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Frenzied feeding of fish and more jungle tales

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by Walter. R. Gooneratne

(Continued from last week)

About 5 pm we witnessed something we had never seen before. The river came alive with fish, mainly godaya or grey mullet, dashing upriver, and sometimes leaping in the air, followed by a shoal of koduwa or estuary perch (Latef calcarifer) in a frenzy of feeding. Behind this trail of turmoil followed a small dingy with an outboard motor. In it were the late Dr. Douggie Zilva and another, trolling a line. We heard that the other occupant of the boat was Mr Phillip K. Crowe, the American ambassador who later wrote the book, Diversions of a diplomat in Ceylon on his jungle experiences.

Garuwa told us that this phenomenon occurs not only in the river but also in the two lagoons, Itikala and Yakala Kalapuwa. Even when the mouths of the lagoons are closed. the landlocked koduwas start their frenzied dinner at about 5.30 pm and stop as abruptly at about 6 pm. I witnessed this once again at Yakala on a subsequent trip.

I have seen this kind of frenzied feeding twice more, but this was when there were crocodiles feeding on fish. The first occasion was at Katagamuwa tank. Pervey, Simon and his wife Emilda, Mackie and I were camped on the shore of the lake while on a pig-shooting expedition. One morning there were loud splashing noises coming from the take. I rushed out of the tent thinking a herd of elephants was wading across the water. Just then our tracker came rushing up and wanted us to witness this most unusual sight. A group of about 30 to 40 crocodiles had surrounded a shoal of fish, mainly bolas or murrel or giant snakeheads and walaya or cat fish, and tossed the hapless fish in the air so as to align them and swallow head first. I witnessed the same thing once again on Kokkare Villu in Willpattu National Park.

Partly eaten bait

The next morning we rose early and went to inspect the bait. Sure enough, it had been partly eaten by a leopard. However, as only a small portion of it had been consumed, Garuwa said that the bait had probably been found by it only in the morning and the animal would return early to the feast. Leaving the bait undisturbed, we drove on to Kumana tank. Almost in the centre of the tank was a large sambhur stag feeding on probably the yams of the lotus which grew there in abundance. At the sight and sound of the jeep, it galloped across the lake splashing water before it — a spectacular sight.

After breakfast in the camp, we went back to where the bait was and built a hide in the manner I have described earlier. It was about 15 yards from the bait. However, the rear wall of the hide was an abandoned termite mound which was conveniently located.

Prawns and Russell’s viper

Back at camp, Wasthua suggested that we should have prawns for lunch. He gave me the modus operandi. There were clumps of dead and decaying leaves and twigs stranded in the shallow parts of the riverbed. All one had to do was to pick up these clumps and throw them on the shore and gather up the stranded, hopping prawns that were in them. I was by his side watching the demonstration, but as always in those days, I carried my gun with me. Suddenly Wasthuwa saw what he thought was an extra large prawn wriggling in a clump of leaves. He lifted up what he thought was a king-sized prawn, when he let out a yell, polonga (viper) and ran for dear life. I immediately shot the Russell’s viper which he had pulled out of the water. He was still shivering from fright when I went up to him. Having lived all his life in the jungle, he declared that this was his most terrifying experience. He said that he had once been chased by a wild elephant which had snatched the towel from his shoulder, but that experience was not half as terrifying as this one.

Some years later I came with Mr. Lyn de.Alwis to Kumana on an expedition to collect animals for the zoo. On that occasion, Wasthua accompanied us, and was astounded at the ease with which the staff of the zoological gardens captured deadly snakes, such as cobras and vipers.

Leopard returns

We left camp early at about 4.45 pm for the evening’s adventure with the leopard. Garuwa insisted that the ladies remain in camp, much to their disappointment. Having arrived where the bait was, we found it undisturbed. Spreading out the ground-sheet on the floor of the kotuatte (hide), we sat down on it as comfortably as possible and started our vigil.

