Category Archives: British imperialism

Thomas Meaney, A Review Article, courtesy of the Author and the London Review of Books,… with emphasis by highlights added by The Editor, Thuppahi … SEE

prabha-with-pistol-2   prabha-tiger

Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World by Steven Kemper, Chicago, 480 pp, £31.50, January 2015, ISBN 978 0 226 19907

Tamil: A Biography by David Shulman, Harvard, 416 pp, £25.00, September 2016, ISBN 978 0 674 05992 4

The Seasons of Trouble: Life amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War by Rohini Mohan, Verso, 368 pp, £16.99, October 2015, ISBN 978 1 78168 883 0

Independence was handed to Ceylon’s elite on a platter. ‘Think of Ceylon as a little bit of England,’ Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke, the first native governor-general, said. This was a point of pride. Don Stephen Senanayake, the country’s first prime minister, remarked: ‘There has been no rebellion in Ceylon, no non-cooperation movement and no fifth column. We were among the peoples who gave full collaboration while Britain was hard-pressed.’ After independence in 1948, Ceylon alone among the former colonies not only retained but promoted the monarchy: the Union Jack flew alongside the Ceylon flag; a new constitution was drafted by a former LSE professor, Ivor Jennings; Colombo debutantes were presented at Buckingham Palace; and, thanks to some genealogical ingenuity, George VI was recognised as the latest monarch in the ancient line of Kandyan kings. While the rest of the empire in Asia smouldered – in India there was Partition, in Malaya the Emergency, in Burma the civil war – Ceylon became Whitehall’s model for the transfer of colonial power. ‘There was no fight for that freedom which involved a fight for principles, policies and programmes,’ Solomon Ridgeway Bandaranaike, the anti-colonial head of state who took power in 1956, said when he reviewed the transition a decade later. ‘It just came overnight. We just woke up one day and were told: “You are a dominion now.”[1] Continue reading

Leave a comment

February 10, 2017 · 1:03 pm

Sinhalaness in the Middle Period and in Wars Against Colonial Intrusions

Chris Speldewinde, in the The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. r19, No. 1, 2008, reviewing  Michael Roberts. Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period 1590s to 1815. Colombo 4, Sri Lanka: Vijitha Yapa Publications. 2004. Pp.xx +274, bibliog., index. US$60.00 (He), ISBN 955-8095-31-1.

Having spent a considerable period during my undergraduate studies of anthropology concentrating on cultural aspects of Sri Lankan society, I was enthusiastic to have been given the opportunity to read and review this work by Michael Roberts. In this latest addition to his many volumes of work on his native Sri Lanka, Roberts, has provided a rich tapestry of the period pre-dating the formalisation of British colonial rule on the island of Sri Lanka. He examines the forms of reaction of a society affected by migrating Indians from the north and European colonial expansion, beginning with the arrival of the Portuguese in the mid-sixteenth century and later, the Dutch and the British. This book provides a considerable amount of both historiographical and ethnographic material, from a wide range of sources to keep the reader engrossed in the development of distinct ethnic identities on this island nation. The use of verbal history passed on through poems and songs from the period is used extensively to substantiate Roberts’ theories of the development of a definitive Sinhalese ethnic identity.


Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under authoritarian regimes, British colonialism, British imperialism, cultural transmission, economic processes, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, law of armed conflict, life stories, literary achievements, military strategy, modernity & modernization, patriotism, politIcal discourse, Portuguese in Indian Ocean, power politics, religiosity, security, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, transport and communications, world events & processes

Kumari Jayawardena and her Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World

Meera Srinivasan, courtesy of The Hindu, 1 January 2017, where the title is ‘There was a gap about our part of the world’

The first draft, Kumari Jayawardena remembers, was all jagged. She wrote it on train journeys between The Hague where she was teaching and Brussels where she was living then. It was the early 1980s. As a visiting scholar at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, Jayawardena was preparing course material for the women and development programme she co-taught. The short manuscript later became the classic book, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. [Verso Books] The work is still considered a primer to understanding feminist movements in Asia and West Asia through specific struggles of women fighting against colonial powers, for education, suffrage and safety, and against poverty and inequality.

kumari-j Kumari today


Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under authoritarian regimes, British imperialism, historical interpretation, island economy, Left politics, life stories, modernity & modernization, nationalism, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, social justice, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, the imaginary and the real, unusual people, women in ethnic conflcits, working class conditions, world events & processes

The Royal We: Sinhala Identity in the Dynastic State of SĪHALĒ

alanAlan Strathern reviewing Sinhala Consciousness in the Kandyan Period 1590s to 1815. by Michael Roberts. (Vijitha Yapa Publications, Sri Lanka, 2004. pp.xx, 274) f or Colombo Telegraph  20 December 2012, where blog-comments can be located 

