April 2014


That which lingers: The cultural influence of Dutch colonists
April 2014




The gateway, Fort Frederick, Trincomalee (source unknown)

Words Richard Boyle


When the Dutch finally wrested the maritime provinces of Ceilão (Ceylon) from the Portuguese in 1658, there began a second European cultural influence on the Oriental society within the Island's shores. The Hollanders' impact turned out to be of greater significance than their predecessors. They introduced a common law that prevails today, and left a legacy of their splendid architecture: forts, churches, hospitals, and residences.


They were also responsible for establishing the Burgher community in the Island, whose members have contributed to the Island's culture far beyond their slim number. And there are other influences besides: Dutch words ‘borrowed' to fill gaps in the Sinhala language, certain culinary items, 
even the introduction of playing cards and draughts...


Architecture
Architecture is the most aesthetic aspect of the Dutch cultural influence. In Colombo, the Dutch Hospital, 
built in 1681, was one of the most advanced medical facilities in Asia, enhanced by its outstanding architecture. The hospital has been renovated and is the location of a shopping and dining centre. 
In addition, there is the magnificent building of the late 17th Century that houses the Dutch Period Museum, initially the residence of Count August Carl Van Ranzow. And in 1749, the Dutch built the impressive Christian Reformed Church at Wolvendaal, the oldest Protestant church in Sri Lanka.


The Dutch-built fort at Galle is so well-preserved that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. And within its walls there are still many Dutch houses with their distinctive architecture: low-roofs with ornate gables, wide hospitable doorways, street-facing colonnaded stoeps (verandahs), and plant-filled courtyards. Galle is also the location of De Groote Kerk, "The Great Church", with its gables and stained glass windows, possibly the most beautiful building of the Dutch period.


There are examples of Dutch forts in varying degrees of preservation throughout the lowland regions of Sri Lanka. The most remarkable is the six-pointed Star Fort of Matara, built in 1763, a design that enabled its cannon to counter incursions from any direction.

In the past century Burghers have made vital cultural contributions to their adopted country
Burghers
To swell their presence in the Island, the Dutch encouraged middle-class traders and businessmen in Holland-known as Burghers or "free citizens"-
to migrate to the colonies to generate business, especially in trading centres such as Galle. As an incentive, Burghers had the privilege to be shopkeepers, and the sole right to become bakers, butchers and shoemakers.


In the past century Burghers have made vital cultural contributions to their adopted country: Dr Andreas Nell was a noted orientalist, Dr R L Spittel-an authority on the Veddahs, George Keyt-a leader of the modern art movement, and Lionel Wendt was a photographer of international repute.


Cuisine
Sri Lanka's cuisine is complex due to the differing influences of the multi-ethnic population and the input of three colonial powers. The Dutch contribution to the Island's culinary fare is varied. Most distinctive is lamprais-a name with its origins in the Dutch lomprijst-discovered and refined by the Hollanders in Java. Lamprais is an enhanced version of the traditional rice and curry. The rice is boiled in stock and accompanied by sambols (hot relishes) and frikkadels (Dutch for meatballs). The whole is moistened with coconut milk, 
wrapped in a banana leaf to enhance the flavour, and baked to produce a meal for special occasions.


Then there's breudher (from the Dutch broodje, "bread"), actually a type of cake with plums and sultanas traditionally eaten at Christmas. 
Kokis (from the Dutch koekje, "cookie"), is a crispy sweet made from rice flour and coconut milk deep-fried in a wheel- or flower-shaped mould. It is eaten to celebrate Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Egg rulang is a spicy scrambled egg dish and poffertje is a small round fritter with raisins. The humble stew also seems to have been introduced by the Hollanders for the Sinhala term for the dish, 
ismoru, is derived from the Dutch smoor, "smothered".


Forenames
During the Dutch period the Sinhalese elite often bestowed such names as Cornelis, Hendrick, Jacobus and Philipsz on male children, 
and Apolonia, Cornelia, Henrietta and Johanna if they were female. Although these names fell into disfavour with the advent of the British, those who occupied the lower echelons of society persisted in using corrupted Dutch names such as Karolis (Carolius), Harmanis (Hermanus), Girigoris (Gregorius), and Tepanis (Stephanus) into the 20th Century.


