End Tribalism in Sri Lanka
Posted on May 9th, 2019

Sunil Vijaya

Perhaps Tribalism is ingrain in most Sri Lankans and every one of us goes through this phase in our life time yet the depth to which it has penetrated in individuals depends to what degree of conditioning the individual has gone through. 

Subtle forms of tribalism such as a school, university are common and most take them lightly except exhibiting rivalry at a time of sport or at any other competitions such as debates etc.

We as a nation, had traditions and ideals which had been inculcated in us from generation to generation, which most

Western countries lack and one of the most unique concepts in our culture was the concept of Shramer daaner or the donation of one’s physical effort.  The villagers would help each other in especially during the time of cultivation of rice, the preparation of paddies, and the rest of the processes ending up with harvesting.

There was harmony among villagers, and everyone participated in rituals with Buddhist ceremonies at the village temple headed by the village monk culminating in traditional poojas.   Life was so simple and beautiful.

With the encroachment of our land by foreigners especially the British, this harmony among villagers deteriorated rapidly with the introduction of a centralised governance headed by an Agent who reported to the centre.  The elected representatives began identifying themselves with a Party and the villagers began supporting and showing loyalty and allegiance to the party man of their choice.

The rice paddies now became battle fields of politics.  The UNPers never worked in paddies owned by SLFPiers and vice versa, and the whole fabric of unity slowly broke down and violence at election time resulted in even deaths and arson.  The worst form of Tribalism stemmed from this and today Sri Lanka experiences this form of tribalism to be the worst which has dramatically impacted and affected the society.

Besides seeds sewn by foreign invaders introducing their culture did further damage with social segregation.Tribalism based on race identifying themselves as Sinhela, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher further divides the nation.   These tribes further segregate themselves on the basis of their creed, faith and label themselves as Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Islamists.  Sinhela Buddhists don’t stop there they continue identify themselves as up country and low country. 

The buck doesn’t stop there either, they label themselves as high caste and low caste depending on ruling class down to farmers, fisher folk and rest of the trades people, drummers and down the ladder the out-castes who are not even offered a seat in their homes.  The vicious nature of these tribes and their tribalism affect electing ideal representatives to parliament, which in-turn affects the judicial system and other important institutions of security the tri-forces and police etc. and the moronic cycle goes on.

Tribalism is observed even among Buddhist monks who distance themselves from rival nikayas as Siam (Thai), Amarapura (Burma) etc .and refuse to even sit with a different sect. or they would elevate themselves to a higher platform (recently observed in Kandy) to show a superiority, which Buddha would have totally opposed.  Even Upasampadava is not offered by the siam nikaya monks to foreigners who seeks to enter the Order.

All these minor tribes however aggregate themselves, irrespective of being monks or layperson, once again as loyalists of political parties and form closer ties shedding their differences to take advantage of a vote, especially at election time. 

Only at a time of disaster, they all speak loud and clear to shed differences and unite for the sake of the nation.  Few decades ago in a LIFE magazine an article carried an equation.  AMITY = ENMITY + HAZARDS – which means the disunity of a group disappears at a time of calamity, as we clearly observed during the recent bombings by wahaabi terror groups.  True clearly, there is a difference between Tamils and Tigers, Muslims and Wahaabis, Sinhelas and sinha Le extremists.

Sri Lanka, considered a country of intellectuals, needs to decide whether we go down the path of dreaded perennial Tribalism or shed it at the highest-level, MAJORITY AND MINORITY, which are just concepts handed down by generation to generation poisoning our minds. 

Let us end this virulent Tribalism and Think Sri Lankan, Act Sri Lankan.  Certainly, we are born human and that’s the only label we should carry to our grave.

Sunil Vijaya

3 Responses to “End Tribalism in Sri Lanka”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Thanks Sunil.

    However for reasons known to all, tribalism will not end in Sri Lanka. It will worsen with time.

    Even if there is unity following a calamity (e.g. tsunami) it quickly resorts back to tribalism.

    Policies must take into account this sad reality of tribalism. Otherwise one ethnic group will be disadvantaged while others are unfairly advantaged, leading to more tribalism.

  2. Christie Says:

    When was a tribe called Sri Lankans born?

  3. aloy Says:

    The nonchalant attitude shown by IGP (a Wanni Hath Paththu man, if I am not mistaken) and his men in the Easter Sunday attack and the release of bomb making men immediately after they were caught, clearly shows signs of tribalism and perhaps greed for money. One may not find this sort of behavior even in Africa.

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