Till about 5.30 the jungle was comparatively quiet. Shortly after, a mongoose walked up gingerly, and having checked all was clear, started to feed on the carcass. A few minutes later, the jungle folk started their calls, warning everyone that a leopard was on the prowl. The first was the bark of a muntjak or barking deer. This was followed shortly after by the alarm calls of a troop of langur monkeys. Soon the jungle was alive with calls from more monkeys as well as spotted deer. Obviously the leopard did not bother to conceal himself, as he knew that he had a ready made feast awaiting him.

Suddenly the jungle fell silent and the mongoose scurried away. Garuwa covered the peepholes and signalled to us to be quiet. Two minutes later the tearing of flesh and crunching of bones were clearly audible. A little more time was given for the leopard to settle down. Garuwa then gently opened the peepholes and signaled Ivor to shoot. He was using my shotgun. After what appeared to be a long time, Ivor fired. We heard an animal dashing away into the jungle beyond. We checked to see if there were signs of injury to the animal. Ivor was thoroughly disappointed when there was none.

Garuwa cheered him up, saying that since the animal was unhurt, he would think that the sound of gunfire was due to thunder and therefore return to the kill. I have seen this happen before. As there was still plenty of light, we decided to continue our vigil.

Ferocious elephant

Garuwa had warned us that there was a vicious elephant in these parts and it had attacked a number of people recently. As if in answer to his warning, there suddenly was loud trumpeting of an elephant to our right. As seen through the peephole that covered the track leading to the tank, was a huge elephant, waving its trunk and eyeing us menacingly. Garuwa and I shouted at it in unison. The infuriated animal trumpeted and dashed off into the scrub jungle to our left and a little way behind the bait. From there it made squealing noises and made short rushes at our hide. At our shouts, it would stop and thrash the bush, uttering its squealing noises all the time. Garuwa thought it meant business and decided to beat a hasty retreat. We made an exit through the rear of the hide, over the termite hill, to the jeep which was parked a short distance away.

We made a dash to the camp and safety, though on the way another elephant made a short but abortive charge in the wooded part of the track. When the ladies heard our story, they were not so annoyed that they had been left behind.

As the moon was quite bright, Wasthua suggested that we have a swim in what he said was a clear rock pool lower down the river. The pool was indeed a lovely one, glistening like silver in the bright moonlight. Having returned to the camp quite refreshed, I inquired from Garuwa whether the pool had a name. Of course, he answered, it was called Thummini Gala or Three-death-rock, since three persons had been killed there by crocodiles. I berated him for putting us in such danger. A sundowner was followed by dinner and bed where we were lulled by the persistent call of a nightjar.

Leopard returns again

Early next morning we went to see if the leopard had returned to the kill. The sight that met us was unbelievable. The kotuatte (hide) had been smashed to smithereens, and the termite mound flattened to the ground by the elephant. We thanked our lucky stars for our miraculous escape. However, the leopard had returned to the bait and finished off quite a bit of it. Garuwa was sure it would return as there was quite a lot of flesh left. He set about building a new hide a few yards from the old one and to its left.

We then went bird watching to the villu. There was a large variety of them, mostly aquatic birds, with nests and hatchlings in them. They included spot-billed pelican, painted stork, ibis, spoonbill, and several species of egrets, cormorants, Indian darters, shags, whistling teal, grebes, white-breasted and stork-billed kingfishers and pond herons. A few crocodiles were also seen cruising about in the villu, and a sounder of wild boar was grubbing about on the far side of the villu. A bath in jungle rivers is always most refreshing. After a glass of chilled beer, and a chicken-curry lunch, we retired for a short siesta as we had to be up early in preparation for the evening’s adventure.

After previous evening’s happenings, the ladies were not keen on accompanying us. At about 4.30 pm, Garuwa, Wasthuwa, Ivor and I left for the hide. Having made ourselves as comfortable as possible in the cramped conditions, we settled down to our vigil. By 5.30 the mosquitoes descended on us in their buzzing hordes.

Having been undisturbed the previous night, the leopard, as predicted by Garuwa, was coming early to the banquet, as evidenced by the chorus of alarm calls by the jungle community. The first was a cacophony from the langur monkeys. This was followed shortly after by the calls of peafowl and spotted deer. At 6.05 pm the noise of tearing flesh and crunching of bones came from the site of the bait. Our prize was at his meal, and too engrossed in it to notice the danger he was in.

