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2 A System of States and Empires: The British Conquest of Kandy and the Construction of Ceylon Three centuries after the Portuguese, the British subjugated the whole island of Lanka to their own authority in 1815. Although the Portuguese had failed, in the sixteenth century, to transform Asia’s social, political, and economic life much beyond their military and trading outposts, by the nineteenth, west European powers, principally the British, Dutch, and French, had brought much of Asia under their domination or influence. W est European powers here refers to the northern states on the Atlantic seaboard. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, these had built their own overseas empires and long-distance trading systems undermining the Iberians. Despite the gradual progression of the broadly defined European domination over world-space, its trajectory was marked by various breaks and vicissitudes. Most significantly, Iberian expansion had come to a halt by the late sixteenth century, leading both Spain and Portugal to bankruptcy. This rupture in the trajectory of European expansion meant that the society and space constructed by west European powers as part of this expansion was to be significantly different from that of the Iberians three centuries earlier. Nonetheless, the conception of the world initiated by the Iberian powers in the fifteenth century was advanced to its fullest potential by the west European powers in the nineteenth century. They not only produced expanded and more integrated versions of seaborne empires, but also colonies around their outposts, transforming both the European outposts into colonial port cities and their empires from “trading post empires” into “territorial empires.” Territorially, this transformation was accompanied by the reorganization of Europe into what would become a system of “nation states” and a large part of the extra-European world into a system of west European empires, each centered upon its respective state. It is in relation to these larger transformations that the British colonization of Ceylon took place. I shall



Colonizing Ceylon

first briefly highlight the main characteristics of the larger world-space created by west European powers and then examine the British construction of Ceylon, its territorial and urban structures, landscapes, and subjects. W est European Construction of States and Empires The west European appropriation of aspects of Iberian knowledge and practices produced in their expansion was key to the transformation of what might have been a historical period of Iberian imperialism into one of long term west European expansion. Despite the policy of secrecy followed by the Portuguese authorities, the Dutch and British not only followed Iberian practices closely and learned from their experience, by the seventeenth century, they also produced more developed forms of knowledge. 1 The gathering of intelligence and the systematic documentation of geographic information by these states shifted the center of European map production to the north. 2 Hence, when the Iberian political authority over their world-spaces was eroding, the Dutch and British were well prepared to seize this opportunity to construct their own. The spreading of west European authority over distant territories was an urbancentric process that began from the colonial outposts. W est European seaborne empires, first established in the Indian Ocean region from the late sixteenth to eighteenth century, were similar to that of the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century. Yet the British organized their empire around a well-woven network of strategic ports which the nineteenth century naval authority, Admiral Fisher, described as the “keys that locked up the globe.” 3 This policy is evident in the British decision to retain Ceylon and the Cape of Good Hope, but restore the East Indian Islands to the Dutch in 1802 and establish the more strategic port at Singapore in 1819. The means of communication, mainly the sea routes and shipping, were also significantly improved at this stage, reducing the size of the world-space and overcoming the old problems of holding an empire tightly together from Europe. Most significant here is the reduction of travel time, for example, between Amsterdam and Batavia, to about six or seven months by the midseventeenth century.4 The creation of a system of states provided Europe with a discrete territorial organization, and one that emphasized the distinction between Europe and the rest of the world. Marking a crucial turning point, in 1648 the Dutch-led Peace of W estphalia laid the “contractual” foundation for an inter-state system in Europe. This meant the “inter-national” recognition and legitimation of each government’s absolute right over its subjects within mutually exclusive territories. Along with inter-state conflicts, this arrangement would also regulate intra-state conflicts. This particular territorial organization of the European polity was carried out through the monopolization of power and violence in the hands of the rulers (states) within exclusive jurisdictions. Hence, the notion of the boundary is central to this territorial organization of states. 5 W hat the major powers of Europe produced in the rest of the world, however,

Colonizing Ceylon


were not states but mainly empires. As many of the post-1450s European wars were closely related to the production of “nation-states” in Europe, 6 the waging of wars outside Europe during this period--between different European powers, as well as between those and indigenous rulers--was intimately tied up with the production of west European empires. These wars were to become the means of dividing large areas of the extra-European world into west European empires with the monopolizing of violence and power--within these imperial territories--in the hands of the respective imperial powers. What we see, therefore, is the emergence of a particular system of states in Europe and a larger system of empires outside it, and where the political power lay in these European states as the principal political matrix organizing this world-space.7 The British construction of Ceylon is to be viewed in this context. The British Colonization of Ceylon Although the Portuguese and Dutch efforts to bring the whole island of Lanka under their control had been futile, each only acquiring patches of territory along the coasts, the Dutch did manage to landlock the remaining Lankan Kingdom of Kandy in 1766. Yet their control was limited and both the Portuguese and the Dutch governed these territories without significantly transforming former Lankan administrative structures. It was the British, who took over the D utch controlled territory of Ceylon in 1796, who eventually colonized the whole island in 1815. For the British, the geo-strategic importance of Ceylon largely emerged as a result of the shift of European colonial competition to the eastern parts of continental India. The Seven Years’ W ar (1756-1763), in which India had been an important locus of Franco-British encounters, 8 made the Bay of Bengal a significant region of conflict. It is this shift of European warfare in India from the west to the east which precipitated the strategic need for the British to have a naval base in the Bay of Bengal. This made Trincomalee Bay, in the northeast of Ceylon, important for European colonial competition from the mid-eighteenth century. Although the British had used Trincomalee from time to time from the 1740s as part of a comprehensive operation to gain control of a dozen Dutch territories, they in fact captured the whole of Dutch controlled Ceylon in 1796. Ceylon’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean made it necessary for the British colonial authorities to hold it as a Crown Colony, separate from the territories in continental India which were under the British East India Company. The settlement made between Company and Crown authorities in Calcutta and London largely determined the future of Ceylon as a separate politico-territory. Like former southern Indian kingdoms, Ceylon could have been integrated into a future India by the British, especially since it was conquered and ruled for a short period by the Company forces of the Madras Presidency, later combined with other presidencies to construct a larger India. 9 Similarly, if the Dutch had succeeded in restoring it to the Batavian Republic at the Peace of Amiens (1802), Ceylon could have become a part of Indonesia. The establishment of the Crown Colony took place after the


