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Sinhalese

Sinhalese

ETHNONYMS: Singhlese, Sinhala

Orientation

Identification and Location. The Sinhalese are a people who speak the Sinhala language, live in the southwestern region of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), and are predominantly of the Theravada Buddhist faith. The name derives from a term meaning "dwelling of lions," an allusion to the mythical founder, an Indian princess who mated with a lion. Sri Lanka is located between 5° 55" and 9° 51" N. and 79° 41" and 81° 5.3° E. The Sinalese traditionally lived in the wet zone of the central, southern, and western provinces of Sri Lanka, where they are divided into two regional subgroups: the Kandyan Sinhalese of the central highlands and the Low Country Sinhalese of the maritime provinces. Since the inception of government-sponsored internal colonization projects after 1945, there has been considerable migration to the central and northeastern dry zone.

Demography. In 2001 the population of Sri Lanka was estimated to be 19,408,635. The population density is approximately 97 persons per square mile (252 per square kilometer), and the population is growing 1.8 percent per year. Sinhalese constitute 74 percent of the population of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's principal ethnic minority, the Sri Lanka Tamils, accounts for an additional 18 percent, while the Sri Lanka Moors, a Tamil-speaking Muslim group, constitute 7 percent. Other minorities include small communities of Malays and Europeans.

Linguistic Affiliation. Sinhala is an Indo-European language in the Indo-Aryan group and was brought to Sri Lanka by north Indian settlers in approximately 500 b.c.e.; the first written Sinhala texts appeared in the third century b.c.e. Subsequently, Sinhala evolved in isolation from its north Indian origins but in close proximity with the Dravidian languages of southern India, which gave Sinhala a distinct character as early as the third century b.c.e.

History and Cultural Relations

Dynastic chronicles trace Sinhalese origins to the exile of Prince Vijaya and his five hundred followers from his father's kingdom in north India. According to the chronicles, which portray Sri Lanka as a land destined to preserve Buddhism, Vijaya, the grandson of a Hindu princess and a lion, arrived in Sri Lanka at the moment of the Buddha's death.

However, it is misleading to suppose that a distinct, self-conscious "Sinhala" ethnicity has existed in Sri Lanka for two millennia. Classically, the term Sinhala referred only to the castes regarded as "clean" in the Hindu-influenced social structure of Sinhalese society; the low-ranking service castes were not considered members of this elite group. In the nineteenth century European racialist thought encouraged the extension of the Sinhala category to groups that traditionally were excluded.

Contemporary Sinhalese scholarship makes much of the connection between ancient Sinhalese kingdoms and Theravada Buddhism; in the third century b.c.e. the Sinhalese king converted to that religion, and Sri Lanka soon became a bastion of Buddhism in southern Asia even as that religion all but disappeared from the land of its birth. Today's religious intolerance is of modern origin; in antiquity Sinhalese Buddhist kings tolerated Hinduism and provided financial support for Hindu temples. By the first century b.c.e. a Sinhalese Buddhist civilization based on irrigated rice agriculture arose in the central plains (the dry zone), with capitals at Anuradhapura and Pollunaruva. By the thirteenth century c.e., however, a major civilizational collapse occurred for reasons that are still debated (malaria, internal conflict, and south Indian invasions are possible causes), and the population shifted to the southwest.

At the time of Portuguese contact in 1505 there were two Sinhalese kingdoms: one in the central highlands at Kandy and one along the southwestern coast near Colombo. The Portuguese deposed the southwestern kingdom (but not Kandy) and won converts to Roman Catholicism among the fishing castes along the coastal littoral, but they were driven out of Ceylon by the Dutch in the period 1656-1658. A legacy of those times is the popularity of Portuguese names such as de Silva, Fernando, and de Fonseca among Low Country Sinhalese. The Dutch instituted the Roman-Dutch legal system in the maritime provinces (but not in Kandy, which remained independent) and cash crop plantation agriculture involving coffee, cotton, and tobacco, but few Sinhalese converted to Protestant Christianity. The British took over the island's administration in 1798, brought down the Kandyan kingdom in 1815, and favored the growth of a Europeanowned coffee and tea plantation sector in the central highlands. By the early twentieth century a new elite of English-speaking, largely Low Country Sinhalese rose to prominence in trading, small industry, and coconut and rubber plantation agriculture. In 1932 universal adult suffrage and internal self-rule were granted within a strongly centralized unitary state in which the provinces were given little autonomy.

Without having to fight for its independence, Ceylon was granted freedom in 1948, becoming a constitutional democracy on the Westminster model. After independence the country was governed for eight years by an ostensibly panethnic national party of unity, but in 1956 a Sinhalese populist politician won a landslide victory on a platform that called for making Sinhala the sole official language of government affairs. Tensions rose as Tamils resisted that move, and communal riots occurred in 1958. Sinhalese youths also grew disaffected as the economy stagnated and unemployment mounted in the 1960s. A 1971 insurgency by an ultraleftist Sinhalese youth group called the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (the "People's Liberation Army," or JVP) nearly toppled the government. There were significant Tamil-Sinhalese riots again in 1977, 1981, and 1983; by 1984 a violent Tamil separatist movement led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had all but driven Sinhalese security forces out of the Tamil north and east. In 1987 India sent sixty thousand Indian peacekeeping troops to the Tamil provinces in a failed attempt to impose a solution militarily.

A political solution to the country's continuing conflict would require the Sinhalese-dominated government to depart from the unitary state model and devolve considerable power to the provinces; however, when the ruling Sinhalese political party attempts to do this, its opponents mobilize chauvinistic Buddhist clergy and anti-Tamil sentiment in opposition to devolution, which is seen as tantamount to giving part of a Buddhist island to the Tamils. The result inevitably is that devolution does not occur. By 2001 most observers concluded that the government lacked the political will and resources to solve the problem politically, and so the military conflict has continued; by 2001 an estimated 100,000 Sri Lankans had died in one of the world's most intractable and bloody ethnic conflicts.

Settlements

Only about one in five Sinhalese lives in a city; Sri Lanka is still predominantly a rural country, and its rural-urban balance has not changed significantly. Educational and medical facilities are available in most rural areas, and a very low rate of industrialization gives rural villagers little reason to migrate to the cities. In the traditional "one village, one tank" pattern, the village (gama ) is situated downstream from an artificial reservoir. Ringed around the paddy fields are the traditional two- to four-room houses, each situated in its own garden and separated from the others. Traditional houses are made of mud and plaster and thatched with woven palm fronds. Wealthier villagers construct stucco houses roofed with ceramic tiles.

Economy

Subsistence. Subsistence agriculture supplemented by marginal employment in service-related occupations and government employment characterizes the economic life of most rural Sinhalese villagers. Rice holdings are small and marginally productive. Plowing often is done with water buffalo; tractors are numerous but are more likely to be used for light transportation. Seed is sown and the young shoots are transplanted by hand; harvesting and threshing also are done manually. "Green revolution" hybrids are widely used but are underfertilized. Additional subsistence food crops include fruit (jackfruit, breadfruit, and coconut), vegetables, and manioc, which has become a staple of last resort for the poor. Domestic animals include cattle, buffalo, goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs. A major supplement to the village economy is direct government income for schoolteachers and village officials. Low Country Sinhalese achieved early prominence in coconut, rubber, and low-elevation tea plantation agriculture as well as trade and light mining. Marginal employment is available for many people in tea, rubber, and coconut processing.

