The Sri Lankan Burghers
by Deloraine Brohier
Many Sri Lankans pass and re-pass the round-about from where several roads radiate, which has given to the junction the colloquial term - thun mulla. Few though, in their motor vehicles or as pedestrians, in their hurry, pause to look up at a tall building of unique architectural design which stands at this point. It is conspicuous and has remained so, for many years. Fortunately it has not yet been hidden away or crowded in by structures more modern of style and unimaginative in shape, as trends have developed in the passing years.
Significant of façade, it stands deep in a lawn front and a triangle of garden. From the porch it rises to an upper storey, with glass-fronted windows. But the most striking feature of the facade and one which stands out to the eye, is the step-gabled ends of its two wings. This feature is what makes it unique and identifies with many buildings in Holland's old towns and quarters, which date back to the periods of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The building at the intersection of Havelock Road, Reid Avenue and Bullers Road, now Baudhaloka Mawatha - and which has led to the name thun mulla, does not go back so far in the centuries. It came up only in the early years of the present century. The prominent building we have so high-lighted is the Dutch Burgher Union Hall - library and social meeting place of a small community who are identified in the polyglottal mix of peoples in Sri Lanka as - Burghers.
From many a pen of an older generation, as also by this writer, have flowed explanations of - who are the Burghers. It is not therefore my intention to elucidate on the subject here, be it to say that the term came to be associated with a group of people who originally came out to Sri Lanka, under the flag of Holland and who chose to settle in the island over the period from the mid-seventeenth century to the closing of the eighteenth century.
Largely of Dutch and Flemish origin, some were also from the more northern European countries, and quite a few others who called themselves Huguenots - French Protestants. Collectively, this was the "Hollandsche Natie" who served officially under the United Dutch East Indies Company - the Veerinde Oost Indische Compagnie (VOC) in the years known in Sri Lanka's history as the Dutch period.
The year 1802 which marked the signing of the treaty of Amiens, saw a change of colonial occupation of the island when Ceylon was made a Crown Colony of Great Britain. With the switch of power there emerged a new life and status for those who officially had served under the Dutch Company, in their varying capacities and others, private emigres who had come out as merchants and traders. For reasons personal and those determined by the terms of the hand-over of power, it has been estimated that about 900 families of the Hollandsche Natie opted to remain in Ceylon. They took an oath of allegiance to George III of England and accommodated themselves to changes that developed under the British.
This small overflow of people who had moved with the history of Ceylon from one colonial regime to another were now designated "the Dutch and Burgher inhabitants of Ceylon." With time the term came to be abbreviated to - Burghers. Let me now digress briefly to qualify the term Burgher. In this we have no better authority than Mr. R.L. Brohier, who has stated:
"Burgher is not an ethnographic name and has nothing to do with race. The term is of historic origin and refers to a political community which had a distinctive character when it entered under the sway of the British Government." (R. L. Brohier: footnote in Changing Face of Colombo)
Brohier elucidates that the community known as the Burghers, came to be so designated on a "generic basis" - the term signifying a conferment of citizenship on a group of peoples. And some have retained the identity of their origin to this day.
The Burghers, like many other groups of peoples who came to live under the British colonial system did so by a common community of interests. As an eminent writer of the past has described: "...they passed their days in peaceful co-existence and purposefully linked by common interests, blended freely on terms of racial amity with neighbour and friend" - moving freely on occasions of sadness and gladness -" in the common object of promoting the most easy and friendly terms of inter-communal fellowship."
After roughly one hundred years of British colonial rule if was however felt that the time had come when the Dutch Burgher descendants associate together - for a recognition of themselves, as having "an origin, history and character of their own." R. G. Anthonisz, a leading member of the community at the time however voiced the sentiment that "a union among the Dutch Burghers was not going to disturb any of the existing friendly relations they had with members of other communities."
