Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, a great scholar, statesman and son of the soil of Jaffna, once proudly declared:
“I have great belief in the Tamil Community. They will be saved by their common sense and marvellous industry, their innate disdain of comfort and spartan simplicity, their long knowledge and love of mother tongue”.
The hard, arid and seemingly forlorn nature of the land, the splendid isolation of the, Jaffna Peninsula from the rest of the Island and an inborn tendency to tread in the footsteps of one’s ancestors are factors that contribute to the characteristic features of the species called Jaffna Tamil.
Outsiders have been much impressed by the spirit of hard work Sound among the Jaffna of people. Since “nature in this land is a stern mother giving her rewards only for hard and earnest toil”, man has to work hard to cultivate enough food for the relatively big population of the Peninsula. The Jaffna as peasantry, with its “thrift and prudence as well as patience and industry” has succeeded in achieving at least partly this goal. The Ceylon Manual 1912 – 1913 corroborates the above by paying glowing tribute to the “average Tamil of the Peninsula” who is “thrifty and energetic. As a cultivator, by hard manual labour and by an elaborate system of well irrigation and cultivation, he has converted pains covered with coral rock and sandy soil into prosperous gardens of tobacco, manioc and grains. And as he works hard, when on his own land and for himself, so he displays the same energy in marking money and position as a clerk, business man, contractor, or trader”.
Many unbiased observers are also in accord with this assessment and agree that the “hard working” habits of the Jaffnese “stand them in good stead when they are in Colombo, and they often become rich, in which case they will usually retire, to their native region”.
There are those who toy with the idea that the Sri Lankan Northerner is a “hardier” and “more masculine type” compared to the Southern “softer” and ” more feminine type”.
Frugality is another quality that is attributed to the people of Jaffna. They are said to live ” exceptionally frugally and manage to subsist on very small estates, utilising all sorts of small means of adding to their income”. Is it any wonder, then, that the Tamil of Jaffna has been referred to as the ” Scotsman of Ceylon”?
A visitor to Jaffna cannot but be stuck by the “extremely conservative” nature of its people. Jane Russell not only describes this state of mind, which some characterise as being “Jafifna-centric” and “serious in their out look”, but also tries to explain the factors that contribute to
“The Jaffna Tamil man was fiercely conservative and he maintained a jealous pride in his attachment to the peninsula and to the language, customs and beliefs of his ancestors… It could perhaps be termed a peninsularity of the mind, the spatial isolation of the Northern Province being its most conditioning factor. However when combined with a natural atavism which a British governor described as the preference of the Ceylon Tamil for the methods of his ancestors, this peculiar conservatism becomes an ingrained trait”.