Traditional society in Sri Lanka
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Author:  Rohan2 [ Fri Dec 22, 2006 2:51 am ]
Post subject:  Traditional society in Sri Lanka

Traditional society in Sri Lanka

@ South Asian Free Media Association

Traditional society in Sri Lanka was governed by ideological norms within which sex roles were differentiated. This feudal social order, influenced by Buddhist and Hindu values and characterized by occupation-based caste groups, passed through many stages of evolution, including the colonial period which introduced the plantation economy, new Western religious ideas, and education and health initiatives, followed by independence in 1948 and the development policies of successive national governments. Throughout these changes, the interaction between social norms and new influences had specific implications for the roles of men and women, as it continues to do in contemporary society.

These changes have occurred in the context of considerable cultural and religious differences. Sri Lanka's heterogeneous socio-cultural base includes a majority of Sinhalese Buddhists (about 74 per cent of the population), the Tamil community, most of whom are Hindus (18 per cent), a multi-ethnic Christian group (8 per cent), and an Islamic minority (7 per cent). In each of these groups, religious ideology, socio-economic factors, and ethnic traditions have shaped value patterns relating to the roles of women and the family in society. Regional subcultures, such as those of the hill-country Sinhalese, the more urbanized mixed social groups along the coast, and the Indian Tamils on the plantations, have provided even greater diversity.

Family Ideals

Among all ethnic and caste groups, the most important social unit is the nuclear family--husband, wife, and unmarried children. Even when economic need causes several families (Sinhala, ge; Tamil, kudumbam) or generations to live together, each wife will maintain her own cooking place and prepare food for her own husband as a sign of the individuality of the nuclear family. Among all sections of the population, however, relatives of both the wife and the husband form an important social network that supports the nuclear family and encompasses the majority of its important social relations. The kindred (pavula, in Sinhala) of an individual often constitute the people with whom it is possible to eat or marry. Because of these customs, local Sinhalese society is highly fragmented, not only at the level of ethnic group or caste, but also at the level of the kindred.

The kinship systems of Sri Lanka share with most of South Asia and the Middle East the institution of preferred crosscousin marriage. This means that the most acceptable person for a young man to marry is the daughter of his father's sister. The most suitable partner for a young woman is the son of her mother's brother. Parallel cousins--the son of the father's brother or the daughter of the mother's sister--tend to be improper marriage partners. There is a close and special relationship between children and their aunts or uncles, who may become their fathers- or mothers-in-law.

Special kinship terminology exists in both Tamil and Sinhalese for relatives in preferred or prohibited marriage categories. In many villages, people spend their entire childhood with a clear knowledge of their future marriage plans and in close proximity to their future spouses. The ties between cross-cousins are so close in theory that persons marrying partners other than their crosscousins may include a special ritual in their marriage ceremonies during which they receive permission from their cousins to marry an outsider. The system of cross-cousin marriage is ideally suited to maintaining the closed ritual purity of an extended kinship group and retaining control over property within a small circle of relatives.

The vast majority of marriages in Sri Lanka are monogamous, that is, they involve one woman and one man. Unions between one man and more than one woman (polygyny) are neither illegal nor unknown, however, and wealthy men can take several wives if they can afford to support the families. Unions involving one woman and more than one man (polyandry) are also legal and possible.

In the Kandyan region, descent and inheritance are traced through both spouses: both husband and wife possess their own property and may bequeath at in equal shares to their descendants. In the low country, where Dutch Roman Law is in effect, marriages create joint property between husband and wife, which on their death is divided among their heirs. On the east coast, Tamil Muslim families trace descent and inheritance through the mother, and men will typically reside with their inlaws.

There is a preference for living near the husband's family in most areas of the country, although a family with no sons may prefer that a son-in-law live nearby and manage their lands. Among all the variations of inheritance and descent, the husband is typically the manager of the nuclear family's property and represents his family in most public duties and functions.

In the rural areas of Sri Lanka, traditional marriages did not require a wedding ceremony or legal registration of the union. The man and the woman simply started living together, with the consent of their parents (who were usually related to one another). This type of customary marriage still survives, although it has been declining in recent years. In 1946, about 30 percent of marriages in Sri Lanka were not registered, but in 1981 that figure had declined to 10 percent.

