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Rev.Canon Ivan and Ouida Corea of Sri Lanka
Chilaw
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From the Pen of Canon Ivan Corea
Jesus Christ
A Beloved Priest of St.Luke's Church Borella
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Rev.Canon Ivan and Ouida Corea hail from the sea side town of Chilaw.

The ancient coat of arms of CHILAUW
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The image is from a manuscript dating from 1717/1720

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Corea Road in Chilaw

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Dr.JAE Corea and Family - on the right is Canon Ivan Corea - in the sailor suit

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Gate Mudliyar JE Corea of Chilaw - father of Ouida

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Gate Mudliyar JE Corea and family with Ouida Corea

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A much loved residence of Canon Corea - COREA COURT in Madampe near Chilaw

 
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.......'

 
Gandhi - A guest at 'Sigiriya'

It is indeed a pleasure to recapture and recount the lives and times of the older generation. Theirs was an era of spacious and gracious living. When one views with dismay the destruction of old houses - the Walauwes and colonial type buildings, one can't help but gape with surprised delight at the few grand old houses still remaining. One such edifice is the stately mansion 'Sigiriya', set like a jewel in the heart of the coastal town of Chilaw.

"Sigiriya', was built by Jimmy and Agnes Corea in the early twentieth century. Jimmy Corea was a Proctor of the Supreme Court and his wife Agnes was the sister of the redoubtable freedom fighters, C.E. Corea and Victor Corea. This was the time the Corea clan reigned supreme in Chilaw - so much so that Chilaw came to be famous for its three Cs - Coreas, Crabs and Coconuts! When my mother Ena related those 'olden days stories', she recalled 'Sigiriya' as a place of much activity.

If I attempt to describe 'Sigiriya', I could not do justice to its impressive architecture. One drives in through an imposing gateway into the portico and steps out to a pillared foyer. The entire ground floor is of marble and the sweeping marble stairway has Sinhala floral motifs engraved in its wooden bannisters. Balconies with balustrades run round the entire upper storey and one section of the roof is topped by a dome. They say that every house has its 'time' and surely 'Sigiriya' had its day when Mahatma Gandhi stepped into its hallowed portals!

In 1927 when Gandhi came to Ceylon, he was invited to Chilaw by C.E. Corea, Chairman of the Chilaw Association. C.E. Corea fought relentlessly for Swaraj and the British bureaucracy wilted under his elegant verbal thrusts and it was remarked that 'what Chilaw said today, Colombo thought on the morrow', chiefly owing to the influence of C.E. Corea.

Gandhi arrived in Chilaw with his entourage and was a revered guest at 'Sigiriya' where he stayed for some days. My mother recalled her visits as a teenager to her Uncle's home to see the distinguished guest. To her, the Mahatma seemed meek and humble in his loin-cloth and bare body, yet full of power and vision. His eyes, she noticed in particular, were calmly compelling. She felt she was standing in the presence of a 'King among men'. to her, those visits were redolent of oranges - her father's car was laden with oranges from the estate for the visitors. Her younger sister Ira, favoured God-daughter of Uncle Jimmy, recalled travelling to a meeting, ensconced in the back seat of her car between Gandhi and her Uncle.

Doreen and Nan are two surviving daughters of C.E. Corea. Doreen was nine years old at the time of Gandhi's visit, and what she remembers vividly is the mammoth reception accorded to Gandhi at the Court House premises. She remembers when her younger sister Nan, attired in a blue half-saree, stepped out to garland the Mahatma, he embraced her and called her "Gandhi's little sweetheart'. Dates and goat's milk were served to the visitors at 'Sigiriya' and she remembers in particular, the Spinning Wheel Gandhi presented to her father, C.E. Corea.

These were memorable events in the lives of the youngsters of yesteryear and fascinating glimpses of history to us for our generation.

- Christabelle Aturupane

Daily News Colombo

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Mahatma Gandhi stayed in 'Sigiriya' a Corea home in Chilaw

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Mahatma Gandhi visited Ceylon in 1927

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Gandhi gifted a spinning wheel to CE Corea and the Corea Family in Chilaw

Vernon and Ernest Corea in Washinton DC USA
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Ernest Corea was Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Washington in President Ronald Reagan's era