by Fr. Dr. Claude J. Perera, omi
Our common knowledge about Jesus belonging to the rural peasantry in Galilee has been challenged by recent archaeological discoveries done in an ancient town, Sepphoris by name. At the very outset, we got to clarify the term ‘Peasant.’ The Cambridge English Dictionary has two definitions to the word ‘Peasant.’
1. “a person who owns or rents a small piece of land and grows crops, keeps animals etc. on it, especially one who has a low income, very little education, and a low social position. This is usually used of someone who lived in the past or of someone in a poor country”:
2. “a person who is not well educated or is rude and does not behave well.”
Does any of these definitions correctly and adequately describe who Jesus was? In trying to answer this question, one first thing we need to examine is what St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus was by profession. Was he a peasant? There is no evidence to substantiate an argument to that effect.
Jewish historian Josephus (37/38 – 100 CE) presented Jesus of Nazareth as belonging to an artisan class, but his social class is said to be below peasants (contrary to the general understanding that artisans were above peasants) and was likely illiterate. Jesus’ foster-father Joseph’s occupation (tekt?n in Greek, in Mk 6:3) has been variously rendered as ‘carpenter’ (2 Kgs 22:6); ‘craftsman,’ ‘workman’ (Is 44:12); ‘smith’ (1 Sm 13:19); ‘woodworker’ and ‘stonemason’ (2 Sm 5:11); ‘worker in brass’ (1Kgs 7:2) and ‘unskilled day laborer.’ (Cf. LEH Greek- English Lexicon of the Septuagint). His knowledge and the use of vivid imagery related to rich landowners and masters who had slaves and servants seem to suggest that he was no mere rustic frog in a well. These suggest that he would have been aware of a mixed sociological surrounding. Whether or not artisans were above or below peasants may not be too relevant. Jesus’ occupation may not have much to do with his literacy. But what really matters for his literacy is the place where he lived. If he had lived in a backwater area, then probably he would have been illiterate because he did not come from a wealthy merchant or priestly family whose children alone had the patrimony of education at that time. Education being expensive and rare, it was beyond the reach of artisans and peasants. Such high society did not lived in rustic hamlets, but in cities
Scholars debate as to whether Jesus was literate. Chris Keith in “Jesus and Literacy,” in http://bibleodyssey.com/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/jesus-and-literacy (access 12.11.2020) rules out the possibility of Jesus being literate, whereas Craig A. Evans in Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (SPCK, 2013) pp. 63–88 advances arguments to the contrary. However, there is little evidence to say that Jesus had any formal education. His knowledge of Scripture is most likely resulting from listening regularly to sacred texts and commentaries at the synagogue. Interestingly, the question of Jesus’ education and mentorship was intriguing to Christians in the late second century. During his youth at Nazareth, Jesus would have been an artisan like his foster-father Joseph. But during his public life, Jesus was a teacher, a wise person. He was not an academic, but with the kind of the oral education of a God-fearing and good Jewish family as well as his Jewish home-upbringing in the Nazareth region.
He would have been trilingual, namely, Aramaic, Greek, and the liturgical language of Hebrew. Aramaic was an ancient Semitic language, now mostly extinct, was the language of the Aramaeans from about the late 11th century B.C.E. A version of it is still extant in some Chaldean Christian communities in Iraq and Syria. With trade and military expeditions, Aramaic language had spread in that region by the 7th century B.C.E., and it had become the lingua franca in much of the Middle Orient. In the first century CE, it would have been the most common language of ordinary Jewish people. Most religious scholars and historians agree that historical Jesus and his disciples spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Hebrew belongs to the same linguistic family as Aramaic. At the time of Jesus, Hebrew was also the language of religious scholars and of Holy Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible almost in its entirety was written in Hebrew, although it contained some small section in Aramaic. The Bible had been already translated into Greek already by the third century BCE.
Together with Aramaic and Hebrew, the colonial languages of Greek and Latin were also common in Jesus’ time. As Alexander the Great invaded Archaemenid Persian Empire and defeated the Persian Emperor Darius III at the battle of Issus in 333 BCE, Greek replaced other languages as the official language of the region by and large. With the Roman conquest of the Greek Empire in 146 BCE, in its Eastern region to which belonged Judea kept Greek as its lingua franca. The use of Latin (the official language of the Roman Empire) was reserved for legal and military matters. According to Jonathan Katz, a Classics lecturer at Oxford University, Jesus’ would have probably known some Greek, as it was a common language of the people with whom he spoke regularly, although most likely he may not have been too proficient. He further says that his knowledge of Latin probably would have been restricted to a few words. For sure, he would not have spoken Arabic since it began to be used in Palestine only after the first century CE. In conclusion, we can say that Jesus’ most common spoken language was Aramaic, but he was still familiar with three or four different tongues even if not fluent, or even proficient.
The apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas written ca 185 CE says that Jesus was not educated in the strict sense of the word, but he excelled much more than his teachers at the synagogue (Chapters 6 -8). However, certain linguistic and rhetorical heritage found in the synoptics as well as in the Fourth Gospel could be explained by the Redaction Critical Approach (Redaktionsgeschichte- ‘Redaction Criticism’) to the gospels, where such sophistications should be understood as the work of evangelists who reworked the oral forms that were circulating in the Apostolic Community (Formgeschichte – ‘Form Criticism’). The sacred authors left their imprints, (i.e. traces of the instrument (by the Instrumental Authors) on their final products (i.e. gospels) which are attributed the Principal Author, God although His Spirit inspired the sacred authors. The language and rhetorical abilities that come to the fore are not from Jesus, but from the evangelist. But the saving message they convey came from Jesus’ wisdom as the Son of God.
Recent discussions of Jesus’ social class locate him within the social structures of Mediterranean society generally, or particularly in the Galilean society of the first century. There seems to be a debate among many contemporary scholars about Jesus as to whether he was really a peasant or someone higher in the socio-economic strata. We know in general he was from the lower class, by the standards of the Roman imperial aristocracy or even of the ruling class of Palestine, the Herodian client kings. He may have been an artisan, but he does not seem to have been a peasant in the strict sense, someone who was working the land for a living. However, he was close to peasant society. The images used in his parables and aphorisms show that he was firmly rooted in peasant society (Mt 13:4-9, 18-32, 44-50; 18:31ff.; 24:32; 25:14ff; Lk 12:24-32; 15:4-7; 21:29-32). But they also call upon images of landowners and bailiffs (Lk 12:13-21; 20:1-16) and relationships between slaves, masters, (Lk 16:13; 19:11-27; Mt 10:24; Jn 8:33) and servants (Lk 16:1-8, 19-31; 18:18-23). So, Jesus knew the social stratification of the time well. He may well have stood in some relationship to it.
Prescinding from settling into the easy answer of resorting to Jesus’ divine omniscience as the source of his knowledge (while not contesting the same in any manner), were there other natural situations that would have made him more literate and having a higher social standing? Our common knowledge about Jesus belonging to the rural peasant in Galilee has been challenged by recent archaeological discoveries done in an ancient town, Sepphoris by name.
Jesus grew up in the bucolic village of Nazareth in the Lower Galilee which would have had a small population of about 100 -200 people. Was Jesus a backwater from a hinterland, totally cut of from the neighbouring urban life? Some fascinating recent archaeological discoveries prevent us from giving an affirmative answer. This archaeological site containing the ruins of the then active ancient city center of Sepphoris is less than four miles from Nazareth. Sepphoris is said to have been the capitol of the Galilee. The name Sepphoris is from Hebrew sipphoris meaning ‘bird.’ For It was called so because it lay on a mountain like a bird perched on it. It was the first capital of Herod Antipas (20 BCE to 39 CE) who was Herod’s son, who succeeded him as the tetrarch, or governor of Galilee and Perea. He changed the city’s new name to Autocratoris, rebuilt it mingling Jewish and Greco-Roman architecture, calling it ‘the jewel/ornament of the Galilee’ because of its beauty and wealth (Josephus, Ant. 18.27). It was the wealthy trade center for the area. Like the splendid City of Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, it had all the attractions of Greco-Roman urban life and functioned as the center of political activity. That explains the excavations at Sepphoris revealing of humongous buildings, theaters, amphitheaters akin to any contemporary city centre. Sepphoris lay on the major land route between Caesarea on the Mediterranean and the Sea of Galilee. That was the secret of its being a cosmopolitan city. Its inhabitants would have spoken several languages like Aramaic, Greek, Latin, in addition to their liturgical language Hebrew. Market place weights registered in both Aramaic and Greek have been found at the site. Besides, it was possible that they would have managed to communicate with their gentile neighbours in Phoenician and Syrian as various people drew into the cosmopolitan centre for trade and other civic needs. Sepphoris could not have been merely a self-contained city with its administrative institutions, houses, waterworks etc., but it had also satellite settlements around. Nazareth and the cluster villages would have been satellite villages of municipality of Sepphoris, which provided agricultural and other raw materials needed for industries.