Garuwa cautiously uncovered his peephole, and peered through it. I was behind him and saw the leopard lying down and feeding. Garuwa now silently uncovered Ivor’s peephole too and motioned him to shoot. Soon a shot rang out and the leopard was felled by the impact of the SG slugs, and there was no further movement from it. We waited awhile, threw some sticks at it and as there was still no movement, we knew the animal was dead. It was a young male in its prime. Ivor was jubilant with his trophy.

We hove it onto the bonnet of the jeep and drove back to camp in triumph. There were congratulations for Ivor on his trophy. Kadisara stroked the animal in admiration. After a bath there were more celebrations. Garuwa and Wasthua were given a double dose of their “cup that cheers”.

(To be continued next week)

(Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka edited by CG Uragoda)



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Features

A devils’ drama in power politics

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did say with pride the government’s decision to set up 100 new police stations, at his inaugural speech at the opening of the new session of Parliament.

There may be cause for presidential pride in having many more police stations, but the recent records of police activity, especially on matters relating to public security, does leave much to be desired of the Police.

The reports flowing in about the hand grenade found at All Saints’ Church, Borella – Colombo, do raise many questions about police activity: Is it inactivity or directed activity on this matter? The limited time it took to search  for the person who placed this grenade, the first arrest in this regard – the sanchristian of the same church; the Church’s own revelation of the longer CCTV on the same day, with a different player in this grenade match, and the police arrest of that person too; and the stories of weapons or fire-toys found in the home of a retired doctor, who is now said to be the brain or strategist behind this grenade match, is rapidly unfolding into a drama of political direction, where the police is playing more than a lead role!

The All Saints’ Church is considered a holy shrine by those who attend religious services there, and those who come there to appeal for the blessings of saints, and God, too. But who would ever have thought that such a place of worship would be the defining authority on how many matchsticks a box of matches would or should have?

The Cabinet Minister in charge of Police was also heavily involved in this All Saints’ show piece – from matchsticks to joss-sticks and sellotape – and the ethnicity of the first suspect, too. As the country moves into the coming disasters on the economic and service fronts, as the dollar disaster keeps rising with Ajith Nivard Cabraal’s blessings, we may well see the All Saints being moved into an All Devils drama, with whatever dramatic expertise that key politico-police authorities possess!

President Gotabaya certainly has a way of his own. He is so fully supportive of his green agriculture programme. His desire for green is certainly not to do with his liking the UNP, although Ranil W may be supportive of any such moves.  But his continued support for green agriculture does raise questions about his memory capacity. Has he forgotten all the problems and the near disastrous situations that his green-agro policy did push this country into?

Does he know nothing of what his blanket ban overnight on agrochemicals did to the agricultural sector?  Has he not been informed of what this country paid to the shipload of Chinese fertiliser, which our own analysts found to be contaminated? Is he not taking any action against the officers of a state bank who signed a Letter of Credit, without the necessary information on financial security?

This is certainly playing with a green ball that gathers all the dirt on the field and giving all strength of profit to the Chinese player!

The President did say he would submit to Parliament the recommendations of the Expert Committee appointed to help draft a new Constitution. That means he has some faith in the Parliament of the people. That’s good. Let’s wait and see how this goes on.

What raises many problems is that he was so uninterested in the findings of the Special Committee appointed by him to study the gas disaster, caused by the gas dealers. Was he so ignorant or uninformed of the repeated and continuing blasts of gas cylinders, the deaths caused to mothers and children, the injury to gas users, and the huge damage to homes?  When will this Parliament have a proper debate on the gas catastrophe, as it may on recommendations of the Expert Committee on the new Rajapaksa Constitution?

The President’s speech was short. It was good, because the problems this government has caused to the country, since his election as President, and the huge election of a two-thirds majority in Parliament, which has given more than Green Agro Power, would not be a good, lengthy exercise.

Rajapaksa Governance is certainly calling for major changes in our political thinking, and system of governance. Making it even more brief would be of more service to the country and the people, than what the Family Power nor Pavul Balaya is doing today.

Even with the many twists of the current police exercise, and the rise of the new All Devils Drama that is unfolding, let’s hope the Rajapaksa Power Play gets run down to its end very fast!

