BY Ellmo Gooneratne
Jaffna had invaders from Malaysia, Eastern India and Kerala. They conquered the Jaffna Kingdom but never went back but stayed back in Jaffna and settled. The first American Missionary Medical College was set up in Jaffna, the first in Ceylon.The American Missionaries opened schools firstly to learn English and later all subjects. Who went to these schools were given food, clothes, and money and also books by the American Missionaries.
In the North for over thirty years they were talking about the LTTE. Many lived in fear that their children were not safe; the LTTE just kidnapped them for their Army. The children were enrolled in the LTTE Army whether the parents and the children liked it or not.
There were several Tamil young people who became government servants in Colombo and very often lived in chummeries, travelling to the North to see their families. As my father was in the Postal Department as an accountant he had several Tamil friends.
One of his colleagues, Nadaraja introduced to my father a young Tamil Technical Assistant in the Irrigation Department. This was at Gampaha; later this young man Markandayar and his family became our close friends. We used to travel to Point Pedro and they came to Gampaha, later to Colombo.
So, I used to travel to Jaffna and Mannar where my friend worked in the Irrigation Department. Very often my cousin Asoka Dias used to travel with him to these places during the holidays. After I became a journalist the North was normal and as Local Editor of Lake House I travelled to Jaffna with Sivaprakasam or Sivagurunathan for our work in Jaffna.
As a school boy and then as a journalist, I knew the North well after the killing of Alfred Duraiappa the SLFP Mayor and parliamentarian of Jaffna by Prabhakaran and Amirthalingam’s son. The scenario in Jaffna changed. I always felt that the ethnic war had started. Tamil and Sinhalese friends started losing contact with each other. My friend Markandayar and his family migrated to England.
When Markandayar fell ill in England he wanted him buried in Sri Lanka. It happened because my friend died in Sri Lanka. Many friends and relations of him and us attended the funeral of Markandayar. That was the situation of both the Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka.
I knew the North and the South closely. Both have a strong historical and cultural background where people can live as members of one family. It is the politicians who are ruining both the North and the South for political needs and not for the love of both North and the South.
Many of the people in our country know little or nothing about the North, its historical and cultural background. This is how the North and South started becoming two entities as the North and the South.
Early in the thirteenth century, when the Polonnaruwa Kingdom broke up, a powerful kingdom had emerged in the Jaffna District under the leadership of Magha, a foreign invader from Kalinga in Eastern India. It is said Magha had brought a large number of mercenaries from Kerala and settled them in territories conquered by him in Sri Lanka which led to a strong Kerala population being introduced to the area. It has now been found that a strong Kerala background is still prevalent in these areas.
After this period another group of foreigners from South East Asia had come. Chandrabanu, a Malay Prince had brought with him a Malay Army and had settled these Malays in Jaffna. So it has been that Keralites and Malays have been part of the Jaffna population. These settlers have been brought from South India. This had been followed by inter-marriages and had become part of the Jaffna population.
Buddhism had also gained much ground in the region and there had been important Buddhist centres. This was due to Sinhalese rulers in the South mainly Anuradhapura.
In the 13th century Jaffna was controlled by Magha the Kalinga invader and Javaka the invaders from Malaya. Towards the end, 13th century the Pandyans from South India had taken control of these areas, especially the coastal areas and a place called Cinkaenakar had emerged as the capital.
On one occasion the Armies of the South had penetrated through this buffer and held the kingdom on behalf of the Southern rulers. This had been in the middle of the 15th century when Sapumal Kumaraya (Chempaha Perumal) a prince of Kerala origin was adopted by Parakramabahu VI, in the Court. Sapumal Kumaraya had led an invasion to Jaffna and had occupied the Jaffna kingdom for 17 years but had returned to Kotte on the death of King Parakramabahu. Sapumal Kumaraya had been a strong king and he established a strong link between the North and the South.