However, Jesus has never mentioned the name Sepphoris, although his early life was not far it. He nowhere describes the civic life or archaeological ornamentations of contemporary great cities, except his references to Jerusalem which for Jesus had always a theological significance (Mt 24:1-28; Mk 13:1-23; Lk 21:5-24). The biggest city he seems to have gone during his public life seems to be Jerusalem. According to Luke’s Gospel, his career culminated there, and that with very unfortunate consequences. However, Jesus who inherited a traditional Jewish culture could not have been a stranger to this lively intersection of Greek urban culture at Sepphoris without seeing its sophisticated urban culture. Whether he was influenced by it is a different question and the extent its influence on him is questionable. But surely, he would have been aware of its existence.
Between a peasant artisan and a peasant farmer, the former who has been deprived of his land is said to be lower in the social ladder in a world there was no middle class but only the two classes of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ Anthropologists say that being a peasant-artisan was no compliment. In the ancient world, city was in antithesis to village. In Sepphoris, there were aqueducts that brought in water from rural hills to it. The interaction between the city and village was not a happy one. A city had nothing much to give to poor villagers except imposition of taxes, violence, and oppression. Most of the needs of the simple villagers were met within the villages which were self-sufficient units containing their necessities of life.
Whoever Jesus was or to which social category he belonged, synoptic gospels were written to rural audiences. It could be that in the gospels Jesus appears as a rural man speaking to fellow-rural men. Jesus seems to spend his entire public career interacting with Jews in small townships or villages in the Galilee and Judah. Synoptic materials deal with ordinary, day to day, rural experiences and knowledge related to a rural populace. They presume no profound academic knowledge in the Greek sense of the word. The kind of knowledge Jesus had was true to the Hebrew concept of knowledge. For the Hebrews knowing was not something intellectual but an experiential event. Knowledge was intimacy. Knowledge meant being profoundly related. Jesus’ relationship to the Father was one such. It was never an intellectual contemplation of the Father in the Greek sense of the word.
In ancient times, the sharp contrast and social tension between town and country as we have it in our times, did not exist because the villages were often bordering towns. Yet, there was some sharp contrasts in some areas. For example, it was in the cities or the large towns where the big landowners, tax collectors, public officials and judges lived. It was there that the more ostentatious so called ‘Respectable People’ lived. Their ways of life had sharp contrasts between sophistication and simple rustic living. Jesus and his followers were not townsmen. They felt at ease only in a country surrounding.
During His public life, Jesus seems to have avoided Sepphoris and Tiberius, the two substantial settlements or cities in the Galilee. That was not where interests lay or where he felt welcome. He was more at home with villages and the small towns, where the peasants and artisans inhabited. Young Jesus of Nazareth would not have gone to Sepphoris for the purpose of entertainment and pleasure as their only day off was the Sabbath (Saturday) and the pious Jews spent the Sabbath in a very holy manner with prayers and works of piety pleasing to the Lord without breaking the third commandment (Ex 20:8-11). If at all Jesus ever went to Sepphoris, it may have been for the purpose of artisan work which his profession involved. This city was four kilometers away from Nazareth would have been the place where all teenagers would have flocked together for work. This must have been particularly so when Herod Antipas was building that city in 17 CE and later, for maintenance of the same when many technicians and artisans were needed. At that time, Jesus was a teenager and/or youth. Possibly, Jesus had his dealings related to work with this commercial hub, while being a resident in the hamlet of Nazareth. Her may have walked to work from home.