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Features

‘Sensuality Hospitality’

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BY Srilal Miththapala

From time immemorial the female form has been exploited for diverse reasons, to achieve a wide variety of outcomes by various cultures, individuals, groups, tribes and business organisations.

At the same time, women have always been aware of the immense power of their sensuality, and how it can be subtly used to further their ambitions.

The tourism and hospitality is not an exception in this context, where a woman’s presence in the service delivery/customer contact points usually has a strong positive impact.

This discussion tries to analyse this phenomena in an objective manner, with special emphasis on how localised cultural contexts affects it, and the resulting implications

Women and sensuality

Sensuality is about ones sexual feelings, thoughts, attractions and behaviours towards other people. Sensuality is diverse and personal, and it is an important part of who you are. And manifests in various ways such as body language, tone of voice etc.

Many In today’s world believe that a wide variety of expressions of female sensuality can be empowering to women when they are freely chosen. It can also be utilised by women to further their personal ambitions and goals.

History is full of such examples. The very origin of humanity may have been vastly different if Adan did not succumb to Eve’s ‘charms’ in enticing him to eat of the forbidden fruit.

Delilah enticed Samson to reveal the secret of his brute strength, at the behest of the Philistines.

Eva Duarte, was an illegitimate child with dreams of stardom. She met rising political star Juan Perón in 1944 and unabashedly charmed herself into his life, ending up as the First Lady of Argentina.

Cleopatra is cast as the ultimate femme fatale, whose influence supposedly ruined many a good man’s career, with she herself succumbing to the complicated web she wove.

And Harry Belafonte summed it all up in his famous song “Man Smart, Woman Smarter”-

“And not me but the people they say

That the man is leading the women astray

But I say, that the women of today

Smarter than the man in every way”

All these examples are of women who have leveraged their sensuality in a rather ‘aggressive’ fashion for personal gain, which often had them labelled as promiscuous, flirty and slutty, and looked down upon.

However in todays ‘sexually liberated’ world, the feminist movements have successfully transformed this thinking by radically removing the arbitrary shackles prescribed by tradition. Today a woman who is aware of her sensuality, and confidently carries it, is considered an emancipated person.

However when a woman’s sensuality and form, is used to achieve some results by a third party, implicitly or explicitly, it could be considered a form of exploitation.

Women in Hospitality and Sensuality

‘Sexual hospitality’ was an ancient custom whereby the host provided a hostess from his household to the male guest for their pleasure.

The Himba tribe of Nigeria, are known to practice the Okujepisa Omuka tradition, which involves a man giving his wife to his visitor for sexual entertainment and pleasure.

While such actions do stem from cultural norms, there are other numerous examples where there is an aspect of domination, where women are forced or coerced to provide these services, rather than of their own free will.

However in today’s commercialised and highly competitive hospitality industry, a women’s sensuality has become a commodity employed to attract customers, although it may not be officially endorsed.

When women and girls are repeatedly objectified and their bodies hypersexualised, the media contributes to harmful gender stereotypes. In a study of print media, researchers at Wesleyan University found that on average, across 58 different magazines, 51.8 percent of advertisements that featured women portrayed them as sex objects.

The hospitality industry today, not only legitimises and reinforces these historical gender stereotypes to some extent, but also eroticises hospitality, albeit in a subtle manner. Almost always front-end customer contact staff are attractive, well-groomed and well attired women. An establishment will go to great efforts taken to design ‘eye-catching’ uniforms for frontline female staff. (This is more prevalent in resort hotels in the Asian region, which are seen to be more exotic destinations) .

The hospitality industry is a “looks” industry, in which women are expected to use their appearance as part of the service experience. Restaurants often have strict grooming and uniform rules, requiring employees to maintain certain “looks.”

There is no doubt that women in the hospitality industry do brighten up and add colour to the industry by their sensuality, charm , physical form …call it what you may. Ask any hotelier and he will conform that the charming smile of a girl at the front esk has neutralised many a guest complaint!

This in turn often attracts sexists remarks and sexual innuendo from customers, which are possibly relatively ‘mild’ and female frontsline staff usually learn to cope with. ( “The food is as good as you” and “Are you on the desert menu? Because you look yummy.”)

