The Corea Family hail from the small seaside town of Chilaw on the west coast
of Sri Lanka. There is a well known saying, that Chilaw is famous for the three 'C's - Coreas, Crabs and Coconuts. Canon Ivan
and Ouida Corea had very strong links with Chilaw.
The famous Ceylonese freedom fighters C.E. Corea and Victor Corea were born here,
so was Shirley Corea, a distinguished Speaker of the parliament of Ceylon. CE and Victor Corea were fearless, they fought
hard for social justice. The Corea brothers spoke up where there was injustice. When CE and Victor Corea spoke, people sat
up and took notice. The British jailed Victor Corea in March 1922 for refusing to pay Rs 2 in road tax. Victor Corea was elected
Founder President of the Ceylon Labour Union in September that year.
Canon Ivan and Ouida Corea had two sons, Vernon and Ernest Corea they too maintained
close ancestoral links with the sea side town of Chilaw.
The eldest was Vernon Corea who passed away in New Malden in Surrey in September
2002. Vernon was one of Sri Lanka's distinguished broadcasters - a pioneer of Radio Ceylon and the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Vernon joined Radio Ceylon in 1956 as a relief announcer. His father was then Vicar
of St.Paul's Church, Milagiriya. He left the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation as Director News in 1975.
The family moved to England in June1975 when Vernon and Monica became the first Asian
missionaries at the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade founded by the all England cricketer C. T. Studd. They worked for the
radio arm of WEC, Radio Worldwide who were stationed in Upper Norwood South East London at the time.
After a spell in religious broadcasting Vernon was invited to present the first ever
Asian programme in English. "London Sounds Eastern" on BBC Radio London. Vernon took up the post of Asian Programmes Officer
at the BBC, he was in the forefront of training people from the minoritiy ethnic communities - this was a first for the BBC
in terms of Local Radio. He was the first Sri Lankan to be appointed to senior management at the BBC.
In 1978, Vernon Corea was appointed as the first Ethnic Minorities Adviser for the
British Broadcasting Corporation and held it until his retirement. The BBC were trying to be more inclusive and Vernon brought
with him a whole new picture within Britian's multicultural mosaic. Vernon valued diversity and he certainly changed views
at the BBC.
His appointment to the BBC was heralded by the 'Thunderer' the London Times, the
Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times in the United Kingdom.The introduction of the BBC's new Asian Network is largely due
to the pioneering work carried out by Vernon - in the late 1970s and 1980s.s Director News in 1975.
Ernest Corea is a former Editor of the Ceylon Daily News in Colombo. Currently,
he a consultant in the Secretariat of CGIAR where, earlier, he was responsible for public affairs. He has served as Sri Lanka's
ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the US; as a member of Sri Lanka's delegations to the United Nations; and to the Non-Aligned
Summit meeting in Havana. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on Communications and Development in London.
Ernest Corea has served with the United Nations in Africa -he was the Economic
Reports Officer of the UN Operation in the Congo and, later, Director for Collaborative (North-South) Research at the International
Development Research Centre in Ottawa. His publications include "North South: Beyond Dialogue" and "Non Alignment: The
Dynamics of a Movement." He is a member of the Asia Society's Advisory Board in Washington DC in the United States.Chilaw has been represented in parliament by Shirley Corea and Harindra Corea. Mrs.Kumari
Corea wife of Carlton Corea was at one time a local councillor in Chilaw.
The former Secretary-General of UNCTAD, the Sri Lankan economist, Dr. Gamani Corea
and Ceylon's first High Commisioner in the UK after independence in 1948, Sir Claude Corea also have strong connections
with this town.
Sir Claude was the Minister for Labour in the first ever cabinet led by D.S.Senanayake.
He was also Ceylon's Ambassador to the US. He served as a President of the United Nations Security Council in May 1960.
A well known son of Chilaw, Dr.Granville Fernando in his article
'Hail Chilaw, my Home town!' noted:
' Situated in no
less an important province - the Wayamba or North Western Province which is a veritable 'Garden of Eden' for the historian
and the archaeologist. For in this region lies the place where Prince Vijaya landed and the ancient kingdoms of Panduwasnuara,
Yapahuwa, Dambadeniya and Kurunegala or Hasthisailapura.
Chilaw is known
as 'Halawatha' in Sinhala. Denham's Census Report of 1911 throws some interesting light on the origin of Chilaw.
It is said that
King Kavan Tissa sent a number of persons to convey honey from Negombo 'Meegomuwa' in Sinhala to Anuradhapura. It was at this
spot 'Halawatha' that the bees were shaken off their combs.
Chilaw in early
times was not only a reputed sea port it was also famous for its pearl fisheries. According to some writers like Donald Ferguson,
Chilaw is connected with the Tamil term 'Salapam' which means diving.
The original inhabitants
of Chilaw were descendants of a group of people who came from India on military service. Originally from Northern India from
such towns like Kanchipuram, Kaveripattannam and Killakarai they subsequently made their homes in the south.
According to the
'Mukkara Hatana' it happened during the reign of King Parakrama Bahu VI (1412-1467) the ruling monarch of Kotte. The Mukkuvars
from India had landed off the Puttalam coast and were preparing to capture the land. King Parakrama Bahu summoned help from
neighbouring India. A battalion of fighting men were sent across to Sri Lanka. They belonged to the Suriya clans. Those that
settled in Chilaw belonged to the Mihindukulasuriya clan. It may be interesting to note that there are five sub clans in Chilaw.
They are the Fernando, Perera, Peiris, Pinto and Costa.
A good percentage
of the Chilawfolk still bear these identical surnames. They settled down not only in Chilaw but even at its twin sister Negombo
especially at Duwa and Pitipana. Chilaw being in the maritime region came under European influence. Portuguese influence is
well marked by the hundred per cent Roman Catholic indigenous population.
Culturally the people
of Chilaw have been always active and in the forefront. Chilaw has been the home of the Sinhala Nadagama - the first form
of Sinhala drama in Sri Lanka.
The first Sinhala
Nadagama the 'Rajathun-kattuwa' or the Visit of the Magi was written by Mihindukulasuriya Gabriel Fernando according to that
eminent historian the late Dr. Edmund Peiris Bishop Emeritus of Chilaw.
And the sea board
town of Chilaw has kept on forging ahead.....' wrote Dr.Granville Fernando.
Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of India visited Chilaw - on the invitation of C.E.Corea and
stayed in a Corea home, 'Sigiriya.' The entire Gandhi entourage arrived in Chilaw. Mahatma Gandhi presented C.E.Corea with
one of his famous spinning wheels before he left the town. Gandhi's visit to Chilaw caused a great deal of excitement in the
area. Gandhi was welcome by the entire country when he visited Ceylon in 1927.
The 'Hindu' newspaper observed: '
' It was at the end of what for him had been a rather somnolent year
that Gandhi made his first and last trip to an island then known as Ceylon. Gandhi arrived in Colombo on November 12, 1927,
accompanied by his wife Kasturba, his friend, follower, and critic, C. Rajagopalachari, and the latter's daughter, Lakshmi.
Also in the party were his secretaries, Mahadev Desai and Pyarelal.
In his three weeks in Ceylon, Gandhi covered the island from top to
toe. He delivered dozens of speeches, to organisations connected with Buddhists, Chettiars, Christians, and Depressed Classes.......'