Commercial Activities. There is significant nonplantation as well as village-based cash crop activity, especially in the highlands, that produces chilies and other spices, poultry and eggs, goats, honey, herbs employed in Ayurvedic medicine, onions, tomatoes, pulses, cereals, vegetables, marijuana, and potatoes.

Industrial Arts. The classical Sinhalese achieved remarkable feats in irrigation engineering, but the technology was lost after the collapse of the dry zone civilization, and Sinhalese today show little interest in engineering, mathematics, or science, preferring liberal arts subjects. "Hands-on" technical work is stigmatized because of its links to low-caste occupations, serving to inhibit children's hobbies, vocational education, and technological literacy, while Western imports have almost wiped out traditional arts and crafts. Efforts to industrialize the nation have had little success, and the country has had one of the lowest rates of industrial growth in South Asia since independence. Severe and growing unemployment and landlessness, particularly among rural youth, has contributed to the JVP youth militancy.

Trade. Apart from the prevalence of subsistence agriculture, the rural economy is almost completely cash-based, with barter and reciprocity restricted to kin-group transactions. Purchases in village stores place villagers in debt that frequently results in an impecunious farmer becoming little more than a tenant on his own land; village shopowners are thus able to amass large landholdings. Shops in town sell additional consumer items, and weekly village markets provide marginal economic niches for itinerant traders and village cash crop agriculturalists. Transport is provided by bullock carts, tractors pulling flatbed trailers, old automobiles, and light trucks. Internal trade, foreign investment, tourism, and economic growth have been casualties of the Tamil rebellion and the JVP insurgency.

Division of Labor. Traditional Sinhalese society is maledominated and patriarchal, with a strong division of labor by sex and a tendency to stigmatize female roles (women are considered ritually impure at times owing to the "pollution" of puberty, menstruation, and childbirth). Men are responsible for the provision of food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities, and women prepare food and care for children. Traditionally, a family lost status if it permitted its women to engage in extradomestic economic roles such as menial agricultural labor and cash crop marketing. Men and women led separate lives aside from the convergence brought about by their mutual obligations. The entry of women into higher education and the professions is beginning to alter this pattern.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, the descendants of the village founder owned inheritable (but not marketable) shares (panku ) of the village paddy lands. The holdings were adjusted to suit water availability and reduce inequities in water distribution; when holdings were reduced below an economically viable level, a group of villagers moved into the wilderness, constructed a new tank, and founded a new village. British reforms that defined all wilderness as Crown land and eliminated multiple claims to existing plots of land eroded this system, and as land came on the market, a new class of rice land investors (mudalalis ) acquired substantial holdings but left the farming to clients holding the lands through a form of traditional sharecropping tenancy (ande tenure). Population increase has led to severe and growing landlessness.

Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. The largest kin group is the "microcaste" (pavula ), an endogamous and corporate bilateral kin group that represents the convergence of several families' bilateral kindreds. Pavula members share paddy lands, often dwell together in a hamlet, and cooperate in agriculture, trade, and politics. A pavula's members share a unique status within the caste; the group's internal equality is symbolized through life-cycle rites and communal feasts. Descent is fully bilateral in practice, but noncorporate agnatic descent lines linking families with aristocrats of the Buddhist kingdoms may be maintained for status purposes.

Kinship Terminology. The Sinhalese, including Moors, use Dravidian terms that are associated with symmetrical cross-cousin marriage.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Most marriages are arranged between the two families, with a strong preference for cross-cousin marriage. Marriage implies caste equality, but with a double standard: To preserve the status of a pavula, women must marry men of equal or higher status within the caste; men, however, may have sexual relations with women of inferior status without threatening the family's status. Among the Kandyans, who are governed by Kandyan law, polyandry is rare, though villagers say it can be convenient for all concerned. Polygyny is also rare and may amount to no more than the husband's appropriation of sexual services from a low-ranking female servant.

The bride normally comes to live with her husband, and this pattern (deega ) establishes a relationship of mutual aid and equality between the husband and his wife's kin. In the less common binna residence, in contrast, the groom, who is usually landless, goes to live with his wife's parents (matrilocal residence) and must work for his father-in-law. A dowry is rarely paid unless a woman marries a man of higher status within the caste (hypergamy). The marriage may not involve a ceremony if it occurs between equals and within a pavula. Among the Kandyans property is held individually and is not fragmented by the dissolution of a marriage, which is easy and common. Among the Low Country Sinhalese, who are governed by Roman-Dutch law, matrilocal residence is very rare and hypergamy, coupled with the dowry, is more common. After marriage the couple's property is merged, and in consequence the allied families resist the marriage's dissolution.

Domestic Unit. The smallest kin group is the commensal unit or nuclear family: a wife, unmarried children, and a husband. Among traditional Kandyan Sinhalese there may be more than one commensal unit in a house, but each has its own cooking area. Westernized families adopt the European pattern even in complex households.

Inheritance. In sharp contrast to Indian practices, property is divided equally among all the children, including females, although wealthy families control a daughter's property and use it as an instrument of marital alliance; among those families a dowry may be paid instead of an inheritance.

Socialization. There is a strong preference for male children, who may receive better care; the infant mortality rate for girls is higher. Girls are expected to work harder than boys and may be given significant household chores as young as age five or six and may be taken out of school at an early age even though education is compulsory for all children age five to fourteen. Children are cared for by their mother, with whom they sleep except in highly Westernized households. Children are expected to show respect to older people. Curiosity, initiative, and hobbies are not encouraged. Schools repeat this pattern by emphasizing rote instruction and avoiding vocational subjects. Especially among the landed and high castes, the family is strongly authoritarian; deference to one's parents and acceptance of their decisions are required on penalty of excommunication.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The Sinhalese caste system is milder than its Indian counterpart; it lacks Brahmins and the stratifying ideology of Hinduism. Most Sinhalese villages lack caste organizations (panchayats ), which in India punish transgressions of caste; enforcement of caste endogamy is left to families. Because property is inherited bilaterally, however, families have very strong incentives to enforce endogamy (this is one reason for their authoritarian nature).

The Sinhalese ideology of caste is derived from pre-colonial feudalism, in which castes of almost all statuses were granted land contingent on their performing services for the king and the local aristocrats. The highest caste, the agricultural Goyigama, account for about half the population and count among their ancestors the aristocrats of the precolonial kingdoms. Among the Kandyans additional castes include service castes such as the Hena (washers), Berava (drummers), and Navandanna (metalworkers) and the "lowest castes" such as the Rodiya, who were formerly itinerant beggars. Among the Low Country Sinhalese three highly entrepreneurial maritime castes (Karava, Salagama, and Durava) have risen to economic and political prominence in this area, which has long been under European influence. Most Sinhalese continue to see caste as a positive principle of social affiliation but believe that castes should not be ranked or given special privileges. A major consequence of the colonial period was the development of an achievement-oriented national elite based on education and especially knowledge of English. Persons of low caste have won membership in this elite. However, local elites continue to be dominated by members of high castes or locally powerful castes.

