Category Archives: disparagement

A Tale of Resistance: The Story of the Arrival of the Portuguese in Sri Lanka

Michael Roberts, a reprint of an article published in 1989 in Ethnos, vol. 55: 1-2, pp.69-82.

  This essay decodes a sixteenth century folktale which records the Sinhalese reaction to the arrival of the first Portuguese. Where the historiography has interpreted this tale as benign wonderment in the face of exotica, a piecemeal deconstruction of the allegorical clues in the ‘story is utilised to reveal how the Sinhalese linked the Portuguese with demons and with Vasavarti Mārayā, the arch enemy of the Buddha. In this fashion the Portuguese and the Christian sacrament of communion were represented as dangerous, disordering forces. The piecemeal reinterpretation of this short text, however, must be overlaid by a holistic perspective and the realisation that its rendering in oral form enabled its purveyors to lace the story with a satirical flavour: so that the Portuguese and Catholicism are, like demons, rendered both disordering and comic, dangerous and inferior—thus ultimately controllable. In contending in this manner that the folktale is an act of nationalist opposition, the article is designed as an attack on the positivist empiricism which pervades the island’s historiography and shuts out imaginative reconstructions which are worked out by penetrating the subjective world of the ancient texts.

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Ethnicity in Riposte at a Cricket Match: The Past for the Present 

 Michael Roberts,  a reprint of an article  published originally in Comparative Studies in Society and History 1985, vol. 27: 401-429.  which is also available in in M. Roberts, Exploring Confrontation, (Harwood Academic Publishers, 1994). **

      I. PRELUDE

Some recent essays on the relationship between history on the one hand and anthropology and/or sociology on the other concentrate on the differences in the material with which the typical practitioner deals and the types of issues likely to be addressed (Thompson 1972, 1976, 1977; Davis 1981). They have tended to compare the perspectives that anthropologists[1] and historians bring into their work. And both E. P. Thompson and Natalie Z. Davis advocate increasing mutual borrowing from each discipline: they wish the one discipline to deepen its sensitivity and to avoid the usual pitfalls by drawing on the strengths of the other. Thus, by way of illustration, one finds Thompson arguing that historians tend to be more attentive to the paradoxes and ambivalences of actual men, and that they are attuned to the discipline of context because of this attentiveness to heterogeneity, a strength which sociologists[2]—who, he says, tend to overgeneralize and to swallow heterogeneity through the manufacture of neat typologies—would be well advised to draw upon (1976: 387,394). Continue reading

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Threads of Moral Puritanism in Sinhala Nationalist Practice

 Michael Roberts ** … a reprint of an article published in South Asia, Vol. XIX, Special Issue, (1996), pp. 205-220. with the title “Teaching Lessons, Re mo ving Evil: Strands of Moral Puritanism in Sinhala Nationalist Practice

   ONE

Expressions of Sinhala nationalism since the mid-nineteenth century, as one might expect, have been varied and multi-faceted. In this essay, I highlight a thread of moral puritanism which has not only been powerfully inscribed into the pogroms espoused in the period 1880s to 1910s, but also within the altered context of the 1950s-1980s.

 Borella Junction, Colombo, 24.25 July 1983

   A Hindu mob waiting to defend their own from Muslims in Bhagalpur –before becoming a marauding band seeking retribution — in a pattern also seen in 1915 in Sri Lanka during the anti-Moor pogrom

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The Collective Consciousness of the Sinhalese During the Kandyan Era: Manichean Images, Associational Logic

Michael Roberts, being a reprint of an article with the same title in Asian Ethnicity, Volume 3, Number 1, March 2002

ABSTRACT:  An analysis of the form of the dynastic state known today as the Kingdom of Kandy provides a backdrop for an exploration of the sentiments that directed its resistance to the imperial expansion of the Portuguese, Dutch and British in the period from the 1590s to 1818. Known in its day as Sinhalē, a concept that could embrace the whole island of Lanka, the state and its cakravārti king served as the focus for a Sinhala collective consciousness that was embodied in epic tales, war poems and onomastic folklore, while also being promoted by the sacred topography associated with pilgrimages. These sentiments embraced both the ruling elements and the ordinary people. Within this body of thought, two threads stand out: first, the demonisation of Threatening Others; and, secondly, an associational logic that merges present with past, old enemies with new. This logic is akin to the atidēsa function identified by Ranajit Guha. In its ethnographic specifics among the Sinhalese, it merged the ‘vile-cum-fierce Tamils’ with the disordering Portuguese, English, et al. All were para rupu, ‘alien enemies’. The imagery is Manichean.

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The Scam and Spam World of Neo-Liberalism, 1977-2917

Sumanasiri Liyanage,   in The Island, 3 August 2017, which has the title  Reflections on four decades of neo-liberalism: 1977- 2017″”

 

Senani and Kalpa, two of my former students, gave me a wonderful gift when they returned to Sri Lanka for a summer vacation from the New School of Social Research in New York. The gift that is a copy of Arundhati Roy’s second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, provided me loads of thought on the subject that I intend to deal with in this essay. Of course her narrative is about India. The following quotation appears to be equally applicable to Sri Lanka’s journey in the last four decades through neoliberalism. On page 105, she writes: “The summer of the city’s resurrection had also been the summer of scams-coal scams, iron-ore scams, housing scams, insurance scams, stamp-paper scams, phone-licence scams, land scams, dam scams, irrigation scams, arms and ammunition scams, petrol-pump scams, polio-vaccine scams, electricity-bill scams, school-book scams, God Men scams, drought-relief scams, car-number plate scams, voter-list scams, identity-card scams- in which politicians, businessmen, businessmen-politicians and politician-businessmen had made off with unimaginable quantities of public money.” If one wants to Sri Lankanize the list she may do some additions and subtractions like karunka scams, pepper scams and of course bond scams. Continue reading

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Rapporteur Emmerson’s Threatening Visit

Neville Ladduwahetty,  in The Island, 2 August 2017, an essay entitled  “Ä Special Rapporteur’s visit”

The visit of Ben Emmerson Q.C., aUN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, to Sri Lanka from July 10 to 14 was concluded with a statement to the media in which he warned Sri Lanka of “dire consequences” unless the Government fully implemented the Geneva Resolution 30/1. An Associated Press report in The Washington Post of July 15 states: “…that even those as recently as late last year have been subjected to torture…”. Continuing he had stated: “In Sri Lanka however, such practices are very deeply ingrained in the security sector, and all of the evidence points to the conclusion that the use of torture has been and remains today endemic and routine”. His report adds that torture is routine, “for those arrested and detained on national security grounds.”

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Hambantota Port Deal from Many Angles

PTI Item: “Sri Lanka, China sign USD 1.1 bn Hambantota port deal” Jul 29, 2017

Sri Lanka today signed a USD 1.1 billion deal with China to sell a 70-per cent stake in the strategic Hambantota port to a state-run Chinese firm, a move that could raise security concerns in India.  The deal had been delayed by several months over concerns that the deep-sea port could be used by the Chinese Navy.
Cash-rich China has invested millions of dollars in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure since the end of a brutal civil war in 2009.  As part of the deal, the stake in the loss-making port has been sold to China’s state-run conglomerate China Merchant Port Holdings (CMPort).

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