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Sunday, 25 September 2016

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The advent of the first Sinhala newspaper

It is rather ironic that in a majorly Sinhala populated country, the first newspapers were in the medium of English. Not so ironic, but falling in line with the course of contemporary trends. After all, the ruling class of this colonial outpost was English, and furthermore, the native language and literature had plummeted low due to turbulent politics that had raged for years, that the springing of a newspaper in the local language seemed to be a near impossibility on linguistic and literary grounds.

But, it did spring, first one, and then a whole host of them. Today, they are popularly known as pattara or puvath path, but at the outset they were known as Nowus kadadasi or Aranchi patra. Gradually, the word Puwath patha seeped into useage.

Academics

What was the first Sinhala newspaper? It was the Lankalokaya and it debuted from a press in Galle in June 1860. Its price was given as 6 pence. It was published on behalf of C.W.K. Jayawardena Mudaliyar by W. E. Eating. Editor, was lawyer William Perera Ranasinghe. These are facts given in a text by K. D. P. Wicremesinghe, though other sources including academics such as Dr. K. D. Paranavithana quote Ven. Bulathgamuwe Dhammalankara Siri Sumantissa as the editor.

Facts about this newspaper cannot be easily deciphered due to the long passage of time. The only copies available are photocopies preserved today in the National Archives. It is the first copy of these photocopies that gives the year of debut as 1860. Date: -- September 10. The first page of this gives the following vital facts:

*This Pathraya, Lankalokaya is published two days a month, ie. on the 10th and 24th. A detail is added, "If these days fall on Sundays, the paper will be published the subsequent Monday."

Following instructions are also given:

"Those who subscribe articles should send them 2 or 3 days in advance."

"When making payments (for a monthly lot, maybe) an advance payment has to be made. Otherwise, the payment is defunct".

Such instructions transpire a systematic management of the first newspaper at the very outset.

Priority

Advertisements seem to have got priority right from the start. Here is a sample on the first page itself, and is entwined with or running with the coaches that have begun to run along the coastline, along the Colombo - Matara road.

(The word 'coach' later seems to have erupted into the word koachchiya not driven by horses this time, but by iron monsters).

"The food meant for the horses of the coaches running to Matara, (according to info received) are being robbed in the stables of Habaraduwa, Goiyyapana and Mirissa. If anybody gives us information on these miscreants a pound will be awarded."

The rest of the pages are on the Manthrana sabha (Legislating body) and the High Judiciary body (Uthum Adikarana sabha).

Reports of court cases and episodes related to court cases too are given. Foreign news too is given a place. Here are some stray news.

"His highness General Aubrien has been appointed head of the troops".

Deported

"Out of those miscreants deported to Malacca from Ceylon, six have died on the way. One of them is Goonethileka from Harispattuwa".

So Malacca has linked with South Africa and Mauritius as places of deportation for criminals or those suspected of, treachery to state, who seem to be in plenty.

The title of the reigning queen of the times (probably queen Victoria) too finds mention in an instance of the withdrawal of a complaint.

There is also a curious mention of the arrival of the family of Governor Ward at the harbour of Galle, "last Friday," but, what is curious is the wording, "paralokaprapthavu Sir Henry Ward" or the deceased Governor Ward. The only British Governor to die here was an Anderson. Maybe, a bungling of words, as happens in many a newspaper world.

Galle harbour, however, seems to have been the entry and departure point for international travellers. But, it was soon to give way to Colombo harbour, till of course oceanic travel succumbed to air travel. The city of Galle itself sank into oblivion with these developments though its heritage aspect was never obliterated .

Coming back to newspapers, for a maiden paper, Lankalokaya does stand high as regards content. The reasons for this can be surmised as the patronage given by English newspapers. Since the reading clientele was different (English readers vs Sinhala readers) there was no necessity for rivalry and on request, news that reached the English newspapers via cables were given over to the Sinhala papers.

(Main source: text by Siri Thilakasiri published by Godage International)

 

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