The Netherlands - Ceylon Heritage
Four hundred years of relations between The
Netherlands and Ceylon/Sri Lanka
to the Dutch Foundation "400 years VOC", it is now widely known
in The Netherlands that this first multinational company was officially
established during a session in the Ridderzaal
(Hall of Knights) on the 20th of March 1602.
practically unknown, however, that on the 30th of May in the same year
Admiral Joris van Spilbergen became the first Dutchman to set foot ashore
in the neighbourhood of Batticaloa. From there he undertook a journey to Kandy, where he met the Ceylonese
King Wimala Dharma Suriya.
relations between the two countries go back to that year. During the VOC
period (1656-1796) these relations were close, but often strained.
trading company the VOC was mainly interested in making a profit. The
administrative and judicial reforms, expansion of agriculture and horticulture
and construction of canals were carried out in order to promote trade.
most coveted product was cinnamon.
Rev. Baldaeus who was employed by the VOC, wrote: "especially
in this island grows the finest cinnamon, that Helena and costly bride, who
during many years has been contested for both by the Portuguese and the
A Touch of History
written by the monk Mahanama at the end of the fifth century A.C. carries
the story that Prince Vijaya with a group of 700 followers arrived at Ceylon from India in 543 B.C. According to the
legend Vijaya was a descendent of a lion, in Sinhalese called Sinha. Thus
his descendants are called Sinhalese, still the name of the largest section
of the island population.
the sons of lions stand the Tamil tigers who since 1983 have been fighting
for an independent state in the north and east of the country. Now they are
striving for an autonomous status.
B.C. Mahinda, the son of the Indian emperor Asoka, introduced Buddhism to Ceylon. The sacred Tooth Relic of the
Buddha was first brought to Anuradhapura and became a symbol of the
state. When the kingdom was shifted to Kandy, the Tooth Relic was placed
there in a palace called Dalada Maligawa. As a result Kandy became the centre of Theravada Buddhism.
Every year, ten days before full moon day in the month of August, the Tooth
Relic is being taken in perahera
along the streets in Kandy. It is the largest national
procession in which more then 80 elephants are taking part along with
countless dancers, torchbearers and drummers. This unique three-hour
procession attracts tens of thousands of devotees and numerous tourists.
country prospered under Parakramabahu who reigned between 1153 and 1186.
Then the capital was Polonnaruwa. Important irrigation works were
constructed during this
with the older capital Anuradhapura these two cities form a great
tourist attractions of modern Sri Lanka. The old monuments in these
cities and surroundings have been restored with the help of UNESCO under
the Cultural Triangle Project. A few years ago a new museum was established
in Polonnaruwa, which annually attracts some 100,000 visitors. Roelof
Munneke, the then curator of the State Museum for Ethnology in Leiden,
played an important role in the establishment of this museum.
prosperous period gradually came to an end. Tamils from neighbouring India
invaded the country in large numbers. Malaria was another reason why the
Sinhalese moved to the west and south of the island.
not difficult for the Portuguese to settle down along the west coast from
showed a fanatic religious zeal. Numerous Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic
sanctuaries were leveled to the ground. The intruders had a special grudge
against the descendants of Arabs whom they called Moors. From the 12th
century onwards they had established as traders along the west coast.
Moors escaped to the territory of the Sinhalese king who had shifted his
seat of government from Kotte to Kandy in the hill country.
King Raja Sinha entered into an agreement with the Dutch on the
understanding that they would help him to oust the Portuguese in exchange
for trade benefits. Cinnamon was the main attraction for the VOC.
the Dutch captured Galle, the largest city in the south, followed by
Colombo in 1656 and two years later Jaffna, the capital of the north. Just
as the Portuguese predecessors and the English successors the VOC dominated
the Maritime Provinces for about 150 years.
the French were welcomed as liberators in The Netherlands and Prince
William V had to take refuge in England. In Colombo, the Dutch Governor Van
Angelbeek received instructions from William V to hand over the possessions
to the English. As a result the VOC surrendered to the English in 1796.
Initially the English limited themselves to the Maritime Provinces, but in
1815 they invaded the interior and occupied Kandy, putting an end to the
Ceylonese monarchy, which has existed for 2300 years.
was gradually prepared for independence. In 1930, universal franchise was
introduced, followed by independence in 1948. In 1973, the country adopted
the name Sri Lanka, which means "Splendid Island". It is splendid
indeed: the country with its glittering beaches, old ruined cities, VOC
buildings and a hospitable, friendly population attracts hundreds of
thousands of tourists every year.
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The Dutch Period: 1656 - 1796
Ceylonese King Raja Sinha (1635 - 1687) who had welcomed the Dutch in order
to get rid of the Portuguese soon discovered that the new situation did not
make any difference. The VOC tried to win over the King by regularly
sending beautiful gifts and writing or addressing him in flattering terms.
That was necessary in order to obtain permission to peel cinnamon in his
territory. In the 18th century the Company commenced planting cinnamon in
the area under their control. The quarter in Colombo called ‘Cinnamon
Gardens’ reminds of that activity.
the principal cities Galle, Colombo and Jaffna fell into the hands of the
Dutch, they did not return them to Raja Sinha as stipulated in the treaty
of 1638, because the costs of war had not been paid. These were exaggerated
so much, that the King could never have settled the dues.