Colonizing Ceylon

Peace of Amiens; this formally ceded Ceylon from the Dutch to the British, making Ceylon a separate administrative unit within the Empire. The British not only acquired all Dutch controlled territories of Ceylon, but also retained the same spatial organization, of which the center was Colombo. A principal cause for the shift of interest in Ceylon from Trincomalee to Colombo was a shift in the balance of power among European states in Britain’s favor at the end of the Seven Years’ W ar.10 The easing of European competition and the takeover of Ceylon had shifted British attention from acquiring a reliable port in the Bay of Bengal to protect their interests in India, to that of appropriating the established port of Colombo--a strategic requirement for their broader domination over the Indian Ocean. Colombo was also more strategic for the desired establishment of control over Ceylon. As a Crown Colony, Ceylon was ruled by the British authorities in London through its agent in Colombo, the Governor. In constructing the vital link between London, Colombo, and other Crown Colonies, a Colonial Agency was set up in London in 1801. In Colombo, the office of Governor was established in 1802, centralizing the authority for, as well as the responsibility over Ceylon. Ceylon was, therefore, not constructed as a political, economic, or cultural entity either in terms of the peoples within it, or in relation to its simple territorial self but rather, as part of the larger Empire of which the center is the metropole. This direct relationship between the metropole and the colony was quite different to that of the Portuguese and Dutch organization of their empires in the “East.” Both these empires were hierarchically organized with regional centers, Goa (Portuguese) and Batavia (Dutch), as the seats of their Eastern empires. Portuguese or Dutch Colombo was, therefore, not directly under the metropole, Lisbon or Amsterdam, but was controlled through Goa or Batavia. Under the British, however, Colombo came directly under London’s control. In contrast to the theories of evolution concerning modern cities in Europe, therefore, Colombo did not evolve through “internal” or “organic” processes. Instead, it was constructed as an element of the B ritish Empire from “outside,” reversing what are normally seen as the organic processes of city growth. A primary function of colonial port cities was to expand European domination beyond the maritime world into inland territories. W riting about the Caribbean, Malcolm Cross insists that the colonial society was not just “influenced” by Europe, but actually created by it. 11 Vesting formal political responsibility in a single office of Governor was perhaps the most important factor in the construction of Ceylon as a single territorial unit around Colombo, with political and administrative links to London. Just as, Mary Karasch has observed, in regard to Brazil, that it was Rio that made Brazil and not vice versa,12 so it was Colombo that made Ceylon and not Ceylon (nor Lanka) that made Colombo. As both a node of the imperial urban structure as well as the political center of Ceylon, Colombo was the pivotal link between the British imperial and the Ceylonese colonial urban systems. Ronald Horvath has noted that the colonial city was the political, military, economic, religious, social, and intellectual entrêpot

Colonizing Ceylon


between the colonizers and the colonized.13 Although the importance of these elements has varied over time, Ceylonese social and economic processes significant to the larger imperial system were channelled through Colombo. It was simultaneously the central node through which imperial power and European capitalist culture were diffused to Ceylon, and the one which channelled the forms of domination over the Ceylonese and the economic gains from the colony to the metropole. The Destruction of Kandy and the Creation of Ceylon The British Governors’ drive to colonize the interior was apparent from the beginning of colonial rule. In addition to colonial aspirations, the Europeans were constantly pre-occupied with the idea that more mystery and wealth lay behind their frontiers. George, Viscount Valentia, a British traveller who visited Colombo at the beginning of the nineteenth century wrote, “[Ceylon’s] central situation, its harbours, its produce, and the treasures which I suspect are hidden in the bowels of its lofty mountains, will, I think, render it one of our most valuable possessions.” 14 Until the whole island was taken over and fully “known,” European colonizers of Ceylon considered the perimeter of their authority as a frontier, a temporary boundary that they were compelled to push forward until it reached the physical limits of the island. Portuguese invaders had also thought of the whole island as a single territory, especially when the King of Portugal had become heir to the Kingdom of Kotte after the death of its king, Dharmapala, in 1597. Although Kotte was, with Sitavaka, Jaffnapatnam, and Kandy, one of four kingdoms on the island in the early sixteenth century, by the late century it had already been reduced to a Portuguese protectorate and shrunk in size. (figure 2.1) Yet the imagined territory which the Portuguese took over was the whole island, the one which the King of Kotte longed to rule; earlier, King Buwaneka Bahu of Kotte had claimed Kandy as an ancient seigniory of his kingdom. 15 Lower Burma also provides a similar example of conflict between space in practice and representational space. Although the delta of the Irawaddy and the province of Pegu were conquered only in 1852, the British declared them part of their colony of Lower Burma along with what they had conquered in 1826.16 Unifying the island into a single political-territory under their own kingdom had also been a social and spatial conception of the “Sinhalese” monarchs.17 Yet there is no evidence to suggest that this political domain and the island territory were congruent, or that each political domain was exclusive and defined by a strict boundary. 18 Lankan kingdoms were principally identified according to their metropolitical center, for example, Sitavaka, or the region in which they were located, for example, the “hill-country kingdom,” the center of which was located in the central highlands. 19 Robert Knox, a British captive in Kandy for nearly twenty years (1660 to 1679), refers to that territory as Cande Uda, an abbreviated form of Kandé Uda Rata Rajadhaniya (kingdom in the hill country). The kingdom


