Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Sinhalese are the dominant ethnic group in Sri Lanka. They live primarily in the wetter zones of Sri Lanka in the central, south, and west provinces. Most of Sri Lanka is rural and subsistence agriculture supplemented by some wage-labor is characteristic of much of the Sinhalese population. The Sinhalese are primarily Theravada Buddhists and speak Sinhala, an Indo-European language of the Indo-Aryan group of languages.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --South Asia


Sri Lanka

OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

There are ten documents in the Sinhalese file, all in English, and focused mainly on the Kandyan Sinhalese. Many of these works are heavily oriented to kinship and its integration into other cultural aspects of the society. Yalman's work, based on seven community studies, is probably the best general source on Kandyan kinship and its relation to other aspects of the culture (see Yalman 1971, eHRAF document no. 4). While most of the kinship documents tend to be concerned with the theoretical considerations of British kinship and social structure studies, they are well supported with case histories and community studies material which provide more that just kinship information. A number of these works, for example, provide additional ethnographic data on social structure, architecture, material culture, religion, politics, culture history, and the ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese population and the minority Tamils. For more detailed information on the content of any of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This Culture summary is from the article, "Sinhalese," by Bryan Pfaffenberger in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol 3. 1992. Paul Hockings, ed. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The synopsis and indexing notes were prepared by John Beierle, August 1996.

Overview by

John Beierle

AN KELIYA rituals -- category 796

ANDE -- traditional sharecropping arrangement -- category 427

ATTAM -- cooperative work groups -- category 476

BETHMA -- the joint working of a portion of a field with the sharing of the resulting profits -- category 476

BHIKKU -- monk -- category 792

Buddhist Committee of Inquiry -- category 795

Ceylon National Congress (CNC) -- category 646

compound groups -- made up of households or GEDARA -- category 621

DAYAKAYA SAMITIYA -- lay benefactor's societies -- category 794

DHAMMA -- religious doctrine -- category 779

DHARMAPALA -- a Buddhist layman -- category 794

Divisional Revenue Officer (DR) -- category 634

GAMARALA leader -- land owner; hereditary chief cultivator -- categories 554, 423

GE -- nuclear family unit -- category 594

GEDARA -- households -- category 592

JANATHA VIMUKTHI PERAMUNA (JVP) -- an insurrectionist movement of Sinhalese youth against the majority government -- categories 669, 668, 665

KAARANA -- theories of causation; "technologies" which attempt to manipulate supernatural forces for immediate ends -- category 789

KAPURALA -- priest of the Devale shrine -- category 793

KUDI -- category 613

MASSINA -- brothers-in-law (may also include cross-cousins) -- category 607

NIKANG -- cooperative work groups -- category 476

PANGU -- category 423

PAVULA -- category 602

RAJAKARIYA -- corvee work used to maintain the tank -- category 653

RATEMAHATMAYA -- category 634

SANGHA -- order of monks -- category 792

TARAWAD -- category 613

Tom-Tom beater's welfare society -- category 747

TULANA -- headman -- category 632

VARIGA -- categories of human beings of all kinds -- castes, linguistic groups, religious groups, racial groups, etc. -- categories 571, 564, 829 (for social concepts of)

VEL VIDANE -- category 624

VIDYALANKARA group -- radical, left-oriented Buddhist monks -- categories 792, 668

village tribunal -- category 692

WANNI NAYAKA -- category 635

Indexing Notes by

John Beierle

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