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|Forgotten Batticaloa Burghers|
|Burgher communities in the east were hit hard by the waves|
|For over 500 years they have spent their time as masons, carpenters, barbers, and fishermen,living life to its fullest. For centuries they practiced their very unique customs,celebrated Christmas in their own indomitable style, danced the Kafringa and mingled with the Tamils of the area learning their language and marrying their people. In spite of the 20 year civil war that gripped the country like an iron claw, these people were able to make their living and live dignified lives. They still have very European names like Jacob, Stevens, Harrington, Vincent, De Lima, Hendricks, Ragel, Barthelot, Baltharza,Outschoorn, Andrado, Sela, Symmons and Betterbrown. Although many have intermarried and speak only Tamil they still keep to their Burgher traditions and customs which have been passed down through the ages. Marriage and intermingling with the Tamils of the area has also led to the gradual extinction of the Creole Portuguese that was spoken by them. According to some experts, Creole Portuguese that some older Burghers still spoke until about 1984 is very similar to the Portuguese spoken in medieval times. (Source: Equal Ground)|
|© BBC / Sunday Observer|
Tsunami unites Sri Lanka Burghers
The Burghers are descendants of the Dutch and Portuguese who colonised Sri Lanka in the 16th Century.
Before the tsunami they preferred to remain in their own enclaves - hardly making any contacts with their brethren in others parts of Sri Lanka and abroad.
But the situation has changed since December.
The tsunami was a terrible disaster for the nearly 4,000 Burghers living in the eastern town of Batticaloa.
More than 150 people perished and many others lost their properties and livelihood, mainly in and around the Dutch Bar area.
Three months on, Burghers in Batticaloa are now slowly trying to rebuild their lives.
Soon after the tsunami struck, news spread that the Burgher community on the east coast was one of the worst affected in Sri Lanka.
Burghers in Colombo immediately rushed essential supplies to help victims in Batticaloa.
It was the first time in decades that the two groups came in contact and the sudden solidarity is slowly evolving into a bond.
Soon, more help started to come in from those who had migrated years ago to countries like Australia, Canada and the UK.
"Every day, we were getting 30 to 40 e-mails from Burghers living abroad offering help. Suddenly, we feel that we are a bigger community," says Sunny Ockersz, president of the Burgher union in Batticaloa.
Earlier, the community was divided as Burghers in Batticaloa, Dutch Burghers and the "affluent" English-speaking Burghers in Colombo.
The Batticaloa Burghers for centuries were mostly manual labourers - carpenters, mechanics and masons - and were at the bottom of the Burgher social ladder.
"There was hardly any contact with each other. Burghers in Batticaloa were looked down on by others in the community," says Maxi Rozairo, president of the Burgher association in Colombo.
Community members say the emphasis was on making a decent living rather than trying to find out about their roots.
Schools or universities in Sri Lanka do not offer any courses on the history of the community.
When the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505 they brought soldiers and other supporting staff.
Those who settled down got married to local women and a new ethnic group was born.
Soon, the Dutch and the British followed. The descendants of the union between the colonisers and the locals came to be known as Burghers.
Despite the arrival of the Dutch and the British, most Burghers preferred to retain their Portuguese cultural roots.
The interaction also led to the evolution of a new language, Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole which was the lingua franca for more than three centuries.
"For centuries we have been following Portuguese customs and traditions. Some elders still speak Creole Portuguese. Portuguese music and dance are common in our get-togethers," says Mr Ockersz.
But the community also thrived under British rule as most Burghers were educated and fluent in English.
Burgher engineers, doctors and other professionals played a key role in managing Sri Lankan railways.
But the situation changed after Sri Lanka's independence in 1948.
The new government gave prominence to the Sinhala language.
As the Burghers did not speak that, there were few job opportunities for them and many of them went abroad.
"The mass migration split families. Due to the subsequent socio-political changes Burghers were slowly marginalised in Sri Lanka," says Mr Rozairo.
Today only about 34,000 Burghers are left in the Sri Lanka - down from a high of 100,000.
Before the tsunami, the community had planned to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese arrival in Sri Lanka. For now, the plans have been shelved.
Nevertheless, membership of Burgher associations in Sri Lanka has gone up in recent months.
Community leaders want to capitalise on the new found camaraderie. They say it is time to bring the scattered community together.
"No doubt the tsunami caused havoc. But it has brought a new identity for the Burghers," says Mr Rozairo.
|Forgotten Batticaloa Burghers|
|by Elmo Leonard as related by Maxi Rozairo|
|@ Sunday Observer|
|This is the story of the destruction caused by the tsunami
of December 26 on a small community called the Batticaloa Burghers living
in the eastern coast and their gallant attempt to rehabilitate
For the first
time in their history, since the 16th century when these descendants of
European colonists came together in Batticaloa, these people have become
unemployed, for the tsunami took away the tools of their labour.
Among them were
also, motor mechanics, computer technicians, car and lorry drivers,
three-wheel drivers and the like, on the day the mighty waters struck.