An informal meeting was first held at the Lindsay Hall, Bambalapitiya on November 12, 1907 men and women of the Dutch Burgher community, distinguished each in their own right , by professional achievement and of social standing ment to air opinion. In the outcome, a resolution was carried unanimously which read: "That this meeting is of opinion that a union of the Dutch Burghers of Ceylon, with the object of promoting the moral, social and intellectual well-being of the community is very desirable."
Hector van Cuylenburg, called to the chair on the occasion, said in his inaugural address that he felt the time had come for them, as a community to "coalesce". If there was an association of the kind proposed the members of it would frequently meet and there would be a bond amongst all the Dutch Burghers in Colombo and the outstations."
To the present generation of readers the names of those who were then appointed as a Committee, to frame rules, enrol members and carry out the preliminary, arrangements for the formation of such a union, will signify little relevance. There was F.C. Loos (member of the legislative Council) R. G. Anthonisz who rose to be head of the Archives Department, J. R. Toussaint of the Ceylon Civil service. There were medical men, surgeons and physicians like Drs. W. A. van Dort, L. A. Prins and Andreas Nell, legal luminaries like Allan Drieberg and F. H. de Vos; senior officers in the government's technical departments, engineers and surveyors. P. D. Siebel was a successful businessman and the first florist in Ceylon, A. R. Koch a leading photographer in society and there was, Ceylon's first woman doctor, Dr. Alice de Boer. In the months that followed discussions and informal meetings of the core group took place and the burning of much midnight oil in formulating drafts of the Rules and Registrations of the union.
The first meeting of the Dutch Burgher union took place on Saturday January 18, 1908, at the Pettah library Hall. A large gathering was present, for 267 persons had already enroled as members. Elected as the first president was Frederick Charles Loos M. L. C; honorary secretary was R. G. Anthonisz and a committee of 45 members, of which 15 were residing in the outstations. The draft Constitution having been passed the Dutch Burgher union could be said to have been established. The records of this first meeting and the early meetings of the union can be found well-documented in a worthy publication which, from March 31, 1908, came out on a regular basis. This is known as the Journal of the Dutch Burgher of Ceylon.
The DBU journals are a rich source of information - archival chronicle and memoir - which scholars and academicians, writers and journalists of the present generation may well be advised to consult.
Committees were formed for purposes ethical and literary, for genealogical research, for social services, entertainment and sport. The feast of St. Nikolaas, December 5, beloved by Dutch children was introduced to the Union in its first year and was held in the Public Hall, Colombo. The tradition of this festival continues to this day.
The need of an office and committee rooms was felt as urgent for in its initial months Dr. Andreas Nell sublet to the DBU, two rooms at Sea View, Kollupitiya, also used as a Reading Room for members. Thus we soon find in the DBU's records that a "Building Committee" is mentioned for the raising of funds for a permanent house.
There can be seen to this day set into the wall in the foyer of the hall, a copper plaque inscribed, which gives acknowledgement to:
"William Edward Vandersmagt de Rooy through whose exemplary zeal and unswerving persistency, the erection of this hall, in the year 1913 became possible."
A building company was formed and shares were made available to members. Planners and architects, engineers and designers then went into industry as a block of land was found in an area in the city which was opening out at the time - pre First World War.
More salubrious was Colombo as it reached out beyond the Fort and Pettah in the early years of this century.
The Borella burial site or Kanatte and the Havelock race course in the Cinnamon plantations, had come into use shortly before the turn into the 20th century and Buller's Road cut through scrub jungle and was a gravel road.
The populace of the older city of Colombo were moving to the littoral strip along the Galle Road, the inlets of the Beira Lake or to the Cinnamon Gardens. Today's city zones - three, seven, five and four reflected quite a different geographic picture. Airy residential homes encircled by large gardens were linked by sandy tracks and foot-paths lined with spreading flowering trees. Buller's Road, now the Bauddhaloka Mawatha was lonely and little used, made more forbidding by the fact that half-way along it was the Asylum for those mentally disturbed.
