Nira Wickramasinghe: reviewing Sarojini Jayawickrama’s Writing that conquers. Re-reading Knox’s Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon, (Social Scientists Association, Colombo 2004)
Among academic historians in many parts of the world there exists an almost pathological fear of contamination by literary studies via the linguistic turn which manifests itself in the display of fierce criticism of authors of postmodern or cultural studies especially those interested in ‘discourse’ or textual analysis. This is an indication of how centred professional historians still are in the historicist and implicitly empiricist models which are responsible for their material and political hegemony in academia as well as in the public sphere.
PK Balachandran, in Daily Mirror9 September 2021, with this title “Recreating King Rajasinha’s cosmic city”
Sri Lanka’s last king, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha of Kandy, was vilified as a cruel despot and was overthrown by the British in 1815, acting in cahoots with disgruntled local chieftains. But King Rajasinha was a creative builder, town-planner and an executor of irrigation projects for the benefit of the common man. In the latter part of his politically troubled reign (1798-1815), King Rajasinha had turned all his energies towards making his capital city, Kandy, a “cosmic city” fit for God Sakra, the Sinhala version of the Hindu God Indra.
Chamikara Pilapitiya, author of book titled ‘Maha Nuwara Yugaye Apprakata Viththi’* has gifted a copy of a rare Battle Map of the Dutch invasion of Kandy in 1765 to Trinity College Kandy. An image of the gifted copy of the map is given below. It shows a detailed description of the trench lines and the gun batteries in and around the town of Kandy, which was used by the Kandyan army to attack the invading Dutch army in 1765.
Mr. Chamikara Pilapitiya presenting a copy of his book to then Principal of Trinity College in 2019.
The original map is available in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Michael Roberts, responding in 1985 to a Review Essay by Susan Bayly of Cambridge University on his book on Caste Conflcist and Elite Formation, CUP 1982
Susan Bayly** has done me the honour of reviewing the book on Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931at considerable length.’ Her essay is appropriately entitled ‘The History of Caste in South Asia’. This title provides a clue to the interpretative pathways which have led her systematically to misunderstand the arguments within the book. No less problematical is her implicit belief in the possibility of constructing a composite picture of the caste system qua system on the basis of empirical data drawn from different regions, regions as widely different as Sri Lanka, southern India and western India. Let me elaborate this charge, and in doing so reiterate the arguments which I presented.
AN INTRODUCTORY NOTE by Michael Roberts, 7 August 2021
This item is a review essay not a standard review. Alan Strathern is an accomplished historian who happens to be the son of a leading social anthropologist, viz., Marilyn Strathern of ANU and Cambridge University. You will find that his prose is as refined and clear-cut as demanding. After some hesitation, I decided to adhere to my normal policy of highlighting some parts of the text with blue colour – for the benefit of readers facing the difficulties posed by complex issues in historical sociology. On occasions I have also imposed a break in extra-long paragraphs. The illustrations too are my impositions intended to promote reader interest.
Alan Strathern’s first major work wasKingship and Conversion in Sixteenth-Century Sri Lanka: Portuguese Imperialism in a Buddhist Land. …. published in 2008 and since then he has extended his reach. Though in far too belated manner, Thuppahi here introduces his work to a Sri Lankan audience …. Begiining with a citation leading to CR De Silva’s review of his book on Sri Lanka….. and ending with his own introduction of self to the world in the Oxford University web site.
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.
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-minded. For 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
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.
Michael Roberts, reproducing here an old draft that is entitled “Becoming Sinhala” ***
The scene is somewhere early in 1984 and the location is the building housing the Social Scientists’ Association on the road to Nawala off Narahenpitiya in Colombo. The late Charlie Abeysekera and the late Newton Gunasinghe are reflecting gloomily on the pogrom of July 1983 that had victimised Tamils living in the capital and elsewhere in the south. Charlie is one of the founder members of MERGE and both are among the few personnel in Colombo who had taken an active stand in public forums against the atrocities that had occurred.* Now, in the gathering dusk, Charlie looks at Newton and asks: “what makes you think that you are a Sinhalese?” Newton immediately grasps the serious import and analytical purpose behind this question. He considers the issue gravely before venturing upon an answer.
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.