Political Organization. Sri Lanka is a parliamentary democracy with a president as the head of state. There is a strong two-party system dominated by the centrist United National Party, which has been in power since 1977, and the center-left Sri Lanka Freedom Party. Both are dominated by Sinhalese politicians and appeal to Sinhalese sentiment.

The Sri Lankan state, an artifact of colonial rule, is excessively centralized and politicized; the provinces are governed by agents appointed by the president, and virtually all servicesroads, railways, education, health services, tax collection, government-owned corporations, and land registry and allocationare administered by centrally controlled ministries. Efforts to devolve power and resources to the provinces, including the Tamil Northern Province and Eastern Province, have been opposed by Sinhalese chauvinists, who see devolution as an erosion of Sinhala sovereignty. Members of parliament select the candidates for government positions, including the lowest menial jobs, on the basis of political loyalty. Politicization has eroded the autonomy of the civil service and the judiciary. The JVP insurgency and its popular support can be seen in part as a broad-based rejection of an unresponsive and corrupt political system.

Social Control. Within the village gossip and ridicule are strong forces for social conformity. The family regulates behavior through the threat of excommunication (deprivation of land and family support in seeking employment). With growing landlessness and unemployment, many families are increasingly unable to deliver on their material promises and the threat of excommunication has become ineffective. The JVP insurgency is in part a rejection of parental authority.

Conflict. Traditionally, violence within families often was a result of long-standing grudges and an obsession with one's "enemies," real or imagined; however, conflict between Tamil and Sinhala speakers was all but unknown until the late nineteenth century. In the interstitial zones between the two populations intermarriage was common. Today's Tamil-Sinhalese conflict is far more attributable to competition for modern state resources than to ancient animosities.

A late nineteenth-century riot occurred between Buddhists and Christians; later clashes pitted Sinhalese against Muslims (1915). After the "Sinhala only" language act of 1956, communal riots involving Tamils and Sinhalese occurred in 1958, 1977, 1981, and 1983. There was an aborted military coup in 1963, and violence often occurs during and after elections. Since the early 1980s, Sri Lankan security forces have attempted to suppress the LTTE through military means; such efforts may succeed in imposing nominal state control of the Tamil-dominated provinces in the north and east, but by 2001 it was widely acknowledged that such efforts could not eradicate the LTTE or reduce its capacity to conduct terrorist suicide bombings, assassinations, and the forced conscription of Tamil youths. Suffering high casualties, the Sri Lankan security forces, which are drawn mostly from the Sinhalese rural poor, are widely regarded as poorly disciplined and liable to desertion.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Almost all major world religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, are practiced in Sri Lanka, but Buddhism has received special state protection under national constitutions since 1973. Nearly wiped out by Christian conversions and neglect in the late nineteenth century, Buddhism was revived by reformers who borrowed techniques of proselytization and political activity from Christian missionaries and in so doing altered Buddhism by expanding the role of the laity and emphasizing a rigid morality.

More than 70 percent of Sinhalese are Theravada Buddhists, but there are substantial and largely non-Goyigama Roman Catholic communities in the maritime provinces. Often thought by foreign observers to contradict Buddhist teachings, the worship of Hindu gods in their temples (devale ) meets religious needs that bhikkus (Buddhist monks) cannot address, and the pantheon's structure symbolically expresses the pattern of traditional political authority. At the lower end of the pantheon are demons and spirits that cause illness and must be exorcised.

Religious Practitioners. In Theravada Buddhism a true Buddhista bhikkuis one who has renounced all worldly attachments and follows in the Buddha's footsteps, depending on alms for subsistence. However, few Sinhalese become bhikkus, who number approximately twenty thousand. Buddhist monastic organizations are known collectively as the sangha, which is fragmented into three sects (nikayas ); most bhikkus live in the sect's temple/residence complexes (viharas ). The largest and wealthiest sect, the Siyam Nikaya, is rooted in the precolonial Kandyan political order and is still limited in practice to Goyigama aspirants. The smaller Amapura Nikaya emerged from the nineteenth-century social mobility of the Karava, Salagama, and Durava castes of the maritime provinces. The smallest sect, the Ramanya Nikaya, is a reform community. Traditionally, the sangha was interdependent with Sinhalese kingly authority, which both depended on and supported the monastic orders, which in turn grew wealthy from huge land grants. The veneration of the famed Tooth Relic (a purported tooth of the Buddha) at Kandy was vital to the legitimacy of the Kandyan king. Bhikkus continue their tradition of political action and are influential in right-wing chauvinist organizations. At village temples of the gods (bandaras and devas ) nonbhikku priests called kapuralas meet the needs of villagers in this life.

Ceremonies. Holidays include the Buddhist New Year in April, Wesak in May, the anniversaries of the birth, death, and enlightenment of the Buddha, the annual procession (perahera ) of the Tooth Relic at Kandy in August, and the Kataragama fire-walking pilgrimage in August.

Arts. Classical Sinhalese civilization excelled in Buddhist architecture, temple and cave frescoes, and large-scale sculpture. In colonial times artisans, few in number by 2001, produced fine ivory carvings, metalwork, and jewelry. A mid-twentieth-century school of Sinhalese painting called the Forty-Three Group sparked a renaissance of Sinhalese art that was expressed in a traditional idiom in the temple paintings of George Keyt. A twentieth-century tradition of Sinhalese fiction and poetry has attracted international scholarly attention. A government-assisted Sinhala film industry produces many popular films, and a few of those movies have won international awards.

Medicine. The Indian-derived traditional sciences of Ayurveda (herbal medicine) and astrology, taught and elaborated at Buddhist schools (piravena ) and practiced by village specialists, provide a comprehensive traditional explanation of health and illness.

Death and Afterlife. The possibility of enlightenment and freedom from rebirth is restricted to those who have withdrawn from the world; a layperson hopes for a more advantageous rebirth based on a positive balance of bad and good acts (karma ) and performs meritorious acts (such as supporting the sangha) toward that end. In popular belief a person who dies without fulfilling cherished dreams may become a spirit and vex the living. Except among Christians, the dead are cremated.

For the original article on Sinhalese, see Volume 3, South Asia.

Bibliography

Bartholomeusz, Tessa, and C. R. de Silva, editors (1998). Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gombrich, Richard F. (1971). Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Highlands of Ceylon. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

Gunawardana, R. A. L. H. (1979). "The People of the Lion: The Sinhala Identity and Ideology in History and Historiography," Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities 5: 1-36.

Kemper, Steven (1992). The Presence of the Past: Chronicles, Politics, and Culture in Sinhala Life. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Roberts, Michael (1982). Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, A. Jeyaratnam (1988). The Break-Up of Sri Lanka: The Sinhalese-Tamil Conflict. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Yalman, Nur (1967). Under the Bo Tree: Studies in Caste, Kinship, and Marriage in the Interior of Ceylon. Berkeley: University of California Press.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER

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Sinhalese

Sinhalese

ETHNONYMS: Singhlese, Sinhala


Orientation

Identification. The Sinhalese speak the Sinhala language, live in the southwestern portion of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) , and are predominantly of the Theravada Buddhist faith. The name derives from the term for "dwelling of lions," an allusion to the mythical founder, an Indian princess who mated with a lion.

