A Wandering Laankikaya
Following is an interesting piece by former Sri Lankan (Sinhala) DIG of Police now domiciled in Canada. This appeared some time ago.
Recently I njoyed reading a lively discussion in a newspaper about the ‘Govigama Burghers’. The first time I heard the term ‘Govigama Lansia’ being used in lighter vein was by my cousin the late Neville Algama. He referred to his friend and classmate at Royal College V.T. Dickman as ‘Govigama Lansia’.
Siva Rajaratnam that affable Attorney- at- law who hailed from Trincomalee became a dear friend of mine after he cross-examined me for several days before the Sansoni Commission. He too had been a classmate of Dickman’s. In 1980 when I was the DIG–Metropolitan, Siva invited me to his Royal College batch mates’ annual get-together at his Wellawatta Rohini Road residence as the guest of honour, although I was not from that Reid Avenue school.
Among others present on this occasion were Neville Algama and Nissanka Wijeratne who was then a cabinet minister. When V.T. Dickman arrived, it was Nissanka Wijeratne who announced aloud, “Here comes the Govigama Lansia!” Dickman was surprised to see his superior officer seated next to the minister. My instant reaction was to loudly observe, “Sir, Vernon is only one of the many Govigama Lansias in the Police.”
Such terms were freely used by friends in the company of Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers and Muslims. That was indeed the wonderful spirit of the time.
Perhaps, many today do not know that a common party song of the time sung by all had words such as “Sinhalaya modaya, kevun kanna yodaya, Demalaya, panankottaya, Thambiya, hambaya, Lansia, kerapotha etc.” Songs of this nature brought the youth of different communities together. There was no animosity whatsoever.
The term ‘Govigama Lansia’ was certainly complimentary. It was applicable in full measure to the many Burgher gentlemen that formed the backbone of the Ceylon Police that I joined as an ASP in 1958. At that time there were only about sixty Senior Gazetted Officers. Of these senior officers there were many Burghers. Almost all of them became my good friends.
The Officer’s Mess on Brownrigg Road with Jamis the butler in attendance, was the pleasant meeting place particularly during the week-ends.
Wilhellem Leembrugen was one of the three DIGs. Cecil Wambeek, Richard Arndt, Harry Vanden Driesen and Jack Vansanden were Superintendents.The Burgher ASPs were Fred Brohier, R.A. Stork, Ian Vanden Driesen, Ainsley Batholemeuz, Royden Vanderwall, Allen Flamer-Caldera and Paddy Sims.
There were many Govigama Lansias among the inspectorate too. Those that readily come to mind are: V.T. Dickman, Taylor, Rosairo, Pietersz, the Balthazar brothers, Eddie Gray, Barney Henricus, Dick Hopman, Derrick and Hague Christofelsz, Thomas, Sweetie Weber, Ron Jansz, Dudley Von Haght, Barthelot, Vernon Elias, Mike Schokman, Brindley Stava and Gerry Paul.
The Burgher community was so respected and widespread that many had been recruited as constables. They had the distinct advantage of the ability to work in English.The sergeants and constables of the time were very important public officials that functioned at grass roots level in the villages. As an ASP fifty years ago, there were many Police stations where sergeants were the OICs that came under my purview. Sergeants Pietersz and Whatmore were excellent court officers. Even lawyers and magistrates respected their knowledge of the law. Of course, Derrick Christofelsz, the Chief Inspector of the Colombo Magistrates’ Court was highly regarded by judges and lawyers. When he walked into the courthouse he drew the attention a Queen’s Counsel would have drawn.
It is with nostalgia that I recall the names of Burgher constables who served under me in different police districts in the late fifties and the sixties. The names that come to mind are Ryde, Leitch, Hesse Leiton, Hendrick, Hingert, Koelmeyer, Raymond, lsaacs and Wally Bastian the reputed exponent of true Portuguese Kaffringha music. He was one of the few talented officers who kept the Colombo Police ‘Traffic Circus’ alive in the sixties.
The ‘Lansias’ of the police were truly ‘Govigama Lansias’. They undoubtedly enjoyed a place of honour in the history of the Sri Lanka Police.
Earl Forbes: “The White Australia Policy, Ceylonese Burghers and Alice Nona,” http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=62343
People Inbetween. Vol. 1: The Burghers and the Middle Class in the Transformations Within Sri Lanka, 1790s–1960s. By Michael Roberts, Ismeth Raheem and Percy Colin-Thomé. Ratmalana, Sri Lanka: Sarvodaya Book Publishing Services, 1989. xxiii, 389 pp. $125.00.