Sri Lanka’s African families fade away

SIRAMBIADIYA, November 15, 2009 (AFP) – In a village deep in west Sri Lanka, one of the island’s few remaining communities of African descent breaks into song — a poignant elegy to a disappearing culture. The music starts with a slow, gentle rhythm played on a tambourine, spoons and coconut shells, before it builds to a climax with dancers swinging their hips, hands and feet wildly.

The performance is a direct link back to the tiny minority’s distant African past.

“We are forgotten people,” Peter Luis, 52, said. “We are losing our language and, having inter-married many times, our children are losing their African features.”

The population of African-Sri Lankans — now numbering about 1,000 — is mainly descended from slaves brought to the island after about 1500 by Portuguese colonialists.

They are known as “Kaffirs”, but the term is not the savage racial insult here that it is in other parts of the world, notably South Africa.

“We are proud of our name. In Sri Lanka, it is not a racist word like the word negro or nigger,” said Marcus Jerome Ameliana, who believes her ancestors came to Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, as Portuguese slaves. The slaves were also used as soldiers to