My mother, when a timid teenager, described in later years her fear to take a carriage ride along this stretch, while my father recalled boyhood rambles with his uncle in koombi kalle where they hunted hare and thalagoya in what is known today as Jawatte Road. Reid Avenue was then named Serpentine Road and there was no broad thoroughfare to connect Buller's Road with the Galle Road.
The Dutch Burgher Union Buildings Company purchased an extensive extent of land in the area we have described - and a building soon reared up, at the junction of Buller's Road and Serpentine Road. The hall, as it was to be called was in elegant setting, handsome in style. From the two gates, a drive swung round a carpet of lawn, bordered in flowers, to a front porch. There was provision of ample, space at the rear of building for horses and carriages, which gave way in a later era to the motor car. Tennis courts and a netball court provided activity for the younger members - and gives the reader an idea of the extent of land originally owned. A vestibule on the ground floor led on to a spacious public room for lectures and for dancing in that it had well-sprung teak flooring. A beautifully carved, wooden staircase led to the upper floor - to billiard and card rooms, a drawing room arranged with comfortable chairs for informal entertaining, a bar and a reading room lined with a well-chosen collection of books; residential quarters for outstation members with a rear staircase for their convenience, had also been thought of.
The years went by and the Dutch Burgher Union took on a character of its own. It was inevitable that there were changes in the surroundings in which it stood. Blocks of residential buildings came up all around and a link with the Galle Road, which came to be known as New Buller's Road, found that the DBU lost large strips of garden in acquisition, whilst escalating property rates saw the Buildings Company selling off its outer peripheries.
Through the war years, the First and Second World Wars, and especially in the conflict 1939 to 1945, troops of Dutch forces serving in the Asian war zones, sailors and airmen, found release in festive events in the Hall. The lovely mosaic floor in the foyer, depicting a Dutch sailing ship riding the waves, is a token of their appreciation.
Down the years men who made outstanding contribution to the country and to the community took office as Presidents. Their names, inscribed on polished brass, is a record, as also early paintings and portrait photographs in a later era which keep them in memory.
The generation who saw the birth of the Dutch Burgher Union and the building of the Hall have, with time, faded away - their names forgotten by the present younger generation. But the traditions and standards they set live on with their sons and daughters. To these, such as the writer, and with a few others, old scenes of happier days surface in memory. The laughter of children at play every December 5th; St. Nikolaas, dressed in Bishop's regalia, riding in on a tall white horse, black pete by his side who dispensed sweets and toys. A young girl's "coming out" dance, the band playing the old-waltz or fox-trot as she stepped out with her first beaux watched by fond "mamas" who sat through the night stiff-backed chairs arranged around the ball room. Then there were those grand occasions when Ceylon attained Independence and our first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake was honoured, or Lord Soulbury, Governor General graced a reception.
Unforgettable too were those afternoons when special Dutch Teas were served. The Hall was arranged with little square tables covered in crisp white linen: poffertjest hot off the pan came served with cooled sugar syrup, bolo-fiadho oozing treacle and fogutte filled with minced cashew and pumpkin preserve, while not forgetting the thick slices of broeder spread with butter and a slice of Edam cheese with its deep red rind.
As a school girl the writer with other Dutch Burgher friends, enjoyed the novelty and importance, dressed as traditional Dutch girls in bright skirts and starched organdy aprons, wearing quaint lace-edged pointed bonnets and wooden clogs. Yes, days gone away are ever sweet to linger upon - as we contemplate that the Dutch Burgher Union has notched ninety years of history.
DN - Fri July 15 2005
THE well-known Burgher authoress, Maureen Milhuisen Seneviratne once talked at a public forum of "the indefinable mosaic that's in me" referring to her ineffaceable Burgher genetic and ethnic heritage-near impossible to define because of the many European bits and pieces that go back millennia and then the Asian and African bits that were fitted into the pattern of the eventual mosaic later on.
What the British termed 'Burgher' was essentially a 'political community' [their definition, not our's of Portuguese, Dutch and other European settlers, many of whom had married into the local populace and produced a hybrid people of mixed descent.
