Sri Lanka — History and Culture
Sri Lanka’s history is one characterized by great conflict and turmoil. Much of the history tells the story of war and uprising, be it the rebellions against the colonial powers or the extended civil war fought between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan military.
The Sinhalese people settled on Sri Lanka in the 6th century and ruled over the territory for 10 centuries. The Sinhalese monarchy was disestablished with the arrival of European colonists, in the form of the Portuguese in the 16th century and the Dutch in the 17th century.
After 1815, however, the entire island was put under the control of the British, which led to much resistance. The Uva Rebellion of 1818 and the Matale Rebellion of 1848 were both a result of rising local tensions under British rule. The country gained independence from the British Empire in 1948 but remained a Dominion of the Commonwealth.
It was only in 1972 that Sri Lanka broke all ties with Britain and became a republic, introducing its own constitution and head of state. Soon after full independence, however, the country was thrust into a violent and prolonged civil war between the Sri Lankan government and separatist Tamil movement fighting for an independent Tamil state.
The civil war ended after 26 years in 2009 when the leader of the Tamil Tiger movement was killed by the Sri Lankan military. Today, Sri Lanka has welcomed a new president, has opened up areas of the country that were formerly closed during the war, and begun a new chapter in its history.
Sir Lanka’s culture is extremely rich, largely because it has had time to cultivate and develop across the centuries. The country’s culture has been influenced by its regional neighbors, most notably Southern India. Such influences are evident mainly in the Sri Lankan cuisine and music. Evidence of the country’s colonial history can also be seen, especially in such recreational activities as tea drinking and the popular sport of cricket.
The main influence for Sri Lankan cuisine is most obviously the Southern Indian region. Some local restaurants even label their dishes as both Sri Lankan and Southern Indian. Ingredients like coconut milk, lime juice, chilies, pickles, and fruit chutneys are descendants of Southern Indian fare. The long-standing tradition of tea-drinking is, however, a distinctly British influence.
Sri Lankan music is heavily influenced by the musical traditions of Portugal and Buddhism. The Portuguese arrived on the island in the 16th century and with them they brought instruments like guitars and ukuleles, and the tradition of the Portuguese ballad. The African slaves who were forced to come to the island by the Portuguese also influenced the music, which is noticeable in the drumming and certain traditional dances.