Meet the Majas – the music of the Ceylon Africans
A small village tucked away in Puttalam located in the North West of Sri Lanka is home to a community of Ceylon Africans. Also known as Sri Lankan Kaffirs, they are descended from the Portugese traders who frequented the country in the 16th century and the Bantu people, an ethnic group hailing from sub-Saharan Africa who were brought to the country as slaves.
It is not surprising if you haven’t heard of this community before, as many Sri Lankans themselves are unaware of the Kaffirs themselves. During the colonial era, Sri Lanka was under Protugese colonial control and many Africans slaves were brought to Sri Lanka as laborers or soldiers to fight the Sri Lankan rebels and protect the Portugese. Whilst most of the Bantu people left with their masters, a few of them remained in the country and the Sri Lankan ‘Kaffirs’ are those descendants.
Their distinctive “Creole” native language has unfortunately faded away and is now virtually extinct. Their language was based on Portugese and referred to as ‘Sri Lankan Kaffir’ which differs from Sri Lankan Portugese Creole. In an attempt to keep their traditions alive, Peter Luvie, a fifth-generation descendant brought together some village members and together they formed a band which they named “Ceylon African Manja”. Their songs and dances have now become the only form of passing on the language to the next generation.
Their songs usually start solemnly with an almost pensive character but gradually the tempo picks up pace and before you know it, you are enveloped in an upbeat cascade of rhythm and percussion. The music has distinctive elements of Baila or Kaffringna which are the more popular forms of African influenced folk music. The music itself is a sight to behold and you will see the band members playing on local Dolki drums as well as many makeshift instruments such as coconut shells, tablespoons, and empty bottles.
They say Music is the universal language – it becomes even more beautiful when it forms a bridge between people and a means of preserving an entire culture. Khiri ensures that these hidden gems are kept under the radar and are not commercialized, and visits like this contribute to exactly that.
For more information or to make a booking, contact Khiri Travel Sri Lanka at [email protected].