Connect with us

Features

The Old Town Of Galle And Fortifications

Published

on

The World Heritage Sites Of Sri Lanka

By EVERYMAN

Volleyball it is claimed is our national sport. However there is no doubt that Cricket is the most popular sport in Sri Lanka .That popular West Indies calypso ‘Cricket, lovely cricket.’,’ will always be ringing in our ears. From the villages where youngsters from around 16 to 26 or maybe even older, use ‘polpithi’ bats, to the towns where more sophisticated young men use willow bats. It is cricket, cricket and more cricket. Little wonder then that we have been correctly described as ‘ a cricket crazy nation.’ And when it comes to grounds for international matches the Galle International Stadium is the most favored by our cricketers, our coaches and our spectators. The reason is that as at today (03. 05 .21), 34 Test Matches were played on these grounds of which Sri Lanka won 19 and lost only eight. In addition to this, in a press release datelined June 8, 2020, Yash Mittal an avid lover of cricket has listed five of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world. And yes – you have guessed it – the Galle cricket grounds, cradled between the Galle Fort and the Indian Ocean, heads the list !

Galle has an ancient and interesting history. In pre-Christian times Galle, called ‘Gimhathitha’ which is derived from the ancient Sinhala script meaning ‘port near the river Gin’ ( Gin Ganga ) was a major port in our country. As early as 1400 BC cinnamon had been exported and Galle may well have been the main transshipment port in this part of the world, with Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Malays, Indians and Chinese doing trade. A trilingual Inscription on stone dated February 14, 1409 in Chinese, Tamil and Persian was erected by the Chinese Admiral, Zheng He, to commemorate his visit to Galle. This is now in the Colombo National Museum. A copy can be found in the Maritime Museum in Galle. So dear reader our country’s friendship with China is a centuries old one. Nothing new in that. Galle is also referred to by the famed Muslim Berber-Moroccan scholar and traveler Ibn Batuta, in his well documented book ‘Rihlah’ (Travels ) who visited the island in 1344 CE. He referred to Galle as Quali/ Kali..

No doubt that all these references to the ancient port city of Galle and others as we will read about later on, contributed to UNESCO listing the Old Town of Galle and the Fortifications as a World Heritage Site in 1988. According to an article in the Ceylon Observer datelined November 26, 2017 by Dimuthu Attanayake and Manjula Fernando it is stated that, “The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS ) in its advisory body evaluation has recommended Galle Fort under its criterion IV Code. Galle provides an outstanding example of urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian tradition from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Among these characteristics that makes this an urban group of exceptional value is the original sewer system from the 17th century which is flushed with sea water and controlled by a pumping station formerly activated by a windmill in the Triton Bastian.”

According to the Galle Heritage Foundation the Triton Bastian (which is a projecting part of a fortification) is one of many gun Bastians built on a long rampart. Some having been built by the Portuguese but many by the Dutch. For the Dutch it must be remembered, such fortifications were necessary to defend the western approaches to Galle Fort, from enemy navies. In particular the British navy. In the article referred to above it is also stated that “the most salient feature is the use of European models adapted by local manpower to the geological, climatic, historic and cultural conditions of Sri Lanka. In the structure of these ramparts coral was frequently used along with granite. In the ground layout all the measures of length, width and height conform to the regional metrology. The wide streets were planted with grass and shaded with Suriyas and were lined with houses, each in its own garden and an open verandah supported by columns which is another sign of acculturation of an architecture which is European only in its basic design.” (AUTHOR’S NOTE : Suriyas were trees usually used for fencing and sometimes grew to a height of 30 feet).

Built first by the Portuguese in the 16th Century, Galle reached the height of its development during the Dutch colonial rule. Galle, it has been claimed is the best example of a fortified city in South and South – East Asia and is the last remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. Since it was the Dutch that earned for Galle the honour of being listed as a World Heritage Site, it would be relevant to describe what they actually built. Among the heritage monuments there is the Dutch Reformed Church referred to at that time as ‘Groote Kerk.’ Located at the entrance to the Fort it was built in 1755 and is said to be the oldest Protestant church in Sri Lanka. The floor is paved with large gravestones taken from the old Dutch cemetery. The pulpit is made of calamander wood from Malaysia. This church is still in use.

