Sri Lankan Portuguese Creole - History


In 1517, the Portuguese, attracted by the island’s spices and strategic position (midway between their holdings on the west coast of India and Malacca), sent an expedition from Goa to establish a trading post at Colombo. They introduced Christianity to the island, and granted special favors to those who converted. Using the unstable political situation on the island to their advantage, the Portuguese soon gained the position of guardians of the nominal monarch of southern Sri Lanka. In 1557, Dharmapala, who was king at Kotte, near Colombo, and had suzerainty over Kandy and Jaffna (the other two kingdoms) was baptized Dom João Dharmapala breaking a 1,850 year-old tradition as a Christian King sat on the Sinhalese throne. Several Sri Lankan aristocrats and others followed the King and converted. In 1597, Dharmapala, the last king of the Kotte, died childless, and willed his realm to Philip I, king of Portugal. In 1617, with the annexation of Jaffna, Portuguese authority extended over the entire lowland zone. Catholicism continued to spread, but the Portuguese did not train an indigenous clergy, so it was simply a microcosm of the church in Portugal.

The Dutch were in contact with the Kandyan court as early as 1602, but it wasn’t until 1632 that the Kandyan monarch, Raja Sinha II, invited Dutch cooperation in expelling the Portuguese from the island. A long period of conflict ensued, including Dutch takeover of Batticaloa in 1638, and ending with the fall of Mannar and Jaffna in 1658. When Raja Sinha II realized that the Dutch were not about to deliver their new conquests to him, the alliance quickly dissolved into enmity. The Dutch East India Company was primarily interested in commercial profits and resisted engaging in costly military operations against Kandy. During the Dutch reign, 1761–1766, was the only period of outright war. The Dutch also maltreated the Catholics and forced conversions to the Calvinist faith, the Catholic Church fell to its foundations as Catholic marriages, practice of the faith, and priests were forbidden by the Dutch. Catholics met secretly at each other’s homes to practice their faith. At this time, the Catholic Church may have disappeared completely in Sri Lanka had it not been for the work of Goan priests who came to the island to save Catholicism.

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