Another fact that supports Jesus’ literacy is speculations about his connection with Joseph of Arimathea. We have no verifiable details about Joseph except that he was quite wealthy. We may presume that he was an elderly man at the time of the crucifixion who had the courage to bury Jesus. Some claim that although Joseph of Arimathea was not one of the twelve, he had an important role. He was a member of the Sanhedrin. He is mentioned in all four gospels (Matthew 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-55; John 19:38-42). For in Luke and Mark, he was not a disciple of Jesus, but someone who was awaiting the Kingdom of God. As a member of the Sanhedrin, he was aware of the opposition Jesus had from the Jews and we surmise that he did not vote to surrender Jesus to Pilate in view of passing death sentence. For John he was a crypto-Christian. But for Matthew he was already a true disciple. Only Matthew mentions that it was Joseph’s own tomb hewn out of the rock himself. “Only in Matthew is Joseph wealthy (cf. Isa 53:9), which coheres with his owning an expensive tomb, but not with his hewing it out himself. ……… Joseph’s wealthy status also places him in solidarity with (some of) the members of the Matthean Church, themselves more wealthy than average.” (Cf. Eugene Boring, (1995) “The Gospel of Matthew,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 494). According to some extra-biblical and legendry claims, Joseph of Arimathea, (known in the later non-biblical tradition as Joseph of Glastonbury) was a paternal uncle of Mary, mother of Jesus as evidenced by the family tree of Jesus traced up to Adam kept in the Herald’s Office at the English College of Arms in London which is also confirmed by the Harley Manuscripts held in the British Museum. A claim is also made that Joseph of Arimathea was a merchant in metals and who eventually took young Jesus with him on his business travels. trips to England, India, and even to South America. Joseph of Arimathea has been called ‘Nobilis Decurio’ or Minister of Mines by the Roman Government. If that were the case, Joseph of Arimathea would be one of the wealthiest of all Judea. It could be that Joseph of Arimathea if he had been a relative of Mary, he would have cared for Mary’s family after St. Joseph’s demise. It may be this kinship that he had to Jesus that would have partially motivated him to bury Jesus.
What can we conclude from this Joseph of Arimathea episode? The idea that Jesus traveled about with him, a fact which may have contributed to his literacy and the knowledge of languages is of legendry origin. If Jesus had sojourned in Europe and in the Orient, with His maternal uncle Joseph of Arimathea, he would have picked up something of the European languages and would have made references to Europe and the Orient in his teachings. Through the trade routes, ideas spread to the Mid-Orient. Those things never entered to his theology and spirituality and so there is absolutely no evidence for a claim that Jesus’ alleged travels influenced him. Furthermore, even if Jesus had associated the upper-class business in Palestine as well abroad, and thereby had become an upper middle-class citizen, all because of Joseph of Arimathea, why did he not own his belonging to that middle class? On the contrary, he only referred to their empty ways of life and those of the rich and spoke of their attachment to wealth which he named ‘the mammon’ (Mt 6:19-21, 24; Lk 16:13). Mammon was a Syrian deity that enslaved people to wealth. Jesus had no allegiance to such wealth or wealthy. Jesus lived an extremely simple life (Mt 8:20-21). In the Lukan Infancy Narrative, the protagonists were all the riff raff of the society (Lk 2:7ff.). He was found fault by the high society of this day for associating the marginalized like the poor, sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes (Lk 4:18; 15:1-2; Mt 21:31-32). Mary’s Magnificat speaks of a reversal of the socio-political order (Lk 1:51-53). It is a non-violent revolution of the change of hearts. When Jesus did not want to count equality with God as something to be held on to but totally emptied himself, would he have ever held on to an upper class? No, not at all. The best way to describe Jesus is that he would have been an artisan of some sort of the lower middle class. But He stood above all such social distinctions. Jesus as the Son of God was classless. For His Kingdom was not of this world (Jn 18:36). His struggle was a spiritual transformation of the humanity to make them heaven-ward. But in that heaven-bound journey, basic earthly needs were not ignored. He accepted that people needed to eat and drink etc. (Mt 13:52). Where there were people deprived of life’s necessities, the covenant community was expected to share their resources and provide for the needy (Mt 25:31-46; Act 2:44-45).
Frontline, “Jesus’ Social Class: Recent Archaeological Findings Challenge the Image of Jesus as a Peasant Preaching in a Pastoral Backwater,” See Harold Attridge, “Now what do you think we can know about Jesus’ social class based on recent evidence and discussions?” L. Michael White, “The Galilee and Sepphoris”; Holland Lee Hendrix, “Not a Humble Carpenter”; John Dominic Crossan, “A Peasant Boy in a Peasant Village”; Shaye I. D. Cohen, “Jesus Avoids Cities”; Paula Fredriksen, “Sepphoris Didn’t Make Much Difference,” and Eric Meyers, “Jesus Probably Trilingual,” Cf. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/socialclass.html (access 05.12.2020).
Aubin, Melissa M. (2000). The Challenging Landscape of Byzantine Sepphoris. ASOR Publications.
