lobster fishing to suicides
The Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities– Volumes
XXIX & XXX (Numbers 1&2) 2003-2004. University of Peradeniya.
Editor S.W. Perera. Reviewed by Nimal Sanderatne
It would indeed be difficult to
find a journal whose contents are so varied as The Sri Lanka Journal
of the Humanities, which is published by the University of Peradeniya.
Notwithstanding its title, the journal has papers on Sri Lankan
history, sociology, economics, literature, theatre and geography.
variety consists of not only the fields covered, but also the topics
themselves. Its articles range, inter alia, from the teaching of
ethics in the social sciences, health care in ancient Sri Lanka,
the status of women on the estates, the character of the village
in Sri Lanka, property rights in lobster fishing to five royal suicides.
What journal could be expected to portray the history
of the sari and the mystique of the female vagina in two separate
book reviews? Five of the authors are from foreign universities.
This implies that the journal is well recognised abroad even though
it is less known in Sri Lanka. The current issue has 11 papers and
three book reviews/review articles.
thorough study of sanitation and health care in ancient Sri Lanka
is a well-organized compilation of material from literary sources,
archaeological remains and earlier research in ancient history.
It confirms that there were sophisticated medical and surgical systems
in ancient times and that ancient society paid much attention to
Winslow's discussion on the conceptualisation of the village is
absorbing and provocative. It sheds new light on the concept of
the village in Sri Lanka. She contends that anthropologists have
misunderstood and misconstrued the concept of the Sinhala village
by the prototype of villages elsewhere. The article points out that
Sri Lankan villages are different from their prototype in neighbouring
India, where they are more defined and identifiable. One may however
pose the question whether villages in Sri Lanka conform to a single
archetype. The development of a typology of villages in Sri Lanka
is a proposition that emerges from this discussion.
Patrick Peebles discusses the possible relation between
Robert Knox's well-known book ‘An Historical Relation of the
Island of Ceylon in the East Indies’, and the very popular
novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe.
absorbing and detailed discussion points out that there is inadequate
evidence to suggest that Selkirk in the novel was a characterisation
of Knox and that there is no evidence that Defoe and Knox ever met.
However, he admits that there may be circumstantial evidence that
Knox's book inspired Defoe in the writing of Robinson Crusoe. The
fascination of this article lies not in its conclusion, but the
detailed discussion of the origins and evolution of the several
editions of Knox's work.
Perera, the editor of the Journal, in his article "The Two
Faces of the Mau Mau Leader: Ngugi's Kihika and Mwangi's Haraka",
has demonstrated the influence of the Mau Mau Experience independently
and yet similarly in the works of fiction of two writers. His comparative
study of the two novels brings out the mental anguish and alienation
that leaders suffer despite the hero worship and glorification that
E. Kingslover has argued that the teaching of ethics should be an
integral part of teaching social sciences rather that expected to
be derived through the learning of the social sciences.
paper "Teaching of Ethics in the Social Sciences" demonstrates
the need to be aware of the vast new areas of ethics that have evolved
with the development of the concepts of intellectual property rights.
These complex issues extend far beyond the issues of plagiarism.
The article should indeed be more widely circulated among teachers
to ensure the implementation of her useful suggestions.
Amali Philips has argued that the mere granting of citizenship
rights to estate men and women did not confer equal rights to estate
women. She discusses the many facets of discrimination and unequal
rights that estate women are subjected to and have to endure. Her
paper "Unequal Citizens: Estate Tamil Women in Sri Lanka"
ends with the areas in which action is required to ensure equal
rights to Tamil Estate women in civil participation, equal wages,
education and political and trade activities.
de Mel analyses the problems of depicting the traumas, suffering
and distress of soldiers disabled in the civil conflict in her article
"Staging Pain: Representation the Disabled Soldier and the
Butterflies Theatre of Sri Lanka". Alongside it Merlin Peris’s
"Five Royal Suicides" is a fascinating recounting of battles
long ago and the role of elephants and horses. He dips into western
history and classical references, as much as to the stories in the
Mahavamsa and Culawansa in this fascinating aspect of Sri Lankan
C. Ranil Abayasekera and A.V.K. Madhavie bring out the
conflict between the livelihood of the lobster fishermen and the
need to conserve natural resources. They point out that open access
has resulted in over-fishing that is ecologically harmful and has
led to diminished incomes of the fishermen.
examine the concepts of property rights in relation to lobster fishing
and a community-based solution that seeks to ensure sustainability
in the fish stock, as well as incomes is suggested, though no specific
solution is put forward.
