Language and National Identity: The Sinhalese and Others over the Centuries

Michael Roberts, reprinting an article published in 2003 in Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Summer 2003, 9: 75-102.**

 M-roberts by ErangaABSTRACT: The collective identity of Sinhala-speakers over four centuries dating from the 1590s is analyzed with due attention to the structural form of (a) the Kingdom of Kandy and (b) the British colonial regime that took control of the whole island by 1815/18. The analysis dwells on the modes of oral, visual-iconic and written forms of cultural transmission that pre-dated print technology, while drawing attention to the relative uniformity of the Sinhala language in both geographical and temporal scale. A semantic pattern of political alliances based on the opposition of inside to outside which works contextually like a nestling Chinese-box is one dimension of this linguistic order. This supported the tendency of Sinhalese representations to adopt an associational logic which merged past enemies (the wicked Tamils) with contemporary enemies (the Portuguese, the English) during the liberation struggles of the Kandyan state and its militia in the pre-1818 period. Such tendencies and the continuation of disparaging epithets coined during the period of Portuguese imperial intrusion into the vocabulary of the twentieth century must inform any theoretical efforts to distinguish the collective consciousness of the Sinhalese after the substantial transformations initiated under the British from that which is expressed so powerfully in the war poems of the pre-British period.

The temporal focus of this article[i] will be the last four centuries, though some attention will be devoted to elements and themes that embrace the whole of the “middle period,” viz. 1232-1815/18. Within this span of time greater space will be devoted to the 1590s to 1815/18 covering the Kingdom of Kandy for the reason that the literature on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is better developed.

Relationality and Ethnicity: Endowed with speech and memory human beings classify the world around them. As such they are embedded in some measure within classification systems of their own creation. It can be presumed that these vernacular language schemes are influenced by the political economy of particular regions and peoples. It is also manifest that both the semantic patterns and the political economy mould particular notions of personhood as well as specific affiliations to a group or groups.

 Group identities and loyalties are usually relational, intersubjective and self-referential. Where they are reproduced over time in some scheme of classification, such collective identities usually involve an understanding of “Us” with a self-referential name that distinguishes the speakers from “Them,” that is, one or more named Others. These Others are usually neighbours in contiguous space, though the realm of human imagination may also create cosmic or spirit beings in ‘virtual space.’ Interactive exchanges with these Others are the warp and woof of those collective identities that are reproduced, albeit with subtle changes, over time. Needless to say, the cluster of factors that sustain the boundaries of named groups over an extended period of time can vary from place to place and, in any specific case, can alter over time.

 Groups are rarely homogeneous in character and the name that self-referentially embraces a body of people can encompass considerable diversity. There is scope for ambiguity and for elements of the population to be marked by sets of practices that render them a mix, a hybrid type within their context of interaction. Where such hybridity emerges and is sustained, it is incumbent on analysts to identify where in the social order understood in relation to class and power such hybridity is located; and in which spatial locations such a feature is found.

 As the reference to hybridity indicates, group boundaries are rarely watertight. Individuals and families, and sometimes even significant bodies of people, may change their affiliations and self-referential identity over generational time. Why, when and how such alterations occur are the analytical issues that arise from such instances of boundary-crossing. But these instances do not mean that collective sentiments are “fluid” in some formless sense.[ii] I assert that, more often than not, such examples of boundary-crossing contribute to the reproduction of collective categories. Where some individuals from A become B, it is usually an index of the power of B in the societal scheme of things in a particular region. The further question is whether others in A react in hostile fashion to such a development or whether the process grows to the point where A disappears from the historical face as a marked category. In brief, boundaries do not have to be watertight, or even policed rigorously, for us to speak of ‘groupness’, ethnicity and nationality.

 Sinhalese un the Past Eight Centuries: I begin by concentrating upon those people in Sri Lanka who spoke Sinhala as their mother tongue or principal mode of communication from the thirteenth century onwards. This interest includes the individuals and bodies of people who immigrated to the island from the Indian subcontinent and became identified as Sinhalese over time.[iii] It also embraces (a) the individual Portuguese and other Europeans who went “native;” and (b) those Kaffirs[iv] and Malays in the service of the Kandyan state who stayed on and intermarried with indigenes in ways that led to assimilation.[v]

In overview and in point-form I mark several significant characteristics in the world of Sinhala-speakers over this broad span of time, including some features that depend upon the controversial methodological tack of using early-mid twentieth century knowledge to read backwards.

  1. By the time Gurulugomi wrote a text called the Dharmapradīpika in 1200, “the term Sinhala … denoted the Sinhala-speaking population who were the preponderant element among the residents in the island and did not include within its meaning other linguistic groups.”[vi]
  2. Most Sinhala-speakers appear to have been Buddhist. This phenomenon assumed greater significance because Buddhism had declined considerably in southern India in the face of a militant Hindu revival from the sixth century AD onwards and was fast petering out. In effect the conditions were ripe for the divide between Saivism and Buddhism to assume sharper emphasis[vii] in a context in which there were few Tamils who were Buddhist.
  3. This did not prevent the continuous ingress of people, commodities and icons from the Indian subcontinent during the middle period and a process of syncretic accretions and borrowings in the lifeways of the Sinhala-speakers and Buddhists.[viii] 
  4. By the twelfth century the Sinhala script had to a large extent evolved into the forms familiar to us in the twentieth century, while the language was even closer to the usage of modern times.[ix]
  5. The Sinhala-speech community appears to have been characterised by a remarkable regional uniformity. Thus, taking our cue from evidence drawn from the mid-twentieth century before the modern educational network was established, one can hardly use the term “dialect” for the variations that are found because these are confined to word bank and phonetic inflections rather than syntax.[x]
  6. This is not a recent development. The absence of dialectical variation extends backwards into the thirteenth century. Thus, the Pūjāvaliya (1266), Butsarana and Saddharmaratnāvaliya, all thirteenth century texts, are in simple prose and would be comprehensible to most Sinhalese when read or recited aloud.
  7. This ease of comprehension was assisted by the character of conventional Sinhala prose as a medium that can be alliterated in recitational form by a mere switch of gears so to speak, a dexterity available to the ordinary people.
  8. The most powerful medium of communication, however, was that of oral poetry. Most of the poetry from the fourteenth century onwards was composed in the simple Elu (Hela) form rather than Sanskritized Sinhala.
  9. Cultural transmission was deepened by the capacities of a population, whether literate or illiterate, that had had honed its mnemonic skills through repetition as well as the mnemonic codes built into speech or verse form.[xi]
  10. Twentieth century evidence indicates that alliance-making at the local level within the Sinhala-speaking population can assemble, or refer to, a body of persons as api or apē kattiya (us, our crowd) in ways that permit the api (us) to be expanded into a broader group or contracted downwards into a smaller body. In short, one has a semantic pattern of the inside versus the outside tailored according to context. I discovered this pattern initially during the course of investigations into the pejorative terminology in the modern era and then used data from informants, anecdotes, a central incident in a popular, yet didactic novel published in the year 1906 and the thematic patterns in the first lot of novels by the same author to establish the argument.[xii]

The author of these novels was Piyadasa Sirisena, the most popular novelist of the early twentieth century and a political activist as well. To Sirisena “mixing blood [was] in no wise good.” The Burghers are treated as a mixed, contaminated category (often in the pejorative description tuppahiyek) and invariably enter his romantic novels as degenerates who mislead innocent Sinhala youth. Those Sinhalese who follow the Westernised pathways are also depicted as tuppahi. Indeed, in his later novels the term enters a list of ethnic categories: “marakkala, hamba, kocci, demala, tuppahi.”[xiii] Rather to my surprise I recently discovered that this usage is inscribed within verse 395, in the Rajasiha Hatana, a seventeenth century war poem:[xiv]

 gerimas kannata ek vū erata upan tuppā                       sit

pirivässan ändaka sinnarukam karanā aya pā              sit

mari mastaka Kavisit Kannadi Parangi nandē             sit

sulu mas väda kotana lesin damā tänin täna pā            sit

Those country-born Thupassis who feed on beef and ape the senhors in their trousers — Kavisi, Kannadi, Parangis and men from many a land — all are struck down as when fishermen kill their prey at night.            (Pieris 1909)

Country born Tuppahis who joined [the Portuguese] to feed on beef and Senhors with retinues around them were cut down. And all around Kaffirs, Kannadis and Parangis from various lands are cut down into small logs of flesh.             (Wakkumbura)                                                                                                                                                             

The term tuppahi itself is a foreign loan word developing from the syncretic exchanges and liaisons associated with the by-lanes and sea lanes of the Portuguese empire. Specifically, it seems to have been derived from the word Tupass or Topaz that was so widely used in the Indian Ocean world affected by the Portuguese. Thus, in Hobson Jobson it is noted that the word was employed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries “for dark-skinned or half-caste claimants of Portuguese descent, and Christian profession.” This term appears to have taken root in Dutch Ceylon as an appellation for mixed bloods (Mesticos) of supposed Portuguese descent.[xv] Antiquarian interest in the etymological origins of the word Topaz/Tupass has inspired several theories, among them the suggestion that it emanates from the Sanskrit word “dvibhāsā,” a speaker of two languages and thus an intermediary.[xvi] What matters for our purposes, however, is its rapid incorporation into Sinhala speech to describe people of mixed descent.