Aryachakravarthis or Pandyans
The Aryachakravarthis or Pandyans introduced, the Siddha medicine Tamil literature, Dravidian architecture, Tamil Music and Bharatha Natyam. With the appearance of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, the Kingdom of Kandy and Kotte had jointly fought against the Portuguese and stopped the annexation of both kingdoms.
Till the first-quarter of the 17th century Portuguese influence had increased. They installed princes of their choice. In 1624 they had shifted the capital from Nallur to Jaffna. Sankili, the last King of Jaffna was deported to Goa, executed and then buried in Goa. The Portuguese cut off relations with South India.
When the Dutch came in 1658 they had held the Jaffna region for one and a half centuries until 1795. Jaffna had suffered under them; major temples (Kovils) were burnt down and art treasures were plundered. The people were forced to practise their religion but the temples had been converted to centres of social and cultural activities.
They opened schools and introduced Western type of education for evangelical purposes; those who passed in English were only to be given jobs. Children were forcibly converted as Christians and very often even the parents. Dutch seminars for evangelical reasons were held all over Jaffna, printing in Tamil was introduced and tobacco and cash crops were introduced for the first time in Jaffna.
The local religion Saivism and traditional arts and cultural were ignored. Temples were never revived but continued to be neglected. Jaffna had a Lieutenant Governor and his coat of arms had the figure of a palmyra tree. His area was from Mannar to Jaffna.
The Dutch enlarged the town; buildings were put up only for the Dutch with the best of luxuries. Paddy cultivation too had been introduced and they called it a must. Teaching English to the younger generation had started. The Fort and town of Jaffna had considerably expanded. Christian churches too had been expanded.
When the British came to Jaffna and Mannar they increased paddy farming and the import of food in Jaffna and the South under the British had reduced to the subsistence levels.
In the 19th century under the British, in Jaffna and the South tobacco growing had been increased as a money making cash crop. During the British times those who spoke and wrote in English found employment in India, Burma, Malaya and Hong Kong.
This led to the decline in the cultivation of cash crops like paddy, vegetables, and fruits. The British Government helped and encouraged tobacco growing. Foreign cigarettes and pipe tobacco had been introduced. Young men and women started smoking cigarettes and cigars. The British made it a sort of cult. If you are rich you had to smoke.
There had been a steady flow of the younger generation abroad. This led to a tremendous change in the economy of Jaffna. Its social progress and population increased and there was shortage of food, leading it to the brink of starvation.
With the beginning of the British rule, the people of Jaffna took to English education in a remarkable way.
A large number of philanthropists and American missions went to Jaffna not to the South. Free English schools were opened from 1816 onwards and there were high level educational centres both in the East and the North. Englishmen in robes taught English. Then the British started a Western Medical College in Batticaloa.
The younger and the older generation mastered English in the North and the East. Missionaries helped in the advance and also a devout church growing Tamil population. Northern and Eastern people became fluent in English and took to reading and writing in English. Government and private jobs went to the people in the North and the East.
In the South, I don’t need to repeat, we wanted to chase British away. Sadly, due to the treacherous acts the up-country Disavas and chieftains the last Tamil king of Sri Lanka was deported to Mauritius along with his enemy Ehelapola Disave, to the same place. The man who fought the British was executed and the British became the rulers of Sri Lanka.
The British fed, bordered, and even gave money that came from American organizations to, students in the North. By 1823 a central institute where Tamil, English, Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew, Astronomy and other subjects were taught was set up. There was the Wesleyan Mission and Baptist Mission Schools where English was mainly taught.
The demand for English education grew fast, and the conversion from Hinduism to Christianity was popular and this provoked a reaction among the Hindus.
Arumuka Navalar a Tamil scholar, a champion of Savism was among those in the movement that was against the conversions by missionaries. This led the way to the founding of Hindu schools for English education. A Hindu Board of Education was started for Hindu Education, Hindu colleges were established they cut across restrictions and they were relaxed. All this was started by Arumkar Navalar and Ponnambalam Ramanathan. The Americans followed this situation and founded the Western Medical School in Jaffna. Several American missions had come to Jaffna.
