The effect of colonialism in Sri Lankan culture and politics

6 Jan 2008

The man is a cultural animal and culture and man has mutual influence for both. However, the western colonial invasions influenced this balance and in Sri Lanka, we are still seeing the post colonial effect of artificially created cultural segments and their desire to retain power against the will of the common people.

The man required to change the environment in order satisfy his desires. In Indo-Aryan culture, people never became slave of their desires and therefore they respected the nature and never tried to over run it. In the contrary, the western people gradually became slaved on their desires and they wanted to overrun the nature. They even went on to change their religions to adapt this new philosophy.

The development of technology became a meant to conquer the nature, but it never addressed the problem of full filling unlimited desires of western world. After all the hustle and bustle of leap in technology and so called development, is western society a happy one? If they are truly developed, why are they still looking to intervene with politics of their past colonies?

The value systems and culture
Each person belongs to a culture and all his behavior and thinking is partially conditioned by the culture that one belongs. Someone may see the Indo-Aryan culture as one lacking material development, but equally one has to admire the fact that it is a culture with great development in art, literature, music, philosophy and religion.

The ethics of a culture is the commonly accepted values in the society. The people with those values are highly regarded in the society and they become the role models for others in the society.

The different cultures have different values or ethics, but some of them are common, but in different flavors. For example lying in general is considered bad in almost all the societies. While all kind of killings are considered bad in traditional eastern (Indo-Aryan) society, Catholic west and Islamic culture has given superiority to man and they generally accept killing of other animals for consumption. Adultery is generally considered bad in all societies and still the limit of it varies in different cultures.

These lack of restrictions of values or ethics are identified by some people as meant for development. One may argue that those who consume meat may be physically stronger than vegetarian society and those who are less restrained in lying will be better off in trades and commerce. Equally we can see that lack of restrictions may lead to complete breakdown of development and law and order as well.

We can clearly see that basis for most of the ethics or values in western culture is merely to safeguard the society from violence and preserve law and order where as the system in the East is strongly based on philosophical ideology of developing spirituality of individuals.

Globalization is a buzz word that is used to mean that the world is appearing smaller and smaller due to development of technology. In the past, different cultures enjoyed considerable independence. Ancient travelers like Fa Hian and Mako Polo had visited and reported on different cultures, but never involved in influencing other communities. The people who read their reports may have absorbed or adapted some of the features of foreign cultures in voluntary manner. If the mixing of cultures occurs in liberal manner it always mutually benefit by nourishing each other societies.

The affect of Colonialism
However, the intermingling of cultures does not always occur in free and open manner. Under colonial rule, the invaders impose their cultural and religious influence by force. On the other hand, part of the colonized people tends to believe that culture of the invaders is superior to their own. Those people reject their own genuine values and imitate external features of the foreign culture. There are other segments that embrace new culture of rulers to relieve the pressure on them by the native culture. While the native low cast segments embrace foreign culture as defensive mechanism to relive from a negative feature of existing society, the conversion of fishing community can be viewed as an effect of adapting difference in value systems in different cultures. Regardless of the different reasons, the result is a society with people who does not belong to either of the cultures.

Origin of Compradors
There was another segment of people who join hand with the invaders to get petty favoritism and benefits. They embraced all the external values of the colonial rulers to satisfy them and their masters were also looking for these people as local agents to ease governing their colonies. In most of the cases, they were the privileged segment of old culture striving to retain their power even under new rule.

Independence and post colonialism
When the colonial rulers left the country , they made sure that their power is transferred to these compradors who are the privileged class in the society. The colonial masters continue to manipulate these local agents and get the benefits even after they officially hand off their colonies after extracting all the wealth and nourish of the soil.

Freedom struggle Vs Transfer of powers
While Indian people had prolonged struggle for independence mingled with both violence and non-violence, it was more sort of smooth transfer of power by continues constitutional changes that lead to independence in Sri Lanka. While this lead to less violence and blood shed, this mode of independence guaranteed that the power of colonial rulers are smoothly transferred into the hands of their local agents or compradors. This resulted in ever lasting mismatch of cultures of the common people and the local rulers. While the people swiftly got back to their original culture, the local rulers were still having their roots with their colonial masters and not with the common people.

Beyond the boundaries of Political parties
It is characters like Don Juan Dharmapala and Dona Catherina that represent influence of colonialism in its inception. But we should equally remember that it is not a co incidents of history that First prime minister of Sri Lanka was Don Steven Senanayaka, the father of former prime minister SWRD Bandaranayaka happened to be Don Solaman Dias Bandaranayaka, and it was Don Nandasiri Vijeweera who became the first revolutionist in Sri Lankan history.

Regardless of color or party, the post colonial politics is still highly under the influence of few colonial dynasties. It is in the same backdrop that we should analyze the sudden arrival of Chandrika Kumarathunga into Sri Lankan politics and her live in exile with colonial masters after full filling her mission. The west centric behavior of Ranil Wickramasingha, who is the nephew of Junious Richerd Jayawardana, is no strange to those who have gone through the annals of colonial history of Sri Lankan.

Very few of them have tried to rectify inherent sins committed by their ancestors, but by and large they have continued serving their ancestral masters than Sri Lankan nation. That is why leaders like R Premadasa and Mahinda Rajapaksa who immerge from the common people find enormous opposition from the media and political power base of the comprador society and allied INGO agents. It is part of continues struggle due to differences in cultures represented by the common people Vs the privileged sectors of the society.

