African Sri Lankans, mainly the Sri Lanka Kaffirs, are a very small Ethnic group in Sri Lanka who are descendants of African mercenaries, musicians, and labourers taken to what is now Sri Lanka by Portuguese colonists during the period of Portuguese colonial rule on the island. There are currently around 1000 African Sri Lankans.
Religion: Sri Lanka Kaffirs originally adhered to traditional faiths. However, they now practice religions from Catholicism to Buddhism.
Culture: Sri Lanka’s Kaffir culture is a direct link back to their distant past in the African Great Lakes, which is rapidly disappearing.
Language : They spoke a distinctive creole based on Portuguese. The extinct language was known as ‘Sri Lankan Kaffir language”. It differs from Sri Lankan Portuguese creole. The Sri Lankan Kaffirs community is known in English as Kaffirs, in Sinhalese as Kapiri, and in Tamil
They Live in
The Kaffirs of Sri Lanka are mainly concentrated in a few places like Sirambiadi in Putthalama (Puttalam), Pallai Utthu in Thirikunamalaya (Trincomalee), Kalpitiya, Madakalapuwa (Batticoloa), Meegamuwa (Negambo).
While only a few numbers can be found domiciled in places like Yapanaya (Jaffna), Kolamba (Colombo), Anuradhapura, Badulla, etc. Among these only Sirambaadi in Putthalama (Puttalam), Pallai Utthu in Thrikunamale, and Kalpitiya can be considered as special since considerable groups of Kaffirs with claims for a common history, similar experiences, and intergroup relationships do reside in those areas.
The kaffirs populations under gender basis for the respective years 1873, 1892 and 1901 is as follows
The Map showing the geographical zones where the Sri Lankan Kaffirs reside
They had come all the way from the village of Sirambiady in Puttalam to perform their traditional dance the “kaffiringa” and songs in Portuguese Creole – a mix of Portuguese and Swahili.
The troupe comprising around 20 Kaffir men, women, and children, three of them disabled, were led by their Chief, Peter Louis. Two drums (dolak), a tambourine, two sets of metal spoons, a pair of coconut shells placed on a wooden box, and an empty bottle with two coins completed their ensemble.
The Kaffirs of both genders, males and females are generally strong and comparatively tall and of well built physique. The majority of the community has mostly thick and curly hair in addition to possessing thick lips. As for the colour of the skin still, the majority seem to be retaining their original early African character of dark colour skin.
However owing to the long association with the other ethnic groups especially the intermixture with the Sinhalese, there is a tendency of fading away the traditional inheritance of body characteristics as well as the skin-colour and hence it is a common sight to see much fair skinned children among them at present.
Dress and Ornaments
From the beginning of the period Kaffirs came here, their dress fashion had been more or less influenced by the traditional Portuguese and Dutch fashions. Especially the most popular female dress form was the Kimona, which resembles the traditional Portuguese dress by that name.
In Sirambi Adi it is not uncommon to see especially elderly ladies, under the influence of native ladies wearing the jacket and clothe (Redda and Hettaya) in their normal life.
Although the dress of the males at present does not display any significant difference from the general dress of the males of the other ethnic groups on the island there appears a preference among the males of the Kaffirs for dark colours in their dress.
The contribution of the Kaffir community toward colorfulness or diversity is immense. Although numerically they are a small group the share of cultural contribution is widespread within a broad spectrum from the historic warfare techniques to fields of music and singing.
For example, it was the Kaffir soldiers who introduced the war weapon of Assagi into our ancient war weaponry collection. This is a weapon very similar to a javelin, with a wooden handle and a sharp point that was meant to be aimed at the enemy from a distance. They were very skilled in using this weapon at war.
Neither can we consider the contribution from the Kaffir community in the field of the construction industry in Sri Lanka as small or insignificant.
Chief among their contributions could be found in association with the construction of fortresses, the movement of the ship’s repairs, and the construction of railway lines. Much evidence can be adduced to prove that their contributions had been mostly harnessed in the construction of what is been considered today a world heritage namely, the Galle Dutch Fortress, and constructions of the colonial period like the Colombo and Jaffna fortresses.