Sri Lanka

Jaffna was a busy trading city and the main centre in northern Ceylon. The last bastion of the Portuguese on the island, it fell to the Company in 1658. For the time being the VOC had eliminated all its European competitors on the island. The Company rebuilt much of Jaffna. The Portuguese fort made way for a new one designed according to the latest military principles. The result was an almost impregnable citadel, perhaps the strongest VOC fort in Asia. Construction work, which began in 1660, was finally completed some 130 years later, in 1792. The fort was an important link, guarding the sea lanes to and from India. In Jaffna fort the VOC built a church, known as 'Kruys' (Cross) church. With its layout in the form of a Greek cross, it was typical of Calvinist architecture. Women attending the church services would have their slaves bring chairs which would be taken away again afterwards. The church was built in 1706 and could accommodate 600 people. In the Jaffna region, too, Protestantism was preached with enthusiasm, but the native population often had little idea of the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism. In the busy trading town of Jaffna the merchants maintained close contacts with the mainland. The main products of the town and region were cotton, clothes, pearls and elephants. The elephants were sold for the armies of Indian princes. The animals were captured by driving them into a fenced enclosure from where they were taken one by one to be bound and even sometimes to be baptised. After eight days of being tied up an elephant would be more or less tame and ready to be trained. In northern Ceylon the Company enjoyed a certain measure of territorial authority; a unique position for an organisation primarily concerned with trade which (except on Formosa) generally left local rulers in control. On Ceylon this authority involved the Company was responsible for collecting taxes from the local population, among other things. Because the Company levied far higher taxes than was customary, the local inhabitants rose up against the VOC in 1676. However the Company crushed the rebellion and implemented the levy anyway. Jaffna was also the capital of one of the 'commandementen', or departments, into which Ceylon was divided and fell under the jurisdiction of the governor in Colombo.