However this environment of the hospitality industry which to a certain extent ‘accepts’ this status, could also lead to other forms of more damaging issues.

Women in Hospitality-The Sri Lankan context

Women in the industry

Women’s under -representation in the labour market is high in Sri Lanka. The population comprises of 52.8% females but when it comes to labour force participation their representation is only 35.6%, which is the lowest in South Asia (Department of Census and Statistics – Sri Lanka, 2014).

Howev, Sri Lankan females are among the most literate in South Asia, and the country tops the sub-continental rankings for female literacy. According to the University Grant Commission of Sri Lanka is the only country in the region to produce more female graduates from its local universities.

The Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM) – Colombo School in 2017 had a representation of only 21% of female students, 12 % in Kandy Hotel School and only 6% in the Anuradhapura Hotel School. Similarly the three privately managed hotel schools namely Mt. Lavinia Hotel School, The Winstone Hotel School and William Angliss Hotel schools representation is 11%, 10% and 24% respectively.

Sri Lanka’s overall female labour force participation is lagging behind many Asian nations. Presently, Sri Lanka’s female labour force participation rate is around 35% compared with male participation rate of 75%

Despite its importance to the economy (was the third largest foreign exchange earning Industry before CoVid), Sri Lanka’s tourism industry and its growth was facing several constraints, among which the lack of skilled human resources is prominent.

However, in contrast to the high levels of female participation in the tourism industry worldwide (about 54%), albeit with some regional differences, women are highly underrepresented in Sri Lanka, with females accounting for less than 10% of the workforce.

The reasons for this are varied, and often based on cultural issues and norms. Jobs in the industry are considered to be socially unsuitable for women, especially for single females, and are often associated with

safety issues (sexual harassment),

poor prospects of career advancement

lack of job security

poor retirement benefits in relation to the public sector;

long/late working hours and shift work (no flexibility)

sub-standard working environments and facilities.

dress code

Some of these are definitely perceptions perpetuated by the media. Consequently, parents and husbands have discouraged their female children from pursuing a career in the hotel sector.

According to a World Bank study on women’s participation in the Sri Lankan labour force, 85% of the respondent stated that women are likely to leave their job in tourism after marriage.

Sexual Harassment

From the aforementioned reasons that women shun the tourism industry, sexual harassment at work is perhaps the most contentious issue.

In a wide ranging study published by Hospitality Management Degrees Net, it is stated that one in every ten women in the hospitality industry in the world, has faced some form of sexual harassment, with restaurant and frontline staff reporting more incidents. The type of harassments ranges from sexist remarks (87%), sexual innuendo (84%), and inappropriate touching (69%). The larger proportion (80%) are from other male co-workers and customers (78%)

In Sri Lanka, there are no specific studies done on the sexual harassment in tourism industry, but there is considerable literature on the general female workforce in Sri Lanka.

However, the same aspects are prevalent in the local tourism scene with restaurant and the housekeeping staff most prone to such issues. The most common acts of harassment were obscene language, sexual jokes and sexually suggestive comments.

In a Sri Lankan context more women in junior positions in hospitality experience sexual harassment which indicates that it has to do with both gender and power issues. With low levels of education, they are less confident than other employees when dealing with difficult people in positions of power.

There are also instances reported of subtle ‘sexual bribery’ where certain ‘favours’ can be demanded by those in higher management positions in return for job related rewards.

However, without specific information it is difficult to comment about the Sri Lankan situation. But definitely harassment is often ignored or taken to be ‘part of the job’, by both the targets of the harassment, and the co-workers who witness it. Unfortunately in the hospitality industry it is taken as the ‘norm’ and exposure to unwanted sexually related attention is considered to be part of the job (Hoel & Einarsen, 2003).

When compared to actual number of complaints on sexual harassment from the employees of the tourism sector to other main sectors, it is seen that complaints received from tourism sector is much lower than some other sectors where the females dominate in numbersss. (such as the apparel industry)

Conclusion

There is no doubt that women play a vital role (knowingly or unknowingly) in marketing and promoting a hospitality establishment through their own sensuality. However this subtle ‘making use’ of women to promote the business can lead to enhanced issues related to sexual harassment to them, both from within the establishment (co-workers) and from without (customers).

