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Corea: mystery of Chilaw

by Mihindukulasuriya Susantha Fernando

Newspaper articles have appeared, time and again, on the baffling mysteries of Edirelle Rala nee Domingo Corea, and his progeny.

Padma Edirisinghe, the irresistible journalist and raconteur, writing in the Daily of 1997, pointed out that a memorial column built at Pita Kotte junction, at considerable state expense, was standing meaningless; it was originally meant for perpetuating the memory of Edirella Rala nee Domingo Corea, but his name was not inscribed on the monument and fitting memorial ceremony was not conducted due to protests from the people of Sri Jayawardanepura, Kotte.

Very recently, efforts made again by the Corea families living in Colombo to have a statue of the late Victor Corea erected in the heart of Chilaw town did not receive favourable response from the Urban Council of Chilaw, because of protests made by the people of Chilaw.

The Coreas were never the original settlers of Chilaw. They were late immigrants to Chilaw. Neither was their name synonymous with Chilaw, as claimed by some of the affluent Colombo-based Coreas in their dotage.

Chilaw, the bastion of Catholicism, was famous for music, nadagam, crabs, prawns and most of all a highly literate, educated Kaurava community. The predominant population of Chilaw at any given time in her history consisted of Kaurava Kshatriyas.

Originally, those Kauravas were coconut and tobacco planters, farmers, paddy cultivators, vendors, businessmen, transporters, boatsmen and fishermen. But with the passage of time, Catholic missionary school education made their descendants into a fantastic array of eminent government servants, doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, surveyors, draftsmen, dramatists, artists, writers, linguists, historians, discoverers, scientists, teachers, priests, monks and nuns. Most of them now live outside Chilaw, while some of them are happily domiciled abroad.

Sri Lanka's first indigenous Catholic bishop, and Sinhalese at that, rose from the ranks of the Kaurava Mihindukulasuriyas of Chilaw.

Coreas, on the other hand, were a minuscule grouping of about four or six families at any given period at Chilaw. By the 1940's they were a cultured, respectable, educated and sociable community of Anglican faith, but remained aloof from the predominant Kaurava Catholic community of Chilaw.

That strange 'aloofness' of the Coreas continue to persist up to date. When the present-day Coreas reminiscence their Chilaw links through the newspapers and their web sites, they never mention that once upon a time they lived with the large mass of their fellow brethren, the Kaurava people of Chilaw.

When Harindra Corea passed away last year, obituary notices in the newspapers inserted by his family members never even mentioned that he once represented Chilaw as a Member of the Parliament.


For mysterious reasons, the present-day Coreas hide the fact that their ancestry began with Edirelle Rala, or Domingo Corea who was a Kaurava man. The first descendants of Edirelle Rala, styling themselves as Coreas, first settled down at Chilaw for the primary reason of cashing on the then thriving coconut industry.

Subsequently, their children's children got educated and excelled in the legal, political, diplomatic, mass media and other fields, thus bringing a whirlwind of fame to the Coreas of Chilaw. Some of them were Sir Claude Corea, C. H. S. Corea, Shirley Corea, C. L. Corea, Victor Corea, Carlton Corea, Dr. Gamini Corea, Harindra Corea, Earnet Corea, Vijeya Corea, Vernon Corea and Sri Sangabo Corea. None of their descendants, however, now live at in Chilaw, but show a peculiar delight in describing their adopted home town as synonymous with 'Coreas, Crabs and Coconut'.

The origins of Coreas of Chilaw are most enigmatic, yet fascinating, when related by contradictory accounts in historical records. 'Corea' was a common Portuguese name.

Corea spelling variations in Portugal included Correa, Corea, Correas, Correaz, Coreas, Coreaz, Correass Coreazz and many more.

The name, 'Corea', first found in Castile, in north central Spain, was later adopted by some families in Portugal and thereafter came into vogue among the natives in countries occupied by the Portuguese.

Some of the first Portuguese settlers of this name or its variants were: early 1535, and Antonio Corea and his family who came to Mexico in 1534. Some writers say that they found a Corea community even in Italy.

Charm and wit

In the days gone by, there were some kinsmen of the Coreas of Chilaw living at Madampe (five miles from Chilaw). J. R. Jayawardene, the former president of Sri Lanka, also had some relations living in Madampe. But JR's connections with Coreas of Chilaw were reinforced when JR's grandfather's brother, Col. T. G. Jayawardene, the first Sri Lankan Commanding Officer in Ceylon Light Infantry), had his daughter, named Effi, given in marriage to Carlton Corea of Chilaw (a Civils Servant).

One of JR's four sisters, named Girly, also married Shirley Corea, who was a brilliant lawyer oozing with charm and wit, an exuberant parliamentarian, an honourable Speaker of the then Parliament, and a lavish entertainer at Chilaw.

The Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon (First pub. in 1907) carries a long account of the early Coreas of Chilaw, but on many details it contradicts other historical sources. Edirelle Rala nee Domingo Corea is believed have been the patriarch of the Coreas of Chilaw.

He was executed during the reign of king Don Juan Dharmapala of Kotte. But a veil of mystery shrouds the maternal lineage of the first Corea settlers at Chilaw. For Domingo Corea had been married twice, once to a Portuguese lady and thereafter to a Kandyan princess, according to the Kurukula Charithaya (Part II).

In my 1997 rsearch for unearthing clues to ascertain the Corea presence in Chilaw in the olden days, I turned the pages of Kurukula Charithaya (Part II) by A.S.F. Weerasuriya, Kurukula Venthar of Haputale, published in 1960, and several other publications.

Therein I found answers to a riddle that had preoccupied my mind since my childhood days at Chilaw. Who was Edirelle Rala nee Domingo Corea, and what was the origin of Coreas at Chilaw?

At times contradicting the British classic, Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon, the ancient treatise of Kurukula Charithaya on the Kauravas, describes Domingo Corea's brother as Juan Fernandez (Juan Fernando nee Iddagoda Naide), alluding to the possibility that Domingo was not of Govigama community (as generally believed and proclaimed by the Coreas of Chilaw), but of Kaurava community, probably from Chilaw.

When Domingo was executed in the reign of King Don Juan Dharmapala of Kotte, his Kandyan wife (referred to as 'his woman' in the book) and his brother were banished to Portugal as prisoners. I conjecture that it was his Kandyan wife and her progeny who were probably banished to Portugal, because there is no record of the princess or her children having settled down in Kandy, after the demise of Edirelle Rala nee Domingo Corea.

There is also no record of the plight of his distraught Portuguese wife and her progeny.

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