As a youth in the late 70s, Bob Simpson chose the drumming community here in Sri Lanka for his doctoral thesis. Currently a Visiting Professor in bioethics at the Colombo Medical Faculty, he laments the death of a healing, living tradition while recalling the past with Kumudini Hettiarachchi
The Kaffirs, Sri Lankan African descendants, were brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, as a part of the naval force and for domestic work. Portuguese seafarers carried the first kaffirs to what was then Ceylon in the 1500s, most likely from Mozambique. Later, British colonists brought others to fight against Ceylonese armies in « kaffir regiments. »
Kaffirs are very similar to the African populations in Iraq, Iran and Kuwait, and known in Pakistan as Sheedis and India as Siddis. The Siddis, Sheedis and Kaffirs don’t know about each other, and only a few of their educated countrymen know who they are or where they came from. But even in a part of the world where most people have dark skin, these South Asian Africans stand out.
In addition to physical features — some Sri Lankan kaffirs wear braids or Afro hairstyles and have retained remnants of their African heritage in dance, music & speech. In Sri Lanka, the several hundred kaffirs live among the palm trees around Puttalam on the northwest coast and near the eastern city of Batticaloa. Most of them are Catholics (« kaffir » is an Arabic word that denotes someone who is not a Muslim).
The Kaffirs are mainly chena cultivators but a few have found employment in the Puttalam Salt Pans, the Puttalam hospital and in local government offices as peons and labourers. Although they have withstood cultural pressures from the other ethnic groups for a long period, they are now blending into multiethnic Sri Lanka due to cross-cultural marriages. Not surprisingly, there was intermarriage between the Portuguese Burghers and Kaffirs who belonged to the same culture set ; they spoke Sri Lanka Portuguese Creole and were Roman Catholics.
There seems to be only a few thousand of these Kaffirs in Sri Lanka but they represent the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to the island within the past several hundred years. These Blacks have distinct recollections of Africa.
An insightful video ‘Kaffir culture, written and produced by Kannan Arunasalam, portraits one of such community of Kaffirs and their struggle to keep their culture alive in the face of falling numbers.
source: http://www.lankalibrary.com/cul/kaffirs.htm and