The use of Tuppāsi or Tuppahi as a collective noun seems to have been associated with two parallel developments that expanded the range and the multiplicity of meanings attached to this word. By the nineteenth century, if not earlier, it could be used to refer to translators and thus be adopted as a lineage name, Tuppahigē, for those who had taken up this occupation.[xvii] But what the polite nineteenth century dictionaries do not indicate is the process by which it had been adopted as a term for outcastes. The latter usage was quite consistent with its deployment as an ethnic label for the ‘creole’ peoples of the European imperial outposts. Since the word jātiya was grounded in conceptions of birth and origin, and therefore refers to “birth,” “kind,” “caste” and “race,”[xviii] it was logical enough for this new word to embrace both people of mixed blood as well as those considered outcaste. Those castes that mixed their blood in the past, one suspects, were considered beyond the pale. That is, they were like the Rodi, the lowest of the low in the Sinhala caste order. Likewise, the progeny of mixed liaisons with foreigners were of the same low (nīca) order. They were, so to speak, as mixed as outcaste. Thus, a modern Sinhala dictionary indicates that tuppahi refers (i) an interpreter; (ii) Hollanders and Portuguese; (iii) those who do not fit into Sinhala culture, namely, the sankara (samkara) or mixed; and (iv) those who are low or inferior.[xix]

Amending Anderson and Hobsbawm: This specific piece of evidence indicates that oral communication in a context of violent conflict over a period of time can sustain sharp ethnic differentiation. But beyond the temporal specifics of the sixteenth and seventeenth century warfare, my review above is directed towards revising the misdirection generated by Benedict Anderson’s emphasis on print capitalism in the rise of nationalism. One simply cannot assume that ideology was moulded largely by those who could read and write — a body of people who are regarded by Anderson as “tiny literate reefs on top of vast illiterate oceans.”[xx] Nor does the Sinhala-world of the middle period support Hobsbawm’s dictum that there could have been no linguistic uniformity in countries lacking a formal system of education.[xxi]

What we have among the Sinhalese, then, is what Adrian Hastings has called a “written vernacular” in stressing the significance of such a factor in the generation of politicised collective identities in England and Europe in the late medieval and early modern periods.[xxii] While attentive to the written texts (some of which originated in oral form anyway), I would lay greater stress on the fact that the principal means of cultural transmission among the Sinhalese were verbal, poetic, preformative and visual. Thus, it a reasonable speculation that the diffusion of the more popular stories inscribed within prose and poetic texts would have been furthered by the cross-hatching of messages in the visual imagery of temple wall paintings or artifacts of propitiation (for instance, those used in yak tovil) on the one hand, and the incidence of pilgrimages associated with the sacred geography of the island as a Buddhist and Sinhala entity on the other. I conjecture that the visual markers of ethnic and/or religious difference included tonsorial, sumptuary and eating practices that helped differentiate the Yon (Muslim Moors), Demala (Tamils), Kannadi (Kannadi) and Javun (Malays), among others, from each other. This list could be expanded to include other bodies of troops that participated in the wars of the period. Indeed, one must attach particular weight to the Sinhala fear of the Black Africans known as Kāberi, people that were presumably distinguished by ‘depth’ of skin colour and type of hair in the course of being invested with all manner of demonic capacities.[xxiii] The Kāberi were among the auxiliaries in the service of the Portuguese, Dutch and British imperial armies.

  Such differentiation does not mean that there were no cultural exchanges between these bodies of people or that the Sinhala-speakers and Tamil-speakers did not have some affinities or that individual Tamil-speakers did not become Sinhalese over generational time. However, the latter process marks the force of the Sinhala-speaking majority in the south central parts of the island and the power of the Sinhala-and-Goyigama-dominated state regimes.[xxiv]

State Formation and Sinhalaness: What we see, therefore, in south central Lanka is a relatively uniform speech community with a written vernacular organised around a dynastic state invested with the task of preserving Buddhism in its Thēravāda form. The kings of these states in the middle period were constituted as cakravarti figures and bodhisattvas. As such, each king was god-like and even addressed as deiyyo (god). In our terms the monarch was lawmaker, appellate judge, administrator, military commander and cosmological font rolled into one. He was surrounded by taboos and wielded great power, though he was also subject to the force of custom, the fear of cosmic intervention and the expectation that he would make the rains fall and the sun shine at the appropriate times. Bad omens and natural calamities therefore rendered the kings vulnerable to rebellions from disaffected elements within the population.[xxv]Ola & Lion

 Every one of the Sinhala states in the middle period seems to have been described as tunsinhalaya or trisinhalaya or tunlaka (see Appendix A). One of the shortened speech variants of this concept was sinhal[MSOffice1] ē (hereafter rendered as Sinhalē). This terminology marked the idea that the kings were the rulers of the whole island. Informed by the fact that there were sub-kingdoms within the realm as well as the Kingdom of Yālppānam in the north beyond the depopulated, jungle-clad north central districts, historians have regarded this claim as a “fiction.”[xxvi] But their yardstick has been governed by modern conceptions of state authority based on regular forms of surplus appropriation and administrative controls. Their modernist ideology has not countenanced the possibility of different forms of allegiance and rule. What one found was “tributary overlordship,” where rule was constituted by rites of homage accompanied by gift-giving from subordinate to superior figure.[xxvii]

P5 Wim &SpillbergenIn consequence, during the period of triangular conflict between the Portuguese, Dutch and Sinhalese-in-Kandy (1638-58), Rājasinha II addressed the Dutch commanders with such phrases as “the Captain-Major of the nation of my Hollanders” and consistently referred to “my lowland territories” and “this my island of Ceilao.”[xxviii] Indeed, in one letter he stated unequivocally that “the black people of this my island of Ceilao, wheresoever they might be, were my vassals by right.”[xxix] In subsequent decades the Kandyan court adhered to the constitutional theory that in administering power in the Maritime Provinces the Dutch were “the guardians of the seacoasts.”[xxx]

The practices of the Dutch sustained these perceptions. One governor, Pijl, referred to himself as the “king’s most faithful governor and humble servant,” called the king “His Majesty” and spoke of ”the King’s castle at Colombo.”[xxxi] It may be partly for this reason that he was bestowed with honours by the King of Kandy and inscribed in the annals of the Kandyan court as “Governor Unnānsē, Prince of Love.”[xxxii] The Dutch letters to the King of Kandy were liberally sprinkled with high-sounding epithets that catered to the imperial claims of its rulers: for instance, groot magtisten en onverwinnelijk keijser or “invincible emperor of supreme power.”[xxxiii] These letters, whether by messenger or borne by ambassadorial parties, were placed on a silver tray and held above the bared head of an appuhāmy, a respectable native. During the long journey to Senkadagala (the city of Kandy) they were lodged at night in a separate shed with white linen and its own sentries.[xxxiv] Likewise gifts “were [generally] wrapped in white linen, a traditional mark of respect reserved for the king.”[xxxv] In effect, the indigenous theory of overlordship received confirmation from the Dutch.[xxxvi] It was possible for Kīrti Srī Rājasinha (1747-82) to be praised conventionally, and thus in a profoundly evocative manner, as “the divine lord King Kīrti Srī, the chief of the whole of Lanka.”[xxxvii]

  The Kingdom of Kandy (or rather, to be more precise, Sinhalē), then, was a centre-oriented galactic polity of the type identified by Tambiah.[xxxviii] It encompassed tributary states through acts of homage carrying powerful ideas of superordination and subordination.

War in the Moulding of Sinhalaness: The role of the king and the attachment to the concept Sinhalē among nobles and people was also nourished by the wars against the Portuguese and, subsequently, albeit in lesser measure, those involving the Dutch and the English. There was intermittently continuous warfare in the period extending from the 1590s to the 1670s. Many of the war poems seem to be a product of this particular period.

They were, evidently, a means of mobilisation and a means of sustaining esprit de corps. Dolapihilla’s reconstruction indicates the suggestive possibilities. “[In] the van of a Kandyan army marched a numerous band of davulkārayo…. Giving utterance to words of courageous defiance was an essential part of the fighting. When waiting for battle round each leader the men under him gathered into a kavikāra maduva. The davul drums and the drums used to broadcast orders were for the moment forgotten. Not so the udäkki and cymbals, which too had been brought. The ease with which these could be carried seems to have made them dear to the soldier’s heart. They sang brave songs of what they meant to do the next day. When a specially brave song was concluded there was a huzza. De Queyroz makes mention of the noise in the Sinhalese camp on the eve of de Saa’s defeat at Vellavaya.[xxxix]

P1-Sinhala warrior

These war poems, clearly, were a form of entertainment as well. They were yet more. They were praise poems eulogizing the potency of particular kings, princes or chiefs. They were in the kāvya tradition and, following Ron Inden, should be interpreted as constitutive acts.[xl] In the understanding of speakers, recipients and listeners their glorification carried illocutionary force The words were believed to render the monarch as glorious as potent. Illustratively, I note that in some poems the King of Kandy is depicted as incandescent as a sun that could render all adversaries into minute fireflies: “the gallant Atapattu host was posted near to oppose them; and like a cloud of fireflies before the rising sun, the might of the Parangis [Portuguese] was dimmed and their only thought was flight.”[xli]         

In overview, then, one finds that the war poems present a picture of a devotional body of militia (lak sen or sīhala sen) who served “apa maha nirindu,” “our great king.”[xlii] This is a recurring phrase in the war poems. Though there may be a touch of the formulaic in such expressions, the context of war and the partisanship of the speakers make this practice meaningful. “Apa maha nirindu” is more than a statement of respect towards a powerful figure. In a maximalist reading based on consultations with literary specialists,[xliii] I contend that this expression embraces the audience in a sentimental We-feeling around the hero-king. It is yet more. In revealing this style of devotion the spokesperson was taking possession of the king on behalf of a dependant populace/audience. “Apa maha nirindu” reminded the king of the expectation that he would fulfill the protective obligations of kingship and sustain the dasarājadharma (ten royal virtues) as spelt out in the coronation and such texts as the Budugunālankāraya.

The war poems, moreover, reiterate the idea that the king was overlord of the whole island. Sometimes this was through the Buddhist metaphor of a “white canopy.”[xliv] The Rajasiha Hatana refers to Rājasinha’s overlordship over tunsinhalaya or tunlaka, that is, the “three kingdoms of Sinhala” (or Lanka) in the translation favoured by Wakkumbura or “the whole of Lanka” in that proposed by Pieris and Goonetilleke. In the Maha Hatana it is affirmed that Rājasinha “protected the Low Country (and) unified blessed Lanka” (pāta rata rägat siri laka ekkara nā).[xlv] Likewise in the Rajasiha Hatana, it is observed that after a battlefield triumph “our victorious king … devot[ed] himself to the well being of the two Ratas, for he made no difference between them.”[xlvi]

In summary, then, the war poems of the Kandyan period present us with a picture of cakravarti figures vested with superhuman character, devotional followers and fighters, Sīhala sen, all oriented towards defending a valued territory that was variously referred to as Lakdiva, Tun Sinhalaya, Siri Laka, uda pāta rata et cetera. These add up to a powerful sense of collective self-perception linked to territory. What we see here is a Sinhala consciousness with a significant measure of patriotism. Underpinning this was an explicit notion of sovereignty.[xlvii] I am reluctant, however, to refer to this form of thinking as a “nationalism” of the sort found in Europe and elsewhere from the nineteenth century.[xlviii] There was no theory of self-determination supported by the principles of jurisprudence that had developed in Europe. Nor was there an egalitarian ideal and the democratic thrust associated with the idea of popular sovereignty. But the resistances mounted by the people of Sinhalē in support of a hierarchically constituted dynastic state did amount to practices of liberation.

