The Cruelest Portuguese
Posted on July 28th, 2016

By Chandra Tilake Edirisuriya  Courtesy Ceylon Today Features

Don Jeronimo de Azavedo, the cruelest of the Portuguese administrators in the East, was the Governor of Portuguese Ceylon from 1594 to 1612 and the Viceroy of Portuguese India from 1612 to 1617. De Azavedo was one of the officers who came with Captain of Colombo, Manoel de Souza Coutinho, who set sail for Colombo on 4 February 1588 with an armada of eighteen vessels conveying six hundred soldiers. On reaching land near Mannar they sent a message to Colombo calling for assistance to explore the coast. This was a time when plundering the country was the main preoccupation of the Portuguese.

They landed on the shores of the Negombo lagoon and raided and burnt the village of Andiambalama. Then they proceeded to Chilaw but were prevented from landing by a small garrison of Sinhalese people. They destroyed the place called Maripo to punish the inhabitants for massacring the troops of Christovao de Abreu in 1584. After killing all they could, they captured forty eight people and burned a large number of ships with salt destined for King Rajasinha I’s ports. Thereafter, they proceeded to ravage the coasts of the Puttalam lagoon. Next it was decided to attack Chilaw and de Azavedo was put in charge of the operation. He captured two fortifications of the Sinhala people and ravaged the adjacent areas. Thereafter, Chilaw itself was fallen on and it was destroyed by fire and sword. In addition a number of vessels found there were burnt.
The advent of the Portuguese in 1505 disturbed the tranquility of the island nation that had preserved its freedom for over 2,000 years resisting South Indian invaders such as the Cholas, Pandyans and Kalingas who ravaged the country from time to time. The Portuguese came here with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other and their policy was to convert the local inhabitants to Christianity and finally make the island a Portuguese colony. Jeronimo de Azavedo implemented this Portuguese policy, of converting the inhabitants by persuasion failing which by force in the cruelest manner, mercilessly putting the hapless Buddhists and Hindus to the sword to realize their twin objectives.
The bastard son of Don Manuel de Silva
“The Portuguese captain General Don Jeronimo de Azavedo, the bastard son of Don Manuel de Silva, Abbot of St. Joao de Alpendurada and the beautiful Violante Pereira was appointed General conquistador in succession to Manoel de Souza and was by far the cruelest of the Portuguese administrators during the over 150 years of their rule of the maritime provinces of Ceylon.