Most such unions were concentrated along the north and east coasts and in the Central Highlands. Legal divorce is easy to obtain, and divorces of customary marriages occur through mutual consent of the partners in consultation with their extended families. Most marriages, however, are quite stable because of the considerable social pressure and support exerted by kindred of both the husband and the wife. In 1981 the divorce rate per 10,000 persons amounted to only 30.5.

Most Sri Lankan families have small means and do not spend large sums on wedding parties. Among wealthier families in both the countryside and the cities, marriages occur more often between families that were not previously related, and more elaborate ceremonies take place. In such cases the bride may receive a substantial dowry, determined beforehand during long negotiations between her family and her future in-laws. Preceding these well-publicized affairs are detailed discussions with matchmakers and astrologers who pick the most auspicious times for the marriage.

Except for some of the well-educated urban elite, the parents arrange all marriages, although their children may meet future spouses and veto a particularly unattractive marriage. The average age at marriage has been increasing in recent years because of longer periods required for education and establishing a stable career. In 1981 the average age of grooms was twenty-seven or twenty-eight, and the average age of brides was twenty-four. Betrothals arranged by parents could begin much earlier, and in rural areas marriages between persons in their early teens still occurred. Whatever the arrangements, however, marriage and the propagation of children were the desired state for all groups, and by age thirty-nine, 86 percent of both sexes had married at least once.

All ethnic groups in Sri Lanka preserve clear distinctions in the roles of the sexes. Women are responsible for cooking, raising children, and taking care of housework. In families relying on agriculture, women are in charge of weeding and help with the harvest, and among poor families women also perform full-time work for the more well-to-do. The man's job is to protect women and children and provide them with material support, and in this role men dominate all aspects of business and public life. At the center of the system are children, who mix freely until puberty and receive a great deal of affection from both sexes.

As they enter their teens, children begin to adopt the adult roles that will keep them in separate worlds: girls help with household chores and boys work outside the home. Among the middle- and upper-income groups, however, education of children may last into their early twenties, and women may mix with males or even take on jobs that were in the past reserved for men. There has been a tendency to view the educational qualifications of women as a means for obtaining favorable marriage alliances, and many middle-class women withdraw from the workplace after marriage.

The agrarian social structure was based on an extended family unit consisting of two or three generations living in separate houses but in community compounds in which each family functioned as an independent economic unit. In the patriarchal system, men were ascribed the role of providers and women that of home-makers. Marriages were arranged and required the compliance of family elders. They had to conform to the established determinants of caste, religion, and kin group.

The rights of the woman depended on whether the system of marriage was matrilocal or patrilocal. For Buddhists, marriage and family belong to secular life and therefore widowhood or childlessness did not cause the kind of disabilities that occurred in the Hindu tradition. However, certain pre-Buddhistic traditions and taboos imposed restrictions on women at puberty, menstruation, and childbirth. Women passed on these values through the socialization of girls and boys in their prescribed social and productive roles.

Social stability and continuity were ensured by a network of kinship groups and elders, men and women, who exercised sanctions that kept the gender-based roles intact. The segregation of men and women did not constrain women's involvement in economic activities, although these were differentiated on the basis of gender.

For example, ploughing, threshing, and sowing were male tasks, while females were responsible for weeding, harvesting, and processing.

Domestic industries and crafts were also gender-differentiated. However, women were not perceived as producers: their work was an extension of their family role. Women in the lower strata did agricultural work, but it was not normal for elite women to participate in productive work outside the household. The popular value system allowed some women greater mobility, but it was accompanied by a suggestion of social inferiority.

Colonialism introduced changes which impinged on the long-standing traditional feudal structure. The dual economy of plantation and peasant agriculture which it established brought about not only economic but also social change. New forms of monetized organization resulted in the separation of the workplace from the home and led to the creation of a public provider role for the man and an isolated, home-centred role for the woman.

In the lower economic strata, women extended their unpaid family worker role to the factories, which were adjuncts to the plantations, and became wage-earners. However, their differentiated economic value was replicated there, where their wages were lower than men's. In the pockets of subsistence economy that survived, women continued as "invisible," marginalized workers subordinated to men.

In the first half of the twentieth century, new policies, partly designed to grapple with the problems of vulnerable groups and of women and children in particular, were introduced. The catalysts which transformed the social and cultural milieu of women were the granting of universal franchise in 1931 and the subsequent expansion of education and health programmes, of which they were the chief beneficiaries.