Nineteenth Century British Ceylon: The British occupation was consolidated in four steps, in 1795/96, 1815, 1817/18 (the pacification of a major Sinhala rebellion centred in the south east and the Kandyan Provinces) and 1832 (the formal unification of the Maritime Provinces and the Kandyan Provinces). This meant that the island was now unified under a modernising administrative regime. The building of roads, bridges and railways and the establishment of postal and telegraphic services were among the critical steps in this process of unification.[xlix]

This expansion of the transport and communication network materially assisted the growth of market exchanges and the implantation of a capitalist order in Sri Lanka. Central to this development was the institutional framework of capitalism created by legislative and administrative acts. The abolition of the state-sponsored system of corvee labour known as rājakāriya in 1832 was one step in this foundational work. The improvement of the judicial and administrative services, for instance the creation of a Survey Department, provided the basis for property rights that were amenable to conveyancing and improvement. There was a reciprocal causal interaction between these developments and the rapid growth of a plantation economy. The growth of plantations was initially devoted to coffee and coconut and subsequently concentrated on tea and rubber alongside coconut.

These trends in their turn led to the growing dominance of English as the language of administration and high commerce (except perhaps in one critical arena, the Pettah firms). Along one dimension English thereby became the lingua franca linking (some) people who spoke two different languages, namely Sinhala and Tamil. Along another dimension, as we shall see, it became an instrument of privilege, domination and oppression (e. g. through pejorative remarks).

In the result one sees the emergence of an indigenous bourgeoisie drawn from a number of different “communities,” whether Colombo Chetty, Parsee, Tamil, Sinhalese, Malay, Mohammedan Moor[l] or the descendants of Portuguese, Dutch and other European residents who had become identified as “Burghers” or lansi.[li] Overlapping partially with the bourgeoisie was a body of people who, together with many, but not all, members of the bourgeoisie, fell within the umbrella of the local term “middle class.” The adoption of this term as an analytical concept is rendered necessary by the fact that the modalities of domination/superiority were not restricted to property/wealth, but included life style and the English language.[lii]

The English language as well as the expanding print technology in an era of more rapid communication opened the floodgates for intellectual currents from Europe to enter the world of the bourgeoisie and middle class. The high literature of Europe, especially the works of Shakespeare’s and the current of nineteenth century romanticism, were among the products of the West that were accorded value in these circles. The “Young Ceylon” group that blossomed in the early 1850s seem to have been influenced by the currents associated with Young Italy and Young England.[liii] In brief, then, the ideas associated with Liberalism and nationalism were now available to the indigenous elites. One part of the Liberal philosophy and its implications was the language of rights (as opposed to that of petition and propitiation) and the emphasis on equality. Since the British educational institutions praised the virtues of the British constitution, the instruments were being set in place for the British to be eventually (in the early twentieth century) hoist on their own petard. Critically, the arguments of “representation,” “equality” and “self-government” were understood by the English-educated middle class as arguments for the interests of the people of Ceylon, that is, for the “Ceylonese” in its all-island, multi-ethnic sense.

The middle class and bourgeoisie began to concentrate around the city of Colombo, especially after the port facilities were revolutionised in the 1870s and 1880s. As the hub of administration as well as the transport network, Colombo became a hegemonic centre in the widest meaning of the term. It became the country’s principal ideological manufactory as well as the source of its valued life style.[liv]

 British rule was accompanied by aggressive proselytisation work by missionaries and lay people motivated by Evangelical ideas. This activity generated opposition among both Hindus in the north and Buddhists in the south western quadrant. Hindu and Buddhist revitalisation movements emerged from the mid-nineteenth century. They borrowed some of their organisational forms and techniques from the missionary orders. Their style of protest matched the virulence of their opponents.[lv] The anti-Christian reaction among the Sinhalese was promoted by laypersons as well as bhikkhus and involved both Sinhala-speakers and those bilingual in Sinhala and English. Individual spokesmen even referred to Buddhism as “the Sinhalese national faith” and “the religion of the land.”[lvi] Such activists were inevitably pitted against the Sinhala Christians, especially Catholics, with procession disputes occasionally acting as a catalyst for violent local clashes.[lvii]

D'pala beside statue Anagarika Dharmapala  10--Temperance_Meeting,_Kumari's a temperance meeting — Pic from Kumari Jayawardena

The anti-Christian rhetoric overlapped with a powerful current of opposition to Westernisation and its allegedly degrading effects. An overwhelming anxiety developed among some activists that their ­kula sirit and gunadharma (customs and virtues) were being contaminated to the point of decline. An apocalyptic vision of cultural doom took root in some quarters.[lviii] One facet of this line of protest was an emphasis on nativism and purism. This is illustrated, for instance, in (a) the campaign mounted against meat-eating; PIYADASA SIRISENA = PEDRIS SILVA Pedris Silva alias Piyadasa Sirisena — the Gunadasa Amarasekera of his time

(b) the campaign advocating the wearing of the osariya (a form of Kandyan saree) by Sinhala womenfolk; and (c) the objection to miscegenation and mixed marriages. While this line of resistance to Westernisation was expressed both in Sinhala and English mediums, its support base was strongest among the intermediary elites that had emerged within the new social order.[lix] The broad objective of this movement of regeneration, therefore, was to uplift the Sinhalese qua Sinhalese.[lx]

 However, one must also note the parallel development of a movement against “denationalisation” among the English-educated elites during the 1890s and 1900s. This campaign opposed uncritical mimicry of Western ways and stressed indigenism in a broad style, that is, in the sense “Ceylonese.” Among its advocates were A K Coomaraswamy, the Ponnambalam brothers and the Ceylon Social Reform Society (1905 et seq).[lxi]

 Where the Ceylon Social Reform Society’s version of denationalisation encompassed the island’s ethnic diversity, that of the nativist Sinhala activists had a hostility to things foreign that occasionally targeted the kocci, demala and hambamarakkala (the Cochinese, Tamils and Coast Moors).[lxii] This sort of criticism and the framework of thought espoused in such texts as Piyadasa Sirisena’s earliest novels reveal a caste ideology in fusion with the racist ideas that had been recently imported into Lankā through Western writings. In other words, caste notions became, in effect, re-worked and then combined with the imported European theories of race to shore up the boundaries of the Sinhala world and Sinhala culture as an exclusive bounded entity.[lxiii] However, along another dimension, as we shall see, there was a tendency for the category “Sinhalese” (or Sinhala) to encompass the concept “Ceylonese” in a manner that was both incorporative and subsuming.

 The Twentieth Century in Broad Overview: For our purposes four strands of idoelogical activity in the twentieth century that ran paralllel with each other can be highlighted:

* Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) nationalism of a multi-ethnic kind.

* Sinhala nationalism.

* Tamil communitarianism which, following the lead provided by the Ceylon Communist Party in October 1944,[lxiv] redefined its constituency as a “nation” in 1948-49 (clearly on the pre-existing foundations provided by what I have called “communitarianism”).

* Dating from the 1930s the “Left Movement,” which has also provided one of the intellectual currents feeding the “New Left” of the 1960s-and-beyond, especially the Janatā Vimukti Peramuna (the People’s Liberation Front), which has also been inspired by nativist Sinhala nationalism (B above).

None of these streams of consciousness/activity was monolithic and the factional struggles and variations must be part of more complex pictures than I can attempt here. But, in this simplified overview, I would say that the story of the twentieth century is the manner in which the leading edge provided by Ceylonese nationalism in the front reaches of power through the first half of the twentieth century was transformed by the hegemonic upsurge of Sinhala cultural nationalism from the 1940s/50s and quickly upstaged by the sharpening conflict between Sinhala and Tamil nationalisms. At present, Sri Lankan (Ceylonese) nationalism remains a relatively weak third force in the firmament.

The Twentieth century in Sharper Focus:Confronting the British colonial state at the beginning of the twentieth century one finds a movement for constitutional reform headed by English-educated and Westernised elements among the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie and middle class. This movement was fractured by familial, caste, regional and “communal” rivalries. Its methods were nowhere near the militancy seen in British India, but its pressures were constant and the rhetoric quite heated at times. The clever, pragmatic politics of these forces, assisted by Sri Lanka’s geo-political scale, namely, its small island situation, eventually saw a transfer of power in two stages, 1931 and 1948.[lxv]

One part of the development of Ceylonese nationalism was the emergence of the Ceylon Labour Union in the 1920s and then the emergence of the Left Movement through the LSSP and the Ceylon Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s.[lxvi] Indeed, the Left-Right struggle dominated the political scene from the late 1930s to the 1950s, while remaining central within a context of   sharpening Sinhala-Tamil differences in the late ‘fifties-to-‘sixties.

 Some of the Tamil leaders distanced themselves from the Ceylon National Congress from the early 1920s and approached the British authorities for “minority safeguards” and, subsequently, for “fifty:fifty” minority representation for the Tamil, Muslim and Burgher “communities.” Other Tamils in the Jaffna Youth League took a more radical all-island path,[lxvii] while yet others joined the Left Movement. The writings in the Tamil-medium during the first half of the twentieth century have hardly been researched, however, and our knowledge of the Tamil streams of consciousness is even less than that of the Sinhala forces, though the latter, too, is marked by yawning gaps.[lxviii]

Nobodies to Somebodies The Senanayakes and others in relaxed mood 66b-Senanayakes and feinds relax at Botale home

What can be stressed about the current of Sinhala cultural nationalism is that it remained a powerful undercurrent in the first half of the century. Its energies were expressed in both the temperance agitations of 1904 and the early 1910s as well as the pogrom that led to an assault on the Mohammedan Moors (Muslims) in the south western quadrant of the island in mid-1915.[lxix] This undercurrent was sustained thereafter within the literary and journalistic fields, but from the 1920s also had its proponents within the Lanka Maha Jana Sabha, the All-Ceylon Village Committees Conference and then, from the mid-1930s, in the Sinhala Maha Sabha. All three associations were components within the Ceylon National Congress (CNC), so these strands had a voice within the main engine of constitutional agitation. From 1931 the key institutional force behind the pressures on the British, however, was the Board of Ministers set up under the Donoughmore constitution. Since the State Council was elected by universal suffrage and answered to an electorate that was 69 per cent Sinhalese, one must attend to the implications of this fact in the thinking of the key figures within the Board of Ministers (especially D. B. Jayatilaka and D. S. Senanayake).[lxx]

Because those Sinhalese attached to their cultural values had links or sympathies with the underprivileged and because the vernacular languages were underprivileged in relation to English, some of those sympathetic to Sinhala nativism moved with the Leftists. Others were part of the Ceylon National Congress. Signs of a significant split in the CNC emerged in early 1945 when the Executive Committee discussed a motion to the effect that “The culture, language and script of the minorities shall be protected” – a clause that was to be part of a “Declaration of Fundamental Rights.” Peter Galloluwa and Jayantha Wirasekera proposed that the words “language and script” should be deleted.[lxxi] In other words, what one sees here is a hardline Sinhala chauvinist position and a precursor of the Sinhala Only campaign of the mid-1950s.

They were defeated, but, significantly, they were leading players in a faction, centred on the Maradana branch of the CNC, that opposed a resolution moved by J. R. Jayewardene in May 1946 proposing that the CNC should become part of D. S. Senanayake’s newly-formed United National Party. They lost that vote as well, but represented a significant minority. As significantly, if one allows for some mavericks from the elite, this factional struggle was a battle between Maradana (Galloluwa et al) and Cinnamon Gardens (J. R. Jayewardene et al) in the social order of Colombo. In brief, one witnesses here a precursor of the struggle between Sinhala nativism and the Western-educated that became so central in the early 1950s and led to the electoral transformation of 1956.

13-Banda & masses for Sinhala Only SWRD Bandaranaike in rhetorical flow — Pic from Victor Ivan

The story of the so-called “revolution of 1956” is relatively well known.[lxxii] The electoral victory of a coalition led by the SLFP under S.W. R. D. Bandaranaike was engineered on a platform that attacked the privileges of the English language and the values of Westernised “brown sahibs,” while espousing the claims of the allegedly downtrodden Buddhist religion in the context of entrenched Christian privileges and an alleged network identified as “Catholic Action.” A critical element in this campaign was embodied in the phrase “Sinhala Only,” a clarion call demanding the righting of previous wrongs by making Sinhala the official language of administration. Behind this particular demand was the feeling that the Tamils had used the English language to advantage and secured far too great a stake in the prestigious government services (a major pillar in the economy till the 1980s).

            Central to the movement that brought about this transformation in 1956 were four forces:

(a)                a body of Buddhist monks organised as the Eksat Bhikkhu Peramuna;

(b)               the intermediary social classes represented by Sinhala schoolteachers, ayurvedic physicians, lower level government functionaries and (some) small businessmen;

(c)                socialist thinking advocating the needs and rights of the underprivileged, a strand of ideology that was found in the SLFP as well as the Leftist party (VLSSP) led by Philip Gunawardena that was one pillar of the MEP coalition that won the election;

(d)               Sinhala cultural nationalism with threads of ideology that go back, at the very least, to the late nineteenth century.

 15-Mettananda addreses Sinhala crowd 1956  LH Mettananda addresses a crowd of Sinhala enthusiasts at Galle Face Green — Pic from Victor Ivan

One of the significant details associated with the upsurge of “1956” was that the effective and popular manner in which the term tuppahi was used to disparage the Sinhalese brown sahibs of the Western-educated and privileged classes, with Philip Gunawardena (MEP) and Prof W S Karunaratne (SLFP) being among the adepts of this verbal weaponry.[lxxiii] But it is the broader themes and outcomes that should command our attention.[lxxiv]

            In the first place the overwhelming electoral victory enabled the forces attached to it to speak of “apē ānduva” (“our government).” In effect, this meant that Sinhalaness received a majoritarian and democratic sanction. It was now invested with legitimacy. No longer could it be derided, as it was so widely in previous decades, as a form of “communalism” or a “tribal” phenomenon.[lxxv]  Relatively uncommitted observers, such as Farmer and Kearney began to speak of “Sinhalese nationalism,” thereby investing it with the legitimacy attached to the concept in an anti-colonial context.[lxxvi]

            In the second place, of course, the triumph of Sinhala Only sharpened the Sri Lankan Tamil response and rejuvenated the Federal Party (which had been defeated by the Tamil Congress in the Tamil constituencies during the elections of 1952) as the bearer of a “defensive Tamil nationalism.”[lxxvii] This thesis is often presented by scholars presenting a picture of consistent victimisation of the Tamils as part of exercises that provide legitimation for subsequent trends in Tamil politics. The contention has strong evidential and circumstantial foundations and has the support of scholars who are not subsumed within the Tamil cause.[lxxviii] However, one has to attach a few qualifications. For one thing, research on expressions of Tamil nationalism from the 1940s in the Tamil language has been relatively limited. For another, these expressions must be set within a close study of Tamilian politics in the years 1949-76 by scholars who are prepared to look beyond the “victimisation” thesis. Speculatively, I suggest that such research may uncover strands of extremism much earlier than known to us today, while unravelling the manner in which elements of intransigence in Tamil circles fed on the threatening clouds of Sinhala majoritarianism from the late 1950s to make compromise more difficult.

            Thirdly, all the major parties with roots in the south centre of the island readjusted their programmes to meet the interests of the forces behind 1956. This applied (eventually) to the Leftist parties as much as the UNP. In 1964 both the LSSP and the CCP gave up their multi-ethnic language policy and joined the SLFP in a coalition when the opportunity for a stake in the government opened up. This not only meant a moderating of their revolutionary rhetoric by an espousal of the parliamentary path to power, it also meant a partial abandonment of their Tamil supporters. The further outcome was that young Tamil radicals did not have a party in the south that they could readily turn to in the manner pursued by the older generations of the 1930s to 1950s.

            In the process the LSSP and CCP were pushed into the analytical category “Old Left” as new generations of Sinhala-speaking youth found their style of vocabulary unappealing and the Old Left’s new programme far too docile for their fighting tastes. Inspired in part by undercurrents of Sinhala chauvinism that had been nurtured within the Ceylon Communist Party[lxxix] the Janatā Vimukti Peramuna emerged in the 1960s to espouse the revolutionary path with a mix of Maoism, Stalinism, Guevarism and nativism/Sinhala chauvinism. In my view the JVP personnel within its 1971 variant, JVP Mach I as I call it, were distinctly the children of the Old Left merged with the forces of 1956.[lxxx]

            It is the strand of nativism in the thinking of the JVP of 1971 as well as its subsequent incarnations[lxxxi] that is pertinent to our interests. In it first incarnation the JVP expressed an antipathy to Western symbols such as the mini-skirt and sunglasses that combined an attack on wealth with markers of styles deemed erosive to Sinhala custom. This puritanical steak was resurrected in the third version of the JVP, its most violent moment thus far, in 1987-1990. During the underground civil war the JVP banned the sale of cigarettes and alcohol in some localities and depicted its personnel as chaste and disciplined individuals. This may have been a relatively subordinate feature of its programme, but has to be interpreted in the context of extreme antipathies to the Indian state as well as signs of xenophobia found in the propaganda of some of its spokesmen.[lxxxii] Nor is it insignificant that the JVP Mach IV, the present parliamentary party, is one of those vehemently opposed to the peace initiative and the Norwegian and NGO roles in the process.

 Selective Threads: In overview I mark some strands of Sinhalaness that have had a long history over the last two centuries. First: many Sinhalese conventionally believe that Sri Lanka is a “Sinhala country” (a) because its civilisational base is believed to have been Sinhala, (b) because most of the inhabitants were deemed to have been Sinhala-speakers from the late centuries BC and (c) because the principal states with a “continuous” history backwards into the first millennium BC were regarded as Sinhala regimes under Sinhala kings for the most part. This belief also courses through the writings of British, Burgher and other personnel in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One of the questions at issue for us today is whether this reading of the past by those who spoke and thought in Sinhala can be linked as a current of thought to the notions of overlordship and sovereignty in the Kandyan era that I have outlined in the first part of this essay. Are there manifest continuities of the sort identified in the use of the terms tuppahi, sädi demalu and para as a disparagement of dangerous Others in the Kandyan era and modern times? Does the inside/outside pattern of understanding alignments that is inscribed within Sinhala usage kick into gear at moments of profound opposition in ways that reproduce self-referential notions of Sinhalaness?

Secondly: for some time in the modern era there has been a tendency among some Sinhala ideologues to subsume the category “Ceylonese” (or “Lankan”) within the category “Sinhalese” and to equate “Sinhala” with “Lanka.”[lxxxiii] Thus, when Dharmapala presented an essay in the early twentieth century called “A Message to the Young Men of Ceylon,” his opening paragraphs begin by referring to “we the heirs of our beloved Lanka” and declaring that “We Sinhalese should remember that our ancestors came from Lada;” while proceeding to exhort his readers to “look to the future and protect the interests of the coming generation of Sinhalese.” In the same breadth he announces that the “people of Ceylon are of Aryan race.”[lxxxiv] This tendency appears implicitly in recent newspaper interventions by a leading Sinhala novelist, Gunadasa Amarasekera.[lxxxv] I suspect that the equation of Lankan with Sinhalese has been widespread at all levels of the Sinhala-speaking population. So one of the tasks for social science inquiries today is the investigation of the degree to which this occurs and an evaluation of the implications thereof. Neither is an easy task.

Without wishing to press the analogies too far, the best way for me to underline this point is to highlight the manner in which Magyar spokesmen in the nineteenth century equated “Magyar” with “Hungary”[lxxxvi] and the manner in which the categories “England” and “English” have over the last three centuries tended to subsume “Britain” and “British.”[lxxxvii] In the latter instance the incidence of this phenomenon suggests that it is a marker of the hegemony of the English in the institutional complex known as Great Britain from the eighteenth century till recent decades.

Thirdly: one can say that the ideology encoded in the Mahāvamsa (especially its latter parts II, III and IV dating from the thirteenth century onwards, a section known also as the Cūlavamsa) was sharpened in the British period by a number of interconnected processes. The establishment of a rationalising bureaucratic order meant that its either/or epistemology and utilitarian philosophy took root. This demanded more precise boundary marking for propertied assets as well as concepts. This extended to statistical compilations such as the Blue Books and decennial census enumerations. One dimension of this new intellectual framework was the work of Indological scholars (that is, Orientalists), both scholar-officials and specialists from Germany or elsewhere. Their researches introduced to South Asia the distinction between the Aryan and Dravidian languages, thereby opening the way for these linguistic distinctions to be extended to those of “race” — at a time when the racial theories associated with Darwinism were also being diffused among the local population.

The stories related in the Mahāvamsa gained legitimacy not only because they were made available in English translation effected by a British scholar-official in the 1830s, but because the stories themselves adhered to a chronological framework and were linked to a history of kings. Moreover, the discovery of ancient ruins at Anuradhapura, Polonnaruva and other places invested the history with an aura of greatness that was attractive to a British ruling class that had been nurtured in the classics and admired ancient civilisations.[lxxxviii] Such admiration was latched unto and expanded by the emerging Ceylonese middle class, both Sinhalese and Other, as a means of boosting their self-esteem amidst the manifest racial and other subordinations they encountered during the colonial era.

In broad terms the ruins also seemed to substantiate the veracity of the Mahāvamsa stories. Indeed, the Mahāvamsa ideology was sharpened by the introduction of empiricist history writing in its British form. This empiricist view of the past had been implanted among the educated Sri Lankan population from the nineteenth century onwards through the growing English-medium school system. In the twentieth century these seeds were consolidated as the disciplines of History and Archaeology, as well as the study of Oriental languages, were established at University College (1921) and thereafter at the new University of Ceylon (1930).