Colonizing Ceylon

Colonizing Ceylon


was organized hierarchically, in three tiers: the center was occupied by the metropolitical center, Maha Nuwara (the chief city), the second tier by nine ratas, and the last by twelve larger disas. (figure 2.2) The disas were not only larger, but also more autonomous and their outer boundaries were fuzzy.20 According to de Silva, lesser principalities extended from the western coastal region south of Mannar across north-central Lanka and then southward along the eastern seaboard up to the “boundaries” of Kotte.21 It was only with the British conquest of Kandy and the bringing of the whole island under a single English speaking administration in 1815 that the entire island became single socio-political entity. What we see here is the introduction of the boundary to define the society, transforming Lanka from a cluster of center-based, overlapping societies to a boundary-based society and specifically, where the boundary is established, round an island, by the sea. According to Carter, the limited extent defined by boundaries gave the colonizer a heightened sense of stability and security.22 Moreover, this followed the contemporary European practice of constructing boundary-based politico-territories, nation-states. The main and final barrier for the English to materialize the representational space of Ceylon as well as the overland unification of the territory already under their control, was the Kingdom of Kandy. According to Chitty, the areas of “Ceylon” and Kandy were 10,520 and 14,144 square miles respectively. 23 The desire to overcome this barrier is evident in Governor North’s proposals to the King of Kandy in 1802, which demanded free communication between Colombo and Trincomalee for the troops and tappal (mail service). 24 Hence, what the discrepancy between space in practice and representational space produced was a political conflict between the powers based in Colombo and Kandy. Despite the failure of earlier attempts, the final conquest of Kandy in 1815 was made with the utmost ease. Suppressing the revolt of 1817-18, the British unified the island politically and territorially under their rule for over a century. The Unification of the Island The unification of the island under the British was radically different from previous historic forms. W hat they created in Ceylon was a highly centralized bureaucratic structure for both political integration and the maintenance of law and order. In this section, I focus on the establishment of a new communication infrastructure and a “national” urban system, centered on Colombo, the breaching of the defense systems of the Kandyan country, and the organization of the island into a system of contiguous administrative divisions, which simultaneously destroyed the identity of Kandy. The establishment of a communication system converging on Colombo was central to the subjection of the island. Its main purpose was to organize a network of military outposts, and then regional administrative centers to facilitate the subjection and control of the Lankans from Colombo. Similar to the British seaborne communication system that expanded the authority of London over the


Colonizing Ceylon

Colonizing Ceylon


Indian Ocean region along a system of colonial outposts, this overland communication system, ramifying from the colonial port city of Colombo, expanded its domain over Ceylon along a hierarchically organized structure of administrative centers. The kings of Kandy, aware of the importance of blocking potential military movements between the sea and “upcountry”--Colombo and Kandy--followed what might be called an “anti-road” policy. Among others, Tennent, Mills, and Knox argue that it was the location and the geography of Kandy that provided its defense. It was penetrable only through great passes which the Kandyans were able to defend with a small force, and it was also surrounded by a belt of thick jungle. The awareness of the strength of Kandy’s geography, as well as the danger of its breach, is demonstrated in the Kandyan proverb that said Kandy would be conquered the day the invader drove a road from the sea to Kandy. The kings had therefore forbidden the construction of roads, ceasing to improve existing roads and allowing them to fall into disrepair. In contrast to their colonial predecessors who fought to defend their positions, the British had the capacity to move their forces more freely on the ground. They were therefore more interested in roads than forts. Such a strategy marked a clear distinction with that of the Portuguese and the Dutch. Since existing paths of communication were inadequate to serve the movement of a disciplined “Mauritian” military, 25 the immediate strategy of the British following the conquest was to construct a road from Colombo to Kandy. Yet the rebellion of 1817-18 once again put them temporarily on the defensive; the definitive move from defending positions to establishing control outside those nodes or, from forts to roads, was made in the 1820s. At that time, the new Governor, Edward Barnes, considered forts less useful than roads for the colonial enterprise: without them “we can never be said to have secure possession of the country, nor can it commercially improve.” 26 Beginning with the breach of the Kandyan defenses, the British constructed a whole new infrastructure. By the beginning of the 1830s, every town of importance for the colonial administration was connected to the two principal cities, Colombo and Kandy, the building of the long desired highway from Colombo to Trincomalee had commenced, and the coast road which was to eventually encircle Ceylon was completed from Puttalam to Hambantota.27 The most significant road from Colombo to Kandy was also shortened to seventy miles--the former route was about ninety miles--and the other to Trincomalee was laid out as almost a straight line. The military objectives of this communication system are evident in the relationship between the road network and the interior military outposts, and in the institutions that carried out road construction. T he British stationed troops at Kandy, Trincomalee, and the chief towns between Colombo and these; roads capable of supporting troop movements connected those locations. (figure 2.3) Most importantly, the military also made maps of the interiors to help the movement of troops. 28 In the 1820s, an army Major was responsible for the construction of all Kandyan roads. Until 1832, the Royal Engineers in charge of road building were under the Quartermaster General, the officer who oversaw the military barracks.


Colonizing Ceylon

Colonizing Ceylon


Both Mills and Tennent correctly referred to the British achievements on this front as “a triumph of military engineering.” 29 Complementing its military usage, beginning with a tappal service between Colombo and Kandy in 1822,30 this road network was also used as the means to develop a broader system of communications. The transformation of the organization, from subjection to control, and military to administrative, took place in the 1830s. In 1832, the construction of “public works” was transferred to the Department of Civil Engineers and Surveyor-General. 31 In the second half of the century, the main purpose of the communication infrastructure had come to serve and depend on the plantations, while the means of transportation had shifted from bullock carts to railways. These developments are addressed in Chapter Three. Destruction of Kandy Two major steps in the colonization process were the destruction of the territorial identity of the former Kandy Kingdom and the reorganization of Ceylon and Kandy into a single administrative space. The destruction of extant indigenous social and spatial structures which were seen as obstructions to the achievement of particular colonial objectives is a precondition for colonization. The elimination of the principal Lankan political structures would deprive the Lankans of their capacity to employ the former political system as an instrument of subversion against colonial rule. The first step in the destruction of the Kandyan territorial self was to superimpose a colonial administration over it. Until the 1830s, the British treated former Kandy as a separate society. Despite the appointment of the Resident to be in charge of the new territory, the administration of the Kandyan “provinces” was left in the hands of Kandyan nobles, Dissavas, re-appointed as provincial authorities but under the supervision of the Resident. Former Kandyan compulsory labor services, such as Rajakariya, were also used by the colonial state to lay down the initial colonial infrastructure. The superimposition of a colonial administration over the Kandyan one made the indigenous administrators into subordinate partners of the British, bringing their positions into line with the dominant form of remuneration for work--money rather than land.32 Bringing the colonization of Kandy and the island as a whole to its climax, however, the entire administration was transformed in the 1830s. Sweeping changes introduced by the colonial state, following the recommendations of the Colebrook-Cameron Commission, reorganized the administrative division of the island into a hierarchy of five provinces and twenty-one districts, these being the sub-units of provinces. (table 2.1) Mirroring the model of European states of the time, this move homogenized the island territory by incorporating all differences, including all isolated and remote parts, into a single society and space that was divisible into uniform sub-units. Evidently, the delineation of new provinces with no reference to the society was aimed at weakening the potentially nationalist feelings of the Kandyans. The


