Dutch saw Joseph Vaz as agent of the Portuguese Empire
by Senaka Weeraratna on 16 Nov 2014 4 Comments

Joseph Vaz was serving the interests of the Catholic Church and the King and Government of Portugal in Goa when he landed in Ceylon on a mission. Goa was then (17th century) in the hands of the Portuguese who were then more or less engaged in a state of war with the Dutch, then occupying the coastal areas of Ceylon. Christian missionary activity was a huge State enterprise charged to the Crown’s revenues in Portugal. In many European countries national interests were closely identified with religious activity. Portugal was no exception.


Joseph Vaz was undoubtedly seen as an adversary and trouble maker by the Dutch in a manner similar to how both Portugal and the Catholic Church saw Buddhism and Buddhist monks as hostile elements who were not prepared to surrender Sri Lanka to Portugal or embrace Christianity, which both Portugal and the Catholic Church wanted to spread even by force if necessary among the indigenous people.


Anyone coming from Portuguese held territory was prima facie seen as a spy or agent serving the interests of the Portuguese by the Dutch, who were well aware of the machinations of the Portuguese keen to retake Ceylon which they had lost to the Dutch in 1658. The Portuguese writer Queroz gives expression to the lament of the Portuguese in losing Ceylon to the Dutch, and how desperate they were to re-capture Ceylon.


Portuguese Inquisition


In Portuguese-controlled areas of Sri Lanka, the practice of indigenous religions was forbidden and Buddhist temples, Hindu kovils and Muslim mosques destroyed. Buddhist monks were forced to flee to the Kandyan kingdom leaving behind only Ganinanses (Buddhists wearing white cloth and practising Buddhism in secret and catering to fellow Buddhists to keep the faith alive). The Portuguese Inquisition in Ceylon was no different from the Goa Inquisition except that it has so far not been defined as such. But all the elements that go to establish the existence of such an Inquisition are there. We need historians with a spine and moral backbone to make these assertions. Why should Portuguese confine their Inquisition to Goa and not extend it to Sri Lanka is a question that has yet to be raised and answered.


Joseph Vaz who renounced his Indian Hindu roots to embrace the religion of the conquerors of Goa (Portuguese),  who put large numbers of innocent Hindus and Muslims to death and conducted the infamous Goa Inquisition, is unlikely to gain acceptance as a saint or hero by the vast majority of people in Sri Lanka so long as Portugal, the Vatican and Catholic Church dodge the issue of Portuguese colonial crimes including the burning of the magnificent Buddhist Temples at Kelaniya, Devundera, Wijebaha Pirivena at Thotagamuwa etc. and fail to provide an apology and pay adequate reparations.


As Anagarika Dharmapala said, the overall aim of Christian missionaries was to make Buddhists ashamed of everything traditional that they had inherited, demonise the Buddhist religion and paint Buddhist heritage as worthless. They rejected peaceful co-existence with other religions. They had the mindset of the Catholic Inquisition – embrace our faith and values or risk death. The genocide of the indigenous races in North and South America (Aztecs, Mayas and Incas) by the Spanish and Portuguese with the blessings of the Vatican and the Catholic Church are ample proof of mass murder and crimes against humanity.


Both the Catholic Church and Western colonialism worked together as they had common objectives. It is a gross insult to our people including our freedom fighters and valiant Kings who saved Sri Lanka from the Portuguese, Dutch and British to honour a Christian missionary who supported the domination of Asian people by Christian powers.


The Government of Sri Lanka has made a huge mistake in inviting the Pope to canonize Joseph Vaz who is no hero to either the Sinhala Buddhists, Tamil Hindus and Muslims who can find common cause in opposing this event. If there is anything that can unite these three communities it is the collective memory of a shared past of being victims of discrimination and persecution on religious grounds under the colonial jackboot. The colonial rulers never respected human rights or rule of law. Colonialism by its very nature tramples these humanistic ideals. The underlying aims of plunder and exploitation of both natural and human resources in non–Christian countries coupled with racism and use of brute force without any level of accountability has made Western colonialism nothing more than a large-scale criminal enterprise.


