The Concept of Trauma in the Ancient Sri Lankan Societies
Posted on February 22nd, 2017
Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge
According to the archaeological evidence, the island was inhabited as early as 10,000 B.C. The Sri Lanka’s ancient cultural heritage dates back over 2,500 years. The Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 3ed Century. The Buddhism became an integral part of Sinhalese culture and civilization. Sri Lanka became one of the few countries with a very vast and rich cultural diversity. The Sri Lankan culture was influenced by India and subsequently by Europe. The European influence was a result of invasion from the Dutch and Portuguese and finally the British in the 19th Century.
The concept of combat trauma dates back to the ancient times. Combat trauma had a profound historical, cultural, social, and religious significance to Sri Lanka and the notion of combat trauma is not new to the Sri Lankans. Throughout the Sri Lankan history, there were foreign invasions, internal conflicts and the Islanders had to confront fearsome battles.
According to the Mahawansa – the great chronicle history of Sri Lanka and one of the oldest chronologies in the world (a German translation of Mahavamsa was completed by the Deutsche Academic Wilhelm Geiger in 1912) describes the devastating impact of the great Wijithapura Battle that occurred in 205 B.C. The triumphant King Dutugemunu experienced severe depressive feelings soon after the battle. This could have been a negative emotional reaction due to post combat depression. The King had guilty feelings over the men that perished in the war. He felt that he was personally responsible for these lives. Later the King’s emotional suffering was healed by a monk.
From 103B.C to 89 B.C, Sri Lanka faced a series of foreign invasions from South India. The King Walagamba fought against the invaders for a long period. When he reestablished his kingdom, the King Walagamba was exhausted following long battles. The enemies had destroyed the irrigation systems, the economy had been collapsed and the country was suffering a starvation. The population manly consisted of war widows and orphans. The King Walagamba took unmourns measures to heal the land that was tormented by 14 year war.
In 110 A.D, South Indian Sovereigns invaded Sri Lanka and took 12,000 people as prisoners. The Bhilla tribal men kidnaped young healthy Sinhala males to work in the South Indian paddy fields. The men suffered immensely in these ancient day gulags. The King Gajaba conquered these kingdoms and rescued the POWs. Up-to-date the fear of Bhilla tribal men remains in the Sri Lankan collective unconscious. Even today, if a child does a mischief parents often say Billa the boogeyman will come and get you.
The King Wijayabahu who ruled Sri Lanka from 1055AD to 1110 AD had to fight against the Chola invaders. His military campaign lasted for 17 years. During these years, he faced numerous war related stress conditions.
The Western Nations arrived in 1505 AD and until 1815 A.D, the Sri Lankans fought against three Western Nations- the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. Some of the local warriors who fought against the foreign invaders later became the victims of combat trauma.
According to the Western chronological records, the first patients who showed PTSD like symptomatology were recorded in 1666. These records were based on Samuel Pepy’s diary which described the bizarre behavior pattern of the survivors of the Great Fire of London. Samuel Pepy vividly portrayed the nightmares, intrusions and flashbacks experienced by these survivors.
Although the Western World recorded PTSD like symptoms in 1666 the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe – the 16th century monarch of Sri Lanka is believed to have suffered from combat related PTSD and his disturbed behavior was recorded in the ancient scripts. The king’s abnormal behavior pattern was described in the Chulawansaya – the ancient chronicle and by the Portuguese historian Fernão de Queyroz . In his publication titled ‘Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon Queyroz writes about the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe ‘s behavior in the later stages in detail. These writings came prior to Samuel Pepy’s diary.
The Portuguese came to Sri Lanka in 1505 and launched a massive armed campaign against the islanders. The King Seethawaka Rajasinghe (1544 A.D – 1593 A.D) was a great warrior who came to the battlefield at the age of 16. He fought against the Portuguese invaders and witnessed many deaths and destructions. He was a fearless fighter who used proficient war tactics and overpowered the fully equipped and fully trained Portuguese Army that was considered as a superpower in the 16th century World. The King Seethawaka Rajasinghe defeated the Portuguese in a number of decisive battles. His military campaigns prevented Sri Lanka becoming a Portuguese Colony. Following long years of combat, the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe was exhausted and unquestionably suffered from battle fatigue. In the later years, the King Seethawaka Rajasinghe showed outburst of anger, irritability, deep mistrust, alienation, emotional numbing and various other PTSD related symptoms.