Joe Simpson, in Email Note responding to the Thuppahi Item https://thuppahis.com/2021/05/23/percy-colin-thome-and-the-composition-of-the-book-people-inbetween/
Most interesting, Michael. I’ve had the privilege of periodic correspondence with the estimable Ismeth Raheem in the past, and thanks to the kindness of Vancouver, BC-resident Ranil Bibile who agreed to be courier, once sent Ismeth a Giclée reproduction of a previously-unknown 1840s painting by Andrew Nicholl from his outbound voyage to Colombo, the original of which has been purchased by a British Columbia collector with whom I’d been in touch.
In regards to your attached bibliography, specifically the scholarly article on the 1915 communal riots that particularly affected the Galle-Tangalle area, while I was on VSO teaching at Richmond College (1973-74) some RCG colleagues and I were in Matara on our way to visit a rural jungle primary school in the Moneragala area, when we fell into conversation with an elderly local, who had been a fisherman all his working life [photo taken then].
With my colleagues translating for me, he shared some boyhood memories of those riots. His most memorable observation (to me at any rate) was how vicious the Sikh troops brought in from India were towards the locals, regardless of their involvement or otherwise in the communal strife. He remembered as a teenage bystander being beaten about the head and legs by their lathis, and counted himself lucky that he hadn’t been shot out of hand.
Such was the nervousness of the colonial authorities, imagining all kinds of German wartime intrigues behind the riots. Engelbrecht, of course, was another victim of that prevailing paranoia on the part of the British. Always easier to blame foreign intrigue for domestic unrest — à la Hong Kong and Iran in more modern times! Salut!
A NOTE by Michael Roberts, 11 November 2022
Thank you Joe.
You have provided an unusual, but valuable item of ETHNOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE of the type gathered by anthropologists and other fieldworkers. The attacks on the “Mohameddan Moors” (as they were described then) in mid-1915 were awful; but some dimensions of the British government’s response also demand critical examination. The deployment of ‘alien’ functionaries was one aspect of this punishing process. This practice was made feasible by the vast reaches of the British Empire in its heyday: personnel from a country X could be deployed as cheap hired hands to labour in countries Y and Z. The work could include policing or military activity. This was a common practice from centuries back — so that Black Africans, since identified as “Kaffir” or “Kaaberi,” were among the troops deployed not only by the Dutch and British, but also by the Kings of Kandy! The practice is, I think, charaterized as “Alienage.”
So, in brief, this piece of information is a gem and a useful supplement to essays by Kumari Jayawardena and others (including myself) that have surveyed the “1915 riots” and marked the severe reprisals pursued by the British authorities –including some British planters enlisted as policing personnel.
Intriguing sidelights emerge when one trawls the web pages for information on the Kaffir and other foreign personnel deployed by the European colonizing powers. Thus one such item has this item of characterization:
“Sri Lankan Culture: Members of Sri Lankas Dwindling Kaffir Or Caffre Population Sing a Hymn During a Multi-cultural Show Organized by a Sri Lankan Malay Organization in Colombo Sri Lanka 26 February 2012 Ancient Sinhalese Kings Had Recruited Kaffirs to Serve As Body Guards Palace Guards and Mercenary Soldiers They Were Also Brought to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) From Africa As Mercenaries and Soldiers by the Portuguese and the British and Also to Be Extensively Deployed in Construction Sites Etc Now Numbering Around 3 000 They Are Mostly Restricted to the North-western Coastal Area of Puttalam As Well As Batticaloa and Trincomalee and Are Mostly Catholics While Adapting to the Languages Prevalent in the Area Sri Lanka Colombo.”… with these pictures among the several deployed.