Colonizing Ceylon

TABLE 2.1 New Provinces of Ceylon, 1833 Province Composed of the former districts of Ceylon Kandy



Jaffna, Mannar



Trincomalee and Batticaloa Galle, Tangalle, Matara, and Hambantota Colombo, Chilaw, and Puttalam

Southern Western


Nuwarakalaviya and the Wanni Tamankaduwa and Bintenna Sabaragamuwa, Patha Uva, and Wellassa Sath Korale, Thun Korale, Sathara Korale, and Patha Bulatgamme Central districts of the Kingdom

Trincomalee Galle Colombo


Sources: Mills, Ceylon Under British Rule, 68; Mendis Ceylon Under British, 39. colonial state allocated parts of former Kandy among all five provinces created in 1833, in this way eliminating Kandy’s physical identity. (figure 2.4) Most crucially, apart from the Central Province, much smaller than the former Kingdom of Kandy, the administrative capitals of all other provinces were located within former Ceylon, outside former Kandy Kingdom. For example, the Nuwarakalaviya area in which Kandyans lived was subjected to Jaffna, the principal inhabitants of which were Tamils. Government Agents of Jaffna have frequently complained about the impossibility of carrying out their duties in such a large province. 33 In this way, the new territorial structure destroyed former Lankan relationships between peoplehood and territory. The re-naming process completed the effacing of the identity of Kandy. The colonial state’s use of cardinal directions to name the Provinces could well have been aimed at effacing the identities of former Kandyan provinces. This naming practice not only represents the extreme “rational” thinking of the “enlightened” colonials, but also the appropriation and familiarization of these provinces for the colonial community. It was far easier for them to rule the “Eastern” Province rather than Kottiar Province. At the same time, such naming of provinces obscured the territorial identity and peoplehood for the Lankans, with no longer the Kandy, Jaffna, Kotte, or Sitavaka kingdom or province to which they could relate. The next two provinces created in 1845 and 1873 were also labelled in the same order as the North-W estern Province and North-Central Province. It was only in 1889 that a province was, for the first time, given a “name” beyond such a rationalistic framework. By then, the threat of Kandy as a potentially subversive force, had disappeared. M oreover, these two provinces, Uva and Sabaragamuwa, were also carved out of former Kandy. W hat we see in the 1830s, therefore, is the restructuring of the colonial administrative and revenue system through the division of the island into uniform Provinces and Districts. The hierarchical organization of these administrative

Colonizing Ceylon



Colonizing Ceylon

divisions and their capitals was to create the colonial territorial and urban structure of Ceylon. Compared to the earlier organization of Lankan towns, of which the most prominent were religious and royal centers,34 these new urban settlements were politically and culturally alien to the surrounding society. The authorities received orders from the English speaking administration in Colombo, and the administrative functions carried out by them were evolved in Europe. It was this nascent territorial and urban structure that was employed to construct social, political, and cultural institutions within the colonial society and these, in turn, reinforced this spatial structure. The British Appropriation of Colombo and Kandy Early nineteenth century Colombo, for its size, was one of the most populated places in India (sic).35 It was also the meeting place of a large number of races and ethnic groups, a multi-ethnic, multicultural, cosmopolitan city. Yet Colombo was also a divided city, organized along particular racial, ethnic, and functional lines into three principal zones: the fort, the Pettah, and the outer Pettah (an anglo-Indian corruption of Tamil Pettai, meaning outside the fort). In comparison to many dichotomous colonial cities, the tripatriate division of Colombo reveals its complex colonial history, involving three colonial powers. The British not only kept the Ceylonese out of the fort, but also the descendants of the Dutch and Portuguese, transforming the fort completely into a British ethnic compound. The Portuguese and the Dutch, who chose to settle adjacent to the fort, transformed what they called the Oude Stad into their domain. In appropriating the Pettah, Dutch and Portuguese descendants pushed the so-called “native city” further outward to the Hultsdorf area. In the words of Hulugalle: “The Fort was chiefly occupied by British residents; the Pettah, then a clean and airy residential district, by the D utch and the Portuguese; and the suburbs by the Sinhalese, Tamil and Moorish population.” 36 (figure 2.5) The fort was the locus of British political, military, and cultural institutions, including the Government House, the Governor’s House (Queen’s House), military and civil offices, parade grounds, the Anglican church, and the High Court of Appeal. In comparison to the later separation of colonial spaces in other British colonial cities in terms of civil station, cantonment, and native city,37 both the “civil station” and the “cantonment” were fused within the fort. The fort was therefore the exclusive locus of power, occupied by the British, with no comparable social and cultural institutions outside it. The separation between the fort and the rest of the city demarcated by the wall and the marshes was bolstered by open spaces. The division was first introduced by the Portuguese who raised the water level of the marshes, leaving only one physical link between the fort and the mainland--today’s Main Street. Later, the Dutch reduced the separation to a canal, the breadth of which was determined by the range of a cannon ball, but complemented it with an open area outside it. According to the Dutch Governor, Ryckoff van Goens (1660-1675), there was to

Colonizing Ceylon


FIGURE 2.5 A divided city: The principal zones of early nineteenth century Colombo. From: Cordiner, 41. be a clear area of 340 roods (3/4 mile) from the fort, in which no coconut or tall trees were to be grown. “An open field of this kind would give no cover to an enemy and could be swept by gunfire from the walls.” 38 The British also maintained this “open field of fire,” designating it as the esplanade, and removing any house that encroached upon it.39 Despite organizing it as their exclusive domain, the British did not transform the fort itself, but rather the space within it. The Dutch, who took over the fort from the Portuguese in the mid-seventeenth century, restructured both the fort as well as its internal layout, straightening its roads to form a grid-iron. 40 The British were apparently content with the space. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Percival observed that Colombo, more than any other town in “India,” was built in the European style.41 The chaplain of the garrison of Colombo, James Cordiner, emphasized the “beauty” of it: “the streets being broad, straight, regularly planned, intersecting one another at right angles, and shaded on each side by double rows of trees.” 42 Although appearing neutral on first inspection, the grid-iron served the colonial forces in making a tabula rasa out of the place, erasing all differences that might have mattered to anyone else. As in former Roman colonial cities, the grid-iron layout represented the power of the authority laying it down and that authority’s


