So, in a sense, all functions and services, including those among vassals, were seen as rajakariya. On the other hand, in a society where the levels of monetisation were very low and land was the main source of income, the remuneration of services was done by handing over a portion of land or the income thereof, which of course varied according to the social relevance attributed to the duty fulfilled. Which begs the second concept mentioned above: The interpretation of this concept is not easy or linear, and it has given rise to some controversy Siriweera , Dewasiri We do not know exactly if it meant that the king was the actual owner of all lands, thus excluding the existence of other owners and of private property or if it corresponded to a general principle, more rhetorical than practical — bhupati as overlordship — a sort of primary source of authority or eminent domain of the king over all lands.
In any case, individuals had the right to hold or enjoy a land asset only by means of a royal grant or authorisation. So, strictly speaking, there were no land owners in Ceylon, only land holders, and always by way of service tenure.
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The general principle was that lands were bound not to particular persons, but to certain services, being regarded as a source of maintenance or a reward in exchange for that service. Therefore, it all entailed a relationship with land and a conception of property that were completely different from the European and Portuguese standards, at least in their formal and legal aspects. Consequently, the private ownership of land, as a concept of exclusive rights in land, did not exist in Ceylon. What existed were limited rights over certain lands and a network of obligations based on land Silva Following these general principles, there were however some important variations, namely with regard to the tenurial rights and the type of granted assets.
As to the rights of tenure, closely linked to its duration, the main distinction was between paraveni lands and badawedili ones. Abeyasinghe ; Anonymous ; Codrington ; Dewasiri ; Paranavitana ; Perera ; Pieris ; Silva ; Silva ; Siriweera ; Tennent ; and the primary sources Queiroz and Ribeiro Thus, they were more precarious, but they were also usually more qualified.
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With respect to the type of holdings granted by the king or held by families, they could be either simple parcels of land pangu or entire villages. Villages gam were indeed the organisational basis of territory, both for administrative and economic purposes.
In the territory under the king of Kotte, the first governed by the Portuguese, they added up to 22,, varying in size and wealth. One must note that the village donnee, who usually acted as an absentee landlord, did not receive all of its lands, only its largest and richest estate, called muttetu, somewhat reminiscent of what demesne was in medieval Europe. This muttetu was tilled for free, under the rajakariya system, by the villagers, including the pangu-holders. These also coordinated the collection of several taxes and rights due to the king or the village donnee.
Through the grant of a village, the gamladda became entitled to a combined rule over land, labour force and revenues, sometimes alongside some duties of territorial administration. Yet, his rights were limited and he did not possess full lordship over the village. Remember for instance that the holder of a pangu pangukaraya was not a serf, nor a servant, nor a direct tenant of the village holder — both had the king as their ultimate landlord. Within the complex landed organisation of a village, there was therefore a significant overlapping of obligations and property rights and several types of lands.
Moreover, villages were not all alike with regard to status and title of possession. They can be grouped in three main categories. The first one was that of gabadagam villages, which, due to their higher income or strategic value, were not granted to anyone, rather kept under the direct administration of the royal treasury; their number is estimated at around 3,, or 17 percent of the total. The second category was that of villages that the Ceylonese kings had granted over time to temples and religious institutions for their maintenance, which were completely exempt from services and rents to the crown; they were called viharagam and devalagam, if they were bestowed on Buddhist monasteries or Hindu temples respectively.
The third category, by far the largest one, was that of nindagam villages, those that the king had granted to individuals for maintenance on a service tenure basis, according to the model described in the previous paragraph. Their donnees formed what could be called the Sinhalese nobility, both provincial and courtly. This system was indeed very complex, not only because of the different legal, ideological and social conceptions it relied on, but also because of the nomenclature. Among such similarities we should mention, for instance: Property Rights, Land and Territory in the European Overseas Empires the crown; and, above all, the fact that the king held the ultimate lordship a kind of eminent domain over all lands and, consequently, the prerogative of distributing them among his vassals.
This was a crucial feature, for it would allow the new sovereign the Portuguese crown to have a say in the whole system without disregarding the traditional sources of legitimacy. The Portuguese land policy The first step on what could be called the Portuguese land policy in Ceylon was to obtain a fine picture of the current situation. Once the Convention of Malvana was over in , formalising the transfer of sovereignty to the Portuguese crown, the first captain-general governor of Ceylon ordered the Lekammiti, a book of general and detailed records on all properties, rents and pensions due to the Sinhalese monarchy, to be brought in.