Role of Brahma in Pali Discourses", is a most fascinating discussion
of the concept of God in Pali Buddhist literature. It discusses
many incidents where, when confronted with the issue of the existence
of Gods, the Buddha handled it within the framework of a Hindu mindset
that believed in gods. The literature cited demonstrates a sense
of humour in dealing with this sublime subject so as to subtly get
across the non-recognition of Gods, as conceived of in Hinduism,
by relegating their role through a diminution of their power in
The book reviews and review articles in the Journal are
in themselves a valuable contribution. They contain several interesting
discussions. Carmen Wichramagamage reviews Makulika Barnajee and
Daniel Miller's book The Sari, published in Oxford. In reviewing
this article of clothing, the reviewer adds her own observations
on the current practices in Sri Lanka to make it a fascinating discourse
on the Sari that would be of popular interest.
revisit to the civilisation of the Ruhuna is provided in D.P.M.
Weerakody's review of Osmund Bopeararachi and R.M. Wickremasinghe's
book Ruhuna, An Ancient Civilisation Re-visted: Numismatic and Archaeological
Evidence on Inland Maritime Trade. The book is based on Wickremasinghe's
private collection of coins and excavations. These point to a vibrant
trading community in the south: a feature of Sri Lankan history
that has been masked by discussions of the country's civilisation
in other ancient kingdoms.
Gunewardena discusses Poona Wignaraja and Susil Siriwardana's book
Local Self-Government and Participator Development: Lessons From
Some South Asian Experiences, at length. She considers the book
to be one with a wealth of information on the approaches to poverty
alleviation in South Asian countries.
is a journal for those interested in a wide array of specialised
fields rather than for a narrow specialist. It combines in-depth
scholarly work of several disciplines within its covers. It is meant
to be read and savoured over a long period of time and a source
of reference to scholars in many varied fields. It is of immense
interest and value to the inquisitive learned in understanding Sri
Lanka's rich and varied culture.
Frozen Tears: Political Violence, Women, Children
and Problems of Trauma in Southern Sri Lanka by Indika Bulankulame
was launched at Gandhara on Sunday June 5. Reviewed by Dr. Robert
(Bob) Simpson, University of Durham, UK
In the late 1980s Sri Lanka experienced
a conflict in which the legitimacy of the state was fundamentally
challenged by a widespread insurrection in the South and central
region of the Island. The result was a relatively short but intense
paroxysm of violence and civil disruption in which the government
of the day responded with maximum force to put down and disperse
the activities of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna [JVP]. Many perished
in the widespread and seemingly indiscriminate violence that ensued.
Tears is essentially about the longer-term consequences of this
violence and takes as its focus those who survived those dark days;
those whose lives were irreversibly transformed by events of unspeakable
horror and the loss of close friends and relatives. As one might
expect the survivors in question are typically women who lost their
husbands, sons and brothers and children who lost their fathers.
of Bulankulame's central contentions is that in the eagerness to
'move on', rebuild and forget, the deeply debilitating effects of
the trauma experienced by this group is suppressed, over-ridden
and lost. She addresses this issue squarely and offers an important
service in the bigger project of bringing to light what it means
in social and cultural terms to have survived violence of this order.
Through the simple medium of relating and analysing stories told
by those who were left behind when the unrest subsided, she describes
the struggle to reconcile personal grief and suffering with the
ongoing difficulties of practical social existence.
work thus touches on themes such as trauma, widowhood, being a single
parent, bereavement and the role of kinship support. The picture
that emerges is a tragic one in which these women and their children
seem to have tumbled into something of a social void and a sense
of victimhood from which attitudes of family and the wider society
do little to help them escape. The early parts of the book describe
and analyse this condition of rupture and disengagement from a variety
of feminist and post-structuralist perspectives.
second part of the book turns to the question of how attempts are
made to address the personal and social consequences of a violent
bereavement. Here the book turns to a potentially much bigger canvas
in that it considers the role of religion as a coping mechanism
and how an indigenous repertoire of therapeutic techniques relates
to interventions drawn from a western-originated one made up of
psycho-social techniques such as post-traumatic stress counselling.