On Church Road is All Saints Church. This is an Anglican Church built on the site of the former Dutch Courthouse. The Church was consecrated by Bishop Claughton, the second Bishop of Colombo on February 21, 1871. Prior to this the Anglican congregation used to worship in the earlier mentioned Dutch Reformed Church. Today the faithful still gather here for worship. An interesting fact is that a large bell was installed in the dome of the Church in memory of the first Vicar, Rev Dr. Schrader. However for security reasons this bell was lowered in 1960, and now lies in the premises of the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour in Colombo.

Along Lighthouse Street is what has been described as a ‘quaint little’ Roman Catholic Church. It was built by the Dutch in 1893 and is claimed to be one of the oldest Roman Catholic Churches in the country where services are held even today. Referring to Churches one cannot overlook another historic landmark, namely the magnificent St Mary’s Cathedral located on Prison Road, in the city of Galle. It was built in 1874, but not by the Dutch. It was by the Society of Jesus. There is no doubt that this too would have contributed to the inscription of World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Catering to the religious needs of the Buddhist population there lies along Rampart Street the Sri Sudharmalaya Temple which was built as far back as 1889.In the construction of this temple there is evidence of the impact of Dutch and European architecture. And then we come to the beautifully crafted, majestic , Meeran Mosque, built in 1904, it is located opposite the Galle Lighthouse and was and still is a place of deep veneration and prayer for the Muslims who form the largest religious group within the Fort.

Moving from the religious to the secular, there can be seen as one enters the Galle Fort through the Old Gate, the British Coat of Arms, with the inscription ‘ Dieu et Mon Droit (God and My Right). In the inner part of this fortified entrance is a 1668 dated inscription with the letters VOC (Verenigde Oostindinsche Compagnie – meaning Dutch East India Company). Further inside the Fort is the 87 ft. tall, Lighthouse, built by the British in 1939. However the earlier Lighthouse also built by the British in 1848 was destroyed by fire in 1936. Further into the Fort on Church Street was the old Government House. Built in 1683 it was used for administrative purposes and also served as the residence of the Commander. Regrettably however it is now closed, for visitors.

Near the Old Gate was the Great Warehouse built around 1669 which was used to store spices and ship’s equipment. It now houses the National Maritime Museum. One of the oldest buildings within the Fort is the Dutch Hospital built in the 17th Century, referred to as the Old Dutch Hospital, very aptly it is on Hospital Street and close to the harbor for the benefit of Dutch seamen. It was supposed to be built on a location where there was a Portuguese mint. In 1850 the British converted this to a barracks. It is now a shopping and restaurant arcade.

Then on Church Street there is another complex built in 1684 as the headquarters of the Dutch commanders and the staff. In 1865 it was converted to the New Orient Hotel catering to European passengers travelling between Europe and Galle. Today it is the five star Amangalla Hotel. Outside the Galle Fort on the southern side of Galle Bay in an island promontory. On it is Closenberg Hotel. It is a story of the transformation of an elegant manor to a star- class hotel. Once called Villa Marina, it was built in 1859 by Captain Bayley, who was the local agent for the P & O Shipping Company. It changed ownership in 1889 to Simon Perera Abeywardena who was the son-in-law of one of the country’s greatest entrepreneurs and philanthropists, Sir Charles Henry de Soysa. In 1965 this home was reconstructed to be a hotel. It was named Closenberg. The name is derived from the Dutch name Klossenburg, which means a small fort on which the sea roars.

Yet another chapter in the colorful history of Galle began in 1796, when the British East India Company entered Ceylon from India where it had its stronghold. Quite naturally they nudged the Dutch out of Galle. Two large Sri Lankan conglomerates which had in those early years been British companies, had their beginning in Galle. One was Chas. P. Hayley and Company which was established in 1878 and much later became Hayleys PLC. The other was Clarke Spence and Company, which was established in 1868 and much later became Aitken Spence PLC.

From buildings and companies let’s move on to trees. In fact one particular tree – The breadfruit tree ( Artucapus incisisus ). Known in Sinhala as ‘del.’ It was introduced by the Dutch. In an article dated January 10, 2021 titled ‘Historical Ancient Trees in Sri Lanka’ by Hemi it is stated that this was planted by the Dutch. circa 1721. Located near the Akersloot Bastian. It is still in existence.

And then Alas! came the Tsunami on December 26, 2004. At 6.28 that morning a mega under-sea earthquake of 9.3 on the Richter scale erupted near Banda Aceh in Sumatra. This sent 100 ft high waves speeding across the Indian Ocean ferociously lashing Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives, Myanmar and even Somalia –in that order. By 9.25 the waves smashed into the southern and south-western coast. Amongst the districts affected was Galle. The walls of the rampart which were built to withstand cannon fire now acted to withstand Nature’s fury. They became wave breakers. In addition the effective drainage system installed by the Dutch drained off the flood waters without much damage within the Fort itself.

To quote Fr. Damian Arsakularatne, a highly respected Roman Catholic priest who was the former Director of Caritas which was one of the many organisations that did post- tsunami, reconstruction work ” If the Fort had not been there, Oh my God!, I can’t even imagine the damage that would have been. It saved us.” However the adjacent Galle International Stadium and grounds suffered severe damage. In fact the stadium served as a temporary shelter for hundreds of persons who had lost their homes. In Galle town the old vegetable market built by the British in 1890 was in shambles.

Back to cricket. The Galle Cricket Grounds will hold pleasant memories for Sri Lanka’s greatest cricketer and gentleman. Mutthiah Muralidaran ( that’s how he wishes his name to be spelt ). It was here in 2003 that in the match against England that he weaved his magic spell of spin bowling and claimed seven wickets for 40 runs. But Muralidaran was also a philanthropist. When his Manager, Kushil Gunasekera, who is also a like minded philanthropist and is the Founder – Chief Trustee of the charitable organization called ‘Foundation of Goodness’ (FOG) Muralidaran also became an active Trustee. The vision of this charity was supporting local communities through projects such as catering to children’s needs, education, health care and psycho-social support. After the tsunami this organisation focused on one of the areas most tragically affected by the tsunami.

This was Seenigama located 14 miles North/West from Galle. It was Kushil’s home town. Muralidaran that icon of cricket got a ready response to his call for funds for post tsunami reconstruction work which came pouring in specially from England and Australia.

Let’s revert to the historic cricket grounds. Renovations specially of the Stadium began on May 8, 2006. Out of devastation came development. It became larger, better equipped and more accommodative for cricketers, spectators and the media. On December 17, 2007, it was opened by President Mahinda Rajapasksa . The first test Match played here was against England which ended in a draw. Perhaps we should conclude from where we started. ‘Cricket, lovely cricket.’ After all we are cricket crazy aren’t we ?



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

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

Features

Form-ation of Higher Education in Sri Lanka

Published

on

By Hasini Lecamwasam

Improving higher education in Sri Lanka is not only important, but essential and long overdue. However, seeking to achieve higher ‘quality’ by ‘form-ising’ the performance of teachers (or the practice of forcing the entire teaching-learning exercise into forms designed to communicate exactly what and what transpires in a classroom) may not be able to bring about the desired change. A new set of four forms introduced recently to this end requires, among other things, drawing up a minutely detailed plan of each and every lesson to be delivered in class, aligned with the Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs), in turn, to be aligned with the Programme Learning Outcomes (PLOs), which should all then be tied to the graduate profile, or the kind of graduate we seek to ‘produce’ at the end of it all. This may, on the surface of it, sound reasonable enough and not encourage serious debate or resistance because, after all, it is only some forms that need to be filled.

