Daily News Online

Thursday, 7 June 2012






Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Portuguese influence in Sri Lanka

The Portuguese took over the administration of the Kotte kingdom in 1597. The administration was headed by a Captain- General with a ‘vedor da fazenda’ (superintendent of revenue) controlling finances. Both reported to Goa, but were also permitted to correspond directly with Lisbon.

Galle Fort

The Portuguese divided the kingdom into four administrative divisions, Matara, Sabaragamuwa, sathara korale and sath korale. Each division was under disawe. The korales were under a vidane and four atukorales. The newly created ‘korale vidanes’, collected the revenue. They reported to the vedor.

In Dharmapala's time, almost all the important officials were Sinhalese. The chiefs who took the oath of allegiance to the king of Portugal in 1597 and those who witnessed the deed gifting Kotte kingdom to the Portuguese were Sinhalese. After 1597 these positions were held by Portuguese. From 1621 the disawe was a Portuguese. They had extensive powers. They could imprison entire villages in wartime.

There was a massive redistribution of land once the Portuguese took over. The best lands, specially gabadagam, went to favourites, both Portuguese and Sinhalese. The Portuguese, including high ranking administrators got the best villages. The captains-major of the army were each provided with four of the best villages. Portuguese held nearly half of Walallaviti korale and 33 of 46 villages in the rich Mahapattuva of the Pasdun korale. In Kiraveli pattuva 30 villages were held by 12 Portuguese and 31 villages by 86 Sinhalese. The cultivators occupying these lands stayed on. Cinnamon and elephant workers also retained their lands.

These Portuguese were not permanent settlers. Their interest in the island was temporary. A captain held office for a limited period. He had no interest in the land beyond that period and unlike the hereditary landlord, he did not improve the land. Each successive owner exploited the land. There was wanton destruction of valuable timber such as coconut, specially jak. Instead of obtaining timber from the forests, the precious jak, was cut down liberally for the construction of houses and boats for the Portuguese. The King of Portugal could not stop this.

Land registers (tombo) were compiled. The first tombos were based on the Sinhala lekam miti. Every page of the tombo was numbered and signed by the Vedor. A committee studied the tombos, decided the rents each village had to pay and revised the tombo. A second, more ambitious tombo followed, which recorded the number and names of villages, extent of cultivable and cultivated land, type of crop and average yield per acre, number of craftsmen in each village and all customary dues owed to the king. .

Lekam miti were not available for this second set of tombos. Historians think they were deliberately held back. The public told the Portuguese the records were lost. The persons who had kept them had died or the records had got destroyed during ’perali’. In Kalutara they said that the records disappeared after de Azavedo killed the kanakapulle. Lekam miti were produced only for Munneswaram and Alutgama. Sinhala officials were not prepared to divulge information either. The Portuguese were anyway reluctant to rely on the information given by them. The new tombo therefore recorded the situation under the Portuguese

C.R. de Silva observed that the tombo had political overtones. They brought a rigidity to land ownership which was not there before. The Sinhalese complained ‘all our possessions are entered in the tombo and the officials rob us of them. The price of areca has increased, but we are forced to sell areca worth many seraphim at the old price of four larin because ‘this abuse’ is now registered in the tombo.’

Service tenure was replaced by a land tax (quit rent). A third of the tax was to be paid in pepper, balance in cash. . Under the Sinhala king, this tax had applied only to a limited number of lands. Now it applied to all lands except church lands.

The Portuguese thereafter began to sell their lands to other Portuguese who turned them to ande or otu lands cultivated by others. Cinnamon peelers, elephant workers, woodcutters and bullock cart men also started selling their lands and a class of landless peasants was created. This sale of land was eventually stopped. The cinnamon peelers, particularly, were prevented from selling their lands.

The administration was corrupt. The disawas openly engaged in trade with Udarata, even when they were at war with it. They traded salt, opium, cloth and weapons for arecanut, wax and sapan wood. Some had agents inside Udarata. Judges decided cases according to the bribes offered. Judicial proceedings were not recorded, and the judges returned from their circuits with bulging bags. The Vedors da Fazenda were also dishonest. They paid themselves before they paid anyone else. It was hinted that they altered the tombo to suit their purposes. This affected the administration. Hospitals were ill equipped. Soldiers slept on the floor during the 1588 siege.

All manner of bogus expenditure was entered into the accounts and two accountants ended up in prison in Goa. Pay was given to fictitious soldiers. Officials sent their servants and pages to pose off as soldiers on pay day. Once when rice had been issued to 90 lascarins, the figure was changed to 900.

The Sinhalese had to deliver a dozen areca to every ten, making an increase of four or five thousand nuts on each consignment. The extra nuts were taken by the officials. There was also trickery in the sale of elephants and at the customs.

The Sinhalese Christians who had served the Portuguese loyally were rewarded. Simao Correa got the enormously rich village of Talampitiya and the six villages attached to it. Alagiyawanna Mukaveti also got land. The churches got the lands belonging to the Buddhist temples. Land was also given to missionaries. Sinhala Christians were given special treatment. They were given lenient punishments in the law courts. They were exempted from taxes, such as tithe and marala. From 1618 no Christian prisoner could be put to death.

The other Sinhala inhabitants moaned, saying the Portuguese ‘have brought us to the pinnacle of misery and despair. We do not get even a full meal. As soon as any one of us dies, our families are deprived of our lands. The lands are not transferred to the next of kin and our wives and children starve and die.’ Parents had to pawn or even sell their children to pay expenses.

Portuguese subjects frequently escaped to the Udarata. Sath korale inhabitatnts complained to Wimaladharmasuriya I (1591-1604) about the treatment they received from the Portuguese. They wanted Wimaladharmasuriya to get rid of the Portuguese. In the 1620s, the lascarins refused to pay quit rent for their lands. They said the Sinhala king gave the militia tax free grants of land and villages as rewards. Portuguese misrule was one of the causes for the 1616 and 1630 rebellions.

The writings of T. B.H Abeyasinghe, CR de Silva, KD Paranavitana and P.E.Pieris were used for this essay.



Millennium City
Casons Rent-A-Car
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
Donate Now | defence.lk

| News | Editorial | Business | Features | Political | Security | Sport | World | Letters | Obituaries |

Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2012 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor