Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Embarrassing bits in Professor Nalin De Silva’s public proclamations

Was I responsible for the crashing of the http://www.kalaya.org/forum? I will never know. All I did was to post the above topic on it somewhere around 22nd September 2010. If I was responsible, it is not a sense of accomplishment I feel but sadness that a forum dedicated to knowledge generation has proved to be so fragile, so lacking in resilience and tactical resources as to be felled by such a post as the following;

I just noticed that Prof. Nalin De Silva has said the following in the August 17, 2010 Island article,KP and the new Tamil politics’;

Tamil had never been an official language in any part of the country and, as late Mr. Gamini Iriyagolle has shown,the pact between the Portuguese and the Arya Chakravarthi King in Jaffna had been drafted in Sinhala and Portuguese and not in Tamil!”
(Note the exclamation mark)

Actually this is not the first time. This is a favourite trump card of Prof NdeS which he produces everywhere. He went on Derana 360 and said the same thing.

However this is not the trump he imagines it to be. For one it’s not something Mr. Gamini Iriyagolla has ‘shown’. It’s what Fernão de Queiros’ has written in his Temporal and Spiritual conquest of Ceylon. It’s in page 371

“These terms [written] in the Portuguese and the Chingala languages, were signed and authenticated and the Prince was handed over and sent in a ship with the Modeliar in good custody…..”

Mr. Gamini Iriyagolla has just quoted Queiros. He has not shown that the pact was in Sinhalese and Portuguese through original research. In fact Queiros’ is the only source which refers to this pact. According to Temporal and Spiritual conquest of Ceylon, the King of Jaffna promises under this pact to pay the Portuguese a tribute.

“That the King of Jafanapatao shall remain in his Kingdom as before, swearing according to his rites, vassalage to the King of Portugal with a tribute of 12’ tuskers and 1,200 patacas:…”
- page 371

According to the dateline of Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon, this pact was signed a goodish while before 1571, because 1571 was the year in which, according to the same, the King’s son who was handed over to the Portuguese as hostage for fulfilling Jaffna’s part of the pact, died in Goa.

Professor Tikiri Abeyasinghe in his ‘Jaffna under the Portuguese’ has clearly shown that Jaffna only began to pay a regular tribute to Portugal at some point between 1574 and 1582. Let me quote the relevant part.

“Jaffna becomes tributary.

With increasing awareness of the importance of Jaffna, the Portuguese sought to bring that kingdom under their authority. This they succeeded in doing, in stages. First they made that kingdom a tributary. Exactly when this happened is not clear, but it is certain that by 1582, the year in which the first standing orders (regimentos) for the Portuguese fort of Mannar were issued, the ruler of Jaffna had begun to pay a regular, annual tribute of ten elephants or their money-value to the Portuguese at Mannar.”

In the footnote below that paragraph Prof. Abeyasinghe says;

“Note that when Antonio de Abreu prepared his Orcamento (Financial Statement) of the Portuguese possession in the East in 1574, he did not record any tribute against Jaffna, Studia (Lisboa 1959) vol. 4 ff. 169-281.

Clearly no regular tribute was due from Jaffna in the year 1574.”

Even if you disregard the above data, after all a pact may have existed and not honoured, Prof Abeyasinghe simply categorises the

“These terms [written] in the Portuguese and the Chingala languages, …..”
on page 371 of Temporal and Spiritual conquest of Ceylon as an error on Queiros’ part.

It is in pages 24, 25, 26, 27 that Prof Abeyasinghe categorises the frequent references in Queiros’ work to Chingalas in Jaffna as errors (Which they must be because the way Queiros tells it, there are Chingalas under every bush and in every culvert in 16th Century Jaffna, which simply could not have been. Queiros does indeed seem to be calling the native Jaffnese, Sinhalese. )

The build up to the relevant portions of Jaffna under the Portuguese which I am going to now quote is this; Lancarote de Seixas suggests in 1630 that Portuguese casados should be settled in Jaffna on a large scale and the lands there be distributed among them. Goa refers this proposal to Lisbon. Lisbon consults two old Asia hands on them, one of them with a decade of experience as a captain in many parts of the island.

Then Lisbon makes its decision and that decision …is

"found on natural justice and ....also on misintelligence"

“A principal factor they took into consideration in arriving at their decision was the possibility that the implementation of the two proposals would lead to rebellion. This is clear from a statement in their letter of 15th march 1634 “…se nāo deve fazer novidade….porque de outro modo escandalizar junta tanta gente e de animos tāo inquietos e pouco fieis…” (no innovation ought to be tried…because otherwise people of such restless spirit and little faith will be scandalized…) But in referring to people of restless spirit and little faith, the Lisbon authorities were thinking of the Sinhalese of the Kotte Lands and not of the Tamils of Jaffna, as the phrase “como sāo os chingalas” (as are the Sinhalese) which follows the extract quoted above makes clear. Three decades of rebellion in the Kotte lands had implanted among the Lisbon authorities a wholesome fear of attempting anything likely to cause unrest among the Sinhalese. To that fear and to the misintelligence among the Lisbon authorities that Jaffna was inhabited by the Sinhalese, the Jaffna mudaliyars owed their survival.”

And in a footnote Prof. Tikiri Abeyasinghe says

“Such misintelligence was not confined to Lisbon. The Count of Vidigueira, after serving as viceroy at Goa for 7 years (in two terms) and after a term as President of the India Council in Lisbon, still believed in 1626 that the inhabitants of Jaffna were Sinhalese. ANTT Doc. Rem. Livro 24 doc 18 (no folio numbers) Even Fernão de Queiros’ work was not free from this error. See pp. 357, 361, 366, 371 etc.”

So you see Prof NdeS is just making an embarrassing exhibition of his lack of awareness about our historiography when he plays this card.

The cached screen shot of the post as it appeared on 22nd September 2010 can be found at