Kaffirs of Sri Lanka

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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 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 known in English as Kaffirs, in Sinhalese as Kapiri and in Tamil

They Live in

The kaffirs populations under gender basis for the respective years 1873, 1892 and 1901 is as follows

The Kaffirs of Sri Lanka are mainly concentrated in few places like Sirambiadi in Putthalama (Puttalam), Pallai Utthu in Thirikunamalaya (Trincomalee), Kalpitiya, Madakalapuwa (Batticoloa), Meegamuwa (Negambo) while only 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, Kalpitiya can be considered as special since a considerable groups of Kaffirs with claims for a common history, similar experiences and intergroup relationships do reside in those areas

YearFemailsmalesTotal
18731131323245
1892204204408
1901152166318

The Map showing the geographical zones where the Sri Lankan Kaffirs reside

Kaffir Dance

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.

Body Features

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 in the skin. However owing to the long association with the other ethnic groups specially the intermixture with the Sinhalese, there is the 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.

Employment and life pattern

Although no representation of the Kaffirs is found in the elite class and in similar employment sectors a considerable section of the community can be found  among the service suppliers in the defence sector of the Island. According to certain studies the dry farming (Chena cultivation ) is found to be a primary source of income of the Kaffirs of Sri Lanka specially in the case of the people  of  Sirambi  Adi.

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. Specially the most popular of the female  dress  form was the  Kimona,  that resembles  the  traditional  Portuguese dress  by  that name,  a variety of gowns that falls down upto the ankle level of the person wearing it.

In  Sirambi  Adi  it  is  not uncommon to see specially the elderly ladies, under the influence of the 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 in the island there appears a preference among the males of the Kaffirs for dark colours in their dress.

Cultural characteristics

The  contribution  of  the  Kaffir  community  towards  the  copourfulness  or  the  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  Kaffi  soldiers who introduced the war weapon of  Assagi  into our ancient war weaponary  collection. This is a weapon verysimilar to a javelin butnot a javelin, with a wooden handle  and a sharp point  which 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 construction industry in Sri Lanka as small or  insignificant.  Chief  among  their  contributions  could  be  found  in  association  with  the construction  of  fortresses,  movement  of the ships repairs  and  in  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  as  a  world heritage  namely, the  Galle  Dutch Fortress,  and constructions  of the  colonial period  like the Colombo and Jaffna fortresses

Kaffir Culture in Sri Lanka

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