Form by tedious form, however, the teaching-learning process at state universities is becoming increasingly constricted, fragmented, monitored, controlled. In this piece, I wish to briefly ponder on the implications of these requirements and the larger trends they signal, while also attempting to reflect on what instead we may do to ensure ‘quality’ in the delivery of higher education.

The problem with form-ation

The larger ‘Quality Assurance’ (QA) landscape in which these developments take place was discussed in detail in an earlier Kuppi Talk by Kaushalya Perera. In a nutshell, QA seeks to standardise education such that study programmes can be assessed against each other, assigned numbers, and ranked accordingly. The deployment of overarching yardsticks for programmes with hugely varying mandates, methods, and content has been the subject of much critique lately the world over, not the least due to its rather warped understanding of ‘quality’ as something that can be objectively established through metrics and audits.

While I do not question the bona fide motives behind the initiative taken with the aforementioned forms, I do think serious reflection on where these developments push us in the longer term is needed. My primary reservation here has to do with the impact of this lesson-wise breakdown on the creative and democratic exercise that the teaching-learning process is supposed to entail. When each topic is broken down into such fine detail prior to the actual occurrence of the ‘lesson’ (for want of a better word), outcomes are foreclosed rather than collectively and organically evolving in the course of the ‘lesson’, which is particularly important to many of the subjects offered in the Arts Faculties. Exactly how many of us are actually quite so democratic in our classrooms is a valid question in this regard, and one I will return to. The point for me here, however, is that for those who do have a sincere commitment to such a democratic classroom environment, such forms and the limiting of the teaching-learning experience they constitute, may be tantamount to strangulation.

Even if the majority of us admit to being very controlling in our classrooms anyway, does that justify going one step further with these forms and institutionalising such control? Should not our commitment be to the emancipatory ideal, rather than simply what most are on board with? There should be meaningful space for creative, organic, and democratic teaching-learning processes to unfold for teachers who wish to make that choice, and for students to explore and think beyond the teacher’s frame of thinking. Micromanaging beyond the general content of a course (laid down in enough detail in the course syllabus) is inimical to even a possibility of democracy existing in the classroom and within the larger university space.

This complete subservience of the teaching-learning process to red tape signals a larger and troubling trend of corporatisation. Corporatisation may be defined as the restructuring of a publicly owned institution to be managed as a business place would be, with a view to privatising in the long term. In state universities, this shift is couched in the supposedly ‘progressive’ language of student-centered approaches and interactive classrooms, hijacked from the democratic pedagogy of the likes of Paulo Freire, but bereft of any of the emancipatory politics within which these methods assume meaning. Despite the use of these catch-phrases, however, such minutely detailed forms signal a return to an extremely teacher-centered model due to the absence of the possibility for students to meaningfully influence the outcome of a lesson, as it is predetermined for them.

The result, as the Kannangara report worried with remarkable foresight some 80 years ago, is students “with much knowledge and little understanding. They have not read books; they have “studied” texts. They cannot write, they produce essays after a set style. They can answer questions but not question answers … Their imagination has been stunted, their originality suppressed, their capacity for thought undeveloped, their emotions inhibited.”

What alternative can we propose?

A valid question countering what little resistance there is to form-ation asks how we can ensure the education we currently deliver is of an acceptable standard, and that everybody observes such. There seems to prevail tacit and widespread agreement that the ‘democratic nonsense’ within universities is what has allowed many to hide behind debates, deliberations, appeals to creative freedom, and so on, without actually doing their work.

In my view, this is an arbitrary causation to draw. Blaming internal democracy for negligence of duties fails to take into account the highly anti-democratic practices at universities that may better explain such behaviour.

