Sri Lankan Kaffirs

Sri Lankan Kaffirs(Kapiriyo in Sinhala, Kapili in Tamil, and Cafrinhas in Portugueseare Sri Lankans who are of African descent. Kaffirs can be found all over the island, but the majority reside in the northwestern province of Puttalama Town, Sellan Kanel, Sirambiyadiya. The english term kaffir came from the Portuguese word cafre, which came from the Arab word qafr, meaning unbeliever. The numbers on the Kaffir population varies. The latter is estimated at 1,000 with number of families vary from 50, 80, to 200 families in Northwestern Province in Puttalam district and 15 families in the East, near Trincomalee and Batticaloa.


Abyssinians have been engage in trade with Sri Lanka since the 5th century. Sri Lankan Kaffirs are believed to have arrive during the European age of commerce. Africans were brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese(1505-1658), Dutch(1658-1796), and English(1796-1948). Strong trade interaction existed between Ethiopia, Mozambique, Goa in India, and Sri Lanka(formerly Ceylon). Sri Lankan Kaffirs came as slaves, dock hands, and soldiers.

As soldiers they were used by the Portugese against the Dutch in 1640. One Hundred Kaffir archers fought the Dutch in Galle, a southern province in Sri Lanka. In 1681, Kaffir soldiers were utilized by the Kandyan Kings. Under the Dutch between 1675-1680, they built the Dutch fort in Colombo. In the early 1700s having become demographically significant they staged revolts committing property damage and acts of violence.

By the early 1800s, under the British, much intermarriage had occured between male kaffirs and local women. The British had imported 9,000 soldiers to fight in its regiments. The regiments included: 4th regiments, 3rd regiments. In 1815, the 4th and 3rd regiment fused into the 2nd Battalion.

Between 1871 to 1911, the Sri Lankan census began to report Afro-Sri Lankans as Kaffirs.


Sri Lankan Kaffirs are totally assimilated in Sri Lankan society. Sri Lankan Kaffirs speak Sinhala and Tamil, but once actively spoke Sri Lankan Portuguese Creole, which now can only be heard in the manhas, a type of song, and among the elderly population. Most Kaffirs are Roman Catholics, but they can be Muslims or Budhist.

The Sri Lankan Kaffirs have contributed a style of music called Kaffrinha/Bailas, which is popular music in Sri Lanka that combines African, European, and Asian elements. The slow style with a 6/8 fast beat called Kaffrinha and the 3/8 slow beat called Chikoti from Portugese chicota meaning whip. It is also a dance. Sri Lankan Kaffir also have possession cults, indicative of their African roots.

The Kaffirs also contributed a type of wooden metal tip spear called the assagai.

Modern Status

The numbers of Sri Lankan Kaffir are dwindling. Few still speak the creole language. The popularity of Kaffir music has brought much attention to the community.

Works Cited

Pankhurst, Richard and Shihan de S. Jayasuriya(2003). The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean. Africa World Press. pp. 251-260. ISBN 086543980X, 9780865439801

Plunket, Richard and Ellemor, Brigitte(2003). Lonely Planet Sri Lanka. p. 304 ISBN 1740594231, 9781740594233.

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