Captain General Don Jeronimo de Azavedo was a key figure in the late 16th century Portuguese take over in Ceylon. The touchstone of Portuguese ambitions in Ceylon by the end of the 16th century was the bequest by King Don Juan Dharmapala of the kingdom of Kotte, in 1580, to the king of Portugal. Dharmapala was a Christian convert and his bequest was unacceptable to most of his Buddhist inhabitants and to the ruler of the neighbouring Kandyan kingdom. The takeover was therefore resisted and the Portuguese had to subjugate Kotte by force, formally completing the process during Don Jeronimo de Azavedo’s captaincy of Colombo from 1594 to 1612. A Portuguese administrative superstructure headed by a Captain General was then imposed on the kingdom,” says Sir Paul E. Pieris in Volume 1 of his ground breaking thesis in two volumes, Ceylon – the Portuguese Era.
On 1 January 1595 the Portuguese Army led by de Azavedo along with King Don Juan Dharmapala himself appearing in person to ensure the sympathy of the people, left the fort of Colombo for Nawagamuwa with 900 Portuguese and 2,000 lascarins. From there “de Azavedo proceeded to Rakgahawatte and struck terror into the hearts of the inhabitants of Siyane korale by the merciless ferocity of the reprisals which he exacted”. He next entered the hallowed precincts of the famed Nawagamuwa devale and restored order among the warlike inhabitants of the Hewagam korale. Thereafter, he shifted his camp to Gurubewila on the Kelani ganga. Two detachments were sent from there, one to Raigam korale, and the other to Chilaw which made a circuit through Katugampola to Attanagalla enslaving and killing unmercifully. A body of 120 people who appeared before the Portuguese to submit themselves were suspected to be engaged in a conspiracy against them and were led before General de Azavedo who was determined to make a public example of them. A day was fixed for them to render their submission and obtain forgiveness. The General took up his position on a gallery that commanded the plain which lay alongside the Fort and the hapless men were all shot down, only one escaping with his life!
King Don Juan Dharmapala and the General led the army to capture the city of Sitawaka which they occupied without resistance. The dilapidated buildings of the royal palace being hastily repaired for the residence of the aged and infirm king, the king continued to reside in the palace while the kingdom was being subdued. When Akaragane Appuhamy appeared at Petangoda harassing the subdued districts de Azavedo dislodged him. The General constructed a strong tranqueira at Menikkadawara and a fort at Ruwanwella. De Azavedo by shifting the administrative centre to Malwana tried to imitate the Sinhala king who was a benevolent despot. He constructed the Casa at Malwana where he resided for nine years. He was known as the King of Malwana but the inhabitants did not so much as like his sight due to his extremely cruel deeds and brutal disposition. One of his pastimes, while being at Malwana was to watch innocent people – who were pushed down the Raxapana Hill to the Kelani ganga that was teeming with crocodiles, who were accustomed, on hearing the signal of a bell, to jump up in anticipation of their prey – being devoured by the ferocious reptiles.
The kingdom of Kotte
King Don Juan Dharmapala died in Colombo on 27 May 1597 and de Azavedo took prompt action to enter into possession of the kingdom of Kotte on behalf of the king of Portugal, as Dharmapala had left a will declaring the king of Portugal his heir. On 29 May the famous Malwana Convention was signed and thereafter the king of Portugal was proclaimed king over Ceylon. The Church of the Mother of God was constructed at Mapitigama near Malwana where a Buddhist temple stood earlier, illustrative of the proselytizing fervour of the Portuguese.
King Don Juan Dharmapala was perhaps the most unfortunate monarch who ever lived. He was the embodiment and the very personification of the misery the Portuguese brought upon his country as unwelcome intruders to a country that was greedily described by Portuguese historian Joao Ribeiro as “this finest piece of land, which the Creator left upon this earth,” that should have been made the capital of the Estado da India and the centerpiece of Portugal’s political, military and colonial policy in Asia. The desire of King Buwanekabahu VII to make Prince Dharmapala, the elder of the two sons of Prince Vidiye Bandara born to his daughter Samudra Devi, his successor when there were contenders such as Prince Mayadunne, forced him to seek the protection of the king of Portugal at a time when Portugal with imperial designs had intruded into the affairs of a peaceful country such as his and was controlling Asia as a colonial power.
The Portuguese empire had been given control over the Eastern hemisphere by the Treaty of Tordesillas signed on 7 June 1494 by which the newly discovered lands outside Europe were divided between the Portuguese and the Spanish empires, along a meridian 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands off the West coast of Africa. However, the treaty was observed in the breach when Portugal invaded South America and founded the colony of Brazil and at the time when Portugal was under Spanish domination that was when the entire Iberian Peninsula was ruled by a Spanish King. Captain General Jeronimo de Azavedo was the equal of Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes who captured and put to death the ninth Aztec Emperor Montezuma II (1460-1520) during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Interestingly Cortes fathered an illegitimate daughter Leonor Cortes Montezuma with Montezuma’s daughter Isabel!
