Destinations: Negambo

NEGAMBO

 

is a major city in Sri Lanka, located on the west coast of the island and at the mouth of the Negombo Lagoon, in Western Province, Sri Lanka. Negombo is the fifth largest city in the country  and it is the second largest City in Western province . Negombo is also the administrative capital of Negombo Division. It is one of the major commercial hubs in Sri Lanka of about 128,000 inhabitants in the city limits, approximately 37 km north of Colombo city. Negombo is known for its huge and old fishing industry with busy fish markets, and nice sandy beaches. It is one of the most liberal city in Sri Lanka with modern life style and it's nightlife in luxury hotels, guest houses, finest restaurants and pubs. The wild cinnamon that grew in the region around Negombo was said to be "the very best in the universe as well as the most abundant" and for centuries attracted a succession of foreign traders and colonial powers. The shallow waters of the Negombo lagoon provided safe shelter for sea fairing vessels and became one of the key ports (along with Kalpitaya, Puttalam, Salavata, Kammala, Colombo, Kalutara, Beruvala and Galle) from which the Singhalese kingdoms conducted external trade.

The first Muslim Arabs (the Moors) arrived in Ceylon in the seventh and eighth centuries and eventually came to dominate the east-western trade routes. Many chose to settle in the coastal areas and their legacy can be seen today; their descendants the Sri Lankan Moors remain the largest minority group in Negombo. The Moors' long held monopoly over the cinnamon trade, and the circuitous and largely overland route by which it was transported to Europe and the Mediterranean added greatly to its cost [3] and encouraged a Portuguese takeover in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century.

Landing in the early 1500s, the Portuguese ousted the Moors, constructed a fort in Negombo and took over the trade of cinnamon to the West. It was during the Portuguese occupation that the Karawa, or traditional fishing clan of Negombo embraced Catholicism almost without exception. So successfully were they converted that today Negombo is sometimes known as 'Little Rome' and nearly two thirds of its population profess a Catholic faith.

The Portuguese restructured the traditional production and management of cinnamon and maintained their control over the trade for more than a century. The decline of their power began in the 1630s when warfare between the Portuguese and the Kingdom of Kandy reached a stalemate and the King of Kandy turned to the Dutch for help.[4] The Dutch captured Negombo from the Portuguese in 1646 and negotiated an armistice with Portugal for ten years. During this period of time the King of Kandy sought to provoke conflict between both nations by passing through the territories of the one to attack the other. On one occasion he captured the fort of Negombo andsend the head of the Dutch commander Adrian Vander Stell to his countrymen in Galle.[5] Although the Dutch managed to regain control of Negombo from the King by diplomatic means, hostilities continued. In particular the disruption of the cinnamon trade was a favourite method of the King to harass the Dutch.[6] The legacy of the Dutch colonial era can be seen in the Dutch Fort, constructed in 1672, a number of other buildings and the extensive canal system that runs 120 km from Colombo in the South, through Negombo to Puttalam in the north.

Throughout the eighteenth century the demand for cinnamon from Ceylon outstripped the supply and the quality of cinnamon appears to have suffered. Other factors, including the continued hostility from the Kandian Government and a rival cinnamon trade from China led to a 40% decline in the volume of cinnamon exported between 1785 and 1791. Despite attempts to clear land around Negombo and create cinnamon plantations, by the time the British commander Colonel Stuart took over the trade in 1796, it was clear that the industry was in decline. Poor policies put in place by Frederick North the first Governor of British Ceylon exacerbated the problem and by the 1830s commercial interests had moved elsewhere.

Following the British takeover of the Kingdom of Kandy in 1815, Negombo lost its strategic value as an outpost of Colombo, however it continued to develop in commercial influence. The Negombo fishery was at the heart of the seafood trade in Ceylon and many migrant fisherman would arrive annually with the profits of their ventures going into the small but prosperous town. In 1907 Negombo was connected to the massive railway project that was linking the island together under British control and encouraging the growth of plantations in coconuts, tea and coffee.