In Sri Lanka, there is a range of local idioms through which suffering
might be made sense of. These extend from the rather abstract accounting
for suffering offered by Buddhism in which present conditions are
attributed to actions believed to have been taken in previous lives,
through to the more immediate work of exorcists and diviners who
can identify a rather more personal and immediate nexus of cause
interesting and important question that Bulankulame poses is how
western and local systems knit together, or rather fail to knit
together, in providing solace for those afflicted by the traumas.
What is the relationship between a consultation with an oracle and
a trip to a Family Rehabilitation Centre for counselling? The kind
of relationship she envisages is one in which the local forms provide
the most powerful idioms for making sense of suffering yet the formal
psycho-social interventions are the ones with resources and state
legitimacy. The position she takes, and about which it would have
been good to hear much more, is that western-trained psychologists
and psychiatrists should know more about indigenous modes of dealing
with distress and trauma and need to incorporate these into their
penultimate chapter of the book deals with 'The Truth Commissions
as a Viable Healing Mechanism?' The conclusion is a rather depressing
one in that despite the good intentions behind their endeavour the
Truth Commissions have, in the author's estimation, largely failed
to ameliorate the suffering of victims to any great extent. Setting
levels of compensation emerged as the primary function of the exercise
with the quest for justice coming a poor second. Healing seems to
have hardly figured at all in the mountains of testimony that the
is clearly much work to be done in understanding and easing the
suffering of those who were caught up in the political violence
of the 1980s and indeed in the decade before that.
monograph marks a small but important attempt to understand the
longer term and deeply personal consequences of political violence
in Sri Lanka and maybe, somewhere in the future, it will help to
unfreeze the tears which remain unable to flow and highlight the
'institutional amnesia' which currently perpetuates this state of
left of this Dutch legacy
The Dutch Forts of Sri
Lanka - The Military Monuments of Ceylon by W. A. Nelson. Updated
by R. K. de Silva. Reviewed by D.C. Ranatunga
The Dutch Forts in Sri Lanka have fascinated
us over the years. We talk of the ramparts and the fort in Galle.
In Trincomalee we walk through the fort sightseeing. The entrance
to the fort is the symbol of Matara town. However, not many of us
know that there were 31 Dutch forts in the country, of which 21
William Adair (W. A.) Nelson was a Chartered Accountant serving
with Ford, Rhodes & Thornton in Colombo from 1935 to 1939. From
his schooldays he was interested in Scottish castles and during
his stint in Ceylon he developed his early hobby. Many years later
he confessed that "the most exciting discovery I made during
those five years were the Dutch forts of Sri Lanka".
studied the forts in great detail, he wrote 'The Dutch Forts of
Sri Lanka - The Military Monuments of Ceylon”. The book was
published in 1984. In the same year he revisited Sri Lanka and went
round the forts and prepared a fresh 'Report'.
book, which was out of print for a long time, has now been re-published.
Included is Nelson's 1984 Report which he had given to his friend
Dr. R.K. de Silva requesting him to make use of it. An 'Update 2004'
by de Silva brings the narration up to date.
to the comprehensive study of the forts, Nelson gives the reader
a brief account of Dutch rule in Ceylon. Nelson believes that the
Dutch built the forts entirely against both their inclination and
their commercial interests. "They built because they had to
build, to keep at bay the unsubdued inland hill Sinhalese and their
two larger trading rivals (British and French), who from their settlements
on the neighbouring Coromandel Coast on the south-east of India
maintained armies and, on occasions, large fleets at sea."
discusses the basic difference between the old castles and the forts.
The Dutch forts were not castles which consisted of high, comparatively
thin towers and walls. They were built in that form mainly to defeat
attempts to climb in. Heavy cannon balls, however, cracked and brought
down the stoutest of such walls and smashed with ease the thin battlements
from which the chief defence had been maintained. The answer to
this was found in the form of low and thick walls with ditches of
great width and depth. Also while the castles were made of stone,
the forts were of earth only encased in stone. The fort was armed
with cannon on its four-sided corner projections.
discusses the forts in four groups - Western (Colombo - chief fort,
Kalutara, Bentota, Negombo and Kalpitiya), Southern ( Galle, Matara,
Tangalle, Hambantota and Katuwana), Northern (Jaffna, Hammenhiel,
Elephant Pass, Pooneryn, Kayts, Delft, Mannar and Arippu), and East
(Batticaloa and Trincomalee). He describes each in great detail
with suitable illustrations and photographs. The rest, like Hanwella,
Sitawaka, and Arandara in the Western Group, and many more in the
other groups are mentioned in passing.
