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this website was created on 26th of July 2018

 

170 Years ago ...

MATALE REBELLION

Ceylon

26 July 1848

 

 

1848 was the year of revolutions.

Across Europe, from Sicily to Saxony, Hungary to Holland, the masses rose in revolt against the established order; and in Kandy, in the centre of Ceylon, the peasants rebelled.

 

Sri Lankans are strong and determined. During colonial rule, there were many who bravely defended the country and her people. Featured are the stories of some of our National Heroes from the 19th Century who had stood up against colonial powers before the island gained Independence.

 

 

Wariyapola Sri Sumangala Thero

On the day the Kandyan Convention was to be signed in 1815, the Union Jack (UK flag) had been hoisted. Seeing this, Wariyapola Sri Sumangala Thero had taken down the Union Jack and hoisted the ‘Lion Flag'. He said until the convention was signed, the country belonged to Sri Lankans. Later in 1817, the Thero supported the Uva-Wellassa rebellion against the British. He took the Sacred Tooth Relic, the symbol of the right to rule the island, and gave it to the leader of the rebellion Monarawila Keppetipola Disawe.

 

 

Monarawila Keppetipola Disawe

In 1817 Monarawila Keppetipola Disawe was sent to defeat rebellions against the British in Uva. But when he met the Sri Lankans rebelling against the Empire, Keppetipola Disawe joined them and led the Uva-Wellassa rebellion. As civilians faced great hardships under British Martial Law, the rebellion disbanded. Keppetipola Disawe was caught and executed at the Bogambara prison in 1818. His skull was sent to England. Declared a hero, the skull was returned to the island in 1954.

 

 

 

 

 

Weera Puran Appu

He was a charismatic hero and one of the leaders of the Rebellion of 1848 in Matale against the British, during the peak of the Empire. Despite a successful raid in Matale, the rebellion was defeated. Weera Puran Appu was arrested and found guilty of waging war against HRH Queen Victoria. He was executed on the banks of the Bogambara Wewa.

Between the years of 1842 and 1844, he became famous as a fearless person in the Uva province.

Along the years that passed, he got into another brawl with a British official over his treatment of the poor. He appealed on behalf of a poor villager to a Police Magistrate named Dawson of Badulla, who, however, rejected his petition. In outraged vengeance, Puran Appu broke into the House of Magistrate Dawson and was eventually imprisoned. However, he staged a dramatic escape and along with himself he had released all of the other prisoners too. He was subsequently caught again and yet again he had escaped. This time the government branded him an ‘escaped convict’ and proclaimed him an ‘outlaw’.

It was at this point of his career that he led a band of outlaws and initiated a reign of terror against English planters and officials in Uva, much to the delight of the people. His daring exploits against the white men soon made him a legendary hero in the tradition of Robin Hood and Wat Tyler.

He was now convinced of the necessity to free the country from the British Rule in order to liberate the people from the hardships and humiliations that they suffered under the foreign invasion. With this end in view, he conferred with the Sangha of Mahiyangana and Muthiyangana who pledged him their support in 1845.

On the 1st of January 1847, a gazette notification was published by the Colonial Secretary, Sir James Emerson Tennent with a reward on his head and a description of him as:

“Perangappo originally of Morotto | lately of Kandy| caste – unknown | trade – fisher| aged 34 years | height 5ft 71/2 inches | hair – long and black | eyes – light hazel | complexion – light | well looking | make – well made, stout, marks of punishment on the back and 4 vaccination marks”

Early in the same year 1847, he met and married a girl from the highlands named Bandara Menike, the daughter of Gunnepana Arachchi from Harispattuwa in Kandy and they had a daughter named Siribara Menike.

By the time Puran Appu came to Kandy, the Kandyan province had been in a state of mayhem. By now, the province had been under British rule for 32 years. An economic depression in the United Kingdom was severely affecting the local coffee and cinnamon industry. Planters and merchants hollered for a reduction of the already existing export duties. Instead a new proposal was accepted to radically shift from indirect taxation to direct taxation. It was decided to eradicate the export duty on coffee and reduce the export duty on cinnamon leaving a budget deficit which was to be met by direct taxes on the people.