Secular education and formal schooling began with Western colonialism. Women from the affluent urban classes were the first to benefit. However, their education was governed by the social norms relating to their gender. When it came to higher education, teacher-training colleges and institutes for art and handicrafts were deemed culturally suitable for women. In any case, since tertiary training did not bring girls any particular advantage, such as better work opportunities, many of them dropped out at the secondary level.

Although institutions for higher academic training were opened to females to pursue education on different lines, the small number who went on to the University College or the Medical College did not do so with the objective of employment. From the early 1940s, many became active in voluntary (unpaid) social work to help women in less advantaged groups. Education was not seen to be of direct economic benefit; it was more an added qualification for marriage.

The introduction of free education in 1945, the use of national languages as the medium of instruction, and support schemes like scholarships and free midday meals removed most of the barriers which, combined with cultural constraints, had limited schooling for girls. The principle of equal access to education for girls and boys was reinforced by the establishment of a network of co-educational schools throughout the country.

There were almost 1(1,000 by the 1970s. Female enrolment rates increased from 36 per cent in 1931 to 48.1 per cent in 1970. However, there were considerable regional disparities. For example, it remained particularly low in the Mannar and Batticaloa districts, where there was a high Muslim population.

The government decision to allow women limited access to the administrative service in the 1960s enhanced the incentive to go on to higher education. The proportion of women in the universities rose from 29.4 per cent in 1950 to 40.1 per cent in 1978. Although a few of them studied veterinary science, science, and medicine, the concentration of females in the humanities persisted. However, economically disadvantaged women had very slim chances of entering the universities in the capital. In 1950, nearly 77 per cent of the females studying there came from the professional and managerial classes.

Female literacy rose to 43.8 per cent in 1946 nearly double the 1921 figure. The gap between the genders began to narrow, and it was only 15 per cent in 1971; it is currently 7.9 per cent. However, there were marked differences between urban and rural areas, which were the result of cultural inhibitions. For example, females were not allowed to travel to school after puberty and girls were not allowed to begin domestic and agricultural work at a very early age.

Female literacy was low in districts were there was a large proportion of plantation workers or Muslims. The absence of effective adult education programmes is evident in the differences between literacy levels in the generations which had access to schooling and the older females.

By the 1970s, education had become a passport to employment, and through this to higher social and economic status for females as well as males. The increasing demand for university education saw the number of universities grow to six, with another three campuses and an open university by 1981, although at the end of the 1980s they are still only able to admit 1 per cent of the population in the relevant age-group, and women enrol primarily in the stereotyped fields of arts and humanities, education, veterinary science, and medicine. They remain underrepresented in engineering and physical science. This would not in itself be a disadvantage, except that the areas they choose hold little prospect for employment.

The education system has failed to meet the demand for employment skills. Vocational and technical training courses arc limited in scope and coverage. The lack is felt more by females, who do not appear to have easy access to courses in agriculture, the electrical trades, woodwork or other fields that provide better job prospects but are still perceived as male preserves. The Labour Department and the Rural Development Department have continued to conduct vocational training courses based on gender stereotypes.

Inevitably, the courses for women are mat-weaving, sewing, and tailoring. Attempts to introduce new kinds of female training in the early 1970s faced resistance from employers. However, the migration of skilled men to West Asia left a vacuum, and a number of young females have gone into motor mechanics, masonry, carpentry, and telecommunications.

In the 1920s and 1930s, high maternal and infant mortality rates (20.8 and 158 per thousand live births respectively) reflected the poor health status of women and children. This was one of the factors which led to the decision to grant universal franchise in 1931, on the premise that women with voting power would have a better chance of attracting the government's attention. Nutrition, preventive health, and maternal and child welfare programmes resulted in a drop in maternal and infant mortality to 3 and 57 per thousand live births respectively by 1960.

Again, there were marked regional disparities and the rates were higher in areas where female education and literacy were lower and where plantation workers and Muslim communities predominated. This breakthrough in the health status of women and children has been successfully followed through and the current (1985) mortality rates are 0.6 per thousand live births for mothers and 24 for infants. However, the infant mortality rate on the state plantations, where approximately half the estate population live, is 50 per thousand. In 1979, female life expectancy was 70.2, compared to 66 for males.

State policies are now being directed against malnutrition. The extent of maternal malnutrition can be inferred from the number of low-birth-weight babies; they are said to make up 21 per cent of all those born in Colombo's main hospital, although data are available only from small ad hoc surveys and personal communications. The mothers' malnutrition appears to be a legacy from their youth: studies done by the Food and Nutrition Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Plan Implementation have shown that more girls than boys are malnourished.

