Catalogue of the Archives of the Dutch Central Government of Coastal Ceylon, 1640-1796

Description of the Subordinate Components

   The Officers of the Central Government.

   The dessave.

"Lascorijn" rolls.
The term "lascorijn" is derived from the Persian word "Lashkari", meaning one who serves in a laskar or camp. Whereas at present the word "lascar" is generally used to indicate a sailor from the East, in Ceylon its original meaning of a soldier survives up to the present day [1].
Since pre-Portuguese days the Ceylon army was a part of the feudal system prevalent in this Island. The military forces were a separate class, although not necessarily of one caste [2]. The ranks were filled hereditarily [3], and the services rendered were rewarded with land issued under certain restricting conditions (accomodessan and paraveni [4]). In order to ensure the proper working of the system, some sort of regular registration must have existed. The records is question, however, deal with the lascarins of the low-country during the days of the Dutch period only.
Whereas the main burden of the military work to be done was borne by a comparatively small army of Europeans the Dutch retained in service the feudal native army which they found in this Island on their arrival. The lascarins were divided into companies (Sinhalese "ranchuwas", Dutch "randje"), each of which consisted of two or three native chiefs, i.e., mohandirams, arachchies or kankanies, and 24 rank and file, the several ranchuwas being under the command of the Mudaliyar of the respective korale. Those companies attached to the establishment or "porta" of the Governor and the dessave were under the command of the Maha Mudaliyar and the Atapattu-Mudaliyar respectively. The principal information which remains is in respect of the lascarins of the Colombo dessavony, of whom the dessave was in charge. In the sets of instructions to that officer issued in 1661 [5], 1707 [6] and 1792 [7], the lascarins form an important item of consideration. In each of these instructions, moreover, the dessave is warned against the inhabitants who had illegitimately crept into the ranks of the lascarins in order to escape from heavy to light compulsory services for the V.O.C. The lascarins were no longer merely soldiers, although they were still used as sentries and for additional help in protecting "rusthuysen ", outposts, forts, etc. They functioned as the bodyguards of, and performed personal services for the Governor, the dessave and other high Dutch officials and native chiefs.
Valentijn [8] calls them "messengers". Besides their military services they had to be always ready at hand for all sorts of other light services for the Company, such as the delivery of letters, assisting in the cutting and transport of the Company's timber in the korales [9], looking after the elephants during their kraaling [10], etc. As in earlier times their services were rewarded with accommodessan and paraveni. In Dutch times the "lascorijns" of the low country formed a regular and distinctive feature of the native branch of the Company's administration. In the Colombo dessavony the usual number was 105½ ranchuwas with 2520 lascarins [11].
Every year the ranks of the lascarins had to be checked [12] and those who did not belong to them were sent back to their former services. A "bewijsbriefje" or certificate, signed by the dessave, was issued to every lascarin under the hand of the Governor [13]. In order to do this checking up the lascarins and their holdings were enrolled or registered by the Dutch. This registration was, of course, closely connected with that of the land registration i.e. the tombo. There is even evidence that the same people from the landraad who performed the tombo registration compiled the "lascorijns" rolls [14].
Although it is known that similar registration was attempted in Galle and Matara [15], and probably in Jaffna, not a single roll of these "commandements" has been left over. The registration of the lascarins in the Colombo dessavony in the form known at present was started in 1745 [16]. In 1768it was apparently found necessary to have the "lascorijn" rolls of 1745 revised. Hence the second series which is dated 1770 September 15.
Between the years 1745 and 1768, for various reasons, eleven new ranchuwas had been formed. Nearly all of them were abolished when the order for revision issued on the 17th of February 1769 [17].
  • The rolls were compiled in separate files as follows:
  • 1 file in respect of the Governor's Guard under the Maha Mudaliyar.
  • 1 file in respect of the Atapattu or Dessave's Guard, under the Mudaliyar of the Atapattu.
  • 7 files in respect of the 7 korales of the Colombo dessavony, under the respective Mudaliyars.
  • The roll of the Alutkuru korale includes the ranchuwa attached to the Kuruwa Mudaliyar who was in charge of the elephant hunt. No rolls are extant in respect of the Walallawiti korale.
  • 1 file in respect of the Negombo district, under the Maha Vidane of that district.
  • 1 file in respect of the Kalutara district, under the Mudaliyar of that district.
  • 1 file in respect of the dhobies [18].
Each of the above files is a register of the arachchies, kankanies and lascarins serving under the principal native chiefs, according to the respective ranchuwas to which they were attached, and showing the names of their individual holdings and the nature and extent of the same. The "lascarijn" rolls form a set of records of one of the oldest indigenous institutions in this Island.