Dear Dr. Michael Roberts. I have been a great admirer of you ever since I read your essay
'Narrating Tamil Nationalism: Subjectivities and Issues'. The intellectual rigor displayed by you there was just awesome.
But isn’t Shani, (the writer of this article) actually displaying mediocre scholarship and a lamentable lack of intellectual rigor when she says ;
“Scholars like H L Seneviratne and Michael Roberts have in recent contributions to the Island pointed out that there is no evidence of any distinctiveness in our ethnic identities. H L Seneviratne pointed out that many of the Kandyan chieftains signed the 1915 Convention in Tamil.”
By placing the second sentence after the first hasn’t Shani made out the second assertion to be some kind proof of the first assertion? But signing the Convention in Tamil is not indicative of any lack of distinctiveness of ethnic identity no? it is actually more an elitist thing isn’t it? Tamil was made the current language of the ‘inner circle’ by the Royal family and their powerful contingent of Royal relations present at court no? It’s rather like the pre revolutionary Russian nobility speaking French isn’t it or the way people speak and write in English in Sri Lanka even when they are among their own with no need of a lingua franca?
Meegapulle Arachchi, that member of the Jaffna royal family, now that seems to me to be a very telling case of a lack of distinctiveness of ethnic identity or rather a sign of merging or assimilation into a certain national identity (which we may not now name for fear of excommunication by the high priesthood of the politically correct and fashionable strand in the Sri Lanka ideologisphere)
Actually there’s another episode smacking of a lack of distinctiveness in ethnic identity that I have noticed again in Jaffna. This is given in Jaffna under the Portuguese by Dr. Tikiri Abeyasinghe .
Lancarote de Seixas suggests in 1630 that Portuguese casados should be settled in Jaffna on a large scale and the lands there be distributed among them. Goa refers this proposal to Lisbon. Lisbon consults two old Asia hands on them, one of them with a decade of experience as a captain in many parts of the island.
Then Lisbon makes its decision and that decision "is also found on misintelligence”
To quote from Jaffna under the Portuguese;
“This is clear from a statement in their letter of 15th march 1634 “…se nāo deve fazer novidade….porque de outro modo escandalizar junta tanta gente e de animos tāo inquietos e pouco fieis…” (no innovation ought to be tried…because otherwise people of such restless sprit and little faith will be scandalized…) But in referring to people of restless spirit and little faith, the Lisbon authorities were thinking of the Sinhalese of the Kotte Lands and not of the Tamils of Jaffna, as the phrase “como sāo os chingalas” (as are the Sinhalese) which follows the extract quoted above makes clear. Three decades of rebellion in the Kotte lands had implanted among the Lisbon authorities a wholesome fear of attempting anything likely to cause unrest among the Sinhalese. To that fear and to the misintelligence among the Lisbon authorities that Jaffna was inhabited by the Sinhalese, the Jaffna mudaliyars owed their survival.”
And in a footnote Dr. Tikiri Abeyasinghe says
“Such misintelligence was not confined to Lisbon. The Count of Vidigueira, after serving as viceroy at Goa for 7 years (in two terms) and after a term as President of the India Council in Lisbon, still believed in 1626 that the inhabitants of Jaffna were Sinhalese. ANTT Doc. Rem. Livro 24 doc 18 (no folio numbers) Even Fernão de Queiros’ work was not free from this error. See pp. 357, 361, 366, 371 etc.”
Now as I have heard, amongst all the Western forces to have doings with Ceylon, the Portuguese missionaries were the first points of contact. Those who visited Jaffna also had contact with all other maritime areas of the island and inland as well. Their contact was at the very grassroots and they talked to the natives, how else can you preach the faith. They had to have known the languages spoken in the island and that some natives spoke Sinhalese and some Tamil. So I had always wondered how this mistake could have been possible even by Queiros, specially by Queiros. Now I have the answer! There was a lack of distinctiveness in ethnic identities! Maybe they thought Jaffna was inhabited by chingalas speaking Tamil? Or maybe it really was. Doesn’t add up or does it?
Any way I am sure you Dr. Michael Roberts shall tell me. Finally, (Not quite finally I may comment here again on this very page. I got things to say. But now I have to stop and go back to making a living), let me express my pleasure that you are in cyber space interacting with the proletariat (the intellectual sort that is, not the sort whose dictatorship Lenin envisioned) and not in some ivory tower as Scholar of your caliber aught to be.
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