An election supplement to “Rajapakse, regional politics, “Eurocentric Developmentalism” and the western hegemony. Part 4
Posted on April 7th, 2010

Geethanjana Kudaligamage

Sri Lanka, an oceanic nation inherently suffering from Aqua-Phobia.

Failure of Seetawaka Rajasinghe is a monumental historic lesson for President Rajapakse to think anew about our destiny in the Indian Ocean; 

Throughout the history, the nation of Sri Lanka has ignored something very fundamental to its origin; it is none other than its oceanic character, so fundamental to its ecological background and its geographical setting. Despite its origin and surrounding, it has abandoned its most vital frontier, the ocean, and left it vulnerable to outside. Throughout the history, none of its leaders identified this failure, and never remedied it. Sri Lankans are naturally inward people, never desired to expand their horizons outward. Had they being outward, the outlook of the nation might have been different by now. And also, most of its historical failures might even have been avoided.

The Buddhist cultural roots may have its share embedded in this background. Although it has been subverted, yet still prevailing cast consciousness also might have some relationship for the abandoning the nationwide experience of navigation in the ocean and assigning the task of “ƒ”¹…”sea-going’ to a specific cast.

 Even in the height of its historical glory, the nation never looked for reaping its fortune of its vastly abundant surrounding ocean resources, and never developed a peaceful commercial tradition in maritime trade. All historical evidences confirm that we have received visiting traders from outside, but never have found any concrete evidence to prove our own maritime tradition, other than connections with India, and literary evidences of sending ambassadors to different countries including Cambodia, Burma and Persia (present day Iran.)

But the fact remains today as to, if the nation wants to survive within this ever changing twenty-first century global political atmosphere and its upheavals, she has to fix this Aqua-phobia. Sri Lanka’s abandonment of ocean still remains an interesting research topic to uncover the reason why, with all these geographical and ecological background and their advantages, even with the benefit of being in the center of the traditional sea route of “Silk Road” connecting (in order to reach Mediterranean) Arabian sea, Persian gulf and China, on what historical reason, if not weakness, this island nation never became a notable naval tradition in Asia; Because, this writer is not ready to buy the popular Eurocentric notion of “ƒ”¹…”technological inferiority or the backwardness’ of ancient Sri Lanka, considering her technological superiority in other fields such as architectural and hydraulic engineering. Don’t believe me just for my saying of it. Just turn your eyes into the history of the colonial records. Just for the sake of information, let me sight some of them.

For example, British scholar Sir Emerson Tennent, the colonial secretary of Ceylon in 1845, 30years after signing the infamous Kandian treaty, observes as follows”¦

Excepting the exaggerated dimensions of Lake Moeris in central Egypt and the mysterious “basin of Al Aram”, the bursting of whose embankment devasted the Arabian city of Mareb, no similar constructions formed by any race, whether ancient or modern, exceeds in colossal magnitude the stupendous tanks in Ceylon. The reservoir of Kohrud at Isfahan, the artificial lake of Ajmeer, or the tank of Hyder in Mysore, can no more be compared in extent or grandeur with Kalawewa or Padavi-colam (Padaviya Wewa) then the conduits of Hezekiah, the kanats of the Persians, or the subterranean water-courses of Peru can vie with the Elehara canal, which probably connected the lake of minneri and the “sea of Parakrama” with the Amban-ganga river.         

Then British engineer Sir. Henry Parker observes about unique Sri Lankan invention of the concept of the valve, or the “Biso-Kotuwa” as”¦ “Since about the middle of the last century, open wells, called “ƒ”¹…”valve towers'”¦have been built at numerous reservoirs in Europe. Their duty is to hold the valves, and the lifting-gear for working them, by means of which the outward flow of the water is regulated or totally stopped. Such also was the function of the “Biso-kotuwa” of Sinhalese engineers; they were the first inventors of the valve-pit more than 2100 years ago. And that it must have been no easy task to control the out-flow of the water at reservoirs which had a depth of thirty or forty feet, (about the height of the British High Commission at Gall road, Colombo.[writer’s]) as was the case at several of the larger works. Yet the similarity of the designs of the Biso-Kotuwa at all periods proves that the engineers of the third century B.C, if not those of an earlier periods, had mastered the problem so successfully that all others were satisfied to copy their designs.”     

Again, then the chief of the Ceylon Department of Survey, Mr. R.L. Brohier examine of the superior technology and the efficiency of engineering and surveying accuracy of ancient Sri Lanka,”¦ Yet another branch of engineering which had unquestionably attained a very high pitch of perfection at the hands of the ancient Sinhalese was that which held within its scope of knowledge of surveying and leveling.

Most of their irrigation schemes are confined to tracts of land which when estimated by eye, appear to all purpose quite flat. Yet we know from such evidence which remains that channels were traced mile upon mile on gradients that would call into use the most precise instrument of the modern age to establish; but baffling ingenuity which cannot be surpassed by any conceivable means available at the present day traced out the bunds and the contours of the larger tanks.

Taking as much into consideration, it cannot be disputed that under such conditions, to place such magnificent works within the sphere of the possible, a system of measuring heights and distances must have attained a very high level of efficiency. It has been advanced on the evidence of tradition and fragments of age old inscriptions, that an organization which functioned much on the lines of our modern service for survey existed from earliest times of Christian era if not, even before.

This in itself carries some weight cannot be overlooked in tracing the origin of Ceylon’s early knowledge of land measurement. It would be reasonable to assume that the knowledge included some means of ranging out lines and apprising even small differences in elevation.

