EUROCENTRISM
Posted on May 4th, 2019

Gamini Gunawardane                

Vinod Munasinghe has in his letter of Monday 31 March to ‘The Island’ touched a raw nerve in all of us when he referred to  the eurocentrism of Cassandra who had shrugged it off saying So what?” according to him. It is quite understandable when it comes to the likes of Cassandra. It was the other day that we saw a worse display of Eurocentrism when a government Minister publicly groveled before the Commissioner of the UNHRC begging pardon for the conduct of the members of the Sri Lankan delegation. This shows slavish servility on his part to Eurocentrism. It is said that even after slavery was abolished in the West some slaves preferred to continue as slaves probably because they found comfort zones in slavery.

But the real problem is that most of us are afflicted with this problem in various degrees though are unaware of it. This is due to the fact that we are the product of Western education system. This is worsened by the fact that our knowledge base too is Western oriented, now more so with the internet and the whole system now becoming web based. We are all trapped in it and therefore see no need to develop our own ways of independent thinking, with different outlooks. It has now become fashionable to happily embrace this new knowledge and way of thinking.

I believe it was probably Anagarika Dharmapala thuma followed by Piyadasa Sirisena and prominently Munidasa Cumarnathunga who first realized the need to develop our own way of thinking. (Very probably Vinod is a distant descendent of the Anagarika? – may be it is the same DNA that is revolting in him). Late Eng. Alien de Silva tried independent thinking in his own field in later times. With the demise of the two great Pirivenas, Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara converted into Universities, the remnants of the traditional knowledge system too died a slow death, with the lesser Pirivenas having to adjust themselves to the Public Examination system for survival. Thus the oriental thinking system died ironically not at the hands of the colonials but owing to our own confused thinking after 1956. In the wake of all this, Eurocentrism has come to occupy the vacant space in our thinking. And all of us are engrossed in Eurocentrism. As a result, our creative and innovative thinking has become impaired. Consequently we can only engage in imitative thinking. This is seen in all our approaches to current problem solving.

When the medium of education was changed to Swabhasha in the mid Fifties it was anticipated that it would facilitate thinking in our own language and thereby usher independent thinking as a newly independent nation. But its effect was the reverse. In effect it resulted in an inferiority complex in the new generation who felt a compulsive need to re-orient into Eurocentric thinking.

However, it was some African intellectuals who came up with the assertion in the late Eighties that if post colonialized nations wanted to be truly Free, they need to ‘de-colonize’ their own minds, to be able to usher independent thinking.

I do not know whether it is a coincidence or not that some posters of the 1971 JVP uprising carried  slogans to the effect that we have nothing to lose but our chains that tied us; also that it is better to die standing on our feet than to live fallen on our knees. I do not know whether he was borrowing from Marxian thinking but it must have been very attractive to the young then. Wijeweera in his Five Classes preached that the tea estates should be uprooted and of Indiyaanu vyaapthawadaya (Indian expansion). At that time we scoffed at such ideas as sheer bunkum. But twenty five years later we had the 13th amendment thrust down our throats by India. And now we are talking of denudation of the tea lands and also are staring at a dwindling tea market. In hindsight, I wonder whether Wijeweera was trying to think independently outside the Eurocentric frame though one cannot approve of his violent methodology.

Yet may be all is not lost. When our cricketers, three wheel drivers and housewives started to talk cricket in Sinhala, we became world beaters! When that wonder bowler Ajantha Mendis walked up to collect his international trophy, he could not converse in their lingua franca! The latest is that they have become the first Asian cricket side to beat the South Africans in a clean sweep in test cricket in their own country. Similarly, when young village girl Susanthika Jayasinghe stormed the Olympic scene to win a silver medal for this country, she referred to that Yak gathiya in me” that propelled her.

Not to be out done, Sri Lankan Armed Forces vanquished the LTTE, said to be the worst terrorist organization in the world, to become the only country to have overcome terrorism when the Western Powers told us that it was an ‘unwinnable war’ and that the only way out was negotiated settlement with the enemy. That was probably because our military machine changed to native thinking.

In the literary field, I think of the innovative thinking of Prof. Sarachchandra who revolutionized the modern Sinhala drama to give a new identity. Similarly Lester Peiris broke away from Eurocentrism through his films ‘Rekhava’ and ‘Gamperaliya’, to be recognized as a world class innovative film maker of the last century. Also the case of Sybil Wetthasinghe whose childrens’ stories with her unique illustrations have been translated into over 13 languages in the world. These are significant achievements for a small country with a limited population.

We have also seen some flashes of independent thinking in the present time too. I am thinking of the line of fresh thinking in editorial writing in The Island newspaper which may be the reason why they have earned much appreciation of the readers. There is Ayurvedic Dr. Danister Perera who is engaged in finding new depths in native medicine. We also have archeologists like Prof. Raj Somadeva who is conscious of the need for new thinking in his field of study. (Listen to his talk given at the Dambulu Kathikawa.)

These indications show signs that we are indeed moving towards independent thinking, away from the shackles of Eurocentrism. But I think what is important at the present moment is to realize that it is the eurocentrism and the lack of a de-colonized mindset that inhibits us from thinking freely and that is the cause of our Eurocentrism itself.  I believe it might take another generation for us to fully assert ourselves. But for the present we need self-confidence on ourselves.

For the present. we may be fumbling with that unfamiliar political instrument that is democracy, wallowing in corruption, indiscipline and unethical behavior. It was Mr. D.C. Wjwwardane who wrote his monumental work ‘Revolt in the Temple’ in an attempt to strike out a political philosophy for the newly emergent Sri Lanka. Copies of it were handed over to each Minister of the SLFP Government in 1956, when they took oaths at the Kelaniya Temple. But no one took it seriously, in their euphoria. Later copies of that book was sold in the Pettah pavements for 50 cents!   

Yet all indications are in our favour, after 500 years of foreign domination. One could hear mild distant thunder. This is now said to be the Asian Age. China which had been put into sleep by the West with opium, is now awake and is on the move. They have developed their own brand of Communism which is propelling them forward inexorably. The West seems to be panicking at the prospect of being overthrown from their position of prominence. So let us be awake ourselves and we have only to overcome our inferiority complex that holds us down. 

Gamini Gunawardane                

One Response to “EUROCENTRISM”

  1. Christie Says:

    We have been brainwashed by Indian High Caste imperialists to be anti West.

    Our problems are caused by India and Indians.

    Our economy and political control is in the hands of India and Indians.

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