Place names
Place names of Dutch origin are mainly located in Colombo. 
Hulftsdorp, "Hulft's Village", is named after a general killed during the siege of the Portuguese-held fort in 1656; an area that is now Sri Lanka's legal centre. Others include Bloemendahl ("Vale of Flowers") and Wolvendaal ("Dale of Wolves"). The name of the former Maliban Street was a corruption of the Dutch Maliebaan, a well-known alley in Utrecht. Colombo's Beira Lake almost certainly takes its name from an engineer, De Beer.


In Galle, some of the street names retain their Dutch origin and reflect the presence of commercial activity, such as Leyn Baan ("Rope Lane") and Mohrische Kramer Straat ("Street of the Moorish Traders").


Many of the islands about the Jaffna peninsula were given the names of Dutch cities and towns: Amsterdam, Calienye, Enkhuizen, Galue, Harleem, Hoorn, Leiden, Rotterdam and Middelburg. However, all these appellations have been replaced by the original Tamil names except Delft, 
which is the most captivating of Sri Lanka's 100-plus satellite islands.


Religion
Holland was devoutly Protestant- specifically Calvinist-and in the early years of Dutch rule efforts were made to curb Roman Catholic missionary activities. However, Roman Catholicism had the advantage of being forcefully promoted by the Portuguese in the 16th Century: it was ingrained. Despite discrimination many Catholics remained loyal to their faith, while others nominally embraced Protestantism. Today, Calvinists account for less than ten percent of the Christian population of 
Sri Lanka.


Roman-Dutch Law
Roman-Dutch law, which today serves as the general law of Sri Lanka, was established by the Dutch; 
created by the combination of early modern Dutch law and Roman (or civil) law. It was exported from Holland by colonists first to the Cape of Good Hope, where it became the foundation of modern South African law, 
and then the Island the Dutch called 
Zeilan. As Roman-Dutch law ceased 
to exist in Holland in the early 19th Century, South Africa and Sri Lanka 
are the only countries to be ruled by Roman-Dutch law.


The law was initially applied to 
the Burghers and the Sinhalese elite serving the Dutch administration. 
When the British acquired the Island in 1796, it was extended to include low-country Sinhalese and other ethnic groups. Subsequently Roman-Dutch 
law had a sizeable influence on the transformation of society both in the low-country and upcountry where Kandyan law had prevailed until the British capture of the kingdom in 1815.


Sinhala words of Dutch origin
Although a thousand Portuguese words had been absorbed by Sinhala, Dutch never rivalled such a number of these "loan words" as they are known. Nevertheless, the language contributed key words relating to daily life, civil administration, law, food, and the military.

That which lingers will ensure the Dutch retain 
a special bond with Sri Lanka
Examples include: advakat (lawyer), artapal/ala (potato), baas (mason), bacciya (jacket), balansa (balance), balcona (balcony), belek (tin), bonchi (beans), dusima (dozen), iskuruppuwa (screw), istalaya (stall/stable), istirikkaya (iron), istoppuwa (verandah), kakkussiya (toilet), kamaraya (room), kanala (canal), kanoma (canon), kanturowa (office), karamaya (tap), ketalaya (kettle), kopi (coffee), koppaya (cup), lachchuwa (drawer), lanta (land), oralosuwa (clock), petora (cartridge), puyar (powder), tarappuwa (stairs), te (tea), vatal (carrot), vatura (water).


General
A little-known Dutch innovation was the use of glass for enclosing the flame of traditional lamps. The Dutch introduced the playing of cards and draughts. European furniture, such as chairs, sofas, tables and cabinets 
were manufactured. The Burgomaster chair, with its rounded back and six equally-spaced legs, is considered a unique example of Sri Lankan furniture during the Dutch period.


While colonialism cannot be condoned, the Dutch were relatively peaceful imperialists compared to the Portuguese and their cultural influence more pronounced. That which lingers will ensure that the Dutch retain a special bond with Sri Lanka.

 

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    Dutch gateway and coat-of-alms, Galle Fort

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    Wolvendaal Church (source unknown)

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    Dutch houses in Pettah, Colombo

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    De Groote Kerk, Galle, 1903 (source unknown)

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    Interior of De Groote Kerk, Galle, 1903 (source unknown)

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    Dutch Fort of Elephant Pass (The Dutch Forts of Sri Lanka by WA Nelson)

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    Dutch Burghers

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    The Joseph Burgher family, 1909

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    Jaffna Fort

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    Fortification of Colombo Fort, CF Reimer, 1787 (National Archives)

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    De Groote Kerk, Galle built in 1755

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