Family planning is now incorporated in an integrated scheme for family health, which indicates the relationship between small, manageable families and their health status. Family-planning programmes have been directed primarily towards women. The proportion of acceptors increased from 32 per cent in 1975 to 54.9 per cent in 1982.

A government incentive payment of Rs. 500 for either male or female sterilization appears to have increased the number of such operations. Currently, the State Health Programme concentrates on primary health care, with a particular focus on women and children. A high proportion of children and pregnant mothers are immunized through a WHO and UNICEF segment of this programme.

However, these improvements in the quality of life for women have failed to have a corresponding impact on their participation in economic and development activities in the formal public sphere. Labour-force participation rates have remained around 26 per cent over a long period, and female workers tend to be concentrated in services and unskilled jobs. At the beginning of the 1980s the rate of female unemployment was considerably higher than that of men (23 compared with 12 per cent).

This is partly because of the undiminished burden of the household, which still very definitely rests on women. Since 1975, however, the focus on women's issues has succeeded in bringing discrepancies in administrative, legal, and social equality to light, and much has been done to remove disabilities in these areas.


Sri Lanka has one of the most effective health systems among developing nations. The crude death rate in the early 1980s was 6 per 1,000, down from 13 per 1,000 in 1948 and an estimated 19 per 1,000 in 1871. The infant mortality rate registered a similar decline, from 50 deaths per 1,000 births in 1970 to 34 deaths per 1,000 births in the early 1980s. These figures placed Sri Lanka statistically among the top five Asian countries. Improvements in health were largely responsible for raising the average life span in the 1980s to sixty-eight years.

Traditional medicine ( ayurveda) is an important part of the health system in Sri Lanka. The basis of traditional medicine is the theory of "three humors" (tridhatu), corresponding to elements of the universe that make up the human body: air appears as wind, fire as bile, and water as phlegm. Imbalances among the humors (the "three ills," or tridosha) cause various diseases. The chief causes of the imbalances are excesses of heat or cold. Treatment of disease requires an infusion of hot or cold substances in order to reestablish a balance in the body.

The definition of "hot" or "cold" rests on culturally defined norms and lists in ancient textbooks. For example, milk products and rice cooked in milk are cool substances, while certain meats are hot, regardless of temperature. Treatment may also involve a variety of herbal remedies made according to lore handed down from ancient times. Archaeological work at ancient monastic sites has revealed the antiquity of the traditional medical system; for example, excavations have revealed large tubs used to immerse the bodies of sick persons in healing solutions.

Literate monks, skilled in ayurveda, were important sources of medical knowledge in former times. Village-level traditional physicians also remained active until the mid-twentieth century. In the late 1980s, as part of a free state medical system, government agencies operated health clinics specializing in ayurveda, employed over 12,000 ayurvedic physicians, and supported several training and research institutes in traditional medicine.

Western-style medical practices have been responsible for most of the improvements in health in Sri Lanka during the twentieth century. Health care facilities and staff and public health programs geared to combat infectious disease are the most crucial areas where development has taken place. The state maintains a system of free hospitals, dispensaries, and maternity services. In 1985 there were more than 3,000 doctors trained in Western medicine, about 8,600 nurses, 490 hospitals, and 338 central dispensaries. Maternity services were especially effective in reaching into rural areas; less than 3 percent of deliveries took place without the assistance of at least a paramedic or a trained midwife, and 63 percent of deliveries occurred in health institutions--higher rates than in any other South Asian nation.

As is the case for all services in Sri Lanka, the most complete hospital facilities and highest concentration of physicians were in urban areas, while many rural and estate areas were served by dispensaries and paramedics. The emergency transport of patients, especially in the countryside, was still at a rudimentary level. Some progress has been made in controlling infectious diseases. Smallpox has been eliminated, and the state has been cooperating with United Nations agencies in programs to eradicate malaria. In 1985 Sri Lanka spent 258 rupees per person to fight the disease. Although the number of malaria cases and fatalities has declined, in 1985 more than 100,000 persons contracted the disease.

