Portuguese wrote the darkest imperialist chapter-Book review: A 16th Century Clash of Civilizations, the Portuguese Presence in Sri Lanka by Dr. Susantha Goonatilake
Posted on February 19th, 2011

H. L. D. Mahindapala-Editor, Sunday and Daily Observer (1990 – 1994). President, Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (1991 -1993). Secretary-General, South Asia Media Association (1993 -1994)

 Part II

 Dr. Susantha Goonatilake’s book A 16th Century Clash of Civilizations, the Portuguese Presence in Sri Lanka is a penetrating searchlight that probes the hidden and the darker areas of the Portuguese period. Of the three Western colonialists the Portuguese were the worst. The ruthless cruelty documented in Dr. Goonatilake’s book will not give room for another Ranil Wickremesinghe to invite any Portuguese to celebrate even their mother’s birthday, if by any chance she was born in Sri Lanka. In inviting the Portuguese to join him in celebrating the coming of the Iberian imperialists Wickremesinghe, as usual, not only failed to grasp the realities of the present but even the past. He asked the Portuguese to come and celebrate the 500th anniversary starting from 1505. But Gaston Perera, who had specialized on the Portuguese period, states that Donald Ferguson demolished this myth in 1910. “Citing official documents Ferguson had proved that the Portuguese came in 1506 and not 1505,” he confirmed in a private correspondence sent to me. Alan Strathern too argues that “most professional historians agree that it was more likely the Portuguese first arrived in 1506 than in 1505″ “”…” (p.3, Kingship and Conversion in Sixteenth-Century Sri Lanka, Portuguese Imperialism in a Buddhist Land. Cambridge University Press, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2010)

 We, of course, were brought up on the textbooks written by Fr. S. G. Perera, the standard authority of the time. So when he who wrote that Don Lorenzo de Almeida arrived on November 15, 1505 it was passed down to us as the final word on the subject. His text book on the Portuguese period was rather an anodyne account of the failed military adventures of the Portuguese and their intrigues to capture Kanday-Uda Rata (Anglicized as Kandy). The persistent resistance of the Sinhala people, aided and abetted by the jala durga, vana durga and the giri durga foiled the Portuguese attempts to conquer Sri Lanka. Fr. Perera’s history of this period consisted mainly of providing useful outlines for the students but it failed to capture the spirit and the passions of the time.  Perhaps, his Catholicism restrained him from going deeper into the savagery of the Portuguese who had no qualms about destroying and desecrating the sacred sites of the Buddhists and Hindus.

 In history lessons taught at secondary level we were also titillated by the rhetoric of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who introduced the Portuguese with a broad sweep of his colouful phrases. He wrote in his introduction to his history of the British period: “If the vagaries of wind and wave first brought the Portuguese to Ceylon, the lure of cinnamon kept them in the Island.” (p.1. Volume 1, Ceylon Under the British Occupation, 1795 “”…” 1833, Navarang, 1995). But the Portuguese colonial adventures in Sri Lanka went far beyond “the lure of cinnamon.” Besides, they were not going to stop at the temporal conquest of Ceylon. They came armed with the sword on one hand and the Bible on the other which meant that the spiritual conquest went hand in hand with the territorial conquest. Both were pursued with abominable cruelty. For instance, when the Portuguese marched through a street to attack Jaffna it was led by a Catholic priest who carried the banner of Christ in front. (p.110 “”…” SG quoting the Portuguese historian Couto’s History of Ceylon — 1597). Jaffna Kingdom, a latter day product of the 13th century, was the first to fall completely, ” a contrast to the continuous struggles in the rest of the country” p.105 “”…” SG).

 Dr. Goonatilake’s rejects the “attempt to rewrite history and whitewash Portuguese atrocities”¦. explicitly ruling out any discussion of the mass destruction caused by the Portuguese”. He focuses on the “civilizational factor” ignored by “the pro-Portuguese Gulbenkein Foundation graduates” like C. R. de Silva and Tikiri Abeysinghe and broadens his scope of studies to include prime sociological factors. The strength of the book is in going beyond the military expeditions, plots and counter plots of the Portuguese predators to explore the cultural, intellectual and industrial strands that came out of the Portuguese encounter. It is the broadening of the perspectives that makes the reading an exciting adventure.

