Sinhalisation in Puttalm district

Sinhalisation in Puttalm district: Mampuri an example




Mampuri, in the north of Puttalam District, is located in the Northern Dry Zone of Sri Lanka, on the Kalpitiya peninsula which separates the vast Puttalam lagoon from the sea. The village lies about eleven kilometres from the junction at Palavi, near Puttalam, on the road heading north to Kalpitiya town. Its western border is the sea, which is flanked by a wide sandy beach on which beach-seining is common. To the east of the village is Puttalam lagoon, across which Puttalam town can be seen on a clear day.


As one enters Mampuri, its southern border is marked by a police road block that signals that one has entered Kalpitiya police division. Coconut trees give way to a number of houses, shops, a post office, a dispensary, a bank, two churches, and a filling station, that stretch along the road. The lagoon is always visible just to the east of the road. Two other roads lead to the beach, about 2 km to the west. One is a tarmac road, badly in need of repair, which leads to a dense settlement of fishermen close to the beach, in front of which a large

amount of boats are landed. Along this road, there is the village school, houses, and vegetable fields. The other road further south is a gravel road with fewer houses along it. The area in between these two roads to the beach is taken up mainly by vegetable and tobacco fields, with some houses scattered between them.


Mampuri is extremely spread out: many farms are of several acres and separate neighbouring houses. The population consists of 2420 people living in 420 households (DS Kalpitiya 1998). Mampuri has grown immensely over this century. Whilst people describe it as a village that was traditionally inhabited by ethnic Tamils who have been established here since at least the turn of the century and who lived mainly by the main road, there have been waves of in-migration, especially over the past 20 years. According to official figures, Mampuri's population has doubled since 1990 (1214 people according to the DS), however, this figure is likely to be incorrect.


Out of the households we spoke to, the members of 40% had settled here within the last 20 years. Probably most importantly, Tamil-speaking Sinhala fishermen originating from the area between Negombo and Chilaw, many of whom used to temporarily migrate to the peninsula, have now permanently settled in Mampuri. Many of the permanent houses in the densely populated settlement by the beach are thus of relatively recent origin. Overall, the influx of fishermen from areas further south has been an on-going process that spans up to 80 years.


Places of origin of the immigrants include the South of Puttalam District and other parts of Sri Lanka. Pull factors include the availability of land, profitable fisheries, and, in more recent times, the success of vegetable cultivation. Some people also have come to escape the war in the north-eastern part of the country. People in the village stress the ethnic harmony of the village. The whole peninsula in general is peaceful, despite officially being designated as an operational area (which implies LTTE activities and results in stricter security arrangements and higher salaries for Government servants).


Thus the population of Mampuri is far from homogeneous in terms of ethnicity or origin. Today, Sinhala make up 73.1% of the population (DS Kalpitiya 1998). However, many of them still speak Tamil as their first language. The other 26.9% are Tamil. The majority of people, 95%, are Catholic, whilst the remaining 5% are mainly Hindu. There are very few Buddhists and no Muslims (DS 1998). The existence of two churches in the village, as well as of a small chapel by the beach, indicates differentiation within the Catholic community (see 5.4.2). As in Ambakandawila, most people live in households based around nuclear families, but inter-marriages between different ethnic or occupational groups are frequent.


One of the most interesting processes in Mampuri is the one of Sinhalisation. Whilst most of the Sinhala fishermen used to speak Tamil and/or still do so, there is a trend towards the use of Sinhala, manifesting itself in most children being educated in Sinhala and the increased use of Sinhala in church. Even some of the long-established Tamils, despite having been one of the most powerful local groups in the past, due to their long local history as well as caste status, have adapted to this trend. The process reflects the political domination of Sinhala people in the Government controlled areas of the country.


Mampuri is definitely a prosperous village in terms of visible material wealth. There is plenty of water enabling cultivation despite the dry climate, and the fisheries manage to sustain a large number of fishermen. However, the capital-intensive nature of cultivation in Mampuri results in high risks, and many a farmer has lost substantial amounts of money due to crop failure or market fluctuations. Nevertheless, many jobs are available and there is a large number of service industries (shops, restaurants, kerosene shops) in the village. Diverse livelihood strategies are available to most, and social mobility is high. Furthermore, many people move between different sectors or communities. Labourers work both on farms and on boats, and successful farmers invest in fishing gear.


Overall, a picture of rapid social and economic change, shaped by waves of in-migration, the impact of the civil war, and other trends in the wider economy, characterises Mampuri."