by Malcolm Abayekoon

Michael Abayekoon, was born to a Sinhalese father and Burgher mother. He has traced his Burgher ancestory back to his great great grandfather Samuel Pieter Foenandar who arrived in Ceylon on 1st April 1780. Michael says that his book ‘Sinhala Burgher’, “is a loose-jointed account .. of what I, a result of that connection, has seen and done.”

Excerpt from: Sinhala Burgher - The Reminiscences of a Sri Lankan –

“As I said the canal banks were a thing of beauty in those days, we spent many an evening there watching the girls go by and making fun of an hermaphrodite. On the opposite side to where we were there were a number of houses owned by the well-known surgeon Dr R L Spittle. In one lived a girl who I fancied. Nice to know that she did well for herself in Australia. After I left the island the St. Nicholas Home for old Burgher ladies was built somewhere there. I got reports of how sad it was to see those old dears. They had seen good times. Now they were all alone as most of their folks had gone to live Down Under and elsewhere.

In the lane that I lived in and thereabouts lived Singhalese, Tamils, Burghers, Malays, Colombo Chettys, Eurasians, Indians and even a few Europeans. We lived in harmony. The communal strife came later with a vengeance. I was told of how local thugs had jumped on the super nationalist bandwagon. Every country has such types, given the slightest opportunity they harass minorities.

In that vicinity lived many of my pals, the Edwards boys, Maxi Fernando who became a preacher man and moved to America, Cyril Fernando, Horatio Mutunayagam, Donny and Maurice Nathanilesz, Milroy Rutnam, Rodney and Henry Rudd, a fellow who we call “bear bod” on account of his hirsute chest. The Pinto boys who were from Goa and two brothers whom we named Frank and Jesse James after the Missouri outlaws. The one we called Jesse had a habit of stirring up fights then standing aside and saying things like “Hit, hit the bugger!” On one occasion he was forced to join in the battle. When he saw some fellow approaching him with clenched fists he said “Hit to see”. The fellow did and Jesse bit the dust.

Local characters included a tall Burgher lady who hoofed it about the place chatting away to herself, an old reprobate who received a hiding for exposing himself in public, a transvestite who liked to be called Doreen, he or was it she went about wearing ill-fitting frocks and high heel shoes. That was a brave thing to have done, Wellawatte was not Paris or Vienna where such a sight is often seen.

 …. I once witnessed Colombo’s smartest police officer put a bunch of thugs in their place right in the centre of downtown Colombo. The fellows were causing damage to a rickshaw, unknown to them the inspector and a cop were observing what was going on, when that became known to the wise guys rigor mortis set in. When asked what the hell they thought they were doing the cockiest of the lot with a silly grin on his face said they were just fooling around. “So am I” said the inspector and let him have a thundering slap…

… On the last day of the year when we were too young to go for dances we danced with bangers and fireworks. In all my travels I have never heard such a racket at midnight on December 31st as what went on in Ceylon. This probably still happens. It used to begin at about a minute before the clock struck twelve and lasted for over an hour. My first New Year’s Eve in London found me waiting to hear that noise. Not a sound was heard. Not even a squib.

Rickshaw pullers were among those who were targets for those hell bent on making other peoples’ lives a misery. On that night those men were usually more boozed up than they normally were. They used to sit on the footrest of their vehicles in a drunken stupor. Triangular bangers that went off with the sound of a bomb were lit and placed under the vehicle. The long fuse shhsssed and there was an explosion. The (rickshaw) man also exploded with rage and did a war dance.

A scout should not have done such a thing…”