On the 1st of July, 1848, under the governance of Lord Torrington, a new and inexperienced governor, new taxes were imposed on guns, dogs, bullock carts, carriages, shops, verandahs, boats and labour was made compulsory on plantations roads, unless a special tax was paid. The most hated of all taxes was the road or poll tax. Even Buddhist monks were not exempted from the road tax. These taxes fell heavily upon the Kandyan villagers as it affected not only on the purse but also on the traditions. The headman of the time was told by Sir Tennent:

“Pay two and six and keep a gun or be flogged”

Amidst the turmoil, a mass movement against the oppressive taxes was developing. The masses were without the leadership of their native King (The last Kandyan King – Sri Vikrama Rajasinha who was deposed in 1815 by the Kandyan Convention) or their chiefs (A high-ranking official under the last kandyan king – Keppetipola Disawe) who were beheaded after the Uva Rebellion.

Hence, the leadership in the Kandyan provinces passed for the first time into the hands of ordinary people.

After three weeks of preparation in the early hours of 28th July 1848, a crowd of eight to ten thousand men under Puran Appu’s leadership armed with guns, spears and knives set off for Kandy from Dambulla – where the consecration ceremony had taken place. The rebellion was led by leaders such as Gongalegoda Banda, Dines, Dingi Rala and Puran Appu who were supported by the people and the village headmen of Matale. The plan was for Puran Appu, Gongalagoda Banda and Dingirala to disperse into three different directions and then meet at Katugastota to proceed and attack Kandy on Sunday, 30th of July.

 

YE-VeeraPura

 

But, before they reached Kandy, Puran Appu’s army first attacked the British Fort – Fort McDowell in Matale. They attacked government buildings including the Matale Kachcheri and destroyed some of the tax records. Simultaneously, Dingi Rala instigated attacks in Kurunegala, where eight people were shot dead by the British army and Dingi rala was captured & hanged. However, Puran Appu was successful in capturing Matale and the people in another demonstration of popular fervor, proclaimed him as King of Kandy

Sadly, his success was short-lived.

On 29 July 1848, Martial Law was declared in Kandy. Half-way between Matale and Kandy, the Sinhala forces, depleted by desertions and their movements betrayed by traitors for rewards, were intercepted by the British troops and attacked the rebels’ stronghold on the Wariyapola Estate, massacring the ill-trained army and subsequently recaptured and occupied Matale’s administrative centre.

 

A stone memorial “The rebels were dispersed here” stands on the Matale-Kandy road till this day.

Lillie Monument On the Road Side

Lillie Monument

CARVING READS:

WARIYAPOLA
REBELS
DISPERSED HERE
BY TROOPS UNDER
CAPT LILLIE C.R.R.
29 JULY 1848

 

Puran Appu himself was captured on his way and taken to Kandy, while Gongalegoda Banda and his elder brother Dines had escaped and gone into hiding. With the capture of Puran Appu, the Rebellion fizzled out.

He was brought before the Court Martial and was found guilty of having waged war against H.M. Queen Victoria and was condemned to be shot.

On 8th of August 1848, on the banks of Bogambara Wewa, Veera Puran Appu bravely faced his execution by the British Rifle-Squad. Breathing his rebelliousness to the last, he paid the supreme sacrifice for his country and his people.

YE-Bogambara Wewa

Bogambara Wewa – Ceylon Days

Puran Appu was a leader who stood up against the might of the British Empire. He proved that the unity of our people along with proper and courageous leadership would be the basis to face any crisis.

Soon, a warrant was issued on Gongalegoda Banda for his arrest and a reward of 150 pounds to be given to anyone who gave information of his whereabouts. On 21 September 1848, Gongalegoda Banda was captured by the British and banished to Malacca (now Malaysia) where he had died in December 1849.

* * *

The best tribute to Puran Appu was paid by his enemies.

Governor Torrington wrote to the Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey, around a year later in 1849 as below:

“I remind you of the last words of Puran Appu. He held up his hand and said, ‘if there had been half a dozen such men as me to lead there would not be a white man living in the Kandyan Provinces’.

This is true.

If there had been such leaders, without doubt for a time we should have lost the country.”

(The original letter is still available to be seen at Durham University – England and a copy at the National Archives in Sri Lanka & the Museum set up at Wesleyan school in Moratuwa)

* * *

James De Alwis wrote in 1876 in the ‘Ceylon Over-land Examiner’ that Puran Appu was of a Karava Caste who had “a bold and daring disposition combined with a strong and healthy constitution.”

