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Island to the south-east of India

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Ceylon, an island (2661 miles long and 1401 miles broad), to the southeast of India and separated from it only by a chain of reefs and sand-banks called Adam‘s Bridge. The maritime districts, which are flat and low, are distinguished from the central parts, which are mountainous, by great difference in temperature. The mean temperature has been calculated at 76.3°, the lowest being 28.2° at Newera Eliya, and the highest 103.8° at Anuradhapura, the ancient sacred capital of the island. The climate of Ceylon is influenced by two monsoons: the southwest prevailing from May to September, and the northeast from November to February. Pidurutalagala (8296 ft.) is the highest mountain, and Adam‘s Peak (7353 ft.) is the best known, as containing the legendary foot-prints of Buddha worshipped by Buddhists and Mohammedans alike, and as the yearly resort of a multitude of pilgrims. The country is well watered by rivers, of which the Kelani-ganga enters the sea at Colombo, the capital of the island, and the Mahaviliganga at Trincomalee. Ceylon is rich in vegetation and scenery, and as the traveller proceeds from Colombo to Kandy (the seat of the ancient kings) and thence to Newara Eliya, it presents a panorama of beauty. The country abounds in tropical fruits, such as pineapples, plantains, oranges, and mangoes, and in such trees as ebony, satin, calamander, and ironwood. The plantations produce, principally, cocoanuts and cinnamon, tea, cinchona, cocoa, and, more recently, rubber. The most noted up-country product formerly was coffee. This has given place to tea, Ceylon now being one of the chief tea-growing countries in the world. The island has from very ancient times been famous for its gems, of which the chief are sapphires, rubies, and cat’s-eyes; the Gulf of Manaar on the northwest coast is the scene of the famous pearl fishery. Plumbago or graphite is the only mineral product of any importance. The animal kingdom is well represented in Ceylon, which has from olden times been renowned for its elephants.

HISTORY AND PEOPLE.—Ceylon’s history goes back to a remote past. Galle in the south of the island is by some believed to be the seaport of ancient Tarshish from which King Solomon drew his “ivory, apes, and peacocks”. Under the name of Taprobane it was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Hence Milton’s reference to Ceylon as “India‘s utmost isle, Taprobane”. To the people of India, however, it was “Lanka”, the resplendent, a name still in use. It is celebrated in the great Indian epic, the “Ramayana” in which is related the story of the abduction of the Indian Princess Sita by Ravena, King of Ceylon, and of the war which followed in consequence. We pass from legend to actual history at about the year 543 B.C. when Wijeya, a prince of Northern India, invaded Ceylon and conquered the natives known as Yakkos and, having married the native princess Kuveni, settled in the country with his 700 followers. Wijeya was son of King Sihabahu, “the slayer of the lion” (siha or sinha), hence the name “Sinhalese”, given to the people of Ceylon. The Sinhalese (Cingalese) being thus the descendants of the Wijeyan settlers belong to the Aryan stock, and their language and customs bear out this origin. The wild men of Ceylon, known as the Veddas, “hunters”, who inhabit a small area in the remote interior of the island and live principally by the bow and arrow, are the representatives of the aboriginal inhabitants whom Wijeya subdued. The Wijeyan dynasty was not allowed undisputed sway in Ceylon, for from the third century s. c. Tamil princes from Southern India made incursions into Ceylon, while at times the tide of invasion was rolled back into India by the much harassed Sinhalese. The Sinhalese kings most famous for success in their conflict with the Tamils, as well as for the internal development of the country during their reigns, were Dutugemunu (200 B.C.), Gajabahu (100 B.C.), and Prakramabahu (A.D. 1150). The ancient capital of the Sinhalese kings was Anuradhapura, whose splendor is even now attested by its vast ruins. In the eighth century it was transferred to Polonnaruwa, which was soon abandoned to the conquering Tamils. The seat of government was thence shifted to various places, until in the fifteenth century it was finally fixed at Kandy, now the second city of the island and famous for the Buddhist temple known as the “Dalada Maligawa”, the repository of the tooth-relic of Buddha. During this period of trouble the trade of the country fell principally into the hands of the Arabs. Many of these formidable warriors settled in the maritime parts of the island; their trading instincts are inherited by their descendants, generally known as “Moors”; with accretions from their co-religionists of the neighboring continent they form the Mohammedan community of Ceylon.

