Culture kaffir dance
Kaffringna’ and ‘Manja’ the Life style music of Sri Lankan Kaffirs

“We are proud of our name “Sri Lankan Kaffirs”, it is not a racist word like the word negro or nigger,” said Marcus Jerome Ameliana, who believes her ancestors came to Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, as Portuguese slaves. Forgotten by many their population is scattered along Sirambiady in Puttlam,Batticaloa and Trincomalee. The history says they were brought here somewhere in 16th Century by Portuguese traders as slaves to assist in the building of forts and for their military campaigns. By 1444 the Sinhalease had became involved in the African slave trade and imported slaves from Africa as a source of labour and were also used as soldiers to fight for the Sri Lankan kings. This practice was followed by the Dutch and the British colonialists as well. Lazarus Martin Ignatius, 82, remembers her grandfather telling how their ancestors were chained up and forced by the Dutch to take on the Ceylonese army.

The Kaffirs were originally Muslims, but now they practise a range of faiths from Catholicism to Buddhism, and wear typically Sri Lankan clothes of long skirts for the women and sarongs for the men.  Typical African features – the short curly hair, thick lips, broad noses and high cheekbones of the Negroid race still visible among older generation of Sri Lankan Kaffirs. However, the younger generation whilst retaining certain elements of their forefathers, were more akin to Sinhalese, the reason being the gradual assimilation of the Kaffirs with the Sinhalese population of Puttalam.

Music and dance seem to be their life and it is the best indicators of their African ancestry. At lunch time, the men chat and doze in hammocks as the women sing catchy creole tunes while preparing a meal on outdoor stoves. Kaffringna’ and ‘Manja’ are their cultural heritage which includes the dance styles and the Bailla music popular in Sri Lanka was originating centuries ago from these Kaffirs or Afro-Sinhalese communities. Their songs, mostly repeating a few basic lyrics, speak of love, the sea and wildlife. The music starts with a slow, gentle rhythm played on a tambourine, spoons and coconut shells, and gradually builds to a climax with dancers swinging their hips, hands and feet wildly. ‘Manhas’ are what the songs are called that are played by the Kaffirs of Sirambiyady and the music is different in technical ways from Kaffrinha and Chikothi (both of which are kinds of music with African roots), all of the movements in their dance point to its African origins.

Their maiden music album “Kaffir Maanja of Sirambiady” was launched recently at the John De Silva Memorial Theatre. The troupe comprising around 20 Kaffir men, women and children, three of them disabled, were led by their Chief, Peter Louis. The show began with a song and dance performance called ‘Ro Ro Rowenka” of a group of men and women arriving in a boat and landing on our shores to the rhythmic beat of the coconut shells, followed by songs, City of Chalina, St. Anthony’s, Irandemy Irandemy, Arabic, John John, Madura etc. The song City of Chalina was especially moving, since the singers were yearning for a long lost mythical city of Chalina, possibly in distant Africa.

The Kaffir concert is certainly helpful in the preservation of their music and dance, which are the only cultural remnants of their African roots. Their exact place of origin along Africa’s east coast may never be known for sure because of a lack of documentation and conflicting oral histories, promoting their music allows for their future generations to better understand the Kaffirs’ history. The more concerts they put on, the more outside interest the community receives, which has both researchers and journalists looking for sources to tell the story of the Kaffirs of Sri Lanka.

සංගීතය ආත්මය කොටගත් ශ්‍රී ලාංකික කාපිරි ජනතාව

කාපිරි යන නම ඇසු පමණින් අපට සිහිවන්නේ  අපේ මුතුන්මිත්තන් අපට පැවසු දෙවන ලෝක යුධ සමයේ මෙරටට ගෙන්වනලද බිහිසුණු ජන කොට්ටාශයකි.  මිනී මස් කෑමට ඇති ගිජු බව නිසා දෙපා යදමින් බැඳ මුවට ඉබ්බන් දමා තිබු බවට පැරැන්නන් කියන කතා කොතෙකුත් ඔබ අසා ඇතුවාට සැක නැහැ . නමුත් පුත්තලම සිරම්බි අඩි ග්‍රාමය කේන්ද්‍ර කොටගත් අප්‍රිකානු සම්භවයකින් පැවතෙන ශ්‍රී ලාංකික කාපිරි ජනතාවක් වෙසෙන බව බොහෝ අය නොදන්නා රහසක්.

මෙම ශ්‍රී ලාංකික කාපිරි ජනතාවගේ ඉතිහාසය වසර 500 ක්  තරම් ඈතට විහිදයයි.දහසයවන සියවසේදී පෘතුගීසින්න් සිය බලකොටු ඉදිකිරිම සඳහාත් යුධ කටයුතු සඳහාත් අප්‍රිකාවෙන් වහලුන් ලෙස ගෙන්වන ලද ජන පිරිසකගෙන් මොවුන් පැවත එනබව පිළිගතහැකි මතයකි . පසුව මෙම වහල් වෙළදාම ලන්දේසි සහ ඉංග්‍රීසින් විසින්ද අනුගමනය කර ඇත. එමෙන්ම සිංහල නරපතියන්ද තම යුධ පෙරමුණු සඳහා මෙම අප්‍රිකානු වහලුන් යොදාගත් බව ඉතිහාසයේ සදහන්වනවා.

සංගීතය තම ආත්මය කොටගත් මෙම ජන පිරිස සැහැල්ලු ජිවන රටාවකට උරුමකම් කියයි. ශ්‍රී ලංකාවට බයිලා සහ කපිරිඤ්ඤ හදුන්වා දීමේ ගවුරවය නිතැතින්ම හිමිවියයුතු වන්නේ මෙම සිංහල කාපිරි ජනතාවටයි. අතීතයේදී හැඳි සහ පොල්කටු තම ප්‍රධානම සංගීත භාණ්ඩ ලෙස යොදාගත් අතර වර්තමානයේදී රබන් සහ ඩොලක් ද වාද්‍ය භාණ්ඩ ලෙස යොදාගනු ලබයි. ආරම්භයේදී සෙමෙන් පටන්ගන්නා වාදනය සහ ගායනය ක්‍රමයෙන් උච්ච වත්ම අත් සහ ඉඟ වේගයෙන් චලනය කරන ඔවුන්ටම ආවේනික රංගනයකට අවතීර්ණය වේ.

ජෝන් ද සිල්වා සමරු රඟහලේ පසුගියදා පැවැති සංදර්ශනයකදී “සිරම්බිඅඩි කපිරිඤ්ඤා සහ මඤ්ඤා” නමින් යුත් සංයුක්ත තැටියක් එළිදැක්වීම මෙම ජනතාව ලද සුවිශේස ජයග්‍රහණයක් සේම ඔවුන්ගේ නැතිවී යන උරුමය අනාගත පරපුරට ලබාදීමට ගත් කාලෝචිත පියවරක් ලෙස සදහන්කලයුතුයි

Sandun W

Sandun joined Lanka Help Magazine as a contributor in June, 2011. He has been consistently writing articles to our magazine. Many useful articles of this site are under Sandun's name.

About the author

Sandun joined Lanka Help Magazine as a contributor in June, 2011. He has been consistently writing articles to our magazine. Many useful articles of this site are under Sandun's name.

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