Glorious past is not just a bedtime story; it is our own school of thinking toward our progress!-Part 5
Posted on April 19th, 2010

Geethanjana Kudaligamage

Rajapakse, regional politics, “Eurocentric Developmentalism” and the western hegemony

In the part 4 of this article, this writer mentioned that something extraordinary is happening in the belly of the Indian Ocean. Some of the historical evidences of the glorious past of the region, some related to legends, chronicles and even numerous epic sagas of  Asia, from unknown to known times, that have been berried and hidden among the warm currents and under the ocean bed of this old world of Indian Ocean are gradually emerging to the surface. Ocean is hiding some vital elements of the historical narrative, that rooted to our “ƒ”¹…”disconnected’ cultural metaphors, that which the cunning British colonizer almost successfully taken away from us.

 It is high time now for us to dig deep into our own past, which treasures the “ƒ”¹…”liberation philosophy’ that can free us from this endless cycle of poverty in Asia. However, asking the west of the way-out of our poverty is like rooster taking lessons from the fox of the way to freedom. In such lessons what we can expect from the fox? we can expect fox to advice us to, “Keep our doors open” (removal of all protectionist barriers, liberal market principle), “tie down our legs” (structural changes, that literally crippling the growth of the home economy) “Cutting our wings” (reducing home economy to be a service area of the center, or tying down into the interconnectivity of globalization) “tape-up and sealing our beak” (denial of sovereign rights, reducing to muteness, state of no-voice, replacing and enforcing the so-called western funded voice of “ƒ”¹…”civil society’ through NGOs). At the end, what fox will tell us is, that our ultimate liberation is nothing but reaching to the bar-be-cue of the Wall Street in metropolitan centers of the west.

 After centuries of exploitation, what has been offered by the west during last few decades in post independence era is not what we needed from them. We must tell the west, Hello! We have our own plans for our liberation, if you are willing to help us, these are the areas we need help. But we don’t need to see you enforcing your formulas upon us, or don’t tell us that we need structural changes, power sharing mechanisms, federalist formulas; instead, we need hospitals, schools, technical colleges, we need ship yards, new roads, rail tracks and locomotives, we need steel factories; can you help us to build them? If their answer is “ƒ”¹…”no,’ then let us forget about it. If they are not ready to offer what we need, then the best answer we can give them is, “No advises needed!” No thanks!

 We have nothing to learn from Eurocentric developmentalist idea that has been offered by the west for last sixty years without any progress in the sight.

There is no viable compatibility or ideological practicality in their developmentalist philosophy either. Anyway, the foundations of Western philosophy being exposed as mere politically motivated “ƒ”¹…”utterances’ associated with immoral exploitive agendas of the west. Western philosophy has been stripped-off by many scholars during last century. Beside the names of the thinkers mentioned by Mr. Gunerat in his comment, there are many more scholars contributed to that end. Some of the aspects have being discussed in earlier parts of this article.

 We cannot forget the fact that western ideology has brought the entire planet into the brink of extinction with its entire life world; it seems that western philosophical “ƒ”¹…”reason’ was too “ƒ”¹…”irrational’ and blind, could not see the “ƒ”¹…”unsurpassable limitation’ of the nature. That proves that the man is not at all, in control of the nature as the fundamental principle of European enlightenment stood-on and in turn, the western philosophy was based on and believed in. I will come to that part later, when I discuss about the Eurocentric development fallacy later-on.

 Traces of the lost memory

Anyway at this moment, evidences are coming from all directions supporting our beliefs; in this case, it has come in the form of an archaeological proof. The news item that circulated in the media recently tells us the story of “The Jewel of Muscat” a modern-day replica of a ninth-century Arabian sailing ship that is sailing from Middle East to Malaysian waters. Coincidentally, a Sri Lankan who took part in building this ancient ship, also sails in this ship to Singapore.   

The “ƒ”¹…”Jewel of Muscat’ was designed based on the sunken ninth-century Arabian ship that was discovered by Indonesian fishermen in 1998, off the island of Belitung, reported to have sunk with 60,000 pieces of ancient Chinese porcelain.

 The unique ship was built with planks that were sewn together with coconut fiber, and a layer of goat fat mixed with lime was applied to protect the wood, the information nicely go-along with that of Mr. Ratanapala’s revelations he submitted as a comment for the 4th part of this article.

