Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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The Malvana Convention of 1598

And other historical conventions

by Anthony Hensman, Daily Mirror, Colomobo, February 15, 2010

The historical turning point came only in 1832 when the Colebrooke  - Cameron Commissioners arrived to set up a legislature in the colony. It was then that, for the first time, under the compulsions of the capitalist, coffee, tea, rubber,  coconut and cocoa plantation and graphite mining and gemming industries, in which British entrepreneurs were increasingly investing their capital, that a single,” unitary” administration was set up and the island divided into its present provincial administrative units, to serve the new comprador, import-export economy, with Colombo as central capital and port. This British colonial self-interest in establishing a “unitary” system of government and administration, has now become a vested interest of their  ‘ brown sahib” successors to whom in 1947 the British handed over the government in the hope of perpetuating that system and, thereby, securing their massive capital investments in the island. Paradoxically, this “imperialist”, “colonialist” ‘unitarianism’ of the former white sahibs has been embraced under the specious guise of “religio-nationalism”..

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke’s letter of  4th July in the Daily Mirror captioned ‘The Defence Dimension of Devolution’ opens up an  interesting line of enquiry to the historian and politician alike, as it begs the question as to why the 13th Amendment and only the 13th Amendment? What is there so innately sacrosanct about that piece of legislation drafted under Mr. J.R.Jayawardene with input from Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and his advisers, in pursuance of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord? This line of reasoning is interesting as it turns back the pages of time to 1832 and the Colebrooke- Cameron Commission constitutional reforms of that year. For it was then that for the first time a centralized structure of government was installed in this country, centred in Colombo and engrossing the  hitherto independent administrations of Colombo, Galle, Jaffna and Kandy. It is interesting further in issuing a challenge to the school of thought that believes that the country was and should be unitary, to vindicate  the rationale on which their conclusion rests?

For instance, it is accepted that King Dutugemunu’s mother was the daughter of the Naga king of Kelaniya. If we assume that King Dutugemunu after defeating King Elara established  a unitary government from Anuradhapura, where does that leave his maternal kingdom of Kelaniya? The chronicles are silent on the issue of the interaction between the two states, and we are left with the unsatisfactory conclusion that the Kelaniya kingdom underwent a second inundation of the sea that caused it to disappear! The historical problem, if there is one, is not a genuine problem but only a pseudo problem. It becomes a problem only if you accept the unitary thesis a priori. If there never was such a unitary state as the above school would have us believe, then King Dutugemunu and his cousin, the Naga king of Kelaniya, could have happily co-existed, each within his own recognized frontiers.

Let us turn with relief to the hard , testable, provable,empirical world of scientific historical theses. Here we have the benefit of three historical documents of immense weight and indisputable authority and veracity ie the Malvana Convention of 1598, the Nallur Convention of 1616 and the Kandyan Convention of 1815. The first  was signed in 1598, on the one hand, by King Philip 11 of Spain [ of Armada fame] as king Philip 1 of Portugal, in his capacity as king of Portugal and , on the other, by the nobility of Kotte assembled in Malvana. In terms of this convention, the nobility of Kotte, on behalf of the people of Kotte freely accepted the sovereignty of  King Philip and swore fealty to him as King of Kotte, by virtue of the last will and testament of the last king of Kotte, Don Juan Dharmapala 1, who died in 1596. It is interesting to note that the contracting parties are the King of Spain and the Indies, the most powerful ruler on earth, as king of Portugal, and the representatives of the people of the kingdom of Kotte, an independent, legally constituted ,diplomatically recognized, political entity- in other words, a sovereign state. There is no mention of that fiction of the afore-mentioned pseudo-historical school of a state of Ceylon or Lanka or any other name.

In like manner the second was signed in 1616, on the one hand, by King Philip 111 of Spain[son of the former] as King Philip 11 of Portugal in his capacity as king of Portugal, and on the other, by the nobility of the kingdom of Jaffna, assembled in Nallur, whereby the latter freely acknowledged the sovereignty of  King Philip and swore fealty to him as King of Jaffna, by virtue of the conquest of the kingdom by the Portuguese forces in 1616. Here again, it may be noted that the contracting parties are the King of Spain, as king of Portugal, and the representatives of the people of the kingdom  of Jaffna, an independent, legally constituted, diplomatically recognized, political entity – a sovereign  state. There is no mention of a state of Ceylon or Lanka or any other name.