Location. Sri Lanka is located between 5°55 and 9°51 N and 79°41 and 81°5.3 E. Sinhalese traditionally make their homes in the wet zone of the central, south, and west Provinces of Sri Lanka, where they are divided into two regional subgroups, the Kandyan Sinhalese of the central highlands, and the Low Country Sinhalese of the maritime provinces. With the rise of government-sponsored internal colonization projects after 1945, considerable internal migration has occurred to the central and northeastern dry zone.

Demography. In 1989 the population of Sri Lanka was estimated as 17,541,000. The population density averages approximately 252 persons per square kilometer and the Population is growing at the rate of 1.8 percent per year. Sinhalese constitute 75 percent of the population of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's principal ethnic minority, the Sri Lanka Tamils, comprise an additional 11 percent, while the Sri Lanka Moors, a Tamil-speaking Muslim group, constitute 6.5 percent. Other minorities include the so-called Indian Tamils, descendants of tea plantation workers imported by the British, who comprise 8 percent, and small communities of Malays and Europeans.

Linguistic Affiliation. Sinhala is an Indo-European Language of the Indo-Aryan Group and was brought to Sri Lanka by North Indian settlers in approximately 500 b.c. subsequently Sinhala evolved in isolation from its North Indian origins but in close proximity with the Dravidian tongues of southern India, which gave it a distinct character as early as the third century b.c.

History and Cultural Relations

Sinhalese dynastic chronicles trace their origins to the exile of Prince Vijaya and his 500 followers from his father's kingdom in north India. According to the chronicles, which portray Sri Lanka as a land destined to preserve Buddhism, Vijaya (the grandson of a Hindu princess and a lion) arrived in Sri Lanka at the moment of the Buddha's death. In the third century b.c., the Sinhalese king converted to Buddhism. By the first century b.c. a Sinhalese Buddhist civilization, based on irrigated rice agriculture, arose in the dry zone, with capitals at Anuradhapura and Pollunaruva. By the thirteenth century a.d., however, a major civilizational collapse occurred for reasons that are still debated (malaria, internal conflict, and South Indian invasions are possible causes), and the population shifted to the southwest. At the time of first European contact in 1505 there were two Sinhalese kingdoms, one in the central highlands at Kandy and one along the Southwestern coast near Colombo. The Portuguese deposed the southwestern kingdom (but not Kandy) and won converts to Roman Catholicism among fishing castes along the coastal littoral, but they were driven out of Ceylon by the Dutch in 1656-1658. A legacy of Portuguese times is the popularity of Portuguese names such as de Silva, Fernando, and de Fonseca among Low Country Sinhalese. The Dutch instituted the Roman-Dutch legal system in the maritime provinces (but not Kandy, which remained independent) and cashcrop plantation agriculture, including coffee, cotton, and tobacco, but few Sinhalese converted to Protestant Christianity. The British took over the island's administration in 1798, brought down the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815, and favored the growth of a European-owned coffee and tea plantation sector in the central highlands. By the early twentieth century a new elite of English-speaking, largely Low Country Sinhalese rose to prominence in trading, petty industry, and coconut and rubber plantation agriculture. In 1932, universal adult suffrage and internal self-rule were granted. Without having to fight for its independence, Ceylon was granted Freedom in 1948 becoming a constitutional democracy on the Westminster model. The country was governed for eight years by an ostensibly panethnic national party of unity, but in 1956 a Sinhalese populist politician won a landslide victory on a platform to make Sinhala the sole official language of government affairs. Tensions rose as Tamils resisted this move, and communal riots occurred in 1958. Sinhalese youths also grew disaffected as the economy stagnated and unemployment mounted in the 1960s. A 1971 insurgency by an ultraleftist Sinhalese youth group called the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (the "People's Liberation Army," or JVP) nearly toppled the government. There were significant Tamil-Sinhalese riots again in 1977, 1981, and 1983; by 1984 a violent Tamil separatist movement had all but driven Sinhalese security forces out of the Tamil north and east; a 1987 accord with India brought 60,000 Indian peacekeeping troops to the Tamil provinces but set off a violent antigovernment campaign by the JVP, which now articulates right-wing Sinhala-chauvinist ideology in addition to its ultraleftist doctrine. More than 17,000 Sri Lankans have died in communal and political violence since 1977.


Settlements

Only about one of five Sinhalese lives in a city; Sri Lanka is still predominantly rural country, andunlike most Third World countriesits rural-urban balance has not changed significantly in this century. Educational and medical facilities are available in most rural areas and a very low rate of industrialization gives rural villagers little reason to migrate to the cities. In the traditional "one village, one tank" pattern, the village (gama ) is situated downstream from an artificial reservoir. Ringed around the paddy fields are the traditional two-to four-room houses, each situated in its own garden and separated from others. Traditional houses are made of mud and plaster and thatched with woven palm fronds. Wealthier villagers construct stucco houses roofed with ceramic tiles.


Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence agriculture, supplemented by marginal employment in service-related occupations and government employment, characterizes the economic life of most rural Sinhalese villagers. Rice holdings are small and marginally economic at best. Plowing is often done with water buffalo; tractors are numerous but more often used for light transport. Seed is sown and the young shoots are transplanted by hand; harvesting and threshing are also done manually. "Green revolution" hybrids are widely used but are underfertilized. Additional subsistence food crops include fruit (jackfruit, breadfruit, and coconut) , vegetables, and manioc, which has become a significant staple-of-last-recourse for the poor. Domestic animals include cattle, buffalo, goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs. There is significant nonplantation, as well as village-based cashcrop activity, especially in the highlands, that produces chilies and other spices, poultry and eggs, goats, honey, herbs employed in Ayurvedic medicine, onions, tomatoes, pulses, cereals, vegetables, ganja (marijuana), and potatoes. A major supplement to the village economy is direct government income for schoolteachers and village officials. Low Country Sinhalese achieved early prominence in coconut, rubber, and low-elevation tea plantation agriculture as well as trade and light mining. Marginal employment is available for many in tea, rubber, and coconut processing.

Industrial Arts. The classical Sinhalese achieved remarkable feats in irrigation engineering, but the technology was lost in the collapse of the dry zone civilizations and Sinhalese today show little interest in engineering, mathematics, or Science, preferring liberal arts subjects. "Hands-on" technical work is stigmatized by linkages to low-caste occupations, serving to inhibit children's hobbies, vocational education, and technological literacy, while Western imports have all but wiped out traditional arts and crafts. Efforts to industrialize Sri Lanka have met with little success, and the country shows one of the lowest rates of industrial growth of any South Asian country since its independence. Severe and growing unemployment and landlessness, particularly among rural youth, has contributed to the JVP youth militancy.

Trade. Apart from the prevalence of subsistence agriculture, the Sri Lankan rural economy is almost completely cashbased, with barter and reciprocity restricted to kin-group transactions. Village boutiques involve villagers in debt that frequently results in an impecunious farmer becoming little more than a tenant on his own land; village shopowners are thus able to amass large landholdings. Shops in town sell additional consumer items, and weekly village markets provide marginal economic niches for itinerant traders and Village cash-crop agriculturalists. Transport is provided by bullock carts, tractors pulling flatbed trailers, old automobiles, and light trucks. Internal trade, foreign investment, tourism, and economic growth are all casualties of the Tamil rebellion and the JVP insurgency.

