Introduction / History The Sinhalese are the dominant ethnic group in Sri Lanka (formerly, Ceylon), an island off the southeastern coast of India. Composing about three-fourths of the population, they live mainly in the central and southwestern portions of the island. The Sinhalese have lived in Sri Lanka for more than 2,000 years. They were ruled by various European powers for over 400 years until Sri Lanka was granted independence from Great Britain in 1948. Since that time, they have been engaged in nearly constant conflict with the Tamil minority, who have called for an independent state on the north side of the island.
The Sinhalese are divided into two major groups. The first group is the mountain-dwelling Kandyan Sinhalese, who are known as a more traditional, conservative people. The second is the Low Country Sinhalese, who live in the coastal lowlands and are more cosmopolitan and progressive. The Sinhalese speak an Indo-European language called Sinhala.
What are their lives like? The Sinhalese follow the Buddhist religion, but because of Sri Lanka's proximity to India, the people are also heavily influenced by the Hindu caste system. Castes are ranked social classes that are based upon birth and occupation. For example, farmers have their own caste, fishermen have another caste, and priests have yet another caste. At birth, individuals are automatically included in their parents' caste and are required to marry within that caste. Members of a highly ranked caste generally attempt to avoid contact with members of lower castes, for fear of being spiritually polluted by them.
The largest caste among the Sinhalese is the farming caste, whose members number about one-half of the total Sinhalese population. The great majority of the farmers grow rice. Coconut, manioc, tomatoes, potatoes, and onions are also cultivated. In addition, marijuana is sometimes grown as a cash crop. Virtually no modern tools are used in agriculture; consequently, almost all farm work is done by hand or with hand tools. Most farming families also keep animals such as cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs.
Almost all Sinhalese marriages are monogamous, composed of one man and one woman. However, a wealthy man may occasionally have more than one wife. Traditionally, there was no ceremony associated with marriage; a man and a woman simply started living together with their parents' consent. Today, however, that type of marriage is rare, and most couples hold a ceremony and sign a marriage license.
What are their beliefs? Most of the Sinhalese belong to the Theravada branch of the Buddhist religion. Although the Sinhalese adhere to basic Buddhist teachings, they follow many Hindu beliefs as well. For example, Buddhism is unconcerned with the Hindu pantheon of millions of gods, but the Sinhalese worship Hindu deities who they believe control daily life. Over time, the people may come to see a formerly popular god as inadequate, and they may change their allegiance to another god. In addition to gods, the Sinhalese believe in demons, whom they must appease through rituals conducted by exorcists.
What are their needs? Literacy in Sri Lanka is high, and most people have adequate food, shelter, and health care. However, Sri Lanka remains one of the poorest of the South Asian nations as a result of the low industrial growth rate. In addition, the nation has been torn apart in recent years by civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil minority who seek independence.
Even more overwhelming than the physical needs of the Sinhalese are their spiritual needs. Although a few Sinhalese converted to Christianity during the colonial period, most of them still have no real understanding of the Gospel message. Fervent intercession, evangelistic materials, and increased missionary efforts are all greatly needed if the Sinhalese are to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Prayer Points * Thank the Lord for the end to the long-standing civil war in Sri Lanka.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send missionaries who can witness to the Sinhalese in culturally relevant ways.
* Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the Sinhalese so they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will use the few Sinhalese believers to share the love of Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to raise up a mighty army of prayer warriors who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Sinhalese.