Sunday, January 2, 2011


Those chingalaz and these chingalaz.

A cat may look at a king. Similarly, even someone like me, belonging firmly to the genus Toms- Dicks-Harries-and-Janes may, spot in the communications of one of Island’s regular columnists, I won’t say fatal flaws, but clear evidence of indifferent research methods, a clear preference as it were, for surface skimming, where in-depth diving is required. I am sorry to say that this has happened. I have spotted in the case of Professor Nalin De Silva’s communications, just such incomplete knowledge seeking methods, and this has led me to compose this article.

Professor Nalin De Silva has said the following in the 17 August 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!)

This is such a favourite trump card, which Professor Nalin de Silva doesn’t hesitate to produce with fair frequency. He went on Derana 360 and said the same thing. The use of this trump card by NdeS in public forums is such a small thing, yet at the same time such a big thing, with the potential to motivate those who are willing, ‘to boldly go where no one has gone before’.

First, this is not the trump he imagines it to be. 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 of his book 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.)

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 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

“founded 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.”

Is Professor Nalin de Silva making an embarrassing exhibition of his lack of awareness of our historiography when he plays this card; or is he merely choosing to place his money on Queiros instead of on Professor Abeyasinghe?

If Professor NdeS were to read ‘Jaffna under the Portuguese’ together with some background information, many things would become clear to him. One of the first things to become clearer would be the nature and character of the Jaffnese, at the time of the Portuguese advent, which point as we all know lies at the centre of one of the uniquely distinctive and defining areas of the professor’s belief system; holding as it does that the Jaffnese were mostly Sinhalese at this point of time; (which belief he has reiterated by the way, in Divaina, Sunday, 02 January 2011).

“The defence arrangements the Portuguese made for Jaffna were greatly influenced by the assessment made by the leading Portuguese officials in that kingdom on the nature and character of the native inhabitants of Jaffna. Oliveira considered the Jaffna man as generally passive or weak (fraco). His successor as captain-major, Lancarote de Seixas, came to the same conclusion: he found the Jaffna man “quiet and mild, without any military training” and therefore unlikely to rebel unless instigated by outsiders. To them, the post-conquest history of Jaffna bore this out clearly. Luis de Freitas de Macedo, with many years of experience in Jaffna, came to a similar conclusion about the Jaffna man’s nature, as did the chronicler Fernāo de Queiros, basing himself on the observations of those who knew Jaffna well. The result of this assessment was that in Jaffna fortification was begun later, proceeded more slowly, and when it was completed, Jaffna, for its population and area, had fewer forts than was the case in the southern territories the Portuguese held in the island.”

– Chapter 3, Jaffna under the Portuguese

Definitely not the people of little faith and restless spirit the Lisbon authorities had believed in 1634 to be in Jaffna, based on their misintelligence, which had persisted, even after their consultations on the Casado settlement issue with two old Asia hands; one of them with at least a decade of experience as a captain in many parts of the island.

The second thing, which would tend to hit one between the eyes with the force of clarity, after reading this book, is the realization that the ethnographic aspect of the collective identity of the Jaffnese, at this particular point of time, was not sufficiently distinct and separate from that inhabiting the rest of the island, namely that of the Chingalaz; so that, when an outsider such as the Portuguese happens on the scene, it (that is, the ethnographic aspect of the collective identity of the Jaffnese) is not capable of leaving a clear, separate and distinctive imprint on the collective consciousness of the outsider; so that classification glitches appear not only on their official missives, but also on the narrative pages of that unusually perceptive and eminently citable Jesuit chronicler Fernao de Queiros.

Queiros uses the word Chingalaz almost as a substitute for Jaffnese; that is even when the word demanded by the context obviously is ‘Jaffnese’, he uses ‘Chingalaz’

“… but when they saw the course (of the ships) they posted men on the way as best as they could and the Prince of Jafanapatao instructed a Chingala and he came to have speech with the Viceroy and…”

When two Portuguese scouts land in Jaffna to ‘case the joint’, they are immediately surrounded by ….you guessed it …the Chingalaz.

“… others already blamed the viceroy for a sluggard for not sending some to discover these rat-traps (as D. Antonio de Noronha called them). Two sailors both brave men, Pero Travacos, a native of Cochim, and Braz de Couto of Truquel in the Boroughs of Alcobaca, offered to go and discover them. They landed with all precaution, but were at once surrounded by the Chingalaz within sight of the Manchua in which they went and by the dawn watch there came a letter from the Prince (brought) by a Christian sailor who had been a prisoner there after a shipwreck, in which he said that if the Chingala whom he had sent should be killed, he would also kill the Portuguese. But that if he were set free, they would be restored. Here some voted that the Chingala should be hanged, little caring for the lives of the two Portuguese worthy of a better reward. Others (as if it were necessary) made a subtle distinction between deceit and trickery, (saying) that the Chingala was only trickish and deserved praise rather than punishment. ..”

