New Nonfiction Examines the Controversial and Untold Truths of a Country’s Past
“The Gentiles” goes against all norms of traditional teachings and beliefs; history that took centuries in the making was crystallized in a few lesser-known and obscure journals and archives. Many of these archives have been ignored by previous studies. The author, a native of Sri Lanka, has assimilated a comprehensive bibliography of the literature and presents her findings to the reader. Her analysis and narrative give an insightful look at the era of Portuguese, Dutch and early British rule in Sri Lanka.
The multi-faceted society we see in Sri Lanka today came about due to the occupation and settlement of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and other Europeans between the years of 1505 and 1832. The consequence of such an evolution over a period of 300 years has resulted not only in a large variation in physical appearance and skin color, but also in the language, religion and culture of modern day natives of Sri Lanka. Thambynayagam writes:
The Jesuit missionaries expanded their mission of teaching languages and preaching Christianity to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Portuguese who settled along the coastal areas and married with the Gentiles in northern Sri Lanka and southern India. Father Enrique Enriquez, who was instrumental in building the College in Mannar, studied Malavar and composed a system of grammar to teach priests and brothers.
A group of people called the Gentiles lived in Sri Lanka before the arrival of the Portuguese; these Gentiles lived under their rulers, who bartered cloth, gold, and copper for cinnamon, diamonds and elephant tusks with the Moors. At the beginning of the 16th century, the people of Sri Lanka were known neither as Sinhala Buddhists nor Tamil Hindus. This book, unlike others before it, claims that both the Sinhalese and the Tamils are mixed descendants of the Gentiles, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and other Europeans who settled in Sri Lanka before 1833. When asked of her motivation for writing the book, Thambynayagam writes:
My main motivation is to open an avenue of new research for historians and those who are interested in the European settlement in Sri Lanka. Most often historians have not delved beyond British rule of Sri Lanka. The influence of other Europeans has had a profound impact in Modern Sri Lanka.
About the Author
Agnes Padmini Thambynayagam has conducted extensive research into Sri Lankan history between the years of 1498 and 1832. A significant portion of her research was conducted during her tenure at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford in England. Agnes holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Houston and a Masters degree in Education from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. She studied the culture of India at the University of Western Connecticut, Buddhism and Hinduism at the University of Oxford and Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in England.
Agnes was born in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka in 1949. After her schooling, Agnes became a teacher in Sri Lanka until moving to England in 1976 and working for the British civil service in Manchester and the Inland Revenue in Cambridge. She moved to the United States with her family in 1984 and taught as a substitute teacher at Four Winds Special Education School in New York and Danbury Schools in Connecticut. Agnes has been happily married for 33 years and has two grown children.
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