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 Post subject: The battle of Randeniwela -
 Post Posted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 3:24 am 
The battle of Randeniwela - De Sa's Waterloo

By Gamini Akmeemana
@ 11MAR2006


The Portuguese suffered one of their worst military defeats at the battle of Randeniwela. A monument along the Ella-Wellawaya highway commemorates this victory by King Senarat's Kandyan forces.

Turning left just past the monument, one enters a winding country road which takes the visitor past a large tract of paddy - believed locally to be the site of the battle - or part of it at any rate.

The battle took place in the 17th century. Contemporary Portuguese historians wrote about it, even though they can't be described as very impartial. On the Sinhalese side, the poet Alagiyawanne Mukaveti described it in his epic poem "Kusthanthinu Hatana." But this was written by the poet, a convert, in praise of the Portuguese-captain general of the Portuguese territories of Sri Lanka, Don Constantino de Sa de Noronha. and cannot be accepted as a trustworthy account of what actually happened.

Fortunately, historian Chandra Richard de Silva gives a very graphic account of the battle of Randeniwela and events which led to it in his excellent work "The Portuguese in Ceylon 1617-1638" (H. W. Cave & Co. 1972). As he says in the preface: "This work is primarily an inquiry into the nature and efforts of Portuguese rule in Ceylon. The period under survey is remarkable in that more than for any other period of Portuguese activity in the island, their political and military history as related by the chroniclers of the seventeenth century, can be checked by reference to contemporary documents. The story that emerges is one in which the major Portuguese effort directed towards the conquest of the whole island was arrested in its stride partly by the lack of sufficient manpower, partly by stubborn resistance from the highland region and also partly by the failure of the Portuguese to win the loyalty of the inhabitants of the lowlands."

C. R. de Silva brings to life the personality of Don Constantino de Sa, one of the better Portuguese to have occupied the post of captain-general during the 16th and 17th centuries. He ruled the Portuguese territories of Sri Lanka from May 1623 to August 1639. His earlier occupancy of this important post was abruptly terminated in February 1621 when the new Portuguese governor of India, Fernao de Alburquerque decided to recall de Sa to Goa and appoint his own son Jorge in de Sa's place.

De Sa had taken over the post of captain-general from Dom Nono Alvares Pereira in September 1918. Pereira was a mediocre military leader, but he succeeded in putting enough pressure on Kandy to convince King Senarat to sign a peace treaty with him. Senarath himself had been a Buddhisth monk and became king only after the death of his brother

Vimaladharmasuriya I. It is, the latter, and not Senarath, who had the reputation of being a capable military leader.

King Senarath had a formidable opponent in de Sa. C. R. de Silva describes him as "a natural leader of men." Contemporary Portuguese historian de Queyroz wrote about de Sa: "His gallant disposition and manly frame and stature, tall and robust along with great strength, firmness and perfect health won him respect."

De Sa came from a family with a tradition of service overseas. His father had served as the warden of Ceuta. De Sa grew up in Belem, a river settlement from which almost all the famous Portuguese explorers set sail. But his arrival in Sri Lanka was due to economic necessity rather than a taste for exploration and adventure.

His family had little wealth. His marriage in 1607 to Dona Luiza da Silva de Mendonca did not improve his fortunes, as her family was as impoverished as his. It was a match between two impoverished noble families. For the young and ambitious de Sa, then, the most direct route to wealth lay in a career in the military.

He served in the navy for a year, and then for two and a half years in the African fort of Mazagao. But his fortunes didn't improve. Now burdened with five children, De Sa decided to sail to the East, and did so in 1614.

By 1618, he was known as a leader of men and was the captain general of the fleet at Comorin. On October 8 1618, De Sa was unanimously elected as the new captain general of Sri Lanka.

After his arrival in Colombo, he set about reorganizing the army of six hundred Portuguese soldiers, appointing Filipe de Oliveira as his captain-major. He also established an intelligence unit to counter the spying by Sinhalese guerrilla forces under Kuruwita Rala. The disawas loyal to the Portuguese were told to muster the vital lascarin units (hired local soldiers on whom Portuguese power depended). He also came to an understanding with King Senarath of Kandy, as both parties now saw Kuruwita Rala as a threat.

Once this was done, De Sa built a stockade at Sabaragamuwa. This was meant to act as a base for the planned campaign against Mayadunne and Kuruwita Rala. To face any possible revolts in Portuguese areas while he was campaigning elsewhere, De Sa left large garrisons in all the forts. Two companies of Portuguese soldiers, backed by lascarins, manned the new stockade at Sabaragamuwa.

A thousand Sinhalese soldiers under Luis Cabral de Faria guarded the Four Korales. The defensive deployment of these forces left the captain general with just over three hundred soldiers to spare. He set out in late 1618 with this force and a detachment of lascarins to destroy Mayadunne and Kuruwita Rala.

The two rebels, knowing that they couldn't defeat De Sa in open battle, retreated to their mountain stronghold of Meddegama, just inside the borders of Kandy. The distance from there to Sabaragamuwa is hardly 20 miles. But marching there on foot was difficult. The shortest route lay along the valley of Bambarabotuwa Oya, but this was ideal guerrilla country and De Sa had no wish to fall for the rebels' trap.

Instead, he made a wide detour to the south and advanced on Meddegama from the rear along the Walawe Ganga (he would employ these tactics, meant to surprise and confuse the enemy, again during his final and fatal assault on Kandy).

The rebels retreated further inland, and De Sa, instead of chasing them, had to return to Sabaragamuwa partly due to the outbreak of smallpox among the lascarins. Realizing De Sa's problem, the rebels were soon snapping at his heels. For over twenty-five miles from Imbulpe to Lellopitiya they pursued the Portuguese, cutting off stragglers. At Lellopitiya, the exasperated captain-general decided to strike back. He pretended to retreat and waited in ambush. The jubilant and unsuspecting rebels rushed into the trap and were routed by the Portuguese.


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