guide to the Anglo-Sri Lankan lexicon by Richard Boyle-Part XVI
Sunday Times Nov 29 2002
Those days of hackeries and
During the 19th century, journeys in the island were usually undertaken in a handful of conveyances that were either drawn by bullocks or borne by men. The second editions of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED2) and Hobson-Jobson (H-J2) include the names of several conveyances such as bandy, hackery, and palanquin that are partly associated with Sri Lanka. Rickshaw (jinrikisha) is too universal, while doolie (a rudimentary palanquin used as a stretcher) and tirikale (the racing version of the hackery) are too rare to be considered part of the Anglo-Sri Lankan lexicon. Date of first use is provided in brackets.
bandy (1761). "A carriage, bullock-carriage,
buggy, or cart, used in India."
This definition gives no indication that the bandy was extensively used in Ceylon as well as in India, and so it is little surprise that there are no references with relevance to the island in the entry.
The earliest reference among many to be found in
English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka is by Robert Percival from An Account
of the Island of Ceylon (1803:286): "Bullocks are employed to draw them in
carts of a particular construction, known on the island by the name of bandies.
These vehicles are very long, narrow, and clumsy. The body of the bandy rests on
a strong beam, which projects like the pole of a carriage. To the extreme end of
this pole a piece of wood, almost six feet long, and very thick, is attached
crosswise. Under it are hoops fixed for the necks of the cattle, which are kept
fast by pegs. By this means the whole weight of the load rests on the neck and
shoulders of the oxen, while they drag the cart along. The sides of the cart are
composed of thin boards, of the skins of buffaloes, or split bamboes; while a
strong post of wood is placed at each of the four corners to give it a shape and
to hold these firm. The bottom is either of boards, or interwoven bamboes: the
axle-tree and wheels resemble those of the Irish truckles, or cars, being blocks
of wood rounded."
Lord Valentia observes in Voyages and Travels (1809:224): "The road was a good one for a gig (here called a bandy), the whole way to the Gendra river."
Maria Graham explains in her Journal of a Residence in India (1811:88): "None but open carriages are used in Ceylon; we therefore went in bandies, in plain English gigs, to the village of Bellegam, where we breakfasted in the rest-house on the sea-shore," and (Ibid.100): "We generally drive out before breakfast in a bandy."
Amelia Heber remarks in Reginald Heber's Narrative of a Journey (1828:II.147): "Those persons who have not European coachmen, have the horses of their palanquin-carriages and bandies, or gigs, led by these men... Gigs and hackeries all go here by the generic name of bandy."
Robert Binning states in A Journal of Two Years
Travel in Persia, Ceylon, etc. (1857:II.33): "Heavy goods are chiefly
conveyed, as in India, in the rude but serviceable vehicles, called
James Emerson Tennent relates in Ceylon
(1859:II.662): "Bullock bandies covered with cajans met us."
Constance Gordon Cumming comments in Two Happy
Years in Ceylon (1892:27): "Larger palm-thatched carts or 'bullock-bandys,'
but similarly balanced on two wheels, are used for general traffic."
Alan Walters notes in Palms and Pearls; or Scenes
in Ceylon (1892:55): "As we pass along our ears are sure to be tortured by
the strident creaking of the bullock bhandies (Tamul wandi) with their covering
of plaited coco-leaves, drawn by mild-eyed humped zebus."
There is a corresponding entry in H-J2, which
like the OED2 does not associate the term with Sri Lanka.
hackery (1698). "Anglo-Indian [Origin not
clear; perhaps a corruption of Hindi chhakra a two-wheeled bullock-cart.] The
common native bullock-cart of India used for the transport of goods; also in
western India and Sri Lanka, as formerly in Bengal, applied to a lighter
carriage (drawn sometimes by horses) for the conveyance of persons."
Not one of the references given in the entry has relevance to Sri Lanka, even though the island is cited as a main location where this conveyance is in use. The latest reference is dated 1845, but there are more recent or postdating ones from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka. For example, Henry Charles Sirr writes in Ceylon and the Cingalese (1850:I.36) of the traffic on Galle Face Green: "Vehicles of all descriptions are met, from the haccary of the native drawn by a bullock, to the carriage of one of England's merchant-princes."
Then there is James Emerson Tennent, who writes
in Ceylon (1859:II.662): "Coolies, heavily laden with burdens of
fresh fish from the sea, hurried towards the great town, native gentlemen,
driving fast-trotting oxen in little hackery cars, hastened home from it."
Tennent defines hackery in a footnote: "the hackery is a light conveyance,
with or without springs, in which a well-trained bullock will draw two persons
at the rate of eight miles an hour."
Gordon Cumming (1892:27) describes the
zebus that draw the hackery: "In lieu of reins and a bit, a hole is bored
through the nostril, and the poor beasts are guided by a rope passed throught
the nose. Some are very fast trotters and native gentlemen drive them at a
rattling pace in small hackeries."
Henry Cave advises travellers in Ceylon along the
Rail Track (1910:68): "Bullock hackeries can be obtained at
twenty-five cents an hour."
Henry Yule writes in his Introduction to
Hobson-Jobson: "Of some very familiar words the origin remains either
dubious, or matter only for conjecture. Examples are hackery, florican and
topaz." The entry for hackery in H-J2 states: "In the Bengal
Presidency this word is now applied only to the common native bullock-cart used
in the slow draught of goods and materials. But formerly in Bengal, as still in
Western India and Ceylon, the word was applied to lighter carriages (drawn by
bullocks) for personal transport. Though the word is used by Englishmen almost
universally in India, it is unknown to natives, or if known is regarded as an
English term; and its origin is extremely obscure. It is probably one of those
numerous words which were long in use, and undergoing corruption by illiterate
soldiers and sailors, before they appeared in any kind of literature. Wilson
suggests a probable Portuguese origin e.g from acarretar, 'to convey in a cart.'
It is possible that the mere Portuguese article and noun a carreta might have
produced the Anglo-Indian hackery.
"But it is almost certain that the origin of
the word is the Hindi chhakra, 'a two-wheeled cart;' and it may be noted that in
old Singhalese chakka, 'a cart-wheel,' takes the forms haka and saka."
However, as the editor notes, "this can have no connection with chhakra,
which represents a wagon."
palankeen, palanquin (c.1588). "A covered
litter or conveyance, usually for one person, used in India and other Eastern
countries, consisting of a large box with wooden shutters like Venetian blinds,
carried by four or six (rarely two) men by means of poles projecting before and
Because this conveyance was in common use
throughout the East, the word palankeen/palanquin should be considered as being
on the periphery of the Anglo-Sri Lankan lexicon. Nevertheless, as the term is
prevalent in 19th century English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka, it merits
inclusion. One of the earliest such references is by James Cordiner, who writes
in A Description of Ceylon (1807:152): "A detachment of bearers and
palanquins followed in his train, for the conveyance of which boats could not be
Valentia (1809:224) notes: "We arrived
at the river before sun-set, where a boat was ready to take over the
Graham (1811:97) mentions the term in
describing an encounter with a wanderoo: "I at first took him to be a man,
but I discovered my mistake, when he peeped at my palankeen through the leaves,
by the large grey ruff he has round his face."
My favourite reference is by J. W. Bennett, who writes in Ceylon and its Capabilities (1843:119) of an alarming incident in which a cobra invades his palanquin: "My palankin was brought into the room for the purpose of sleeping in it, but upon opening the door, in order to put in my pillows, I found I had been anticipated by a very fine high-caste Naya, which was coiled upon the mat, and showed no disposition to relinquish his berth."