581 till 1592 the Sitavaka kingdom, was the most formidable for the Portuguese. The latter wanted to advanc towards the interior of the country. But Rajasinbgha 1 stopped them at the Battle of Mulleriyawa near Hanwella (Gurubewila, Kaduwela, Biyagama and Rakgahawatte) in 1562 nearly annihilating the Portuguese. Thus, the Portuguese historians compared him to General Hannibal. After King Rajasinhe’s death his people in the Sitavaka Kingdom deified him as ‘Medagoda-Ganegoda Deviyo’ for he established a ‘devale’ in Medagoda, Anithisigala in Ruwanwella of the Kegalle district — Sabaragamuwa Province. Gammaduwa ‘thovil’ ceremonies of that ‘devale’ were performed periodically in his royal village of historic Biyagama, close to Kelaniya till the early part of 1950s. In that thovil ceremony the victory of King Rajasingha I of Sitavaka was displayed by way of a dance called ‘Ganegoda Diviyo natuma’ — the dance of that deity.

During the course of that dance, the chief ‘Kapumahathaya’ of that devale dressed regally like that gallant king taking a wooden sword dances round the ‘Gammaduwa’ to the recital of poems about massacring the Portuguese soldiers at Mulleriyawa. Swayed by the rhythm of the drums, he chases after a fair-skinned dancer also with a sword in land dressed like a portuguese warrior. After the duo chasing one another, the defeat of the Portuguese is shown in dance. At the culmination of the dance, the Kapumahathaya goes into a trance apparently due to the unforeseen influence and power of that deity — Medagoda Deviyo — the rein carnation of the warrior king — the terror of the Portuguese regime in our country.

That was perhaps the only local item that displayed aesthelically in dance form the vanquishing by the king of that Enropean colonial power onthe Mulleriyawa battlefield, which was a marshy land.

On the 500th anniversary of the landing of the Portuguese in Colombo, it is very well for our Cultural authorities to revive that historic dance pageant .

It ought to be part of the school curricula so as to remind us of the bravery of our ancestors resisting foreign powers and imbuing in us a sense of patriotism, while aiding the arts.

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 2 posts ] 

Board index » History & Archaeology » Colonial History (1505 – 1948)

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum

Search for:
Jump to: