Coming to terms with our common history – II
Posted on March 18th, 2015

By Rohana R. Wasala

In this era of science, any serious belief in racial myths as records of historical facts is not likely to survive, especially among future generations, for it has been established beyond any disputation that all humans, as Richard Dawkins, eminent evolutionary biologist, categorically says, are actually not descended from apes, but are apes. So the Sinhalese are apes, just as much as others are. That is not a myth, but a scientific fact. Meanwhile perhaps the myths themselves will survive as immortal artefacts of the kind that Professor Ludowyk explains above.

Incidentally, there was no evidence of any panic among the Sinhalese when firm archaeological evidence was revealed by a team headed by archaeologist Dr Shiran Deriniyagala of a pre-Vijayan civilization at an excavation site at the ‘athulu nuwara’ (inner city) of Anuradhapura in 2009? Over 45 Carbon-14 dating tests traced the finds back to a period 300 years before Vijaya’s supposed arrival in Lanka. The objects collected included potsherds with Brahmi inscriptions on them, horses’ teeth, fragments of gold jewellery etc, which clearly show that it was a sophisticated culture comparable with any civilized foreign nation in that era.  News about this discovery was reported in The Island of Monday 14th September, 2009.  Such discoveries will not falsify the basic assumption that the evolution of the Sinhalese as a race/a distinct community (with an admixture of diverse indigenous racial stocks) had some North Indian connection. The alleged ‘Aryanization’ must have been simply the colonization of the island by an Aryan tribe from North India that over time created a uniform speech community influenced by the governing language of the colonists. But that did not make us ethnically ‘Aryan’, just as we didn’t acquire any European ethnicity because Europeans colonised our country at different times. Be that as it may, the important truth is that the present day Sinhalese never believe that they have a right to ill-treat other people or to kill them on account of some such nonsense as alleged superiority they have inherited by having been descended from the king of the beasts. Political conflicts occur between communities in any society, but these often result from more important or more substantial causes such as disagreements over the sharing of territory or economic resources. Historically, this has been our plight, too.

However, sometimes, fanatical belief in mythical racial superiority can cause trouble, as in the case of the Nazis who massacred millions of Jews during World War II (1939-45). In the case of the Sinhalese, how can they say that they are superior to others if they believe that they are descended from a wild beast?  On the other hand, in our own country we have bitter historical memories of great violence and terror inflicted on, and immense suffering caused among, non-Christian Sri Lankans (particularly the Sinhalese Buddhists, the majority, though the persecuted included the Hindu, Muslim, and even non-Catholic Christian minorities in the occupied territories) in the 16th and 17th centuries by greed and godliness” -driven foreign invaders who categorically believed in their racial superiority and in their divine right to persecute, in expectation of heavenly rewards, unredeemed pagans. For an account of crimes committed by the Portuguese in their Christianisation mission inspired by divine love” and Christian charity” one may look into The Portuguese Missionary in 16th and 17th Century Ceylon: The Spiritual Conquest” by C. Gaston Perera  (2009).

The ancient Sinhalese history writers, usually bhikkhus, are often represented as hate-filled racist chauvinists who wilfully falsified or suppressed facts in order to prop up the claim that Sri Lanka always remained a Sinhala Buddhist land. But the truth is far from this. Please read below what C. Gaston Perera, a classics scholar, writes in the Preface to his book mentioned above:

The source material for the study the Spiritual Conquest has necessarily to be entirely Portuguese in origin. It is strange but true that one searches in vain among what is left of the Sinhala sources – Sinhala chronicles or Sinhala literary works – for any material or description pertaining to details of missionary enterprise in the island. There is one half-satirical observation in the Rajavaliya where it has just mentioned the untimely death of Bhuvenekabahu. There is also one angry comment in the Culavamsa but that relates to conditions in Kandy in the reign of VijayaRajasimha in mid-18th century after the eviction of the Portuguese. (Strangely enough, though both comments refer to different times and places, they are both on the identical theme of blandishments to lure would-be converts; …) Apart from these references Sinhala sources have maintained a studied, as it were, silence on what were surely developments of fundamental significance and far-reaching consequences. It is as if the Sinhala authors of these works found the whole Portuguese experience so traumatic that they skirt round it nervously or with typical Buddhist tolerance say nothing against it.”

(p. xiv)

The same attitude of tolerance, equanimity and restraint is shown in the Culavansa in the description of the great havoc wreaked on the laity and the Order” by the Damila warriors in  imitation of the warriors of Mara” under the invader Magha of Kalinga, who ruled for twenty-one years. Chapter LXXX of the Mahavansa (a part of the Culavansa which is actually a continuation of the Mahavansa) where the Magha invasion is described ends with the following general philosophical reflection on all senseless violence committed by this and that ruler” (which includes local kings as well that perpetrated atrocities in fratricidal conflicts) out of great lust for power” (Wilhelm Geiger translation):

Thus in Lanka this and that ruler out of great lust for power, have slain this and that lord of men, but have themselves in consequence of these deeds, attained to no good old age, and even when they had achieved the kingly dignity, they could not alas! enjoy it for long. Hence the wise man should refrain from the destruction of living beings and renounce wanton lust for power.”

‘Ra:ja:valiya’  (which literally means ‘the line of kings’) is the most important historical chronicle written in Sinhala according to Professor J.B.Disanayake. In Chapter 64 on Ra:ja:valiya in his book LANKA THE LAND OF KINGS (Sumitha Publishers, 2007) he

suggests, on the basis of the different styles of language used, that a number of authors were involved in its composition. The Rajavaliya authors adopt three different calendars: Buddhist, Shaka, and Christian. Professor Disanayake hints at the cosmopolitan outlook of the whole historical treatise when he quotes a passage from p. 63 of Ra:ja:vliaya; it gives the idea that a Christian writer wrote it. The opening part of that passage is given below:

At that time, in the year 1522 of our Lord Jesus Christ, there came a ship to the harbour of Colombo from the Portuguese settlement in Jambudvipa, having, by the power of God, escaped the perils of the deep. The men who saw it while lying in the harbour came and thus reported to King Para:krama Ba:hu. ‘There is in our harbour of Colombo a race of people fair of skin and comely withal. They don jackets of iron, and hats of iron; they rest not a minute in one place; ……….’……..”

(p.139)

Though it cannot be denied that there was general harmony between the Sinhalese majority, and the Tamil and Muslim minorities under European colonial rule, they broadly failed to form a consistent united front against the invaders during the nearly four and a half centuries of their occupation of the island because they were not realistically in a position to do so. It must be stressed, however, that this was not due to any intrinsic savagery, depravity, or primitive tribalism that Sri Lankans in general or the Sinhalese in particular were naturally prone to. It was mainly due to  setting the majority and the minority communities against one another by the colonialists, as a deliberate strategy, in their exploitation and persecution of the islanders, and the plunder of the country’s resources.

Some historians of the West may now try to whitewash European imperialist expansion as a clash of cultures, but in reality it was a rape of peaceful native civilizations. Perhaps no country suffered more from this than Sri Lanka did under the Portuguese and their successors. Different communities, and even different sections of the same community, were treated in unequal ways as dictated by the necessity to promote the political and economic interests of the occupiers, which, needless to say, was to the utter detriment of the indigenous population. This, no doubt, facilitated the imperial policy of divide and rule.

From time immemorial the country was known as Sinhaladvipa (The Island of the Sinhalese; Sinhale, or Si:hala), which name survived up to the recent British times in the form of Ceylon”.  ‘Si:hala’ can also be interpreted as ‘Siv Hela’ (four Helas, i.e., the four parts of the country of ‘Hela’, another name for the country). What was common was the  non-Dravidian Hela or Elu language i.e., what we today know as Sinhala. It was the last king of Sinhale (Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe) who became a captive of the English in 1815. The Mahavansa mentions a number of ancient tribes that inhabited the island which took their names from totems or emblems of birds and beasts that they worshipped, as Dr G.C. Mendis points out in his The Early History of Ceylon” (Y.M.C.A. Publishing House, Calcutta, 1943, p.6): Sinhala (lion), Taraccha (hyena), Lambakarna (hare or goat), Balibhojaka (crow), Moriya (peacock), and Kulinga (fork-tailed shrike). According to Dr Mendis, these tribes had occupied India before the arrival of Dravidians. The present day Vaddas are descendants of a clan akin to those pre-Dravidian tribes. Whatever the origin, the known history of the island is the unbroken history of the Sinhalese; the Sinhalese have no other country to call their homeland.

(To be concluded)

2 Responses to “Coming to terms with our common history – II”

  1. Christie Says:

    Everyone else called the island the land of Sinhala; same as they called India the land of Hindians. The difference is the former was called by the name of the type of the people who lived there while the latter by their religion and there were lots of different kings of people living in India under their own leaders.

  2. Christie Says:

    Everyone else called the island the land of Sinhala; same as they called India the land of Hindians. The difference is the former was called by the name of the type of the people who lived there while the latter by their religion and there were lots of different kings of people living in India under their own leaders. Tamils with the help of the JVP have been destroying our history by digging for treasure and then putting the blame on leaders like Premadasa. It is a well planned program by Indian imperialists. These treasure hunters are lead to look for gold and gems. But the organizer will buy any thing of historical value for almost nothing. The Sinhalese diggers are happy to get few rupees for the finds. These objects are exported to Indians from the island they show them to the Westerners as part of their own history.

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