The Karava Marriage “Cartels”

A Study of the inter marriages between the dominant karava families, and the cross cousin marriages within the family.

The Marriage alliances of the leading karava  families reveal the importance of family ties in business activity and the desire to keep the wealth distribution within the families. Marriages arranged with great foresight were important in order to expand property and wealth, consolidate class status and widen contacts. From the end of the 18th century, the de Soysas had been closely linked with the Hannadige Pieris family. Jeronis Soysa’s mother was Hannadige Francisca Pieris daughter of Hendrick Pieris (Sr) of Moratuwa and sister of Hendrick (Jr) and Daniel Pieris; the latter along with Jeronis Soysa’s father Joseph is said to have hired out bullock carts and dealt in tobacco (Roberts 1975;5) Two cross-cousin marriages between these Christian families also took place.

With these marriages, fortunes were consolidated. Since Susew and Engelina Soysa did not have children, their combined wealth was bequeathed to Jeronis Soysa’s son, Charles Henry de Soysa, who was also sole heir to his father’s immense fortune. The links with the Pieris’ family continued in the next generation.

The other important marriage link of the Soysas was with the Lindamullage de Silvas, a Catholic family of successful Moratuwa pioneers in the arrack trade. Of the many members of this family who were renters, the wealthiest was Jusey de Silva who said to be “second only to the de Soysas” in wealth (ibid:9).

The other pioneer entrepreneurial (Christian) families closely linked by marriage ties were the Telge Peiris and Vidanalage de Mel families. David Peiris and Francisco de Mel, the leading renters of the Western Province in the1830s and 1840s married each other sisters (Leonora Peiris (1811-1886) and Lenora de Mel). The ties were further cemented in 1889 when David Peiris’ grandson, James Peiris (son of Martinus Peiris) married Francisco de Mel’s granddaughter Grace de Mel (1872-1946), daughter of Jacob de Mel, who funded James Peiris’ education in Cambridge (Fernando 1989:12 & 78).

The Vidanalage de Mels were also connected by marriage to the other leading business families who were Christian, – the Balappuwaduge Mendis and Hettiakandage Fernandos, and the Warusahannadige Soysas. Two of these families of early renters of the Dutch period had been linked by marriage when Leonora, the daughter of Hettiakandage Juan Fernando married Simon, the son of Balappuwaduge Gabriel Mendis.

The Hettiakandage Fernandos also had extensive kinship ties with leading capitalist families of Moratuwa. As mentioned above, they were linked to the Balappuwaduge Mendis, and the Vidanalage de Mels through marriage.

The Panadura Buddhist capitalist families – Dias, Rodrigo, Salgado and Perera were also interconnected. In later years too, such marriages of great `convenience’ occurred between the wealthy Karava families, some of the dowry money being channeled into philanthropy, social movements and political causes.

Although not mentioned in this book, a closer look at the genealogy chart in the ancestry page reveals, a close tie up between the de Fonseka and the D’anderado families. The first recorded de Fonseka; Michael de Fonseka married Dominga D’anderado. Solomon de Fonseka married Selestina, the daughter of Renaldus D’anderado. Bastian d’Anderado married Issabella, daughter of Franciscu de Fonseka and many such marriages are recorded.

Cross cousin marriages as indicated in the above chapter were also common among the de Fonseka families. Carolis de Fonseka married Wilhelmina daughter of Selestinu de Fonseka, and Simon de Fonseka married Rosita de Fonseka, daughter of Franciscu de Fonseka.


1- ‘Nobodies to Somebodies – The Rise of the Colonial Bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka’ by Kumari Jayawardena.