The British, too, married into this already highly heterogeneous community, and as time went by, with both the indigenous population and also Indian women brought hither to work on the plantations.
The offspring of this more recent blend were referred to as 'Eurasians' even though all those of European ancestry and mixed descent were in fact 'Eurasians' in the biological sense as they were a fusion of European and Asian ethnic elements.
Therefore, any distinction is, to say the least, condescending, extremely conceited and utterly arrogant.
The people who constitute the Burgher Community in Sri Lanka have arrived here from all parts of Europe: Lithuania and Poland, Russia and the Ukraine, Pomerania, Prussia, Jutland, Sweden, Denmark, the Frisian Islands, all parts of Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Sardinia and Corsica, France, Flanders, Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, Walloonia, Holland, the British Isles, Eire, the Channel Islands, Spain, Greece and other Mediterranean. Islands.
There were also Sephardic Jews fleeing the dreaded Inquisition and it is quite possible that many of those who hailed from the southern parts of the Iberian Peninsula had Arab, Berber and West African Negro blood.
During the expansion of the Roman Empire when its imperium extended from the Rhine to the Atlantic coast of Portugal and Spain, from Hadrian's Wall in Britain to the far reaches of Arabia Felix, and from Carthage to the shores around the Black Sea, the legions of Rome were in fortified towns and cities throughout the Continent.
These legions were recruited from all parts of the Empire and consisted of Arabs, Jews, Cretans, Armenians, Greeks, Illyrians, Macedonians, Carthaginians, Circassians, and every ethnicity one could name from the area spanned by the Empire.
Doubtless this multi-ethnic soldiery left their genetic imprint upon the basic Celtic rootstock of Europe so that the hybrid character of the 'European' far antedated their arrival on these shores.
The process of mixing was further augmented by their meeting and cohabiting with the indigenous peoples made up of Sinhalese, Malayalees, Tamils, Moors, and Malays.
The Portuguese and Dutch also brought African Negro slaves to these shores; the Portuguese brought Chinese, and people from the East Indian archipelago, especially Malays, Ambionese, Bandanese; the Dutch exiled many families of the Javanese nobility who eventually settled here permanently.
Many Portuguese and Dutch married high-ranking Japanese and Malay women. There were also some Anglo-Chinese, Anglo-Burman, and Dutch-Siamese families who settled in the Island.
Therefore any claims to being 'pure' Burgher, (whatever that means), is pure nonsense and utter garbage as a 'white' skin does not denote unmixed ancestry-there are brothers and sisters where one is fair and the other dark-skinned.
Then, of course, race itself is a hollow and totally unscientific concept that has no validity whatsoever. If anything, what defines a community is its culture, mores, traditions, customs, way-of-life, and belief/value system and not 'race' however defined.
The true Burgher, then, is an unbelievably exotic amalgam of various racial strains and truly represents the three sons of Noah-Shem, Ham and Japheth-fused within a singular community on this other Eden-the island of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean.
Because of this heterogeneous ancestry the Burgher is a strong individualist without a trace of the 'herd instinct' characteristic of some ethno-social and religio-cultural communities.
The mixed bloodlines also make the Burgher an extremely intelligent, quick witted person who, when properly educated is brilliant in the true sense of that word. This means that he does not show off and draw attention to himself or her, preferring rather that his or her work or service be noticed and commended for its worth.
The heterogeneity also produced a person who could get on in any situation as that was a survival technique perfected in the crucible of oppression, war, and persecution that persuaded his ancestors to pull up roots and plant themselves somewhere far from their native lands.
'Getting-on' also engendered an insightful sense of humour and the uncertainty of the future compelled him to live as fully as possible for the moment, one day at a time.
Perhaps it was a misperception of this trait that provoked the more securely settled indigenous people to look upon the Burghers as a 'kapalla, beepalla, jolly-kerapalla' [eat, drink and make merry] type of people who never thought of 'tomorrow.' Indeed, for a refugee hounded from country to country and exploited at every turn, there was no such thing as 'tomorrow.'
