Karava – The recent history

The Karava History from the arrival of the Dutch, through a period of religious persecution to the British period.


The Dutch came over to the help of Rajasinghe II after the treaty of 1638. The combined forces of the Dutch and the Local militia, met the Portuguese in and around Cammala in the Alut Kuru Korale around 1640. The connection between the D’andrados and the Dutch began from this point. The D’andrados who were settled around Cammala served the Dutch in many wars. 

With the capture  of Jaffna in 1658 the Dutch became the masters of maritime Ceylon. The Dutch having achieved the objective, and consolidating his conquest, started on a systematic policy of persecuting the Catholics, which bore hardest of all upon the Karava  people. It is during this period of religious persecution that the Karava  clans of Negombo, left to the villages in the Kandyan Kingdom. The descendants some of those who went, over the years became Buddhists or Hindus. Much history has been recorded about the persecution of the Catholics by the Dutch, and the arrival of Fr Joseph Vaz in 1687 (now elevated to sainthood). With the arrival of Fr Vaz, the Catholics began to openly flout the Dutch plakaats5 and began to agitate and fight for religious freedom. The Negambo and Kalutara Karava  spearheaded this. Most notable in these struggles has been the Mudliyar Don Affonso Pereyra of Negambo, and Simao Collacco, the chief of the Colombo Catholics. The Dutch began to relax the rigors of their penal laws towards the end of their rule.

The arrival of the British in 1796 brought peace and relief to Catholics, but the occupation of the Dutch led to a gradual decline of the maritime-based Karava  clan. This was not only due to religion but because the Dutch had little necessity for the military capabilities of the Karava  clans, as there were no threat from the Kandyan monarchs. The Dutch also did not place chiefs of other casts in authority over areas predominantly occupied by the cultivating class. The Goigama cultivating caste considerably increased in power during the last century. 

It has not been unusual for the Karava  clan to be referred to as the fishing clan. The Karava , more than any others, settled in the seaport towns of the south west. Already possessing a knowledge of navigation, they took to fishing in the coastal seas in large numbers. Soldiering, sea-faring and commercial activity has been the three main occupations of the Karava  people. The Karava  of the interior took to agriculture.

With the establishment of the British rule, a period of great economic activity was to follow. The Karava  as ship owners and merchants had already accumulated wealth and experience, and were not slow to utilize the new opportunities. Wealth made from coffee and arrack went into the development of the coconut industry, and into a wide field of wholesale and retail trade. The education provided by the missionary schools led to a new English educated Karava  class, who quickly adopted to the new world and were to play a prominent role in the subsequent years.

 In Sri Lanka as in India, the British created an educated class to provide administrative and professional services in the colony. By the late nineteenth century, most members of this emerging class were associated directly or indirectly with the government. Increased Sri Lankan participation in government affairs demanded the creation of a legal profession; the need for state health services required a corps of medical professionals; and the spread of education provided an impetus to develop the teaching profession. In addition, the expansion of commercial plantations created a legion of new trades and occupations: landowners, planters, transport agents, contractors, and businessmen. Certain Sinhalese caste groups, such as the Karava and Salagama, benefited from the emerging new economic order, to the detriment of the traditional ruling cultivators (Goyigama)  Source – Sri Lanka a country study, Library of Congress.

  1. Plakaat: Dutch law or decree. 

Bibliography:

1 – ‘The Karava of Ceylon’  by M D Raghvan.