The thombo treasure. Colonial population administration as source for the historical demography of early modern Sri Lanka
SourceAustralian Economic History Review, 60, 1, (2020), pp. 105-121
Article / Letter to editor
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Economische, Sociale en Demografische Geschiedenis
Australian Economic History Review
SubjectCategories Contested; Europe in a Changing World; Radboud Group for Historical Demography and Family History
During their occupation of Sri Lanka (1640–1796) and following Sinhalese and Portuguese practices, the Dutch created an elaborate registration of people, estates, and labour services. The administrative records known as the thombos are incomparable in their level of detail, yet they have hardly been used for the purposes of demographic or economic history. This article describes the challenges involved in ‘decoding’ the thombos, that is, reconstructing the meaning of particular variables in the light of the prevailing legal pluralism in which Sinhalese common law and Roman-Dutch law co-existed uncomfortably. It also summarises research findings from a pilot study involving about two hundred small villages in Colombo province. Finally, it sketches research horizons, as the thombo ‘treasure’ holds great prospects for (comparative) studies into family systems and the impact of colonial rule on fertility and mortality.
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