By Kiana Perera
At a time when the country is talking of reconciliation and attempting to bridge the gap between all communities, a town like Slave Island could be an example to the rest of the country.
The area is a mix of ethnicities from Tamils, Sinahalese and Muslims who live together in harmony with each other. Buddhist Temples, Churches, Mosques and Hindu Temples are located in close proximity to each other.
The larger ethnic communities in Slave Island are the Sri Lankan Moors and Sinhalese. There are also various minorities such as Burghers, Malays and others.
Aslam Othman Propaganda Secretary of the Kommaniya Vidiya Masjits said that the inhabitants of Slave Island live in harmony with each other and they help each other in numerous ways irrespective of their race and religion.
“Our Federation sees to the needs of the people of the area and every year we are involved in the Navam Perehera. On Independence day last year we had the hoisting of the flags by leaders of all four religions and this was unique.
This year as the Independence Day Celebrations were in Galle Face we did not participate in it,” he said.
He said that during the 1983 ethnic riots they were not adversely affected and people helped each other during this time. There are six schools in the areas – three Muslim schools, two Christian schools and one Buddhist School.
The Chief Priest of the Gunawardena Ramaya Temple located in the area, the venerable Badulle Jinaratana Thero said that there is good fellowship and understanding between the different ethnic groups in the area.
“This temple is an old one and is one of the first temples in the area built in 1896. There are different schools here such as Muslims Schools, Sinhala schools and Tamils schools that have students from varied backgrounds.”
We also spoke to S. Ratheshan Kurukal of the main Hindu Temple in Slave Island and he said that there are no differences between the people of the area and they get together often.
“People from different ethnic groups worship here and even air force officers come here.”
Residents of Slave Island were all of the view that different ethnic groups living in the same area will help strengthen the bond between the communities.
They said that this promotes goodwill and understanding among them and they help each other whenever it is necessary. This has enabled them to co-exist in society and live together as one family.
As one resident said, “ it does not matter what race or religion we belong to we must all live together as one family in an area that houses diverse communities.”
Nimal Ranjith, a mechanic in Slave Island said that there is a lot of fellowship among the people of this area and they live together as one family happily.
Irshad Mirasa, a delivery coordinator said that there are no problems among the people in the area and that everyone is very helpful and are all united. “Even the school I went to was a mixed school, St, Michaels Colpetty.”
Slave Island’s chronicle begins in the 1700s when the officers of the Dutch East India Company placed their slaves to cook and clean their mansions built on the then picturesque islet or the ‘Slave Island’ of the now Beira Lake.
These slaves brought down originally from Africa by the Portuguese in the 17th Century were called the Kaffirs. It is believed that a dwindling number of descendants of this almost extinct race are settled in the North West of Sri Lanka at present.
In 1845 slavery was abolished however, Slave Island retains its name to date, maybe to connote and preserve the not so unforgettable past.