Sri Lanka had little exposure to Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) during the 1980s. As late as 1986, no Sri Lankan citizens had contracted the disease at home, but by early 1988 six cases had been diagnosed, including those of foreigners and of Sri Lankan citizens who had traveled abroad. Government regulations in the late 1980s required immediate expulsion of any foreigner diagnosed as an AIDS carrier, and by 1988 the government had deported at least one foreign AIDS victim. Government ministers have participated in international forums dealing with the problem, and the government formed a National Committee on AIDS Prevention in 1988.

Mortality rates in the late 1980s highlighted the gap that remained between the urban and rural sectors and the long way good medical care still had to go to reach the whole population. Over 40 percent of the deaths in urban areas were traced to heart or circulatory diseases, a trend that resembled the pattern in developed nations. Cancer, on the other hand, accounted for only about 6 percent of deaths, a pattern that did not resemble that of developed nations.

Instead, intestinal infections, tuberculosis, and parasitic diseases accounted for 20 percent of urban deaths and over 12 percent of rural deaths annually. The leading causes of death in rural environments were listed as "ill-defined conditions" or "senility," reflecting the rather poor diagnostic capabilities of rural health personnel. Observers agreed that considerable work needed to be done to reduce infectious diseases throughout the country and to improve skilled medical outreach to rural communities.

Traditional Sinhalese Marriage System

During ancient times, pre-Buddhistic Sinhalese marriage laws and customs would have been similar to those prescribed in the laws of Manu (Manava - Dharma - Sastra) written in North India sometime between the 3rd century B.C."1st century A.C. The work, which is a compilation of the traditions of the ancient Indo-Aryan Hindus reflects a rigid patriarchal society with extended family households.

The laws are particularly odious due to its repressive attitude towards the fairer sex. The marriage of a maiden for example comprised of a gift (Kanya - danam) by her father to a suitable suitor, although it was agreed that if a girl was not given in marriage by her guardian (father or brother) within three years of her attaining puberty, she would be free from his control and may validly enter into a marriage of her own accord.

Marriage was however an indissoluble sacrament and not a secular contract, so that divorce was impossible.

With the advent of Buddhism to the island during the 3rd century B.C., we may presume that the legal position of women underwent a significant improvement. The Mahavansa (5th century A.C.), the ancient chronicle of Sinhalese royalty and its sequel, the Chulavansa, do not give us any idea as to the position of women with regard to marriage during the ancient and early medieval periods.

However, a late medieval work, the Saddharma - lankaraya (13th century), a collection of stories intended for the edification of Buddhists, refers to a lady of Anuradhapura named Sumana who gave herself in marriage to a man from Ruhuna, so that we may suppose that both men and women were free to contract their marriages sans any third party sanction.

This however is in sharp contrast to later Kandyan times, when both men and women were required to obtain the consent of their parents when contracting a marriage. According to an early English compilation of Kandyan law, namely John Armour"s "Grammar of Kandyan Law" (early 19th century), the consent of both parents is necessary for a valid marriage.

There were of course a number of other conditions that had to be fulfilled, before a marriage could be contracted. Besides parental consent the parties to the marriage had to

(1) belong to the same caste,
(2) they were not to be related within the prohibited degrees of relationship and
(3) they had to have the intention of forming a definite alliance.

Robert Knox, an English exile who spent nearly 20 years in the Kandyan Kingdom (1660 - 1679) states in his work "Historical Relation of Ceylon" (1681)

"It is not accounted any shame or fault for a man of the highest sort to lay with a woman far inferior to himself, nay of the very lowest degree, provided he neither eats nor drinks with her, nor takes her home to his house as his wife."

Knox's statement shows that marriage, unlike mere cohabitation, had a ritual value.

Indeed other statements of his show that Kandyan society was an extremely licentious one where both men and women had full freedom to cohabit with whomsoever they pleased save that in the case of women, they could not do so with one inferior in caste to themselves, such an act entailing severe punishment.

Says Knox, "If any of the females should be so deluded, as to commit folly with one beneath herself, if ever she should appear to the sight of her friends, they would certainly kill her, there being no other way to wipe off the dishonour she hath done the family but by her own blood."

Kandyan law also prohibited marriages between close relatives. This included a man"s daughter (duva), sister (sahodari; this included the daughter of one"s father"s brother or one"s mother"s sister) and nenda (paternal aunt), though he could marry his niece (leli) and maternal aunts (loku-amma, kudamma).