Nelson, Sri Lankan Dutch Forts "are unique and not to be matched
in so close a compass anywhere in the world". In his 1984 Report,
he stresses that these are by far the widest and strongest remaining
link now surviving between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. "Their
future well-being is therefore that much more essential and generations
to come will be that much more grateful to those who make it possible."
Forts' condition has remained good because the materials of which
they are built are so sound," Nelson says. Most are made of
coral stone work. The light grey land stone is easily cut into any
desired shape. It weathers well too and does not readily fly into
fragments. Laterite has also been widely used but brick has been
used comparatively little. Mortar, made from local limestones, is
excellent, Nelson says. "All this plus the absence of frost
has assisted the remarkable state of preservation."
also compliments the Royal Navy under whose umbrella they sheltered
unchanged throughout the 1800s.Nelson firmly believes that the Forts,
if properly maintained, adequately sign-posted and efficiently presented,
are a great potential tourist attraction.
his conclusion in the original book, Nelson makes an interesting
observation: "It might be thought by a reader not acquainted
with the country that its history during the last five hundred years
had been only that of war and invasions. Nothing could be further
from the truth, for such a view would be the result of this brief
piece of historical compression and of the chance that the subject
happens to be an interest of war. In fact, for long periods, the
ordinary people led their ordinary lives in the usual ordinary way
and most of the events touched on here passed them by.
should it be thought that the three nations who in turn came to
the Island left nothing behind them. They all contributed much more
than the old joke, told against ourselves, that the Portuguese left
their religion, the Dutch their law and the British their cricket.
They all brought themselves along with the Sinhalese, Tamils, Moors,
Malays, Parsees and Pathans to help give Sri Lanka its vivid and
fascinating varieties, colours and sounds. Were it otherwise, this
book could not have been written. "
A SAD STATE
In his Update 2004, R. K. de Silva comments that a large
board in Sinhalese, Tamil and English displayed at the entrance
of each fort announces that these 17th and 18th century edifices
are under the control of the Department of Archaeology. "Sadly,
these very same forts which Bill Nelson thought should be tourist
'gold mines' have had little or no attention paid, either to their
structural or general maintenance."
that his overall impression, having visited 19 of the 21 existing
forts, is that there has been considerable deterioration of most
of the forts since 1984, de Silva laments that there appears to
have been little effort made regarding their conservation. He adds
that the forts that are occupied by the Sri Lanka Navy (Kalpitiya,
Ostenburg in Trincomalee and Hammenheil off Jaffna) and the Army
(Frederick in Trincomalee) are in a satisfactory condition. Though
Kalpitiya is well maintained, there are some areas in the ramparts
where dangerous cracks have developed. He is appalled at the condition
of the Negombo fort which is a prison and shows "gross neglect"
unlike Tangalla which though a prison "looks satisfactory."
to the Galle fort's old Dutch entrance facing the harbour, he says
it shows total lack of care. He comments on the forts in the North:
"As a result of the conflict between the Sri Lanka Army and
the LTTE during the period 1983-2002, the war damage to all of the
northern forts can only be described as colossal - so much so that
rebuilding and restoring them does not appear in any way feasible.
fort at Elephant Pass has been razed to the ground, being totally
destroyed with hardly a foundation identifiable. Of the Jaffna fort,
the interior of which was in excellent condition before 1983 there
is absolutely no building or structure remaining; the Dutch church,
the old Governor's residence and the buildings used by the Judiciary
are totally demolished. Any rebuilding effort would be futile and
to no purpose. The rampart walls and entrance archway however, are
the East, though Batticaloa fort now functions as the District Secretariat,
de Silva says it is in a state of total neglect despite the presence
of several offices and personnel within. "The bastions, sentry
boxes and ramparts show considerable damage, while the over-growth
of shrubs, creepers and grass on the ramparts is evidence of a lack
of interest and concern on the part of the authorities responsible
for their maintenance."