Tracing socio-cultural roots of the Portuguese influence in Sri Lanka

“Cultural impressions made by the Portuguese, have not been erased by the Dutch or the British” explained Dr. Shihan De Silva Jayasuriya in a Special Guest Lecture on “The Portuguese impact on the socio-culture of Sri Lanka” on 6th February 2019 at the BIDTI.

“The intangible Portuguese heritage has been remarkably durable” thus having a significant influence in Asian language, religion, architecture, cuisine, music and dance. However, “the most vibrant Portuguese influence” is on Sri Lankan popular music- chorus Baila. Music, which was a significant element in Portuguese culture, was used as an interface for harmonious communication. In fact, Dr. De Silva argued that music was a factor in bridging the cultural gap between Sri Lankans and the Portuguese.

Another form of Portuguese Socio-cultural influence is portrayed in the lexicon of Sinhala, Tamil and Sri Lankan Malay. Taking into account the asymmetric power relationship between the Portuguese colonisers and the Sri Lankans, “an inevitable emulation enhanced cross cultural flow and linguistic transmission.”

Furthermore, the Portuguese influence within Sri Lankan society is even more prominent in Portuguese Burgher communities and Afro- Lankan communities within the Island. These communities have preserved cultural attributes such as Creole known as “Sri Lankan Portuguese”.These communities, often marginalized, are unable to showcase their cultural traits hence remain unknown to the public. It is also concerning, that such cultural characteristics if not appreciated and preserved may be lost with time. As future generations seek to connect with those outside their own community.

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