This can be managed if there is a good open and transparent work ethic and culture, where professionalism and the dignity of labour is respected.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317289094_Hostage_to_hospitality_Is_there_a_relationship_between_’sexual_hospitality’_and_sex_in_commercial_hospitality

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_sex_tourism

https://historyofyesterday.com/the-culture-that-offers-free-sex-to-house-guests-4d770e59f5b9

https:// Importance-of-women-to-Sri-Lanka-s-economic-prosperity

So Sri Lanka; More like, So Where are all the Women in the Hotel Industry?

https://hospitalitymanagementdegrees.net/features/sexual-harassment-in-hospitality

https://www.thefocus.news/travel/sexual-harassment-sri-lanka/

D A C S & Mendis B.A.K.M. Women in Tourism Industry – Sri Lanka Silva (2017)

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Museums through Prof. Thapar’s eyes

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Dr. Roland Silva Memorial Lecture:

By Uditha Devapriya

On Thursday, 27 January, Prof. Romila Thapar will deliver the Dr Roland Silva Memorial Lecture to the National Trust of Sri Lanka. Prof. Thapar will be speaking about the museums in India, charting their evolution from private collections to public displays and placing them in the context of similar institutions from other colonial societies.

Museums formed a crucial part of the colonial project, aiding administrators, officials, scholars as well as nationalist elites in their reconstructions of the countries they lived in and governed. Not surprisingly, after Independence the role of such institutions changed. Prof. Thapar would be discussing this aspect as well along with their potential to bring the historian and the social scientist together and their contribution to society.

The event will be the 141st such organised by the National Trust, as part of its Monthly Lecture Sessions. Originally held on the last Thursday of every month at the HNB Auditorium in Colombo, these lectures have brought in various scholars from fields connected to the study of history including archaeology, architecture, and ornithology. The shift online during the COVID-19 pandemic did not bring them to a halt: while the trustees held 10 online lectures in 2019, they held eight in 2020 and another 10 in 2021. Since 2015, moreover, these lectures have all been uploaded online free for everyone and anyone.

The brainchild of two of Sri Lanka’s finest archaeologists and scholars, the National Trust of Sri Lanka celebrates its 17th anniversary this year. Its objectives include the identification, documentation, protection, and conservation of the country’s heritage, defined in terms of physical objects like historic buildings, monuments, artistic and cultural works, as well as intangible artefacts like rituals, customs, and beliefs. More importantly, it seeks to inculcate an interest in these matters among ordinary people.

There it has more or less been doing what such organisations should be doing. The contemporary notion of a National Trust first came into being in late 19th century in Britain, with the establishment of a National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. Founded as a not-for-profit association in 1895 and incorporated by an Act in 1907, it has since become the largest conservation charity in Europe. Its aim has not just been to save important sites from destruction, but also to open them up for public enjoyment. More than 125 years later, it has evolved into a fully-fledged institution, overseeing more than 500 historic sites, 250,000 hectares of land, and 780 miles of coastline.

Since then similar institutions have sprung up elsewhere. In India, a National Trust was established as a registered society, a corporate body with its legal personality, in 1984. Today that country is home to more than one such society: the International National Trusts Organisation lists three, including the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development. In other countries these organisations serve different functions: the Yangon Heritage Trust, for instance, focuses on urban heritage, while the Siam Society also focuses on the natural sciences. Whatever function they serve, the International National Trusts Organisation lists more than 80 of these institutions, emphasising their common inheritance.

Though the need for a National Trust had been felt for some time in Sri Lanka, nothing was done about it until Roland Silva and Senake Bandaranayake intervened in 2004. The concept papers reveal that a great deal of thought went into the founding of the organisation. Initially conceived as the “Sri Lanka National Heritage Trust”, it later transformed into the National Trust for Cultural and Natural Heritage. The concept papers tell us that from its inception, much emphasis was placed on the notion of intangible cultural heritage, based on UNESCO’s classification of customs, traditions, and beliefs as enshrined in a landmark treaty, the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, in 2003.