It is both evident and significant that the Sinhalese made rapid strides, to judge from a note struck by a writer who says “so far had the renown of their excellence in this branch (irrigation) reached, that in the eighth century, the king of Kashmir (Djayapida) sent to Ceylon for engineers to form a lake.”        

(Above quotations were taken from Udula Bandara Ausadahamy’s “Wewa” 1999)

Sri Lanka is at the verge of a new beginning      

Today, Sri Lanka is on the threshold of a new beginning. Yet, the people of this Pearl of the Indian Ocean have to determine if she really wants to make the same historical blunder of abandoning the ocean once again. The fact is that she cannot afford to make anymore mistakes; the last of them was the CFA of Ranil Wickramasinghe; since then, her allotted number of mistakes of her blood stained post-independence history has been exhausted; because the current geopolitics of the region never allows her to relax anymore. Her habitual everyday life’s tranquility has been disturbed. Her “ƒ”¹…”lethargic’ serenity, her peaceful atmosphere that allowed her to contemplate or mediate the Buddhist teaching, remembering and recollecting of noble truth, offering regular evening poojas and Hindu processions have been irreversibly troubled by encroaching juggernaut of the Trans National global capital; which desires to see a territorial fragmentation in this entire region, including this little island. This is the time for her to rethink, reassess and even redress her historical successes and failures.

 Sri Lanka must realize, the Ocean possesses the success and the failure of Sri Lanka. The failure was witnessed in many occasions throughout the history; the success still remains a mystery. For this writer, this mystery must be penetrated, this dilemma must be over come, and this enigma must be resolved. At this very moment, when you read this article, you must make-up your mind to face the reality with courage. And you must determine to take the right decision for the future of the nation.

The nation must determine to find its future in the vast sheet of water surrounding to it. The nation must also realize that their absence in the ocean has brought disaster and the doom to its people in the past. Let along all South Indian invasions in the pre modern history, the colonial history shows that the main reason for colonial powers to be successful in this land was the nation’s lack of maritime experience. Again for our information, let me bring an example.

Failure of Rajasinghe-1 was mainly due to the Aqua-Phobia of his war strategy.

History revels that one of the finest diplomats and a war strategist ever to defeat a European army in Asia for the first time in the history (in suburbs of Colombo at “ƒ”¹…”Mulleriawa’), Tikiri Bandara or later, Seethawaka Rajasinghe, could not succeed his decisive campaign of the siege of Colombo due to his absence in the ocean.

In 1587, Rajasingha dispatched a force of some 50,000 infantry supported by war elephants, cavalry, and locally manufactured cannons for this attack. The battle harden, superior military of Europe at that time, the Portuguese had arrived to Sri Lanka with their Atlantic, African and Amerindian experience, but already were demoralized, to the rate of the rapidity of the draining water of the mort around the fort by Rajasingha’s soldiers within this twenty-two month siege and were packing their booty to get out of Sri Lankan shores fearing impending total annihilation. But things changed. Portuguese came to realize the weakness of Rajasingha’s war strategy.

All their reinforcements that were heading to Colombo from outside were defeated by Rajasinghe, but one. The ship loads of mercenaries of Europe sent by the viceroy of Goa landed in the south of the island and created havoc in the coastal belt and inland at the very end of the siege. They burned temples; burned Seenigma Dewalaya and looted it (a temple dedicated to a Hindu deity, God Vishnu) raped and killed woman and children, and burned and looted. Eventually Rajasinghe had to abandon the siege and had to pull the military out of Colombo to tackle the southern front. Had he put much needed weight to the warfare in the ocean, Sri Lankan colonial history might have been written entirely in different way.

The failure of Sri Lanka at that historical moment was not an isolated spontaneous failure that ascribed to SL along, but must be attributed to the failure of the entire region, mainly China and India. One can point out and argue that, at the time India was divided and was weak when western encounter was experienced. But what about China? China’s failure was tantamount to its policy change over maritime expeditions. (This aspect will be discussed in a later part) 

Distinguished Argentinean philosopher Enrique Dussel attributes this fundamental failure as the genesis of decline of china as the center of the first world prior to 15th century, and the main reason for the shifting of the centrality from Asia to Europe in the new world system few centuries later. This disadvantageous policy change made China to turn inward. Not only that, even though they had visited the American continent way before Columbus, due to this policy change, China was unable to explore Amerindia before the west “ƒ”¹…”discovered’ it. (Dussel) (More information later)

Impending Shift of the centrality of the  world system

Something is happening in the Indian Ocean right now, at this moment. An economical tsunami is gradually developing at the epicenters of China and India, forecasted to hit the western shores around 2020. Current economical and political formations in the region might cause far reaching affect in world scale. As I mentioned earlier, it might cause a partial shift of the centrality of the current world system from north Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.  

The following is an observation of an American writer,”¦ That great journey of ‘white men’ who have surveyed, conquered, and vanquished the world for the past five hundred years is something I call “The Columbus Era””¦

 It can be argued that that epic period of time is now coming to an end. Other powers, particularly in Asia are in the forefront, while economic power is now being dispersed around the globe”¦

 Yet, until just two years ago, it could be said that the established order was still in place. The G7, a rich mans club of nations seemed to still control the world. Their only non-white member “”…” Japan, had been alone as the only ‘developed’ economy in Asia. We could until so recently believe that the Europeans and their offspring were still in charge.

 hundreds of years ago it wasn’t preordained that the Europeans would conquer the world, for at the time the whole of the European economy was smaller than either that of India or China, and money was tight for such an extremely risky venture. Also, much of the technology that was utilized by Columbus and others, many that we consider to be Western inventions, were in fact, the inventions of the Arab middle-east, Persia, India, and China.