It was in the beginning of the sixteenth century that modern Europe first came in contact with Ceylon. In 1505 a Portuguese fleet, while operating in the Indian seas against Arab traders, touched accidentally at Galle on the southern coast; in 1517 the Portuguese reappeared and with the consent of the Sinlese king established a factory at Colombo. The Portuguese having begun as traders soon made themselves political masters of the entire sea-board, forts were established, and European civilization was introduced. In 1658 the Portuguese were driven out by their rivals the Dutch, who then added Ceylon to their East Indian possessions. The descendants of the Dutch, being the product of intermarriage with the Portuguese and the natives, constitute the “Burgher” community of Ceylon. The English first cast their eyes upon Ceylon in 1782 during the war with Holland, when a British force reduced and took possession of Trincomalee, which was, however, soon retaken by the French and restored to the Dutch. But in 1795 an appeal came to the British from the Sinhalese king who was then maintaining an unequal contest against Dutch aggression, and in 1796 the Dutch were overcome by the British forces and yielded Ceylon to England; the cession was formally confirmed by the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. The English thus succeeded the Portuguese and the Dutch in the possession of the maritime districts of the island, but the central provinces were still under the feeble rule of the Sinhalese king who reigned at Kandy. The king was out of favor with his subjects on account of his cruelty and misgovernment, and at the request of the disaffected chiefs a British force was dispatched to Kandy in 1815. King Sri Wickrama Raja Sinha was taken prisoner and the Kandan provinces were added to the British Crown which as since held the sovereignty of the whole of Ceylon. What may be called the indigenous population of Ceylon comprises various races; to which must be added the European residents either in the employ of the Government or engaged in commerce or industries, and the Indian immigrants, some of whom carry on a petty trade, but who in their larger number constitute the labor-supply of the island. The chief native races are: (I) the Sinhalese, consisting of the low-country Sinhalese and the up-country or Kandyan Sinhalese; (2) the Tamils, inhabiting chiefly the Northern and Eastern Provinces; (3) the Moors; (4) the Burghers. According to the decennial census of 1901 the total population of Ceylon was 3,565,954 distributed according to nationality as follows: Sinhalese, 2,330,807; Tamils, 951,740; Moors, 228,034; Burghers, 23,482; Europeans, 6,300; others, 25,591. The last includes the Veddas of Ceylon (3971) who are gradually disappearing.

CIVIL GOVERNMENT.—Ceylon has the distinction of being the premier Crown Colony of England. It is accordingly under the direct control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies whose authority, subject to the will of the sovereign and the Imperial Parliament, is supreme. The local administration is vested in a governor assisted by an executive council and a legislative council. The executive council is an advisory board and consists of the colonial secretary, the officer commanding the military forces, the attorney-general, the auditor-general, and the treasurer. The legislative council whose president is the governor comprises the members of the executive council and twelve other members, of whom four are official and eight unofficial. The unofficial members who are nominated by the governor, subject to the approval of the secretary of state, represent (I) the low-country Sinhalese; (2) the Kandyan Sinhalese; (3) the Tamils; (4) the Moors; (5) the Burghers; (6) the European merchants; (7) the European planters, and (8) the general European community. The unofficial members are supposed to be selected in accordance with the wishes of the respective communities, though this is not often the case, except in regard to the mercantile and planter members whose selection is practically left to the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and the Ceylon Planters’ Association respectively. The members of the legislative council may speak and vote on all questions brought forward; still not only are the official members in the majority but they are bound to vote for the Government in matters of policy, whatever their private opinions may be. For administrative purposes Ceylon is divided into provinces, of which there are now nine, viz.: the Western, Central, Northern, Southern, Eastern, North-Western, North Central, Uva, and Sabaragamuwa, each of which is presided over by a superior officer called the Government agent. Other important departments are those of the director of public works, the surveyor-general, the principal collector of customs, the registrar-general of lands, the principal civil medical officer, and the director of public instruction. The civil service is recruited in England by means of a competitive examination which is open to all British subjects including Ceylonese; a limited number of locally-born persons appointed by the governor form a subordinate service, while the minor officers in the clerical service are partly selected by competitive examination and partly nominated without examination. Colombo, Kandy, and Galle have municipal councils the members of which are partly elected by the rate-payers and partly nominated by the governor, and local boards are established in many smaller towns. An important part of the machinery of government in the country districts is the system of native headmen of various grades, who perform both revenue and police duties under the direction of the Government agents or their assistants.

