Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon, and North-West Pakistan

By E. R. Leach | Go to book overview

CASTE IN JAFFNA 1
By MICHAEL BANKS
INTRODUCTION
The Jaffna peninsula is the northernmost part of Ceylon. An arid limestone- coral formation, it has little or no surface water except during the monsoon season, but there is reasonably abundant well-water. Rice is grown, irrigated only by rainfall, while there is extensive garden cultivation (including tobacco, onions, and chillies as cash crops) irrigated from wells. There are also large palmyra plantations and a smaller area of coconut palms; these of course need no irrigation. Apart from the manufacture of Jaffna cigars, a number of garages, one cement factory, and a coconut-oil mill, there is virtually no industry. Jaffna is not, however, an area out of touch with the rest of the world; it is highly literate and has a substantial export of educated manpower to the rest of Ceylon and, until vev recently, to Malaya.Historically Jaffna has connexions both to the south, with Sinhalese Buddhist Ceylon, and to the north, with Tamil Hindu India. Today language, culture and religion are predominantly Hindu, but this has not always been so; the struggle, both military and cultural, has swayed back and forth across north Ceylon for upwards of two millennia. Not surprisingly, Jaffna is in some respects an interstitial area. Since the aim of this publication is to explore variations on the theme of caste, and caste is ordinarily an institution defined by reference to the Indian sub-continent, my contribution will be one which looks northward to compare and contrast the Jaffna system with that of South India, and in particular with the caste system of Tanjore, which lies only twenty-eight miles away across the Palk Strait. This does not imply that I consider everything in Jaffna culture to have an exclusively Indian Tamil origin. Whatever may be the current of today's cultural drift towards an increasing separation of Tamil and Sinhalese culture and social organization, it is reading history backwards to suppose that a sharp cleavage has always existed.
JAFFNA'S SEVERAL SYSTEMS OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION
To clarify what I mean by caste in the Jaffna context it is sufficient to state that Jaffna society has the following characteristics which can be considered typical for most Hindu systems.
(1) There are a number of named endogamous strata.
(2) There is a concept of pollution.

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Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon, and North-West Pakistan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contributors to This Issue vi
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction: What Should We Mean by Caste? 1
  • Notes 10
  • Caste in a Tanjore Village 11
  • Notes 60
  • Caste in Jaffna 61
  • Notes 77
  • The Flexibility Of Caste Principles in A Kandyan Community 78
  • Notes 111
  • The System Of Social Stratification in Swat, North Pakistan 113
  • Notes 146
  • Bibliography 147
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