The Social Impact of Christianity In Moratuwa

Social Impact on the Process of Education through Christianity

The modern system of education became rooted in Sri Lanka mainly through the activities of the Western missionaries who worked in the country. Their schools are a visible reality in each and every village in the Moratuwa area. Beginning with the Dutch in the 17th century, all parents in the coastal belt were encouraged to send their children to school. When the British took over the country in the latter part of the 18th century they developed the school network started by the Dutch. In this regard, Prince of Wales College, which was started in 1876 AD with the guidance of Anglican missionaries, can be given as an example. Because of these schools, the literacy rate and the education level of the common people in Moratuwa are very high. In the two villages that were the subject of this research, there were not found children who had never been to school.

As the Christian missionaries started almost all of these schools their value system is still preserved in these schools, mainly within the structure of the school system. There are monitors in every class, and prefects are the general leaders among school students. Games such as cricket are very popular in these missionary-founded schools.

The British colonial government introduced these schools with the help of Christian missionaries for a number of reasons. From the point of view of the colonial government, they had to produce a number of categories of people to maintain the colony, while Christian missionaries considered these schools as the nucleus of the future church. In this process, the British colonial government was not worried about the dropout rate in this system. Still, this is a visible reality in the school system in Moratuwa.

Christian influence on language and personal names, and the social outcome

The language and names used in Moratuwa are greatly influenced by the Christian faith. Among Roman Catholics, the older generation, those who are above 70 years of age, generally have Biblical names of Portuguese or British origin, names such as David Samuel and Anthony Peter. Younger Roman Catholics often have a Sinhala as well as a Biblical name. Among Protestants, as with the Roman Catholics, elders have Biblical names of Portuguese or British origin. Yet in many instances, these names are not used in their original form, especially in rural areas, as people are unable to pronounce them. So, for example, Grace has become Geres, and John has become Juwan.

But nowadays younger people often don’t have Biblical names, but instead have names of Sinhala origin, especially as today people are concerned about the meaning of the names given to their children. Many traditional Christians have surnames such as Perera, Fernando and Silva, of Portuguese origin. They also have what is called a Ge name, which is used in front of the personal name of the person. These are traditional Sinhala family names used by these people before they became Christians. Many people who get involved in the field of carpentry have Ge names that end up with the term ‘Waduge,’ a Sinhala word meaning carpenter or craftsman.

The Sinhala language in Moratuwa is greatly influenced by the hymns sung in the churches in Moratuwa. During the Dutch and British eras, many hymns were translated into Sinhala. In these translations, an effort was made to keep the original literal meanings and the tune of the hymns. There was no serious effort to preserve the original Sinhala language structure of these hymns. These hymns have been sung over and over again in the churches in services and in other worship contexts. Therefore even today the kind of Sinhala language found in these hymns is commonly used in Moratuwa in day-to-day matters.

In Moratuwa, there are many idioms that have come out of the Christian faith. These have become part and parcel of the Sinhala language used in the area. There are idioms such as “Mahasekurada vagai”, meaning “Just like Good Friday”. This idiom is used when a person has a sad and frustrated face. Similarly, when a person is happy it is said that “ Nattal vagai” means “Just like Christmas”. In this manner, local expressions are fully influenced by the Christian faith irrespective of the religious affiliation of the people.

Domestic Customs and Christianity

Christianity is a religion that is fully integrated with the domestic life of ordinary people. The three most important events of life, namely birth, marriage and death, are especially tied up with the Christian faith. In Kadalana I was told that even non-church-going Christians come to church on three occasions: in somebody else’s hands for baptism as a small child, on one's own feet for marriage, and on somebody else’s shoulders for burial after death. When a child is born into a family the first and foremost thing for Christians is to get the child baptised in church into the faith community. The priest, who pours water onto the child’s head, does this. This custom is not merely a religious duty fulfilled by the faithful but is also seen as a means of protection for the child from harm and danger in society. Therefore sociologically baptism for Christians is not only how they enter the Christian community but also something that prepares the child to enter into society with the due religious protection accepted by the religious community of that child. At baptism, a child becomes a child of the faith community. As a sign of this, the child gets so-called godparents, who, in addition to his or her own parents, function as protectors, guardians and persons who are responsible for bringing up the child in the faith. Accordingly, among Christians in Moratuwa baptism serves the purpose of introducing the child into society as a rightful member of the community.