 Modern world history surveys, on the other hand, often emphasize the ‘unknown’ Spice Islands during the medieval period, and only bring an Indian Ocean trading system into focus with the entry into that zone of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498. For young students learning about world history for the first time, this is equivalent to stating that the region only became a part of history at this time. In recent years, the Indian Ocean has been mentioned in connection with the trading expertise of the Arabs, and Zheng He’s voyages are also mentioned. Only seldom are maps showing the entire region presented, much less maps that portray the interconnections between the various societies studied in the medieval period, such as China, India, Islam, Southeast Asia, East Africa and the Pacific Islands… (The West’s Global Hegemony, the Columbus Era 1492″”…”2009 By: Lew Rockwell)

 Sri Lanka must get ready to face new realities.

The Indian Ocean provides major sea routes connecting the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia with Europe and the Americas. It carries a particularly heavy traffic of petroleum and petroleum products from the oil fields of the Persian Gulf and Indonesia.

Indian Ocean region, on the other hand, is a rich area in terms of natural resources. Large reserves of hydrocarbons are being tapped in the offshore areas of Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, and Western Australia. An estimated 40% of the world’s offshore oil production comes from the Indian Ocean. Beach sands rich in heavy minerals and offshore placer deposits are actively exploited by bordering countries, particularly India, South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka ?, and Thailand.

Sri Lanka’s decision to get into reaping benefit out of these resources is a decision in the right direction. At the same time, we must work hard to develop a system of shipping lines originating from Sri Lanka, initially it could be reshipping, but end goal must be becoming a formidable contender in the trade.

 As this writer mentioned elsewhere in a different article, Current president Rajapakse has pulled Sri Lanka out of the archaic post colonial “ƒ”¹…”white’ boxed mentality of servility that confined the nation for too long by the colonized lumpen bourgeoisies of Colombo. Their arid cult of hollowness, with no creativity at all, can never conceive the emerging realities in and around Sri Lanka in relation to global theater. They cannot envisage the politico-economic reality that transcends Sri Lanka from the business culture of retail mentality to global arena playing a key role in the region. We must jump into the ocean my brother. We must put our maximum effort to develop our shipping trade. At the end we must be able to build our own ships. Our boys coming out of maritime university (this writer propose to establish a university in that particular discipline in Sri Lanka) must take the wheels of our ships with flying Sri Lankan flag and must sail across Indian Ocean, to Australia to Africa to Europe and America. We must accept the fact that we are oceanic by birth.

We must dream, must dream big, without loosing the ground. If we could built Parackrama samudraya, who will say that we can’t build a ship? If we could invent the great wonder, the “Biso- Kotuwa” why can’t we invent the formula for us to get out of this cycle of poverty? If we thought negative, could we have won the cricket world cup? Don’t ever think we can’t. Say yes, yes we can!!!

 First step  toward progress is to explore our ocean resources

When I say that we need to build our own ships, the servile mentality of the Colombians might get ticklish and chuckle. The reasons I discussed earlier. Our history of failure is largely tantamount to their negative attitude, as I said, the Eurocentric colonized “ƒ”¹…”Other’ is the passive donkey, beginning any task with the word “Bha..ha..a..a”¦a”¦”  When they were asked if we can win the war, they said “Bha..ha..a..a”¦a”¦”  When they were asked if we can overcome the challenge at UN Human rights issue, they said “Bha..ha..a..a”¦a”¦”  Name it, what ever you ask, they will say “Bha..ha..a..a”¦a”¦”  But we know, we already have our Colombo Dockyard company. They have a lot of experience that can be helpful for the beginning. It is just a matter of diverting our recourses and effort. Within next fifteen years, we can definitely build our own ships.

 To begin with, Sri Lanka must consider restructuring its fisheries industry first. The fisheries ministry and shipping must be merged into one ministry and must be given to a young energetic minister, who never chant that awful sound “Bha..ha..a..a”¦a”¦”   We must set short term and long term targets to achieve our goals. Now when I say this, our uncreative, sterile Colombians may say again, that I suggest putting whole nation into the ocean for fishing. Or they might say that I am undermining Buddhist principle of “panathipatha.” Our Buddhist institutions are already being threatened. What I am suggesting is a necessary mechanism of survival. If the Buddhists do not want to do it, let the Christian to do it, let the Hindus to do it. We have twenty million people in our country.

   The industry’s overall function must be linked with national security and forming a future maritime tradition. So it is going to be four pronged development program. First objective is to modernize and expanding our fisheries industry. Second objective will be the development of a capacity for initiating to build our own small and medium scale trawlers within the country, trawlers those capable of deep sea fishing. Third is educational and training of maritime technology and methods. Fourth is the building a shipping trade, including ship building and its related services. While these initiatives were taken, we must work hard to achieve a social attitude transformation to transcend from our inherited negligence of ocean. And at the end, our merchant ships must sail across seven seas connecting the shores of Africa, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. To achieve these targets, as I said before, the ministry of Fisheries, and the Shipping must be merged together, in some areas SL navy also can be a part of it as well. 