Shortly after, in , Jorge Florim de Almeida finished a first revenue register of the kingdom, which also featured a descriptive guide to Sinhalese traditions and lifestyles published by Silva It was the first attempt at what would be the tombos of Ceylon, ordered in and finished in , and Jaffna would also have its own tombo in Tombos were books of detailed records, compiling an extensive survey of all villages and individual lands, their holders, ownership titles, agricultural use, taxes and duties, as well as much other information Additionally, the fact that they compelled the whole population, as well as native authorities, to declare before the new rulers which deeds justified their land tenure and their right to charge rents had, in itself, an immense symbolic political reach.
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If the first step of the Portuguese policy on land and its income was to gather information and be acquainted with the system in place, the second one was to take it over and run it according to the Portuguese interests. This involved, on the one hand, changing the legal framework that regulated the relationship between the crown, the grantees and their assets; on the other hand, promoting a more or less extensive redistribution of land ownership. An important issue in those orders was that the lands, villages and labour force more closely related to the cinnamon production or elephant hunting, as well as some others of strategic value, should remain under the direct administration of the crown.
Part of the villages attached to the maintenance of temples could be transferred to the Portuguese religious institutions wishing to settle on the island. All the remaining ones, as well as most of the royal estate inherited from native sovereigns gabadagam and vacant villages, were to be distributed to individuals, used as a way of rewarding 13 See also Ribeiro I, ; the standing orders in Rivara VI, , and Abeyasinghe An order of priorities was set for allotting villages.
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The smaller villages would be used to remunerate native soldiers lascarins and their officers modeliares and arachis. If there were vacant farmlands, they would be reallocated to native converts or, in their absence, to the so-called St. Thomas Christians, an ethnic-religious group from Kerala in the Malabar Coast whose migration and settlement on the island should be stimulated. As to the legal framework that should regulate the relations between the crown and the grantees of these landed assets, it was clear, as reiterated in some previous diplomas, that it should be that of the aforamento.
This was a formula seemingly belonging to the legal realm of emphyteusis, very common in Portugal, and already tested in the Portuguese India, in the Northern Province, where it had evolved into a kind of hybrid system, combining emphyteusis with the donation of crown assets — let us call it an Indo-Portuguese emphyteusis. It meant the granting of villages in exchange for a foro quit-rent in cash, as well as the provision of services, namely military ones, like mandatory service in the event of a war with a certain number of men and weapons, which varied according to income Finally, the standing orders imposed the immediate compilation of tombos, so as to record all village and land grants, both old and new, and they would also contain several instruction on how, to whom and by whom should several revenues of the Ceylonese economic and tax system be charged.
The existence of specific orders such as those of , as well as the existence of detailed books such as tombos, may lead us to believe that the definition and implementation of a Portuguese land policy in Ceylon was an orderly and rational effort. But this is a somewhat misleading perspective on what really happened.
Firstly, because those regulatory dispositions came about fairly late, when a considerable portion of available lands had already been distributed. Thirdly, because many other plans and measures, not necessarily in line with the policies set in the beginning of the century, were to be promulgated before the end of the Portuguese period. In fact, land-related topics used to be part of viceregal instructions to governors and revenue superintendents, each time they were appointed to Ceylon.
All of this, besides proving the relevance of such matters, would give some inconsistency to the policies put forward. Implementation and outcomes As for the results of these policies, they varied and their interpretation depends on the perspective adopted.
In terms of land ownership, changes were moderate.
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As to the Portuguese, with perhaps a few exceptions, they did not take over lands and villages previously held by Sinhalese people. However, the sum total of Portuguese who took possession of Ceylonese lands must not have been more than a few hundreds The plans to attract a mass of settlers from Portuguese descent or origins to Ceylon proved a utopia. Thus, a massive transfer of land to Portuguese hands never took place, although they would get many of the best villages in certain areas, besides enjoying some tax privileges and other benefits.
Those thousands of villages that used to be held on a service tenure basis nindagam were kept in Sinhalese hands, even if not necessarily the same.
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