Historical Context

  • Tamil immigrated to Sri Lanka from India and controlled northern regions early in Sri Lanka's history Image Source: Wikipedia

Funny Boy is a Historical Fiction

Funny Boy follows Arjie, a Tamil boy living in Colombo, from ages 7-14, from 1976 to 1983. The book culminates with the Black July riots on the Tamil people in Colombo in 1983. This was the start of the Sri Lankan Civil War that went on from 1983-2009.

Understanding the Tamil and Sinhalese Conflict

The Tamil and Sinhalese are two different ethnic groups living in Sri Lanka with a long history of rivalry and violence. The Sinhalese are the majority in Sri Lanka, as descendants of settlers that came from northern India in 543 BC. The Sinhalese people speak Sinhala and are predominately Buddhist. Tamils are the minority in Sri Lanka, immigrated from southern India after the Sinhalese had been settled for a few hundred years. They speak Tamil and are predominately Hindu.

543BC A group of Sinhalese immigrants from northern India settle in Sri Lanka

400BC-1200AD The Tamil immigrate to Sri Lanka from southern India 

Until 1505 Early in Sri Lanka’s history, Tamils controlled the northern regions and Sinhalese controlled the southern regions

1505 Starting in 1505, Sri Lanka was colonized and controlled by world powers: the Portuguese, Dutch, and then British

1796-1948 British Colonization, the British brought in a large number of Tamils from India to work the land as indentured laborers 

1948 The Tamils and Sinhalese united and won independence against the British 

after 1948 The alliance between Tamils and Sinhalese did not last long after freedom was found, tensions were strong as the Sinhalese discriminated against Tamils.The Sinhalese were the majority and held most of the power, continually keeping theTamil down and refusing them citizenship in the country they won together

1956 Sinhala was declared the official language outraging the Tamil minority, 30% of the population spoke Tamil, the Sinhala Only Act restricted their rights severely. The Tamils felt oppressed by the Sinhalese

1976 The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was a violent militant organization formed in 1976 to establish an independent Tamil state

1983 On July 23, 1983 The Tamil Tigers attacked and killed 15 Sri Lankan Army soldiers. The following day, the Black July riots began as retaliation against all Tamils in Colombo, hundreds were killed, thousands were left homeless, and thousands of establishments were destroyed

1983-2009 The Black July Riots triggered a Civil War in Sri Lanka between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers. It lasted until 2009 when the Tamil Tigers finally surrendered to the Sri Lankan government. At the beginning of the civil war, a large amount of Tamils not interested in fighting fled to Canada, where there is now a large Tamil minority



Encyclopedia Brittanica “Sri Lanka History”

InfoPlease “Sri Lanka History”


Further Research

Video: Shyam Selvadurai Lecture on Writing about Historical Events “Writing Myself into the Diaspora”

Harvard International Review “The Sri Lankan Conflict”

Council of Foreign Relations “The Sri Lankan Conflict”

Jennifer Hyndman “Aid, Conflict, and Migration: The Canada-Sri Lanka Connection”

Kat Steward 2018

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