Vasco da Gama "discovers" India....Long after the Indians discovered the place and messed it up.....

Lorenzo de Almeida gets lost!...It is 1505!(The year, not the time!)banner

{short description of image} HISTORY 1 {short description of image}THE ANURADHAPURA HERALD {short description of image}HISTORY 2 {short description of image}THE PORTUGUESE OBSERVER{short description of image}QUEEN ANULA{short description of image}IDIOT KINGS
Gyan's Srilanka MADPAGE tm...A major source of useless information on SriLanka "Oh dearie me a major undertakings!"...Times of Baroda

In 1497 a young Portuguese lad by the name of Vasco da Gama went on a sailing holiday. (It was his gap year.) He rounded off the Cape of Good Hope and managed to find India. At least he was aiming for India and found India ....(unlike a certain Chris Columbus!)..
Another one of his countrymen, by the name of Lorenzo de Almeida fancied a similar holiday in Goa and set off with his pals..He did round off the cape and get to the Indian Ocean but it was the wrong time of the year! Monsoons!
They were drunk as well....A storm blew up and he made a wrong right turn at the Equator (Bugger!) ending up in the natural harbour of Cola Amba a little island that the natives called Srilanka. This being a rather mouthful the guys decided to call the place Colombo, and the island Cee-lan...

The date is the 15th of November 1505.

Seeing that the whole place was full of "bloody foreigners" Lorenzo and the boys let off a few cannon....just for fun..! The locals had never seen such behaviour....allright they did fight a bit amongst themselves and with their darker skinned bretheren of Yalpanam (Jaffna), but that was with swords and spears and arrows and elephants and boiling pitch..but this was real live ammo!
Moreover the "white guys" were drinking red stuff out of bottles labeled Vin Rouge (very definitely blood!..and didn't they eat large white chunks of Dolomite which they called Paan!?) They burped loudly and farted loudly and threw up and sang boisterous songs called Bailé..

Take me to your leader!

Lorenzo sort of liked the place and wandered along the harbour and bumped into a native who happened to be a local tout."Take me to your leader" said Lorenzo.The native didn't understand Portuguese; so he rotated his head from side to side and rolled his eyeballs and flashed a set of betel-stained teeth.

Lorenzo said "Are you a bloody moron man?".
The native did a slightly different rotation of the head and said something in Sinhala which Lorenzo didn't understand. So Lorenzo rotated his head violently, rotated his eyeballs violently, stuck his tongue out and said "F***".

The native rotated his head violently and rolled his etc and said "F***"!?. Everybody had a good laugh. Lorenzo said "That's a bloody funny accent mate!" and patted the native on the back and gave him a gold coin (actually a copper coin painted gold..)

Everybody laughed. Friendly relations were established.
The natives had a few glasses of Vin Rouge with Lorenzo and his mates...and a few more glasses.... Good stuff this! Better than Ra! said the natives..Yes! we will take you to our leader (Hic!) they said..but it will be a six day round trip all inclusive..and that will be three gold coins per head..

Guided tour

Sore heads next morning. Tour guides/touts decide might as well make the most of this.
The capital of the Kotte Kingdom was at Kotte..just six miles down the road. In fact, if he had been sober, the lookout in the crow's nest of Lorenzo's ship would have been able to see Kotte because there were no skyscrapers around the harbour then.....

The touts take the Portuguese by a circuitous route taking several days.....Lorenzo is impressed by the size of the country..Takes three days to get from bloody Colombo to bloody Kotte!..he thinks.
Lorenzo gets on well with the King. Says "Nice kingdom you've got! Look me up if ever you are in Lisbon, mate!"

Comes back to Colombo and gets his men to carve the Portuguese coat of arms on a large granite rock. Sets up a trading post. Recruits local labour. Things work while for a bit. Locals like the foreign currency! Set up Foreign Exchange booths. The price of everything goes up. Brisk trading on the Srilankan Stock Exchange. Good fun all round!

Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

Catholic missionaries arrive and put an end to the fun. Go about "converting" everybody. Build churches..Force the drunken Portuguese sailors to attend mass..Natives impressed by this..They serve wine at mass?!.. Free?!.....Might as well go for mass in the morning and then go to the tavern at night!.. No you can't, you need to be baptised first! Just needs water and a few prayers! Painless!
A local tribe by the name of Warnakulasuriya, fishermen by trade and of the Karawe caste, are the first to join up. Take on the new name of FERNANDO...become violently Catholic...Others follow..Soon there are Pereras, de Silvas and de Almeidas.
The Portuguese build a fort at Colombo....Still known as Colombo Fort. They build more forts and churches at Kalutara and Galle. Portuguese now control the maritime be continued....