These developments consolidated the historical consciousness that had been nourished among the Sinhalese by the monks, literati and the oral storytellers of yesteryear. They also injected a hard-nosed certainty about the “facts” of the past in the thinking of those who went through these new educational institutions. The historicity of the Vijaya legend, for instance, was accepted as an established fact. This sort of belief became part of the taken-for-granted understanding that Sri Lanka had always been a land of the Sinhalese.

One of the striking features of the various currents of hardline Sinhala thinking presented in the English-language during the last twenty years has been the role of individuals from the professional occupations, among them several with postgraduate qualifications. Though there are, now in 2003, several Sinhala extremists in the age-bracket 20-to-45, a significant proportion within the strident opposition to the “division of the country” is from generational cohorts who reached adulthood in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. In short, what we may loosely call the “1956 generations” have provided some of the most obdurate voices of Sinhala chauvinism during the last decade.[lxxxix] This is a pointer to the significance of the British transformation and the new epistemologies that came with it.

That said, we must not overestimate the force of print capitalism and the new educational institutions introduced in British times. The pirivenas (temple schools) continued to function, perhaps in atrophied form, throughout. More vitally, the lively oral traditions and the poetic practices were sustained till at least the third quarter of the twentieth century. The considerable influence of kavi kola and kälä patra (verses on leaflets and slanderous broadsides) during the general election of 1956 was built on this foundation. True, these were printed pamphlets. But I conjecture that for every printed leaflet there were countless oral ditties and slogans coined and repeated by virtuosi at bus stands, polas (markets) and other sites where bodies of people assembled.

One did not have to be literate to compose poetry. Ananda Wakkumbura recalls (personal communication) that in his village of Demalaporuva in Sabaragamuva in the mid-twentieth century there were three “plebian” kavikārayas (bards) who used to go about the locality and entertain people in the course of their journeys. They were all illiterate. I do not think this is an idiosyncratic instance. These men were one sliver within the vibrant oral, visual and dramatic modes of cultural transmission that pre-dated the British occupation and continued to function during the technological and educational “revolution” implemented in modern times. These media were available to literate and illiterate alike.

The analytical question, therefore, is whether the transformations initiated from the early nineteenth century onwards were of a character that not only accentuated pre-British conceptions of collective identity, but also transformed them into a phenomenon that we can consider totally different. Difference there certainly was. The bearers of Sinhalaness from the late nineteenth century, after all, were from a class order that was different to that of the Kandyan dispensation. They also had available the concept of a “nation” honed in Europe as a legitimate foundation for the “self-determination” of a people and becoming a widespread phenomenon in an international order of nation states. This input gave new inflections to the word “jātiya” (see above). The term now had to stand for “nation” in its modern sense as well as “race” in the sense of “kind” or ancestral blood group. It also had to compete with another use of jātiya: when it was associated with the new word lānkika as lānkika jātiya in the sense of “Ceylonese nation” in its multi-ethnic sense. The new multi-ethnic attributions to “Ceylonese,” and thus potentially to “lānkika,” had (has) the capacity to subvert the older meaning attached to the term lakväsiyo (technically residents of Sri Lanka), namely, a synonym for Sinhala (Sinhalese).[xc] But we cannot be sure that the older meaning and/or ambiguities do not prevail in everyday usage in modern times. Thus, one cannot be certain that the meaning “Sinhala” does not invidiously subsume “Sri Lankan” (or “Ceylonese”) in its embrace when individual Sinhala-speakers use (used) the words either in English or Sinhala.

 To speak of the “Sinhala jātiya” or “Sinhala aya” or some such collective label today, that is, to place the Sinhala people within a collectivising category in differentiation from a like category, is certainly not the same usage as that of “Sīhala dana[xci] or “Sīhala senaga[xcii] or “Sinhala ratun[xciii] or “Sinhala ayaval[xciv] in the Kandyan era. But neither does it seem entirely different. Our problem is to develop a theory that can ‘measure’ the difference, the form of measurement being, of course, within the limitation of the evaluations available to the social sciences. But, prior to that, one requires an in-depth case study of contemporary references to these terms in Sinhala-speak, both verbal everyday discourse and interventions in print, by a scholar with a thorough competence in both the language and one of the social science disciplines. This has not been done as yet.

** This article was written while I was finalizing my study of Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period, 1590s-1818 (Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Associates, 2004). Clearly it should be comprehended as a product set in that moment in 2002/03. Since then some new material from the work of Anoma Pieris and Alan Strathern has been used in the re-working of the motifs found in this essay in “Sinhalaness and its Reproduction, 1232-1818” which was written in response to an invitation and has appeared in print in The Republic at 40 (Colombo, CPA, 2013). This article has also been reproduced in Other writings on my part which pertain to the domain of this article are listed in an Addendum. But if I may say so I see the concise contentions on ethnicity and its reproduction at the outset of this essay as perhaps the most cogent argument for the inclusion of this item in a digital circuit.

NAMES OF THE ISLAND within the Sinhala world during the middle period

Trisimhala                                                            Trisinhalē

Tisīhala                                                                Tunrajaya

Tun Rata                                                              Tun Laka

Tun Lankā                                                         Tun Sinhalaya

Sinhalaya (Simhalaya)                               Sinhalē

Sīhalē                                                                   Sīhalarata

Sīhalaya                                                            Sīhaladīpa

Sīhaladvīpa                                                    Srīlankādvīpa

Lankādvīpa                                                   Lankā

Lankāva                                                       Lakdiva

Laka (Lak)                                                    Lak Tun Rata

Siri Laka

ADDENDUM: Recent articles by Michael Roberts relevant to this domain

2001 “Sinhala-ness and Sinhala Nationalism,” in G. Gunatilleke et al (eds.): A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation and Reconciliation, Colombo: Marga Monograph Series, No 4.

2001The burden of history: obstacles to power sharing in Sri Lanka”, Contributions to Indian Sociology, n. s., May 2001, 35: 65-96.

2001 Dakunen sädi kotiyo, uturen golu muhudai,” [The fierce/vile Tamils to the south, the turbulent/ unfathomable sea to the north] Pravāda 6: 17-18.

2002  “The collective consciousness of the Sinhalese during the Kandyan era: Manichean demonisation, associational logic,” Asian Ethnicity, vol. III: 1, March 2002, pp. 29-46.

2002 “Primordialist strands in contemporary Sinhala nationalism in Sri Lanka: urumaya as Ur,” Colombo: Marga Monograph Series on A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation and Reconciliation, Colombo: Marga Monograph Series, No 20.

2004 “Narrating Tamil Nationalism: subjectivities & issues,”, and South Asia, April 2004, 27: 87-108.

2004 “Prejudice and Hate in Plural Settings: The Kingdom of Kandy,” in AJ Canagaratne (ed.) Neelan Tiruchelvam Commemoration Conference Papers, Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, pp.  142-59.

2005 “Tamil Tiger ‘Martyrs’: Regenerating Divine Potency?” Studies in Conflict  & Terrorism 28: 493-514.

 2005Saivite Symbolism, Sacrifice and Tamil Tiger Rites”, Social Analysis 49: 67-93.

2006Pragmatic Action & Enchanted Worlds: A Black Tiger Rite Of Commemoration,”    Social Analysis  50: 73-102.

2006 “The Tamil Movement for Eelam,” E-Bulletin of the International Sociological Association No. 4, July 2006, pp. 12-24.

2006 Understanding Zealotry and Questions for Post-Orientalism, ILines May-August 2006,  vol.5, 1 & 2, in

2007Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30:  857-88.

2007Blunders in Tigerland: Pape’s Muddles on ‘Suicide Bombers’ in Sri Lanka,” Online publication within series known as Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics (HPSACP), ISSN: 1617-5069.

2008Tamil Tigers: Sacrificial Symbolism and ‘Dead Body Politics’,” Anthropology Today, June 2008, 24/3: 22-23.

2010Killing Rajiv Gandhi: Dhanu’s Metamorphosis in Death?” South Asian History and Culture, Vol 1, No. 1, pp.25-41.

2010 “Hitler, Nationalism, Sacrifice: Koenigsberg and Beyond … Towards the Tamil Tigers,” 19 May 2010,

2012 “Velupillai Pirapāharan: Veera Maranam,” 26 August 2012,

2012 “Inspirations: Hero Figures and Hitler  in Young Pirapāharan Thinking,” 13 February 2012,


[i] This essay was first presented at a Workshop organised by the Fundacao Oriente of Lisbon Portugal in late June 2002. I thank the participants for their responses.

 [ii] In criticism of Marcus Banks, Ethnicity: Anthropological Constructions (London: Routledge, 1996), pp.150-51 and Jack D. Eller, From Culture to Ethnicity to Conflict: an Anthropological Perspective on International Ethnic Conflict  (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), p. 15 who represent a widespread trend in recent scholarship.

 [iii] See D. G. B. De Silva, ‘New Light on Vanni Chiefs, based on Historical Tradition, Palm-leaf Manuscripts and Official Records’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Sri Lanka, n. s. being the Sesquicentennial Special Number, 1996, vol. LXI (1998) passim; G. P. V. Somaratne, The Political History of the Kingdom of Kotte, 1400-1521 (Nugegoda: Deepanee Printers, 1975), pp. 48-52, 92ff, 140, 152; Roberts, Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: the Rise of a Karāva Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 (Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 18-34; and Lorna S. Dewaraja, The Kandyan Kingdom of Ceylon, 1707-1782, 2nd rev ed., (Colombo: Lake House Investments, 1988), pp. 55-57.

 [iv] Those identified as “Kaffir” in the writings of the British and others were also described as “Blacks,” while the Sinhala term was Kāberi or Kappiri.

 [v] The lineage de Lanerolle is known to be descended from a French ambassador detained by the Kandyan court, while fragmentary references of Portuguese in the King of Kandy’s service can be found in Donald Ferguson,1998. For scattered data on the Malays and Kaffirs fighting for the Kings of Kandy, see Tennakoon Vimalananda, Sri Wickrema, Brownrigg and Ehelepola (Colombo: Gunasena, 1984). Several of the English sailors who were captured with Robert Knox in the mid-seventeenth century took wives and became absorbed into the population.

 [vi] R. A. L. H. Gunawardana, ‘The People of the Lion: Sinhala Identity and Ideology in History and Historiography’, in J. Spencer (ed.) Sri Lanka. History and the Roots of Conflict (London: Routledge), p.  64.

