Talking to the Kaffirs’ after their performance at the Barefoot gave
me an insight as to how their ethnic origins are preserved in song and
dance even with the marriages to other communities. These Sri Lankan
African descendants gave us their rendition of ‘baila’ where the beats
strummed all night long.
Beautiful Sri Lankan-born African Sherine who is married to a Sri
Lankan said, We’re very happy to be performing here for the second time
for it is good to celebrate the fact that we are African people.
It is a privilege to share our music and culture with the rest of Sri
Lanka through this concert. The Kaffirs (English, also cafrinhas in
Portuguese or in Sinhala) are a Sri Lankan ethnic group who are
descendants from 16th century Portuguese traders and the African slaves,
brought by them.
The Kaffirs spoke a distinctive creole based on Portuguese, the
now-extinct ‘Sri Lanka Kaffir language’ and their cultural heritage
includes the dance styles ‘Kaffringna’ and ‘Manja’ which they performed
recently. Being a happening concert, with plenty of thumb-thumping beats
with rhythmic drums and happy-go-lucky ‘baila’ dances, they made merry
with wonderful mantras and chants to set your soul on fire. The
astounding Sufi musician stunned the audience with his powerful voice
and heart-stopping drum beats.
The organizer of the concert and Fulbright researcher of the Kaffirs,
Leah Worthington said more about the Kaffirs, There is a long history,
dating back to the 1500s with the Portuguese, of people being brought
from Africa to Sri Lanka for work.
They have an orally recorded history by some Kaffir families who are
descents of former Portuguese slaves brought from Goa, India by the
British to be soldiers in Sri Lanka.
They call their songs ‘Manhas’ which is exclusively played by the
Kaffirs of Sirambiyadiya near the Puttalam town. While the music is
different in technical ways from Kaffrinha and Chikothi (both of which
are kinds of music with African roots), all of the movements in their
dance point to its African origins, as has been noted by academics in
the past said Leah.
Further, the Kaffir concert was held in a bid to help in the
preservation of their music and dance, which are the only cultural
remnants of their African roots. While the Kaffirs are proud to be Sri
Lankans, they also acknowledge their African history.
Being able to share this tradition of music serves as a way of both
bringing respect to them within their local community and validating
their cultural differences.
While their exact place of origin along Africa’s east coast may never
be known for sure because of a lack of documentation and conflicting
oral histories, promoting their music allows for their future
generations to better understand the Kaffirs history said Leah.
In conclusion, she said, Everyone also needs to provide for their
For the Kaffir families to be able to do so via their music, allows
them to provide for their family while paying respect to their cultural
Pix by Jacobo Quintanilla and Lara Brearley