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The Tamil Seaports of the West Coast of Sri Lanka

The Tamil Seaports of the West Coast of Sri Lanka

King Bhuvanaka Bahu VII ruled the kingdom of Kotte. There were nine ports of call for the import and export trade. These ports were all situated on the western sea board of his kingdom. The nine ports of his kingdom were Kalpitiya, Chilaw, Kammala, Negombo, Colombo, Beruwela, Galle, Weligama and Matara. During his reign there was smuggling in boys and girls, among other goods, to the Malabar coast. On a complaint made by the king, the King of Portugal Joao III, in a directive dated 13th March 1543 AD made the following decree.

To all who will see this document of mine, I make known that I have been informed that many ships and `champanas'(small boats), which leave Ceilao, carry many boys and girls kidnapped in the country from their parents, and many slaves snatched from their owners, and much cinnamon, and other goods smuggled out. Desirous to remedy this as demanded by the service of God and mine own, I order that in future all the ships and `champanas', which are ready to set out from those ports, shall first notify the King of Ceilao so that he may arrange to have them searched to see if they are taking any of the things stated above; and they shall obtain a certificate from the king or official appointed by him, stating that the search has taken place. If they do not obtain such certificate, they shall forfeit all the cargo in favour of the 'Misericordia' of Cochin'.(CC,p29,Vol:l). This proves that Sinhalese boys and girls have been kidnapped and smuggled across to Cochin, a sea port in the Tamil kingdom of Sera.

At the time the Portuguese first visited Ceylon, the north of Ceylon contained the kingdom of Jaffnapattinam ruled by Sangili alias Segarajasegaram, illegitimate son of King Pararajasekeran,and a usurper to the throne. He ruled the kingdom from 1519 to 1561 AD. According to the Yalpana Vipava Malai, a Tamil chronicle, the massacre of the Christians in the village of Pattim, Mannar took place in the month of Adi (July-August) of the cyclic year Khara which falls in 1513-1532 AD. This appears to be incorrect. King Manoel was king of Portugal till about 1539 AD. There after King Joao III, was king. If the massacre took place during their reign, it would have been conveyed to them.

According to Father V.Perniola, who had access to original documents from the archives and libraries of Rome, Lisbon and Goa, states in his book at the foot note at page 51, Vol: i of his book The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka-The Portuguese Period'is as follows:

' King Chekarasa Sekaran or Sangili had put to death the Christians of Mannar. The inhabitants of Mannar seem to have been baptised in October 1544 and put to death in November of the same year. Xavier alludes to this killing in such a matter of fact way as to imply that by the beginning of December 1544 every one knew about it'.

St.Francis Xavier, who was responsible for the conversions of the Kadeas in the village of Pattim, Mannar, by his letter dated Cochin 18th December 1544 states that he was proceeding to meet Governor Martin Afonso de Soyza of Goa to urge him to punish King Sangili of Jaffnapattinam, for the massacre of the Christians.(CC,p51,Vol: l).

The rightful heir to the throne, Paranirupasingham fled to the opposite coast of Kayalpattinam of South India with his retinue for fear of his half brother Sangili who had murdered two other princes to wrest the throne from his father.(CC,p 54,Vol: i). In the meantime Sangili had murdered the first converts to the Catholic religion in Mannar which was part of his kingdom in the year 1544 AD. Father Francis Xavier SJ returned to Mannar and thence to Neduntivu (Delft) and proceeded to Nagapatinam to take an expedition against King Sangili. In the meantime a Portuguese vessel coming from Pegu (Burma) laden with rich cargo ran aground off the coast of Jaffnapattinam. Sangili seized all the cargo on board.

In a letter written from Sao Thome (Madras) dated 28th March 1546 AD by Miguel Ferreira to Loao de Castro Governor of India informing him that he met heir apparent to the throne of Jaffnapattinam in Kayalpattinam (South India), and that the prince together with his children, grandchildren and his kith and kin would be baptised as Catholics if he was made king.(CC,p 150,vol: i). The prince also stated that Joao Fernandez Corea, Captain of the fishery-coast (see map) had invited him to go on board a vessel but had done nothing even after receiving from him a diamond as a gift. The prince also informed him that Martin Alfonso de Souza had also invited him to go on board a ship and had taken him up to Neduntievu and from there he sent him back, after taking from him some pearls and that now he had nothing else to offer. He also alleged that Souza had taken a tribute of 5000 silver coins from Sangili and this prevented him from putting him on the throne.(CC,p 147 Vol: i).

Dispersion of Tamils to the West Coast of Sri Lanka

The Parava community of the fishery-coast in and around Punnaikayal, of Tamil Nadu (see map), were baptised by St. Francis Xavier and subsequently they were shipped to Colombo and dispersed among the Catholic community of the coastal regions from Puttalam to Galle. The king of Madampe, Vidiya Bandara ordered the Parava community living in his kingdom to ' shave their beards and apply ashes on their foreheads and become pagans again. They courageously replied that they were ready to have their heads cut off but that they would never consent to do what they were asked. Then the king agreed not to kill them, but imposed on them a fine of about three hundred `pardaos' as a penalty for their not complying with his orders'.(CC,p 346,vol: i). The Paravas (Tamil) community of the fishery-coast of South India and situated in and around the Punney Kayal , were fishermen by caste.

They were adept in fishing for pearl oysters and chanks off the fishery-coast and during the season converged in and around the village of Murungan, in the Mannar district of Sri Lanka for the pearl fisheries. The Careas or Karavas also of the fishing caste community in South India, subsequently found their way to the coastal regions of the island of Ceylon and came under the religious spell of the Catholic priests of the Franciscans, Jesuits etc. In the year 1556 AD no less than 70,000 of these Karavas living in the sea ports of the island embraced the Catholic faith. These Tamil Karavas or fishermen were living in Kalpitiya,Chilaw, Kammala, Negombo, Colombo, Beruwela, Galle, Welligama, and Matara.(CC,p 18 vol: i). ' The first to receive baptism was their Captain, whom they call Patangati, which means that he is, as it were their king .(CC,p 347,vol: i). It is interesting to read the translation of the original Portuguese document concerning the PARAVAS (TAMILS) in Moratuwa in 1613 AD.

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