The Later Years:

The events of 1848 had its sequel in the British House of Commons

Subsequent to assassination of Puran Appu, British rulers had taken measures to grant several concessions to people. Thereafter, the attitude and the cruel dictatorship of the British in Ceylon gradually took a different turn and changed to a government more favorable to the public.

The change was due to the dedication and sacrifice of Veera Puran Appu. Repression gave way to welfare schemes and 100 years later Ceylon attained full independence and went on to become Sri Lanka!

That is why the name of Veera Puran Appu, a heroic son of Mother Sri Lanka is enduring to this date.

The entire Nation salutes Veera Puran Appu!

 

 

Gongalegoda Banda

Gongalegoda led the protest rally against taxation by the British in Kandy. He was crowned as Sri Wickrama Siddapi at the Dambulla Viharaya, leading to the 1848 Rebellion. He led his troops from Dambulla through Matale, where they seized Fort MacDowell and destroyed the tax records at the Kachcheri. Betrayed, Gongalegoda Banda was arrested and found guilty of treason for declaring himself king. He was exiled to Malacca.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colonial period

 

1. Indo-Europeans migrated to the island called Lanka (Ceylon) at the end of the Fifth Century B.C. and introduced the iron plough and thus imposed the Asiatic mode of production. Therefore the most significant socio-economic transformation which occurred during the twenty-five centuries of known history of the island was the emergence of the capitalist socio-economic formation based on a capitalist production system.

2. In Sri Lanka the capitalist system did not emerge as in Europe. It was superimposed on the old Asiatic production system by European imperialists who grabbed political power.

3. No decisive change affected the Lankan Asiatic production system or socio-economic structure when the Portuguese discovered the sea route to the East and occupied the pre-capitalist kingdoms there with the force of their armada which became a revolutionary factor in the Indian Ocean: the Portuguese looted the resources of the Maritime Provinces for one and a half centuries.

4. During the middle of the 17th century the Dutch commercialists – the winners of the first capitalist revolution in Europe – grabbed the Maritime Provinces from the Portuguese colonialists and ruled them for one and a half centuries. Even though they planted a few seeds of capitalism such as trade and salaries etc., and resorted to exploiting the island by imposing taxes and collecting commercial crops, there was no decisive change in the local Asiatic mode of production or the Sri Lankan socio-economic structure.

5. As a step in the great counter-revolutionary process taken against the French capitalist-democratic revolution, the British imperialists acquired this strategically important colony for themselves by way of the Amiens Agreement of 1802. Later they manipulated the political crisis, created by dissension among the aristocrats who controlled the Kandyan kingdom, to successfully invade and occupy it in 1815. It was during their period of colonial exploitation, extending for more than a century and a half, that a capitalist mode of production emerged artificially under their pioneership and guidance.

6. Sri Lanka, which had broken into several small states, was for the first time since the 13th century united by the Crown of the British capitalist class. It was part of “the Empire upon which the sun never sets", the most powerful empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which acquired four-fifths of the whole world under its yoke.

7. The British imperialists, who turned the whole island into a single colony, had to resort to various repressive measures to protect its strategically important colony. In the process they were compelled by historical conditions to destroy the political, economic and social power of the social class which had ruled the old Asiatic society.

After destroying by force of arms the great rebellion of 1818, ushered in by the social strata which had lost their privileges and power as a result of the 1815 Kandyan Convention, the Colonial Government of the British imperialists took several decisive steps. These were, namely, the execution of a group of aristocrats (including Keppetipola), exile of another group of aristocrats headed by Ehelepola, exercising distrust by the imperialist bureaucracy towards the remaining lords, seizure of the power and privileges still retained by the aristocrats under the 1815 Convention through the gazette notification dated 21st November 1818, bringing the Kandyan administration directly under the British bureaucracy, and finally the confiscation of the property of certain aristocratic lords.

These measures, together with other steps taken against the strata of society which held privileges under the old social order after the incidents of 1820, 1837, and 1849, caused the downfall of the old Asiatic social structure. Governors North and Maitland had taken severe steps against low-country aristocrats after the pitiless suppression of the low-country rebellion of 1797. Thereafter, some aristocrats in up-country as well as low-country collaborated with the imperialists in order to protect their property. The local capitalist class emerged out of this group.