 Catholicism and Buddhism feature as the two major “actors in Sri Lanka’s clash of civilizations.” (p. xxxii). But he also covers the clash between the Hindu “”…” Catholic cultures as well adequately. Both cultures met the same fate under the destructive, genocidal Portuguese rule. The Catholic Church, the lasting legacy of the Portuguese rule along with baila (dance), did not come out of a divine intervention but through the bloody sword of the inhuman Portuguese. The difference between Catholicism and other Christian denominations is that they were less inhuman. The professed piety and holiness of the Catholic Church today, which amounts to insufferable humbuggery, are mere cover-ups to escape the sins of spilling the blood of the innocent Sinhalese and Tamils who stood up to the brutalities committed in the name of the God and Church.

 God had nothing to do with the barbaric Church that destroyed cultures wherever they went. The Catholic Church spread its tentacles and became the first global multi–national through the brutalities and the political ideologies pursued by the Church. Then as now the Popes (including Pope Benedict XVI ) have been complicit in mass scale war crimes and crimes against humanity and before Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith pontificates on measures that are needed for reconciliation and rehabilitation he and the Church that he represents must apologize and beg forgiveness from the people of Sri Lanka for the brutalities perpetrated by the Church “”…” crimes committed deliberately as a result of the official doctrines endorsed by the Popes.

 Dr. Goonatilake, an internationally recognized sociologist, explores this aspect of the Catholic political ideology breeding Catholic violence on an inhuman scale with meticulous detail. His book, makes you wonder as to how any Sri Lankan Catholic priest could walk this earth in the name of God when each of them carry the sinful baggage of their forefathers crimes against humanity. They have not given up their old habits yet even after the records have condemned them as ideological freaks who have had no compunction in blessing violence that promotes their political agenda. Fr. S. J. Emmanuel, the former Vicar General of Jaffna, is a living example. According to his own political confession he is nothing but a Tamil Tiger dressed in Catholic garb. He is a racist fanatic who had globally campaigned to justify Velupillai Prabhakaran “”…” his God on earth.

 In our time the Catholic Church owes an apology to the Catholic congregation in Sri Lanka, let alone the other religionists, for the partisan politics of the Churchmen who, like Fr. Emmanuel, actively supported the political criminal in the Vanni. Besides, I have not come across a single statement of condemnation made by the Pope or Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when the Tamil Catholic Churchmen hijacked the statue of Holy Mary from Madhu and ran into Tiger held territory. Is this a religious act or a political act? Does this mean that Holy Mary belongs only to the Tamils? Is this why Fr. Emanuel threatened to write a separatist theology for the Tamils as if only the Tamils are the children of God? There isn’t a more egregious public act than this to establish the links of the Catholic Church to the Tiger terrorists.

 All the crimes committed by the Catholic Church to establish its earthly supremacy, particularly by destroying other civilizations in African, American and Asian continents, can be traced directly to the imperialist ideologies of the political Popes whose successes in serving Mammon far exceeded that of serving the Christian God or man.  The execrable politics of the Catholic Church from Portuguese times can be traced back to the not-so Holy See. Dr. Goonatilake reveals the origins of Vatican politics succinctly and graphically. He exposes how Pope Alexander VI had wild sex parties “with naked men and women in erotic poses” performing on a mass scale for the unholy pleasure of His Holiness. Not satisfied with this Alelxander VI even had sex with his daughter, Lucrezia when she was only 17 “”…” an under-aged girl. Nothing has changed in the Church considering the mass scale abuse of children by the holy fathers of the Church in all continents. But they get away while the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, living next door to the Vatican, is charged with abusing a 17-year-old prostitute.  