 The leadership must be taken by energetic young people who will have the courage to take on challenges. We do not need specialists to tell us, or write volumes of English researches to prove us why we “ƒ”¹…”can not’ do this and that at the expense of poor tax payers money. But we definitely need the type of experts to show us the challenges ahead and how to find way out from them. We need people who can be a part of this dream, and set realistic targets to reach our goals.

 

 

Before I conclude this part 4 of the article, let me explain about the significance of the above map. This map shows Asia in the center and Europe in the periphery. But traditionally, most of the maps were printed placing Europe in the center and Americas in the wet of it, but in this map Americas is located in the east to Asia. Current world map launched by Britain to the modern world system, (before modernism, there was no a world system to call as such) is the territory which most of the parts controlled by colonial powers. In that traditional map, Britain was placed in the position of the “ƒ”¹…”0′ longitude that is the Greenwich line. As such, she claimed the centrality of the post Colombian world system. But, after the centrality of Europe shifted to the USA in post second world war era, USA printed maps of her own, positioning itself in the center by cutting Asia into two parts, one in the east to the USA and the other into the west. In that world map Americas was in the center. This simple description of map making attests to the fact that map making has its own political agendas.

But from the Asian point of view, Americas is located across the Pacific, placing USA in the east of Asia. Repositioning USA in the east to Asia results a change in the continent’s traditionally assumed position in the west, and becomes a more related to Asian system. This relocation on the other hand, ontologically places the Americas almost within the Asian system, and brings her to an advantageous position than to that of the Western  Europe, leaving the opportunity for her (Americas) to connect with the emerging alternative world system in the Asian region at her will through the Pacific. In such world, Europe located in the further most western end in the periphery. For Europe, in order to be connected with future alternative center in Asia, either they will have to cross Americas or will have to re invent their vasco da gamma, the Portuguese navigator who went around Africa to reach Asia once again; because. they already have created their own traditional Muslim antagonist in the Middle East. Isn’t this a repetition of exact same events of the history?

 (To be continued) 

Rajapakse, regional politics, “Eurocentric Developmentalism” and the western hegemony -Part 3
http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2010/04/03/rajapakse-regional-politics-%e2%80%9ceurocentric-developmentalism%e2%80%9d-and-the-western-hegemony-part-3/

Rajapakse, regional politics, “Eurocentric Developmentalism” and the western hegemony -Part 2
http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2010/03/31/rajapakse-regional-politics-%e2%80%9ceurocentric-developmentalism%e2%80%9d-and-the-western-hegemony-part-2/
Rajapakse, regional politics, “Eurocentric Developmentalism” and the western hegemony-Part I
http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2010/03/29/rajapakse-regional-politics-%e2%80%9ceurocentric-developmentalism%e2%80%9d-and-the-western-hegemony-part-i/

 

5 Responses to “An election supplement to “Rajapakse, regional politics, “Eurocentric Developmentalism” and the western hegemony. Part 4”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Geethanjana’s article is full of exciting new possibilities. We thank him for these views and hope that the President & GoSL will take serious note of it.

  2. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    I fully agree with your article content. Before going to write my comment, I would appreciate if you could drop the Buddhist idea that Sinhala people exploded into existence, just after Buddhism, a pure myth, and to dig deep into pre-Buddhist history of Sinhala people. I am reading a book written by someone called Dr. Sooriya Gunasekara for a very specific technological comparison, which could be a good start. It is very hard to put together historical notes without some other knowledge, but it gives a proper account of some historical events found using another specific process.

    You say “We must dream, must dream big, without loosing the ground.” It is a good start. I like to see it more like we must do big things BY OURSELVES, such as finding alternatives to what we do today (may be one of the hardest or the easiest), to live a long life ( a virtual life), creating the perfect being and to find space to live in other planets (to humanise the whole universe). One benefit of such endeavours is that we come up with things more tangible in the short term and never go to waste in the long term. Westerners who tried their best to be the Best by buying into other people’s knowledge have miserably failed and are trying to take us down to abyss with them. Obviously, what they do never work because their approach is fundamentally flawed.

    You mentioned about “Aqua phobia”, something that I am suffering from and about “the need to build our own ships ”. It has an interesting, or more accurately some horrible origin, that drove fear into our conscience. Aqua-life for humans is essentially a very high risk challenge. The technology that we have is essentially primitive and enhances our fear. As well, it is a life and death choice that we would hardly make. Having tried a lot to find my own fear, I can tell that we have new technology (I cannot dream as I am not warranted due to my professional obligations), that takes off all the risks to life. Imagine you travel in a craft that sinks to the bottom of the sea and still you survive. We have to be within our cultural precincts to judge ourselves. We, as a nation, never encourage risking life in any form or shape, for good or bad, something special, that is ignored in other cultures.

    Apparently, one of my contentions, a desire to build what humanity offered during the last ten thousand years is adopted by some of your politicians though they are not different to the Colombian group you mentioned. Just think of how they do things with aliens. Being more close to the area of building and conceptualisation (dreaming), I can say that it is very practical and applicable to our people who have the desire to learn and live. If we had our way as we planned just after the victory of MR, we are already in the process to achieve much more than what you envisage. Sadly, people you see are not the people they actually are who try to be … Unfortunately, we are still short of finding a way to feed knowledge and skills to people who do not have it or not willing to acquire. I do not think that giving up is our nature though there are many among us of alien extraction who made us to look like that.

    Your reference to the ocean is very appropriate. If your politicians (in this case CBK) were willing to do something good for the country, you could have home-grown oil exploration technology, both onshore and offshore as early as by 1994-96. Nobody can give any thing if you do not want it.

