Baila, Tamil Caste Transactions & the Screening of Muslim Women in Galle Fort studied

International Journal of Ethnic and Social Studies (IJESS)….. Volume II, Number 1: June 2013 Published by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies Reviewed by Esther M McIntosh

The second volume of the International Journal of Ethnic and Social Studies (IJESS), reaffirms the intention of its publisher, the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), to go beyond its traditional focus (previously the Ethnic Studies Report) and make a seminal foray into research within the broader social sciences rubric. The second volume does not disappoint. Its multidisciplinary emphasis is evident in the scholarly papers of Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya, Francesca Bremner, Nethra Samarawickrema and Manuela Cook, which cover the research disciplines of gender studies, history and sociology. When considered in totality, the second volume, published in June 2013 and edited by Dr Maithrie White, provides important insight into current scholarship on Sri Lanka. It reflects an interest in areas of research as diverse as the post-colonial evolution of popular culture, and the sociological dynamics of contemporary post-war communities. Some of the research introduced in the second volume is in areas that are under-researched and pioneering, such as Samarawickrema’s engaging exploration of how colonial spaces are being “imaginatively reoccupied” in modern day Sri Lanka, and Franscesca Bremner’s account of identity and social change in post-war spaces. Like Samarawickrema, Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya’s research also has a post-colonial focus, and benefits from meticulous analysis and rich descriptions of Sri Lanka’s innovation of its Portuguese music legacy. Jayasuriya is both an author and an object in the journal. Her book, The Portuguese in the East: A Cultural History of a Maritime Trading Empire (published by Tauris Academic Studies), is reviewed by Manuela Cook. This review will examine the three papers in the journal: Post-Colonial Innovation in Sri Lankan Popular Music: Dynamics of Kaffrinhas and Bailas (Jayasuriya), Recasting Caste: War, Displacement and Transformations (Bremner) and The Screen and the Fort: Muslim Women’s Post-Colonial Adaptations of Space in the Galle Fort (Samarawickrema).

Post-Colonial Innovation in Sri Lankan Popular Music: Dynamics of Kaffrinhas and Bailas A

uthor: Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya: pp. 1-29 Shihan_photo

With Post-Colonial Innovation in Sri Lankan Popular Music: Dynamics of Kaffrinhas and Bailas, Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya adds another significant paper to a long list of noteworthy publications on, inter alia, Sri Lanka’s Portuguese colonial legacy and it’s music. The author effectively exploits her command of these subject areas to intricately trace and characterize the indelible imprint of the musical legacy and its impact on contemporary Sri Lanka socio-culture. This is done through Jayasuriya’s examination of two specific music forms: Kaffrinhas (“a traditional dance of the Portuguese Burghers”) and Bailas (“a hybrid of Afro-Iberian musical traditions”) which offers the “most vibrant influence” of Portuguese culture. Jayasuriya examination of the dynamics of each musical form over time is done to substantiate the paper’s central argument. The argument is that despite the external genesis of the “kaffrinhas” and “Bailas,” it has in fact resulted in a new “post-colonial identity”.  Jayasuriya’s exploration spans various geographic areas and ethnic groups including Batticaloa Burghers and Afro-Sri Lankan living in Sirambiyadiya.

Figure1:  Batticaloa Portuguese Burgher Musicians.  Picture by Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya

Figure1: Batticaloa Portuguese Burgher Musicians. Picture by Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya

In order to historically contextualize the musical forms of the Portuguese colonial era (1505-1658), Jayasuriya pieces together a vivid picture of the Portuguese period when the two forms were introduced. This is aided by various sources including archives and existing manuscripts, paintings and existing research. Jayasuriya also makes reference to other Sri Lankan scholarship, such as Ariyaratne’s 1999 Enquiry into Baila and Kaffrinha; C. M Fernando’s “The Music of Ceylon’s Baila Music: European Modernity, and Afro-Iberian Popular Music in Sri Lanka” and S Perera’s “1505 site ade dakva Baila kalave: Vanshakatave”.  Jayasuriya also draws on the research of noted historian K.M De Silva’s on Portuguese culture to provide a rich account of the genesis of its traditional balladry. Another reason for this treatment, noted in the paper, is that “disentangling the various European influences and identifying the Portuguese legacies pose a challenge for scholars”. The paper goes on to assess the origin and characterization of each of the two genres, individually delving into etymology, history and practice. A particular strength of the paper lies in the vivid description used, for example on page five, in describing the Kaffrinhas and Lancers of the Batticaloa Burghers: “Both the dances are in five parts and the musicians pause for at least five minutes between each pat and prepare for the next part. Typically the dances are performed by four couples who dance non-stop, pausing only when the music stops between each part”.   