 Using ancient navigation techniques, the crew of this ship would sail via the similar routes taken by the Arab seamen, commencing the journey from Oman sea, into Arabian Sea, western coast of India, to Galle Sri Lanka, across the Bay of Bengal, Melaka Straits and finally to Singapore.

In this backdrop, first and foremost, I would like to extend my gratitude to Mr. Ratanapala for contributing some valuable information to the forum widening our horizons by adding some valuable insights into the discussion. It is so impressive to know most of the information he has brought into the discussion that is informative and inspiring. At this point, I also would like to reiterate my previous request to Mr. Ratanapala as well, to submit a more detailed article in relation to this subject, for the benefit of our readers of Lanka web. It is so exciting to see that we have begun our much needed debate over developing a maritime tradition of our own.

 Ratanapala’s information combined with the above news item answers for the most important of our queries of searching for evidences of seafaring traditions; and, again with all these revelations of ancient maritime relationships, it also answers the doubtful questions of “ancient Sri Lanka’s possession of technology in the capacity of ship building.” Not only that, It also revels that Sri Lanka was one of the forefront nations among the seafarers of the region at that time, and also they were exporting such knowledge to other distant lands as well.

 Then for our surprise, all of a sudden the tradition dies by the 14th century, the reasons are not known, and at the moment they are beyond our logical aptitude. However, when the Portuguese landed on our shores, the inhabitants of the island had no clue about them or their objectives due to Sri Lanka’s disconnection with the regional/global situation. The history of Kotte period revels that the only source of the king of Kotte about Portuguese were of the Moors/Arabian traders; because the Muslims already had clashed with Portuguese in the Indian Ocean region and in Mediterranean Sea west of Turkey. 

 But still we aught to find answers for more vital questions. How and for what reason, Sri Lankans gave-up maritime experiences and why they never had any significant presence in the ocean when Portuguese encounter was taken place in 1505. Why Sri Lanka never have left any noteworthy traces of her maritime tradition by 16th century, at least through chronicles; because we have a rich tradition of mythologies, chronicles, folklore, historical epics, legends but none of these traditions carry any significant reference to our oceanic experience, why? Arabs have such mythology; Sinbad the “ƒ”¹…”Arabian sailor’ is one such story. In his voyages, he mentions about an island in the Indian Ocean where he had seen a lot of elephants, spices and gems; isn’t that Serendip? Yes, we must have had the knowledge of maritime technology. But yet we have to find evidences to prove if we had a strong tradition of maritime trading.  

 The Arabian and Persian connection with ancient Sri Lanka can be traced even in English language itself. For instance, the word “ƒ”¹…”Serendipity‘ is derived from an Old Persian fairy tale related to Sri Lanka, “Three princes of Serendip.” The old name for Sri Lanka in Persian language, “ƒ”¹…”Serendip’ derived from the Arabic name for Ceylon “ƒ”¹…”Sarandib.’ The English meaning of this word is “ƒ”¹…”discoveries by accident, good fortune, and luck. It’s believed this term came into English language around 1700; that is before English East India Company embarked on our soil.    

 On the other hand, If we had had continual tradition of maritime expeditions across Indian Ocean throughout the history, we must have been known about emerging sea powers of Europe at that time, as the beginning of 1400, the Iberians (Portuguese and Spanish) already had flexed their muscle in the Eastern Mediterranean, the western end of the “Silk Route.” And if we had continued such traditions of maritime expeditions, we would have taken steps to fill the vacuum created by Chinese absence in the Indian Ocean when China ceased her naval presence in the ocean in 15th century. But sadly, we even never knew the existence of Portuguese and Genoans until the Portuguese embarked on our shores. (“ƒ”¹…”Genoa,’ an Italian seaport in NW Italy; S. of Milan; but not Geneva of Switzerland. Genoans were famous for seafaring at that time in Mediterranean Sea and even today a form of yachts are called Genoas)

The only source of information we had about Portuguese was the Arabian and moor sailors. But the mystery is how we lost such traditions without a trace by 16th century? Ratanapala has reveled that we have historical evidences to prove that we had technology to build ships, and which even capable of traveling across seas during the time of king Parakramabahu in 12th century. Then by 16th century, we had no ships to tackle external threats. How can we explain that? What happened during these four centuries for even the chronicles of such traditions to be disappeared?  