Specifically, I think it is the rigidly entrenched hierarchy within universities that blocks the possibility of even dialogue, let alone debate, particularly when it comes to holding those higher-up in the ladder accountable for their actions (or the lack thereof, as the case may be). Hierarchy is why, among many other things, students cannot question the content or the methods chosen by their teachers. As previous Kuppi Talks have endeavoured to show, hierarchy is silently, and therefore very effectively, observed at every level, ensuring the trumping of students by teachers, juniors by seniors, women by men, minorities by the majority, and originality by tradition. It impedes questioning, stifles dissent, and smothers alternative thinking altogether. The problem, therefore, is not that we have too much democracy in universities, but too little of it.

We must make a sincere and sustained effort to radically democratise the university space by relaxing the classroom to allow open and honest exchange between students and teachers; changing the relations of power between seniors and juniors, starting with undoing the practice of deferential treatment; refusing to tolerate snide and not-so-subtle references to ways of dressing and similar gendered remarks; questioning the exclusive use of the majority language in official communications, as a starting point. In doing so, we would be subverting the crippling hierarchy that inhibits thought and practice within the university. Such a radical change geared towards improved quality through mutual accountability, for me, is the only acceptable way of introducing accountability to a space that, admittedly, sorely lacks it.

(Hasini Lecamwasam is attached to the Department of Political Science, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

Continue Reading

Features

THE LOGIC OF PRESIDENT’S PLEDGES IN NEW YORK

Published

on

by Jehan Perera

The significance of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s speech at the UN General Assembly, in New York, last week, was his use of the time allocated to him to provide an outline of the government’s policies towards the main challenges besetting the country. The President covered the main issues that confront the world with his focus on Sri Lanka. These included measures to contain the Covid pandemic, the economic crisis, environmental degradation and violence. In the final section of his well-crafted speech, the President went into some depth regarding the government’s approach to national reconciliation. However, the response within the country, has been muted and for good reason. Those who voted for the government, on an entirely different platform, which emphasised ethnic majority nationalism and anti-international sentiments, are quite probably at a loss.

It is only recently that the government has started to speak in terms of reconciliation and obtaining international support for it. At the two elections that brought this government to power, the Easter Sunday bombing and the consequent threat to national security, took centre stage. The majority, who voted for the government, did so to protect it from a variety of security threats they were told of, both within and outside the country. The wretched failure of the previous government to prevent the bombing, the first terrorist act of any magnitude since the war ended a decade earlier, was attributed to the personal weakness of the then government leaders. It was also attributed to the 19th Amendment which sought to give state institutions protection from use for partisan reasons by government politicians and to consequent disintegration of the system of command and control.

A second theme, at the two elections, was depiction of ethnic and religious minorities as potential security threats. This stemmed from the country’s experience of three decades of internal warfare with the armed Tamil separatist movements. This was followed by the Easter bombings by extremists from the Muslim community, who were feared to be having a vast support base both internally within the country and also externally. In these circumstances, the re-centralisation of power within the government hierarchy and greater role given to the security forces, received public acceptance as being part of the government’s democratic mandate. At the same time, by denying the equally legitimate concerns of the ethnic and religious minorities, the electoral results demonstrated the existence of an acute polarisation, and wound, in the body politic that continues to fester to the point of bringing in involuntary and imposed international interventions.

EU MONITORING

The challenge for the government is to represent the interests of all communities and not only the majority who voted it into power. The problem is that the government’s mandate comes, by and large, from the vote of the ethnic and religious majority in a country that has been polarised on ethnic and religious lines, for many decades. An ugly part of this reality is that in the prisons are several hundreds of Tamils and Muslims for the most part who are in custody for periods ranging from a few months to many years without trial. They are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, ostensibly until the security forces find adequate evidence to put them before the courts of law. This contradicts the rule of law and the presumption in our legal system that we are innocent until proven guilty can have negative consequences.

