The Localist

The Burghers of Sri Lanka

The fourth largest ethnic group of Sri Lanka, the Burghers, descends from European and Sri Lankan mixed origins. Consisting mainly of European male colonists who intermarried with Sri Lankan women, the group’s origins span across a range of countries, but Dutch and Portuguese heritage are most common amongst Sri Lankan Burghers. The word Burgher by definition means ‘citizen’ in Dutch, and almost all Sri Lankan Dutch Burghers were affiliated with the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) or the Dutch East India Company that carried out trade activities during Dutch colonial rule in Asia.

The Burgher culture is a rich mixture of the east and west, and the physical appearance of Burghers ranges from various shades of skin colour and hair colour. While most Burghers speak English, their linguistic abilities include Portuguese Creole, Sinhalese and Tamil. Burghers, in general, show great pride in their mixed ancestry, and families have kept stamboeken (Dutch for clan books) that record important family events such as marriages, births and deaths.

Burgher Cuisine

The Burghers introduced to Sri Lanka a number of foods that have now become an integral part of Sri Lankan cuisine. Love cake, Ijzer Koekjes (Dutch for Iron biscuits), Frikkadel (baked meatballs) Bol Fiadho (layered cake) and Lamprais are the most popular. Lamprais (pictured above) is rice boiled in stock that’s served with curries such as Seeni Sambal, Frikkadel, mixed meat curries and Brinjal Moju wrapped in a banana leaf and baked. For anyone interested in having a go at re-creating this Burgher delicacy, is a good starting point, with links to recipes for each of the separate curries that go into producing Lamprais.

Dutch Burgher Union, Colombo

The Dutch Burgher Union (DBU) of Colombo (pictured abov, a beautiful old building where the top floor is made entirely of teak and no concrete in the heart of the capital, houses a meeting place for Burghers and anyone interested in Burgher culture. DBU hosts, from time to time, food festivals, parties and cultural events, so keep a watch out for them if you happen to be around Colombo. The union has a library that holds a comprehensive record of family lineages for anyone interested in tracing their roots. There is a bar and TV area where visitors can enjoy a quiet drink while catching up on a game of cricket and my personal favourite, the VOC café. The café serves Western food, home-made ginger beer and of course, authentic Lamprais at very reasonable prices. Keep in mind though that the Lamprais is very popular and sells out so it’s always a good idea to pre-order it.




Images. All photos by Virandi Wettewa.


One Response to The Burghers of Sri Lanka

  1. Sarath Perera says:

    For me, and for many others, I suspect, the most significant characteristic of all Sri Lankan people almost everywhere is the unmistakable “baila” with its obvious Portuguese connections.


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