Portuguese Burghers


Portuguese Burghers

ethnic group|
group=Portuguese Burghers


poptime=5,000
popplace=Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Australia,
New Zealand
rels=Roman Catholic
langs=Portuguese Creole, English
related=Burgher People, Portuguese, Tamil people, Sinhalese

The Portuguese Burghers are an ethnic group in Sri Lanka, of Portuguese and Sinhalese descent. They are Roman Catholic and spoke the Sri Lanka Indo-Portuguese language, a creole based on Portuguese. In modern times, English has become the common language while Sinhalese is taught in school as a second language.

Origins

The Portuguese Burghers are largely descendant from the Sri Lanka Mestiços, the people of mixed Portuguese and Sri Lankan descent who appeared in the 16th century, after the Portuguese exploreres found the sea route to the Indian Ocean.

When the Dutch took over Coastal Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), the descendants of the Portuguese took refuge in the central hills of Kandyan Kingdom under Sinhalese rule.

In time, the Dutch and Portuguese descendants intermarried. Though under Dutch rule Portuguese was banned; the Portuguese speaking community was so widespread that even the Dutch started to speak Portuguese.

In the 18th century, the Eurasian community (a mixture of Portuguese, Dutch, and Sinhalese as well as tamil, known as the Burgher, grew, speaking Portuguese or Dutch.

The Portuguese Burghers were more mixed, following Catholicism and speaking a Portuguese creole language. Despite the socio-economic disadvantage, the Burghers maintained their Portuguese cultural identity. In Batticaloa, the "Catholic Burgher Union" reinforced this. The Portuguese Creole continued to be used amongst the Dutch Burghers families as the informal language until the end of the 19th century.

In today's Sri Lanka, the Creole is limited to the spoken form. Most of the speakers are the Burghers in the Eastern province (Batticaloa and Trincomalee). But there are also the Kaffirs (people of African origin) in the Northwestern province (Puttalam). The Portuguese, Dutch and British brought the Kaffirs to Sri Lanka, for labour purposes. They have assumed Portuguese culture and religion.

At the 1981 Census, the Burghers (Dutch and Portuguese) were almost 40,000 (0.3% of the population of Sri Lanka). Many Burghers emigrated to other countries. There are still 100 families in Batticaloa and Trincomalee and 80 Kaffir families in Puttalam that still speak the Portuguese Creole; they have been out of contact with Portugal since 1656.


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