Caste feeling is not so strong in Ceylon as in India, yet it affects very considerably the relations of the natives with each other. There is little or no intermarriage or partaking of food together between the higher and lower castes. The Singhalese have no hereditary priest-caste, like the Brahmins ; but, in common with many races in the East, they give preeminence to the agricultural caste, after which they place the trading castes, with the fishermen, barbers, washermen, potters, weavers, coconut-climbers, and tom-tom beaters low down in the scale. There are also communities of out-castes, with whom other natives will have no intercourse. They were not allowed in old days to cover the upper part of their bodies, as a sign of their degradation.
The caste system among the Tamils is very similar to that of Southern India. Caste is not recognized among the Mohammedans.
There is a tendency outside the towns for the different races and castes to herd together. Many villages in the interior consist only of Moormen, or of Veddahs, or of out-castes. Railways have done more to break down the barriers of caste than all the efforts of the missionaries; the unwillingness of natives to come into contact with members of lower castes than their own being more than counterbalanced by the desire to travel cheaply.
There are no unhappy widows, doomed to a life of drudgery and abuse, as in Northern India ; infanticide is not practised ; and the birth of female children is not considered a calamity, as in many other countries. All births must now be registered, but many of the old people do not know their ages. An aged Tamil man, on being asked how old he was, pointed to a full-grown palmyra palm standing near, and said, " That is my tambi" (younger brother), meaning that it had been planted soon after his birth, he having no other means of knowing his age.
All native girls in Ceylon are married at an early age, but child-marriages, in which the little bridegrooms and brides return to their own homes after the ceremony, are only practised among the wealthier classes of the Tamils. There is no courting, as understood among the white races, before marriage, and no honeymoon after it. In place of a ring as the symbol of marriage, a golden ornament is hung round the neck of the bride. Much money is wasted at the marriage ceremony, but the members of the family help by lending things needed. The bride is often literally weighed down with jewellery borrowed for the occasion from her female relatives. Among the Singhalese there are two kinds of marriage—the dig a and the bina—in one of which the bride goes to her husband's house in the usual way, and in the other the husband becomes a member of his wife's family.
It is customary among all Eastern people to raise a great outcry as soon as the breath has left the body of a sick relative. The wailing is kept up for a considerable time, mostly by the women, and is a most weird, depressing performance. Both burial and cremation are practised in Ceylon by the Singhalese and Tamils, but the Moormen never burn their dead. In the Eastern Province sections of old dug-out canoes are often used by them as coffins. The cremation of a Buddhist high-priest is always a great festival, and thousands flock to witness it. In the jungle districts it is usual to pile stones and thorns over the shallow graves, in order to prevent jackals and other wild beasts from digging up the bodies.
The chief innocent amusements of the Singhalese, especially of the women and children, are attendance at the temples on festival days, and at the readings by the priests of " birth-stories " in the preaching-sheds in the villages, and pilgrimages to sacred places. In addition to these religious dissipations, the Tamils often get up nadagams, or open-air plays, which last for days together. Moormen are sober, money-making people, who seldom give themselves up to enjoyment in public. No day of rest corresponding to the Sabbath is observed by any of the native non-Christian races in Ceylon, but they all have numerous festivals, of which they avail themselves fully.
Native ideas of good manners are very different from those of Europeans. It is considered grossly disrespectful for a Tamil or a Moorman to come into the presence of a superior with his head or the upper part of his body uncovered, or with his sandals on his feet, or to speak with his mouth full of betel, or masticatory. Singhalese, when wishing to show.