Barzilai, Omry; et al. (19 August 2013). “Nahal Zippori, the Eshkol Reservoir – Somekh Reservoir Pipeline,” Hadashot Arkheologiyot – Excavations and Surveys in Israel. (No. 125).
Chancey, Mark A. (2005). Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee Jesus. Cambridge University Press.
Cohen, S. J. D. (2002). Josephus and Rome: His Vita and Developments as a Historian. Brill: Leiden.
Evans, Craig A. Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence. SPCK, 2013, 63–88
Keith, Chris. in “Jesus and Literacy.” in http://bibleodyssey.com/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/jesus-and-literacy (access 12.11.2020).
Miller, Stuart S. (1984). Studies in the History and Traditions of Sepphoris. Brill: Leiden
Rowan, Yorke M.; Baram U. (2004). Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past Rowman Altamira.
31st night…Down Under
The NYE scene at the Grand Reception Centre, in Melbourne
Despite the COVID-19 restrictions, the Voluntary Outreach Club (VOC) in Victoria, Australia, was able to hold a successful New Year’s Eve celebration, at The Grand Reception Centre, in Cathies Lane, Wantirna South.
In a venue that comfortably holds 800, the 200 guests (Covid restrictions), spanning three generations, had plenty of room to move around and dance to the array of fabulous music provided by the four bands – Replay 6, Ebony, Cloud 9 with Sonali, Redemption and All About That Brass.
The drinks provided, they say, oiled the rusty feet of the guests, who were able to finally dress up and attend such an event after nine months of lockdown and restrictions. With plenty of room for dancing, the guests had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
According to an insider, the sustenance of an antipasto platter, eastern and western smorgasbord, and the midnight milk rice and katta sambol, were simply delicious, not forgetting the fantastic service provided by Jude de Silva, AJ Senewiratne and The Grand staff.
The icing on the cake, I’m told, was the hugely generous sponsorship of the bands by Bert Ekenaike. This gesture boosted the coffers of the VOC, which helps 80 beneficiaries, in Sri Lanka, comprising singles and couples, by sending Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 3,500, per month, to each of these beneficiaries, and augmenting this sum, twice a year, in July and December, with a bonus of the same amounts.
Strategies for effective management
by Prof. Rohan Rajapakse
Emeritus Professor of Entomology University of Ruhuna and former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy
Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera; Noctuidae), a quarantine pest, has been identified as a very destructive insect pest of Maize/Corn. This insect originated in Americas and invaded the African region in 2016 and was detected in India the following year and perhaps would have naturally migrated to Sri Lanka last year from India. Now, it is reported that FAW is present in all districts of Sri Lanka except Nuwara-Eliya and Jaffna. In winter in the USA the pest is found in Texas and Florida and subsequent summer when it gets warmed up, the pest migrates up to the Canadian border. The corn belt of China is also at a risk due to its migratory habit and the cost to Africa, due to this invasion, will exceed $ 6 billion. Maize is a staple food crop in Africa and millions depends on it for food. Hence in Africa and now in Asia it is a global food security issue for millions of people that could be at a risk if FAW is not controlled. The adult moth migrates very fast almost 100 km every night and nearly 500 km, before laying 1,500 eggs on average. The entire life cycle lasts 30 days in tropical climate. There are six larval instars and mostly the destruction is caused by the last three instars and the growing moth pupates in the soil for 10-12 days and the nocturnal adults lay eggs on leaves for about 10 days The pest thrives on about 80 host plants but the most preferable host is Corn/Maize. In Sri Lanka the preferred hosts includes Kurakkan and Sugarcane in addition to Maize. The symptoms of damage- scrapping of leaves, pin holes, small to medium elongated holes. Loss of top portion of leaves fecal pellets in leaf whorl which are easily recognizable. The Comb is also attacked in later stages with a heavy infestation, but after removing the FAW affected portion of the comb the remaining portion is still suitable for consumption and there is no fear of any toxicity. There are two morphologically identical strains––maize strain that feeds on maize and sorghum, and rice strain that feeds on rice and pasture grasses. However, in Sri Lanka only the maize strain has been detected so far. FAW thrives in a climate where drought is followed by heavy rains on a similar way we have experienced last year.
