Indian Ocean Lecture Series

The intersection of Migration, Mobility and Missionary Education over the 19th and 20th centuries: The Ceylonese Tamils of Malaya, 1790-1910

Speaker: Kristina Hodelin-ter Wal, Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands.

During the mid-nineteenth century, many Jaffnese Tamils of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) sent their children to Protestant missionary schools while some adults went to work for missionaries to gain education and employment. Though the ties to the Vellalar caste were strong, the gains of colonial employment and education were more influential to those of the Vellalar caste intermingling with Christian missionaries.

Interaction with British Wesleyan and American Board missionaries in the early to late nineteenth century ultimately led to the migration of Jaffnese to British Malaya (Malaysia). The British did not have sole control over the push and pull factors which led to Tamil migration, however. The circumstances in Ceylon, as well as, the drive for resources such as education and employment, also led to the push away from the old colony of Ceylon to the frontier colony of Malaya.

We must question how missions and evangelization changed the converted Jaffna Tamils and how they navigated the colonial system to gain English language skills and civil service positions. This enabled them to migrate to another colonial outpost of the British empire and empowered them to climb the colonial social ladder. They changed as a result of colonial interactions but they also changed the colonizer, leading to notions of the emancipated Jaffnese women during the colonial to post-colonial eras of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The transfer of educational and religious networks from one colony to the other is the core of comprehending the migratory experiences and intergenerational mobility over generations in colonial to post-colonial Malaya/Malaysia.

Photo credit: KITLV, Netherlands.


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