8. The necessary structural basis for the capitalist development of Sri Lanka was laid down by the implementation in 1832-33 of the reforms of the Colebrook-Cameron Commission. This Commission was comprised of representatives of the British liberal bourgeoisie, appointed in 1829 by the Imperial Government with a view to exploring ways and means of exploiting this strategically very important colony to the maximum. Accordingly the recommendations of this Commission opened the door for labour and social mobility without any discrimination. For the first time since the 13th century the whole country was united under an administration united in Colombo. This process occurred here even before European nations such as Italy and Germany had achieved these targets.

The British capitalist class established a capitalist hegemony and created the bourgeois national state, then managed to impose the capitalist superstructure over the colony. In this manner the whole population, without any discrimination of caste or ethnicity, was brought under bourgeois law, while the whole island was covered by a single judiciary system and legal procedure, to be managed by a new bourgeois Supreme Court. The British capitalist class made this colony their investing ground and established a Legislative Council to ensure an opportunity for them to satisfy their class needs. English was made the official language, and the number of English schools increased.

By this time the British bourgeoisie had, by carrying through the Industrial Revolution, become the first industrial capitalist class in the world. According to the Colebrook-Cameron proposals a Royal decree was proclaimed on 12th April 1832 by which the Rajakari system of obligatory labour to the state was abolished. By this decree labour which had been tied down to the land and which obstructed the development of capitalism, was released, enabling the setting up of a labour market.

At that time hereditary servitude had not been done away with even in European countries like Russia. Furthermore, the state monopoly that was in old Asiatic system in trade and agriculture was abolished in order to make way for the development of a free market economy. Capitalist development was promoted by converting lands into a commodity. The Colebrook-Cameron reforms opened the door for competitive free capitalist enterprise, and effected essential structural reforms conducive to capitalist development in Sri Lanka. This is how the road for the development of capitalism was built in Sri Lanka.

9. The infrastructure essential for the development of a capitalist mode of production was provided by the British colonial government. After the suppression of the 1818 uprising, the government started building roads in the up-country for military reasons. Governor Edward Barnes utilised the existing Rajakari system to build roads as early as 1820. With the expansion of the colonial estate plantations such road-building continued extensively, while railways, post and telegraph were also speedily developed with capital borne by the government. This extensive infrastructural development undertaken by the colonial government became a boon to capitalist progress in Sri Lanka.

10. The real capitalist development phase in Sri Lanka started with the introduction of coffee plantations in the first quarter of the 19th century. The essential pre-condition for this, i.e. the accumulation of primary capital, was achieved by the British imperialists during their colonial state-power. The basis for coffee plantation was prepared through various bills like the Waste Lands Ordinance and the Temple Lands Ordinance, by imposing extensive taxes and grabbing land belonging to up-country villagers. It was started as a large-scale plantation on capitalist production relations. Since coffee cultivation did not need extensive capital investment, colonial government officials could engage themselves in such ventures.

From the third decade of the 19th century, cheap labour was imported regularly from South India to work on coffee plantations. The growth of capitalist plantations in Sri Lanka was accompanied by the brutal exploitation of these labour-slaves, who were forced to live a life of sorrow and pain amidst disease and death, while thousands perished prematurely. When the slave trade collapsed in the West Indies and Guiana around 1833, Sri Lanka benefited with the coffee plantations achieving instant success. Coffee prices rose by 300 per cent, and the resultant coffee boom attracted British capital exceeding one hundred thousand pounds per year. According to Ferguson's estimates, the entire capital invested until the fall of the coffee plantations was around eight million pounds. Although the profit made by Imperial capitalists from this estate sector has not been properly calculated, Ferguson surmises that, within the first half century alone, they made a profit of at least seventeen million, six hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds. The coffee cultivation which spread across several decades, creating a network of imperialist capitalist production, was unexpectedly affected by a virus epidemic called Hemilia vastratrics until it was completely wiped out towards the latter part of the 19th century. As a result the estate economy had to be replaced with tea plantations.

11. Since tea cultivation required large-scale investment, British monopolistic companies capable of such funding arrived in Sri Lanka. Private estate companies were replaced by the sterling companies based in London and the rupee companies based in Colombo, and estates were increasingly managed by agency houses. Soon the entire hill country became covered by the tea crop, and the capitalist production system prevailed all over the island. During this period the spread of rubber and other commercial crops also acted as a spur to this process. Just as Irish labour together with Dutch capital contributed to the capitalisation of Britain, Sri Lanka benefited from British capital and Indian labour.