Marriage Prejudices in Ceylon in Decades Past

A Well-travelled Sinhala Octogenarian**

Hi Michael, I am not sure whether people despised persons of mixed race. I really don’t think so by my own experience. However, when it came to marriage, it was an entirely different matter.

In my growing years I have heard the term Thuppahi, but I thought it
referred to low caste people, not to persons of mixed race. But what was apparent to me is that they, the people in the 1940’s and 50s’and even 60’s, did not permit mixed marriages. This was taboo.

Inter caste marriages were frowned on but only to a point. For instance, a Govi Man marrying a Karava girl was Ok but not the other way around. My first girlfriend was a Govi. I asked her why her parents were so against me.

She said because I was of a lower caste and she named it. At that time I
did not even know my caste. My sister married a person of lower caste but it did not cause a stir but it did upset some of my father’s  in laws.

When my aunt (mothers younger sister) wanted to marry a Burgher, there was pandemonium. Her brother was frothing mad. Nevertheless, her younger brother volunteered to give her away in marriage. His elder bother scuttled it. In the end my mother gave her away.

These intractable problems seem to have gone away nowadays particularly in the major towns. Not sure what it is in the countryside.

I don’t know for sure, but I do believe, that mixed marriages strengthens the physique of the people. It really produces very strong men and women. The mixture, particularly the colour of women, gives rise to beautiful women. Jamaica is a case in point. They have thus far produced four Miss Worlds.

Here are the four Miss Worlds Jamaica produced.

Tony Ann Singh, Miss World,  2019 ….Toni is From Indian stock mixed with black






Lisa Hanna is a mixture of a partial black women and Syrian/Lebanese man …. Miss World 1992




 Cindy Breakspere She is more white but has a stain of black in her

Joan CrawfordI am not sure but she looked more white ….. Miss World 1976



** My wife and I got to know this Karava gentleman in the West Indies in the late 1980s when we visited one of my nephews who was working there. He and his family have moved back to Colombo; and I had the pleasure of his company on a couple of occasions a few years back. This email letter was his amiable response to my circulation of the note on ethnic and caste prejudices embedded within the wielding of the epithet “Thuppahi” (also written as “Tuppahi”) – see

Let me indicate and stress, here, that the brief explanation of the term Thuppahi within this Item is based on an extensive clarification of its usage in Sinhalese and in Sri Lankan society in the first chapter of the book PEOPLE INBETWEEN (1989, Sarvodaya Publishers) …. a chapter crafted by me during the course of extended stays in Lanka in the late 1980s.

Also note that the term was not confined to the Sinhala-speaking world because it has roots in the term “Topaz” and its variants that was deployed  in the sea-lanes and exchanges associated with the activities of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and along the Indian coasts. It is, thus, related to the term “dubash” which identifies those engaged in ship’s chandler services. It also describes a “translator” …. …….and a few Sinhala families with the ge name thuppahige were, indeed, translators.


Filed under British colonialism, caste issues, cultural transmission, discrimination, disparagement, economic processes, education, ethnicity, gender norms, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, travelogue, unusual people

2 responses to “Marriage Prejudices in Ceylon in Decades Past

  1. Chandra Maliyadde

    Even in the`1970s caste was a matter for concern in marraige. When I came from Kandy to Colombo for employment in the 1970s my elders warned me not to mix with low country people and low caste people as we Kandyans are superior and with unmixed blood. My elders instilled fear in me against low country people. When I fell in love with my wife of today the elders asked many embarrasing questions. Majority of the advertisement seeking marriage partners are specific of the caste even today.
    No wonder we live in caves even though the calender indicates our location in the 21st Century.

    • Joe Paiva

      I can relate to the narrative. I am from the Baratha community from Cape Commerine far south of South India (Tamil Tadu) Tutocorin. There is a blend of Portuguese blood in our community originating from Portugese Seafarers to Goa following legendary Vas Godagama’s initial journey to the west coast of the sub continent.

      In my 17 to 18 teens at St Peter’s College in the early to mid 60s the majority of my batchmates were Burgher boys (Dutch Burghers).
      Most of them had on and off romantic friendships with Burgher girls.However these girls would keep me at arms length because of the perceptions of their parents and relations.

      I sensed this. However I did not care a toss as I was more interested in my acamadics and sport. The colour of skin and lacking social skills and my surname was a disadvantage.

      Many years after leaving College and whilst working I met a Dutch Burgher girl very much fairer than me and fell in love.

      Her parents disapproved of the friendship very did her close relatives. Tongues and gossip went far and wide. Then there was a battle on my parents and relatives side.. The rest is history. I am now happily married to the same girl and have 2 wonderful children and two Aussie grand (blond, blue-eyed) grandchildren.

      I know Michael Roberts well.

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