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kevin said...

This a lot of BS,as far as I am concerned.Colonialism is the result of today we having schools,roads,courts,the Parliament hospitals,tea estates.Though psudo patriots moan about the colonials,they are the first to go any live in the west,just as the Tamils escape as bogus refugees to West,bypassing India.Just a bunch of insisere hypocrites.

NoName said...

Very good article.

The whole east need a revival. Even the SriLankan Buddhist monks have given up the Eastern way.

That is why need a complete overhaull of the complete system.

Anonymous said...

dear writer,
before the british srilanka never seen any democracy, after british gone we bounced back to the same.
dont turn the history up side down
tamils and sigalese have seperate kingdom on their own. with respect of Lord Budha (a Hindu Born ). south people from bengala desam and the north people from south india. all the the Kandyans sigalese are Tamils coverted to Budhium. No point making ethnic
cleansing politics.

Anonymous said...

Well said, You have given a simple explanation in 4 lines. Marvelous...

Anonymous said...

After 1465 AD, Pollonnaruwa had a thriving culture of Hindus and Buddhists.

All those changed after Portugeese landing and thereafter and with the introduction of the Western thought.

What we need now is "LIVE and LET LIVE". Other wise, if we talk about everyones' rights and if we try to postulate rights for every one that is not going to work.

Because, before this so called SL had all Buddhists, Hindus, christians, Muslims, tamils and Sinhalas and we did not disturb them.

Now we talk about rights.

People have problems and disagreements. That is common to everyone.

SO, we need to push politicians in that direction.

SO, this blog site is laying a good foundation for that.

Anonymous said...

Kevin always push for solutions. I think that is his mentality.

Colonials are not the problem, we accept western thinking that is the problem.

Expatriates understand the problem because they can see the problem very well from the West.

If more people want to come to west, no problem.

The problem is people living in Sri Lanka asking favourations because they are ethnic minorities.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kevin. If it isn't for the colonialism, we would be still living like Veddas (aboriginals). we benefited enormously from colonials.
Mr. Rajapakse, his children are England too.


Just Mal said...

Colonialism should not be discussed as if it were a thing of the past. Neocolonialism is well and alive in Sri Lanka with NGOs and left-wing political parties funded by foreign governments.

Jack Point said...

No societies are ever unchanging.

If it was'nt for the west you would not have pol sambol or any dish with chillies in it-becase chilles came from the New World (they origibnated in Mexico) and came over with the other foreign influences.

Of more recent influnce has been Col Olcott and his Protestant Buddhism, which, according to Obeysekere bears little resemblance to the original "vilage budhism" that exised in the country. The Buddhist flag, the Bakthi gee, the Celebration of vesak in the present manner (modelled on Christmas) as amongst the many things that are alien to the original.

Anonymous said...

I think what the post really try to emphasize is post colonialism rather than colonialism itself. Gonna is the days of colonialism, but their post colonial agents are still trying to grab power with their masters with the support of funded INGOs. Thats where common people and privileged comproders are having continues struggle in SL politics.

Jack Point said...

The common people being represented by the likes of Mervin Silva, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

Very nice article indeed. Keep your pen moving.

Present day country is run by American citizens Like Gotabaya and Basil and political parties like JVP are run by people residing in other countries. It is no wonder why we are at this stage. We should really transfer power to our street boys like Mervyn, Lal and Nuwan (especially who are not literate in English like you and I). We will be repeat what had been documented in Mahavamsa (the spirit of our soul). Long live the OLD VALUES. DOWN with Imperialists and stooges.

Why not get the assistance of LTTE too. They have asked the NGOs to leave.

Anonymous said...

Most of the comments clearly shows that comprodor agents in the net have really heart with this article.

Dear Annon,
Mind you Mervin came from the National list of CBK. He was defeated by people in the election. LTTE is fascist. It seems your Wires got mixed up. :-)

Anonymous said...

If Mervin is CBK's baby, why is Mhinda so keen on keeping him? He is very unpopular with the people in general, but instead of using the opportunity of the Rupavahini incident to sack him (he should also be charged under the law) Mahina is busy whitewashing him. Why ? Because he provides money (from crime syndicates and manpower for political work)

It is clear that Mahinda's government is under the influence of criminal syndicates of this country.

Anonymous said...

Given the bloody ethnic war and how tamils and sinhalese are killing each other and taking the coutry back to stonage, in my opinion we should have never been granted independence! atleast then today we would be living in peace (true without an identity but still peacefully) and having far more development! whats the point there is nothing which is 'sri lankan anymore..we are stuck between borrowed cultures, we do not have an identity even the man on the street wants to show he is 'western', you meeet a sri lankan and they refuse to speak sinhalese or tamil wants to speak english to show 'poshness' so might as well serve the british crown again and live peacefully. that way the sinhalese will not be discriminating the tamils and the tamils will not be asking for a seperate state.
by the way I'm a sinhalese buddhist.
p.s.Mahinda's children study in england and they live an english life style!

Anonymous said...

yeah we may have got roads and stuff from Colonization but it doesn't mean that only the countries under colonial rule get a chance to develop. Globalization might have done that anyway, only a bit later but with less ethnic divisions and uncertainty + without the "white people boot licking mentality" Don't you all think that white skin is better? In our country they get more chance than a Sri Lankan.As long as we have that, yeah anyone can exploit us


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