    When you say “Can’t”, it has some truth in it. Those who say “can’t” should be acknowledged for what they are. Any body can tell that we need this and that. Only a few can deliver. It is a fact, both in the East and the West. Being involved in such tasks labelled by others as can’t, both in the East and the West, I must admit that we need to have something special to say “Can”. It is very easy to acquire if you go back in history and figure out how we started to do things that we take for granted today. In fact we should say “Can do better”.

    It is great to hear that “We need people who can be a part of this dream, and set realistic targets to reach our goals.” By the way, can you tell me any target that is unrealistic? I doubt we have the human capabilities to tell things beyond what is essentially realistic.

    Unfortunately, biggest problem is not what we can do, but how we can protect what we offer. I have already experienced the pain of giving things to the country. You know very well that intellectual property is very valuable and westerners can get it for money just the way they got many of our ancient knowledge in medicine and technology with the help of low life living among us taking many shapes and forms, from top academics to lowly treasure hunters. The worst is to see some political scum ruining such value added proposals by misunderstanding/not understanding.

    Aqua Phobia is a result of a great calamity that has a greater importance to direct us to some very important historical event that turned us into what we are today. Our history is not just what we say about ourselves. But there are other who tell about us. Sometimes, they know better because calamities that affect us did not affect them and they remained to tell our story. I suggest you to follow this hint to find more about our ancient ship building capacity and this tragedy of our own making probably because at that time we were more adventurous. As I said in my last feed back, we can do much more than what we really think. Only problem that stand in our way is the lack of opportunity for those who can do it.

  3. Ratanapala Says:

    I am taking liberty to attach below a fine article by Kamalika Pieris – Sailing Craft in Ancient Sri Lanka – that might throw some light on the lost technologies of our ancestors.

    I quite disagree with Priyantha above on his denial of the central role played by Buddhism that brought about the golden age of Sri Lanka.

    There is no argument that whom we call Sinhalese are a throughly mixed race of people. We are the assimilation of thousands of years of human migration through our land including when our land was one with the Indian continent during the ice ages only 10,000 years ago. It is easily seen in our history, our faces and in our demeanor. We are a people who became Sinhalese ( very much similar to those who are becoming Americans today) rather than an imaginary pure race of people inhabiting the island from times immemorial with no assimilation.

    Our common identity and trademark is Sinhala the language that we speak and our Sinhala (Hela Buddhist) Culture. It is the advent of Buddhism to the island that gave our culture its final polish and shine. The whole of the Buddhist cannon – the Tripitaka was in Sinhala before it was translated to Pali two thousand years ago.

    We have a fair share of Dravidian blood as well as of many others in the region. Even today there are those who are in the process of becoming “Sinhalese”! The strength of the Sinhala identity is its inclusiveness and not vice versa. All of us together we have something to be proud of that requires sustenance and protection.

    It is this very fact that our distracters, mainly the Christian Church and the Christian Powers cannot tolerate and are at pains to deny our very identity and uniqueness through their agents who come in various guises. They come with many concocted theories to cause distraction to the unwary.

    The trouble with Ealamist Tamils (who now make up not more than 10% of the population) is that they are trying to negate this reality to suit their lack of a viable history and the agenda of the Western Christian powers for the region.

    Let the new regime understand this reality and take requisite measures to protect and foster what makes the Sri Lankans, their history, culture and inclusiveness truly unique among peoples of the world.