 Full scale imperialism of the West began when Pope Nicholas V issued the first Bull in 1452 which gave King Alfonso of Portugal “the general and indefinite powers to search and conquer all pagans”¦.to capture and subjugate Saracens and Pagans other unbelievers and enemies of Christ whomsoever and wherever settled; “¦..to invade and conquer their kingdoms, “¦.Countries, Principalities”¦ Land, places, villages, camps, possession”¦.To reduce to slavery their inhabitants “¦.(and) to appropriate (them and their lands) for the king of Portugal.” Shades of this ideology seemed to have grabbed the imagination of the Tamil Catholic priests in serving their King in the Vanni. There are, of course, the stories of the Good Samaritans of the Church who did social service to the poor and the needy. But that too was done with the ulterior motive of winning new converts to the Church.

 The overall story of the Catholic Church is one of crimes committed against God and man by the so-called representatives of God on earth. The Portuguese brought this religious ideology with the blessings of the Pope. It is a horrendous story and Dr. Goonatilake has told it with well-documented facts and figures. It is a book that every student of politics and religion should read to get a view of the perverse politics of Catholic politicians dressed in the garb of Christianity.

 (The first part appeared in Lakbima News )

25 Responses to “Portuguese wrote the darkest imperialist chapter-Book review: A 16th Century Clash of Civilizations, the Portuguese Presence in Sri Lanka by Dr. Susantha Goonatilake”

  1. jimmy Says:

    Not sure why you are allergic to Christian Faith

    Writing or speaking publicly against Race, color of skin or religion is totally unacceptable in the most civilized world we are living in today
    I am not sure where you live , but please be realistic

    If you do not like Chrisitianity you should not live in a Christian Country ( Western World) Be honest to your self go back to a Country like Somalia or Iran where You do not see Christianity Practised

    Or take a trip to Moon and live there . DO not come back

    This is the time People need to be united as Srilankans
    Whether Sinhalese , Tamils Muslims, Plantation Tamils , Burgers all should unite as Lankans

    People who practise Budhisim, Hindusim, Christianity , Islam even Atheists should unite as Lankans and work together

    People like you are bad snakes . There are Tamil and Sinhala snakes who messed the beautiful country

    You can not bullshit or divide the country again

    If you are over 65 please retire from writing , enjoy life Puppy , go for a long walk, go for a run or swim

    do something which will clear your mind instead of sitting like a couch potato

  2. Samson Says:

    Very well said Hon Mahindapala.

    The Portuguese left over culture which some writeers refer to as the coastal culture (among other contributors) has been a curse for this island nation. While appreciating the little good of the Portuguese influence, many nasty things found their way here. We have to uproot them one by one.

    Dr. Susantha Goonatilake is an exceptional intellect capable of seeing things most of us don’t.

    Where is Part-1 by the way?

  3. Asoka_Wickramasurya Says:

    What more can I say. Thanks for the truth, nothing but the truth. Remember if we do not have a past or history, then we never will have a sensible future! This is not to create hatred but to have a sensible and rational mind for our own future. These should be in our text books. If anyone interested in the recent past read about the Vatican and WWII and the witch hunt. All in the name of The Saviour!!!

  4. jayt Says:

    anybody have right to remind history, however, attacking is not good on them or anybody unless they or any body attack on Sinhalese, though thousand of news paper, books, magazines and other western media attack were published against Sinhalese beside fully western endorsed tiger suiside attack on Sinhalese. In the mean time,
    West organizes global propaganda, hate speeches against Muslim and religion and go invading anybody who supports Palastinian cause killing million of Muslim Children women and men. And also, war mechanism has been using throughout Western history until today to put a maximum injuries to people to weaken them and then go and steal them into Christianity hopping to create a christian state after a 30,40,50, or 100 years later.
    So, JImmy, I do not say that Western public do them, but Western public do know and accepted fact that Western countries run by group of hippocrates who commits daily secret crimes against children, women and men in other countries under the bless of western govts.
    Now, JimmY, tell us why Sri lankan or other countries have to accept hippocrates’ law?.

  5. jimmy Says:

    You know There are Catholics in Srilanka both Sinhalese and Tamils
    Do you want to talk bad about catholisim when country need unity
    Why are we even debatng about it ? some 500 years ago Portugese came and Catholism introduced
    So what ?

    Who cares??