A good part of the 19th century, Jaffna District had been in a miserable state. Diseases had ravaged and thousands died. American missionaries started the friend in need societies. A hospital in Jaffna had staffed the doctors of the Jaffna Medical School. American missionaries were in the forefront.
Ponnambalam Ramanathan was elected to the educated Ceylonese seat at the election held in the country which contributed to more political consciousness among the Tamil people.
The American missionaries were the agents in the spread of liberal ideas among the youth. Jaffna which led the birth of political groups in 1924 was committed to national unity and independence from British rule.
Mahatma Gandhi, his independence struggle and his visit to Ceylon had a great influence, mainly, among the youth of the country. They even boycotted the elections held under the Donoughmore Constitution. The most outstanding leader of the Youth Congress was its President, Stanley Perimpenayagam. The Youth Congress started in the North and was an All Island National Movement committed to a national cause and independence from British rule. In 1944 Tamil Congress was formed with G.G. Ponnambalam as President and then the Federal Party led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam both Queen’s Counsel. The Federal Party itself transformed into a separatist movement. In 1972 the Tamil United Liberation Front was formed. This was a significant political development in the Northern political field, and then came the growth of underground groups in the North.
Many had gone into the darkness with only name boards. Then came Prabhakaran and his underground movement which killed leaders like Duraiappah and Neelan Thiruchelvam in the open. With all this, leaders like Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Ponnambalam Arunachalam fought for national unity.
The TULF led by Amirthalingam openly supported Prabhakaran. The young who came from Jaffna to Colombo, the majority working as clerks, had only a quilt and a pillow. They ate at the Saiva Hotel. But with these conditions they saw many Tamil leaders living in luxury with their children, but when they came to Jaffna they were dressed in vertis and with pottus on their foreheads seated on the ground.
In Colombo they behaved like Westerners smoking expensive cigars. The youth studying or working in Colombo were angry towards the system, how people born the same they say live differently. There was no caste system in Colombo but in Jaffna it existed.
I was invited for a Tamil friend’s wedding in Point Pedro. I stayed at one of my friend’s place; when we went for the dinner only I was invited to partake of the dinner.
My friend with whom I stayed was not invited for the dinner inside the house. In the night I asked my friend why he didn’t have dinner with me. He didn’t smile. “I belong to a lower caste that is Karawe. Your background, the friend who invited us had checked and found that you belonged to the Goigama caste; that is why you went inside and I stayed outside,” he told me. My friend whom I referred to earlier came back from England as he wanted to die in Sri Lanka. When in Colombo there is no cast barrier, they live together and eat together.
The second instance was when I was invited to a Federal Party meeting in Jaffna which I usually did attend. After the meeting there was a lunch at Chavakachcheri, V.N. Navarathnam’s electorate. All the big wigs and we all went inside for lunch but I looked around for Senator G. Nalliah who was a popular speaker. When I went outside I found Nalliah seated outside. I asked him why he isn’t inside. He smiled and said I am not expected to join you all. I knew why.
Then on another day my friend Siva took me to a Marriage Registrar’s place. A wedding couple and the other friends stayed outside near the gate and filled the forms and sent it to the Registrar. He never came out; another person did the talking. It was the same situation as before, low and upper caste. I saw this caste problem with my own eyes; it was a tragedy. You can’t blame Prabhakaran a low caste man for hating upper cast big wigs; he called them political opportunists.
As a journalist I knew Jaffna, Batticaloa and Mannar and the Eastern Province. Today’s situation is the present leaders have started the same political games. When Prabhakaran was alive they were scared to speak one word against. Then when Amirthalingam was killed, they elected a new leader from Trincomalee for the first time.
After Prabhakaran the TULf Leaders now are silent and sometimes say we had connections earlier but not today. We all knew then and now. What is the difference? Today they are close to the Diaspora.
Today, they even talk about why the LTTE killed Amirthalingam, not openly, but secretly.