Division of Labor. Traditional Sinhalese society is male-dominated and patriarchal, with a strong division of labor by sex and a tendency to stigmatize female roles (women are considered to be ritually impure at times owing to the "pollution" of puberty, childbirth, and menstruation). Men are responsible for the provision of food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities, while women prepare food and care for Children. Traditionally, a family lost status if it permitted its women to engage in extradomestic economic roles, such as menial agricultural labor or cash-crop marketing. Men and women led separate lives aside from the convergence brought about by their mutual obligations. The entry of women into higher education and the professions is beginning to alter this pattern.


Land Tenure. Traditionally the descendants of the village founder owned inheritable (but not marketable) shares (panku ) of the village paddy lands. The actual holdings were sensitively adjusted to suit water availability and to reduce inequities in water distribution; when holdings were reduced below the economic level, a group of villagers hived off into the wilderness, constructed a new tank, and founded a new village. British reforms that defined all wilderness as Crown land and eliminated multiple claims to existing plots of land seriously eroded this system and, as land came on the market, a new class of rice land investors (called mudalalis ) acquired substantial holdings but left the farming to clients holding the lands by a form of traditional sharecropping tenancy (ande tenure). Population increase has led to severe and still growing landlessness.


Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. The largest kin group is the "microcaste" (pavula ), an endogamous and corporate bilateral kin group that represents the convergence of several families' bilateral kindreds. Pavula members share paddy lands, often dwell together in a hamlet, and cooperate in agriculture, trade, and politics. A pavula's members share a unique status within the caste; the group's internal equality is symbolized through life-cycle rites and communal feasts. Descent is fully bilateral in practice, but noncorporate agnatic descent lines linking families with aristocrats of the Buddhist Kingdoms may be maintained for status purposes.


Kinship Terminology. The Sinhalese, including Moors, use Dravidian terms, which are associated with symmetrical cross-cousin marriage.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Most marriages are arranged between the two families, with a strong preference for cross-cousin marriage. Marriage implies caste equality, but with a double standard: to preserve the status of a microcaste (pavula), women must marry men of equal or higher status within the caste; men, however, may have sexual relations with women of inferior status without threatening their family's status. Among the Kandyans, who are governed by Kandyan law, polyandry is rare, though villagers say it can be convenient for all Concerned. Polygyny is also rare and may amount to no more than the husband's appropriation of sexual services from a low-ranking female servant. The bride normally comes to live with her husband, and this pattern (called deega ) establishes a relationship of mutual aid and equality between the husband and his wife's kin. In the less common binna residence, in contrast, the groomwho is usually landlessgoes to live with his wife's parents (matrilocal residence) and must work for his father-in-law. Dowry is rarely paid unless a woman marries a man of higher status within the caste (hypergamy). The marriage may not involve a ceremony if it occurs between equals and within a pavula. Among the Kandyans, property is held individually and is not fragmented by the dissolution of marriage, which is easy and common. Among the Low Country Sinhalese, who are governed by Roman-Dutch law, Matrilocal residence is very rare and hypergamy, coupled with dowry, is more common. After marriage the couple's property is merged and in consequence the allied families resist the marriage's dissolution.

Domestic Unit. The smallest kin group is the commensal unit or nuclear family: a wife, unmarried children, and husband. Among traditional Kandyan Sinhalese, there may be more than one commensal unit in a house, but each has its own cooking area. Westernized families adopt the European pattern even for complex households.

Inheritance. In sharp contrast to Indian practices property is divided equally among all children, including women, although wealthy families control a daughter's property and use it as an instrument of marital alliance; among wealthy Families, dowry may be paid in lieu of inheritance.

Socialization. There is a strong preference for male Children, who may receive better care; the infant mortality rate for girls is higher. Girls are expected to work harder than boys and may be given significant household chores as young as age 5 or 6, and they may be taken out of school at an early age even though education is compulsory for all children aged 5 to 14. Children are cared for by their mother, with whom they sleep except in highly Westernized households. Children are expected to show respect to their elders. Curiosity, initiative, and hobbies are not encouraged. Schools repeat this pattern by emphasizing rote instruction and avoiding vocational subjects. Especially among the landed and high castes, the family is strongly authoritarian: deference to one's parents and acceptance of their decisions is required, on penalty of excommunication.


Sociopolitical Organization

Sri Lanka is a parliamentary democracy with a president as the head of the state. There is a strong two-party system in which politics are dominated by the centrist United National party (UNP, in power since 1977) and the center-to-left Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP). Both are dominated by Sinhalese politicians and appeal to Sinhalese sentiment.

Social Organization. The Sinhalese caste system is milder than its Indian counterpart; it lacks Brahmans and the stratifying ideology of Hinduism. Most Sinhalese villages lack caste organizations (panchayats ) which, in India, punish transgressions of caste; enforcement of caste endogamy, for instance, is left up to families. Because property is inherited bilaterally, however, families have very strong incentives to enforce endogamy (this is one reason for their authoritarian nature). The Sinhalese ideology of caste is derived from precolonial feudalism, in which castes of almost all statuses were granted lands, contingent on their performing services for the king and local aristocrats. The highest caste, the agricultural Goyigama, comprise about half the population and count among their ancestors the aristocrats of the precolonial Kingdoms. Among the Kandyans, additional castes include Service castes, such as the Hena (washers), Berava (drummers), Navandanna (metalworkers), and the "lowest castes," such as the Rodiya, who were formerly itinerant beggars. Among the Low Country Sinhalese, three highly entrepreneurial Maritime castes (Karava, Salagama, and Durava) have risen to economic and political prominence in this area, which has long been under European influence. Most Sinhalese continue to see caste as a positive principle of social affiliation but deny that castes should be ranked or given special privileges. A major consequence of the colonial period was the development of an achievement-oriented national elite based on education and especially knowledge of English. Persons of low caste have won membership in this elite. However, local elites continue to be dominated by high castes or locally powerful castes.


Political Organization. The Sri Lankan state, an artifact of colonial rule, is excessively centralized and politicized; the country's provinces are governed by agents appointed by the president, and virtually all servicesroads, railways, education, health services, tax collection, government-owned corporations, land registry and allocationare administered by centrally controlled ministries. Efforts to devolve power and resources to the provinces, including the Tamil Northern Province and Eastern Province, have been opposed by Sinhalese chauvinists who see devolution as an erosion of Sinhala sovereignty. Members of parliament select the candidates for government positions, including even the lowliest menial jobs, on the basis of political loyalty. Politicization has severely eroded the autonomy of the civil service and judiciary. The JVP insurgency and its popular support can be seen in part as a broad-based rejection of an unresponsive and corrupt political system, but the JVP offers few solutions.


Social Control. Within the village gossip and ridicule are strong forces for social conformity. The family regulates behavior through the threat of excommunication (deprivation of lands and family support in seeking employment). With growing landlessness and unemployment, however, many families are increasingly unable to deliver on their material promises and the threat of excommunication has become an empty threat. The JVP insurgency is in part a rejection of parental authority.

Conflict. Traditionally, violence occurred within families, often as the result of long-standing grudges and obsession with one's "enemies," real or imagined. In the absence of sustained economic growth, aspirations for social mobility cannot be fulfilled, and as competition and anomie grow more intense, ethnic and political violence occurs as various groups compete for state resources. A late-nineteenth-century riot occurred between Buddhists and Christians; later clashes pitted Sinhalese against Muslims (1915). After the "Sinhala only" language act of 1956, communal riots involving Tamils and Sinhalese occurred in 1958, 1977, 1981, and 1983. There was an aborted military coup in 1963, and violence often occurred during and after elections. Political violence has now become institutionalized in the form of youth insurgencies and government "death squads."