Marriage is one of the most important establishments in almost all societies in the world. In Christianity marriage is considered as a sacrament, a sacrament being the performance of some outward symbols with the faith that God grants grace along with them. Therefore it is coloured with many meaningful religious functions in the Church and in the homes of Christians. Some Moratuwa Christians exchange a letter before marriage as the first step towards marriage. After this, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches will publish bans during the normal service on three consecutive Sundays before the marriage service is to take place. These three Sundays are very important for the couple getting ready for marriage; they are remembered in prayers on these Sundays in many Churches. Today in many churches couples are advised to have pre-marriage counselling as a preparation for marriage.

Death is an unexplainable event in the life of human beings. Religion deals with the inexplicable on the basis of faith by consoling the devotees, thereby giving them the strength to face the realities of life. In Moratuwa, irrespective of the Christian denomination to which they belong, Christians seek comfort and consolation in their faith, and so, in the event of a death and the practices connected with death, the Christian priest plays a vital and integral role in society by providing psychological support to the members of the bereaved family. If a person is dying the priest is called to pray and hand over the spirit of that person to God for the final resting place. After a death, the funeral bell is rung in the church to convey the message to the village. Christians consider this ringing of the funeral bell as an honour to the dead person. In the Anglican tradition of Moratuwa the funeral bell is rung in different styles to indicate whether the deceased is a male or a female, a child or an adult. Where the funeral rites are concerned, before the burial, hymns are sung and prayers are offered around the coffin while in the house of the deceased. Usually, before the burial a service is conducted in church in memory of the dead person, with the mortal remains of that person present. After the service, the body is taken to the church cemetery for burial. Sometimes the body is cremated according to the last wishes of the deceased. After the burial, memorial services are held in both the home and the church. The giving of alms in memory of dead people is also a common practice among the Christians in Moratuwa. As a Christian community Christians remember their dead on the 2nd of November, a day called All Souls Day. On this day services are conducted in the cemeteries where Christians pray for the dead and light candles on their graves.

Important Customs, rituals and Practices of Christians in Society

In Moratuwa Christians greet each other by saying ‘Jesu pihitai’ (Jesus bless you) or ‘Devi pihitai’ (God bless you). Many Roman Catholics and some Anglicans who belonged to the High Church tradition keep statues inside the home and light candles, have lamps or fix an illuminated electric bulb as an object of worship. Other Protestants often keep a picture of Jesus or a cross in their homes. The origin of this difference sprang up during the Western Reformation where many Protestants rejected statues as idol worship.

Though it is fast vanishing, a custom still in many houses is the saying of family prayers in the evening. In all Anglican churches, the church bell is rung daily at 8 p.m. for family prayers. Some people have a habit of keeping silent at 8 p.m. even if they are not with the family, so as to join in the family prayers in spirit even when they are unable to do so with their physical presence.