    Sailing craft in ancient Sri Lanka
    by Kamalika Pieris
    C W. Nicholas remarked that the first thing that the early immigrants to Sri Lanka had to know was how to cross the sea, because that was the only way they could get here. The distance by sea was about 1500 miles. Therefore, the settlers had to be expert seafarers who knew shipbuilding and the art of navigating. Once they got here the numerous bays, harbours, estuaries, and navigable rivers in the island would have encouraged further use of sea and river transport. (Nicholas p 79)
    References to sea-going craft are available from about first century AD. The Pali text Summohavinodini talks of a raft used by monks to go to India in the reign of Vattagamani (103 BC). This raft which was constructed at Jambukola had three decks. Monks were on the second deck while the third held the luggage. The first deck was below water. The voyage was so perilous that some monks decided not to go. Paranavitana found an inscription in Duvegala in Polonnaruwa district that carried a picture of a vessel with high prows and a single mast. Pliny writing in the first century AD said that the ships of Sri Lanka had a capacity of 75 tons. They had prows at each end to enable them to avoid turning in treacherously narrow straits. (Gunawardana p 3-5)
    Two inscriptions dated to the 1st century BC or earlier, one in Paramakanda in Peravili Hatpattu of the Puttalam district and the other at Maligatanna in Kurunegala district refer to highborn persons who were mariners. From the latter inscription, we also know that Sinhala mariners engaged in voyages to the western parts of India. Pliny confirmed that mariners from Sri Lanka were sailing in the Indian Ocean. (Gunawardana p 3-4)
    Diplomatic missions and clashes with kings of other countries indicate that the Sinhala kings used ships to a considerable extent. The Mahavansa is full of sea journeys. King Bhatika abhaya (22 BC – 07 AD) sent a diplomatic mission to Rome. The Sinhala kings also sent diplomatic missions to Byzantium (Turkey), China, Indonesia, Medina, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. According to the Chulavamsa, voyages between Sri Lanka and Myanmar had become quite frequent by the time of Parakramabahu I. There were many missions to China in the 7th and 8th centuries. (Gunawardana p 6).
    Ships were also used for coastal surveillance. Mogallana I (495-512 AD) and Silakala (518- 531) instituted a ‘watch of the sea’ for which they would have had to employ many ships. Sinhala kings had on several occasions intervened in South Indian politics by sending armies across. Sena II (853- 885) sent troops to support the Pandyan king Varaguna II. Nissanka malla (1187-1196) sent a naval force to Rameswaram. Parakramabahu V (1412-1467) sent another to Adriampet, South India because Sinhala traders had been humiliated there.
    Parakramabahu I (1153-1186) had a sea fight with Gajabahu of Rajarata. He also carried out an invasion of Burma, using a flotilla of ships. He dispatched armies to South India as well. These kings did not have a navy. They simply mobilised merchant ships, many of them privately owned, whenever they needed them. (Nicholas p 90, Gunawardana p 13).
    For a long time, the Sinhalese took their commodities by sea to the ports in India to be sold there. This would have called for seaworthy craft. Then in the sixth century, Sri Lanka, having become the centre of east-west trade, started to send its own ships to China, Java, Malacca, Myanmar, Thailand and other Asian countries, to bring back goods for re-export to the west. Cosmas, an Egyptian traveller, recorded in the sixth century that Sri Lanka had sent out many trading ships to foreign ports. Procopius also writing in the same century said that silk from China was conveyed in Indian and Sri Lankan ships. (Gunawardana p 20) An inscription at Tiriyaya, dated to seventh or eighth century, talks of merchants in sailing vessels navigating the sea skilfully. (Ariyapala p 335.)
    In the eighth century, it was reported that of all the ships in the Indian Ocean, the ships from Sri Lanka were the largest. They were about 200 feet long and were able to carry seven to eight hundred men. They had stairways for loading and unloading which were several tens of feet in height. (Sri Lanka and Silk Road of the sea p 30-31, 127.) The ships continued to stay large. In the 12th century, they were used to get down elephants from Burma. On one particular journey, 14 elephants were imported, not necessarily in the same ship. In the 13th century, the Pujavaliya referred to mariners sailing in the ocean with raised sails fastened and adjusted by cords, carrying oars and spars on board and guided by the stars. Sri Lanka’s position in international trade started to fade by the end of the 14th century. (Gunawardana p 10. 24.32-33.)
    A thriving ship building industry developed between 11th and 13th centuries. Arab ships from Oman and Yemen used to visit Sri Lanka in the 11th century to obtain items needed for ships such as rope, timber for planing and trunks of coconut trees for masts and to place orders for ships which were to be constructed there. In the 13 century Bhuvanekabahu I contacted the Mamluk rulers of Egypt and offered to construct twenty vessels each year for them saying that he had sufficient timber for the purpose. This provides a clue to our ship building capability of the time. The sultans would have wanted large ships. (Gunawardana p 11-12, 27.)
    A wide variety of timbers suitable for making ships were available in Sri Lanka, particularly ‘in the south-western ports of the island. They included del., domba and kos. Domba was valued for its flexibility. Del had a lime content in its fibre, which made it resistant to shipworms. Certain types of timber used for masts were considered by later shipwrights to be superior to those found in the west coast of India, which was the usual source for such supplies. Sailing craft were constructed without using nails. They were held together by coir yam and wooden pins. The country best known for coconut cordage was Laccadives, but Sri Lanka came a good second. Coir is saline friendly. Cordage was also made from creepers and barks of trees and coconut oil was used for oiling the ropes. (Gunawardana p 11-12, Uragoda p 192.)
    Three specimens of ancient craft have been found in recent times. A very large boat with outrigger attached dated to 3rd century BC was discovered at Kelanimulla ferry in 1952. Then came the discovery at Attangalu oya of a big ship with walls and a room, about 60 feet long, dated to 9th century AD. Thereafter the gem miners in Kuruwita found a craft considered to be older than the first two. The first two items are in the Colombo Museum and the third is at Ratnapura Museum. (Devendra. 2004 p 141)
    Somasiri Devendra states that the Sinhalese had a long-standing tradition of shipbuilding technology. They were interested in shell based watercraft that derived buoyancy from the whole vessel and not from that of its individual parts. Starting with a hollowed out log, they moved on to the outrigger canoe and thereafter to shell built, caravel planked ships. This was not an accidental process. It was based upon experience and experimentation. Sri Lanka was at the centre of the sea routes and therefore our shipbuilders could observe shipbuilding technologies of other countries. They developed technical devices that are admired even today. The ancient ship builder, he said, was no primitive experimenter. The sailing craft they designed have been in use in the island up to the middle of the 20th century. (Devendra 2004 p 142)
