History – Dutch in Ceylon


JDBU Volume 50 (Parts 3 & 4)
July – October 1960

An extract from “Armorial Bearings of Ceylon in the Dutch Era” by R.L. Brohier


The Coats-of-Arms of the Sub-Districts


It has already been said that the organization under which the Government was administered by the Dutch in Ceylon, included eight sub-districts subject to one or other of the three “Commandements” hitherto described.


Each sub-district had its distinctive heraldic arms. The respective designs were blazoned on a shield of a standard pattern, edged with old gold and banded in red. None of these bear the external accessories such as crest or scroll work featured in the arms of the “Commandements”. The tendency has been towards simplicity, but there are, of course, variations in the design, or “charge” on each coat-of-arms, which as usual, has some allusion to the sub-district represented.


The charge on the arms of “Trinquenemale” (Trincomalee) is that of a lascorin, or Asian soldier, in full uniform, armed with sword and pike. It is an established fact that the Dutch originally impoted Javanese and Malay lascorins for military service in Ceylon. Why this soldier figures as an orphan on the arms of this eastern fortress-harbour is not apparent. Possibly these imported mercenaries were used in large numbers to man the forts at the foot at Pagoda Hill (Swamy Rock) and Oostenburg; or may be, the design merely symbolizes the port at which these troops were usually landed.


The Mannar “Comptoir” has used a weed for its emblem; the Indian Madder (hedyotis puberula) called in Sinhalese Saya and in Tamil Chaya. Before chemical or synthetic dyes were discovered, the Chaya-root was much used by painters and dyers in north Ceylon and South India to obtain the bright red, purple and brown orange tints which are popular in rendering temple paintings, and colouring muslins. The plans, six to ten inches in height with leaves of the grass type was known as Ramiseram Vair from the locality in which it grows. The roots dug up in the Mannar district were known to excel all others in quality, and during the Dutch Government formed a very important article of revenue.


Mature, or Matara, draws on a familiar scene for its device: the Nilwala Ganga spanned by a bridge and a Martello fort. Batticaloa, like Mannar, goes to good earth and typifies the produce of the dry “chena lands” which are a feature of the district. The design represents three cobs of Indian Corn (Zea Mays) called in Sinhalese Iringu and in Tamil Muttu-sholum.


Calpentyn: which is the melodious name the Dutch gave to Kalpitiya, proclaims its past importance as a trading port by its five-bastioned fort still in good preservations and by the design on its arms. The significance of the two ships, as opposed to one on the arms of Chilaw, is that Calpentyn incorporated a second port; Puttalam, at the southern end of the estuary, or gob, between the peninsular and the mainland. Calpentyn eventually came to be called the Company’s seaport, and Puttalam, the Sinhalese king’s inner port. No vessel was permitted to pass Calpentyn until it was searched.


The design on the arms of Negombo is that of a clay pitcher of a type commonly used to store water. Charles Pridham, an old-time writer, tells in his account of Ceylon that owing to the water in the district being brackish it was the custom to sink pitchers in the sand overnight, which in the morning were found full of pure and sweet water that had filtered in the interval. Perhaps this simple domestic practice, coupled with the fact that pottery was handicraft in the district, inspired the design for the arms.


Cotiaar was a small sub-district south of Trincomalee, and is commemorated today in corrupted form by the name Kodiyar Bay which has been given to the sheet of water which separates it from Trincomalee. If you delve for its history, you will find that the Danes built a fort there in 1622, which the Dutch took over. The delicious palm commonly known as “wild date” (Phoenix Zeylanica), Sinhalese: Indi, is common in this sandy part of the Island. This doubtless is why it figures on the arms of the “Comptoir.