    Do people talk about British American war or American Mexican war happened in 1600s
    Only in Lanka we are still talking things which are unnecessary to divide people too scary

  6. jimmy Says:

    Hon Mahindapala

    I apologize for my remarks sir I will take it back . Every one is entitled to their opinion


  7. Asoka_Wickramasurya Says:

    Hello Mr Jimmy.

    We talk about this to learn lessons from the history, real history. Not to create hate among each other. This the truth and truth with facts, and no one can deny it. This is not a fantasy book like The Book, in which some believe in, but a real book! We all must make sure that these will never ever happen again in our Asia, let alone in Sri Lanka!

    So do not panic, please. Take a deep breath, relax and try to reason the facts rather than believe in something. I am NOT a believer. So take sometime out of you belief system and try to reason the facts. For a moment think about what is happening in Occupied Palestine, and the veto power the US used yesterday to defeat a vote against settlements. Aren’t we all humans. But it is not according to your book. It is still happening around you my dear friend. Just wake up!!! Sorry to tell you. I am telling you with all kindness! Thank you

    Remember, we will keep on talking about this and similar issues over and over again, to educate people and to prevent a repetition in our part of the world, Asia, where we belong.

  8. Lorenzo Says:


    You have highly disorganised thoughts. You cannot express clearly.

    Your way of writing is similar to Jimmy!

    May be you are one and the same person.

    If the war divides people, that means one group of people don’t belong here! All SLs must love the SL war victory (not war). If anyone is against it, he is an enemy.

  9. jimmy Says:


    Jayt and Jimmy are not the same sorry

  10. jayt Says:

    I agree with you we should not attack today’s people for the past, but I do mean in the west, all those people who support tigers live in the past and do practice the past at present everywhere in the world.

    Second, I did not say anything about Sinhalese Christian in Sri lanka or any body. However, peace and law two different things; I have no problem with the peace, but any body who violate Sri lanka law and commit crimes against general public have to face the law. This is strictly practiced in Israel, Arab countries, US and whole world

  11. jayt Says:

    I get back to you later for more detail

  12. Ben_silva Says:

    The article written by Mahindapala is excellent as usual. We have to learn lessons from history.That does not mean ill treat a fellow human on the basis of ethnicity. A handful of Spanish Catholic Europeans destroyed the Aztecs and killed millions of native Americans. In the same way millions of North American Indians were killed by Europeans, although the natives were kind hearted enough to show the Europeans, how to survive the harsh American winter. I have a feeling that the Portugese may have killed the Sinhalese the same way as the Spanish killed the native Americans. Even today, resources and land of natives in North and South America is taken over by force by Europeans. The natives have no means of defence.Further Chola Tamil invaders from South India have killed Sinhalese and destroyed our hydraulic system. Yet we have not learnt lessons and still follow a passive Indian faith blindly, that is now not even followed in India, after Muslims wiped out Nalanda Buddhists. It is indeed time to learn lessons. We have to bear some responsibility for our downfall, as we ignored defence and Buddhism had no mechanism to defend its followers. We have to learn lessons and we should never be passive again. This however does not mean promoting racism, but we have to be on guard to protect ourselves from Tamil racists. We also have to be on guard against those that preach passive Buddhism. We should follow modern Buddhism that will meet force withn superior force.,

  13. Naram Says:

    I enjoy reading Excellent essays byEsteemed Mr Mahindapala.

    We must not forget that the 16 th century, Spain and Potugal dominated not only SOuth America, Africa and Asia but Europe, and even Nethrlands was a subject country.
    Catholic church was staunchly behind, and torure and inquisitions burnings alive were everyday occurences not only ofjews, muslims and heretic- that is those outside the church hierarchy but read the bible and tried to makee their own interpretation of catholic version of monothiestic belief. Many Anabaptists, Calvinists, Lutherans met cruel deaths. What happened in Netherlands can be read in John Lothrop Motleysaccount ‘Rise of of Neherlands’ and that in ENgland in John Foxe’swork ‘Book of Martyrs’; both these are availablein the internet.