Religion and Expressive Culture

Sri Lanka is remarkable in that almost all major world Religions are practiced there (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity), but Buddhism has received special state protection under Sri Lankan constitutions since 1973. Nearly wiped out by Christian conversions and neglect in the late nineteenth century, Buddhism was revived by reformers who borrowed techniques of proselytization and political activity from Christian missionariesand in so doing altered Buddhism by expanding the role of the laity and emphasizing a rigid Victorian morality.


Religious Beliefs. More than 70 percent of Sinhalese are Theravada Buddhists, but there are substantial (and largely non-Goyigama) Roman Catholic communities in the Maritime provinces. Often thought by foreign observers to contradict Buddhist teachings, the worship of Hindu gods in their temples (devale ) meets religious needs bhikkus (Buddhist monks) cannot address, and the pantheon's structure symbolically expresses the pattern of traditional political authority. At the lower end of the pantheon are demons and spirits that cause illness and must be exorcised.


Religious Practitioners. In Theravada Buddhism, a true Buddhista monk, or bhikkuis one who has renounced all worldly attachments and follows in the Buddha's footsteps, depending on alms for subsistence. But few Sinhalese become bhikkus, who number approximately 20,000. Buddhist monastic organizations are known collectively as the sangha, which is fragmented into three sects (nikayas ); most bhikkus live in the sect's temple/residence complexes (viharas ). The largest and wealthiest sect, the Siyam Nikaya, is rooted in the precolonial Kandyan political order and is still limited, in practice, to Goyigama aspirants. The smaller Amapura Nikaya emerged from the nineteenth-century social mobility of the Karava, Salagama, and Durava castes of the maritime provinces. The smallest sect, the Ramanya Nikaya, is a reform community. Traditionally, the sangha was interdependent with Sinhalese kingly authority, which both depended on and supported the monastic orders, which in turn grew wealthy from huge land grants. The veneration of the famed Tooth Relic (a purported tooth of the Buddha) at Kandy was vital to the legitimacy of the Kandyan king. Bhikkus continue their tradition of political action today and are influential in right-wing chauvinist organizations. At village temples of the gods (bandaras and devas ), non-bhikku priests called kapuralas meet the needs of villagers in this life.

Ceremonies. Holidays include the Buddhist New Year (April), Wesak (May), the anniversaries of the birth, death, and enlightenment of the Buddha, the annual procession (perahera ) of the Tooth Relic at Kandy (August), and the Kataragama firewalking pilgrimage (August).

Arts. Classical Sinhalese civilization excelled in Buddhist architecture, temple and cave frescos, and large-scale sculpture. In colonial times artisans, now few in number, produced fine ivory carvings, metalwork, and jewelry. A mid-twentieth century school of Sinhalese painting called "The Forty-three Group" sparked an impressive renaissance of Sinhalese art, expressed in a traditional idiom in the temple paintings of George Keyt. A twentieth-century tradition of Sinhalese fiction and poetry has attracted international scholarly attention. A government-assisted Sinhala film industry produces many popular films, and a few serious ones have won international awards.

Medicine. The Indian-derived traditional sciences of Ayurveda (herbal medicine) and astrology, taught and Elaborated at Buddhist schools (piravena ) and practiced by village specialists, provide a comprehensive traditional explanation of health and illness.

Death and Afterlife. The possibility of enlightenment and freedom from rebirth is restricted to those withdrawn from the world; a layperson hopes for a more advantageous rebirth based on a positive balance of bad against good acts (karma) and performs meritorious acts (such as supporting the sangha) toward this end. In popular belief a person who dies without fulfilling cherished dreams may become a spirit and vex the living. The dead are cremated, unless Christians.

See also Moor of Sri Lanka; Tamil of Sri Lanka; Vedda

Bibliography

Gombrich, Richard F. (1971). Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the Highlands of Ceylon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Gunawardana, R. A. L. H. (1979). "The People of the Lion: The Sinhala Identity and Ideology in History and Historiography." Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities 5:1-36.


Roberts, Michael (1982). Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Yalman, Nur (1967). Under the Bo Tree: Studies in Caste, Kinship, and Marriage in the Interior of Ceylon. Berkeley: University of California Press.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER

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Sinhalese

Sinhalese

PRONUNCIATION: sin-huh-LEEZ

LOCATION: Sri Lanka

POPULATION: 15 million

LANGUAGE: Sinhala

RELIGION: Buddhist (Theravada); small numbers of Christians and Muslims

1 INTRODUCTION

The Sinhalese are the major ethnic group of Sri Lanka, an island located off the southern tip of India. It is believed that the Sinhalese are descendants of peoples that came from northern India and settled the island around the fifth century bc. The name Sinhalese reflects the popular myth that the people are descended from a mythical Indian princess and a lion (sinha means "lion" and le means "blood").

The ruler of Sri Lanka converted to Buddhism during the third century bc. Since that time, the Sinhalese have been mainly Buddhist in religion and culture. Ancient Buddhist texts provide stories of the early history of the Sinhalese people. By the first century bc, a thriving Sinhalese Buddhist civilization existed in the northern part of Sri Lanka. For some reason, this civilization collapsed in the thirteenth century.

Like many other peoples of south Asia, the Sinhalese later came under the influence of European nations. The Portuguese landed on Ceylon (the English name for Sri Lanka) in 1505 and soon gained control of much of the island. The Dutch replaced the Portuguese in the mid-seventeenth century, who were in turn driven out by the British in 1798. The island and its people formed part of Britain's Indian Empire until 1948, when Ceylon was granted independence. The country adopted the name Sri Lanka in 1972. Its capital is Colombo.

2 LOCATION

According to 1995 estimates, the Sinhalese population is about 15 million people. This is about 80 percent of Sri Lanka's population. The Sinhalese are distributed over most of the island, except for the far northern districts near Jaffna and the eastern coastal areas where the Hindu Tamils live.

The island of Sri Lanka is 25,332 square miles (65,610 square kilometers) in area. It is separated from the Indian mainland by a strait only 22 miles (35 kilometers) wide. The main feature of the landscape is the Central Highlands, averaging more than 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) in altitude and reaching a maximum altitude of 8,281 feet (2,524 meters) at Pidurutala Peak. The southwestern flanks of these mountains and the nearby lowlands are known as the island's "wet zone." These areas receive as much as 196 inches (500 centimeters) of rain per year from the southwest monsoon. The northern and eastern lowlands lie in the shadow of the mountains and form Sri Lanka's dry zone. In this area, rainfall averages less than 79 inches (200 centimeters) and drops below 39 inches (100 centimeters) in places. The island has an equatorial climate, with little variation in temperature throughout the year. Average monthly temperatures at Colombo range only between 71.6°f (22°c) in the winter months and 78.8°f (26°c) in the summer months.