Colonizing Ceylon

considering Colombo as a tabula rasa devoid of any physical, social, or cultural features, and the utter disrespect for whatever existed before. It represented the Cartesian, rational perception of its European creator who subdivided the city into rectangular blocks. Adopting this Europeanized space, the British began to “customize” it. They sub divided the fort into four quarters by means of two principal streets, not more than an English mile in either direction, 43 and superimposed over the former Dutch “grid-iron.” Although still a grid-iron, the layout was hierarchically organized, with the principal street, King’s Street, connecting the Government House and the military parade grounds, located at either end. Later, the center was marked by a clock tower. Although not formally designed as a mall, the early twentieth century King’s Street connected the Queen’s House and the Parliament building. The gridiron with a center, central axis, and four quadrants, could not have been more different to the organization of Lankan metropolitical centers, and signified that Colombo was a foreign, colonial city. Straight roads and grid-iron planning served troop movements well, while the hierarchical organization buttressed colonial ideals. The British anglicized these urban elements by naming them in British style. Naming physical features, structures, places, and spaces is perhaps the most crucial aspect of colonization, since naming appropriates places by reconstituting them within the particular cultural schemata of the namer. 44 A.J. Christopher claims that British scientific culture required that every place, mountain, or river be given a name, mainly for the purpose of identification and mapping. 45 Although the Dutch had adapted many Sinhalese and Portuguese names for places and streets, British names in Colombo were largely derived from their own cultural memories in the metropole (Bristol Street, Hyde Park, Kew Road), associations with the royal family (York Street, Duke Street, Prince Street), historically significant men in Britain (Chatham Street, Stafford Avenue), and Governors and officials in Ceylon (Gordon Gardens, Norris Road). The system of cultural and spatial apartheid was, therefore, very pronounced. As in contemporary European cities, the streets in the fort were principally lined with buildings, constructed in rows. In this sense, streets can metaphorically be compared to figures of which the background is buildings, and streets are spaces defined by the buildings which are the solids. The transitionary space between buildings and the road was marked by the verandas and lofty pillars of public and domestic buildings, 46 and by the trees that lined both sides of streets. In contrast, Lankan streets and buildings did not define each other; streets were not laid out geometrically and buildings were located as clusters at varying distances from each other, defined by their cultural norms and functional needs.47 Evaluating according to European cultural perceptions, both Marshall and Knox note that the Sinhalese did not care to make streets by building their houses together in rows.48 In making the landscape of the fort like that of a normal English town, the British excluded indigenous buildings. In 1803 Percival wrote that, “none of those huts (sic), peculiar to the natives, are allowed to be erected in [the fort].” 49 As

Colonizing Ceylon


compared to Lankan dwellings, the colonial dwellings in the fort, known as bungalows, were most comparable to the residences of the aristocracy, known as Walavvas. Here I refer both to physical aspects, such as the scale of the building and the durability of materials used in construction, as well as the social superiority inscribed into those. The bungalows, single or double storied, were tall, spacious, and roofed with two layers of half round burnt clay tiles set on timber rafters. 50 In Kandy, the use of tiles for roofs and the whitewashing of walls, which required the King’s permission, marked social distinctions in the built environment, and such buildings were rare.51 From this perspective, the bungalow appears to be the dwelling of the elite of the society. The most contrasting aspects of the colonial bungalow are its division into rooms for specialized and exclusive functions, the use of furniture, and the aspect of conspicuous consumption built into it. This is especially evident in the perception of “the view” as a consumption good. According to Cordiner these bungalows were constructed to provide a panoramic view. On one side, the upper balconies provided an extensive outlook over the sea, the road, and shipping in the harbour. On the land side, inhabitants enjoyed the “richest prospect comprehending the lake, [the] Pettah, cinnamon plantations, and a wide range of the inland factories bounded by Adam’s Peak, and many larger mountains.” 52 In transforming the fort into a space of their own, the British defamiliarized it not only for the Ceylonese, but also for the Portuguese and Dutch descendants. W riting in regard to India, Thomas R. Metcalf notes that “during the first decades of their rule, ... the British gave little thought to architecture.” 53 In Colombo too, their primary requirement was for domestic and other functional space, for which they adapted Dutch buildings. For Percival, however, the early nineteenth century houses within the fort, mostly built by the Dutch, were monotonous: “most houses have the same plan ... hall in front, chamber at each side.” 54 The British gradually modified these to suit their own cultural requirements, for example, replacing glass windows with venetian blinds and fixing punkas, a colonial form of labor intensive ventilation. 55 In contrast to the densely developed fort area, the Pettah in the 1800s was “neat, clean, regular and larger.” 56 This was largely a residential neighborhood. Laid out by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, it consisted of a grid-iron of five streets, each of about a half mile long, parallel to each other, and the same number intersecting them at right angles.57 This, the principal space of the Dutch and Portuguese descendants, later known as the Burghers, was largely undisturbed until the 1860s, when the colonial state began to expand its locus beyond the walls of the fort and the influx of Ceylonese merchants from the opposite direction also grew. The Outer Pettah was the typical “native” component of the colonial city. It was, however, a completely different world, filled with Lankan cultural practices, but with no political or military institutions comparable to those of the fort. According to H.W. Cave, in 1908 this world was occupied by astrologers, tinsmiths, cobblers, vendors, Ayurvedic doctors, betel sellers, and barbers,58 all operating within Lankan systems of knowledge and culture. As King argues in regard to


