The Dutch and True Cinnamon (1658-1796)


By the 16th century, the Portuguese’s trade monopoly was being obstructed by the Dutch and was gradually intensifying. While the maritime trade was going on, the Dutch came to Ceylon around 1658 and, their sole objective was to take over the Eastern trade. 

The Portuguese were still a major problem for the native king of Ceylon, and they spent time planning a way to drive them out of their island. Meanwhile, the king received information about the Dutch from an envoy. Pleased with this, the king sent word to the Dutch to meet him and sent Sinhala guides to guide them as they were brought. Thus, around 1602, the first Dutch ambassador, Joris van Spielberg, met with King. The king explained his needs and wants to the Dutch ambassador and promised to give the trade concessions and an eastern port. 

Despite various problems, the Dutch gradually expelled the Portuguese from Ceylon and clashed with the king. However, by 1658 the Dutch had successfully established their rule in Ceylon. Also founded in 1602 by the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), they successfully controlled all Ceylon trade, including cinnamon. 

During this period, the Dutch started commercial cultivation in Sri Lanka, including coffee and tobacco, to bring Sri Lankan products to a higher level globally. The Dutch also increased the area under cinnamon cultivation in Ceylon and improved the facilities required for it. The king allied with the Dutch to drive out the Portuguese and eventually had to see for the Dutch to gain control of more territory than the Portuguese. Based on the king’s fate due to this incident, a saying is still used in Sri Lankan society today, ‘It is like give ginger and taking chili.

However, with the French Revolution of 1792-1801, the British gained more power in Europe, and the Dutch power in the East was gradually transferred to the British. 

In the next article, we will talk about British rule in Sri Lanka.

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