3 LANGUAGE

The Sinhalese speak Sinhala, an Indo-Aryan language brought to Sri Lanka by the north Indian peoples that settled the island in the fifth century. Because it was geographically separated from other Indo-Aryan tongues, Sinhala developed in its own way. It has been influenced by Pali, the sacred language of southern Buddhism. To a lesser extent, it has also been influenced by Sanskrit. It also has borrowed words from Dravidian languages of southern India, mostly Tamil. Sinhalese is written in its own alphabet.

4 FOLKLORE

The Sinhalese have many legends about heroes and kings. When Prince Vijaya first came to the island of Lanka from northern India, so the tale goes, his men were imprisoned by the evil Kuveni, the queen of a Yaksha clan. (The Yakshas were a group of often demonic mythological creatures who possessed magical powers.) When Vijaya went to search for his men, he found Kuveni and threatened to kill her. Kuveni, who had taken on the form of a beautiful maiden, begged for her life. She promised to release the men, give Vijaya a kingdom, and become his wife. Using her magic powers, Kuveni helped Vijaya destroy the Yakshas. Vijaya ruled as king in Lanka, the couple lived together for many years, and Kuveni gave birth to a son and a daughter. However, when a marriage was arranged for Vijaya with an Indian princess from the mainland, Vijaya banished Kuveni from his life. As she was leaving, Kuveni cursed the king for this, and as a result he and the ruler who followed had no children. A magical dance was needed to remove the curse.

5 RELIGION

Most Sinhalese people follow Buddhism. They accept the religion's basic concepts of dharma, samsara, karma, and ahimsa. Dharma refers to the Law (the teachings of Buddha); samsara, to the life cycle of birth-death-rebirth; karma relates to the effects of good or bad deeds on a person's rebirths; and ahimsa is the doctrine of nonviolence toward living things. Buddhists believe that these Four Noble Truths point the way to achieving nirvana (the Buddhist equivalent of salvation). However, the Sinhalese follow the southern or Theravada (also called Hinayana ) form of Buddhism. This form remains true to the original teachings of Buddha, holding that there is no God, that Buddha was an ordinary mortal who should be respected but not worshiped, and that everyone is responsible for working out his or her own salvation. Buddhism is reflected in every aspect of daily Sinhalese life. Buddhist monks (bhikkus) play an important role in the Sinhalese community and often have a fair amount of political power. Monks serve the religious needs of the people, but Sinhalese people also worship at the temples (devale) of Hindu gods. The Sinhalese also believe in demons, ghosts, and evil spirits. They have a number of folk magicians to deal with such beings. Small numbers of Sinhalese are Christians (mostly Roman Catholic) or Muslims (followers of Islam).

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Major festivals for the Sinhalese include the Sinhalese New Year in April and the Vesak festival in May, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. During the Esala Perahera, a two-week festival held in the city of Kandy, the Tooth Relic of the Buddha is paraded through the streets on the back of an elephant. Thousands gather to see the relic and its accompanying procession of decorated elephants, temple officials, schoolchildren, dancers, and acrobats. A fire-walking festival held at Katagarama attracts pilgrims from all over the island, as do other sacred centers of Buddhism.

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

Sinhalese rites of passage involve a mixture of Buddhist customs and folk traditions. In rural areas, difficulties in pregnancy are often blamed on evil spirits or black magic. A magician (kattadiya) may be called in to deal with the situation with charms and mantras (sacred words). The birth of a child is eagerly awaited, and male babies are preferred. The newborn baby is given a few drops of human milk with a touch of gold to endow the child with strength and beauty. Offerings are made both at the temple and to Buddhist monks. There are few formal ceremonies. But the time when a child is taught to read letters (at about three years of age) is an important one.

No special rites mark a boy's reaching adolescence, but a girl's first menstruation is marked by a ceremony.

Death rites are fairly simple. The Sinhalese do not believe in the existence of a soul, but instead that a human being is a combination of five elements. At the time of death, these elements are dispersed (separated) and the most important one, consciousness, will be reborn in a new existence, according to the laws of karma.

If possible, bhikkus (Buddhist monks) are called to the bedside of a dying man to chant from the Buddhist scriptures. After death, the dead person's face is covered with a handkerchief and the big toes are tied together. Oil lamps are lit, flowers are spread on the bed, and religious books are read during the night. The body is prepared, then either cremated or buried. Bhikkus preside at the funeral ceremony, and a white cloth is offered to the leader of the bhikkus, who delivers a brief sermon. All those who attend the funeral take a bath to rid themselves of the pollution of death, and relatives gather for a simple meal. Close relatives wear white clothes, a sign of mourning in southern Asia.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

Ayubowan (greeting) is the word used by the Sinhalese when they meet or part. They usually also clasp their hands in front of them and bow slightly. The European style of shaking hands, however, is replacing traditional forms of greeting. Women often kiss friends and relatives on both cheeks.

The Sinhalese are well known for their hospitality in entertaining guests. Typically, the Sinhalese do not say "Thank you," but instead say something that translates roughly as, "May you receive merit."

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

Although many of the Sinhalese live in cities and towns, where their living conditions differ little from those of other city populations in southern Asia, the Sinhalese are by and large a rural people. They live in villages, hamlets, and isolated farmsteads scattered across the island.

A typical agricultural village is made up of a cluster of houses on slightly higher land surrounded by rice paddies. Nearby, especially in the dry zone, may be one of the many tanks constructed over the centuries to store water for irrigation. The village itself usually has a well, a temple, and perhaps a school and an informal clinic. Traditional building materials of mud (for walls) and thatch (for roofs) are being replaced by cement and tiles. Each house stands in a garden in the midst of coconut, mango, papaya, and other trees. In front of the house is a porch, where men sit during the day and sleep at night. A single door opens into the house, where women and children sleep. There are typically two rooms and a kitchen, but sometimes the fireplace is in a lean-to attached to the back of the house. Most villagers sleep on mats. Only the wealthier people have beds and simple wooden tables and chairs. Some households have their own well. Many houses have pitlatrines (toilets) dug in the garden.

10 FAMILY LIFE

The Sinhalese have castes (inherited social and economic status levels) based historically on occupation. But the system is much less rigid than the caste system in India. There are no Brahmans (priests), caste rankings are less significant, and in the cities caste observance is rapidly disappearing. Caste is, however, important in marriage. About half of the Sinhalese population belongs to the highest caste, the agricultural Goyigama. Other castes include washermen (Hinna), metalworkers (Navandanna), and drummers (Berawa). The Rodiya (formerly traveling beggars) are considered to be among the lowest castes.

The Sinhalese marry within their caste, but they also have further limitations. Each caste is subdivided into microcastes (pavula), and women must marry men of equal or higher status within the caste. Marriages are usually arranged, and cross-cousin marriages are preferred (that is, with a man's father's sister's daughter or mother's brother's daughter). Preparations include the casting of horoscopes and negotiation of the dowry (if any is to be paid). The actual ceremony is relatively simple. In some cases, there may be no formal ceremony.

The wife usually moves in with the husband's family, but couples who can afford it prefer to set up their own household. A woman takes on the responsibility of running the household. She may also work to contribute to the family income. Her main role, however, is to bear and raise children, preferably sons. In general, women are treated with respect in Sinhalese society.