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colonial cities in general, this segregated city was “fundamental in the development of ‘categorical’ relationships, the stereotyping of one race and its behavior by another.” 59 According to Percival, in the 1800s the Pettah was a large area with exceedingly narrow streets and a number of bazaars kept by native Ceylonese, and had an abundant supply of vegetables, dry fish, and fruits, typical of what he sees as a classic “native city.” 60 The division between the space inside and outside the fort was therefore not only ethnic, but also political, cultural, and social. In contrast to Colombo, the cultural acquisition of the Sinhalese city of Kandy proved to be a formidable task for the British. Although Colombo was a port city located on the periphery of the Lankan society, Kandy was geographically, politically, and culturally centrally placed in the Kandyan society. W hile Colombo had been an important outpost of the Portuguese and D utch empires for three centuries, Kandy had acted as the principal center of resistance for over two centuries. Kandy, therefore, represented the political and religious center for the Sinhalese, and a symbol of resistance to European invasions for the Lankans. W hat the British constructed in Kandy, therefore, was drastically different from what they had made in Colombo. The conferment of political legitimacy was central to the British takeover of Kandy, and the past colonial takeovers of Kandy confirm that the mere presence of the military was insufficient. According to James Duncan, colonizing Kandy required the transformation of its cultural landscape. Duncan argues that much of the strength of a place is derived from the power of the model in which its landscape partakes. Kandy was built as the place of the god-king at the center of heavenly universe near the Mahameru mountain where the governmental and religious functions of the kingdom culminated. (figure 2.6) In order to transform Kandy in a way that represented their power, it was crucial for the British to take possession of the most sacred symbol, the tooth relic of B uddha, enshrined in the Dalada Maligawa, to build a road from the coast up through the mountains to Kandy, and to ride a horse through the heart of a mountain.61 Besides facilitating the subjection of Kandy by enabling military and administrative traffic, the road from Colombo to Kandy itself was used to represent the mastery of the British over Kandy. According to Tennent, The British succeeded in constructing a military road, unsurpassed in excellence, into the heart of the Kandyan country,... rocks were pierced, precipices scraped, torrents bridged, to effect a passage; and ... [the Kandyans] recalled the warning of ancient prophecy, and felt that now the conquest of their country was complete.62 Moreover, these wonders of W estern engineering were bolstered by additional symbols of power. The “tunnel” at Kadugannawa was particularly important. It was a magnificent presence at the sharpest switch over of this road after a long steep climb along a stretch of road that resembled a pass. There was a precipice on one side and a near vertical drop on the other, and with a final steep climb just in front of it. Considering the technology employed in the construction of the road, the

Colonizing Ceylon



Colonizing Ceylon

British engineers could have blown off the top section. Yet making this tunnel was a deliberate decision, to turn it into a symbol. According to contemporary British sources, it was built to impress the Kandyans with the full sense of the “irreversible power” of their conquerors rather than as a specimen of engineering.63 Other monuments, such as the Dawson Tower, commemorating the engineer in charge of the road’s construction, were built as symbols of political and cultural power. (figure 2.7) Kandy was both the metropolitical center of the kingdom and religious center for the Buddhists. The merging of political and religious centers in Lanka goes back to the fourth century when the Tooth Relic of Buddha was brought to the island and housed in a shrine near the royal palace. W ilhelm Geiger, translator of the great chronicle of Lanka, The Mahawamsa, has noted that these relics of Buddha had gradually come to co nstitute th e “n a tio n a l palladium”--the symbol of legitimate kingship. The sangha (order of Buddhist monks) legitimized and strengthened the kingship; they r e p r e s e n te d t h e k i n g a s a FIGURE 2.7 Sign of imminance: Kadugannawa tunnel, with DawsonTower in the background. Bodhisattva--“a Buddha to be” in a From: Tennent, II: 186. future life. In turn, the king was the 64 chief patron of the sangha. Hence, the kingship and sangha comprised the principal politico-ideological institution of the system, in which each was both independent and interdependent. This complex institution was spatially represented in the traditional location of the Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth Relic) adjacent to the palace. (Figure 2.8) This temple, which housed the relics (tooth and, later, the bowl), was the only religious building to be built within the royal compound. 65 This combination had been central to the layout of the royal complex right up to the last Kingdom of Kandy. For the Sinhalese, the possessor of the relic was the legitimate ruler of Lanka,

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FIGURE 2.8 The Center of resistance: The religio-royal complex of Kandy. From: Davy, 112. and the legitimate ruler should possess the relic. Despite their inability to maintain the traditional relationship between the ruler and the religion, the British rulers also undertook the role of the patron publicly. Instead of destroying the Temple, which would have created chaos, the British regime opted to appropriate it. As in the 1817-18 rebellion, however, a Sinhalese appropriation of the relic in their struggles of resistance could prove fatal for the colonial regime. They therefore first stationed troops at the Temple and installed iron bars to protect the outermost casket of the tooth relic, 66 particularly from the Buddhists. The pressure from Christian missionary groups, however, made the Resident of Kandy distance himself from the relic. The British undertook to fill this political vacuum by transforming the landscape built for a god-king in the center of the universe, into one which represented British power. This was carried out by coopting Kandyan symbols and by substituting some of them by their own. The other most significant symbol, the former Kandyan palace, was adopted as the Resident’s Quarters. As part of their conscious attempt to transform the meaning of the royal complex, the British reorganized both the function and space of the king’s audience hall, located between the palace and the temple. This open colonnaded building was turned into an Anglican place of worship on Sundays, with a pulpit being erected on the alcove previously occupied by the king’s throne, and with an image of the British Emperor placed immediately behind it. During the week this was also used as the civic court, a place of British justice.67 British rulers playing tennis in the Kandyan royal complex culminated its transformation and provided a spectacle for the Kandyans. Tennis courts were constructed between the Temple and the palace, near the audience hall, the new recreational function deliberately replaced the previous aura of power, and turned the complex into a B ritish playing field. The British also converted the Malabar Palace of the king’s kin into a European hospital, the Queen’s bath house into a European library, the octagonal pattirippuwa of the temple into a jail, and the large houses of the nobles into stores and hotels.68 The other main element of the former palace complex was the lake, symbolically representing the Ocean of Milk in the kingdom of the god-king, and reflecting the clouds providing the sense that it was up in the sky. Building an ornamental wall and a walkway around it, 69 and creating a promenade, the British transformed the lake into an object of aesthetic consumption for the colonial community. In


