Category Archives: caste issues

Caste in Sri Lanka and the Rise of the Karava: Meeting Susan Bayly’s Review in 1983

Michael Roberts: with original title being  “From Empiricist Conflation to Distortion: Caste in South Asia”  – reproduced from Modern Asian Studies, 1983, vol 17/3, pp. 519 -27.**

Susan Bayly has done me the honour of reviewing the book on Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 at considerable length.[1] Her essay is appropriately entitled ‘The History of Caste in South Asia’. This title provides a clue to the interpretative pathways which have led her systematically to misunderstand the arguments within the book. No less problematical is her implicit belief in the possibility of constructing a composite picture of the caste system qua system on the basis of empirical data drawn from different regions, regions as widely different as Sri Lanka, southern India and western India. Let me elaborate this charge, and in doing so reiterate the arguments which I presented.

Contemporary migration patterns of fishermen derived from Fritz Bartz: “Fischer auf Ceylon,” Bonner Geographisische Abhnadlungen Heft 27 (1959)

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under British colonialism, caste issues, centre-periphery relations, commoditification, cultural transmission, discrimination, disparagement

The History of Caste in South Asia via a Work on the Rise of the Karava in Ceylon

Susan Bayly  in 1983, reviewing  Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: The Rise of a Karava Elite in Sri Lanka, 1500-1931 by Michael Roberts Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1982.

The literature on the south Asian caste system is vast and contentious and the current war of words shows no sign of abating. This book conforms to current trends both in focusing on the experience of a single caste group under colonial rule, and also in adopting a polemical tone towards other historians. Roberts’ subject is the Karava population of Sri Lanka and his first aim is to explain why this group of poor fishermen and artisans managed to throw up a disproportionately large elite of businessmen, lawyers and other western-educated professional men by the end of the nineteenth-century. The discussion is set against the background of works on comparable Asian business communities such as the Marwaris and Parsis. An important theme, then, is the relationship between individual enterprise and the corporate structure of caste: did the Karava magnate class emerge because of, or in spite of, their roots in a hierarchical caste order? Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under British colonialism, Buddhism, caste issues, communal relations, cultural transmission, discrimination, disparagement, economic processes, education, historical interpretation, immigration, Indian religions, Indian traditions, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, politIcal discourse, power politics, sri lankan society, transport and communications, world events & processes

About the Portuguese Burghers and Kaffirs

Nan, in Island, 4 November 2017  where the title reads as “The Portuguese Burghers and Kaffirs”

Ethnic groups are disappearing and thus the research interest on these endangered human groups, their language and culture. One such research that is on-going is on the Portuguese Burghers by the Universidade de Lisboa with funding from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme of SOAS, University of London. The International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) which is collaborating with the research, facilitated a discussion on the Sri Lankan Portuguese Burghers and their heritage with those on the research project: Hugo Cordosa, Patricia Costa, Rui Pereira, Mahesha Radakrishna – all of the University of Lisbon; Dinali Fernando of the University of Kelaniya and Earle Barthelot, representative of the Portuguese Burgher Community and former secretary of the Burgher Union of Batticaloa.. This was on Tuesday 31 October.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under art & allure bewitching, British colonialism, caste issues, cultural transmission, discrimination, disparagement, economic processes, ethnicity, female empowerment, heritage, historical interpretation, island economy, landscape wondrous, life stories, politIcal discourse, Portuguese in Indian Ocean, power politics, racist thinking, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, tolerance, unusual people, welfare & philanthophy, working class conditions, world events & processes

Of Bonds and Boundaries via Biographical Moments

Wilfred Jayasuriya

Fortunately the priest was walking by the ward. He wore a black hat like a gentleman of my father’s vintage, when they wore such hats as a style when the British ruled us. He was also quite dark skinned like my father and had well chisselled features, a round chin, a proportionate nose and mouth—what my mother said about my father in spite of him being quite dark skinned that he was a handsome man. And this priest was well dressed in his white cassock and black waist band and he had a cross with Christ tucked in it. “Father,” I asked, “are you a Catholic priest? Can you come and see my friend? He is very ill. In this ward.” I pointed to the interior where the 12 o’ clock crowd had already filled the spaces between the beds.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under art & allure bewitching, British colonialism, caste issues, charitable outreach, cultural transmission, heritage, historical interpretation, Left politics, life stories, meditations, politIcal discourse, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, unusual people

Probing Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s Background and Attainments

Darshanie Ratnawalli,  courtesy of the Sunday Island, 27 August 2017, where the title runs Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe –The man Vs the hero”

“Salagama? Certainly not”, Sumangala Thera of the Sugatha-Dakshinaramaya temple in Skelton Road refutes my speculation about Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s caste as authoritatively as only a Buddhist monk hailing from Kanumuldeniya, just two kilometres from Rajapakshe’s original village of Horewala in Walasmulla, and somebody who went to school with him, can. As political issues hotted up and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe became flavour of the month, the first public reference to Rajapakshe’s caste was made on 13 August by Badulla District MP Dilan Perera, couched as an admonition not to rely on the caste-ridden as well as chauvinistic Joint Opposition which, whichever Rajapaksa it welcomes, will not accept a Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under accountability, Buddhism, caste issues, cultural transmission, education, electoral structures, governance, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, legal issues, life stories, performance, politIcal discourse, slanted reportage, social justice, sri lankan society, unusual people

The Karāva People in Fable and Tale

S. N. Arseculeratne

The Karāva people of Ceylon claim to be descended from the Kuru refugees, who scattered after their defeat in the Great War between the Pandavas  and the Kauravas1 or Kurus, related in the Mahabharata. The Kauravas settled in many parts of India, Bengal and in Ceylon. In Ceylon, the recorded descriptions of the Kauravas have been few, but mention has been made from around the 11th century to the 15th century due mainly to the military involvements of the Kauravas (now called the Karavas).

 A flag which belonged to Don Pedro Arsecularatna of Maggona, depicting the arrival of a group of Karāva chiefs and retainers …. The square towards the bottom has the peacock with 3 people on it. (a) King Rajasinghe II; (b) The Dutch ship’s captain [off Negombo]; (c)  Mudaliyar  Arseculeratne of Negombo

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under art & allure bewitching, caste issues, cultural transmission, heritage, historical interpretation, Indian religions, Indian traditions, island economy, life stories, patriotism, politIcal discourse, Portuguese in Indian Ocean, religiosity, sri lankan society, world events & processes

Against The Modernist Grain: Polyandry & Other Traditional Practices that may still persist in Sri Lanka

Asiff Hussein, courtesy of Roar Life, 25 April 2017, where the chosen title is  “Three Strange Sri Lankan Customs And The Stories Behind Them”

Sri Lankans had, and still have, some strange traditions that are thought of as indigenous. However, much of these have their origins in other parts of the world, especially in India, and, to a lesser extent, in the Middle East. Here are three such local beliefs and customs with exotic origins.

Dola-Duka (Pregnancy Craving)

Sri Lankans, and especially the Sinhalese, believe that mothers-to-be experience a longing to eat certain kinds of foods, and that if these cravings are not satisfied, it would harm her health or the child she is carrying. This is known as dola-duka. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under caste issues, cultural transmission, female empowerment, heritage, historical interpretation, Indian traditions, landscape wondrous, life stories, politIcal discourse, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, tolerance, unusual people