Figure 2:  Score for ‘Singale Nona’, a Kaffrinha arrangement for the piano by Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya.

Figure 2: Score for ‘Singale Nona’, a Kaffrinha arrangement for the piano by Dr Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya.

In doing so, Jayasuriya also addresses various misconceptions; for example the paper highlights musical forms such as manhas, which are often confused with Kaffrinhas, and the fact that Bailas and Kaffrinhas are sometimes used interchangeably. The paper traces the contemporary results of the Portuguese-Sri Lankan inter-cultural exchange. Jaasuriya’s expertise as a linguist is used to map Kaffrinhas on to Bailas to show the links between the two genres. The paper makes expert use of rich description and original translation to demonstrate the enduring legacy of Bailas and Kaffrinhas: “During the early twentieth century Kaffrinha was danced in the fashionable Colombo suburb of Cinnamon Gardens, where parties ended with this lively and energetic dance. Singale Nona, with Indo-Portuguese lyrics…was the favourite finale to these parties”. Jayasuriya outlines how the Bailas are contemporized and have been uniquely innovated over time by Sri Lanka artistes such as Wally Bastianz, whose contribution to the genre is survived by only a fourteen-track compact disc. The work of other key researchers, such as Abeywickrama, is used to show how Bailas are being modified and influenced by other genres, such as Hawaiian songs, later rock-n-roll and even Calypso and Latin American music. As such “Baila as a form of dance and kaffrinha as a form of music now encompasses forms of music, song and dance.”  These practices have resulted in a popular musical form that Jayasuriya argues is Sri Lankan. The importance of Jayasuriya’s research is evident throughout the paper as references are made to the decline and loss of aspects of entire sub-cultures that are now being preserved through music. An example of this is found in the description of Afro-Sri Lankans. “Clothing, housing and the food habits of Afro-Sri Lankans do not give any clues about their origins….Now they speak Sinhala and Tamil. What really makes them distinctive from other Sri Lankas in their music and dance”. Jayasuriya acknowledges the constraints of her study, mainly the lack of information because of incomplete records and the fact that these musical forms have been passed down orally over the years; also, reference is made to the importance of additional research in areas such as the reciprocal impact of Sri Lanka on Portuguese culture. And the paper clearly highlights the importance of further research in substantiating the claim of these two genres as a post-colonial innovation. The paper represents an important contribution to Sri Lankan research in this area.

Recasting Caste: War, Displacement and Transformations

Author: Francesca Bremner, pp. 31-56   In her paper “Recasting Caste: War, Displacement and Transformations” Franscesca Bremner uses interviews with twenty-five resettled Tamil women, to examine how caste is being redefined in the post-war context. The paper centres on the recollections of these, self-identified, “lower caste” women over an eight-year period (1985-1993) of war, examined in the context of a pre-war social structure that was deeply defined by caste and the “binary of purity and pollution”. These traditional practices are exposed to a range of influential, exogenous forces such as war, various actors (army and the LTTE) and even employment. Through these examples Bremner is able to paint a rich description of the impact on the Tamil society after its exposure to ideological, spatial and structural practices that resulted in social change in modern Sri Lanka. The paper can be dissected into three parts: the pre-war period, war-time and the post war period. In the first, Bremner effectively uses two aspects “everyday spatial practices” and “interactions between Vellalar and Karaiyar Castes,” to set the stage for her analysis. Through the testimonies of her subjects, Bremner is able to succinctly document caste relations: the girl who is never able to occupy a “front space” in the school seats, being prohibited from handling food at the temple and the relations between upper and lower castes. Interestingly Bremner provides an example of a pre-war situation, which shows the non-static, evolving nature of caste practices. For example, rich Karaiyars are able to make it on to the verandas of the homes of similarly endowed higher caste Vellalars for tea. The role that wealth played to some extent in circumscribing the proverbial rules of the game suggests that social change may not only have had its genesis in the war period. The work of Achille Mbembe is largely relied upon to theoretically frame the war experience and the practice of being restricted and under surveillance. Displacement also limited the ability of social practices to be upheld in a variety of ways including altering the environment in which the previous higher castes were able to assume and maintain their positions. Similarly, under the LTTE “gaze,” change continued with the result that it “fused the existing boundaries between the different castes” and in its place focuses on Tamil-Muslim i.e. inter-ethnic distinctions.As a result: “The women of Karaiyar caste saw this inversion as a moment which opened up a window into reflexivity and empathy that was of paramount significance in these relations being overturned, even after the conditions of collapse were absent.” The transformation of the community is documented in the final section, which examines, again through the testimonies of the women, how the changes in caste relations persisted; for example in the continued resistance to only have higher castes preparing food, and the distancing of members of a particular caste to the particular occupation which previously defined their caste. The section also documents how other factors, such as education, play a role in diminishing the importance of caste, especially for women. In the paper, Bremner does not make much use of triangulation, or cite other similar studies that have been conducted. As such it is difficult to situate the research within an academic and country context. Although the paper does provide a rich account of an intriguing social phenomenon it is precisely the fact that it is an evolving context that would require greater depth and additional research.  