On page 363, we meet for the first time 12 modeliares, who have just excited the king’s wrath. And when we meet them again on page 366, they are 12 Chingala heads on a block

“But because the others asked him to submit to the Portuguese, promising them tribute and vassalage with a feigned heart, as he had done before , till time brought about a change of circumstances, he was still so full of obstinacy, that he ordered the 12 Modeliares, who were of this opinion and had represented to him the complaints and losses of the natives to be arrested.”…..

…..”Among other things he found a block with 12 Chingala heads which the King ordered to be cut off, because they pointed out to him how necessary it was to make peace with the Portuguese even though only deceitfully, for to him the faintest dream of a crime was proof enough, and this cowardice as a necessary consequence, made his subjects exceedingly cowardly.”

Describing the Jaffna king in flight from the Portuguese;

“…He however fled in such haste, that it was impossible to overtake him, for he went up hill and down dale with greater rapidity than they, for his speed was natural and fear gave him wings, while our people advanced with great care, because they could not march in ranks; and the tyrant King was as cruel as he was desperate, and having killed a Chingala who had many relations, he would have been destroyed altogether had he not taken the precaution of curing that wound with blood,..”

Describing yet another altercation in Jaffna;

“Vincente Carvalho. Captain of a foist, seeing himself attacked by 200 men who sought to kill him, said to them: ‘Take me to your King, for I have some things to communicate to him on which depends his safety.’ The delighted Chingalaz made their way to the fortalice where he was; and as they had to pass by the Broad street where D. Antonio……”

In fact when Queiros needs a common noun for an ordinary joe in Jaffna, he guessed it ‘the Chingala’. Thus when a Portuguese reinforcement arrives to rescue some besieged Portuguese, the Jaffna King sends to them with his message, the bearer of which is …

“Upon this message D. Antonio halted keeping the Chingala and sent word to D. Constantino de Braganca, who getting rid of the other people who were with him. Came to Nelur in a manchua by a different route and communicating with the Captains of the relieving force, he ordered them to reinforce the praca, the next dawn breaking through the Enemy, and to send (to the King) that evening by one of the prisoners the head of that Chingala hostage with this message…”

This chain of events develops further and culminates in the killing of yet another Jaffnese Joe by yet another Portuguese;

“But it was enough that the King knew the delicacy of Portuguese faith, for to show off his valour, he killed the Chingala to whom he was entrusted and fled to our men in sight of an army.”

The problem is compounded by the fact that, even when the context demands classification of peoples along ethnographic lines, Queiros uses the word chingalaz;

“…the Prince who was superintending the war had arranged to attack the Portuguese with 6000 men divided into eight parties, and that the King had remained in the fortalice relying on the promises of the Chingalaz, Badagaz and Moors who served him, and…”

Then too, sometimes Queiros uses that word in such ways that you (that is I) don’t know what to think;

“That he Xaga Raja Xagara Pandara was not to blame for this prelim which took place, but a Captain of his, whom he had imprisoned for so great a crime; …

“And afterwards it was known that the Chingala to whom the King attributed the rising was the fugitive Urucinga whom he wished to deliver, if an agreement could be effected, because, as he did not trust him, he did not mind losing a pretended friend.”

“And as the fortalice was not on the seashore, nor capable of defence, and as it did not then appear necessary to preserve it, because it would necessarily remain in a continuous state of siege, on account of the tenacity of the King and of Chingala courage, the Captains wrote to the Viceroy, ‘that it did not seem creditable to our arms to remain locked up with the enemy within sight, since we were accustomed to vanquish more experienced and valorous nations,…”

How likely is it that Queiros would make so fundamental an error as this? He was a Jesuit chronicler. The penetration of the Portuguese into Jaffna through their Jesuit, Franciscan and Dominican missionary arm predates that of the political, was more extensive and necessarily involved closer human contact. What if Queiros was not making an error, but using a different style of terminology, a different conceptualisation of the word Chingala, which should have been obvious but isn’t, because most people are too dichotomy obsessed?

The likelihood that just possibly Queiros (or the Lisbon authorities or the Count of Vidigueira for that matter), may not have been committing an error, but using the word Chingalaz in a more extended and encompassing sense, hit me like a revelation from a Higher Power after reading on, a customer review on Michael Crichton’s Timeline, a novel set in Normandy during the Hundred Years War. Crichton was castigated by the reviewer for positioning the two warring parties as English and French, when they (the reviewer insisted) were both French. What the reviewer should have realized was that during the Hundred Years War, even though French soldiers fought on both sides, the French perceived the French and Norman ruling element that England had acquired with the Norman Conquest, as English and wanted to kick the English out of Normandy.

“However, by 1429 Charles VII, with the support of Joan of Arc, had been crowned at Reims and begun to push the English out of northern France. In 1435, an end to the French civil war between Burgundians and Armagnacs allowed Charles to return to Paris the following year, and by 1453 the English had been driven out of their last strongholds in Normandy and Guyenne. The only French territory left to the English was Calais, which was held until 1558.”

