|Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka|
|File:Flag of Sri Lanka.svg|
|Ethnic Groups||Demographics of Sri Lanka|
|Mutual cultural heritage|
|Dutch presence||During the 17th and 18th century (VOC)|
|Types of heritage||Maritime Heritage
The Sri Lankan history is rich in close encounters with many nationalities. Different traditions, faiths and ethnicities have mixed. It was during the first half of the 17th century that the Dutch first set foot on Sri Lanka with the arrival of the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC) in the early seventeenth century followed by the hegemony over the coastal areas in order to monopolize the export trade of Sri Lanka.
What remains today of the Dutch Period is a mutual heritage that evolved from interaction and exchange between the Sri Lankan and Dutch cultures. This had an effect on the social, cultural, religious, economic and political spheres, resulting in influences on both the tangible and intangible heritage of Sri Lanka.
This page on the heritage cooperation between the Netherlands and Sri Lanka provides an overview of past, present and future projects in the field of Dutch-Sri Lankan heritage.
The Dutch presence in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) lasted 150 years, officially from 1658 when the Dutch expelled the Portuguese, until 1796, the year of the British occupation.
However, the first encounter with the island dates back to 1602, when Joris van Spilbergen arrived on the eastern coast. Ceylon was known to produce the best-quality cinnamon. In addition, the Dutch East India Company (‘VOC’) achieved the monopoly on the trade of tamed elephants directed to the Indian market. The VOC was a leading supplier on the intra-asiatic shipping market, and that meant that the Dutch had to deal diplomatically with the King of Kandy, in the interior of Ceylon, where cinnamon and elephants were found. The Dutch needed to control the islands’ coasts, as well, particularly the harbours of Colombo and Galle. After Batavia (now Jakarta), Galle, as the departure point for loaded ships sailing directly to the Netherlands, was the most strategic VOC hub in Asia. It had a natural bay to give shelter to ships, but reefs made entering the harbour dangerous. Many shipwrecks are still lying on the bottom of the bay waiting to be recovered (see Avondster project).
In the 16th century, the coastal areas of Ceylon were subject to Portuguese influence, while the indigenous kingdom of Kandy in the interior was cut off from the sea. The majority of the population was Sinhalese, followed by Toepas, Muslims, Portuguese and Mestizos (descendants from mix marriages).
During Dutch rule in Sri Lanka, no major migrations took place, other than some isolated episodes like the Javanese and Ambonese soldiers that were sent around 1650 to fight against the Portuguese and later, after 1760, against the King of Kandy.
Among the VOC personnel in Ceylon, many settled down with and married indigenous women. The descendants of this mixed group were identified as Dutch Burghers. Dutch Burgers formed an elite to a certain extent, but by 1948, when Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain, they were being forced to learn the Sinhala and Tamil languages and many chose to leave the country. In present times, the tendency has been reversed, and some Burghers are returning to their motherland.
Thematic Overview of the Cooperation
The tropical climate of Sri Lanka makes it an even bigger challenge to preserve these historical documents. Climate control and storage facilities need to be kept under close surveillance. During the last few years, experts from the Netherlands have worked jointly with Sri Lankan experts, in order to establish and maintain sufficient conservation standards.
Due to the presence of the Dutch in the 17th and 18th century, Sri Lanka has been left with a specific Dutch-Sri Lankan built heritage, such as: churches, forts, libraries, warehouses, dams, dwellings, ramparts, cemeteries, and sewerage. At times, one can even talk about a Dutch-Sri Lankan cultural landscape. In the case of the conservation project of Conservation and Landscaping of Star Fort of Matara, the surrounding landscape was also reconstructed. And in Galle, a project was initiated to refurbish the buildings in Galle Fort and thus its urban landscape.
Since the early 1990’s an international team of maritime archaeologists, historians and museum curators have conducted research on request of the Sri Lankan authorities in the Bay of Galle and in the extensive archives in Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. Underwater surveys have revealed an impressive number of heritage sites, dated from the 13th century up to modern times. Based on this first inventory of maritime heritage sites in the Bay of Galle, an ambitious capacity building programme was formulated in order to establish suitable infrastructure for maritime heritage management. In 2001, a Maritime Archaeology Unit (MAU) was formed.
There are many major museums that play a key role in the public understanding and awareness of mutual cultural heritage. Since 2003 Sri Lankan museums planned and implemented mutual cultural heritage projects in collaboration with Dutch counterparts with the intention of laying the solid basis for sustainable museological development in the future.
Overview of Projects, experts and organisations
Sites (12) where projects have activities
Click on a marker for the list of projects at the site.
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Organisation involved with projects in Sri Lanka (as implied by the projects registered on the Organisation pages)
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Experts involved with projects in Sri Lanka (as implied by the projects registered on the Expert pages)
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Projects related to Sri Lanka