In many Roman Catholic and Anglican churches the church bell is rung at 6.00 a.m., 12.00 noon and 6.00 p.m. for prayers. This is called Angeles where the faithful remember the incarnation of God into this world. Where the church bell is rung in this manner the daily life of the people is very much connected to this ringing, irrespective of whether the people pray or not when the bell is rung. This ringing of the church bell affects the life of the area even across religious barriers. Some people get up at 6.00 a.m. to the ringing of the bell while others go to work after the ringing of the bell at 6.00 a.m. At 12.00 noon many carpentry shops stop work for lunch. After ringing the 6.00 p.m. bell the impression is given that the day is gone and the night has begun. This ringing of the church bell creates a serene atmosphere in the respective areas by dividing the day into three sections from 6.00 a.m. to 12.00 noon, 12.00 noon to 6.00 p.m., and the night time, from 6.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m.As far as possible Christians try to go to Church every Sunday. In this regard, Roman Catholics take this more seriously than Protestants in Moratuwa. Today there are many Christians who miss the Sunday service for various reasons such as overtime the place of work or some other social function. Yet it is an accepted social fact among Christians that it is a good and helpful practice to go to church every Sunday for the well-being of the community and its individuals. The central act of worship of Christians is called Mass by Roman Catholics, and Holy Communion, Eucharist or the Last Supper by Protestants. In this central act of worship Christians commemorate the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples before he was crucified. During this service, Christians share bread and grape juice or some other drink such as a kind of aerated water, these symbolising Jesus’ body and blood respectively, and so imitating what Jesus did on the last day of his earthly life. By performing this act of worship Christians believe that they receive the body and blood of Jesus for their spiritual nourishment and become one body in Jesus Christ. This ritualistic act of worship binds the Christian communities together in their respective areas.

The Bible, the most important book for Christians, plays a vital role in the life of Christians. Christians take guidance from the Bible for their day-to-day activities and are advised to read the Bible daily. What is written in the Bible has a great impact on the social life of the Christians in Moratuwa. For instance, the Ten Commandments in the Bible have a great social impact on these Christians. From the Ten Commandments, they take guidance on issues such as respecting parents, adultery, killing, and so on.

In Moratuwa, just as in other Roman Catholic areas, statues of Jesus and of the saints are kept in churches and public places as objects of blessing and worship. Protestants use the cross as their object of worship. Roman Catholics and some Anglicans make the sign of the Cross in front of their body as a protection from harm and danger and to symbolise the acceptance of God’s blessing.

Employment and Christianity. In Moratuwa, people get involved in various professions for their survival. Carpentry and fishing are the main sources of income for the majority of poor people in the area. The majority of urban Christians of the middle class are engaged in government or private employment for their livelihood or run businesses such as furniture shops. Both the carpentry and fishing trades are closely linked with Christianity in many ways. First of all the majority of the people who are involved with these professions are professing Christians in their own way. The majority of the fisher folk belonged to the Roman Catholic faith while the majority of Protestants, such as Anglicans and Methodists, get involved in the carpentry trade. Though there are hardly any Protestants who are involved in the fishing trade there are some Roman Catholics who are involved in carpentry, especially in the rural areas of Moratuwa. The fisher folk of the Roman Catholic faith mainly live along the coast, for obvious reasons concerning their trade. The lives of these people are closely linked with the Church in the local area. They get inspiration for their trade from to the fact that many of the disciples of Jesus were fishermen before they accepted the call to follow him. Jesus was closely associated with the sea. He narrated many stories against a coastal background, and often he preached on the seashore. He challenged his disciples by using metaphors from their former trade, such as “cast your nets into the deep”. Sometimes he even got into a boat and preached. The above background gives these fisher folk security and identity in their Christian faith, making them strong in their trade. It is an accepted sociological fact that many tribal and primitive societies have their own deities from whom they plead blessings and protection. In the same way, these people seek blessings and protection from the patron saint of the local church. The illuminated cross on the pinnacle of the local church often becomes their symbol of protection, and it can be viewed from the deep sea as they get-go about their trade in the sea.

Many Protestants and some Roman Catholics who do carpentry as their profession also draw inspiration from their faith. The facts that the foster father of Jesus, Joseph, and Jesus Himself were carpenters make them proud in their profession. In a chapel at Kadalana, the rural village of this research area, there is a wall painting of the carpentry shop of the father of Jesus. The depiction of the carpentry shop is that of one of the typical carpentry shops in the village. This wall painting gives the image of Jesus and His father in their carpentry shop, similar to the Christian carpenters of Moratuwa. Among Christians, there are hymns that explain how Jesus worked in the carpentry shop, especially how he worked in the carpentry shop with honesty and enthusiasm. Through these hymns, an impression is given of how they should get involved in carpentry according to their faith. Where church architecture and decorations are concerned, in Moratuwa many churches have been furnished with various types of attractive woodcarvings and decorations. The Christian carpenters of Moratuwa have done these carvings and decorations as an offering to their God. Even after generations the people belonging to the families of those who did these carvings and decorations are proud to proclaim that the craftsmanship of those carvings and decorations belongs to them.

