The Island nation of Sri Lanka, renowned as the land of eternal charm is home to a network of different ethnic groups, all which have helped weave the country’s multi-cultural fabric. By TUAN M.ZAMEER CAREEM.

The minorities dwindle to a handful, and communities like Portuguese Burghers, Dutch Burghers, Sri Lankan Malays, Bharathas, Parsis, Khojas,Telugus, Malabaris, Borahs and Memons  are some of the best known examples. 

It is pity to observe that many are categorised as endangered and some have reached the critical stage of extinction, but they continue to play much significance as citizens of Lanka.

The British Colonial Era was the curtain raiser for the arrival and settlement of expatriate communities and the Borahs, are one such notable mercantile community that reached the Lankan shores during the 19th century.

The Bohras were originally trade merchants who trace their lineage from the North Western part of India who made settlements in British Ceylon especially in the coastal belt, and Colombo has been their strong-hold for over many centuries.

The Borahs in Sri Lanka believe that their ancestors were originally Gujaratis, and their vernacular which is a dialect of Gujarati known as Dawat-ni-zaban helps corroborate their claim.

The Bohra familes Adamalee and Adamjee Lukmanjee trace their roots from Kachchh district in Gujarat. It is interesting to note that the term ‘Bohra’ is derived from the Gujarati word for trade and their ancestral livelihood has survived to this day. A visit to Pettah, the place freighted with Bazaars and markets helps exemplify the influence of Borahs in the local trade industry and they are the best known paper merchants in the nation.

The Bombay sweet marts, the haven for those with a strong appetite for sweets were introduced to the country by the Borahs who still continue the business. 

The Bombay sweets are originally the delicacies introduced by the Borahs in Sri Lanka and they range from gulab jamuls, jelebi, halwa, laddoo, bhoondhi, rasagula, muskats etc. which are some of the mouth-watering confectioneries.

Their cuisine is indeed unique and unlike other locals they are noted for their extensive use of ghee when cooking, and they consume the long grain rice known as ‘Basmati’ which is traditionally from the North of India and Pakistan.

The population remains blurry but they are found concentrated in the Bambalapitiya region in Colombo and their number in Sri Lanka is around 2500. Similar to the Parsis, Bharathas, Burghers and Malays the Bohras too have their own distinguishing factors which range from traditional clothes to patronymics.

The men are identified by the special headgear known as ‘Bohra cap’ which is adorned with a distinctive gold band while the female-folk clad in a burqa known as ‘ridah’ which has a wide range of colours.

Their patronymics include Abbasbhoy, Adamjee Lukmanjee, Akbarally, Davoodbhoy, FazalAbbas, Fazleali, Hebtulabhoy, Jafferjee, Jeevunjee, Miajee, Moosajee, Nathani, Rehmanjee and Shethwala and its noteworthy that all these are established names in the trade industry especially in the import-export sphere.

They are noted for their unique physiognomy as they are much lighter in complexion compared to other locals, and in appearance they share a lot in common to the North Indians.

The firm established by Carimjee Jafferjee family in 1831 is considered the oldest Bohra firm in the country with branches all over India and even extending to Mauritius.

The Company exported all types of local commodities  and imported rice, sugar, flour, pepper, and groceries and likewise other Bohra families have also left their mark in international trade.
Through the years, the community has produced several doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants, business consultants and economy specialists in the country.

Unlike other minorities they have erected their exclusive places of worship and educational institutions and they are believed to form the wealthiest clan in the country.

The Bohras are adherents of Shia faith, and are part of a different Muslim sect in the country and the forefathers of the community have erected their mosques in Jaffna, Galle and in Colombo.
The ornate mansion in Cinnamon gardens Colombo known as ‘saiffee villa’ which was the former ‘Lakshmi giri’ residence of Richard de Soysa, son of philanthropist Sir Charles de Soysa is at  present a centre for Dawoodi Bohra community in Sri Lanka, and  venue for numerous religious gatherings.

The Villa is named in honour of the pious Islamic scholar, Syenda Taher Saiffuddin and the current owner of this sprawling mansion is the family of Adamjee Lukmanjee who purchased the lavish property in 1978.

The Bohras form a close knit community in the country and through the years they have lived in friendly brotherhood, and they continue to play much significance as an integral segment of the Lankan society. 
With special thanks to dādā Carim Gunney Bhai & Alijamma.