[vii] The Pūjāvaliya of year 1266 (Colombo: Buddhist Cultural Centre, 1997) puts a sharper anti-Tamil twist upon the Dutugämunu-Elāra story. For an explicit assault on the Saivites in textual form, see the relevant part of a palm-leaf document that was written down in 1762 (R. F. Young and G. S. B. Senanayaka, The Carpenter-heretic. A Collection of Buddhist Stories about Christianity from 18th Century Sri Lanka (Colombo: Karunaratne & Sons, 1999).

[viii] See items in fn. 2 above as well as John C. Holt, Buddha in the Crown (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) and S. J. Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? Religion, Politics and Violence in Sri Lanka (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 139, 158-70.

[ix] Paraphrase of personal communication from Sirima Kiribamune (email, 9 Feb. 2001). Also see History of Ceylon Vol. I, ed. by H. C. Ray for the University of Ceylon (Colombo: Ceylon University Press), pp. 394-95, 579-85; A. Kulasuriya, ‘Sinhala Writing and the Transmission of Texts in Pre-modern Times’, Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities vol. 16 (1990), 174-89.and C. H. B. Reynolds, An Anthology of Sinhalese Literature up to 1815, London: Allen and Unwin, 1970.

 [x] Personal communications from Sandagomi Coperahewa (1999) and K B A Edmund (5 Aug.1998) supported by my notes on conversations with Ranjini Obeyesekere and J B Dissanayake in 1992.

 [xi] Points 6 to 9 are derived from conversations with K B A Edmund, A TissaKumara, Sandadas and Sandagomi Coperahewa, Srinath Ganewatte, Sirima Kiribamune, D P M Weerakkody, P B Meegaskumbura and K N O Dharmadasa. Also see C. E. Godakumbura, Sinhalese Literature (Colombo: 1955), pp. 8, 155, 211, 243 & 327 and Ranjini Obeyesekere, 1979 ‘A Survey of the Sinhala Literary Tradition’, in Tissa Fernando and R. N. Kearney (eds.) Modern Sri Lanka: A Society in Transition (Maxwell School, Syracuse University, 1979), pp. 265-85.

 [xii] See Michael Roberts, Sinhalaness and Sinhala Nationalism (Colombo: Marga Institute, A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation & Reconciliation, No. 4, 2001), pp. 5-7 for an elaboration of this argument.

[xiii] Piyadasa Sirisena, Maha Viyavula, [The Great Chaos or Calamity] (Colombo: Gunasena & Co. 1982, orig. 1916), p. 118; Apata Vecca Dē [What happened to Us!] (Colombo: Gunasena & Co., 1954), pp. 9ff and Sucaritādarsaya (Colombo: Gunasena & Co. 1958), pp. 126 and 130. Sirisena was a protégé of Dharmapala and was a journalist and editor of Sinhala newspapers at various points of time. He was also active in the temperance campaign of the 1910s and participated in the work of the Ceylon National Congress. He formed a Sinhala Party in the early 1930s.

[xiv] From the H. M. Somaratna edition (Kandy, 1968). This is verse 405 in the Paul E. Pieris edition of the same collection, which, however, is entitled ‘Parangi Hatanē.’ I provide Pieris’s translation alongside one supplied by Ananda Wakkumbura.

 [xv] Hobson-Jobson. A Glosssary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive, ed. by Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell, (Delhi: Rupa and Co, 1994, original edn. 1886), pp. 933-34 and R. G. Anthonisz, The Dutch in Ceylon Vol I (Colombo: C. A. C. Press. 1929), p. 87.

 [xvi] Roberts et al, People Inbetween. Vol.1. The Burghers and the Middle Class in the Transformations within Sri Lanka, 1790s-1960s (Ratmalana: Sarvodaya Book Publishing, 1989), pp. 17-18.

[xvii] Revd. Benjamin Clough, Clough’s Sinhala English Dictionary, rep. 2nd new and enlarged edn., (Madras: Asian Educational Services, 1999 original edn. 1892 and first edition in 1830).

 [xviii] G. Obeyesekere, ‘Buddhism, Nationhood, and Cultural Identity: a Question of Fundamentals’, in M. E. Marty and R. S. Appleby (eds.) Fundamentalisms Comprehended (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 243 and Prāyōgika Sinhala Sabdha Kōshaya, [Practical  Sinhala Dictionary] vol. I, (Colombo: Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1982), pp. 719-20 for jātiya, jātaya and related words.

 [xix] Prāyōgika Sinhala Sabdha Kōshaya, vol. II (Colombo: Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1984), p. 4829.

 [xx] B. Anderson, Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1983), p. 22. This formulation is reminiscent of Karl Deutsch’s emphasis on “the underlying population” (in effect the uneducated backward masses or those not subject to intensive communication) when Deutsch presented his theory of social mobilisation in nationalist movements in Europe (Karl W. Deutsch, Nationalism and Social Communication: an Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality (Mass.: MIT Press, 1966). For my previous criticisms of Deutsch and Anderson, see M. Roberts, ‘Meanderings in the Pathways of Collective Identity and Nationalism’, in M. Roberts (ed.) Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka Colombo: Marga Publications, 1979), pp. 23-27 and Roberts, ‘Beyond Anderson: Reconstructing and Deconstructing Sinhala Nationalist Discourse’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 30 (1996), pp. 690-98.

 [xxi] Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1880 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 52, 93.

 [xxii] Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood (London: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

 [xxiii] The Kāberi are depicted as having “hair like a burned white-ants hill, eyes like inflamed boils, mouths like the sore left by a boil that has burst, breath of horrible stench, and slobbering tongues” (Hugh Nevill, Sinhala verse (kavi), vol. 2, (Colombo: Govt. Press, 1954), p. 206.

[xxiv] The Govigama were not only the highest caste in ritual status, but also may have made up about half the Sinhala-speaking population. The chiefs and headmen were mostly drawn from the Govigama and it became a state-regulated practice in the Kandyan Kingdom for ordination into the monkhood to be restricted to the Govigama.

 [xxv] This argument is elaborated in Roberts, Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period, 1590s-1818: The Sinhalese and Others (Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Associates, 2003, in press), chaps. 3-5 on the foundations provided by number of secondary works on the Kingdom of Kandy.

 [xxvi] S. Arasaratnam, ‘Dutch Sovereignty in Ceylon: a Historical Survey of Its Problem’, Ceylon Journal of Historical & Social Studies vol. 1 (1958), pp. 117, 112 and T. B. H. Abeyasinghe, ‘Princes and Merchants: Relations between the kings of Kandy and the Dutch East India Company in Sri Lanka, 1688-1740’, Journal of the Sri Lanka National Archives vol. 2  (1984), pp. 40, 57.

[xxvii] This point is developed in Roberts, Sinhala Consciousness, 2003, chap. 4.             

[xxviii] [Rājasinha] to the Captain Major … in Caliture (sic)”, 15 Jan. 1653 in Donald Ferguson, ‘Raja Sinha II and the Dutch’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch, vol XVIII (1904), p. 214. Also see pp. 195, 227. Note that these letters were in Portuguese and that the Western word for Lanka, namely, “Ceilao,” was used throughout.

 [xxix] [Rājasinha] to Commandeur of Negombo, 1 June 1646, in Ibid, 194, with emphasis mine. Also see Paul E. Pieris, Tri Sinhala: the Last Phase, 1796-1815 (Delhi: Navrang, 1995 reprint, orig. edn. 1939), p. 5.

 [xxx] This phrase was used by a Sinhala headman in the 1830s (Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989, p. 143), but is also expressed in rather similar vocabulary in Ähälēpola to D’Oyly, 27 Nov. 1811 encl. in Wilson to Liverpool, 26 Feb. 1812 in Colonial Office 54/42, pp. 47-51.

 [xxxi] Abeyasinghe, Princes, 1984, 40 and Paul E Pieris, Ceylon and the Hollanders, 1658-1796 (New Delhi: Navrang, 1995, reprint, orig. edn.  1918), p. 23. 

[xxxii] [Pusvälla] to D’Oyly, 29 July 1812 in CO 54/44 as reprinted in Vimalananda, Sri Wickrema, 1984, 78. 

[xxxiii]  Abeyasinghe, Princes, 1984, 40, 39. \[xxxiv] Abeyasinghe, ‘Embassies as Instruments of Diplomacy from Sri Lanka in the First Half of the 18th Century’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Sri Lanka Branch n. s. vol. 30, (1985/6), p. 13 and Princes, 1984, 49.

 [xxxv] Abeyasinghe, Princes, 1984, 49.

[xxxvi] Whether the Dutch comprehended this theory in full is uncertain, but it is the interpretation of the ruling classes in the Kingdom of Kandy and the headmen of the Low Country that counts. This thesis is more fully elaborated in Roberts, Sinhala Consciousness, 2003, chaps. 4-6. Critical material for this argument can be found in Abeyasinghe, Princes, 1984; Abeyasinghe, Embassies, 1985/6 and James S. Duncan, 1990 The City as Text: the Politics of Landscape Interpretation in the Kandyan Kingdom, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.     

[xxxvii] Quotation from the Mädapitiya Sannasa in John C. Holt, The Religious Works of Kīrti Srī (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 35.

 [xxxviii] Tambiah, 1992 Buddhism betrayed? 1996, 173-76.

 [xxxix] P. Dolapihilla, 1956 ‘Sinhalese Music and Minstrelsy’, in Ralph Pieris (ed.) Traditional Sinhalese Culture. A Symposium (Peradeniya: Ceylon University Conference on Traditional Cultures, 1956), pp. 41, 43.            

 [xl] Ronald Inden Imagining India (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), p. 232.

 [xli]  Paul E. Pieris, ‘Parangi Hatanē’ [War with the Portuguese] in his Ribeiro’s History of Ceilāo (Colombo: Colombo Apothecaries Co., 1909), v. 136, (that is, Rajasiha Hatana [Rājasinha’s War] 1968, v. 128). Also see Parangi Hatana  [War with the Portuguese] ed. by T. S. Hemakumar, (Colombo: ? 1964?), v. 12, 22, 28; Sītāvaka Hatana, [The Sītāvaka War], ed by Rohini Paranavitana (Colombo: Ministry of Cultural Affairs, 1999), v. 742. This striking metaphoric contrast goes back to the Buddhist literary traditions of the first millennium AD and is associated with the context of religious conflict in the Indian subcontinent where Buddhist advocates depicted Siva as a firefly in comparison with the Buddha and the light of his Dhamma (personal communication from P. B Meegaskumbura).  

 [xlii] Or a number of synonyms: “apa samiňdu” and  apa maha nirapāla.” See Rajasiha Hatana, 1968, v. 109-10, 113, 125 208-09; Parangi Hatana, v. 92; Kirimätiyāwē Mätidun’s Maha Hatana, [The Great War] ed. by Albert de Silva, (?: Vidyasagara Printers, 1896.), v. 98, 106, 140, 15; and Ingrīsi Hatana [The War with the English], (Matugama: Viyasiri Press, 1951), v. 26, 94, 116, 119, 174, 213, 236.