Captain General Jeronimo de Azavedo was relieved of his position in 1612 and he left Colombo for Goa having been nominated the 20th Viceroy of India in 1611. In 1615 he set out on an expedition to Pegu to loot the Moon imperial treasures in Mrauk-U but the enterprise was unsuccessful. However, it was manifest by the fact that it was supported at such high official level, how looting was considered the legitimate policy of the Portuguese in Asia in the 16th century. In the same year a huge fleet led by de Azavedo tried to chase away English East India Company ships commanded by Nicholas Downton off Surat but after a series of engagements he failed. This incident showed that Portuguese Goa had lost the capacity to protect its monopoly on the West coast of India. On his return to Lisbon de Azavedo was held in custody and was put on trial on a number of charges including that of not giving the Dutch a fight.
A dungeon below the Castle of Lisbon
“On 17 November 1617 Don Joao Coutinho, Conde de Redondo landed at Goa as Viceroy in succession to de Azavedo. A dungeon below the Castle of Lisbon, awaited this latter, and there he dragged out the rest of his miserable life, haunted by the spectre of the infants and women he had slaughtered among the Sinhalese. How often in the sleepless hours of the night must there have rung in his years the piercing screams of the innocent babes pitted on his soldiers’ spikes, while he, the Christian General, the staunch supporter of the Church looked on and enjoyed the merry jest. And through their shrill cries would break in the quivering sobs of the anguished mothers, compelled to throw their children between the millstones and to watch their tender bodies mashed up to a pulp, before they themselves were led away to death.
“And ever and anon there came the sickening crunch of the crocodiles’ jaws, as they closed over the quivering flesh of their human prey, tossed to them so regularly by order of the General who loved the sport. Truly it was a heavy account he had created for his countrymen against the day of reckoning which was to come. It is strange indeed that the imaginative Sinhalese have not selected to deify this thickset, swarthy Iberian, with his vicious hanging under-lip, as the incarnation of all the cruelty which man born from his mother’s womb can devise. But for generations they remembered his name with shuddering horror,” says patriotic historian Sir Paul E. Pieris in Volume II of Ceylon – the Portuguese Era.
Describing the fate suffered by Captain General Jeronimo de Azavedo, Sir Paul E. Pieris says: “That the horrors described by Faria y Souza are no exaggeration is proved by the remarks of Portuguese historian Fernao de Queyroz, who was prepared to see the best side of de Azavedo’s character. De Azavedo died in such poverty that there was not sufficient money for his decent internment. He was buried at the bottom of the Sacristy of the Jesuit Church of Sao Roque.”
The Portuguese and the Spanish conquistadors were unique, in that, apart from bringing nations under their control for trade and to spread Christian Catholicism to consolidate their empire, practiced the most inhuman form cruelty on the inhabitants of the countries they invaded. Their cruelty far outstrips that of most other conquistadors such as those from South India like the Cholas, Pandyans and the Kalingas and for that matter even the Dutch and the British who ruled the island at various times in its history.
The Portuguese and the Spanish destroyed ancient civilizations in Central and South America. Many of the Central and South American countries were well populated. Great and ancient towns existed and there were enormous stores of wealth. In the palace of Montezuma there was a room where 3,000 persons could be well accommodated and in the market place there was room for 50,000 people to buy and sell. Thus there was much splendour to tempt the Europeans. All the treasures were almost defenceless. The people though civilized could not protect themselves against the new European guns. They were by nature docile and gentle and with the guns and gunpowder of a few thousand soldiers the Spaniards soon had the whole land at their mercy. They succeeded in setting up colonies by a process of genocide.
Just as Hernando Cortes wiped out the Aztec civilization, Francisco Pizarro (1475-1541), described as the illegitimate son of an infantry colonel and a woman of poor means, landed in Peru in 1532, murdered the Inca King Atahualpa in 1533, conquered the Incan Empire and founded Lima as the new capital of Peru. He was murdered by his own followers. Cortes conquered Mexico and destroyed the ancient capital of the Aztecs. He desolated the land and broke up its old customs. Pizarro sent home at one time gold bars valued at Sterling Pounds 3,500,000 and an enormous amount of silver and soon found that in the mines there were untold riches. There was no difficulty in working the mines as the native people were unable to resist their new masters and almost like slaves they toiled for the benefit of the Spaniards. The wealth thus suddenly acquired turned Spain from the slower but surer and more lasting sources of prosperity and in the end she was left among the poorest of nations in Europe. This holds good for Portugal too!
Although the Spanish were successful in converting the Philippines into a Spanish colony the Portuguese were unsuccessful in their efforts to do so in Sri Lanka mainly owing to the fact that they could not subdue the Kandyan kingdom and bring the entire country under their domination. Sinhala rulers such as King Mayadunne, Prince Vidiye Bandara, Rajasinha I, Wimaladharmasuriya I, Senarath and Rajasinha II faced them bravely, broke their strength and their repeated attempts to conquer the Kandyan kingdom was foiled although they said that “the interior of the island in the hands of the king of Candea needed to be conquered in order to secure the island politically, economically and psychologically”.
None among the Sinhala and the Tamil people, the adherents of two of the oldest and greatest religions Buddhism and Hinduism, submitted to the Portuguese or embraced their religion willingly, as some believe. It was on pain of death/torture or due to inducements offered, such as office, wealth and so forth that led them to embrace Catholic Christianity. The only silver lining in the cloud is that that the Portuguese coming in at that particular point of time saved the island coming under either South Indian as in the ancient past or Muslim domination as happened in Malaya, Indonesia and the Maldive Islands!