    The traditional modes of river transport known to us today are the pahura, (raft) teppama, (log raft) paruwa, (flat-bottomed barge), and angula (double canoe). For sea going there was the oruwa (outrigger canoe) and the yatra dhoni. Devendra says our watercraft evolved from oruwa to paru to yatra dhoni. They all stem from a log boat tradition. The madel paru, which is used to transport seine net from the river to the sea, is unique to Sri Lanka. It is not found anywhere else in the world. A ‘purely Sri Lanka genesis’ may eventually emerge for the paruwa as well. The paruwa is primarily a cargo carrier for rivers and canals. (Devendra, 1.992, 1995)
    The ‘oruwa’ is undoubtedly the most versatile item in this group. The ‘oru’ ranged in size from the frail and simple pila oru about five feet in length, which could be rowed easily over shallow waters to the sturdy 30-ft hadi oru or bala oru of the western and southern coasts, that could carry a crew of eight and weather monsoonal storms of the open sea thirty miles from land. The oruwa was used for deep-sea fishing as well as fishing in bays, lagoons, estuaries and the inland tanks. It was also used for net fishing and in certain localities, for taking the seine net to out to sea. (Vitharana. p. vi. 19)
    James Hornell, who had served in Ceylon in the 1930s, and was a specialist in the comparative study of watercraft, called the oruwa, the ‘national and dominant design.’ The oruwa is a dug out log, mounted with a vertical pair of wooden boards that flank the opening of the hull from stern to stem. This increases the depth of the boat, improves its capacity, and prevents waves breaking in. A pair of arched wooden spars connects and permanently fixes the outrigger to the hull. This single outrigger craft is the fastest traditional craft in the world.
    This canoe is extensively used in the Polynesian, Melanesian and Micronesian regions of the Pacific Ocean, the Andaman, and Nicobar Islands, Pakistan, Kerala and Sri Lanka. It is considered to be of ancient origin. Vitarana compared the different types and concluded that the oruwa probably originated in Sri Lanka about 2000 years ago and the idea was thereafter picked up by other countries in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. The word ‘oru’ and the terminology connected with it are indigenous. F. J. Mount in his book on the Andaman Islands suggests that the Andaman canoe was a copy of the Sinhala one. Cordiner, Tennent, and Cave referred to this canoe as Sinhalese fishing boat. (Vitarana p vii 15, 16, 59)
    The oruwa has been praised as elegant, original, neat and correct in principle. (Uragoda p 193). It had been designed to suit local conditions. The Sri Lankan sea had shallow waters, with heavy surf close to land. There were off shore reefs and sand spits at the mouth of the lagoons. The Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal met in Sri Lanka and the island had strong currents that changed abruptly within short distances and short periods of time. A shallow draught vessel, with a tough hull was required. The oruwa was of extremely shallow draught and able to skim over the surface of the sea. It was flexible enough to take the inshore waves head on and tough bottomed enough to cross sand spits at low tide. Use of coconut fibre cords resistant to degradation in salt water, provided the strength to deal with the surf. The oruwa did not need an anchor, it stood upright on the shore.
    The boats were usually built by those who used them and the techniques were passed down by oral tradition. Each component of the oruwa was made out of a choice of two or three carefully selected types of local wood. There was del and kos for the hull , kohomba and lunumidella for the outrigger, domba or mara for the oru handle. The result was a rich variety of timbers ranging from heavy wood like jak to the lighter katu imbul or lunumidella. In addition to strength and durability at sea, availability close to the sea would also have affected the choice of wood. In one instance, 28 types of wood were used for 11 separate parts of the ship. C. G. Uragoda remarked that ‘centuries of experimentation would have gone into the adoption of an acceptable formula for the size, weight and, variety of timber used for these components.’ The oruwa could stand up to the worst weather and if well built, would last for about 25 years, with a little maintenance. (Uragoda p 193-194, Vitarana p. ii 30, 37, 39, 55, 59, 60)
    Vitarana did a survey and found that the oru was known to the majority of the fishing villages. It was in use along the west south and east coast starting from Kandakuli near Puttalam, passing Galle, Batticaloa and finishing up at Trincomalee. He does not give the date of the survey. The Sinhala fishermen were very dextrous and adventurous in the use of the oru. They would go out regardless of the distance, weather, time, or nature of the sea. Until recently, in the south-western region, an oru could be found in practically every house which was close to a river. The oruwa was at one time exported to the Ramnad area in India. (Gunawardana p 5. Vitarana p 30, 55-56, 59-60)
    The outrigger canoe design was also used for the construction of a larger craft known as yatra oruwa or yatra dhoni. This yatra is the most advanced of the indigenous sailing craft. It had two masts and a single outrigger. There are others like it in the belt from East Africa to Oceania but the rest all have two outriggers. There is no information as to when the yatra dhoni first evolved in Sri Lanka, but Vitarana says that the yatra is also of ancient vintage. He says that products from the east coast found their way to the south for centuries by yatra. (Vitarana p 67,72)
    The yatra was in use until the end of the 1930s after which it went out of vogue. They were used as cargo ships between India, the Maldives, and Malacca. They also transported goods along the shores of Sri Lanka. Salted fish, cloth, tea and rice from Burma were conveyed from Galle to Tangalla by yatra. One merchant had had his own vessels for the purpose, which he also used for transporting salt from Hambantota to other parts of the south coast. There is a 100-year-old yatra dhoni at Kumarakande Pirivena, Dodanduwa, built around 1890, Dodanduwa has been the leading yatra port. It had served about 40 yatras in the 1930s, Dodanduwa also had a dockyard where they built yatra. (Vitarana p 65-66, Devendra 2004 p 132)
    R. A. L. H. Gunawardana challenged the statement made by August Toussaint in 1966 that Sinhalese were not interested in seafaring and that its navigators were foreign and so were its boats (Toussaint p 4.). He pointed out that it was not possible for a people living in an island located in the middle of the Indian Ocean to show no interest in the sea, particularly when that island was also an important centre of international commerce and trade. Shipbuilding continued into modem times, but in a diminished form. An involution had set in, pushing back our knowledge of shipbuilding to what it had been long before the 8th century, when the largest ships arriving at Chinese ports were from Sri Lanka. (Gunawardana p 1, 33.)

