Connect with us


The lost cause of Southern solidarity



It is all too obvious from the recent UN Human Rights Council vote on its latest resolution on Sri Lanka aimed at promoting war crimes accountability, reconciliation and other undertakings in the country, that Sri Lanka cannot expect countries of the South to back it unitedly and without reservations on these questions. This is a principal, thought-provoking message from Geneva.

Countries such as Sri Lanka cannot apparently expect such support merely by virtue of their formal identity as developing countries or on the basis of their belonging to the global South, in terms of geographical location or other hitherto accepted criteria.

A close examination of how Southern countries voted or abstained from doing so on the resolution ought to bear this out. As is clear, only seven out of the 22 countries that voted for the resolution are of the West European group of countries. Many of the rest of the countries represent regions outside the Western hemisphere. More significantly, the majority of countries from the African and Asian groups voted for the resolution or abstained from voting. These are just two examples of the non-existence of an undifferentiated Southern bloc, so to speak.

In a sense Sri Lanka was orphaned at the vote considering its post-independence history of generally championing the cause of the South with marked zeal. After all, Sri Lanka’s rulers never fight shy of claiming that the country’s foreign policy remains anchored in Non-alignment, for example. In fact, Sri Lanka is a founding member of NAM. But collective Southern backing for Sri Lanka over the resolution in question titled, ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ was never to be.

Among other things, this glaring deficit in backing for Sri Lanka ought to engross all sections concerned with the more important issues of the South. While in the sixties and seventies, for instance, a considerable degree of Southern solidarity could have been taken for granted in issue areas of the foregoing kind, such certainty is no longer possible.

It goes without saying that even in the early decades of NAM almost all major Southern countries were anything but Non-aligned, considering their then obvious alignment with either of the super powers. This tendency has lent itself to amused and ironic comment over the years.

However, widespread backing for a small state seemingly victimized by the West, in those early years of NAM, could have been generally expected to be forthcoming from the majority of Southern states, since the then USSR could have been depended upon to side with the country concerned in the latter’s squabbles with the West. If the vote in question was taken in the early decades of NAM, for instance, the majority of African and Asian countries would have been with Sri Lanka.

But, needless to say, the heyday of NAM has come and gone, while it is quite some time since the international political and economic order has changed almost beyond recognition. For example, the USSR is a thing of the past and the Cold War too is no more. The observer would need to focus on current complexities in international politics and economics to sufficiently understand Sri Lanka’s recent near abandonment by a considerable number of Southern states in the UNHRC. There is more than meets the eye here.

The stark reality is that there is no absolutely homogeneous and unchanging collectivity today that could be described as the global South. If at all there is one, it is dynamically changing in respect of the politics engaged in by its member countries internationally and by virtue of their economic policies. This was seen anew when the recent vote on Sri Lanka was taken in Geneva.

Whereas in the decades past, the South was more or less undifferentiated in respect of economic standing, this is not so today. There are wide income disparities among these countries currently, since most of them are tied-up with the global economy and are steeped in market economics. ‘Closed economies’, generally associated with the former socialist bloc, are no more. For example, India and quite a few countries of the Asia-Pacific region are economic power houses in their own right and could stand-up, in economic terms, to any Western country seen as vibrant and strong.

While China could be described as socialist with reservations, many of its neighbours in East Asia, such as, Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia, which essentially went the socialist way in former times are today noted for their relatively liberal economic policies and material vibrancy. They too are fast catching-up with the West in terms of economic dynamism. Correspondingly, their populations enjoy better standards of living and are no longer wilting in crippling poverty, although the latter problem has not been completely wiped out from the regions concerned.

The same goes for many of the regions that were described formerly as belonging to the South. Since ‘economic condition determines consciousness’ the majority of Southern countries today, whether they be in Asia, Africa, Latin America or the Caribbean, are likely to shun the idea of belonging to the global South, with all its former negative connotations of being the deprived, run-down and powerless half of the world.

Accordingly, those countries of the South who see themselves as being victimized by the West need to think twice and more before counting on the majority of today’s seeming developing countries for their continued political support in their feuds with the West. This accounts in the main for Sri Lanka’s UNHRC setbacks.

Right now, Sri Lanka could be said to be ‘on the wrong side of history’. Its former support base, the South block, lies disintegrated. It has no firm supporters among the major powers, except for China and Russia. But it is open to question whether the latter could be indefinitely depended upon for their economic and political support.

For instance, it is thought-provoking that China is yet to pledge its support for a recently mooted international treaty pertaining to pandemic preparedness. The latter development is a pointer to China’s continuing adherence to a spirit of economic pragmatism, which could result in it carefully considering the cost-effectiveness of international financial commitments. Countries such as Sri Lanka should increasingly think in terms of relatively independent, self-sustaining development, since major external backers could not be relied on indefinitely. That’s the path taken by the majority of countries of the erstwhile South.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Strong on vocals



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.



Continue Reading


Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



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.



Continue Reading


New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



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…”

Continue Reading