Negombo Tamils or Puttalam Tamils is a term usually used for native Sri Lankan Tamils who live in the western Gampaha and Puttalam districts of Sri Lanka. It does not apply to Tamil immigrants from other parts of Island into these districts. They are distinguished from other Tamils from the island nation by their unique dialect(s), one of which is known as Negombo Tamil dialect, facial characteristics such as their thick pouting lips and other aspects of their culture. Other sub categories of native Tamils of Sri Lanka are Jaffna Tamils or Northern Tamils and Batticalao Tamils or Eastern Tamils from the traditional Tamil dominant North and East of the Island nation. Negombo is a principal coastal city in the Gampaha District and Puttalam is also the principal city within the neighbouring Puttalam District.
The main feature of the Negombo Tamils is the continuing process of assimilation into the majority Sinhalese ethnic group known as Sinhalisation. This process is enabled via number of caste myths and legends.
In the Gampaha district ethnic Tamils have historically inhabited the coastal belt where as in the neighboring Puttalam district, until the first two decades of the twentieth century it had a substantial ethnic Tamil population of whom majority were Catholics and a minority were Hindus.
According to L.J.B.Turner, although the distinction between Sinhalese and Tamils of the present day Sri Lanka is so marked but in the past there was considerable fusion between these ethnic groups. According to him the results of this fusion are most obvious on the western coast between Negombo and Puttalam, where a large proportion of the villagers, though they call themselves Sinhalese, speak Tamil, and are, undoubtedly, of Tamil descent. According to local legends their ancestors being captives from India or imported weavers and other artisans.
Survival of Tamil heritage
Due to the bilingualism exhibited by some residents of both these districts especially those who are traditional fishers, Tamil language survives as a lingua franca amongst migrating fishers across the island. It is estimated that the Negombo dialect of Tamil language is perhaps spoken by 50,000 people who otherwise identify them as Sinhalese. This number does not include others who may speak various varieties of the Tamil language north of Negombo city towards Puttalam. Today most of those who cling to their Tamil identity are largely Hindus and mostly concentrated in a single coastal village called Udappu. This village has approximately 15,000 inhabitants and has become refuge for other Tamils displaced due to the Sri Lankan civil war from rest of the country. There are also some Tamil Christians belonging to various Christian sects (mostly Catholics) who maintain their Tamil heritage throughout both these districts in major cities such as Negombo, Chilaw, Puttalam and in villages such as Mampuri.
Tamil heritage is also maintained in place names in both these districts. Outside of the Tamil dominated North East, Puttalam district has the highest percentage of place names of Tamil origin in Sri Lanka. There are also composite or hybrid place names in both these districts. The juxtaposition of Sinhala and Tamil place names indicated the peaceful coexistence of people of both language groups as well as the gradual assimilation process. There are also numerous Hindu temples across the districts mostly dedicated Hindu village deities such as Ayyanar who is also worshiped as Ayyanayake by the Sinhalese people. Other deities are Kali, Kannaki and the famous temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, Munneswaram that was built by a Sinhalese King.
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