Potency, Power & People in Groups

by Michael Roberts has just appeared in print under the masthead of Marga Publications and bearing the ISBN code 978-955-582-129-2, selling at Rs. 800 over the counter at Marga 941/1 Jayanthi Mawatha, Kotte Road, Ethul Kotte, Sri Lanka (tel. 94-11- 2888 8790). It will be available at the bookshops from Thursday 14th July. Credit Card orders are accepted by Vijitha Yapa Bookshops via www.vijithayapa.com OR www.srilankanbooks.com.

Mohottivatte Gunananda mural at Kotahena Temple, courtesy of Richard Young

Potency is a booklet of 128 pages inclusive of 78 pages of photographs, several of which contain descriptive notes that embellish the analysis in the main text. This venture is a spin-off from the endeavours that produced People Inbetween (Ratmalana, Sarvodaya, 1989) and Images of British Ceylon (Singapore, Times Editions, 2000), the former being mostly the handiwork of Michael Roberts and the latter a work c0mposed by Ismeth Raheem. While the photographic emphasis follows the modalities of Images of British Ceylon, financial constraints did not permit the coffee-table finish secured in that product. Unlike images however, the temporal scope embraced by Potency spans the nineteenth, twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. There is, therefore, a contemporary ‘bite’ furnished by such images as a virulent Tamil protest in Toronto and a LTTE-sponsored demonstration at a cricket match, besides images of the LTTE platform at the sudumalai Amman Temple grounds on 4th August 1987 and other political gatherings courtesy of Victor Ivan’s amazing collection and my own findings at Lake House.

There are a few photographs that are quite rare, among them that (55) depicting Boer POWS at worship in the open at Diyatalawa, No. 77 showing a segment of the crowd watching the Australians playing their whistle-stop match in Colombo in 1938 and No. 48 snapping the local crowd at a function for a government dignitary in the 1930s.

This display of photographs would not have been possible without the cooperation of Palinda de Silva who allowed me to raid his web-site stock at http://imagesofceylon.com and the generous assistance of Ismeth Raheem. I also thank Rohan de Soysa, Victor Ivan, Kumari Jayawardena, Hugh KarunanayakeDushi KanagasabapathypillaiDennis McGilvray, Mano Ponniah and Irvin Weerackody for assistance in securing specific photographs. ……….Michael Roberts, 13 July 2011.


Preamble: Accumulating Knowledge, Photographs and Power              1-5

Political Context                                                                                                         6-16

Things Archaic                                                                                                     17-18

Potency & Powers from Beyond                                                                 19-22

People in Groups                                                                                             23-94

Buddhist Revitalisation and Sinhalese Nativism                         95-100

Towards the Present: From Politics to Paradoxes in the Cricket Arena    101-110

Endnotes                                                                                                                               111-120

Bibliography                                                                                                                          121-126


1. “Native types” as a collage

2a. A “MadrasMerchant”

2b. A cocky Moorman

3. Hippolyte Sylvaf ’s paintings of colourful dress styles

3a. A headman


3c. A Sinhala lady

4. A raffish British hunting party

5. Hunting trophies

6. Governor Gordon with Kandyan chiefs

7. Kotahena disturbance, 25 March 1883

8. August members of the Orient Club, circa 1907

9.ColomboMunicipal Councillors, circa 1907

10. Temperance agitation: mass gathering

11. Bracegirdle affair: Bracegirdle with LSSP leaders at Horana, 1937

12. Hartal in 1953: NM Perera announces decision to have an

island-wide hartal in protest against the budget proposals,Galle

Face Green

13. Bandaranaike & masses for Sinhala Only, 1956

14. FR Jayasuriya fasts unto death for Sinhala Only, May 1956

16.Colombofort and moat in the 1860s – eastern face

17.Jaffnafort and moat

18.GalleFort, 1890s

19. Galle Fort rooftop scene, 1890s

20. The western seaside of Galle Fort

21. Galle Fort entrance today

22. Jetavanarāmaya in 19th century ruin

23. “Festival day crowds”

24. Äsela Day Perahära

25. A Hindu festival,EasternProvince

26. Kappalodiya Pillaiyār Festival, Valvettithurai

27. Ammån water-cutting festival Trincomalee, 2003

28. Rolling on the ground during chariot festival of the Sri

MayurapathyPaththirakaali Temple, 26 July 2009

29. JVP rally at ColomboTown Hall, 1977

30. LTTE rally at SudumalaiAmmånTemplehears Velupillai

Pirapāharan speak, 4 August 1987

31. LTTE ‘directorate’ at Sudumalai platform, 4 August 1987

32. Colvin R. de Silva stirs the crowd

33. “A group ofCeylonplanters, 1868”

34a. British planter and estate workers

34b. Coffee plucker

35. Workers drying coffee

36. “Native coopers”


38. Graphite sorting yards and cinnamon stores

39. Tea plantation labourers

40. Tea estate workers

41. Houseboat, Ratnapura

42. Lewella ferry

43. A Government Agent and his kachchery officials

44. A classroom and its teacher

45. Teachers at theCeylonGovernmentTechnicalCollege

46. A body of Christian priests

71. Local crowd watches Aussie cricketers play inColombo,

30 March 1938

72. Sri Lankan cricket team at prayer before World Cup final,

17 March 1996

73. Sri Lankan supporters atLahoretarget Darrell Hair

74. Sports nationalism: Sri Lankan supporters at World Cup,

West Indies, 2007

75. Tamil protest group, Manuka Oval,Canberra, 12 February 2008

76. Tamil demonstrators target Ajantha Mendis, October 2008

77. Tamil demonstration and symbolic battle around cricket,

October 2008

78. Virulent Tamil demonstration inToronto, mid 2009


Filed under cultural transmission, historical interpretation, island economy, life stories, political demonstrations, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, world events & processes

4 responses to “Potency, Power & People in Groups

  1. Eesha Jayaweera

    can’t find the pictures

  2. Pingback: A Guide to Locating Photographs of Colonial Ceylon — Courtesy of AISLS | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Pingback: The British in Ceylon: The Camera as Power | Thuppahi's Blog

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