Such crime lasting nearly 450 years in Sri Lanka from 1505 – 1948 is compounded by the fact that nobody is prepared to own up and apologise to the people of this country. That is the most decent thing to do if there is any decency left in such people who lose no opportunity to lecture to us unceasingly on Human Rights and what not. It is hypocritical and laughable to say the least.


International law has largely been Euro-centric and even Christian-centric and has promoted the ‘Doctrine of Different Rights’ instead of Universal Rights. This is true even today. KM Panikkar’s book ‘Asia and Western Domination’ (1953) examines this proposition quite adequately. History when it is discomforting cannot be whitewashed or wished away. It will continue to haunt the perpetrators of both holocausts and crimes of lesser magnitude whether committed in North and South America, Africa, India or even Australia. Germany to its credit has accepted responsibility for its Nazi past and apologised and paid reparations to all those who were victims of Nazi rule during the period 1933 – 1945. This has set the precedent for other countries that indulged in not too dissimilar practices elsewhere to do likewise – apologise and pay compensation.


Pope’s Visit


Is this really necessary? What is there for the vast majority of the people of this country who are not Christians? It is nice to promote the idea of a multi-cultural and multi-religious Sri Lanka despite it being a predominantly Buddhist country and an undisputed heir to an unique Buddhist Civilization that has lasted for nearly 2300 years. While Sri Lanka is always being pressed to accommodate other religions as part of multi-culturalism and far more than we see in other counties in both the West and Middle East, do we have the right to ask for reciprocal recognition of Buddhism?


While Sri Lanka has given official recognition to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity with a number of public holidays to mark special events specific to these faiths, very few non–Buddhist countries have afforded such recognition to Buddhism. Only two countries in Europe (Russia and Austria) have officially recognised Buddhism so far and Buddhism is unable to make further progress in gaining official recognition for itself in other European countries because of the opposition from the Vatican, Catholic and Christian churches which want a monopoly of the official status. In most Middle Eastern countries Buddhism is not even recognised as a religion because it rejects the concept of God as its fountainhead.


The rise of Asia in the 21st century will no longer be associated with economic might but also be coupled with enlightened thinking, moral values and sense of caring for others, including other living beings, in a charitable way as taught in the wise teachings of Buddha. This is the vision of the Chinese leaders and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both want to see a new Asia that can stand on its feet with pride resourcefully and culturally. Only Buddhism can provide the historical basis for the cultural unity of Asia that will envelope the three Asian giants namely China, India, and Japan and major nations such as Vietnam, Korea, Chinese Taipeh ( Taiwan), Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Laos, Bhutan, Mongolia among others.


In such a context Sri Lanka must now decide on its moorings. Our foreign policy must be shaped to be more a part of Asia and give voice to its utterances. The colonial thinking that influences foreign policy initiatives must be replaced by bold thinking and bold thinkers with spine. Sri Lanka is part of Buddhist Asia. Let us not allow others to define who we are. It is our failing; our default in this respect has led people having allegiances to foreign sovereigns to define us.


Pope’s game plan for Sri Lanka a legitimate question


The decision to invite the Pope was done without any public consultation. The Pope is on record expressing his glee at the inroads his religion is making into traditional Buddhist space. Koreans are being trained at the behest of the Pope to visit Mongolia to convert Mongolians to Christianity. Therefore, his game-plan for Sri Lanka is a legitimate question.


The repercussions and negative fallout of this huge lapse in going ahead with the visit of the Pope who wants to spread Christianity in Asia, as part of a re-colonising strategy will be badly felt electorally in the forthcoming elections. The proposed celebration of the work of Christian missionaries like Joseph Vaz, then under the control and direction of the Portuguese in 17th century Goa, is as bad a mistake as the stupid proposal of a previous Prime Minister to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese entry to Sri Lanka.


Only in Sri Lanka do we find people celebrating our enslavement to western Christian powers.


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