In a separate section of this web site accessed by clicking on the section title on the menu bar on the home page, readers can access some book reviews reprinted from academic journals courtesy of the reviewers. Apart from gaining information about the books, this series provides lay people with some sense of the academic circuit. The books reviewed initially by Bastin, Clough, Rogers, Neloufer de Mel and Speldewinde respectively – the items will be changed from time to time – are:
Mark P. Whitaker: Learning Politics from Sivaram: The Life and Death of a Revolutionary Tamil Journalist in Sri Lanka. Continue reading
Courtesy of the Sunday Island, 28 March 2010
“For forms of government let fools contest; Whate’er is best administer’d is best,” Alexander Pope
I stand between Jolly Somasundaram, my colleague in Trincomalee and Devanessan Nesiah, my colleague in the RRAN, as they cross swords in the Island on the issue of “Turnaround Challenge to NE Tamils”. The bone of contention appears to be the choice of the TNA for support at the last Presidential Election (PE). Jolly thinks that they ought to have sided Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) while Deva stands by their choice of Sarath Fonseka (SF). Obviously the choice could not have been motivated by emotional attachment. It was a preference for the better of the two options. Jolly sent me a draft of his article before publication. I asked him, “Why MR?” and he replied, “The known devil is safer than the unknown. At least we know his weaknesses. Who knows whether the unknown devil would throw us into the fire from the frying pan?”
with Anne Abayasekera’s response in the spirit of the essay also reproduced below.
This article was first presented in that pulsating site on current affairs, http://www.groundviews.org, in late April 2008. Major transformations have taken place since then, not least the defeat of the LTTE and the dismantling of its de facto state. Nevertheless, the impasse in the political relations between the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala-dominated state, as well as the affiliated issue of the Muslim community and these other two communities, remains unresolved. Note, too, that there are Tamil moderates who have been directing criticism at the hardline stance adopted by the Tamil National Alliance at the present moment.
Clearly, then, political engagements of this sort are central to the processes that reproduce ethnic consciousness. But, here, I wish to move readers towards developing reflective self-consciousness about the mundane processes of upbringing that instil communitarian sentiments within one’s hearts and minds. It is towards this end that I re-insert this old essay together with another by Anne Abayasekara that took up the baton on her own initiative in an essay published in the Island on 30th June 2008. I am grateful to Anne for such a perceptive response on the basis of her own biography. We should all be grateful to her. Continue reading
Filed under communal relations, cultural transmission, governance, historical interpretation, life stories, politIcal discourse, racist thinking, reconciliation, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, vengeance, world events & processes
Anthropology, University of Adelaide
The first part of this article was written when I was a Senior Visiting Fellow at the International Centre for Asian Studies, University of Leiden, Netherlands from September to December 1995; and was published in one of their Newsletters under the heading “Understanding Zealotry & Questions for Post-Orientalism.” The emphasis then was informed by my interest in the embodied emotions that have spurred assaults during pogroms and riots. This section, now designated Part I under the sub-title “From 1991-95,” has been modified in minor ways for this publication, while citations and footnotes have been added. Its arguments have then been elaborated in a second part that also reflects upon my journeys in the interim. In thus underlining the temporal ‘progression’ of my thinking, this article underlines the continuities in position within the shifting context of academic production, while yet marking new developments in my experiential understandings. A bibliography has also been added. Obviously, this list has been cast in 2006.
Michael Roberts, 6 March 2010
One’s academic trajectories and journeys are invariably subject to vagaries and contingencies. The events and researches leading to my interest in “communal violence” and “zealotry” in the 1990s, and thereafter to what I have called ‘sacrificial devotion” (embracing the topics of “terrorism,” suicide bombers and Tamil Tigers), were shaped by such contingencies. Since my web site will present some short essays on both these topics in the course of this month, let me detail some moments during my research work that resulted in the journeys that produced such outcomes.
The following short essays have been posted within this site. It is feasible for readers to pen comments, though this site lacks the vibrancy of such media outlets as transcurrents and groundviews.
Lanka without Vijaya by Michael Roberts
Writing History and Myth by Shanie’s Notebook of A Nobody
Sinhalaness and Sinhala Nationalism by Michael Roberts
Primordialist Strands in Contemporary Sinhala Nationalism in Sri Lanka: Urumaya as Ur by Michael Roberts
Burden of History: Obstacles to Power Sharing In Sri Lanka by Michael Roberts
These pieces were penned several years back and did not have the benefit of a thoughtful article by ALAN STRATHERN entitled “The Vijaya Origin Myth and the Strangeness of Kingship,” Past & Present, 2009, No. 203(1): 3-28.
We hope to present a summary version of this article for the benefit of readers who do not have access to the journal on web at some point in the near-future.
A renovated stupa at Dakkshina Vehera a few miles south of Sigiriya — also dating from the latter part of the first millennium AD.