LAW AND JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION.—The Dutch, during the existence of their rule, had applied to Ceylon their admirable system of laws known as the Roman-Dutch Law, and after the annexation of the country by England it was declared by proclamation, dated September 23, 1799, that the administration should thenceforth “be exercised according to the laws and institutions that had subsisted under the ancient government of the United Provinces” of Holland, subject to such deviations and alterations as might thereafter be enacted. Accordingly the Roman-Dutch Law became and has continued to be what may be called the common law of Ceylon, but by various subsequent ordinances and other legislative enactments this law has been either repealed or modified. In addition to the general laws applicable to the whole island, there are certain special laws or customs peculiar to certain communities in matters relating to inheritance, marriage, and other personal questions. Thus, the Moors are governed in such matters by their own customs, which conform more or less to the general Mohammedan law as found in the Koran and the commentaries thereon. The Tamil inhabitants of the Jaffna peninsula, or what is now the Northern Province, have their customary code of laws known as the “Thesawalamai” (customs of the country), and similarly the Kandyan Sinhalese observe their ancient customs, which they were allowed to retain by the Kandyan Convention made between the British and the chiefs on the annexation of the Kandyan provinces. These various systems of laws are administered by a series of courts, viz: (I) the Supreme Court of Judicature, consisting of a chief justice and three puisne judges with unlimited original criminal jurisdiction and an appellate jurisdiction with an ultimate appeal to His Majesty the King in civil cases above 5000 rupees in value; (2) District courts, with unlimited original civil jurisdiction and limited criminal jurisdiction; (3) Courts of Request, with limited civil jurisdiction; (4) Police courts, which are courts both of trial and of preliminary investigation for committal to the Supreme Court or District courts; (5) Gansabhawas, or village tribunals, which have jurisdiction over natives in regard to small civil claims and trivial offenses, especially breaches of communal rules, and in which the proceedings are conducted in the native language of the inhabitants.

MARRIAGE.—In the eye of the law all marriages are civil contracts and may be contracted freely between persons who are not within prohibited degrees of kindred or within the prohibited ages. The law now applicable generally in the island is the Ordinance No. 2 of 1895, under which a marriage may be entered into before the registrar of marriages after certain formalities as to previous notice of marriage and the issue of a certificate thereof, while marriage by special license is also provided for. But the ordinance so far recognizes the Christian views of marriage that according to it the parties holding the above-mentioned registrar’s certificate as to notice may present themselves to a Christian minister and have the ceremony performed in a place of Christian worship. In this case the minister is required to register the marriage in a book and to transmit a duplicate of the entry to the registrar of marriages, and the ordinance further provides that no minister shall be compelled to solemnize a marriage between persons either of whom shall not be a member of the church denomination or body to which such minister belongs nor otherwise than according to the rules, customs, rites, and ceremonies of such church denomination or body. An absolute divorce can be obtained only by decree of court after full inquiry and upon the ground either of adultery or malicious desertion or incurable impotency at the time of marriage. The ordinance above mentioned does not apply to the Moors, who, as already indicated, are governed by the Mohammedan law both as to marriage and divorce, nor to the Kandyan Sinhalese, with regard to whom there is a special ordinance (No. 3, of 1873) which, while abolishing their ancient custom of “associated marriages” or polyandry and in other respects giving effect to British public policy, makes provision for the contract of marriage and its dissolution in a manner more or less in conformity with ancient Kandyan sentiment, such as the liberty to dissolve marriage by mutual consent without the intervention of a court of justice. The main difference, however, between marriages generally and Kandyan marriages is that, while in regard to the former, registration is the best though not the only proof of marriage, thus admitting of proof aliunde of an actual marriage or the presumption of a valid marriage from cohabitation and repute, registration is essential in the case of the latter. The system of caste prevails in Ceylon though not in such a vigorous form as in India, and while the contact with Western civilization has weakened social barriers in many respects, intermarriage between various castes does not take place to any appreciable extent among the pure native population.

EDUCATION.—The educational system of Ceylon is as simple as it is efficient, and is controlled by the Department of Public Instruction. It comprises English, vernacular, and mixed schools, which are either Government or (with the exception of private unregistered schools) “Grant-in-Aid schools”. The Government maintains an English high school called the Royal College, having the standard of an English grammar school. It maintains also a technical school mainly for the purpose of supplying the Government departments, and a training school for teachers. The Grant-in-Aid schools belong to the missionary and other religious bodies, and receive yearly grants according to certain scales on the result of examinations in secular subjects held by Government inspectors. The system of payment by results has helped to solve the religious difficulty so often experienced in many other countries. The chief institutions belonging to religious communities and having the same status as the Royal College are St. Thomas’s College (Anglican), Wesley College (Wesleyan), St. Joseph‘s College (Catholic), and Ananda College (Buddhist). Ceylon forms a center for the Cambridge University local examinations, which are largely used as educational tests. The Government also maintains a medical college whose diploma is a qualification for practising medicine. Law studies for the admission of advocates and proctors (solicitors) are under the control of a Council of Legal Education consisting of the judges of the Supreme Court and a number of members of the Bar. There is no special organization for the systematic prosecution of the study of Oriental languages and literature, but one at least of the temple schools conducted by the Buddhist priesthood, in which Sanscrit and Pali are taught, receives a subsidy from the Government. According to the statistics published for 1905 the number of the Government schools and the scholars was 554 and 70,715; and of the Grant-in-Aid schools, 1582 and 156,040.