Michael Roberts’ writings have sometimes given the impression of a man who will write at the drop of a hat and at great speed: the subjects have been many and various; the approach as openly adversarial as many of the relationships he takes as his subject; the arguments occasionally advanced by death-defying conceptual leaps or obscure symbolic readings; the prose style quirky or impatient with the more conventional norms of academic prose. The latter is evident even in the present work, in fact the culmination of decades of reflection, where he refers openly to his own intellectual progress, to arguments with colleagues, even to his own ethnic category – Tuppahiyek, or ‘mongrel’ – and sees no cause for shame in routinely citing ‘personal communication’ or telephone conversations in is footnotes. Such considerations might induce the superficial reader to underestimate the importance of the arguments presented in this new monograph. In fact it deserves to be widely read by all those interested in the vigorous debates about ethnic sentiment, nationalism and the murky passage from one to the other.


Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under authoritarian regimes, British imperialism, Buddhism, centre-periphery relations, cultural transmission, economic processes, landscape wondrous, life stories, military strategy, modernity & modernization, politIcal discourse, Portuguese in Indian Ocean, power politics, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, transport and communications, world events & processes

Leonard Woolf, The Anti-Imperialist

Thiru Arumugam, Courtesy of The Ceylankan: Journal of the Ceylon Society of Australia, journal 76, Vol. XIX, 4 November 2016

aawoolf-dogWoolf and his dog “Charles” in Jaffna

Introduction: The Ceylankan has carried three articles about Leonard Woolf. In the May 2004 issue Vama Vamadevan wrote an article titled Leonard Woolf  which mainly covered Woolf’s years in Ceylon (1904-1910). In the November 2004 issue Yasmine Gooneratne wrote an article titled Lone Woolf in which she presents a scholarly analysis of Woolf’s book Village in the Jungle and describes a forthcoming new edition of the book with misprints in the first (1913) edition corrected and excised passages restored. Yasmine’s article mentions Leonards “patient devotion with which he had nursed Virginia Woolf through her spells of mental illness, thereby guaranteeing to the world the emergence of its foremost female literary genius”.  Finally, in the February 2009 issue Philip Sansoni wrote an article titled Leonard Woolf – The Lonely Cadet and the Maiden in which he describes in great detail Woolf’s affair in Jaffna with Kitty Leyden. Woolf in the second volume of his autobiography1 says briefly that it was only a one-night stand where he lost his virginity, which had survived his days at Cambridge. However, in a letter to his good friend Lytton Strachey in England dated 12 November 1905written from Jaffna, Woolf said something more “… what do you think of my new one alone with a burgher concubine in a long whitewashed bungalow overlooking a lagoon, where time is only divided between reading Voltaire on the immense verandah and copulating in the vast and empty rooms …” Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under British imperialism, caste issues, cultural transmission, governance, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, literary achievements, modernity & modernization, politIcal discourse, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, unusual people, world events & processes

Perilous Big Power/UN Interventions Here-There-Eveywhere

Thalif Deen, from the UN courtesy of InterPress Service, 7 October 2016, where the title is “UN Security Council’s ‘Perilous Interventions’ in War Zones” … Emphasis inserted by Editor, Thuppahi.

When the UN Security Council last week discussed the “deliberate” attacks on medical facilities in war-ravaged Syria and Yemen, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon implicitly criticized some of the warring nations lamenting that “even a slaughterhouse is more humane” than the ongoing indiscriminate killings of civilians in the two devastating conflicts.The attacks on hospitals, he warned, were “war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law”. But Joanne Liu, International President of Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), singled out “four of the five permanent members of the Security Council” for the continued atrocities and lambasted them for their role in the attacks against medical facilities. “The conduct of war today knows no limits,” she regretted, pointing out that the failure of the Security Council “reflects a lack of political will among member states fighting in coalitions and those who enable them.”


Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under accountability, american imperialism, arab regimes, atrocities, authoritarian regimes, British imperialism, centre-periphery relations, Fascism, governance, historical interpretation, human rights, law of armed conflict, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, slanted reportage, truth as casualty of war, UN reports, war crimes, war reportage, world events & processes

Striking Railway Photographs from the 19th Century

The construction of a road and rail network was one of the dimensions of British imperial activity in Sri Lanka. Directed in part by the need for military control in an ear when potential rebellions were at the back of their mind, the goals of surplus appropriation as well as administrative action guided the locale and pace of these developments. Some energetic souls have deposited a treasure trove of photographic images in my email box and I reproduce them here with some from my own collection.

We can begin with what I term “the hard yards of railway construction” — as seen in the two images below and in “A steamengine rounding the bend at “Sensation Rock” in Kadugannawa.

38a+b=colombo-kandy-railway-line 38a=constructing r-way line LION' MOUTH From #IMG 394 & #IMG366 at the British Library Board Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under British colonialism, British imperialism, commoditification, economic processes, governance, historical interpretation, island economy, modernity & modernization, transport and communications, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes