Following is an article published on the Midweek Review (16/04/2008), written by Michael Roberts. There is not doubt that Muchalinda does not share the views of the authour (and reading the first few paragraphs alone would make that sufficiently clear). It is also not the intention of Muchalinda to register different points of view since he is not a great believer of facts that exist independent of theories/opinions.
However, Muchalinda opt to publish this article becuase of a different reason. That is to show some members of this forum how to criticize Nalin De Silva. NOT THAT THIS CRITICISM IS ACCURATE, but it is worth noting that criticizing Nalin is not all about name calling out of hatred. In fact, it is matter of time to expose some of the flaws in Michael Roberts` arguments, but Mucha would rather leave it to expert(s).
Muchalinda neither expects those members to change their stances as a result, since it takes a lot to get rid of hatred. However, Muchalinda expects this article will give some hope to those who hell bent on ridiculing Nalin De Silva, by showing them yet another way to criticize him.
History-making in Lanka I: Problems
by Michael Roberts
Central themes in the understanding of Sri Lanka`s recent as well ancient history have been fashioned by two occupational categories, namely, schoolteachers and politicians. The school teachers of the first 75 years of the 20th century were mostly well-meaning personnel trained in the British empiricist traditions. Their tendency was to regard history as a collection of undisputed facts that could be juxtaposed along a chronological line. There was limited attention to the interpretive dimensions of the trade and the potential or existing debates around these interpretations. This heritage has been implanted in recent decades by what masquerades as an educational system (where I suspect that in practice it is a process of rote-learning that is now twisted by pliant teachers in each language stream to suit ethnic claims).
The political spokesmen were as categorical, but tailored their interpretations to their partisan requirements, among them the de-legitimation of opponents. Thus, for example, by weight of articulation the Lefties of the 1940s-to-60s were able to perpetuate the idea that the Fathers of Sri Lanka`s independence pursued begging bowl politics and only succeeded because India`s independence in 1947 paved the way for Sri Lanka in 1948 (a thesis that is quite fallacious).
So, HISTORY has been turned into a powerful FACT. It is not only part of the process of litigation seeking to establish property rights, whether paraveni (hereditary), willed by testament or prescriptive. It is also a foundation for claims to territory by states or embryonic states.
Where information is turned up by archaeology and its material products, whether visual paintings, artefacts or buildings in various stages of disuse, history is SEDUCTIVE. These remnants proclaim antiquity. Antiquity evokes respect if not awe. There are two scales here, however. The archaeological artefacts of so-called primitive peoples are increasingly valued in modern times, but have usually gathered less awe and political legitimacy than those of technologically advanced peoples and empires. The imposing ruins of ancient Egypt, Sumeria, Angkor Wat et cetera convey claims to greatness which the supposed descendants of the people who built them can parade with pride in ways less feasible for the `primitive` aboriginal folk.
HISTORY is also BEGUILIING. Any Tom, Dick or Harry (hereafter shortened to TomDH) thinks s/he can write definitive history. Thus, recently in 2008 one C. Wijeyawickrema circulated a paper entitled `Ravana`s land and Tamil Nadu politicians: a brief history,` which not only brought alleged Tamilnadu versions of the Rama-Ravana story into play, but detailed 20th century events in Sri Lanka and Tamilnadu in order to present a picture of collusion over a long span of time between Tamilnadu separatists on the one hand and Sri Lankan federalists and Eelamists on the other. In short, historical `data` (much of it spurious and questionable) was deployed to sustain his paranoid interpretation of the power wielded by Dravidian separatist forces in southern India as a major foundation for his rejection of federalism in any form for Sri Lanka.
Likewise, the Lanka Guardian (http://lankaguardian.blogsp0t.com) recently carried an article called `Vijaya came later` written by an intellectual associated with a movement known as Jatika Chinthanaya (Nationalist Thought), namely, Nalin de Silva, a don in the field of mathematics. In a series of `definitive` assertions de Silva states (1) that there were `Hela people living in this country before the Aryan language speaking people came from North India ` (2) that `from about ninth century BC Indo Aryan speaking people migrated to Sri Lanka and Vijaya could be the name given to the Victor who established some kind of dominance over the Hela people who lived in the country` and (3) that `the Indo Aryans who migrated to Sri Lanka or Heladiva fought and mixed with the Hela people who were neither Aryans nor Dravidians, and in the course of time formed the mixed nation Sinhala.`
Though proclaimed without a shred of evidence to demonstrate that the term Hela was in use before the fifth century BC (BCE), the argument is innovative. In effect, it seeks to outflank the inferential, yet reasonable, speculation that Tamil-speakers were found within the island at the time of the alleged arrival of the eponymous ancestor of the Sinhala people, namely Vijaya, by diving (literally) deeper back in time. The word Hela becomes his magic wand.
In other words, this is a blatant effort to `out-primordialise` the pro-Tamil spokespersons who claim a primordial civilisational presence in the island for Tamils at the time the speakers of what is taken to be an Aryan-language arrived under the leadership of one Vijaya. In the process, Nalin de Silva also `out-primordialises` the conventional Sinhala claim to the island embodied in the Vijaya legend. Vijaya remains as historical fact however, but as the second stage in the emergence of the `mixed nation`of Sinhalese (Sinhalas).
The TomDHs of contemporary times are not only Sinhalese. Tamils attached to the contemporary claims of the Tamils also work print and cyber-space assiduously to claim not only that the Tamil presence in Sri Lanka pre-dated the purported arrival of the Sinhala forefathers (certainly a distinct probability), but also to proclaim a linear genealogical continuity linking these Tamils of centuries BC with those who existed, say, when the Portuguese imperial forces turned up in the sixteenth century and thus with the Tamils of the 20th century. The latter is a representation that is as far-fetched as it is preposterous.
By way of illustration let me refer to the cyber-net response to an article on the `federal idea` in www transcurrents.com by one Sebastian Rasalingam, writing in opposition to the general thrust of Tamil claims today. Rasalingam was vigourously challenged on 9 March 2008 by a pseudonymous blogger with the nom-de-plume `ilaya seran senguttuvan.` Among other things Senguttuvan asserted that `the ancient Temple in Trinco [is proof that] the Tamil language-cultural traditions have been there for over 4,000 years.` When such monumental and sweeping claims can be made on the basis of one historical site of uncertain date (and possibly a medieval one at that), we are in the realms of fantasyland. Indeed, there is simply no foundation for meaningful discussion of historical issues with such ardent partisans on either side of the fence.
In this scathing comment on the intervention of TomDH types in Sri Lanka`s historiography I am not suggesting that a postgraduate degree in History is a pre-requisite for historical interpretation. Training in history does not preclude faulty interpretation. Ultimately, the test is in the content of one`s interpretation, its evidential grounding, the reasoning behind the linkages and one`s honesty of purpose. One test of intellectual honesty lies in the readiness to confront opinions and items of data that are counter to one`s argument. Where counterpoints are simply by-passed or glossed over, there it is that readers have room to question a writer`s thesis the more so if his/her ethnic and other circumstances indicate affiliation with this or that political claim to territory or resource.
Experienced historians will also tell you that in any one subject there is often no agreement among specialist historians on the major issues within that defined subject. `Evidential grounding` is not always positive empirical fact it extends to circumstantial data. As illustration let me take a thesis that I presented in 1989 about the story of the arrival of the Portuguese apparently carried to the King of Kotte in 1505, that famous tale about `kudugal sapakana le bona minissu` `people who devour stones and drink blood` (see journal Ethnos 1989).
My speculative suggestion was that this tale was a parable, one that depicted the Portuguese as destructive and viperish. In other words it was cleverly indicated therein that the Portuguese were demonic they were yakku. In summary, the hypothesis rested on two suggestions: (1) that the story was concocted in the late 16th century AFTER the Sinhala people had experienced the terrible effects of Portuguese imperial activity and (2) four or five clues within the text in question which pointed in the same direction, clues that are allegorical and cryptic.
When formulating this interpretation I consulted a literary specialist, Professor Suraweera, whose immediate reaction was to ask: `how can you prove your idea?` or words to that effect a typical empiricist reaction. Ho...