The CEYLONESE community, mostly Tamil people from the Sri Lankan district of Jaffna, arrived in Malaya in the early 19th century and were highly sought after by the British administration for clerical and engineering work.
The early arrivals, who worked mostly in the civil service and railways, formed Ceylon Associations, starting in Taiping and Negri Sembilan.
Such associations began as gatherings of Ceylonese, but the groups soon began collecting funds for buildings and halls as venues for their meeting.
The Ceylon Association of Perak was established in 1917 and hundred years later, the association is set to mark its centennial celebrations on July 22.
Records show Dr William Arasaratnam Rogers, Sinnathamby Suppiramaniam, Sanmugam Arumugam, Arthur Cecil Ferdinands and Dr John Scott Lee, as the founding fathers of the association, which has grown over the years.
Thanks to the efforts of the founders, the association managed to acquire land and build a hall for the Ceylonese community and other communities as well.
The Ceylonese community would go on to play a role in our nation’s development.
After the signing of the Pangkor Treaty in 1874, the British administration embarked on the construction of roads, railways, schools, hospitals and government offices in the Malay Peninsula, to develop the country and to tap its resources.
According to the Ceylon Association of Perak Vice President Datuk Dr S. Sivanesan, Ceylonese settlers were brought to Malaya to survey and build the railways, to be apothecaries in the hospitals, to be technical assistants to qualified engineers and to staff the clerical services.
Citing the book A Hundred Years of Ceylonese in Malaysia and Singapore by S. Durai Raja Singam, Dr Sivanesan gave a candid account of the immigration of the Ceylonese to Malaya and Singapore.
“With the establishment of the Federated Malay States, a large number of clerks, surveyors, hospital assistants, teachers and technical assistants from Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) began to arrive.
“These men played a key part in the development of Malaya. Wading through virgin jungles, braving the many perils, the greatest of which was the fever mosquito, they laid the foundations of some of the finest roads and railway tracks during that period.
“These pioneer Jaffnese, Sinhalese and Burghers blazed the trail. Each ship from Colombo brought its full quota of young men seeking employment in government, the ships arriving in Penang and Singapore,” he said of early Ceylonese migration.
When asked about the formation of the association, Dr Sivanesan said the association’s records date back to 1917, and based on the information on the title for the land where the Ceylon Association building stands today, the site previously belonged to the Eastern Smelting Co Ltd in 1911.
“The association is in its 100th year based on our records from 1917. Unfortunately the records for the earlier years have been lost, perhaps due to the turmoil of World War II.
“Judging from the title for the land on which the association building stands, the land was transferred from The Eastern Smelting Co Ltd to Eastern Smelting Co Ltd in 1911; and then to Dr John Scott Lee in 1925.
“Records of the association’s leardership can only be traced back to 1949 when one M.S. Arulappu was the president. For the current era, the longest serving president was Datuk RCM Rayan, who served from 1962 to 2009.
“The association has in the past been the focus of many activities for the Ceylonese community of Perak,” he said.
“In addition, the premises has played host to weddings, cultural events, talk and seminars, music and dance performances, and sports like badminton, and indoor event such as darts and carroms. What we are worried today is the distinct lack of new and young members, which is vital if the association wants the next 100 years to be just as meaningful,” he added.
Dr Sivanesan said, being a private entity the association receives no financial assistance from the government and relies on donors, subscriptions, and revenue from the renting out its hall to fill its coffers.
He said he hopes the government can come to the association’s assistance in some way, perhaps for renovations of the association’s building or on work to help the less fortunate members of the community.
When asked whether the younger generation is active in the association’s work, Dr Sivanesan said over the years, they have experienced a serious drop in numbers among the community, as many head to bigger cities in the country or go overseas.
“This is an issue faced by many social groupings in Ipoh and not an exclusive woe to the Ceylonese community alone.
“The Ceylon Association of Perak needs the support of the community for its various activities and contribute towards its next 100 years.
“We are fortunate to have been endowed with landed assets through the foresight and good work of our forefathers.
“The assets are still here for the community and its wellbeing.
“A sense of belonging to this association from people in our community, whether they are in Ipoh or far away in a distant land, gives us hope that all will be well for the future,” he said.
The association will have its centennial celebration on July 22 at its premises in No 18, Jalan Tun Perak and Dr Sivanesan, who is also the organising chairman of the event said it is the perfect opportunity for the community to be together.
“As the community will be gathered together for the occasion, a membership drive and an awareness campaign will be held during that night.
“To keep up with the times, the association will embark on a journey in social media to communicate and engage the younger generation,” he said.