[xliii] P B. Meegaskumbura, A. TissaKumara, Rohini Paranavitana, D. S. Mayadunne, D. P. M. Weerakkody, Ananda Wakkumbura and Srinath Ganewatte.

[xliv]Me lak puraya ek sēsat sevanak karamin” (Rajasiha Hatana, 1968, v. 225).

 [xlv] Maha Hatana, ed. by Albert de Silva, (?: Vidyasagara Printers, 1896), v. 109. The composer of this poem was Kirimätiyāwē Mätidun.

[xlvi] Verse 223 in Pieris, ‘Parangi Hatanē’ 1909 which is the same as verse 214 of Rajasiha Hatana. Also see Rajasiha Hatana, 1968, v. 31, 220, 404, 416.

 [xlvii] For additional evidence, see G. Obeyesekere, ‘Buddhism, Nationhood,’ 1995 and the letters sent by the Kandyan court to the British governor, dated 27 Nov. 1811 and 8 Feb. 1812 (Michael Roberts, ‘The Collective Consciousness of the Sinhalese during the Kandyan Era: Manichean Demonisation, Associational Logic’, Asian Ethnicity, vol. 3 (2002), 42-43) where a word or phrase that is translated as “sovereignty” has been used. The Sinhala versions of these letters, unfortunately, are not available.

 [xlviii] Adrian Hastings, clearly, would have no hesitation in extending the term to this context (if he was still alive). See Hastings, Construction, 1997.

 [xlix] This was conventionally emphasised in the school textbooks of the mid-twentieth century, but has been rather underplayed in the modernist “post-Orientalist” literature produced in recenttimes. For convenient summaries of these developments, see G. C. Mendis, 1944 Ceylon under the British (Colombo: Colombo Apothecaries’ Co., 1944), pp. 35-43 and Ananda Wickremeratne,‘The Development of Transportation in Ceylon, c.1800-1947’, in History of Ceylon, Volume 3, ed. by K M de Silva (Colombo: Colombo Apothecaries Co. for the University of Ceylon Press Board, 1973). pp. 303-16.

 l] In English expressions the term “Muslim” did not come into use till about the 1930s. The description used was “Mohammedan.” But this term was used interchangeably with “Moor” (a term also used in the censuses under the category “race” or “nationality”). Thus, “Mohammedan Moor” is my coinage to mark the difference between this group and the Malays who were also “Mohammedan,” but differentiated as in the Sinhala language whereas the Mohammedan Moors were known as “Yon” (though they could also be called Marakkala, a term that could embrace the ).

  [li] On the derivation of lansi and other relevant details, see Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989.

[lii] For a brief elaboration, see M. Roberts, Sinhala-ness, 2001, 9 and ‘For Humanity. For the Sinhalese. Dharmapala as Crusading Bosat’, Journal of Asian Studies vol. 56 (1997), p. 1011.

 [liii] Henry Candidus, (pseud) ‘A Desultory Conversation between Two Young Aristocratic Ceylonese’, in M. Roberts (ed.), Sri Lanka. Collective Identities Revisited, Vol II, (Colombo: Marga Institute, 1998, orig. in 1853), pp. 1-28 and Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989, chaps. 4, 5, 8 and 9.

 [liv] Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989: chap. 7.

 [lv] The literature on this subject is large. See A. Wickremeratne, ‘Religion, Nationalism and Social Change in Ceylon, 1865-1885’, vol. 56, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, GB & Ireland (1969), pp. 123-150; Kitsiri Malalgoda, ‘The Buddhist-Christian Confrontation in Ceylon’, Social Compass, vol. 20 (1973), pp. 171-200; John D.  Rogers, 1987 Crime, Justice and Society in Ceylon, (London: Curzon Press, 1987), pp. 176-202; G. Obeyesekere, ‘The Vicissitudes of the Sinhala-Buddhist Identity through Time and Change’, in M. Roberts (ed.) Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka (Colombo: Marga, 1979), pp. 279-314; R. F. Young, & G. P. V. Somaratna, Vain Debates. The Buddhist-Christian Controversies of Nineteenth-century Ceylon (Vienna: Sammlung de Nobili Redaktion, 1996) and S. Amunugama, ‘Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) and the Transformation of Sinhala Buddhist Social Organization in a Colonial Setting’, Social Science Information vol.  24 (1985), pp. 697-730 among a larger body of publications.

 [lvi] M. Roberts, Exploring Confrontation. Sri Lanka: Politics, Culture and History (Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1994), p. 158.

[lvii] See M. Roberts, ‘Noise as Cultural Struggle: Tom-Tom Beating, the British and Communal Disturbances in Sri Lanka, 1880s-1930s,’ in Veena Das (ed.) Mirrors of Violence (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 240-85 and Roberts, Exploring, 1994, chap. 7 as well as Rogers, Crime, 1987, pp. 176-202.

 [lviii] Wickremeratne, Religion, 1969; Roberts, Exploring, 1994, 199-201; Roberts, ‘Teaching Lessons, Removing Evil: Strands of Moral Puritanism in Sinhala Nationalist Practice’, South Asia special issue, vol. 19, (1996), pp. 206-17. Though Wickremeratne’s evidence dates from the 1880s and mine from the 1900s and 1910s in particular, fragmentary data in P. V. J. Jayasekera, Social and Political Change in Ceylon, 1900-1919, (University of London: unpub. Ph.D dissertation in History, 1970) as well as the series entitled Sinhala Puvat Pat Itihāsaya [History of Sinhala Newspapers], reveal traces of this current of thought from the 1860s. Also see Malalgoda, Buddhist-Christian, 1973. Needless to say, the readings of tradition were usually selective. Indeed, they were quite bourgeois and Western in some ways (Sarath Amunugama, ‘Ideology and Class Interest in One of Piyadasa Sirisena’s Novels: the New Image of the “Sinhala Buddhist” Nationalist’, in M. Roberts (ed.), Sri Lanka. Collective Identities Revisited, Vol. I (Colombo: Marga Institute, 1997), pp. 335-53 and G. Obeyesekere, Vicissitudes, 1979, pp. 279-314. The activists, however, did not see their choices in this light.

 [lix] M. Roberts, ‘The Political Antecedents of the Revivalist Elite within the MEP Coalition of 1956’, in C. R. de Silva & Sirima Kiribamune (eds.) K. W. Goonewardena Felicitation Volume, (Peradeniya University, 1989).

[lx] Roberts, For Humanity, 1997, pp. 1108 –10.

 [lxi] See M. Roberts, ‘Stimulants and Ingredients in the Awakening of Latter-day Nationalisms’, in M. Roberts (ed.) Collective Identities, Nationalisms and Protest in Modern Sri Lanka (Colombo: Marga Publications, 1979), pp. 214-42 and Roberts, Elites, Nationalisms, and the Nationalist Movement in British Ceylon, as one part of Documents of the Ceylon National Congress and Nationalist Politics in Ceylon, 1929-1940, Vol. I, ed. by M. Roberts, (Colombo: Department of National Archives, 1977), pp. cxiii-clxvi. Also see K M de Silva, A History of Sri Lanka (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981) chaps. 27-33 for a summary review of the constitutional reform movement.

[lxii] Roberts, For Humanity, 1997, p. 1009, especially references in fn. 6. “Kocci” refers to Malayālam-speakers from the Kerala coast where Cochin was the largest port. “Hamba” was (and is) a pejorative describing the Mohammedan Moor migrants from India. It could be extended to encompass all Mohammedans (Muslims).

 [lxiii] Roberts et al, People Inbetween, 1989, chap.1.

[lxiv] See the “CCP’s Resolutions and Memoranda and the CNC, Oct-November 1944,” being Item 124 in M. Roberts (ed) Documents of the Ceylon National Congress and Nationalist Politics in Ceylon, 1929-1950, vol III, Colombo: Dept of National Archives, 1977, pp. 2574-91.

 [lxv] The Second World War actually prevented a further step in the reduction of British control in 1939-40. Again, because they wanted to settle the problem of India first, in 1945/46 the British authorities in Whitehall were not ready to accede to D. S. Senanayake’s request to go beyond the Soulbury Report. For details on the “transfer of power,” see K M de Silva, History, 1981, chaps. 31-32.

 [lxvi] See V. K. Jayawardena,  ‘The Origins of the Left Movement in Sri Lanka’, Modern Ceylon Studies vol. 2 (1971), pp. 195-221. Roberts, Elites, Nationalisms, 1977, cxxxvii-cxliv; G. J. Lerski, The Origins of Trotskyism in Ceylon, Stanford: Hoover Institution Publications, 1968; Leslie Goonewardene, A Short History of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Colombo: LSSP, 1960) and Y. R. Amarasinghe, Revolutionary Idealism and Parliamentary Politics. A Study of Trotskyism in Sri Lanka, (Colombo: Social Scientists’ Association, 2000).

[lxvii] See Devanesan Nesiah, Tamil Nationalism (Colombo: Marga Institute, A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation & Reconciliation, 2001) Pamphlet No. 6; Jane Russell, Communal Politics under the Donoughmore Constitution, 1931-1947 (Dehiwala: Tisara Prakasakayo, 1982) and K M de Silva, History, 1981, pp. 427-29 for some aspects.

 [lxviii] This has not been satisfactorily filled by the material in A J. Wilson, Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism. Its origins and development in the 19th and 20th centuries, London: Hurst and Company, 2000. For a review, see Roberts, ‘Narrating Tamil Nationalisms: Subjectivities & Issues’, accepted for publication by South Asia, n. d.).

 [lxix] M.  Roberts, ‘Hobgoblins, Low-Country Sinhalese Plotters or Local Elite Chauvinists? Directions and Patterns in the 1915 Communal Riots’, Sri Lanka Journal of the Social Sciences, vol. 4 (1981), pp. 83-126 and Exploring, 1994, chaps 7 & 8; V. K. Jayawardena, ‘Economic and Political Factors in the 1915 Riots’, Journal of Asian Studies vol. 39 (1970), pp. 223-33; Rogers, Crime, 1987,189-202 and Rogers, ‘Cultural Nationalism and Social Reform: the 1904 Temperance Movement in Sri Lanka’, Indian Economic and Social History Review vol. 26 (1989), pp. 319-41 and A. P. Kannangara, ‘The Riots of 1915 in Sri Lanka: a Study of the Roots of Communal Violence’, Past & Present, No. 102, pp. 130-65. [lxx] See Roberts, Elites, Nationalisms, 1977 and Political Antecedents, 1989, 185-220 for some material. I have also been informed by my interviews conducted with politicians and civil servants of that era during an extensive oral history project in the late 1960s.

