Account of the East by Van Sanden 1786


The “discovery” of the periphery led to new encounters between the native population and the Dutch officials. These did not always go smoothly and it was not an easy task to implement the same energetic policies in these regions as had been done in the core. The diary of the exploratory journey that Van Senden, head of Trincomalee, undertook in the spring of 1786, gives insight into this interaction and how both the Dutch and the natives experienced this new encounter.251 It also reveals the utilitarian attitude of the Dutch regarding the nature and people of Ceylon, and it went hand in hand with the discovery of the island’s rich past in this northeastern dry zone. Moreover it very clearly reveals the clash of interests between the natives and the Dutch and their different perceptions of their environment. Van Senden’s journal consists of four parts. The first part, about his journey through Kottiyar in Batticaloa, is the most extensive. This is followed by an account of the possible measures to be taken to improve the agriculture there. The third and fourth part, about Tamblegam and Kattukolom, are much shorter. In those sections, Van Senden refers often to earlier remarks he made about Kottiyar, which was connected to Kattukolom by the bay of Trincomalee; Tamblegam was located more inland, and bordered the territories of the Kingdom of Kandy. The land on the coast is by and large flat, but in the interior the landscape is more diverse with plains and hilly areas. Salt production on the coast of Kattukolom formed an important industry for the region. The salt was mainly purchased by traders from Kandy and by the VOC in Trincomalee. The hinterland of Trincomalee was densely populated(Tennet 1848, reports to the Colonial office that all Kandian peoples of this area are dealt with) and had an impressive past. Van Senden describes with great interest the remains of temples, bridges and irrigation works of the ancient kingdoms that he saw on his travels. The most impressive ruin of all was that of the water tank of Kantala in Tamblegam(Today Tampalakamam).

Van Senden travelled by boat, horse and palanquin and had himself accompanied by the most prominent native headmen of the area. In Kottiyar* he was assisted by the Vanniy¯ar Irroemarooewentoega Ideewirasinha Nallemapane, in Tamblegam by the mudaliy¯ar Don Fransisco Kannegerandge Kannegeritna and in Kattukolompattu by the vanniy¯ar Don Joan Sandere Seegere Mapane. The local population took care of provisioning the group. The first thing Van Senden did when arriving in the villages was to make up a register of all male inhabitants. The villages on the coast numbered up to a hundred men, but the other settlements were much smaller, with only seven or eight adult men. In some places, in particular in Tamblegam and Kattukolom, it was impossible to count the inhabitants, because they fled. Van Senden’s visit to Moedoer, the first village he called at, may serve as an example of his encounters. The village was relatively large, with one hundred fourteen adult males, and was located on the coast at the mouth of the river Kinge. The first thing Van Senden noticed was that there was a lot of waste land. The paddy fields that were in use looked fine, but the water tank that had to supply the land in the dry season was not well placed. It lay too low and as a consequence the water could not reach the fields. He therefore showed the people how they could water the fields using dam and pipe-constructions, so they could also exploit the waste lands. He inspected the river and wondered whether a water mill could be placed there to saw timber. Next he checked whether the river could be diked to prevent floods in the wet season. He explained the inhabitant that the higher grounds, which were not used at all, were perfectly suited to growing fruit bearing trees. He thought of plantations of between three thousand and twenty-two thousand coconut palms. Van Senden did not understand why the inhabitants did not put effort into producing more; they could barter the surplus and the population would increase and this in turn would lead to higher production. The unsown paddyfields, water regulation and the poor fruit tree plantations are subjects that recur again and again in the text. Many times Van Senden pointed this out to the vanniy¯ar who travelled with him, and encouraged him “to make better use of that which nature had given him and his people so generously”.

*In Kottiyar Bay today, their 'NO' Sinhala people. This vanniyar name is very a Sinhala name and one can prefume certainly during the Dutch and upto the early British period was a Sinhala area.


Dagregister gehouden geduurende de ronde, in het Koetjaarsche, Tamblegamsche en Kattoekolompattoesch, door den onderkoopman D.E. Jacques Fabrice van Senden, waarneemende het gezach te Trinkonomale in den jaere 1786. (Diary kept by the onderkoopman Jacques Fabrice van Senden during his tour in Kottiyar, Tamblegam and Katukolompattu in the year 1786), f. 30.

There are two other copies in the National Archives in The Hague: NA (NL), HR 537 and NA (NL), Collectie Van Braam 199. I used the literal transcription of the names of these headmen. The same goes for the place names in the text. The title vanniy¯ar refers to the time when the area fell under the Kingdom of Kandy. The king of Kandy appointed the vanniy¯ars as provincial headmen at the outskirts his Kingdom, therefore they enjoyed relatively great autonomous power.

The village Moedoer is probably the contemporary town Muttur, but for sake of clarity I use Van Senden’s naming of villages and settlements.