Christianity and social festivals of Moratuwa. In Moratuwa social festivals are greatly influenced by Christianity. These festivals bring the community together and assure social solidarity in the area. These festivals not only bring Christians together but also bring together the people of the area irrespective of their religious beliefs. January 1st is the beginning of the social year in Moratuwa. It is the beginning of the Christian year and is also the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet people of the area, irrespective of their religion, get ready for New Year on January 1st by doing things such as cleaning their houses and buying new clothes. Often enemies get friendly on the 1st of January by forgiving each other. Most Christians take part in the watch night service on the 31st of December at about 11.00 or 11.30 p.m., and so are able to enter into the New Year in church with the blessing of God. The 1st of January is always a day of festivity for the people of Moratuwa. On this day whoever comes to the house is welcomed with hospitality and entertained with food. In recent times December 31st dinner dances have become a common feature in many hotels and middle-class houses in Moratuwa.

Good Friday and Easter are two other festivals that are important in Moratuwa. On Good Friday, the day when Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross, passion songs are sung in Churches with 3-hour devotions. On this day the whole area is covered with an atmosphere of sadness. The Sunday following Good Friday, when Christians celebrate Easter and commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the whole area is covered with a festive atmosphere. Christmas is the other most important festival in the area, and it brings people together at the end of the year on the 25th of December. On this day Christians celebrate the nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Festivity connected with Christmas begins at the start of December with nativity plays and the singing of Christmas carols. Christmas trees and cribs are a common sight in the area, creating a Christmas atmosphere. During the Christmas season, various groups go from house to house in the evenings singing Christmas carols. At midnight on December 24th, a service is held in churches to herald Christmas, and at midnight the sound of crackers keeps the whole city awake, reminding them of the birth of Christ. Especially in the Roman Catholic areas the feast of the local church is a social festival for the whole area. These festivals begin with the raising of the so-called flag tree in front of the church. There are processions held in connection with the feast and the area is decorated for these. Except on the day of Good Friday, food and beverages, including liquor, are available in many houses and other places, as a common feature of the Moratuwa area.

Music, Singing, Drama and Christians Moratuwa, especially among Christians, music, singing and drama have become an integral part of day-to-day life. The main reason for this is the influence of the Christian Church. The worship of the Christian church cannot be separated from music, singing and drama. Irrespective of denomination, in all Christian churches singing is one of the most important aspects of the act of worship. Traditionally, the organ accompanies singing in churches, but today oriental and other Western instruments, such as the serpina, tabla, guitar and drums, are increasingly being used in churches for worship. In Christian families, children are born into an atmosphere of singing hymns and other religious songs. Therefore from their birth, they begin to integrate these songs and hymns into their lives. This makes singing very natural for the Christians of Moratuwa.

Since playing musical instruments is encouraged in Churches, this gives the Christians in Moratuwa an opportunity to improve their talent in playing musical instruments. Not only in worship but even in other gatherings, Christians make it a point to have a singsong, often accompanied by a musical instrument such as the guitar.

Drama is something else very natural to the people of Moratuwa. The central act of worship in church (which is called the Mass, Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper) is conducted in the form of a drama. The architecture inside the church resembles a theatre for drama. The central act of worship is called the re-enactment of the Last Supper of Jesus. The meaning is that Christians are expected to relive the Last Supper of Jesus and actively participate in that event. At the same time right from the beginning of the introduction of Christianity by the Portuguese, drama was used as a means of the proclamation of the Christian Gospel. Easter dramas are a prominent example of this up-to-date. All these factors have made drama a common feature in the activities of Moratuwa. In the above background, there are many prominent singers, actors and players of musical instruments who have come out of the Christian background in Moratuwa.