For a marriage to be valid, the parties also had to have the intention of forming a marital union. This was due to the fact that in Kandyan society, sexual morality hardly ever mattered and polygyny (a man taking more than one wife), polyandry (a woman taking more than one husband) and concubinage were all recognised as legal.

Group marriages and trial marriages were also commonplace. Furthermore, Buddhism saw to it that marriage in Sinhalese society became a secular contract and not a rigid sacrament as in Hindu law, so that marriage itself had "little force or validity" as noted by Knox.

Says Knox, "In this country, even the greatest hath but one wife, but a woman often has two husbands."

The polyandry practiced in Kandyan times was usually of the fraternal type and was known by the euphemism eka-ge-kama (lit. eating in one house). Joao Riberio (1685) says of the Sinhalese during the time of Portugues rule (17th century):

"A girl makes a contract to marry a man of her own caste (for she cannot marry outside it), and if the relatives are agreeable they give a banquet and unite the betrothed couple. The next day a brother of the husband takes his place, and if there are seven brothers she is the wife of all of them, distributing the nights by turns, without the husband having a greater right than any of his brothers. If during the day, any of them finds the chamber unoccupied, he can retire with the woman if he thinks fit... she can refuse herself to none of them; whichever brother it may be that contracts the marriage, the woman is the wife of all."

He adds: "the woman who is married to a husband with a large number of brothers is considered very fortunate, for all toil and cultivate for her and bring whatever they earn to the house, and she lives much honoured and well supported and for this reason the children call all the brothers their fathers."

Phillip Baldaeus, a Dutch cleric notes in his book "Ceylon" (1672) that in his time the Kandyans recommended, "the conjugal duty to be performed by their own brothers" - and cites the instance of a woman resident of Galle who "had confidence enough to complain of the want of duty in her husband"s brother on that account."

There also existed group marriages, where the brothers of one family jointly entered into matrimony with the sisters of another. Polygyny and polyandry however did not find favour with the British who saw to its abolition by means of the Kandyan marriage ordinance of 1859.

Trial marriages were also common among the Kandyans.

Davy (Account of the interior of Ceylon 1821) says that the first fortnight of the bride"s cohabitation with her husband was a period of trial at the end of which the marriage was either annulled or confirmed.

As for concubinage, although it was permitted, in later times, it appears to have been frowned upon, especially amongst the nobility. John Doyly (Sketch of the constitution of the Kandyan Kingdom 1835) has stated that the last Kandyan king reprimanded Migastenne Adigar for keeping a concubine of the "Berava" (drummer) caste.

The woman was flogged and sent across the river, and thus banished from Kandy.

Divorce, as might be expected of such a promiscuous society, was very easy. Kandyan law recognised that either men or women may dissolve the marriage tie at their will and pleasure.

Says Knox, "Both women and men do commonly wed four or five times before they can settle themselves to their contentation."

Widow remarriage was also very commonplace and did not carry any stigma as was the case in India. Says Knox, "These women are of a very strong courageous spirit, taking nothing very much to heart... when their husbands are dead, all their care is where to get others, which they cannot long be without".

Kandyan law recognised two forms of marriage, namely, diga marriage and binna marriage. In diga marriage, the woman went to live in her husband's house and gave up her claims to the parental estate. This was the usual mode of marriage among the Kandyans.

Binna marriage was a marriage where the husband contracted to go and live in the wife's house. Such a marriage necessarily entailed the husband being subject to a "petticoat government", for the wife was the head of the house, a virtual matriarch.

It is said to have been a marriage "contracted with a wink and ended by a kick". According to Knox, there existed certain lands in Kandy known as bini " pangu that were hereditary through the female line.

He says "Younger sons of other families, when grown up, the elder brothers having all the land, they marry these women that have lands. A man in this case only differs from a servant in laying with his mistress for she will bear rule and he no longer then willing to obey can continue but she will turn him away at her pleasure."

John D'oyly (1835) has narrated a saying of the Kandyans that "the binna husband should take care to have constantly ready at the door of his wife's room, a walking stick, a talpot (a palm leaf used as an umbrella) and a torch, so that he may be prepared at any hour of the day or night, and whatever may be the state of the weather or of his own health, to quit her house on being ordered."

Binna marriage would have been a convenient arrangement by which means readily available male labour could be obtained for running a girl's parents' estate in case they had no male offspring. Such an arrangement would have also served to help a woman look after her aged parents in the comfort of their home. Binna marriages are still recognised in the Kandyan districts.

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