By these two treaties the Crown of Portugal came into possession of the two separate states of Kotte and Jaffna, and they were so governed by the Portuguese crown as two territories. In fact the budgets and statements of income and expenditure of the two territories were submitted to the treasury in Lisbon as two separate records, throughout the period 1618 to 1658.The Dutch East India Co.[V.O.C.] conquered the two states in 1658. In the treaty of 1658 between the new King John 1 of Portugal [ of the House of Braganza ] and the V.O.C. the two states are separately described in two distinct schedules. They continued to be administered by the V.O.C .separately. In fact, the Dutch, being more business-minded and profit- oriented, sub-divided the Kotte kingdom into two Colombo and Galle, each under its own Commandant, the better to run the cinnamon industry.

Technically, therefore, “unification” was brought about by foreign conquest by the two colonial powers, the Portuguese crown and the V.O.C., and up to 1803, such “ unification” was confined to the Commandants of Colombo, Galle and Jaffna.. In 1803, in the course of the Napoleonic wars, these territories were conquered by the British government from the V.O.C., but no change was made in the independent administration of these new British colonial possessions. Again, as in the case of the transfer on conquest from the Portuguese to the Dutch, so also in the relevant Treaty of Amiens of 1803, these territories are separately described in two schedules pertaining to Kotte and Jaffna, respectively,, with no mention of  Ceylon or Lanka or any other name, except for the purpose of geographical location.

In 1815 the Kandyan kingdom was conquered by the British and the Kandyan Convention signed the same year between King George 1V, on the one hand and the Kandyan chiefs, on the other, accepting the sovereignty and rule of the former over the kingdom of Kandy - note, not Ceylon or Lanka or any other name. It is, therefore, by a process similar to that described previously, that the island was united territorially by intervention of a foreign power to suit that power’s imperial and colonial interests – in this case primarily the security of the Indian empire. Administratively, Colombo, Galle,  Jaffna  and  Kandy were run separately.

The historical turning point came only in 1832 when the Colebrooke  - Cameron Commissioners arrived to set up a legislature in the colony. It was then that, for the first time, under the compulsions of the capitalist, coffee, tea, rubber,  coconut and cocoa plantation and graphite mining and gemming industries, in which British entrepreneurs were increasingly investing their capital, that a single,” unitary” administration was set up and the island divided into its present provincial administrative units, to serve the new comprador, import-export economy, with Colombo as central capital and port. This British colonial self-interest in establishing a “unitary” system of government and administration, has now become a vested interest of their  ‘ brown sahib” successors to whom in 1947 the British handed over the government in the hope of perpetuating that system and, thereby, securing their massive capital investments in the island. Paradoxically, this “imperialist”, “colonialist” ‘unitarianism’ of the former white sahibs has been embraced under the specious guise of “religio-nationalism” by their successors, spreading even, by a strange twist of that “demonstration effect” referred to in economics, to the leadership of the working class, such as, the J.V.P .and  N.F.F.

If then in the present day, “Devolution” is the name of the game, and the new spin word in political circles, ”Evolution”  would seem to have been the key to the counter- process that ,as we have seen,  has been gradually taking place over the past 450 years of colonial domination and exploitation. “Exploitation  ”is the key term because it is under the guise of pseudo religio-nationalism that the” brown sahibs” who occupied the driving seat and took over the reins with full access to the apparatus of government and machinery of state, from the last of the foreign oppressors, the British, in 1947, continue to oppress the rest of their populations, both majority and minorities, alike.

A whole world of historical and political exploration and discovery is open to those genuine scholars , both of the majority and minorities, to examine the original documents, beginning with the Treaties of Malvana, Nallur and Kandy, subscribed by the ancient peoples of the country, under their time-honoured and traditional, separate and distinctive, historical and political identities, and extending to the treaties between the Portuguese crown and the V.O.C.  of 1658, and between the latter and the British crown in 1803. If the protocol copies of these treaties are not with the Colombo archives, the originals would be with the archives in Lisbon, the Hague and London. The schedules and maps which form a substantive part of these treaties should make interesting and revelatory reading. They will put paid by the application of the  modern scientific empirical methodology of historical study to the mythical equation of “unity” with “unitarianism”, upheld by the “brown sahibs” and their fellow-travellers, including the media in some cases.