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FIGURE 2.9 Symbols of power: King’s Pavilion and St. Paul’s church at Kandy. From: Cave, 317; Alwis et al., 33. addition, they built a driveway encircling the lake and, most crucially, named it after the British Empress Victoria. W hat was previously the Sea of Milk was now appropriated in the name of the British Empress. As in Colombo, the British created an esplanade in front of the temple to act as a buffer zone between themselves and the “natives,” and named it after the Empress Victoria. 70 The esplanade provided both an area of surveillance and an open field of fire. British games, such as cricket and rugby were played in the esplanade, transforming the “natives” into spectators, who were also kept at a distance. The British built their own symbols in such a way as to deliberately subvert the symbolic significance of old Kandy. 71 These were meant to subject Kandy, to physically, spatially, and symbolically overpower the former Kandyan built environment and its inhabitants. In 1820, the King’s Pavilion was built close to the former palace, in the process, dwarfing the palace. An Anglican church was built in the sacred square, towering over the Dalada Maligawa, and moving the principal religious center to a now dominant St. Paul’s church. (Figure 2.9) In this way, the principal sign of the built environment was shifted from the structures of the former power holders to those of the British. In the judgement of one colonial official, the houses of the Governor, of the Commandant, and the jail, were the finest looking buildings in the country. 72 According to Harold Lasswell, the ‘signature of power’ is manifest in two ways: through a ‘strategy of awe’, intimidating the audience with majestic displays of power, and through a ‘strategy of admiration’ aimed at diverting the audience with spectacular and histrionic projects.73 These colonial power symbols were also supplemented by institutions of cultural dissemination and control, with a Protestant school and a police station located in the sacred square. Most significantly, the new institution of British justice, the courthouse, was constructed on the most sacred grounds, right behind the Temple on the side of the heavenly Mahameru mountain. As much as it represented the domination and power of the British, the new landscape also familiarized space for the colonizers. Kandy was transformed into a British cultural place. British statues were erected in public squares and, as in

Colonizing Ceylon


Colombo, streets and places were given British names, 74 Brownrigg Street, W ace Park, W ard Street, the whole transformed into an object of tourist consumption. In this way, the British transformed former Kandy. Its meaning and function were thus obscured, defamiliarized and dehistoricized, making Kandyans, and Lankans, ambivalent about its existence. The British, therefore, not only took over the whole island of Lanka physically in the nineteenth century but also reconstructed it around Colombo. They transformed its social and spatial structures and subjected it to an English speaking administration. In the process they also destroyed, erased, or subjugated Lankan territorial spaces, landscapes, and architecture. Going beyond the political appropriation of territories and built environments, however, the British continued their colonial project into the realms of economy and culture. These aspects are examined in the following chapter. Notes 1. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean, 135; Lach, II: 151-154; Brohier and Paulusz, II: 6-7. 2. John Channell Berry, Europe Looks at the World: The Evolution of European Cartography from 1493 to 1761 (Kingston, ON: Agnes Etherington Art Center, 1984), 6; Ronald V. Tooley, Maps and Map Makers (New York: Crown Publishers, 1978). 3. In A.N. Porter, ed., Atlas of British Overseas Expansion (London: Routledge, 1991). 4. Chaudhuri, Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean, 126; Lennox A. Mills, British Malaya 1824-1867 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1966), 50, 53. 5. Giovanni Arrighi, “The Three Hegemonies of Historical Capitalism,” Review xiii (1990): 380; John Ruggie, “Continuity and Transformation in the World Polity: Toward a Neorealist Synthesis,” World Politics xxxv (1983): 275; Lane, 51, 62. See also Anthony Giddens, The Nation-State and Violence (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1987). 6. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 75. 7. This world-space is not congruent with the world as a whole, and I do not argue that this matrix is total. There were a considerable number of varied “third” spaces, including protectorates, zones of influence, and various types of independent states. See, for example, John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” The Economic History Review, Second Series VI (1953): 1-15. Yet this world-space was the principal one. Our focus, however, is on states and empires, particularly because they were the principal forms of territorial space; the construction of Ceylon also took place within this structure. 8. Wallerstein, Modern World-System III, 179. 9. See Edward Ingram (Two Views of British India. The Private Correspondence of Mr. Dundas and Lord Wellesley: 1798-1801 (Somerset: Adams and Dart, 1970), 10, 144, 153, 162, 205) for correspondence between Earl of Merrington and Dundas suggesting the retention of Ceylon under the Madras Presidency. 10. Wallerstein, Modern World System III, 57, 193; Kennedy, 114-5. 11. M. Cross, Urbanization and Urban Growth in the Caribbean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 9.


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12. Mary Karasch, “Rio de Janeiro: From Colonial Port Town to Imperial Capital,” in Robert Ross and Gerard J. Telkamp, eds., Colonial Cities: Essays on Urbanism in a Colonial Context, (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1985), 123-154. 13. Ronald J. Horvath, “In Search of a Theory of Urbanization: Notes on the Colonial City,” East Lakes Geographers 5 (1969): 76. 14. George, Viscount Valentia, Voyages and Travels to India, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Abyssinia, and Egypt in the Years 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806. 3 vols (St. James: W. Blumer, 1809) I:309. (Italics added) 15. da Silva, v. 16. Yda Saueressig-Schreuder, “The Impact of British Colonial Rule on the Urban Hierarchy of Burma” Review x (1986): 254. 17. By a “Singhalese monarch,” I refer to a king or a queen of a “Singhalese kingdom” who may or may not be Singhalese in ethnicity. For example, the rulers of the Kandy Kingdom in the last phase were of the south Indian Nayakkar dynasty. Although Tamil kingdoms were established in the north of Lankan territory after the twelfth century, and also attempted to capture the whole island, there is not enough evidence to argue that those monarchs had imagined the whole island as a single society and space. 18. See H.A.P. Abeywardena, Kadaimpoth Vimarshanaya (Colombo: Cultural Department, 1978). 19. This translation is taken from Henry Marshall, the surgeon of the military that conquered Kandy, who wrote, “the Kingdom of Kandy, as it is frequently called, the Kandyan country.” (A General Description of the Island and its Inhabitants with an Historical Sketch of the Conquest of the Colony by the English (Kandy: Kandy Printers, 1954), 24) 20. H.L. Seneviratne, Rituals of Kandyan State (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1978), 1-7. 21. De Silva, The Portuguese in Ceylon, 2. 22. See Carter, 147. 23. See Simon Casie Chitty, The Ceylon Gazetteer Containing an Accurate Account of the Districts, Provinces, Cities, Towns, Principal Villages, Harbours, Rivers, Lakes of the Island of Ceylon (Colombo: M.D. Gunasena, 1972). 24. Colvin R. de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation 1795-1833. 2 vols. (Colombo: The Colombo Apothecaries, 1953), I: 88, 94. 25. For Tennent, who reflects the British view, when the British took over Ceylon, and for many years afterwards, no road deserving its name was in existence to unite these important positions. (II: 120) See also, James Cordiner, A Description of Ceylon Containing an Account of the Country, Inhabitants and Natural Productions; with Narratives of a Tour Round the Island in 1801, the Campaign in Candy in 1803, and a Journey to Ramisseram in 1804. 2 vols. (London: Longman, 1807) I: 15-16. 26. Mills, Ceylon Under British Rule, 224; see also de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation, II: 406. 27. Tennent, II: 95, 120-1; Mills, Ceylon Under British Rule, 225. 28. Mendis, 17. The military forts in the interior included Ruwanwella, Fort King, and Balangoda, and outposts included Hettimulla, Nalanda, Maturata, Amanapoora and Pasbage. (See John Davy, An Account of the Interior of Ceylon and Its Inhabitants, with Travels in the Island (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1821), 357, 362, 381, 400, 437, 451.) In addition, there were forts in more than a dozen ports around the island. (See Brohier, Links Between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands)

