Relics of our colonial past :
To be destroyed or preserved?
Upper part of the inner gate showing the construction date
There is nothing to prevent what may be called odd bits from the past
seeping into one's memory now and then. A threat made by an MP was one
such odd bit that sailed into my mind recently. The threat made over
electronic media apparently spawned out of a frenzied fit of nationalism
was that this powerful people's representative would decimate the Galle
Fort to zero point very soon for the simple fact that it stood there
overlooking the beautiful seaside city of Galle like a giant ghost of
imperialism. Fortunately the mental ethos of those at the top seem to
have progressed (some of the MPs like mind would say regressed) since
that threat was made. As an alternative to quarrelling with history now
we have come to terms with it. The recent move to preserve the Jaffna
Fort is the latest in the execution of this attitudinal change.
Just to give some basic facts about the Fort, birth - Portuguese
period, exact year - 1619 adolescence and maturity - Dutch period. The
Dutch used it to facilitate trading activities of the island's Northern
region. Site of Fort - situated on the South side of the Jaffna
peninsula at the water's edge of the lagoon.
It is described in aligned documents as the second largest existing
Fort in the island and showcases not only Jaffna's importance to
Europeans, but its significance throughout the island's history.
Perusing the expenses to be incurred for what is termed the
"Conservation and restoration of the ancient Jaffna Fort, a parsimonious
reader will begin to think that the State is overdoing it.
Here are the staggering figures - total budget Rs. 104.5 million,
budget for 2010 - 33 million. But wait. All that is not our money. There
is a donor, i.e., the Govt. of the Netherlands. Donor gives 62.1 million
for the total funding and 19 million for the 2010 funding.
Concept of mutual heritage/dual heritage
After clean-up of vegetation in the rampart
Inside the Fort
Queen's House inside the Fort
Anyway for the critics the Cultural Ministry in an elaborate document
presents this shield under the title, 'Concept of Mutual Heritage/Dual
Parentage'. That however may not make very pleasant reading to those who
beat the drum of hatred against the imperialists refusing to accept that
stage of history as perhaps inevitably arising out of Western dominance
in that era (all sins of arrogance and trespassing forgotten in the
bloated sense of power).
Concept of Mutual Heritage/Dual Parentage
i) The heritage that resulted in the three hundred years after 1500s,
when the major nationals in Europe overflowed their boundaries and went
in both East and West directions of the globe are referred to as Mutual
Heritage or Dual Parentage. It relates to two or more cultures or
cultural traditions for which two or more countries and regions bear a
responsibility for recognition, preservation and protection of this
ii) The built heritage, in particular, which results from historic
cross-fertilisation between different human population (in this case,
the Europeans and the Sri Lankans) on the one hand and the environment
(in this case, the local conditions - available materials, prevailing
technology etc.) provide cultural identity and diversity, not only for
the two or more cultures or cultural traditions, but also in regional
and inter-regional context. Although colonial in context, the design
characteristics of the built heritage resulting from this phenomenon,
therefore, offers various and definitive meanings, that anchors it in
the landscape where it is built.
iii) In such a context, Jaffna's Fort and associated built heritage,
therefore, beyond its role as a mere historical document, embody the
values related to the culture of Sri Lanka's colonial past.
Although the basic designs for the fort were prepared by Dutch
professionals overseas, final designs were modified based on the local
conditions and also constructed by utilising local craftsmen using
locally available material and prevailing technology.
Objectives of the project are given as:
i) The primary objective of this project is to preserve Jaffna's
ancient fort and its associated built heritage by arresting all factors
(human, physical, botanical, climatic etc.) that would affect the
authenticity and integrity of this heritage property.
ii) The Jaffna Fort and associted built heritage, due to its
significant heritage values, if preserved and presented in a
professional manurer, also has a great potential to be the major tourist
attraction of the region.
iii) Apart from offering the tourists to appreciate its heritage
values related to military design, town planning, historic,
architecture, its physical elements could be used through adaptive
re-use to promote not only cultural tourism in the region, but also
To put "First things last" some basic facts about the Jaffna Fort
will be given especially as they are interesting in the context of all
that recent grisly melodrama the Jaffan peninsula. Fort was built circa
1619 that corresponded with the years of entrenching Portuguese power in
this peninsula. It was not built out of dire military necessity, but
setting up garrisoned Forts was the norm in this empire as a basic
component of its defence.
So in 1619, the Council of Goa had authorised Phillippe de Oliveyra
to erect: a fort at the best site and port in Jaffna. (Quote Jaffna
under the Portuguese by Tikiri Abeysinghe). Work began earnestly in 1625
to ward off attacks from Senarat's Kandyan Kingdom with their plans to
turn Jaffna into a vassal State of Kandy to be ruled by the king's sons.
Other than these plans the Jaffna fort was not considered much of a
necessity going by the opinions of contemporary administrators. Olviera,
man mostly behind the Portuguese conquest of Jaffna considered the
Jaffna man as generally passive. "Fraco" is the Portuguese word used.
His successor Seixas found the Jaffna man "Quiet and mild without any
military training and therefore unlikely to rebel unless instigated by
outsiders". Tikiri Abeysinghe writes." The result of this assessment was
that in Jaffna fortification was begun later, proceeded more slowly and
when it was completed, Jaffna, for its population and area had fewer
forts than in other areas".
The only other fort in the North was at Kayts which was later
demolished. These observations by O.M.Da Silva in "Fidalgos in the
Kingdom of Jaffnapatnam" too are worthy quoting.
"In Jaffna, the military complexion of the administration was
gradually fading in that the peninsula was peaceful and docile except
for the brief turbulence with the Kandyan invasions".
In the late 20th and early 21st century, the Jaffna peninsula was
noted all over the world as the most equipped gunpowder storehouse, but
just read this as regards the gunpowder situation of Jaffna in the early
"Gunpowder making (in Jaffna factory) was discontinued as production
costs were too high. So gunpowder was obtained from Colombo factory and
spoilt stocks were sent there for remaking".
This fort was expanded during the Dutch period. Hence the Netherlands
The byline for the article on 'In search of a new constittion' by
M.A.Q.M. Ghazzali in the Sunday Observer on May 23 had been
inadvertently stated as M.A.Q.M. Ghasszli and, his designation should
have read as Advocate of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka and not former