In June this year, the EU parliament passed a resolution that the GSP Plus tariff privileges, made available to Sri Lanka should be withdrawn unless the government fulfilled its obligations in regard to the upholding of human rights. The resolution, expressing “deep concern over Sri Lanka’s alarming path towards the recurrence of grave human rights violations”, and makes specific reference to the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The resolution notes the “continuing discrimination” against and violence towards religious and ethnic minorities, while voicing “serious concern” about the 20th Amendment passed in 2020, and the “resulting decline in judiciary independence, the reduction of parliamentary control, and the excessive accumulation of power with the presidency”. It also highlights “accelerating militarisation” of civilian government functions in Sri Lanka.

A delegation from the EU is currently in Sri Lanka to meet with members of the government, Opposition and civil society, to ascertain whether the country is fulfilling its obligations to be a beneficiary of EU trade benefits. It is likely that the delegation will be provided with evidence of human rights violations and acts of impunity. There are hundreds of persons languishing in prisons without being put on trial, many of whom are Tamils, suspected to be LTTE members, and more of them are Muslims, suspected of having links with the Easter bombings. When questioned in parliament about the latter, the minister in charge justified those detentions on the grounds that Muslim youth, including the Muslim parliamentarian who had questioned him, could contain Islamic State ideology in their heads and therefore be security threats.

NEW DIRECTION

At the last elections, the most potent theme was the failure of the then government to act effectively to protect the country from the Easter suicide bombings and the pressures from human rights actors in Geneva. Among the issues that loomed large at the last election was also the charge that the previous government was giving in too much to the Muslim community within the country. The fact that the Easter attacks were by Muslim suicide bombers added force to this charge. The prioritisation of national security in the election campaign had popular support. The influential religious clergy, associations of professionals and mass media also joined the battle in earnest and their messages reinforced one another. The recent debate in Parliament suggests the government’s thinking continues to be in sync with the mandate it received at those elections.

However, in his speech in New York, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown signs of diverging from the politics of the past. The President said “Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace. So too is ensuring more equitable participation in the fruits of economic development. It is my Government’s firm intention to build a prosperous, stable and secure future for all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender. We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process.” However, the President’s speech continues to be at variance with the ground realities at the present time and the general manner of governance since the President took office in November 2019.

So far the pledge of a new direction is articulated in words. The time for the government to make the President’s words real and act accordingly is now. This will help to overcome the deep and dark cynicism that has enveloped the country regarding promises made by politicians. The first step would be to apply the logic of the Justice Minister in Parliament. Replying to an Opposition Parliamentarian who called for the arrest of Minister Lohan Ratwatte who stands accused of entering a prison and threatening prisoners with his gun, the justice minister said that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. This also applies to the hundreds of Tamils and Muslims in jail without evidence to charge them in a court of law. The better way to deal with the threats to national security is to win the confidence of all the communities in the Sri Lanka by treating them without discrimination, as children of one mother, as our national anthem proclaims.

Continue Reading

Features

Face shields, sans masks, on TV shows!

Published

on

Face shield ONLY does not provide protection from Covid-19

Covid-19 has claimed many lives, in our part of the world. Quite a few musicians, too, have had to face the music, where this deadly virus is concerned.

However, one is perturbed with the setup seen on some of our TV shows, especially where musicians are concerned.

The Covid-19 guidelines are never adhered to – no masks, no social distancing, etc.

There were reality shows held, post pandemic, where judges were seen even hugging their favourite contestants – with no masks.

With the virus turning deadly, some of the judges took to only wearing face shields. And, we now know the results of their stupidity.

By their irresponsible behaviour (wearing only face shields), they seem to be setting a trend for others to follow.

The question being asked is what are the health authorities doing? Why haven’t such folks been taken to task!

If the man on the street is arrested for not wearing a mask, how come these law-breakers go scot-free!

If wearing a mask is a hassle in an air conditioned setup, then such shows should be put on hold, or held virtual…live stream, zoom, from home, etc., and not with the participation of several artistes, in a studio.

Continue Reading

Trending