RELIGION.—The chief religions in Ceylon are Buddhism, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity. Buddhism is professed by the great bulk of the Sinhalese population. Being first propounded by Gautama Buddha in Magadha in Northern India in the sixth century B.C., it was introduced into Ceylon in the reign of the Sinhalese King Devanampiyatissa about 300 B.C., when the great Buddhist King Asoka of India sent his son Mahinda to Ceylon to preach the faith. The Sinhalese king became a zealous convert and under his patronage the new religion spread rapidly among his subjects. Ceylon thus became a stronghold of Buddhism, and it was here that the Buddhist scriptures were first reduced to writing in 88 B.C. The magnificent ruins of dagobas and viharas in the ancient cities attest the piety of the ancient kings and people of Ceylon. Buddhism suffered much during the Tamil wars, with the further consequence that by reason of the contact thus brought about with India popular Buddhism received an admixture of Hinduism which is still traceable in the devalas in which Kali and other Hindu gods are worshipped by the Buddhists. After the advent of Europeans to Ceylon and the consequent introduction of Western civilization, Buddhism lost much of its prestige just as it had previously lost much of its purity and activity. But within the last twenty-five years there has been a great Buddhist revival, mainly due to the efforts of the Theosophical Society founded by Col. Oleott and Madame Blavatsky. Schools have sprung up, pride in the ancient religion has revived, and under the leadership of educated Buddhists the masses have learned to resist Christian influences and have even shown a spirit of aggression. The large majority of the Tamil population are Hindus, especially in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, and the form of Hinduism most in favor is Sivaism or the worship of Siva. Besides the Moors already mentioned a community of Malays, said to be descendants of the natives of Java imported into Ceylon during the Dutch period and recruited by later immigrants from the Straits Settlements, profess Mohammedanism.

The first form of Christianity in Ceylon was of course Catholicism. The conversion of heathens was part of the public policy of the Portuguese, and accordingly we find that in 1518 a number of Franciscan friars arrived in Ceylon and under the protection of the Portuguese Government, preached the Faith, and converted many thousands. We read of many churches built and many monasteries established within the Portuguese territories, and of the conversion of many even of noble and royal blood among the Sinhalese. Among the more notable converts was Prince Dharmapala, grandson of a Sinhalese king, who was baptized and crowned king in Lisbon in 1541 under the name of Don Juan and reigned a Christian monarch in Ceylon from 1542 to 1597. About this time also took place the visit to Ceylon of St. Francis Xavier, the Apostle of the East, by whom large numbers were converted to the Faith, especially among the Tamils of the North. Catholicism progressed until it encountered the antagonism of the Dutch who were all of the Dutch Reformed Church, and who made that form of Christianity the established religion of the State. The Catholic religion was proscribed during the Dutch rule, penal laws were enacted, and the Catholics suffered severe persecution. Nevertheless the light of the Faith was not wholly extinguished and the practice of religion was continued especially through the exertions of missionaries from the Portuguese settlement of Goa, who amidst persecution and hardship ministered to the Catholic people and even converted many heathens. A new era, however, dawned with the conquest of the island by the British Government which put in practice the principles of religious liberty, though the Church of England became in turn the established form of Christianity. The greater part of the “Dutch Christians” among the natives were either absorbed by the Anglican Church or relapsed into Buddhism, and at the present day Dutch Presbyterianism is represented only by a few hundred Dutch descendants who are served by Presbyterian ministers from Scotland. The Church of England in Ceylon is governed by a bishop who is suffragan to the Bishop of Calcutta. The clergy consist of members of the Church Missionary Society and of the sister Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The Anglican Church continued to be maintained by the Government till the year 1881 when by act of the local legislature it was disestablished and provision was made for the constitution of a synod, consisting of clergy and laity under the presidency of the bishop, for the regulation of its affairs, and for the election of trustees to hold and administer its property and funds. Other Protestant bodies are Wesleyan Methodist mission, begun in 1814, it holds many important stations and does much for education Baptist Missionary Society, first missionary landed in Ceylon in 1812; American Mission (Congregationalists), under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, whose work is confined to the Tamils of the Northern Province. The decennial census of 1901 gave the following religious statistics: Buddhists, 2,141,404; Hindus, 826,826; Christians, 349,239; Mohammedans, 246,118; others, 2367. The Christians were: Catholics, 287,119; Anglicans, 32,514; Presbyterians, 3337; Wesleyan Methodists, 14,991; Baptists, 3309; Congregationalists, 2446. Authentic Catholic statistics gave a total of 293,929 Catholics in 1904 and this number has since probably reached 300,000.