The Screen and the Fort: Muslim Women’s Post-Colonial Adaptations of Space in the Galle Fort A

uthor: Nethra Samarawickrema, pp. 57-79

Nethra Samarawickrema’s interest in exploring women in post-colonial space was sparked by a conversation with a Muslim woman who narrated the “time when I was gated inside the house”. The Screen and the Fort: Muslim Women’s Post-Colonial Adaptation to Space in Galle Fort is an empirically rich exploration of identity and change, and is in response to research that has often been done within a historical context (i.e. during the period of colonial rule) with little consideration of the post-colonial adaptations of the same space. The paper’s central argument is that these relationships are altering “how post-colonial residents remake colonial built environments” and as such they need to inform our understanding of the ‘space’. It is precisely the paucity of research that reinforces the importance of Samarawickrema’s paper. Galle Fort, a piece of “colonial chic” provides a rich setting and a case study for Samarawickrema’s exploration of the process of its reoccupation by Muslim women. Samarawickrema’s approach is largely genealogical in nature. She uses the life histories of two generations of middle-class Muslim women, spanning a period of six decades (1930s-1950s), to determine how they perceived practices in different social contexts. The Muslim women live and interpret these spaces based on their own cultures and backgrounds. The choice of subject is also important, as 60% of the population around the fort are Muslim. The research examines three specific periods of their lives: childhood, the period between puberty and marriage, and the period after marriage. By choosing this approach for her investigation Samarawickrema is able to effectively to document continuity and change over time. She documents the evolution from carefree childhood of the women into a life lived “behind the screen”. The extensive use of first hand accounts allows a space for women to tell their own stories with powerful effect: “I will never leave the Fort… If we go to Colombo, you have to stay locked up inside a house. Here I can leave my mother’s house and go for everyone knows everyone else.” The paper also explores trust and social cohesion that life within the Galle Fort creates. The example is given of the ability of the various ethnic groups to withstand race riots and “events that shook the island”. The paper concludes by comparing the situation of Muslim women in other areas of the country and other research, such as Hussain’s ethnological study of Sri Lanka Muslims, and McGilvray’s study of matrilineal Tamils and Muslims in Akkaraipattu. There are strong similarities with those in other parts of the island, but Samarawickrema argues that the negotiation of space in the Gall Fort area is quite particular. She gives the example of the women’s freedom to “catch the sea breeze”. The claim that this constitutes a unique case is not very well substantiated. In addition, the author’s choice of middle-class women suggests that the analysis cannot be easily generalized, as poorer and richer Muslim women may have different experiences. However, Samarawickrema’s research undoubtedly adds to scholarship on the spatial practices of Muslim women and makes for very engaging reading.

Esther M McIntosh is a PhD candidate at the University of Leiden (The Netherlands) with a research focus is on local governance in post-war Sri Lanka. She is also a director at The Consultancy Group in Guyana, South America.  Subscription Form_IJESS_F

1 Comment

Filed under caste issues, cultural transmission, discrimination, performance, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, unusual people, welfare & philanthophy, women in ethnic conflcits

One response to “Baila, Tamil Caste Transactions & the Screening of Muslim Women in Galle Fort studied

  1. Pingback: Where Music transcends Ethnic Divisions: Sinhala Nona | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply