The Goyigama Lansiyaas

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.

***  ***

ALSO NOTE

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

BUT ALSO

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.

 

2 Comments

Filed under British colonialism, communal relations, cultural transmission, discrimination, disparagement, heritage, historical interpretation, life stories, self-reflexivity, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, taking the piss, tolerance, unusual people, world events & processes

2 responses to “The Goyigama Lansiyaas

  1. My Dad, Vivian Nathanielsz, was Chief Inspector in the 1940’s -50;s. Many of the names mentioned were good friends of his. Uncle Wilhelm, Uncle Harry, all the van den Driesen brothers, Uncle Alan Flamer Caldera, etc. He, however, was no Lansiya… although he was classified as such.. he was Eurasian: his mother was Scottish/Irish, and he insisted on identifying as Sinhalese, as do I, recognising my heritage, although I have been an Australian citizen since 1961.
    I remember the Mess in Brownrigg Road very well!
    When I visited there in 2010, I was delighted to see that the very same chairs where Dad and his drinking buddy, Uncle Colin van den Driesen, sat, are still there, in the same place, on the verandah!
    Dad was in Moratuwa in 1947 when I was born… then transferred to Badulla, where he retired to become Managing Trustee of the Lady Lochore Loan Fund, prior to our emigrating to Melbourne in 1960.
    One day, I intend to write about these fine, honourable gentlemen… the calibre of whom is very rare… then and now!!!
    Jeni Nathanielsz

  2. An EMAIL MEMO from NATHAN SIVASAMBU [ageless 90 or so] in London: “Michael, I have read through what you have sent. I knew two [Tamil gents] who lived in our street, Deal Place (Govt. Quarters), Colpetty, Colombo 3 who joined the Police Force: David Thambiah who joined as an ASP, and Sunderalingam Ramachandran who graduated with a General Degree at Peradeniya and, I think, was President of the Student Union. He joined as an ASP. He told me that on returning from Jaffna, he advised President J. R. Jayawardena that the LTTE were a handful which would be neutralised if the North was granted Federal status.

    Sunderalingam Ramachandran told me that President JRJ paid no attention.
    Sometime later Sunderalingam resigned or still as an ASP of the Ceylon Police joined Interpol, and was basedin, I think, Paris and then at Lyons. He became their leading expert on drug trafficking.He moved finally to Chennai – on retiring (?). His brother is the Eye Surgeon of renown, Pararajasingham.

    I knew Bryce Kelart who was at Royal who on moving to Australia after the war became a Police Constable. He married the sister of my friend, Emil Hunter, Eileen – the entire Hunter family moved to Australia. They lived next door at no. 17 in Deal Place.

    Emil’s maternal grand father who lived with them has some interest: he fought in the ’14-’18 war, and every year on Armistice Day he takes out his rifle, blood stained rifle to clean it – and as he does so tears stream down his face.

    Sunderalingam knew Senake Bandaranayake whose father was in the Police force. When Senake Bandaranayake was Ambassador to France in 2000, he invited Sunderalingam to visit him.

    Of interest: John Attygalle who was head of the CID was removed by the Mahadeva family pressure as he stood in the way of an impartial inquiry into the murder of Mrs. Sathasivam.His brother R. C. L. Attygalle taught English at Royal. He was inspiring. Later he joined UNESCO.

    I am here also recording my time.

    Good wishes, …..Nathan

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