The Catholic Church, as the above figures show, is the largest Christian body in the island. As it was first in the field, so it has been the most fruitful in results. At the date of the British occupation (1796) the Catholic population was only 50,000. At first Ceylon was under the jurisdiction of the Portuguese Diocese of Cochin with a local vicar-general. In 1834 it was erected into a separate vicariate Apostolic by Pope Gregory XVI, and in 1845, as the Catholics were increasing in numbers, the island was divided into two vicariates Apostolic, Colombo and Jaffna, the former being entrusted to the Benedictine Congregation of the Silvestrines, and the latter to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Again, in 1883, the central provinces of the island were separated from Colombo and constituted as the Vicariate Apostolic of Kandy under the same Benedictines, while Colombo was transferred to the Oblates. The year 1886 witnessed a notable development of the Church in Ceylon, the Right Rev. C. Bonjean, O. M. I., being then the Vicar Apostolic of Colombo, the Right Rev. C. Pagnani, O.S.B., the Vicar Apostolic of Kandy, and the Right Rev. A. Melizan, O. M. I., the Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna. In that year the Holy See by agreement with the Crown of Portugal abolished the royal patronage which had been exercised in the East Indies from the time of the Portuguese domination; as a consequence, and in accordance with the needs of the time, the Catholic hierarchy was established in India and Ceylon. Monsignor (afterwards cardinal) Agliardi was sent as delegate Apostolic to put in force the new arrangements and on the 6th of January, 1887, the hierarchy was formally established in Ceylon, Bishop Bonjean being appointed Archbishop of Colombo, Dr. Pagnani, Bishop of Kandy, and Dr. Melizan, Bishop of Jaffna. Further changes took place in 1893, when two new dioceses, Galle and Trincomalee, were formed from the Archdiocese of Colombo, and the Diocese of Jaffna respectively. Jesuits of the Belgian province were placed in the former and Jesuits of the French province in the latter, with Fathers Van Reith, S.J. and Lavigne, S.J. as the first bishops. These five bishops have assisting them nearly 200 priests, both European and native, and communities of Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Sisters of the Holy Family, the Franciscan nuns, Missionaries of Mary, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, in charge of various schools and institutions. Although Mon-signor Agliardi was sent especially to establish the hierarchy, the Apostolic Delegation to the East Indies was intended to be permanent; accordingly when he departed in 1887 he was succeeded by Monsignor Aiuti, who in turn was succeeded in 1892 by Monsignor Ladislaus M. Zaleski, who took up his residence at Kandy. At the same time the Holy See took steps to place the education and the supply of native priests in the East on a solid and more secure basis, and accordingly in 1893 a general seminary was established by Leo XIII; which is conducted by professors of the Society of Jesus at Kandy, Ceylon, the students being of various nationalities and races, recruited from all parts of the East. The Catholic bishops are on excellent terms with the British Government and are held in high esteem by the people of the island generally. Their legal status, however, was not quite assured in respect of succession to ecclesiastical property though no practical difficulty was experienced; but the Supreme Court of Ceylon, having recently held that the Catholic bishops had no legal corporate capacity and could not therefore claim, merely by virtue of their office, title to property held by their predecessors, the legislature, in consequence of representations made to the Government on the subject, passed the Ordinance No. 19 of 1906, whereby the Catholic archbishop and bishops, and their respective successors, appointed according to the laws and usages of the Catholic Church, are constituted corporations sole with perpetual succession, and with full power to acquire and hold all species of property, and to sue or be sued in respect of such property in all courts of justice. While the ecclesiastical system of the Church is thus complete, the Catholic laity are not backward in respect to organization and public action, for in addition to various religious and social institutions they have formed an association representative of all Catholics under the name of “The Catholic Union of Ceylon”, having for its object the protection and advancement of Catholic interests. The general statistics for 1905 are: churches and chapels, 592; schools, 570, with 45,549 pupils; seminaries, 5, with 174 students (in the central or “Leonianum” Seminary at Kandy there are 88); orphan asylums, 16, with 975 orphans; 133 European secular priests, 43 native priests, and 288 religious (Oblates, Jesuits, Benedictines); and 430 sisters in the various educational and charitable institutions.


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