11 CLOTHING

The traditional clothing of the Sinhalese is the sarama, a type of sarong (a wrapped garment). Men may wear a shirt with the sarama; when they go bare-chested, they throw a scarf around their shoulders. Women wear a tight-fitting, short-sleeved jacket with the sarama. In the cities, Sinhalese have adopted Western-style clothes. Women wear skirts and blouses, but they prefer the Indian sari for formal and ceremonial occasions.

12 FOOD

Rice, eaten with a serving of curry (a spicy dish), is the staple food of the Sinhalese. A family usually has three meals a day, although "morning tea" may be nothing more than thattea, perhaps with rice cakes, fruit, or leftovers from the previous evening meal. Lunch consists of rice served with vegetable and meat curries and sauces such as sambol, a spicy mixture of grated coconut and chili, peppers, pickles, and chutneys. The evening meal is rice eaten with as many curry dishes as a family can afford.

Although orthodox Buddhists are strict vegetarians, many Sinhalese eat meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Many Sinhalese dishes are cooked in coconut milk. A meal is usually followed by fresh fruits or sweets. Tea and coconut milk are the usual drinks. Pan, or betel nut (seed of the betel palm) eaten with lime, is taken after meals and often throughout the day.

13 EDUCATION

The Sinhalese literacy rate (the proportion of people able to read and write) is around 90 percent, among the highest of any community in southern Asia. Education is required up to the age of fourteen, and parents are responsible for making sure their children attend school. Education is free from kindergarten to the university level, but there is a shortage of places for qualified university applicants. The number of Sinhalese girls who remain in school to complete their educations is higher than average in southern Asia.

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE.

The heritage of the Sinhalese is basically that of Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka. This includes early literary works (the Dipavamsa from ad 350 and the Mahavamsa from ad 550) chronicling the history of Buddhism on the island. It also includes architecture, temple and cave paintings, and massive sculptures such as the 46-foot-long (14-meter-long) reclining Buddha at Polonnaruwa. The Sinhalese developed their own form of classical dance, usually performed by men, with rapid footwork and acrobatic movements. The "devil dancing" of the southern coastal lowlands developed from folk ceremonies to exorcise (drive away) demons. Kolam is a form of dance-drama involving masked dancers who retell stories from myth and legend.

15 EMPLOYMENT

About 80 percent of the Sinhalese people are rural and engaged primarily in subsistence farming (growing only enough to survive on). Sri Lanka's commercial plantationsproducing tea, coconut products, rubber, cinnamon, cardamom (another spice), and pepperprovide some jobs for the population. Manufacturing industries in Sri Lanka are poorly developed and show only slow growth. However, the recently established clothing industry in a free-trade zone near Colombo now accounts for nearly half the value of Sri Lanka's exports. Sinhalese people in the cities and towns are engaged in government work, the professions, business, trade, and the service industries. Still, unemployment is a severe problem in Sri Lanka.

16 SPORTS

Sinhalese children play in the same ways as other young people in southern Asiatag, hide-and-seek, dolls, marbles, and so forth. Indoor activities include board games and various string games such as cat's cradle.

Gambling is popular among adults, but many traditional sports such as cockfighting have been banned. Buffalo fights and elephant fights are still staged as part of Sinhalese New Year celebrations. Sports such as cricket, soccer, field hockey, and track-and-field were introduced by the British and are still played in schools and colleges. Cricket is by far the most popular spectator sport.

17 RECREATION

The Sinhalese have radio and television programming and can also see English and Sinhala movies. In rural areas, however, there is often little extra income to spend on such activities, so villagers relax in more traditional ways. They spend time sharing news with their neighbors and visiting local fairs. They go on pilgrimages and watch religious processions, folk dances, folk theater, and puppet shows.

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

Sinhalese crafts include wood and ivory carving, stonework, and metalwork in brass, gold, and silver. Pottery and basketry are traditional cottage industries. Sri Lanka has been known for centuries for its gemstones; jewelry making and the cutting of sapphires, rubies, and semiprecious stones continue to this day

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

In terms of some social characteristics (health and education, for example), the Sinhalese are not typical of southern Asia. But they do face many problems of the region. Sri Lanka is basically an agricultural country, but growing enough food is a problem, and landlessness in rural areas is increasing. Unemployment and underemployment are serious problems, and slow industrial growth limits economic expansion and job creation.

None of this is helped by the continuing ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils on the island. Tamil separatists in northern areas around Jaffna are engaged in armed rebellion against the government, which is controlled by the Sinhalese. This has included random terrorism, the assassination of a prime minister, much loss of life, and constant charges of human rights violations. This rebellion creates a serious economic burden; in addition, millions of valuable tourist dollars have been lost. Until this conflict is resolved, it is unlikely that Sri Lanka can deal with its social and economic problems.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Johnson, B. L. C., and M. Le M. Scrivenor. Sri Lanka: Land, People, and Economy. London, England: Heinemann, 1981.

Wijisekera, Nandadeva. The Sinhalese. Colombo, Sri Lanka: Gunasena, 1990.

Yalman, Nur. Under the Bo Tree: Studies in Caste, Kinship, and Marriage in the Interior of Ceylon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

WEBSITES

Embassy of Sri Lanka, Washington, D.D. [Online] Available http://piano.symgrp.com/srilanka/, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Sri Lanka. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/lk/gen.html, 1998.

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Sinhalese

Sin·ha·lese / ˌsinhəˈlēz; -ˈlēs/ (also Sin·gha·lese, Sin·ha·la / ˈsinhələ/ ) • n. (pl. same) 1. a member of a people originally from northern India, now forming the majority of the population of Sri Lanka. 2. the Indic language of this people. • adj. of or relating to this people or language.

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"Sinhalese." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Sinhalese." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/sinhalese-0

Sinhalese

Sinhalese (sĬn´həlēz´), language belonging to the Indic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. An alternate spelling for Sinhalese is Singhalese. See Indo-Iranian.

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"Sinhalese." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Sinhalese." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sinhalese

Sinhalese

Sinhalese People who make up the largest ethnic group of Sri Lanka. They speak an Indo-European language and practise Theravada Buddhism.

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"Sinhalese." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Sinhalese." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sinhalese

Sinhalese

SinhaleseAchinese, Ambonese, appease, Assamese, Balinese, Belize, Beninese, Bernese, bêtise, Bhutanese, breeze, Burmese, Cantonese, Castries, cerise, cheese, chemise, Chinese, Cingalese, Cleese, Congolese, Denise, Dodecanese, ease, éminence grise, expertise, Faroese, freeze, Fries, frieze, Gabonese, Genoese, Goanese, Guyanese, he's, Japanese, Javanese, jeez, journalese, Kanarese, Keys, Lebanese, lees, legalese, Louise, Macanese, Madurese, Maltese, marquise, Milanese, Nepalese, Nipponese, officialese, overseas, pease, Pekinese, Peloponnese, Piedmontese, please, Portuguese, Pyrenees, reprise, Rwandese, seise, seize, Senegalese, she's, Siamese, Sienese, Sikkimese, Sinhalese, sleaze, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees, Sudanese, Sundanese, Surinamese, Tabriz, Taiwanese, tease, Tees, telegraphese, these, Timorese, Togolese, trapeze, valise, Viennese, Vietnamese, vocalese, wheeze •superficies • Héloïse • Averroës •rabies • pubes • Maccabees •headcheese

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"Sinhalese." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Sinhalese." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/sinhalese