Colonialism, a drama spinner
When Sri Lankan writers are at a loss for a theme they fall back
either on the terrorism in the North. The writer, readers may observe,
fares no better. Once I came across a pathetic piece on a young
descendant of the royal line of an African country, Ethiopia. The
British removed the prince to England, dressed him in European attire
and began to teach him English, a language some of their own kings
refused to learn. But what did he finally do-he pined for his home and
hearth and for his misled mother and then died just hating the English
and their language.
The biggest compliment the reigning Queen of England had paid him
was, "Poor sweet boy. He hardly looked an African!", Very much
reminiscent of the "compliment" paid by the the somewhat sex-crazed
Italian PM when Barrack Obama became President of the USA.
"He is very well tanned for the job"...The tan refers to some
sediment on the skin left behind by Obama"s White mother.
I have also heard of a sad story in our own country of the wife of a
patriot who was shot by the British requesting the foreigners to educate
her son in English as a compensation for making him fatherless.
They readily consented and had him admitted to a hostel in a premier
English college in Colombo but the boy pined day and night for the
fields and the cascading waterfalls of his upcountry terrain, for the
warm embrace of his mother that he developed a psychosomatic illness and
passed away in the dormitory never having mastered the English alphabet.
However, not all went the same way. In fact, a good deal of
literature put out by today's younger generation writing in English,
most of them expatriates, reveal the fact that they have become the
beneficiaries of their grandfathers deciding to quit the native home and
hearth and make full use of the Western education and aligned culture.
The nostalgic longings they exhibit here and there could be genuine
or fake to deceive the reader that their heart is still with Mother
The stark truth is that the broad thinking and intellectualism they
display have transcended national, racial and religious barriers.
Can one say, "Much ado about nothing" No. At least nothing, to the
conquistadors themselves. I remember having a chat with a former
Minister of Cultural Affairs.
He said that he has just returned from a trip to Lisbon where he had
tried to trace documents with regard to their period of rule here and
He learnt that at the time the Ferenghi rule ended here, Portugal was
in turmoil due to domestic issues and all documents were removed to
Some of which were later brought back to Lisbon too made their exit
when an earthquake destroyed the building in which they were kept. And
while we are so preoccupied with these invaders and holds umpteen
seminars and symposiums on their rule here along with many other aligned
topics, the Portuguese seem to be quite oblivious of us. For they were
almost the superpower in the world in the 16th century.
They were ubiquitous having stretched their empire from the North
Coast of Africa to Macau in China. No international law existed to
regulate their activities. Might was the right.
The Iberian peninsula itself had suffered for centuries from Moorish
yoke and now liberated the Portuguese were groping their way to power
In 1454 the Congo basin was discovered by them and in 1494 Vasco Da
Gama made his famous voyage to India rounding the Cape of Good Hope.
Then in 1500 Cabraal discovered Brazil for Portugal. Excuse the dirty
word, "Discovered" used for these countries had existed ever since the
Even the mighty subcontinent of India, world historians would say was
discovered only in the 15th century whereas the Upanishads and the Vedas
with their philosophical speculations were being recited around midnight
fires at the foothills of Himalayas when those in Northern Europe were
running wild in the nude or wrapped in leaves or animal skins braving
the freezing cold and nettled forests.
Portugal, frenzied by their initial successes just brazened ahead.
And of course Papal power formed the main prop.
Both were in need of help in an amazingly widening world. The
doctrine preached by Christ had expanded from the shores of Galilee to
European lands north of the Mediterenean due to Roman king Constantine's
conversion and Vatican had become the world" s embassy of Heaven. All
other faiths were regarded as pagan and had to be wiped off the earth.
The Pope needed a partner for this sinister plan and little Portugal
was willing. It would give a moral justification for their land grabbing
The Three Bulls issued by the Pope in 1493 partitioning "the newly
discovered lands" between Spain and Portugal culminated the process.
"Bull" was certainly an apt word for this brazen and utterly
illegitimate act of partitioning a major part of the world between two
countries just because they were of a particular faith.
Peculiar dramas trailed this process. Some politely call them
"Synthesis of civilisations". Some impolitely call them denigration of
very high civilisations.
The battle still goes on filling intellectual vacuums for those who
have nothing much to do.
The vast majority of the world's population spend their time finding
ways and means of sustaining themselves and their families. For a
fortunate few such effort is redundant. And if they are academically
inclined that long period of what is known as the period of imperialism
throws up many an interesting topic, some even descending to trivia if
viewed via a normal perspective.
The fusion of words, of dress customs, or even racial amalgamation,
these read tantalising while some would just scoff at the whole thing
and say things such as que sera sera (whatever will be, will be). For it
is just one world.
But if you become too nihilist about it, much reading and writing
stuff will be lost and so we go on with a whole package of dramas of
I once met a female tourist of about 35 years from Portugal at a
party. Introduced to her as an opening piece of conversation, I said."
So, you once ruled a part of our land". "Did we?" She asked amazed.
"Yes" "Sure?:" "In fact, there are hundreds of books in our country
written on that subject and scores of meetings held on the subject".
She sidled up to me and whispered, "History was never my strong
subject. In fact, I have not heard anybody talking of this fact. Anyway,
we have been powerful once according to what you say. Tell you what?"
"Sure" "We are a poor country now. "Once you were a super power". "How
She squeezed my hands.
"You are nice. Something very human about you" Well. Did she expect
Sri Lankan Sinhalese to be inhuman? Has the LTTE propaganda succeeded in
such an attempt? I looked at her. She too looked so human. Hardly a
descendant of that Ferenghi who is said to have thrown babies of
families who refused to turn Roman Catholic into the Kelani river from
the balcony of the Portuguese General's Palace at Malwana whose ruins
She cannot be certainly blamed for the atrocities of General Azavedo,
I thought as she shared her packet of roasted gram with me.