The ability to 'get on,' the sense of humour, and the strong tendency for partying at the drop of a hat made the Burgher a very companionable and gracious person-full of good manners and courtesies, helpful to a fault and an excellent, house-proud neighbour.
If he had any rough edges (and they certainly had some) these were smoothed away by the tolerant culture of the local people who were more inclined to peace and harmony than confrontation and war.
The serenity produced by the Buddhist ethos rubbed off and took a lot of natural aggression that these Europeans came with, out of them, mellowing their characters and shaping a person who became peaceful, kind, and very lovable (as any local woman will vow to over and over again!).
It is also true that the Burgher is the least bigoted about 'race,' has never recognized caste distinctions, being extremely egalitarian because of his ancestor's usually humble beginnings, and is the least criminally inclined of the communities that inhabit this space.
He is also seldom a religious fanatic, quite tolerant of other's beliefs and practices as long as they do not become a nuisance that destroys his peace of mind.
When it comes to politics he's completely turned off because he sees at once the opportunism, greed, and the love of wielding power for its own sake that drives those who participate, and all those are all absolutely anathema to him.
There is also a dark side: Burghers easily get addicted to alcohol and end up drunkards; there are others who'll get into a fight at the slightest excuse because they enjoy bashing people up.
Becoming poor is unbearable and some take to begging on a permanent basis whilst others indulge in what is termed 'white collar crimes.'
Some women take to prostitution because of the lack of a proper education. Fortunately, the ones who are on the 'other side of the tracks' are few and far between.
Maintaining personal integrity and self-respect is very important and any Burgher will bristle if these are impugned for any reason whatsoever.
The Burghers (who now include the Eurasians) and number less than 45,000 persons are a unique ethno-socio-cultural community.
They are the only people on this Island that could claim direct recent European ancestry and that makes them unique because they are neither fully European nor are they entirely Asian but a truly delightful blending of both that has produced an unusual hybrid.
Sri Lanka can be proud that it has such a variety within its shores and especially the Burghers who have added so much 'spice' to the Sri Lankan 'rice.'
Proud to be a Burgher? Yes, I am proud to be a member of the Burgher Community and a fully co-equal citizen of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka which is my Motherland.
Burgher Names from the Dutch period
Sent in by Jackie Anthonisz
Those names listed below with an asterisk * against them indicates that a genealogy for that name has been published in the DBU journals
The Dutch Reformed Churches maintained registers of baptism, marriages and deaths from the date of arrival of the earliest ancestors in Ceylon. The Anglican churches maintained similar records from about the 1980’s or 1870’s The roman catholic churches did not maintain full or complete records of baptism, marriages and deaths until the early 20th century
The DBU journal vol XII (1920) reported that a few family histories of Dutch descendants could not be fully authenticated due to loss or damage to a few
Jaffna, Trincomalee, Batticoloa, Mannar, and Kalpitiya church records from the Dutch period.
The DBU journal vol LVIII (Jan-Dec 1968 pp. 53-58) contained a complete list of family genealogies that had been published up to that date. A few genealogies were added later.
417 (Dutch) Burgher Family Names
*de la Harpe
*van den Driesen
*van den Berg
*van der Gert
*van der Gucht
*van der Heyden
*van der Hoeven
*van der Pooten
*van der Say
*vab der Spaar
*van der Smagt
*van der Straaten
*van der Wall *
*van der wal
*van der Wert
*van der Zeil
455 Burgher Family Names from the British Period
‘Burgher’ as an ethnic label. Commenced only after the arrival of the British. During the British period the word was extended to refer to the descendants of Portuguese, British and other Europeans. The word became a generic term to classify the mixed European/Asian community. Eventually to all or most of the following.
(A) Portuguese, Dutch, British and other European descendants.
(B) Persons who thought of themselves as ‘Burghers’.
(C) Persons who were thought of as ‘Burghers’ by the Burgher community.
