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SOAS South Asia Institute

Voices of the Afro-Sri Lankans

Afro-Sri Lankans dancing

Afro-Sri Lankans dancing



Dr Shihan de Silva (Producer/Director)

Date: 26 February 2014Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 26 February 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College BuildingsRoom: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Film

Series: SSAI Seminar Programme

This event has been cancelled.  But the film screening will be shown on 27 February, Centre of African Studies film series


Voices of the Afro-Sri Lankans, an ethnographic film produced and directed by Dr Shihan de Silva (Institute of Commonwealth Studies) draws attention to a community in South Asia whose roots extend to Africa. There were multiple waves of African migrations and the places of origins were varied.  There are large gaps in the historical records of African movement to Sri Lanka and the migrants were ethnolinguistically heterogeneous. Ethiopians traded in Mannar as early as the sixth century when Sri Lanka was an emporium in the Indian Ocean. Eight centuries later, Ibn Batuta, the fourteenth century Moroccan traveller found an Ethiopian garrison in Colombo.  

From the sixteenth century onwards, involuntary movement of Africans is linked to European trade expansion in the Indian Ocean and colonisation. Africans performed a variety of tasks in Sri Lanka in the last five hundred years.  Current oral histories of the Afro-Sri Lankans associate their displacement with colonial armies. With resettlement, cultural transformation and creolisation was inevitable. Within this milieu, music and dance are signifiers of African-ness whilst their songs, in creolised Portuguese, raise questions about their acculturation.  Their musical talents have gained them recognition in the arts world with invitations to perform in various parts of the island and even overseas.  Questions regarding their socioeconomic development remain to be addressed.

Speaker's Biography 

Dr Shihan de Silva is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London), a former member and Rapporteur of the UNESCO International Scientific Committee (Paris) and an elected Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society (Great Britain & Ireland). She has a PhD (Linguistics), an MSc (Finance) and a BSc Honours (Economics) from the University of London.  

She is the author of eighty five peer-reviewed articles in international journals, and has also written eight books (six monographs and two edited books) in the fields of Historical Linguistics, Ethnomusicology, Portuguese Studies, African Diaspora Studies and Ethnography.  Among her publications are ‘The Portuguese in the East: A Cultural History of a Maritime Trading Empire’ (I B Tauris, London), ‘African Identity in Asia: Cultural Effects of Forced Migration’ (Markus Wiener, New Jersey) and ‘African Diaspora in Asian Trade Routes and Cultural Memories’ (Edwin Mellen Press, UK).  

She is leading the Portuguese programme of a World Bank Project on "Discourse Communities” at the University of Kelaniya (Sri Lanka).  She is a collaborator of the Hugo Schuchardt Legacy Project concerned with Indo-Portuguese manuscripts at the University of Graz (Austria).


Free and open to the public

Organiser: Centres & Programmes Office

Contact email: centres@soas.ac.uk

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4893