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It’s a Girl, But is it Black?

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

President Biden has completed 50 days of his Presidency in a style as different from that of his predecessor as night and day. And he has performed magnificently, in the backdrop of the worst health and economic crises ever faced by the nation.

Amazingly, a crisis of regal proportions has overwhelmed the world’s headlines. A scandal that has driven media attention of the most terrible crises faced by the world to obscurity. A cataclysm that will change our lives forever.

Will the unborn child who is destined to be eighth in line for the British monarchy be black? This is the burning question which raises any number of new and unanswered questions.

Archie, the firstborn of Meghan and Prince Harry, will have a little sister according to the latest news breaks. When is the due date? This vital information has not been revealed for reasons of national security, but her bump seems suspiciously prominent. The adoring public needs to know.

The recent Oprah interview, which brought this controversy into the spotlight, highlighted most dramatic allegations in the interview made by Prince Harry and Meghan. Why was their firstborn, Archie, denied a royal title? Was it because of his skin color? Which, incidentally is alabaster white. Archie is now plain Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, while the children of Harry’s elder brother, William are Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. Seems unfair, definitely not cricket, old boy. However, according to a decree made by a long dead King, only the children of the first in the line of succession are entitled to royal titles. But Prince William is not the first in line, Prince Charles is.

Having a colored Monarch is anathema to all the finest traditions of the ancient House of Windsor. Archie got lucky. He was born with a white skin, to the envy and relief of his white subjects. But what if the child on the way has a DNA throwback to an African, and turn out to be a black baby! At Buckingham Palace, for God’s sake.

All these rules and traditions got to be so confusing, even to the British, that Queen Elizabeth II created in 2004, by Royal Warrant, no less, the Roll of the Peerage, a public record of the relative levels of aristocracy in the United Kingdom. The Roll is maintained by the Crown office within the British Department of Justice, and published by the College of Arms. The Roll, in its devotion by the British, is second only to the Bible.

A system of aristocracy headed by a monarch, treats with contempt the efforts of other, sadly tradition-free countries,Vicky to experiment with various methods of government. Like Democracy in the USA until 2016; the Marxism of early 20th century Russia; the Principle of Ethnic and Religious Purity, most famously in the Germany of the 1930s and proliferating throughout the world; the disaster of dynastic, criminal autocracy, again in the USA from 2016 to 2020, which is being emulated, with similar consequences, in much of the Third World, including our beautiful Sri Lanka. All these systems of governance are either dead or terminal while the successful and eminently just system of the British Monarchy has endured, indeed flourished, for centuries.

The complex rules of racial classification in American traditions have always confused me. My understanding is that if you are 1/64th black, if your great, great, great grandfather was black, then you are black, however white your skin color is. You and your future generations will, as the saying goes, always “have a touch of the tar brush”.

Look at Meghan. She has the beautiful skin tone and features of a tanned European woman. But when she fills a job application in the USA, she ticks the box that says Black. And now that Harry and Meghan have shed the most aristocratic shackles of the British monarchy and are private citizens, so will Archie and his future sibling. How the mighty have fallen!

Maybe the perfect opportunity for a budding author to script a modern sequel to Mark Twain’s classic, The Prince and the Pauper.

We have the ultimate examples of this racial confusion. President Obama’s father was a Kenyan, but his mother and his grandparents who had an important role in raising him were Kansas white. Obama was never known as half-white, he was always our first Black president. And so with our current Vice President, Kamala Harris. Her father was from Jamaica, a black man from the West Indies. Her mother, who single-handedly raised Kamala and her sister, Maya, was born in Madras. VP Harris always talks about the Indian traditions that had been instilled into her when she was growing up. But she will always be our first Black Vice President.

The abiding rule is that If you are not 100% white, then you are black. How these 100% white people figure out to a certainty who their ancestors slept with is a secret they will take to their graves. A secret that fosters and strengthens their belief in White Supremacy.