Although new agricultural insect pests are found in Sri Lanka, from time to time a number of factors make FAW unique (FAO Publication 2018)
FAW consumes many different crops 2 FAW spreads quickly across large geographical areas 3.FAW can persists throughout the year. Therefore Sri Lanka needs to develop a coordinated evidence based effort to scout FAW for farming communities and effective monitoring by the research staff
Since the pest has already arrived in Sri Lanka, the Government/ Ministry of Agriculture should formulate short, mid and long term strategies for its effective management with all stakeholders. Also it has to be clear that a single strategy ex pesticides will not help in effective control but a proper combination of tactics, such as integrated pest management should be employed in the long term. In the short term, the recommended pesticides by the Department of Agriculture should be employed along with cultural and sanitary control strategies. These strategies have now been formulated and what is required to enlighten the farmers and people by utilizing the trained staff. The country should be placed on a war footing and an emergency should be declared in the affected areas to coordinate the control strategies. The integrated control tactics, such as cultural control, should be integrated with pesticides based on the recommendation of the research staff. The residues should be destroyed after harvest and avoid late planting and staggered planting. The Ministry of Agriculture should create awareness among the farmers and train the farmers on early detection of egg masses found on leaves and destroy them by hand. The pesticides for FAW control is recommended by the Department of Agriculture (Please contact Registrar of Pesticides of the Department of Agriculture for the recommended list of Pesticides) and they have to make it available at subsidized rates or given free with technical information considering the emergency. When the larvae are small early detection and proper timing of pesticides are critical for elimination of the pest. With this outbreak some farmers and the private sector is engaged using highly hazardous pesticides which should be avoided to make way for sustainable alternatives. The Department Entomologists should train the farmers for early detection of egg masses when present on 5% of the plants and when 25% of the plants show damage symptoms and live larvae are present on war footing. The economic threshold has been calculated as 2-3 live larvae per plant and the control strategies should commence as soon as this threshold is detected by visual observation. The majority of development officers, agriculture and science graduates working in Divisional Secretariats, are already trained on pest control and their participation on training the farmers for early detection and pesticide selection and application warrants the strategy. Some of the recommended pesticides are follows: Chlorantraniliprole 200g/1SC: Trade name Corogen, Emamectin benzoate 5%SG: Trade name Proclaim,, Flubendiamide 24% WG : Trade name Belt. The Principle Entomologist of the Dry Zone Research Station of the Department of Agriculture ( Mrs KNC Gunawardena) has prepared an effective online presentation on FAW control and this has to be shared by all. The African country Ghana has declared a state of emergency in response to this invasion as Maize is a staple crop which should be followed by us in Sri Lanka.
The long term strategies include early detection. Stopping its spread and initiation of a long term research programme to identify tolerant varieties and granting permission to import such varieties as seeds. The country should ear mark on a Biological control strategy by breeding and releasing FAW parasitoids regularly. In USA larval parasitoids such as Apanteles marginiventris, Chelonus insularis and Microplitis manilae have contributed to keep the pest population down along with egg parasitoids Trichrogramma spp and a similar program should be initiated in the affected districts. Finally the best option is to establish a task force with the involvement of entomologists, extension personnel along with the administrators and scientists working in the universities to ensure the country are safe with regards to food security
The author has read for a PhD at University of Florida Gainesville in the USA in 1985 and his PhD thesis exclusively deals on Fall armyworm parasitoids and its ecology
President’s decision on Colombo Port in national interest
by Jehan Perera
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has announced that the government will be entering into an agreement with the Adani Group, based in India, to offer them 49 percent of the shares in a joint venture company. This joint venture will include Japanese government financing and will manage one of the terminals in the Colombo port. The entry of Adani Group, into the Colombo port, has been opposed by a wide coalition of organisations, ranging from port workers, and left political parties, to nationalists and civil society groups. These groups have little in common with each other but on this particular issue they have made common cause and even held joint protests together. The main thrust of their objections is that control over the East Terminal of the Colombo port will pass into foreign hands and result in an erosion of Sri Lankan sovereignty.
The cause for alarm, among the protesting groups, may be fueled by the observation that one by one, the ports of Sri Lanka are being utilized by foreign powers. In particular, China has entered into Sri Lanka in a big way, obtaining a 99-year lease in the Hambantota port that it constructed. The Hambantota port, in its early period, showed it was economically unviable in the absence of Chinese cooperation. The burden of debt repayment induced the previous government to enter into this agreement which may become unfavorable in terms of national sovereignty. There were protests at the time of the signing of that lease agreement, too, though not as effective as the present protests regarding the change of management in the Colombo port, which is led by the very forces that helped to bring the present government into power.
