2017 promises to see a lot of work produced for The Sidi Project and I will begin the year by visiting the Indian Ocean’s smallest African diaspora community on the island of Sri Lanka. Whilst African slaves were taken as far as Indonesia and China by the various colonial powers the small population of Afro-Sri Lankan’s is the most eastern surviving community of descendants. Brought over as slaves and soldiers by the Portuguese, Dutch and later the British as they jostled for control of Sri Lanka, the diaspora numbers here are small but significant in the historical role that they played on the island. Studied in depth by Professor Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya the Sri Lankan ‘kaffirs’, as they are know locally, are the at the highest risk of disappearing. Its worth mentioning that the name Kaffir on Sri Lanka has no racial connotations like it does in South Africa and the Sri Lanka’s African diaspora call themselves by that name.
By the mid-19th century, at least 6,000 Afro-Sri Lankan’s living on the island, but today their numbers have significantly decreased. Their numbers are difficult to assess with no accurate census but it is estimated that approximately 500 live on the island today mostly around the Puttalam area on the west coast but also on the east coast near the town of Trincomalee. However, because the children of Afro–Sri Lankan women who marry Sinhalese or Tamil men are not themselves counted as being Kaffir, thousands of such descendants are less conspicuous in official records, having had their African heritage obscured, if not erased.
I have long wanted to include this small but important community and the project and will finally be able to do so in a few weeks. I will keep the website updated with news from the field.