Tanap Research

Changes in the Peasant Agriculture in Southern and Western Ceylon in the Mid-Eighteenth Century under the VOC Rule


Nirmal R. Dewasiri
(Sri Lanka)

curriculum vitae

My broader objective is to investigate the social and economic changes in the western and southern littoral of Ceylon in the eighteenth century, under the Dutch East India Company (VOC) administration. The focus will be on the process of cinnamon procurement, which was the raison d'être of the VOC presence in Ceylon.

Though the Company's commercial activity in Ceylon was not exclusively restricted to cinnamon, it was by far its most important component of its commercial interests. There were two main sources of cinnamon supply, the major one being those grown wild in an extensive area in the western and southern region. Owing to the insufficiency of the supply solely from this source, cinnamon plantations were started in 1770s. The research will be revolved around following issues which may be considered as the major areas affected by the process of cinnamon procurement.

Mobilisation of labour for peeling and delivering cinnamon, the exclusive source being the compulsory labour of the community known as chalias. The VOC was benefited, in this case, from the traditional practice of rajakariya labour, where subjects were obliged to render a particular service to the sovereign. The system of course went through drastic structural changes under the VOC, which produced far-reaching consequences.

The system of land tenure was affected by the measures taken in order to preserve the cinnamon lands, at the expense of existing land utilisation of inhabitants. This mainly affected widespread swidden cultivation and village expansion. Emergence of a land market, following the cinnamon plantation affected the existing land tenure system.

Growth of non-agricultural social segments such as chalias who were forced to engaged in cinnamon peeling for a longer period of the year, and the other upper social segments necessitated the expansion of market relations.

Though the Company deliberately tried to keep the traditional social equilibrium intact, interests of the merchant capital created avenues for new class relations such as diversification of occupations and accumulation of wealth at the hand of the upper section of the native headmen who were benefited from being closer to the Company.  



Dr. Lodewijk J. Wagenaar
Dr. Nira Wickramasinghe

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