 [lxxi] Roberts, Elites, Nationalisms, 1977, clxii-vi.

 [lxxii] See W. H. Wriggins, Ceylon. Dilemmas of a New Nation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960); Mervyn de Silva, ‘1956: the Cultural Revolution that shook the Left’, Ceylon Observer, Magazine Edition, 16 May 1967; R. N. Kearney, Communalism and language in the politics of Ceylon (Durham: Duke University Press, 1967) and James Manor, The Expedient Utopian. Bandaranaike and Ceylon,  (Cambridge University Press, 1989). For a summary view, see K M de Silva, History, 1981, 36-37 and A. J. Wilson, Wilson, ‘Politics and Political Development since 1948’, in K M de Silva (ed.) Sri Lanka. A Survey (London: C Hurst & Company, 1977), p. 286.

 [lxxiii] In Philip Gunawardena’s usage it also embraced his former colleague in the LSSP, Doric de Souza, who was of Goan ancestry and was thus quintessentially tuppahi, for whom he had an intense dislike for reasons that Marxists of his generation find inexplicable.

 [lxxiv] SLFP = Sri Lanka Freedom Party; MEP = Mahajana Eksat Peramuna.

 [lxxv] The Hand-book of the Ceylon National Congress, 1919-1928, ed. by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike (Colombo: H W Cave and Co., 1928), pp. 346ff, 499-516 and the political meetings reported in Ceylon Daily News, 19 Dec. 1938 and 6 March 1939. See Roberts, ‘Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka and Sinhalese Perspectives: Barriers to Accommodation’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 12 (1978), pp. 353-76 for some elaboration. Even Wilson, in writing of the period 1948-56, has this to say: “there was a hardcore of Tamil communal elements which ranged itself against the UNP in defence of the rights of the groups it claimed to represent” (1977, 285, emphasis mine).

 [lxxvi] B. H. Farmer, ‘The Social Basis of Nationalism in Ceylon’, Journal of Asian Studies vol. 24 (1964), pp. 431-39 and Robert N. Kearney, ‘Sinhalese Nationalism and Social Conflict in Ceylon’, Pacific Affairs vol. 37 (1964), pp. 126-36.

 [lxxvii] This has been the standard Tamilian interpretation for some time. I heard D. B. S. Jeyaraj present this thesis in late 1986 at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo. For elaboration, see A. J. Wilson, 2000 Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism, (London: Hurst & Co., 2000) for an illustration. For a critical review of the latter book, see Roberts, ‘Narrating Tamil Nationalism’, n. d.

 [lxxviii] It also has the support of non-Tamil scholars, for instance, Godfrey Gunatilleke, Negotiations for the Resolution of the Ethnic Conflict, (Colombo: Marga Institute, A History of the Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, Recollection, Reinterpretation & Reconciliation, 2001), Pamphlet No. 1, pp. 6ff. Also see Roberts, 1978, 353-76.

[lxxix] This is a contentious position presented by Ananda Wakkumbura (email note, July 2002). It rests on Wakkumbura’s intimate knowledge of intra-Marxist debates and rivalries in the 1960s and 1970s while he was a grass-roots activist working for a Trotskyist faction. His thesis gains support from the fact that Rohana Wijeweera’s father was an activist in the CCP and that a number of young Communists moved into the JVP with Wijeweera. For this latter point, see fn. 82 below.

 [lxxx] This development was anticipated in the mid-1950s by the movement of a substantial number of Leftists from the LSSP into the ranks of the SLFP or the MEP after the internal split in 1953 – significantly on the language issue. See Goonewardene 1960: 46-49.

 [lxxxi] I would broadly distinguish four variants in chronological terms: c. 1965-71, late 1970s-mid’80s, 1987-1990 and the mid-1990s onwards.

 [lxxxii] M. Roberts, Teaching Lessons, 1996, 217-20. Note Kumari Jayawardena’s verdict on the JVP movement of 1971: they “had a fairly strong element of Sinhala chauvinism” (Ethnic and Class Conflicts in Sri Lanka, Colombo: Centre for Social Analysis, 1986, p. 115). There is a large secondary literature on the JVP embracing the work of Obeyesekere, Jiggins, Phadnis, Goonetilelke, Jupp, Keerawella, Moore, Gunaratne, Chandraprema, Peiris, Jani de Silva, and Tisaranee Gunasekera among others. I have not been able to study these writings thoroughly in depth, so my comments are distinctly preliminary and based partly on conversations with friends and personal knowledge of their activities in 1970/71 and the late 1980s. The picture of the JVP as “chauvinist” has since been endorsed by Ananda Wakkumbura on the basis of his personal engagements with the JVP in the late 1960s and 1970s from a hostile position based on an offshoot of the Trotskyist Marxist traditions in Sri Lanka (email memo, July 2002). Wakkumbura referred me to a booklet by Keerthi Balasuriya entitled Janatā Vimukti Peramunē panti swabhāvaya saha dēshapālanaya [The Class Nature and Politics of the JVP] published by the Revolutionary Communist League (Colombo, 1970, with 2nd. ed. in 1989). Remarkably, with considerable prescience, this analysis not only depicted the JVP of that stage as a “party of the Sinhala petty bourgeoisie,” but also (a) predicted that they would indulge in an uprising and (b) argued that “their Sinhala chauvinism contain[ed] the potential to evolve into [a] fascist party: which in fact it did in its third phase” (Wakkumbura’s words).

[lxxxiii] This argument is more fully developed in Roberts, Ethnic Conflict, 1978 and Roberts, Sinhala-ness 2001.

 [lxxxiv] Anagarika Dharmapala, Return to Righteousness, ed. by A. Guruge (Colombo: Ministry of Education & Cultural Affairs, 1965), pp 501-18, quotations from pp 501, 511 and 516. The editor notes that this article was printed in Calcutta in 1922, but I have a feeling that this essay was presented sometime earlier in the 1900s, possibly as a lecture.

 [lxxxv] Gunadasa Amarasekera, ‘The Turn of the Screw and Indian Intentions’, Island, 28 June 2000 and ‘The Rape of Nationhood’, Island, 19 July 2000.

 [lxxxvi] I am informed here by the old work by Hans Kohn, The Hapsburg Empire (New Jersey: Van Nostrand & Co, 1961), p. 27.

 [lxxxvii] One illustration comes from Lanka: General Hay Macdowall, a Scot, switched from “English” to “British” without thought when writing to the Governor as he sat in 1803 at Kandy as occupying commander during the “war with the English” or Ingrīsi Hatana as the Sinhalese called it (T. Vimalananda, 1973 The British Intrigue in the Kingdom of Ceylon, Colombo: Gunasena, 1973, p. 222).

[lxxxviii] Images of these ruins provided by painters, especially Andrew Nicholls, and captured through the emerging art form of photography captivated the elite classes of Europe and British Ceylon (conversations with Ismeth Raheem). Also see Ismeth Raheem & Percy Colin-Thome, Images of British Ceylon, (Singapore: Times Editions, 2000). Note, too, the writings and adventures of Samuel Baker and the despatches to the Governor of Ceylon sent by Lord Carnarvon in his capacity as Secretary of State for the Colonies in the mid 1860s.

 [lxxxix] See Roberts, Sinhala-ness, 2001 and Roberts, ‘Primordialist Strands in Contemporary Sinhala Nationalism in Sri Lanka: Urumaya as Ur’, (Colombo: Marga Institute, A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation & Reconciliation, 2002), as well as the information on Walpola Rahula Thera in H. L. Seneviratne, The Work of Kings, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). Also see the articles on S. L. Gunasekera and the Sihala Urumaya in the Sunday Island, 17 Sept. 2000 and Island, 7 Oct. 2000; those by the novelist, Gunadasa Amarasekera, in the Island, 28 June 2000 and the Island, 19 July 2000; the series by V. K. Wickramasinghe in the Island, 28 April 2000 et seq.and the “Open Letter” published by “Twenty Six Professionals” in 1995 (Sunday Island, 18 June 1995). Among the articulate voices/activists presenting a hardline position during the last decade, the following are examples of those who can be placed in these generations: Nalin de Silva, Gamini Iriyagolle, Kamalika Pieris, Gamini Jayasuriya, S W Walpita, the late Chula de Silva, Susantha Goonetilleke, A V de S Indraratne, H N S Karunatilleke, B. Hewavitarne and Justice R S Wanasundera.

[xc] My grasp of the meaning attached to lakväsiyo is based on opinions conveyed independently by the late Charles Abeyesekera and K. B. A. Edmund.

 [xci] The term dana (or danan) is used in both the Sītāvaka Hatana (v. 38, 339, 547 for e. g.) and the Mandārampura Puvata, ed. by Labugama Lankananda Thera, 2nd edn., (Colombo: Dept of Cultural Affairs, 1996), v. 75, 87, 90, 92, 180).

 [xcii] Sītāvaka Hatana, v. 48, 103, 507.  In verse 507, significantly, the reference is to Sinhala sen. References to Sinhala senaga occur in verses 478 and 1108 for instance. While senaga usually signifies “troops,” in some contexts within the war poems it refers to “people” (information from Srinath Ganewatte). Since the troops in the Kandyan period were a peoples’ militia, the overlap is understandable

[xciii] This phrase appears in the Vaduga Hatana or Ähälēpola Varnanāva coined in 1816/17 (K. N. O. Dharmadasa, ‘ “The people of the lion”: Ethnic Identity, Ideology and Historical Revisionism in Contemporary Sri Lanka’, Ethnic Studies Report vol. 10 (1992), p. 47.

 [xciv] This phrase is used in a letter dated 18 Sept.1810 from D’Oyly to Pilima Talauvve at the Kandyan court (Historical Manuscripts Commission, Ceylon, Bulletin No. 2, 1937, p.14). Siddharta Thera renders it as “Sinhala people.”


Filed under British colonialism, communal relations, disparagement, economic processes, ethnicity, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, language policies, Left politics, life stories, literary achievements, Muslims in Lanka, nationalism, politIcal discourse, population, power sharing, religious nationalism, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, world affairs

2 responses to “Language and National Identity: The Sinhalese and Others over the Centuries

  1. Pingback: An Ironic Case of Aboriginal Racism: Dhanushka Uswatte assaulted in Adelaide | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Hello, I am a descendent of Alfred Moses de Silva Goonetilleke (Mudliyar Kandy Karatchi), brother of William Goonetilleke who you refer to in part of your text. I live in UK and would like to find out more about the family, particularly the parents of Alfred Moses and William. Any help or guidance would be appreciated. Debbie

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