-Wikipedia- English claims to the French throne

At the same time, it is doubtful if the English proper, that is the dispossessed Anglo-Saxon nobility and the clergy quite perceived these usurpers with their homeland fixations on continental territory, as English. Meanwhile,

“By the early 14th century, many in the English aristocracy could still remember a time when their grandparents and great-grandparents had control over wealthy continental regions, such as Normandy, which they also considered their ancestral homeland, and were motivated to regain possession of these territories”.

-Wikipedia- The Hundred Years War

So all I am saying is that while a powerful, pervasive, incorporating, inclusive and dominant identity, such as that of the Chingalaz, which claimed the whole island for itself, remained part of the equation, Queiros could call a Tamil speaking Jaffnese a Chingala, and be no more incongruous and in error than when a nobleman with an Angevin or Norman ancestry, speaking a medieval French dialect and fighting on one side of the Hundred Years War, got classified as English.

“A Vijayanagar record of A.D. 1385/6 relates that the prince, Virupaksila, conquered among others the Sinhalas, and presented crystals and other jewels to his father Harihara; this may refer to the kingdom of Jaffna, which in the next century was tributary to the great empire on the mainland.”

This quotation from chapter five of Codrington’s Short history of Ceylon, which I found like another revelation from a Higher Power, would tend to bear me out. But no degree of certainty is possible since the context and content of the Virupaksila inscription remain a mystery to me as are so much else.

However, one thing is certain, no matter what contextual provenance applies to the word Chingalaz as used by Queiros for the Jaffnese; those Chingalaz in Jaffna was temperamentally different to the Chingalaz of the rest of the country:

“The relative passivity with which Jaffna accepted foreign rule stands in strong contrast to the strength and frequency of resistance movements in the south. Jaffna rose against the Portuguese on three occasions, two of them within the first two years of their occupation. On each occasion, it was the arrival of foreign troops from Tanjore or from Kandy- that acted as a catalyst for rebellion. After 1629, for thirty years, Jaffna accepted foreign rule without demur”

-Chapter 2, Jaffna under the Portuguese-

There was also the matter of the lascarins;

“The Sinhalese troops from the Kotte lands, when pitted against the Kandyans, had often mutinied, but in Jaffna, similar problems had not arisen”

-Chapter 4, Jaffna under the Portuguese-

And if you still have any doubts after all this evidence, let me quote one more paragraph to show that the ‘Chingalaz’ in Jaffna spoke Tamil.

“Perhaps because the Catholic clergy in Jaffna had no income from cultivation to supplement their allowances, they resorted to levying contributions on their flocks on a scale unparalleled in the south. The first complaints against the practice are heard in the early 1630s and by 1645 these had reached such proportions that the viceroy Dom Phelippe Mascarenhas had to appoint a commission headed by Francisco de Seixas de Cabreira, the captain major, to inquire into these complaints. About 40 witnesses, both Jaffnese as well as Portuguese, all of them in responsible positions, appeared before the commission and their testimony read like a litany of grievances against the Jaffna clergy………….The original record of the inquiry, running into over 125 pages with the signatures of the Tamil deponents in their own language, is well preserved and is a remarkable document, unique in its kind. Reading through the document, one is driven to the conclusion that while the revenue authorities, relying on the low-boiling point of the Jaffna man, went on increasing the taxes that he had to pay, the clergy too did likewise.”

-Chapter 6, Jaffna under the Portuguese-

Coming back to Queiros, he was a person who took the Brahmi script of the Sinhalese inscriptions to be Greek (Temporal and Spiritual conquest of Ceylon, book 1, page60). However, when he writes ‘These terms (written) in the Portuguese and the Chingala languages, were signed and authenticated’, he is not utilizing his linguistic deciphering skills; but rather describing the event (the pact) in ‘our language-their language’ terms, and their language had been set to Chingala by default, because that was Queiros’ perception.

However we, unlike Queiros are insiders and don’t have to be content with that default setting. Our inside information should warn us against accepting default settings when it comes to linguistic matters in medieval Sri Lanka. The many instances when the State communicated in Tamil, are too well known to need citations, and as for communications from Jaffna, the inscription in Kotagama in Kegalla District, which ‘is almost its (Jaffna Kingdom’s) only surviving relic’ (Chapter 5, Codrington’s Short history of Ceylon) is in Tamil

“Inscriptional evidence provides some interesting details on these incursions and their consequences. The Kotagama and Lahugala inscriptions refer to one Ariyan of Singai Nagar who invaded the Four Korales and that rather than confront the invader, Parakramabahu of Dedigama fled.”

A History of Sri Lanka- K.M. de Silva

All in all, I feel that Professor Nalin de Silva should read more or rather branch out more in his reading, when it comes to the history of Sri Lanka.