Category Archives: British colonialism

The Skeins of Class bearing on the Threads of Sinhala Cultural Revival under the British

Uditha Devapriya, in The Island, 24 July 2021, where the title reads “Colonial Bourgeoisie and Sinhala Cultural Revival”

The colonial bourgeoisie in Sri Lanka did not form a monolithic class. They were divided horizontally as well as vertically: horizontally on the basis of income and inheritance, and vertically on the basis of primordial attachments, such as caste ideology. Various factors, mainly economic, conspired as much to unify the bourgeoisie as they did to divide them, distinguishing them by their homogeneity as much as by their heterogeneity.

Panadura Vaadaya

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Ethnicity after Edward Said: Post-Orientalist Failures in Comprehending the Kandyan Period of Lankan history

Michael Roberts ... presenting a refereed journal article from the year 2001** as a foundation for reflection and fresh pursuits because it addresses the work of Edward Said, a renowned social theorist-cum-political scientist.

Edward Said  Leslie Gunawardena

Abstract: Disenchantment with the excesses of nationalist and ethnic claims in recent decades has directed the analysis of ethnicity presented in academic writings in recent decades.  Ethnicity is seen as pernicious, “primordialist” and “essentialist.”  Other scholars as well as nationalist spokespersons are castigated for reading the present into the past.  This line of criticism has entered the scholarship on the Indian subcontinent and been extended to surveys of the literature on the pre-British and British periods of Sri Lankan history.   Yet these critics themselves are governed by the either/or epistemology of 20th century rationalism.  They are unable to decipher the worldview and the political ideology that organised the socio-political order of the Kingdom of Sihale, better known as the Kingdom of Kandy.  Their bias is “presentist” and “modernist.”  With little patience for historical puzzles, their readings of the pre-British period are simple-mindedFor the most part they rely on the severely flawed interpretation presented in Leslie Gunawardana’s “People of the Lion.”  This dependence marks their ignorance.

** presented in Ethnic Studies Report, Vol XIX/1, 2001 … ICES and kindly supplied by Iranga Silva

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Encountering Extremism: Biographical Tracks and Twists

Michael Roberts reproducing an article that originally appeared on the 19th March 2010 in https://sacrificialdevotionnetwork.wordpress.com/

One’s academic trajectories and journeys are invariably subject to vagaries and contingencies. The events and researches leading to my interest in “communal violence” and “zealotry” in the 1990s, and thereafter to what I have called ‘sacrificial devotion” (embracing the topics of “terrorism,” suicide bombers and Tamil Tigers),[i] were shaped by such contingencies. Since my web site will present some short essays on both these topics in the course of this month, let me detail some moments during my research work that resulted in the journeys that produced such outcomes.

In 1986-87 I spent about 14 months in Sri Lanka on research work during my sabbatical year. I was completing my research and writing on the history of Colombo in British times and the associated rise of a Westernized middle class-cum-bourgeoisie – work that resulted in the book People Inbetween (Sarvodaya, 1989).[ii] The island was still under the clouds cast by the attacks on Tamils in the southern parts of the island in July 1983. Following the British colonial lexicon this momentous and tragic set of events was generally described as the “1983 riots.” But such politically-aware scholars as Newton Gunasinghe and Shelton Kodikara were among those who depicted the event as a “pogrom.” This was a sensitizing revision that I accepted.

 Riots May 1958 – A Tamil passenger was taken out of the vehicle and beaten up

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Universal Franchise for Ceylon in 1931: The Complexities of Governance and Policy

Jane Russell

I am greatly honoured to be asked by the Awarelogue Initiative to speak at their Lecture Forum in this year of 2021, celebrating the 90th anniversary of the advent of universal franchise in Sri Lanka. In my lecture, I shall touch on some of the complex problems of governance and policy faced by a small multi-ethnic island, flanked as it is and always has been, by economic and political superpowers.

Dr. Thomas Drummond-Shiels: Donoughmore Commissioner 1927/28: Labour MP for Edinburgh 1924 -31; Under Secretary of State for the Colonies 1929-31

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Australian Aboriginal Peoples as Sophisticated Hunter-Gatherers?