    When Portugeseempire fell with the fall of Salazar – in the ’70s, following what they call Velvet revolution the new leaders found that thepopulation was highly illiterate, and schools were set up that worked three sessions Morning , Afternoon and Evening tobuild up literacy. THatis the price they paid for domination overseas, Mozambique, Angola etc.

  14. jimmy Says:

    Not sure why we are talking about past . 6 million Jews were killed by Madman Hitler and his gang
    They all were catholics

    I am not a catholic I am a born again Pentecostal Christian . I love Jesus with all my heart and soul
    Jesus talks about love Love your neighbour as yourself
    I do not want to get into trouble talking my faith here

    There are catholics among Sinhalese and Tamils who love Jesus same way I do
    I am sure they are not LTTE sympathizers and so on . I do not buy it
    There are Burgers in Lanka most of them are Catholics
    When you attack Catholisim , You are hurting Catholics. It is simple
    Some one mentioned in this forum 1983 riots were organized by catholic church . Sinhala catholics were involved . I do not believe it
    It was not true . Can any one prove that ? I will be very sad and disappointed if it is true

    Christianinty only talk about LOVE no HATE

  15. jimmy Says:

    Past history is bad . Hitler was a bad man he does not represent Catholic Faith .

  16. Fran Diaz Says:

    Here’s some relevant information on WWII & Italy : “Italy’s leader Mussolini was ideologically close to Hitler, but he waited until he thought the Nazi Germans were winning the war before joining in. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong about who was eventually going to win”.

  17. jayt Says:


    Sri Lanka did not win any war. Sinhalese are made to believe they win the war.


    You can’t compare other countries to Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is still a country at war. And all these wars and social crime are inserted into Sinhalese society is part of war created by Western groups back by some Christian and many other groups(using the term “Christian” completely wrong) to get Sinhalese agree on certain interest; they did not get their interest yet and Sinhalese have to learn on their own to figure out what is this?

    therefore, what this article basically telling is that Christianity brought to Sri lanka and the other part of the world for division which is true for example, there won’t be a East Tumor if there was no Christian and There won’t be southern Sudan if there was Christian.

  18. cassandra Says:


    I sincerely hope you are suitably enlightened about what this article is all about, after reading jayt’s latest explanation. I am not sure, though, what you make of his concluding remarks that “there won’t be a East Tumor (sic!) if there was no Christian and There won’t be southern Sudan if there was Christian”. I realize that Christians are favourite whipping boys but this is the first time I have seen them blamed for a tumor!

    This article purports to be part 2 of a book review. The first part appeared on this site, on 22nd January, under the heading, “Ranil baptized as a Christian – Dr. Gunatilake -Ranil baptized as a Christian – Dr. Gunatilake-Part I” (and in Lakbima News under the heading of “Our political masters of foreign cultures”). You will recall that the January article was nothing but an out and out attack on Ranil Wickramasinghe, one of HLDM’s favourite targets for criticism. Now, who would have recognized it was part of a book review? Perhaps, my idea of what constitutes a book review is hopelessly outdated.

    This second article does not seem to me to be much of a book review either. This time it is simply an attack on the Catholic Church. Mind you, HLDM did have his obligatory dig at Ranil Wickramsinghe in the first paragraph. After that he has made no mention of him – I suppose RW can be thankful for small mercies.

    I really cannot understand why so-called educated men like HLDM must keep attacking the Catholic Church in this fashion. As you have commented,“When you attack Catholicism. You are hurting Catholics. It is simple”. Sadly, it seems, HLDM does not see things in such simple light. Nor does he seem overly endowed with goodwill. For instance, he says in his article, “There are, of course, the stories of the Good Samaritans of the Church who did social service to the poor and the needy. But that too was done with the ulterior motive of winning new converts to the Church”. The man cannot even accept good deeds with good grace but must insist on seeing them only through his unenviable, prejudiced prism.

    For my part, I agree with you there is little point in digging up things from 500 years ago when what we need is unity in Sri Lanka, and attacking other people’s religions will only cause disaffection. I must disagree with you on one thing, though – with your statement “If you are over 65 please retire from writing”. Some of the most profound philosophy and some of the most beautiful literature have been written by those past that age. There is no doubt that when you yourself reach that milestone, you will have cause to revise your views on the matter.

    In the meantime, peace to you, my friend.

  19. jimmy Says:

    My good friends Jayt and Cassandra

    I am not sure about East Tumor or Sudan . I never heard of Catholiim divided these countries
    Onlything I believe is Christianity is a great religion and In Bible The word Love is mentioned 314 times in King james version

    I highly recommend the book PMA ( Positive mental attitude) by Nepolean Hill. I read it many times
    We all Srilankans should read it.
    This is the time for every one to unite and live happily . We can not let the past ruin the Future

    I heard HLDM used to be a well known editor in Lanka . He may be a wonderful man who conceived a bad opinion of catholisim . I will be happy if he goes for councelling . After 3 months of councelling HLDM will write good about catholisim

    I was wrong on the age cassandra sorry

    My pharmacisit is an 88 year old man working in the same pharmacy for 50 years . He is a proud man who served in world war2 during president Roosevelts time
    I enjoy talking to this great American hero every time I visit the pharmacy

    Age is nothing I tell my old friend he is 21 years young with 67 years experience

  20. Fran Diaz Says:

    Generally speaking, Conversions to any religion brings out feelings of insecurity & resentment from the rest of the population, particularly when done in resource rich areas. Actually, people are free to re-convert to their original religion, aren’t they ?

    Question : a wise man asked : “what was your religion when you were in your mother’s womb ?”. We might add : “what will be your religion after you pass away from this world ?”.

  21. Lorenzo Says:


    “Sri Lanka did not win any war. Sinhalese are made to believe they win the war.”

    This shows your lack of intellectual capacity and tiger stripes.

    Sri Lanka DID win a war and Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils believe it. The 23 year old war came to an end in 2009 with SL winning it comprehensively beating Tamil Tigers conclusively. I don’t wish to go into detail as everyone knows how sweet the victory was and still is! IF SL has not won it still, lets battle to win it now!

  22. jayt Says:

    Dear Lorenzo,

    You and other Sinhalese people in Sri lanka had no knowledge or access to the information in the West to know what really happen with Tigers. However, I had access to all, mean both west and Sri lanka, and I know well this war did not happened by accidence.

  23. Lorenzo Says:


    Stop talking nonsense. SL won the war, Tamil seperatists lost. The war is over. If need be we won’t hesitate to defeat seperatists again, militarily. What we did to Tigers is perfectly within the law and is perfectly justified. We shall do it again if need be. Thinking about a seperate Tamil nation/state in SL = war.

  24. Fran Diaz Says:

    I agree with Jayt when he says : ” …. this war did not happened by accident”.

    Consider these points :

    * Was 1983 Riots an accident ? Quite well planned – so it can’t be an accident. (How did astute JRJ fall for that one still beats me !).
    * Existing Caste Issues among Tamils was no accident. It is part of the 3,000 yr old Caste System of Tamil Nadu.
    * Existing poverty & neglect among Sinhala and Tamil people after 500 yrs of Colonial rule is no accident either. After Colonists left, they left behind the western way of political & economic structures behind, which takes time to get used to, to the Eastern mind.
    * Before Lanka could build herself up properly, crafty Tamil politicians in Lanka & Tamil Nadu exported the centre of the cyclone of Caste Issues to Lanka – not an accident.

    In addition :
    * Lanka is on the Sea Route attracting all sorts of interested parties.
    * Also, Cold Wars between super power play will always affect Lanka as well as India.

    We of Lanka must anticipate problems and have solutions even before the events happens. Learn to play Chess and anticipate moves from negative opposing factors. It’s all a matter of keeping the Ying & the Yang in balance.

  25. cassandra Says:


    You say that “Ranil, the UNP and the Church……. are the root cause of a lot of Sri Lanka’s and the world’s problems”. Among other things, Ranil may well feel flattered to think he has been so influential as to be at the root cause of WORLD PROBLEMS! You certainly have an inimitable way of expressing yourself or have a funny sense of humor.

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