Colonialism in Sri Lanka: The Political Economy of the Kandyan Highlands, 1833-1886

by Asoka Bandarage

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Hardcover – Berlin: Mouton, 1983. ISBN 3108003917.

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Paperback –  Colombo: Lake House Publishers, 1987 and 2005, Sri Lanka ISBN 955-8733-56-3
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This book has been used for many years as the classic work on British colonialism in Sri Lanka.

The central concern of this book is the impact of the British plantation economy on colonial political authority in the Kandyan highlands of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) during the 19th century. This subject, in itself, is not new; but earlier studies have attempted neither a synthetic analysis of the various aspects of the British colonial impact on Ceylon nor an interpretation of the general dynamic of the colonial transformation in the context of changes in the international political economy. What is also glaring in its absence is an attempt to relate the transformation which took place on the island to the current debate on development and underdevelopment in the Third World. This book has been undertaken with the objective of filling several such gaps in the existing literature. It provides a theoretically informed interpretation of the British colonial impact on Kandyan Ceylon during the 19th century. It also makes a signification contribution to the wider debate on development and underdevelopment in the Third World on the basis of the Ceylonese case study.


… Bandarage has graphically, almost lyrically, portrayed the intense conflicts generated by the interaction between various sectors of the economy … Bandarage’s is a forceful arguement, its great authority deriving from extensive research and documentation … Her critical acumen is demonstrated admirably in the last Chapter on ‘Theoretical Conclusions’ where she evaluates … theoretical approaches in the complex problem of the nature of colonialism’s relationship with pre-colonial societies…

Prof. Harbans Mukhia, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Social Scientist vol.13, No.4, April 1985

As books on Sri Lanka multiply, it is stimulating to encounter one concerned with wide perspectives … Asoka Bandarage traces, with insight and objectivity, the ways in which the precolonial, economic and social order was metamorphosed … This volume is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the economic processes that transformed Sri Lanka in the nineteenth century…

Dr. Ananada Wickrematatne, University of Chicago, The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.XLIV, No.2, Feb.1985

… Bandarage displays considerable theoretical ability … The conclusions reached in this exemplary study will interest anyone studying the evolution of Third World economies and societies.

Paul Salstrom, Brandeis University, Society for the Study of Labour History Bulletin, No.48, Spring 1984

… Bandarage’s theoretically guided case study is an outstanding success, both in its selection of material and its systematic use of it …

John P.Neelsen, Internationales Asien Forum, Koln, March 1985

Colonialism in Sri Lanka, is perhaps the first attempt to apply the articulation of modes of production approach to interpret the modern social history of Ceylon … it stands as a significant contribution to our understanding of the social transformation of colonial Ceylon in the nineteenth century.

Jayadeva Uyangoda, University of Hawaii, South Asia Bulletin, vol. V, No.2, 1985


  • I. Introduction
  • Part 1: Historical Background
  • II. The Social and Economic Organization of the Kandyan Kingdom: c. 1591 to c. 1815
  • III. The First Phase of British Rule in Ceylon: The Mercantilist Period, 1796-1833
  • Part 2: The Plantation Impact
  • IV. Export Agriculture in Ceylon, 1833-1886: An Overview
  • V. Plantations and the Conflict Over Land
  • VI. Plantations and the Creation of a Labor force
  • VII. Plantations and the Colonial State
  • Part 3: Conclusions and Theoretical Implications
  • VIII. The Colonial Transformation of the Kandyan Highlands: Socio-Economic Differentiation and Stratification
  • IX. Theoretical Conclusions: The Characterization of the Colonial Political Economy


  • References
  • List of figures
  • List of Maps
  • List of Tables