Christine Judith Nicholls, reviewing the book Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers? authored by Peter Sutton & Keryn Walshe …. with highlighting imposed by The Editor Thuppahi

Eminent Australian anthropologist Peter Sutton and respected field archaeologist Keryn Walshe have co-authored a meticulously researched n a meticulously researched new book, Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate. It’s set to become the definitive critique of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu: Black Seeds — Agriculture or Accident?

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Dry Zone Peasantry and Chēna Transformations in Sri Lanka

Gerald Peiris [i]

Chēna is an anglicized rendition of the Sinhala term hēna. Chēna cultivation is widely regarded as being equivalent to ‘shifting cultivation’ which is described as a form of agriculture engaged in by people living in sparsely populated areas with easy access to scrubland or forest that could be used as venues for rainfed farming which may, depending on circumstances, constitute their only, main, or supplementary source of livelihood. In conventional perceptions, moreover, ‘shifting cultivation’ is a subsistence-oriented economic activity of poverty-stricken peasant communities. It should, however, be noted that in most parts of Sri Lanka, the term hēna connotes a plot of land devoted to rainfed cropping, regardless of whether the farming practices pursued on the plot involves “slash-and-burn” and/or “land rotation”.

  Precipitation & Irrigation Map of Lanka — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Sri_Lanka

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Leonard Woolf’s Weliwewa Terrain: Gerald Peiris’s Profound Expertise 

Michael Roberts

I have sustained a friendship and interacted with Gerald Peiris from Ramanathan Hall days at Peradeniya University beginning in July 1957. The formal discussions organised at the Ceylon Studies Seminar from 1968-1975 on the one hand and, on the other, casual, but occasionally dynamic, conversations at the Senior Common Room or the Campus Pub in those halcyon years deepened our cooperation …. and continually sharpened my brains.

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Leonard Woolf’s WELIWEWA and Its Terrain

Gerald Peiris**

After getting the article in Thuppahi on Leonard Woolf and Silindu presented by Ernest MacIntyre, I read Village in the Jungle (for the second time since long ago) and found it difficult to connect the essence of the Woolf narrative with what the producers of the play referred to as an attempt to portray village like in a remote setting in the interior of the ‘deep south’.

Leonard Woolf in his aging years & glimpses of village women gathering tank-water in 2oth century Ceylon

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Captain Cook Symbolically Demolished in Canada

A Pseudo-Filipino named “Sir” Roger O’Neil

I can well understand why some Canadians knocked Captain Cook’s statue of its perch into a harbour in British Columbia.  

The only reason the Canadian PM has given a token apology about colonial crimes against indigenous peoples in Canada is because Canada has just been caught with its hands in the cookie jar with the discovery of mass graves. The Canadian government pursued a genocidal policy against indigenous peoples for 150 years — depriving them of language, forbidding the use of their indigenous birth names, medical neglect, sexual abuse, to name a few of their crimes. The government knew of it and were responsible for it for 150 years.

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Origins of Sri Lankan Nationalism

Upali C Wickremeratne, presenting a critical review of  Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period: 1590s to 1815, by Michael Roberts, (Colombo, Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2003)…. originally presented in Ethnic Studies Review, vol. XXI,  No. 2, July 2003, pp. 207-20…. with pictorials imposed by Roberts against the grain of this article. NOTE: the title is that chosen by Wickremeratne … and is in fact a misnomer.

It is hard to think of a book, amongst those written by those affecting to be scholarly, which is based more on conjecture than this. The criteria for evidence should be considered. It is not a question of whether the sources are oral or documentary.  After all the evidence in a law court is mainly oral.  It is a question of considering the arguments for and against any particular point of view.  It is a question of weighing the evidence. A civil case is decided on a balance of probabilities and a criminal case on whether there is a reasonable doubt.  It is not a question of facts or the truth. Law draws a distinction between hearsay, opinion and evidence based on cross-examination.  Collingwood wanted an army of questions led into the sources. They would enable one’s own biases and predilections to be questioned.  It would supply the place of cross-examination.

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