The Smithsonian Folk Life Festival 2010-Sri Lankan Americans in Washington perform to raise awareness about Sri Lanka.
Posted on July 9th, 2010

Anjalika Silva
(Voluntary Liaison with the Smithsonian Institution for the Sri Lankan Program)

Sri Lankan Americans in Washington were honored by an invitation from the Smithsonian Institution Washington DC to perform at the Folk Life Festival on the National Mall on Friday 2nd July 2010. The folk life festival is a celebration of Americans of various national origins where exchanges of information and fusion activities to educate the public and promote understanding of other cultures take place.

For the first time in its history since founding in 1967, the festival focussed  on the lives and experiences of the local Asian groups who make Washington DC metro area their home.The theme was “Local Lives, Global Ties.” The program was all about what it means to be a person of Asian descent living in the U.S. today. Highlights included a showcase of cultural traditions and diversity expressed in performances, food demonstrations and panel discussions (TalkStory), exchanging strategies for passing down traditions by Asian immigrants to the USA.

 Over the past few months, Asian Pacific countries have been very much in the forefront of celebrations in America.  From being in the background, a sudden burst of interest has brought Asian Heritage to the forefront of celebrations.  Alongside the performances from Sri Lankan Americans on that day, included displays from India, Mongolia, Laos and Bangaladesh. 

Sri Lankan American performance went back in history to pre technology times.  The performances were introduced with the age old village messenger who narrated “Virindu” in traditional Sri Lankan folk style sung to the melody of a “rabana” about the journey of Sri Lankans to America and their thoughts on how they adapted. The composition of Sinhalese verses was by Indika Attanayake and Anjalika Silva expressed with humour the differences experienced by those who came to a new country in an English translation. The gradual merge of the two cultures was told in the verses with emphasis on the two democracies

Following the Viridu were dance items that included American of Sri Lankan origin. The joys of the coming of a Sinhala and Tamil New Year with the blooms of “Erabudu Mal” was performed by the Junior Dance Troupe that included Dehara Weeraman, Melori Lowe, Sitare Sadeghi and Darya Sadeghi

The KNS-Kandyan dance group performed a modern Kandyan dance to the melody “Sithin Prema Vadana” with their graceful choreography.  The participants included Tharanie Amarawardana, Dinali Weeraman, Sandali Chandradasa and Vidya Vijayakumar.  After the dance performance, this group came on stage to show the audience the basics of their dance form and were joined on the stage by the American audience that included children who tried out steps and hand movements in Kandyan dance..

The vision of the beautiful paddy fields and the joys of the harvest season was a dance performed by young girls Dinali Wijegunawardene, Dushani Harischandra, Jessica Abeyanayake and Dashika Wijegunaratne. A village folk dance was performed by the soloist Amandi Koshila in her classic rendition

The music of Sri Lanka was highlighted by the fusion of various drums that included the traditional drums with the Congo drums in a blend of rhythms lead by Himaransi Ranasinghe, with Samira Wickremasuriya, Deeptha Suraweera Rama Nangi and Prasanga Abeysinghe..

The last segment included a tribute to America on behalf of Sri Lankan immigrants who pledged “To Crown Thy Good of America with brotherhood from sea to shining sea,”   expressing appreciation for their adopted homeland and the opportunities provided.  It was also a pledge of their effort toward enriching their new home country and themselves. The Serendib Band lead by Kutila and Dilani Dias accompanied Anjalika Silva who sang “America The Beautiful”  one of the most endearing American patriotic songs first written as a poem by Katherine Lee Bates; (1859-1929) an instructor at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, after an inspiring trip to the top of Pikes Peak, Colorado, in 1893. The music is credited to Samuel A. Ward.

In addition to performances, there were cooking demonstrations from various countries.  Sri Lanka’s hoppers were a popular hit and Kuda Herath did the honors demonstrating and teaching in detail the steps involved in the process.  Among other dishes, the audience seemed to know about our food and even asked for String Hoppers. This Smithsonian event will hopefully provide some impetus for the future of Sri Lankan cuisine in the Washington metropolitan area.

The upbeat finale was when the Serendib Band, a group of musicians of Sri Lankan origin in the USA stirred the party spirit with the Baila Rhythms they are known to perform in Sinhala, Tamil and English.  The music was introduced to audiences as being adapted from a music/dance form left behind by the Portuguese traders who came to Sri Lanka and as our answer to Calypso. Members of the audience joined in and enjoyed the music played by the band while they explained the parallels with similar music from other lands including the USA.  

Coming away from this event, it seemed to have fulfilled our goal to portray our value as Sri Lankan Americans and the contribution we make to America while enriching it with our culture and traditions. It was indeed a rewarding experience to be able to put this program together and work with such a wonderful team of professionals from the Smithsonian Institution who taught us a great deal and made this effort even more rewarding for all of us as we worked together.

Anjalika Silva

(Voluntary Liaison with the Smithsonian Institution for the Sri Lankan Program)

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