  4. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    Refer comment by Ratanpala, I can say one thing about sea craft. Who better knows than someone who has developed a brand new way of sea travel to tell the history. Please try to find a brand new way for sea travel to realise how clear the history is for you. Most of the content in your historical attachment are very recent in historical terms. Have you seen any documentary on how English build sea craft using timber? Have you noticed how close the techniques are to native Sinhala wood working methods (I mean people who do it according to their inherited traditions)?

    I can not tell exactly what kind of “central role played by Buddhism” other than saying it did exactly what other alien religionists trying to do? I wish you had read my previous comments on this aspect. We lost our history, our original alphabet, many of our people and almost the country in the pursuit of this belief. There is a big difference between Kavun (knowledge) and Kavun lazed with deadly poison though they may look the same. Historical events that led to our current plight tells exactly who contributed most. If you read the Mahavamsa (Maha vansa), the tone of the text in the early part tells a lot more about the history than anything else.

    The claim “There is no argument that whom we call Sinhalese are a thoroughly mixed race of people.” is naive and an insult to humanity. Did you borrow this suicidal concept from English? We need a mother and a father to make a child. Though we call the offspring is their child, the truth is it has its own way and never equals to half of father or half of mother. EVERY LIFE IS UNIQUE. We always had migrants who came and went. What happens today is also history if someone fast forward the time by few thousand years. The argument that what is not true today was true yesterday is very silly. I even suggest that time has no effect on humanity. Unfortunately I can not reveal some facts that would highlight your fallacy. But, have you forgotten that we are made of what we eat, in the first place? So you tell that every creature is the same. Or every animal is made as a mixture of every animal and tree. Then why they are unique and different? If you follow this hint you will find something more interesting to prove my comment. So what makes people to claim ethnic identity? If you think mixing occurs, then you forget that there is rejection. Obviously your naive comment suggests that you have no close relationship with native Sinhala families. How much dissent we carry towards mixed people is even evident from migrants who live in the west. I hear very funny dissenting words from some parents living in the west though they could meet your description. To say the least, the vast majority of the people who migrate are the once who become strangers in their own birthplace due to mixing. Please read Travel notes by Shelton and tell why he went to US after being fed up in AU. We speak for ourselves. Migration is a big fat lie propagated by English to hide their crime. What happened was very slow natural expansion globally, not migration. All those migrants who came to settle down in Lanka died within a short time and took away many Sinhala lives who got mixed. Instead of propagating western and alien hubris, why you can not see for yourself on how people treat others? Out true history, our faces, our conduct etc. tell a very strange story. In fact, I can offer very clear means to find authenticity of a human who may claim to any identity. Thinking is one of the prominent tools that define uniqueness of humanity and it is not transferable from parents to children. Only a Sinhala can Think like Sinhala. That applies to every other ethnic group as well. If it was not the case, we could have been like photocopies.

    You say “We are a people who became Sinhalese (very much similar to those who are becoming Americans today) rather than an imaginary pure race of people inhabiting the island from times immemorial with no assimilation.” This is a sign of repeating the same things going beyond this life time. Repetition does not make us smart. Are you out of your mind to equate Sinhala people with Americans. What do Americans speak? Do they speak Americana? Again, you are caught up in English propaganda designed to hide their heinous crimes. Most of NESB migrants are just the modern version of slaves going to become English subjects. So all sorts of migrant scum came to Lanka and created Sinhala language, only language that does not use breathing to pronounce words (try my surname), which I consider the most advanced language for my own reasons. Essentially migrants carry nothing except cultural baggage to the next destination. Their children give way to new culture. Why not check yourself from migrants, not just Sinhala, but from many ethnic backgrounds.

    “Buddhism gave Sinhala culture its final polish and shine”. It may be why Buddhist monks bless those going to war (It is for killing), quite contrary to their religious doctrines. Some even dared to push a king over a cliff to protect Sinhala people. I wish you read comments made by local people during the baby elephant saga. I suggest that Sinhala are very tolerant as long as anyone toes their line. Why not try telling them to practice your principles by asking to give away the north and east to gain a lot of “pin”. You can definitely see the true Sinhala face. Do you know why other alien religionists failed to convert Sinhala people? If Sinhala people know what other religions preach, they will be history. You are accommodated because your religion carries a lot of ancient Sinhala wisdom. But only a few knows that it also carries some Hindu venom. I do not understand why Sinhala people need these alien faiths because they have the best of the best beliefs that humanity can ever expect. I mean the belief in life and living longer. That is what “Ayubowan” means.

    Going back to ship building, there is a reference in another very ancient civilisation on supply of a large fleet of ships by Sinhala people long before the saviours coming to mix and match the Sinhala civilisation. If Sinhala people become aware of how ingeniously their history was erased slowly but surely, those holding high moral grounds will be running away with nothing. They lost the best of their people due to a calamity of their own making as I said in my earlier comments (There is a claim of loosing 11/12 of land to sea according to info from Alexandria National Museum?). The shock is rooted in our conscience. Unfortunately, I cannot tell more on that due to technical and other aspects. What we try to attribute ourselves is nothing compared to the truth that is there in bits and pieces, which will give us our due place among the humanity.

  5. Ratanapala Says:

    It would be a good thing if Priyantha can say something about the Pure Sinhala people he is speaking about and where they can be found in present day Sri Lanka. It is clear from what he is writing that he has something to grind about Buddhism and its influence on the Sinhala people that I am talking about – those who speak Sinhala,follow the tenants of Buddhism and are proud of their heritage. I would be very happy to read about how Sinhala people he is talking about influenced Buddhism.

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