Sri Lanka: Afro-Sri Lankans Commemorate 500 Years

186 images Created 15 Nov 2017

After weeks of organising and practise, on September 24th 2017 the last remaining community of Afro-Sri Lankan’s commemorated what they believe to be their 500 year anniversary since they believe the first African slaves arrived, their ancestors, were brought by the Portuguese. Held at their local Catholic church, almost one thousand local people gathered to watch as the small, separated pockets of Afro-Sri Lankans came together for the first time in decades and celebrated their culture, traditions and delicate existence.

Out of all communities of African diaspora that surround the Indian Ocean those of Sri Lanka are by far the smallest and most fragile, first brought by the Portuguese, the Dutch and eventually the British as slaves. After the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in the British Parliament in 1807, the process of putting an end to slavery began in British controlled areas.

“When the British Parliament passed the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade on March 25, 1807, it transformed Britain almost overnight from the world’s leading slave-trading nation to the world’s leading crusader against the slave trade.” writes Dr Robert Harms, Professor of History & African Studies at Yale University.

It is perhaps ironic then, that a decline in slave trading across the Atlantic lead to a substantial increase in slave trading across the Indian Ocean. This eastern movement of African slaves is of much greater antiquity to that of the Atlantic but is much less well known and documented.

On being emancipated in Sri Lanka most Africans stayed and a century ago the Afro-Sri Lankan population was believed to be around 6000 people. Today that number has dwindled to less than 500.

Inter-marriage with local Sri Lankan’s over generations has led to a dilution of their population as once they marry a Sinhalese they are no longer classed as Afro-Sri Lankans, or ‘kaffir’ as they are officially and locally known, a term that doesn’t carry the negative connotations in Sri Lanka as it does in South Africa. This dilution is something that some of the population have intentionally sort believing their children have a better chance in life if they inter-married. As a result the population has gone past the point of recovery.

However, there are some certain people from the Afro-Sri Lankan community that take extreme pride in their heritage and are trying to preserve their culture by forming the Ceylon African Society in 2012. It is likely this tiny population will disappear within the next generation but until it does they are making sure that their presence is known.
View: 25 | All