In addition to the Hambantota port, control over the South Terminal in the Colombo port, and a section of the harbour, has been given to China through one of its companies on a 35-year lease. In both cases, large Chinese investments have helped to upgrade Sri Lanka’s capacity to attract international shipping lines to make use of the port facilities. The Hambantota port, in particular, could benefit enormously from Chinese ships that traverse the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. Instead of making refuelling stops elsewhere along the way, such as Singapore, they could now come to Hambantota. However, with these investments would also come a Chinese presence that could cause concerns among international actors that have geopolitics in mind. It may be that these concerns are finding expression in the opposition to the Indian entry into the Colombo port.
It will not only be Sri Lankans who are concerned about the Chinese presence in the country’s ports. As Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbour, India, too, would have concerns, which are mirrored by other international powers, such as Japan. It might be remembered that when Japan’s prime minister visited Sri Lanka, in 2014, there was a diplomatic furor that a Chinese submarine entered the Colombo port, unannounced, even to the Sri Lankan government, and docked there. With its excellent relations with China, that go back to the 1950s, when the two countries signed a barter agreement, exchanging rice for rubber, most Sri Lankans would tend to see such Chinese actions in a benign light. In recent years, China has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest donor and its assistance is much appreciated. However, India’s relations with China are more complex.
The two countries have massive trade links, but they have also gone to war with each other due to territorial disputes. Even at the present time Indian and Chinese troops are in a stand-off on their disputed Himalayan border. In this context, India would be concerned that the Chinese presence in Sri Lankan ports could eventually take the form of an overall strategy to encircle it and use this leverage to India’s disadvantage. Sri Lanka’s location at the bottom of the Asian continent gives it a strategic importance in the Indian Ocean that goes beyond any possible India-China rivalry. The recent visit of US Secretary of State to Sri Lanka included an acerbic exchange of words between the US and Chinese representatives on that occasion and an open call to Sri Lanka to take sides, or not to take sides. As a small actor in itself, Sri Lanka would have no interest in getting involved in international geopolitics and has a longstanding policy of non-alignment and friendship with all.
More than anyone else, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa would be aware of these geopolitical issues. As Defence Secretary, during the years of war with the LTTE, he was a key member of the government team that obtained wide ranging international support for prosecuting the war. Today, the President’s key advisers include those with military backgrounds who have special expertise in geopolitical analysis and who have spent time in leading military academies in different parts of the world, including the US, China and India. This contrasts with the more parochial thinking of political, nationalist and even civil society groups who have come out in opposition to the agreement that the government has entered into with the Indian company to manage the Eastern Terminal of the Colombo port.
President Rajapaksa was elected to the presidency in the context of the security debacle of the Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks and with the expectation that he would provide clear-cut leadership in protecting the country’s national security without permitting partisan interests from becoming obstacles. In his meeting with the representatives of the trade unions, opposing the handing of management of the Eastern Terminal to foreign hands, the President is reported to have said that geopolitics had also to be taken into account. As many as 23 trade unions, representing the Ports Authority, the National Organisations collective, and a number of civil organizations, have joined the formation of a new national movement named the ‘Movement to protect the East Container Terminal’.
One of those political representatives at the meeting, leader of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), Pubudu Jayagoda, is reported to have said, “When trade unions met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday (13), he told them about the broad geopolitical factors in play. This is reminiscent when the unions met former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe a few years back. The unions told Wickremesinghe what they told Rajapaksa––the ECT could be operated by Sri Lanka in a profitable manner. Wickremesinghe told the union representatives, ‘You are talking about the port, I am talking about geopolitics’.” However, former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe may not have had the necessary political power to ensure that his vision prevailed and failed to ensure the implementation of the agreement.
Entering into the agreement with the Indian company will serve Sri Lanka’s national interests in several ways. By ensuring that India is given a presence in Sri Lanka’s most important port, it will reassure our closest neighbour, as well as Japan, which has been Sri Lanka’s most consistent international donor, that our national security interests and theirs are not in opposition to each other. Second, it takes cognizance of the reality that about two-thirds of the Colombo port’s shipping is due to transshipment with India, and thereby ensures that this profitable business continues. Third, it will give Sri Lanka more leverage to negotiate with India regarding key concerns, which includes Indian support to Sri Lanka at international forums and in providing guarantees for the unity of the country in the face of possible future threats and the need to ensure devolution of power to satisfy ethnic minority aspirations.
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