At its inception on May 27, 2005, the National Trust counted 11 founders, including Silva and Bandaranayake as well as Ashley de Vos. To oversee its activities, seven committees were formed; another committee to oversee the management of the society, came into being in 2010. Arguably, the most important of these, the Scientific Committee, branched out to eight sub-committees, dealing with areas such as monuments and sites, architectural conservation, and industrial heritage. These, not surprisingly, reflected the expertise of its founders; since their formation, they have brought together a wide group of scholars, from art historians and architects to musicologists and archaeologists.

Today, the Trust engages in several activities, and not just lectures. In 2006 it organised an inaugural tour to the Botale Raja Maha Viharaya and other areas of historical interest in the region; due to the pandemic, it has not undertaken any historical tours since 2019, when it sponsored a visit to Jaffna. It also took up several conservation projects, one of them involving the Portuguese Fort in Malwana and another Joseph Lawton’s photographs of various national heritage sites. The latter has proved useful to the researcher and archivist of 19th century British Ceylon. These projects, in turn, led to two audio-visual productions: an exploration into the history of Sinhala music based on a lecture by Tissa Abeysekara, and a similar project about the evolution of music theatre in Sri Lanka.

Perhaps, the Trust’s most important contribution has been its publications. About 20 of these have been done so far. Foraying into different fields, they have spurred interest among scholars and readers alike.

These titles include Senake Bandaranayake’s and Albert Dharmasiri’s Sri Lankan Painting in the 20th Century, Neville Weeraratne’s The Sculpture of Tissa Ranasinghe, Nishan Perera’s Coral Reefs of Sri Lanka, Gehan de Silva Wijeyaratne’s Birds of Sri Lanka, and Shanti Jayewardene’s Geoffrey Manning Bawa: Decolonising Architecture. Reasonably priced and available at leading bookshops, they underline the need to go beyond just coffee table publications of general interest.

Elsewhere, National Trusts have become a gauge of a society’s intellectual activity. In that regard the Sri Lankan National Trust may have much more potential. Though these tours, lectures, and publications have contributed a great deal, they have not been met with adequate levels of interest. Ambitious as these have been, they have not succeeded in gleaning a response commensurate with the Trust’s objectives.

In this, of course, the Trust is not to blame: there is just so much an institution can do. Yet when one considers that the British National Trust claims a membership exceeding 5.4 million, while its counterpart here claims fewer than 600, one realises the depths to which scholarly activity in Sri Lanka has fallen.

That tells us as much about our people as it does about our intelligentsia. Of late, one leading academic institution after another has been swept up by the rigours of politicisation. Scholars have increasingly turned into yes-men. Original research has become a thing of the past. What little intellectual activity there is now is underfunded and overstretched.

If Sri Lanka is to compete internationally, it must produce scholars capable of taking it to the world. Such individuals cannot thrive in a culture that rewards obeisance and acceptance over scrutiny and critique. This does not apply to politicians only, of course; people have contributed to such a state of affairs as well. In other countries, non-specialists rarely, if ever, have the last word over experts. In Sri Lanka, however, they exercise a more formative influence on the public than do professionals. This can only end badly, for everyone.

It’s not unfitting, then, for the National Trust to have chosen someone like Romila Thapar for this year’s inaugural lecture. Professor Thapar is not just the leading historian in India; she is also one of its most outspoken intellectuals. Of late, she has come out into the open, emphasising the need for nuance and rationality in the study of history.

There she has had to face a situation not too different to what we are facing: nationalist extremists have more or less monopolised discussions, turning the study of the country’s past into debates over who should be determining its future. Lost in such debates is the point that we are what we make of ourselves, that we invent the customs and traditions which we believe define us, and that these must always be placed in their historical context.

The National Trust obviously has a role to play in all this. We are caught in the midst of a severe crisis, and economic problems have taken precedence over everything else. Yet, there probably has been no better time to raise these concerns, to talk about them, to make it easier to understand our past. This is something the Trust’s founding members, especially Senake Bandaranayake and Roland Silva, engaged induring much of their lives. It is the legacy the Trust is heir to, the legacy it bears today. If it cannot live up to its own inheritance, no one can.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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