Photos by Michael Roberts, August 2008
Shanie — in Notebook of a Nobody
This essay appeared first in the Island, sometime back — alas, date misplaced
Many years ago, I remember reading Professor A F Pollard’s Tudor England. One statement by this eminent historian in his Preface to the book still remains etched in my memory. He stated that a Headmaster of a school had once made a statement to the effect that any classical scholar, with common sense, would be able to teach history. Pollard’s comment was that statement probably explained why history was taught so badly in schools and produced such poor results at public examinations. Professor Michael Roberts in an excellent essay in The Island this week (Mid-Week Review 16 April) makes the same point. He says that it is not only classical scholars but any Tom, Dick or Harry feels capable of writing history. He refers to nondescript charlatans, including academics, inventing history to suit a particular political agenda, and in today’s context, to re-write the history of the Sinhala and Tamil people. One academic, a teacher of Mathematics, finds no compunction in venturing into a discipline other than his own and making definitive historical assertions, without a shred of empirical evidence to support them.
The professional historian generally tends to confine his writing to that aspect of history where his academic training lies. But there is certainly a case for a scholar to write a more general history for the lay reader. Professor Lyn Ludowyk, a scholar but not in history, has written a book which narrates the story of two thousand years of our history. But he makes no pretence to it being a work of historical scholarship. His task in The Story of Ceylon, he says, was that of a humble narrator, depending on the work of the scientist for the facts.
This essay first appeared in http://www.transcurrents.com on 24 February 2010 and readers will see blog comments therein.
In a recent intervention in the web-site http://www.transcurrents.com (10 Feb. 2010), Lakruwan de Silva has conjectured that caste rivalry between the Govigama and Karāva contributed in a secondary manner towards the rift between the Rajapakse clan and General Fonseka. In his broad survey of caste undercurrents in the history of the Sinhalese, he also refers to the Kara-Govi rivalry that surfaced during the contest for the “Educated Ceylonese Seat” in the Legislative Council in British times in December 1911. In serendipitous coincidence a gentleman named Nadesan recently alluded to this famous occasion when the Govigama elite of that day is said to have backed Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan’s candidature and helped him defeat Dr. Marcus Fernando for this coveted post.
Let me begin by clarifying the background to this contest. A coalition of Ceylonese activists from the Burgher, SL Tamil and Sinhalese communities had begun to exert pressure on the British rulers from circa 1906 seeking devolution of power. The British authorities responded in miserly fashion in 1910 with the Crewe-Macullum reforms conceding a modicum of expansion in the advisory Legislative Council and introducing the electoral principle for the “Burgher Seat” and the newly-created “Educated Ceylonese Seat;” while still maintaining the existing nominated seats.
Members of the Orient Club, circa 1907 Amadoris Mendis & the Senanayakes in relaxed mood, latter photo courtesy of Kumari Jayawardena
Courtesy of HIMAL, February 2010 issue, http://www.himalmag. which features everal articles on Sri Lanka
Even as the people of Jaffna – and those who were displaced – make use of their new freedoms of movement, they are confronted with the effect of decades of political stagnation.
Illangai enpatthu nam thai thiru naadu
elil mihuntha iyerkai valam niraitha nal naadu
maanikka muthuhalum maanburu katchihalum manathai kavarthuvudum naadu
yaalpaanam entru sonnal then suvai oorum
panai palamum puhai ilaiyum ondraha valarum
Ceylon/Lanka is our respected motherland
A good land endowed with environmental benefits
A Land where precious gemstones and beautiful sceneries cover our minds
When we pronounce the word Jaffna the taste of honey oozes
Jaffna, where the palmyra fruit and the tobacco leaves grow together
– Translation (by writer) of the opening lines of Tamil song, “Ilangai enpathu” by A E Manoharan
Allaippidy, Jaffna in the afternoon. Cricket outside a community centre.
When I visited Jaffna recently, like all those returning home after years away I too sensed feelings of nostalgia welling up inside. This was my first visit in six years, and almost 25 since I had last lived in Jaffna, as an 11-year-old. The opening lines are by A E Manoharan, the Tamil pop star and baila singer who took Jaffna by storm in the 1970s – a time when, in my mind, Manoharan was more popular than the youthful leaders of the militant movements who would emerge soon enough. I have vague memories of going to an open-air Manoharan concert, sitting on the bicycle bar as one of my relatives rode us to where we could hear the loudspeakers. Incidentally, Manoharan composed “Ilangai enpathu”, with its reference to the palmyra fruit, two decades before rights activist Rajani Thiranagama and her colleagues would write The Broken Palmyra, for which she would be murdered.
Courtesy of the Island, 8 February 2010
PREAMBLE from Michael Roberts: Anura Gunasekera’s essay is truly important and is inserted here because some threads mesh with contentions I have presented earlier. When in Sri Lanka in May 2009 I penned an article “Some pillars for Lanka’s future” in response to a request from an Indian periodical which addressed the import of President Rajapakse’s version of patriotism. I repeat it here as Preamble to Gunasekera’s intervention largely because it also represents a questioning of the position adopted by the head of state albeit in a less direct manner than Gunasekera. This questioning, and for that matter Gunasekera’s telling commentary, is in line with my opening essay SINHALA MIND SET which stands as frontispiece to my web-site.