ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has ordered that the name ‘Slave Island’ to be erased from the address books 178 years after the British finally abolished slavery in the island.
The Slave Island is believed to be a place where the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) quartered some of its slaves.
Instead, the area will be called by the Sinhalese name of Companggna Veediya.
Secretary to the Prime Minister Anura Dissanayake has requested the Public Administration Ministry to issue the required gazette.
The move to wipe out the historical name, comes as the country prepares to mark 75 years of gaining self determination from the British and just 178 years and two months after the Colonial rulers finally abolished the ancient custom from the island.
A slave is a person who was owned by a third person who was be bought and who was sold like merchandise under fuedal and Mercantilist rule. A slave cannot quit the job and is not sacked like under capitalism.
By the time the Abolition Gazette was issued by the Government of Ceylon on December 20, 1844, the institution of slavery had been systematically broken down by liberal British civil servants.
The British Empire, under pressure from classical liberals and the Abolition Movement outlawed slavery within its territories and made treaties outside (the US was not a part of the British Empire and slavery continued) sometimes using the Royal Navy (See Preventive squadron or West Africa Squadron).
The Preventive Squadron, which at peak was estimated to have involved 15 percent of the Royal Navy hunted and arrested 1,600 slave ships. Over 1,500 Royal Navy sailors were killed in the operation which ran for over 4 decades.
The VOC had imported slaves (East Indians and Subcontinental Indians) for fortifications and other work and later freed or sold them to natives, adding to the existing stock of traditional slaves, according to historical records.
In Sri Lanka, the British first caused all slaves to be registered so that no new persons could be enslaved. Then a gazette was issued to combine divided slave ownership.
Then children were emancipated. Owners were paid compensation between two to three Rix dollars to ‘buy’ slave kids from tax money collected in the country.
Slavery existed in the several parts of the island, including the in the North East and Kandy. In the Maritime Provinces it was breaking down as Mercantilism gave way to freer trade and capitalism.
In Kandy British officials said the institution was ‘mild’ (they could own property, but if a slave died the property went to the owner).
Kandyan slave owners requested 60 years to end slavery, which the officials managed to negotiate down.
The slaves in Kandy were either descendants of enslaved people or persons sold into slavery during bad times (“acquired by purchase of children from their parents in times of great scarcity”) or were enslaved for debts (“in satisfaction of pecuniary claims”), the British civil servants involved in the abolition of slavery noted.
In Sri Lanka the pioneer abolitionist was Chief Justice Sir Alexander Johnston who initiated voluntary emancipation starting with his jurors in 1816. (Colombo/Feb03/2023)