Out of all communities of African diaspora that surround the Indian Ocean those of Sri Lanka are by far the smallest and the most fragile. Brought first by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and eventually the British as slaves, it was during the British period that in the first half of the 19th century, the practice ultimately ceased.
After the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in the British Parliament in 1807, the process of putting an end to slavery began in British controlled countries. Sir Alexander Johnston, Chief Justice of Sri Lanka (1806-1819), urged for the gradual abolition of domestic slavery in Sri Lanka and it was eventually agreed that all children born of their slaves after 1806 would be freed, thus beginning the end of three-centuries of slavery.
On being emancipated most Africans stayed and a century ago the Afro-Sri Lankan population was believed to be around 6000 people. Today that number has dwindled to less than 500.
Inter-marriage with local Sri Lankan’s over generations has led to this dilution of their population as once they marry a Sinhalese they are no longer classed as Afro-Sri Lankans. This dilution is often something that some of the population has intentionally sort in the modern day Sinhalese society with many seeing their children as having a better chance in life if they inter-married and now the population has gone past the point of recovery.
However, there are some certain people from the Afro-Sri Lankan community that take pride in their heritage and are trying to preserve their culture by forming the Ceylon African Society in 2012. And it is this group that has decided that on September 24th they will celebrate their 500-year existence on Sri Lanka, the date they believe the first African slaves arrived brought by the Portuguese. The event will also see the small, separated pockets of communities come together for the first time in decades and celebrate their culture and delicate existence in modern day Sri Lanka.