Colonizing Ceylon


29. Mills, Ceylon Under British Rule, 225; Tennent, II: 95, 121. A.J. Christopher notes that the colonial city planners tended to be military men until the last few decades of the colonial era. (The British Empire at Its Zenith (London: Croom Helm, 1988), 131) 30. de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation, I: 200. Carts were used on this route from the 1820s. (G.F. Perera, The Ceylon Railway: The Story of its Inception and Progress (Colombo: The Ceylon Observer Press, 1925), 27) 31. Mills, Ceylon Under British Rule, 225. 32. Mills, Ceylon Under British Rule, 62; Mendis, 33; Patrick Peebles, “Governor Arthur Gordon of Sri Lanka, 1883-1890,” in Robert J. Crane and N. Gerald Barrier, eds., British Imperial Policy in India and Sri Lanka 1858-1912: A Reassessment (New Delhi: Heritage Publishers, 1981), 90); de Silva, Ceylon Under the British Occupation, II: 165; Tennent, II: 57; Cordiner, 18; Valentia, 151. 33. See K.M. de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka (London: C. Hurst and Co., 1989), 317. 34. Robert Knox, An Historical Account of Ceylon (Glasgow: James McLehose and Sons, 1961 [1711], 10. 35. Percival, 114. 36. Hulugalle, Centenary Volume, 25. According to Duncan (The City as Text), Kandy, and according to Tennent (II: 344-5), Kurunegala, of the north western province, also had similar structures. What is crucial here is that most, if not all, colonial cities were racially divided, at least since the nineteenth century, whether it was the colonial port city or one in the interior. 37. King has noted that in southern India, the civil station was frequently spatially incorporated in the cantonment, although the basic military and civil institutions were kept separate. (Colonial Urban Development, 45) This also demonstrates a difference in time. New Delhi was built much later in the twentieth century, not next to a port, and was also planned by professionals. 38. Brohier and Paulusz, 9. 39. Cordiner, 38. 40. See Brohier, Lands, Maps and Surveys, 87. 41. Percival, 102. 42. Cordiner, 30. 43. Ibid, 37. 44. See Carter, xx-xxi. 45. Christopher, 231-234 46. Cordiner, 30, 39. Yet Davy wrote about “houses which construct streets in Kandy.” (365) Kandy was, however, the metropolitical center of the kingdom and it does not reflect the normal building practices of the Lankans. 47. de Silva, “The Sri Lankan Tradition for Shelter”; de Vos, “Some Aspects of Traditional Rural Housing and Domestic Technology.” 48. Marshall, 20. 49. Percival, 102. 50. Cordiner notes that the Ceylonese houses, even in Colombo, were considerably lower [shorter]. (31, 40) 51. Davy, 256; Knox, An Historical Account; Marshall, 20. 52. Cordiner, 36. 53. Thomas R. Metcalf, “Architecture and the Representation of Empire: Indian, 18601910,” Representations 6 (1984): 39. 54. Percival, 103-4. 55. See Cordiner, 30-33; Percival, 103.


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56. In Hulugalle, Centenary Volume, 30. 57. Cordiner, 33. 58. See Henry W. Cave, The Book of Ceylon: Being a Guide to its Railway System and an Account of its Various Attractions for the Visitor and Tourist (London: Cassell, [1908]), 50-55, 86. 59. J.C. Mitchell, “Theoretical Orientations in African Urban Studies,” in M. Burton, ed. The Social Anthropology of Complex Societies (London: Tavistock, 1966) cited in King, Colonial Urban Development. 60. In Hulugalle, 31. 61. Duncan, “Power of Place in Kandy,” 186, 190. 62. Tennent, II: 95. Italics mine. 63. J. Stewart, Notes on Ceylon and its Affairs During a Period of Thirty Eight Years Ending in 1855 (London: Privately Published, 1862), 7; Cave, 234. 64. R.A.L.H. Gunawardana, Robe and Plough: Monasticism and Economic Interest in Early Medieval Sri Lanka (Tuscan and Arizona: The University of Arizona Press, 1979), 79, 172, 178, 210, 211. 65. Silva, “Lessons of Town Planning”: 7, 29. 66. Seneviratne, 24; Mills, Ceylon Under British Rule, 127. 67. See Duncan, “Power of Place in Kandy,” 191. 68. Duncan, “Power of Place in Kandy,” 191. 69. Cave, 320. 70. See Cave, 319. 71. Duncan, “Power of Place in Kandy,” 191. 72. Davy, 371. 73. Harold Lasswell, The Signature of Power (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1979), 57, cited in Paul L. Knox, Urban Social Geography: An Introduction (New York: John Wiley and Sons inc., 1987), 228. 74. Duncan, “Power of Place in Kandy,” 191.

2: system of states and empires: The British Conquest of Kandy and the Construction of Ceylon  

Beginning with the system of states and empires constructed by the European powers, it examines the British conquest of Kandy and the constr...

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