Monday, June 30, 2014

Aleas, Kuruwe Vidanes and the Vanniyalettho. The secret history of Jaffna and the Vanni

Published in my column in The Nation on Sunday, 10 November 2013 and in Colombo Telegraph on the same date.

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

The Vanni was the source of elephants to the Kingdom of Jaffna and elephants were Crown Property. By issuing a proclamation dated Lisbon, 3rd Jan., 1612, the King of Portugal had let the natives know that he had cottoned on to that and no one therefore should mess with Crown Property, which right now meant his property. ” Whereas I have learnt that the elephants in the Island of Ceilao are and always have been from ancient times the property of the Crown,…”-(The Kingdom Of Jafanapatam 1645 Being An Account Of Its Administrative Organisation As Derived From The Portuguese Archives, P. E. Pieris, 22-23)

While managing their newly acquired crown property, elephantine and otherwise, there accrued to the Portuguese, a wealth of information, which reveals to us, the modern observers, the threads of cohesion[i] between the centre and periphery of the pre-colonial Lankan state. We learn for example that one such thread had created synergy in the realms of Lanka with regards to elephants and bequeathed the office of Kuruwe Vidane to the Kingdom of Jaffna, a territory which by the 17th century was covered by a diaphanous Tamil garb, through which the Sinhalese inner garment showed much plainer than it does now.

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