The Portuguese were rotten spellers!
This was probably because they had no letter U then!
For example: COLVMBO (Colombo or Cola Amba Tota), NEGVMBO ( Negombo or Meegomuwa), CALATVRE (Kalutara, my home town), PANATVRE (Panadure), Candea (Kandy or Kande Uda Rata)....
Serious note:
The date of the first visit of the Portuguese is correct as given above and Lorenzo (Dom Lourenço de Almeida) did get blown off course in the Indian Ocean. They were sailing in a fleet of eight caravels and were blown off course near the Maldive Islands by the monsoons.They made first landfall at Galle but stopped only long enough to replenish stocks of water and food. They then sailed on to Colombo.
The RAJAVALIYA describes the visit thus:

"There is in our harbour of Colombo a race of people fair of skin and comely withal. They don jackets of iron and hats of iron; they rest not a minute in one place: they walk here and there: they eat hunks of stone and drink blood; they give two or three pieces of gold and silver for one fish or one lime; the report of their cannon is louder than thunder when it bursts upon the rock Yugandhara. Their cannon balls fly many a gawwa and shatter fortresses of granite"
coat of arms

Portuguese coat of arms from Colombo harbour.
Now moved elsewhere and sadly out of bounds to the public...

The Visit To Kotte
The natives took three days to take the Portuguese to Kotte which was only 6 miles from Colombo.This is probably the first recorded instance of tourists being taken for a ride!
According to Codrington it is highly unlikely that the Portuguese were taken in by this trick. In a bright sunny place like Srilanka, close to the equator, it is easy to get bearings from the sun.
However, the story has passed into the Sinhala forkelore and language in the form of the saying; "Parangiya Kotte giya wagé" (Translation:"Just like the Portuguese went to Kotte!" ) and is used to describe a situation where complicated methods are employed instead of the simple, straightforward method.
It is generally acknowledged that the Portuguese only wanted to establish trade. They offered protection for the Kotte king.The forts were built mostly to repel the Dutch, the French and the British who started to roam the waters very soon afterwards. Opinions however differ, as to the actual intentions of the Portuguese... Mrs R.Fernando (nee de Silva) always disagrees with my views!

The Coat Of Arms
The rock with the carved Portuguese coat-of-arms was discovered in 1875 near the south-west breakwater of the harbour during expansion of the harbour (ref: Brohier). It was left in-situ for a while in the Customs premises and later moved a few hundred yards to Gordon Gardens of the Queen's House. Up until the late seventies visitors were allowed to Gordon Gardens. The Queen's House became the President's House and as such has sadly been a restricted area for a number of years.

Fernandos of Srilanka
Approx 10 percent of the population of Srilanka are named Fernando. Most of the Fernandos are of the Karawe caste and were fisherfolk originally, although most are too proud to admit to that!.(Grandad Fernando had a fishing boat!) Some are from other castes (will explain later). A large proportion of the Fernandos were originally Warnakulasuriyas. Some of us still retain the name Warnakulasuriya in our birth certificates and other legal documents.... but Fernando is easier to spell!

The Portuguese Heritage
Baila: To this day Srilankans sing Baila, a type of lighthearted song with a Spanish style rhythm, especially when drunk.... The oldest church in Srilanka was the church of St Lourenço which stood at the root of the modern south-west breakwater...
One of the oldest cemeteries from the Portuguese period is known by the locals as "Liveramenthuwa" and is at Madampitiya near Grandpass. The name is an obvious corruption of Nossa Senhora do Liveramento (Our Lady of Deliverance). A shrine to Our Lady originally stood on the site. Public hangings took place near the Poorte Reina (Queen's Gate, later renamed Cayman's Gate). Cayman,s (or Kayman,s) gate is still identifiable, Caymans being a reference to the crocodiles which lived in the moat...
Paan: The Sinhala word for bread is Paan. (See recipe page.{short description of image}) Another Sinhala word of obvious Portuguese origin is Mesa (table).
Older males of a previous generation were addressed as Singho ( Senhor)
Parangi Leday: Yaws, a treponemal infection similar to syphilis is known as Parangi Leday in Sinhala ("Portuguese Disease") Ranji and myself saw the last few cases of this disease among the Veddahs (aborigines) of Mahiyangana...
1.Codrington, H.W., A SHORT HISTORY OF CEYLON, 1947, Macmillan and Co.,London.
2.Brohier, R.L., CHANGING FACE OF COLOMBO, 1984, Lake House Printers and Publishers Ltd, Colombo.

{short description of image}Back to the top of page

{short description of image} HISTORY 1 {short description of image}THE ANURADHAPURA HERALD {short description of image}HISTORY 2 {short description of image}THE PORTUGUESE OBSERVER{short description of image}QUEEN ANULA{short description of image}IDIOT KINGS

© GYAN FERNANDO 2001 First published on the 24th of Feb 2001.