Raja Sinha did not resign himself to this situation. Repeatedly he incited
his subjects against the VOC or applied scorched earth tactics. The Company
therefore was forced to construct fortresses in the coastal region as well
as on the borders of the kingdom of Raja Sinha. Many of these forts are
still in a reasonably good state of preservation. This holds for the forts
of Galle, Matara, Trincomalee and Batticaloa. The impressive fort of Jaffna
was seriously damaged during the recent conflict. The Dutch Reformed Church
within the fortress, dating back to 1708 was also destroyed.
front of the coast of Jaffna we find the fort called Hammenhiel. The name means ‘heel of a ham’, with which the
Dutch compared the shape of Ceylon.
islands around Jaffna formerly had Dutch city names, like Leiden, Rotterdam
and Delft. Only the name of Delft is still in use.
situation considerably improved for the VOC after a long war against Kandy
(1761 - 1765), when the King recognized the Dutch sovereignty in the
coastal regions after the treaty of 1766.
Galle - Velsen
the Dutch occupied Galle, the most important city in the south and the main
supply point for merchantmen on the route from and to the Dutch East
Indies. The city now has 75,000 residents, 2,000 of whom live in the Fort.
One can still see the city gate with the VOC monogram bearing the date
The warehouse now serves as the
National Maritime Museum. The Akersloot
Bastion, situated close by, is named after the birthplace of Commander
Coster who captured Galle from the Portuguese.
The Leynbaan (Ropewalk Street) indicates
that Galle for its shipping activities set up enterprises like ropewalks.
harbour was full of rocks several ships went down. The Avondster
was one of them.
context of the Mutual Heritage Programme this vessel was lifted. After the tsunami much material
of the Avondster got lost.
in the Fort is the Oriental Hotel, partly dating back to the Dutch period.
Prince Claus, the late husband of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, stayed
there when he visited Galle. It was Nesta Brohier who wielded the sceptre
in the hotel until her death in 1995.
descendants of the Dutch colonists are called here Lansi, derived from the word ‘Hollanders’. In 1881, grateful
citizens of Galle erected a clock tower in memory of Dr. Anthonisz.
a meeting of archaeologists in Amsterdam in April 2006 which
was attended by the Underminister of Foreign Affairs ,
Mr.Nicolai , it was decided to set up an institute looking after the
restauration of Dutch monuments abroad. Remarkable is the beautiful Dutch
Reformed Church (1752), which is being restored with financial assistance
from The Netherlands. The pulpit was already repaired with the help of The
Netherlands Department for Conservation. Since nearly all the Dutch Burghers left Galle,
the church has not been used for public worship. Its architecture and
interior attract many tourists.
walking along the ramparts tourists are inevitably approached by coin sellers.
There is a nice story about an Englishman, who gazed at the inscription
‘VOC’ on a coin and asked,
does it mean?"
"Very Old Coins, Sir”
canal is not missing in Galle. Canals were constructed along the entire
west coast for transport of merchandise, mainly cinnamon, but also rice and
coconuts. When the price of petroleum increased, road transport became
expensive. About 30 years ago, late Peter Keuneman, a Minister in the then
Government, commenced restoration of the old Dutch Canal between Colombo
and Puttalam. Unfortunately the project was never completed.
and Jaffna are undoubtedly the cities where most reminiscences of the Dutch
period are found. In 1988 Galle Fort, which is in a reasonable state of
preservation with many buildings dating back to the VOC time, was placed on
the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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mayor of Galle wanted to establish contacts with modern Holland. A twinning
program with a municipality in Holland seemed a good method to fulfill this
1976, when the 100th anniversary of the North Sea Canal between Amsterdam
and Velsen was commemorated, the Municipal Council of Velsen accepted a
proposal for twining that city with Galle. In March 1978 Velsen organized a
successful Sri Lanka Week. In
1980, Galle organized a Netherlands
Week, which was attended by the then Mayor of Velsen, Pieter Molendijk.
programmes of development co-operation, such as housing projects for less
privileged people and two sewing centers for unemployed girls, were
launched,. A slum area of Galle, now called Velsenpura, was provided with sanitary facilities and a
community centre. The sewerage system, dating back to the VOC time, was
restored. The Public Library received equipment from a library in Velsen
and regular subsidies for acquisition of books. The Buona Vista Home for
the Aged was also helped.
the past few years there was an exchange of delegations between both
municipalities, while some residents of Galle received training in
factories and institutions in Velsen with financial assistance from the
Union of Municipalities in The Netherlands.
a large ICT project for schools in Galle was launched, initiated and
supervised by the Nova College of Velsen.
Club of Velsen held a successful fund raising campaign for the acquisition
of a fire brigade van. It was built in India and arrived in Galle in July
2003. Last year, a waste disposal project was set up in Galle as well as a
sports training programme with financial assistance and advice from Velsen.
of children's drawings from Galle in the Town Hall of Velsen attracted
crowds of admiring visitors.
projects are coordinated and supervised by the Netherlands Alumni
Association of Lanka (NAAL).
shopping centre of a new quarter in Velsen is called Galle Promenade and the surrounding streets are named after Sri
brochure written by Marjan Hendriks, titled Ver weg, dichtbij (Far
away, close by), the origin of these street names is explained.
relations between Galle and Velsen are described in the book Verbonden door Water (United by
Water) by Guus Hartendorf, which appeared in 2001 on the occasion of the
25th anniversary of the town twinning.
Wagenaar, senior curator of the Amsterdams
Historical Museum gives a good picture of life in Galle around 1760 in
his book Galle, VOC-vestiging in
Ceylon (Galle-VOC Fort in Ceylon) for which he was awarded a doctorate
by the University of Leiden.
Roberts, who was the directress of Galle Library from 1940 to 1982,
published a book titled Galle as
quiet as asleep, while E. F. C. Ludowyk wrote on his childhood in
Galle: Those long afternoons,
childhood in colonial Ceylon.