Trying to figure out if the British monarchy is racist, because a technically black child not yet born should have a royal title is hardly a difficult – or material – question. A colored British Prince? How revolting. Imagine a colored man being Britain’s Tory government’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, or worse, the captain of the English cricket team. Or the Catholic unthinkable -an African Pope. Almost as unthinkable as Jesus being a Jew from the Middle East, whose natives are not famed for blonde hair and blue eyes.

The Times They Are A-Changin’, as the Bob Dylan song goes.

The current British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, is colored, of Indian origin, as is Home Secretary, Priti Patel.

A man born in Madras, Nasser Hussain, led the English cricket team from 1999 to 2003. He is also an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

And there have been three African Popes, though all before 500 A.D. What makes this fact interesting is that the ethnicity of these Popes was hidden from common knowledge, “because over the years, artists created images of them with European features”.

Racism has endured since the beginning of the great religions. The British monarchy is just carrying on these traditions. The great wonder is how the monarchy of an Empire on which the sun never set, whose rule was based entirely on white supremacy, has commanded, enthralled and earned the devotion and admiration of the world.

Now to the less important, inner page news of the comparatively insignificant crises facing America and the world.

President Biden has been working day and night tackling the twin crises of Covid 19 and the resultant economic depression. The progress he has made in containing the virus, in committing to guidelines recommended by scientists and getting the pharmaceuticals to accelerate the speed of production and distribution; and actually getting the vaccine into the arms of sometimes reluctant people, is nothing short of spectacular. The epidemiologists predict that a sufficient number of Americans will be vaccinated to reach herd immunity by the end of the Summer. The rescue stimulus package which he has now guided through a hostile, though minority Senate will be yet another shot in the arm for desperate Americans and the economy.

He has delegated the less desperate problem to his able and diverse cabinet, most of whom have now been approved by the Senate. He has also left the investigations into the numerous crimes committed by the Trump administration to the Department of Justice.

The Washington DC Attorney General is conducting an independent investigation into the insurrection of January 6, including Trump’s probable involvement/incitement. Over 300 Trump supporters have already been arrested; many have told the prosecutors that they sought to violently overturn the November election because Trump told them that the election was stolen, the Big Lie.

Georgia prosecutors are presently investigating into the telephone call of over one-hour Trump made to the Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, threatening him that he (Raffensperger) would be committing a felony, if he didn’t doctor the Georgia election to “find” 11,780 votes (existing only in Trump’s delusions) and give him a fraudulent win in that state – a demand that the Republican Raffensperger rejected out of hand. A similar threat emerged last week that Trump made a recorded telephone call to Frances Warren, chief investigator of Georgia elections, pleading with her to subvert the election, saying “she would be praised” if “the right answer comes out”. The Georgia Secretary of State told Trump, very politely, to go to hell: “I can assure you that our team (the Georgia Bureau of Investigation) is only interested in the truth and finding information based on facts”. The Wall Street Journal has a recording of this conversation, which has been released to the media.

This is the integrity, the independence and the incorruptibility of public officials which has withstood the efforts of would-be dictators, auto and plutocrats and crooks to destroy American democracy; through slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws of apartheid and the violence of today. Through a racist president who placed his knee on American democracy, not for eight minutes, but for four years.

The integrity, the independence and the incorruptibility of the bureaucracy of Sri Lanka in the post-independence 1950s, was ruthlessly and unscrupulously politicized, manipulated and finally destroyed by the aforementioned Sri Lankan brand of politicians and crooks. This has transformed a beautiful, abundant, thriving island to the dire, corrupt, economic and administrative straits of today – in just over 70 years.

There are other major crises facing America and the world today, according to historian Jared Diamond, “we currently have four global crises to address: the ongoing threat of nuclear attacks, climate change, running out of resources and socio-economic inequality”.

These petty crises may engage the attention of lesser mortals, but we devotees of the British monarchy reserve our concerns to the color of an unborn child.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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