See also

Documentary desanitizes Portugal’s past

A TV series gives the nation an accurate look at 20th century brutality carried out in its name in Africa.

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Colonial Terrorism, Global Capitalism and African Underdevelopment: 500 Years of Crimes against African Peoples

By Jalata, Asafa

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Article excerpt

For almost five centuries, European empire builders, namely Portugal, Holland, France, England, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain employed different strategies and tactics in Africa to make money through the ownership of human beings, exploration, evangelization, colonization, commercialization, banditry, robbery, and theft. The processes of merchandizing some young Africans, dominating and controlling trade, destroying African cultures and religions, imposing Christianity, destroying independent African leadership and sovereignties through establishing colonial and neo-colonial governments, and dispossessing lands and other economic resources, and transforming Africans into coerced laborers involved various forms of violence including war, terrorism, and genocide. Using different forms of violence in merchandising young and able-bodied Africans and taking over the homelands and resources of the indigenous peoples were acts of terrorism. Terrorism and other forms of violence enabled these empire builders to enrich themselves and their collaborators at the cost of Africans; consequently, they established themselves as powerful countries, claimed racial superiority, and imposed their cultures and Christian religion and ruling ideas on Africans peoples. They also imposed their hegemonic scholarship or geo-culturally limited knowledge that has drastically failed to explain the conditions of Africans.

Although several scholars have explored the impacts of racial slavery, exploration, Christianity, colonization on the entire continent, and geo-cultural knowledge, they have ignored to study the essence and role of European terrorism in the destruction and dehumanization of African societies and in the establishment and maintenance of the European dominated racialized capitalist world system. (1) Despite the fact that these European powers and their agents used the discourses of commerce, Christianity, modernity, and civilization to cultivate their African collaborators for dividing and conquering Africa, systematic terrorism and other forms of violence enabled them to dominate African societies and exploit their economic and labor resources beginning in the late fifteenth century and reaching its climax during the last decades of the nineteenth century. “Everywhere the conquests of Africa brought similar paradoxes of public disaster and private profit in their train,” John Lonsdale (1985: 722) notes. The slave system and colonial orders were established and maintained mainly through terrorism. European countries and others that involved in Africa try to forget the deaths and suffering caused by racial slavery, the blood spilled, mass murders and genocide, the severed hands and heads, the shattered families, and other crimes committed in Africa to extract wealth and capital. As Adam Hochschild (1998: 295) notes, “Forgetting one’s participation in mass murder is not something passive; it is an active deed. In looking at the memories recorded by the early white conquistadors in Africa, we can sometimes catch the act of forgetting at the very moment it happens.”

When various African peoples intensified their respective resistance to racial slavery, colonial expansion, domination, and exploitation and later engaged in national liberation struggles in the mid-twentieth century, some of these empire builders increased their levels of terrorism to prevent the reemergence of African independent African leadership and sovereignties and to continue their theft and robbery of African resources.

Jean Ganiage (1985: 157) asserts that European policy makers planned and acted “to crush African resistance by a ruthlessly systematic exploitation of the technological gap between European and African weaponry and military organization.” The “war of any sort is not much more than ‘a series of errors and accidents’ … Its annals have more to tell us of man’s nature than anything else. Those colonial wars, in particular, leave us to wonder whether the conqueror’s violence has been an authentic expression of human nature, or a derangement of it” (Kiernan (1982: 230).

Repression of Buddhism in Sri Lanka
by the Portuguese (1505 – 1658)


No UNHRC when Portuguese destroyed Buddhist Temples and erected Catholic Churches on top of destroyed Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka during the Portuguese era (1505 – 1658)

One Response to “The Cruelest Portuguese”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Our thanks to Chandra Edirisuriya for this graphic account of Portuguese take over of Lanka.


    When we look at the horrors experienced by the people of Lanka (our ancestors) through invaders, we ought to be a Very United Country to avoid further episodes of intense suffering.

    Lankans from every sphere of life here should know the facts of invasions, past and present, and act accordingly to stop them.

    We have to have in place checks and balances through the Legal System in the country, to forever safeguard the country. Lanka’s proximity to INDIA, as welll as the Ports and now to a lesser extent the Plantations industry, makes it a place of choice for Invaders.
    Lankans must be aware of the some 20 Million Tamil Dalits of Tamil Nadu who have their low Caste status stamped on their birth certificates (low in the social ladder there), and they are constantly seeking ways to get out of Tamil Nadu, or win the approval of the the Higher Caste Tamils there and in Sri Lanka. Therefore, there ought to be zero tolerance for illegal migration into Lanka.

    Re present day Invasions :

    * The ILLEGAL 13-A MUST BE REMOVED, as this is the staring point to split up Lanka on ethnic lines.
    * The V’koddai Resolution of 1976 (Eelam through Violence) must be officially revoked by Tamil leaders.

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