From 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.

Its 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.

Thorough research
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.

W.I.Siriweera's 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 sanitation.

Deborah 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.

Historical sources
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.

The 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.

Walter 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 surrounded them.

Anna 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.

Her 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.

Civil rights
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.

Neloufer 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 history.

Natural resources
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.

They 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.

"The 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 stories.

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.

A 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.

Dileni 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.

This 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.

Unfreezing the tears
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.

Frozen 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.

One 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.

The 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.

The 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 and effect.

The 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 practice.

The 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 hearings generated.

There 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.

This 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 affairs.

What’s 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 still exist.

Englishman 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".

Having 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'.

The 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.

Prior 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."

Nelson 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.

Nelson 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.

To 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."

"The 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."

He 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.

In 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.

"Neither 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. "

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."

Stating 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."

Referring 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.

The 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 mostly intact."

In 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."

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