The Adaptable Peasant: Agrarian Society in Western Sri Lanka under Dutch Rule, 1740-1800

AUTHOR: Ranjith Nirmal Dewasiri
FORMAT: Paperback
First Published by Brill in 2007 – Revised edition for India and Sri Lanka only
AVAILABILITY: Not yet published – available in 2024

The Adaptable Peasant  investigates the structural changes in western Sri Lanka’s agrarian society under the administration of the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) in the mid-eighteenth century.  Drawing from an array of Dutch language sources, it attempts to reconstruct the encounter between the Company and two major historical actors in  present day Colombo and Gampaha districts: the peasant cultivators and the indigenous chiefs.

This book charts the changes in the land tenure system that paved the way for a modern system of private property relations in areas where peasant agriculture was the predominant form of production. In the course of this encounter, a new class differentiation emerged while the indigenous chiefs turned into powerful landowners. The dynamics of caste formation too acquired a new shape as a result of this early colonial encounter.

The book was first published by Brill Publishers, Leiden in 2008 and its revised edition will be published in 2022 by TAP with permission from Brill for distribution in Sri Lanka and India.


Ranjith Nirmal Dewasiri is Professor in the Department of History at the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka. In addition to his academic role, he is also a political commentator in Sri Lanka with an active online presence. He obtained his PhD from Leiden University in 2007.