 My hypothesis according to this situation is, in relation to Sri Lanka’s technological superiority in other fields, that “ancient Sri Lanka must have had the technology of building ships, and also we must have had traveled, and conducted some expeditions, trading and otherwise, but we may have never desired to develop this culture into maritime tradition. Since we never being outward, may be we never needed to expand our influence out of our shores, we may have satisfied with what we got, what we were, therefore maritime trading voyages were never being occurred as our prioritized national interest. It was perfectly matching with the Buddhist cultural heritage and also perfectly alright to the global atmosphere of that age. But it is absolutely suicidal within the global situation now. My quest is to persevere for a change in this attitude. We must have abandoned our desertion of the ocean soon after we encountered Portuguese in 16th century. We couldn’t do it then, but we must do it now. The maps submitted in this series of articles testimonial to the fact that our geographical location can not match with any other locations in terms of maritime significance. If we do not take the advantage of that strategic location, then we will be the most bamboozled bunch of stupids of the new millennium.     

As suggested earlier, the developing fisheries industry will supply a good start for this particular direction of recommencing a naval tradition in Sri Lanka. No doubt, Sri Lanka still has sensitive national security issues. For that reason, in this regard, she must take decisions within the framework of the national security policy. In peace time Sri Lanka, SL navy can be an active partner in the field of regional security, shipping and fisheries.          

The industry must be developed under the strict supervision of the government. From building ships, deep sea trawlers and to providing financial and leasing support for the fishermen willing to start their industry with modernized trawlers must be functioned under the government with a well placed system. Since it is the government of Sri Lanka’s responsibility to bring about a development program that eventually benefit and improve the lives of the indigenous masses of the land, government holding a strong hand in this development program is very important. Newly introducing trawlers to fisheries industry can be considered as small businesses financed by bank loans of leasing system. In such a system, one single trawler can be a joint venture of the selected crew of qualified fisherman. Private finance companies as well as government banks can be encouraged to finance trawlers with the guarantee of the fisheries corporation for the eligible fishermen selected by the authority. The ownership of trawlers can be transferred to the fishing crew; (they are the owners of the business), as they pay-off the loan. (I may have gone too far into details, but I like to dream this in detail, may be that is the reason)

 In addition to such grass-root level development program directing the axis of development from bottom up, government also can invite private sector to invest in the fisheries industry and shipping industry within the framework of the supervision of state sector. The reason for the state sector to have strong presence at the initial stage will be discussed later.  

 (To be continued)


2 Responses to “Glorious past is not just a bedtime story; it is our own school of thinking toward our progress!-Part 5”

  1. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    I came across an interesting book, “The History of Ceylon” using pdf format, published in 1817 by an an English that require filtering through English way of thinking, to learn a bit more about modern Sinhala history. This can be down loaded from Wikipedia. There is a note on Ser(l)andip (Selan Dive = Sinhala Island). I suggest you to read that for more info. I wonder why we do not try to find new technology than going backward. By the way, right people to tell the story are those dedicated to sea-craft. We have an age-old caste, full of experts on this subject. We have enough of second class, but are yet to find the first class that can lead us to the future.

  2. M.S.MUdali Says:

    SERANDIB is a name given by ARAB traders and not by EUROPEANS. Arabs had trade links with the current Kerala state for centuries. First destination of Arab was Kerala which is known as SERAN country. The Kerala Royals are known as SERANs.

    SERAN THEEVU or SERAN DIVA became serandib but in Arab it has no meaning. The close cultural links and the appearance of people of Sera or Kerala are similar to Sri Lankan. The HERATH(U) MUDIYANSELAGES… are of Kerala origin. SERATHTHU MUDIYAN means ELDER of Kerala or SERAN country.

    Sri Lankans of all kinds (Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim) are following the same traditions in case of marriage like Kerala people.

    The Colombo-Kochi(n) sea route is an evidence of TRADE between Kerala and Sri lanka. There is a Kochi kade near Colombo.

    Kerala has more LINKS with middle east than rest of India even today!

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