(D) Persons who were thought of as ‘Burghers’ by the other communities in Ceylon.
(E) Eurasians and unions between British males and Asian females.
‘Burghers’ eventually became a generic term for those who spoke English, did not think of themselves as belonging to any other ethnic community, wore western dress, were ‘westernised’ in their life-style, ate their food with cutlery, had a European name and were Christians. The ‘Burgher’ community boundaries continually widened during the 150 years of British hegemony but shrank after political independence and becaus e it then became socially, politically and economically disadvantageous to be classified as a ‘Burgher’.
Certain persons with names in this section and of Ceylonese origin may not have considered themselves ‘Burghers’ or ‘Eurasians’ in Ceylon. Some names may not be spelled correctly here, in others the spelling of the name may have been changed over time or been ‘Anglicised’ and could have had Dutch origins.
de la Zilwa
de la Motte
van der Laan
Some Early Burgher names.
The great majority of the names are of Dutch, German, Belgian and Scandinavian origin but there are also a number of well-known Portuguese names
List of Burgher marriages in Jaffna between 1843 – 1854 Included among the names are.
The DBU journals for 1908 contain a list of some of the founders of families who arrived from Europe and settled in Ceylon during the period of the Dutch administration between 1640 and 1796. There are 134 names and about 85 of the names were still current in the 1960’s.
Dutch inhabitants in Galle at the time of capitulation had to sign an undertaking that they would not leave Galle and/or directly or indirectly correspond, aid or assist the enemies of the English. Among the Dutch names are many that are well known in the Burgher community of the 1950’s some of those names are.
van der Spar
van den Broek
A similar undertaking was signed by the Dutch in Jaffna on the capitulation of that city. Here are some of the names.
van der Gucht
van der Putt
A list of Dutch ‘company servants’ who had been granted temporary allowances by the British in 1796 in terms of the capitulation. Among the names are.
Burgher is the name of a Eurasian people and, less commonly, a Creole language based on Portuguese . In Sri Lanka the term is used to identify people of this community.
English is the mother tongue of the Burghers of Sri Lanka. See Portuguese Creole.
For the most part, the Burgher people of Sri Lanka are the Eurasian descendents of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists from the 16th to 20th centuries.
Burghers were legally defined by law in 1883, by the then Chief Justice of Ceylon, Sir Richard Ottley, given before the Commission which was appointed in connection with the establishment of a legislative Council in Ceylon.
It was decided that in order to be defined as a Burgher, one's father had to have been born in Sri Lanka, with at least one European ancestor on one's direct paternal side, regardless of the ethnic origin of one's mother, or what other ethnic groups may be found on the father's side.
Most Burghers are Christian, the majority being Catholics or Presbyterians.
Because of how a Burgher is legally defined, Burghers always have European surnames (mostly of Portuguese, Dutch and British origin, although it is not uncommon to also find
German, French, or even Flemish surnames).
Burghers are not physically homogeneous.
It is possible to have a blond, fair-skinned Burgher, as well as a Burgher with a very dark complexion and black hair.
Fair-skinned and dark-skinned children can even appear as brother and sister in the same family of the same parents.
Burghers share a common culture rather than a common ethnicity.
While the older generations of Burghers tried to dismiss the obvious Asian side of their ancestry, many younger Burghers today highly value this variety in their heritage.
In the census of 1981, the Burgher population of Sri Lanka was enumerated at 39,374 persons.
The current percentage of Burghers in the Sri Lankan population is less than 1%.
The highest concentration of Burghers is in Colombo (0.72%) and Gampaha (0.5%).
There are also similar, significant communities in Trincomalee and Batticaloa, but due to conflict in those areas during the 2001 census, figures are not available. The world population (mostly in Sri Lanka, Australia, the USA and the UK) is probably no more than 100,000.
The Portuguese arrived in what was then known by outsiders as Ceylon, in 1505.
Since there were no women in the Portuguese navy, the Portuguese sailors raped local Sinhalese women.
This practice of intermarriage with local people was encouraged by the Portuguese, not only in Ceylon, but also in other Portuguese colonies, such as Macau in China and Malacca in Malaysia. Their mestiço children were often called 'micos' (a corruption from the Portuguese word for 'mechanic').
When the Dutch took over in 1653, they expelled all the Portuguese.
However, they permitted stateless persons of Portuguese-Jewish (Marrano) descent, and of mixed Portuguese-Sinhalese ancestry to stay.
As a result, Burghers with Portuguese names are likely to be of either Jewish or mixed Portuguese-Sinhalese ancestry.
During the Dutch period, all Dutch colonial operations were overseen by the VOC, ('Vereenigde Ost-Indische Compagnie').
Virtually all Burghers from this period were employees of the VOC.
The VOC employed not only Dutch nationals, but also enlisted men from Belgium, Friesland, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Austria.
It is therefore not unusual to find ancestors from these countries in many Burgher family trees.
It was during the Dutch period that the term 'Burgher' was first coined to denote people of mixed European, and European-Asian descent.
It comes from the Dutch word 'Burger', meaning 'citizen' or 'resident'.
People of mixed ancestry were not allowed citizenship of the country of their European fathers, nor of their Asian mothers, so a compromise was found whereby they would be citizens ('Burghers') of the towns of their birth.
When the British took over in 1796, many Dutch people chose to leave.
However, a significant number chose to stay, mostly those of mixed descent.
One condition of their being allowed to stay, was that they had to sign a Treaty of Capitulation to the British.
Many Burghers can find their ancestors' names in this treaty.
At the time of the British conquest, there were about 900 Burgher families residing in Ceylon, concentrated in Colombo, Galle, Matara and Jaffna.
Until the early 1900s, as well as English, many Burghers also spoke a form of Portuguese Creole, even those of Dutch descent.
It is now only spoken in parts of the coastal towns of Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Most of its vocabulary is from Portuguese, but its grammar is based on that of Tamil and Sinhalese.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, many Burghers left the island and emigrated to Australia (where there is an area of Melbourne known as ' Little Ceylon'), the USA and Great Britain.
Burgher culture is a rich mixture of east and west, reflecting their ancestry.
They are the most westernised of the ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.
Most of them wear western clothing, although it is not uncommon for a man to be seen wearing a sarong, or for a woman to wear a sari.
A number of elements in Burgher culture have actually extended to become part of the cultures of other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka.
For example, baila music, which has its origin in the music of 16th century Portugal, has found its way into mainstream popular Sinhalese music.
Lacemaking, which began as a domestic pastime of Burgher women, is now a part of Sinhalese culture too.
Even certain foods, such as Love Cake, Bol Fiado (layered cake), Ijzer Koekjes and Frikkadels (savoury meatballs), have become an integral part of Sri Lankan national cuisine.
Burghers have a very strong interest in their family histories.
Many old Burgher families kept stamboeks (from the Dutch for ‘Clan Books’).
These recorded not only dates of births, marriages and deaths, but also significant events in the history of a family, such as details of moving house, illnesses, school records, even major family disputes.
An extensive, multi-volume stamboek of many family lineages is kept by the Dutch Burgher Union.
Individual families have traditions which reflect their specific family origins.
Burghers of Dutch origin sometimes celebrate the Feast of St Nicholas in December, and those of Portuguese-Jewish origin observe customs such as the separation time of a woman after childbirth (see Leviticus 12:2-5), the redemption of the Firstborn (Pidyon ha-Ben), and the purification bath (taharah) after a daughter’s first period (see niddah).
Most of the latter Burgher families, being unaware of the Jewish origins of these customs, have given them a Catholic slant.
Some would even say that a certain attitude has become part of Burgher culture, that of tolerance.
While inter-communal strife has sadly become a feature of modern Sri Lankan life, Burghers have on the whole worked to maintain good relations with other ethnic groups.
It is safe to say that racial and religious tolerance is an integral part of Burgher culture too...............................