Feature Article

Germany supports Colombo’s colonial archaeology in Tamil country

[TamilNet, Saturday, 23 April 2011, 07:25 GMT]
After a discussion between Colonial Colombo’s ‘National Heritage’ Minister Dr. Jagath Balasuriya and German Deputy Ambassador to Colombo, Stefan Weak Bark, it was decided that Germany would support Sri Lanka’s initiatives to declare important ancient archaeological sites in the Northern and Eastern Provinces as World Heritage Sites. Quite typical of genocidal Sri Lanka’s indiscrimination between Army and Archaeology in the Tamil country it is occupying, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence website on Tuesday, citing the government media Daily News, said that Kurundugoda temple [?] in Jaffna which belongs to prehistoric period [?], Girihandu Seya which is considered the first stupa built in the world [?], along with Jaffna fort and Thirukethiswaram Kovil [Koayil] will be proclaimed ‘world heritage sites’.

Colombo’s cultural genocide ministry would also take action to ‘discover’ all archaeological sites in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

The first two names of the list are good examples for the fabrication of names and themes to claim Sinhala-Buddhist heritage tags to the proposed ‘world heritage’ sites, and the whole exercise in the name of culture and heritage is a novel form of land grab to serve Colombo’s colonialism and the corporate commercial ventures of ‘heritage tourism’, commented an academic in Jaffna.

Further comments from the academic in Jaffna:

No Buddhist temple could go back to ‘prehistoric’ period [the times before written documents]. The concept of Seya or Stupa itself comes from burial mounds and such mounds predate Buddhism in the island and elsewhere. What the Indian Archaeologists are going to tell for the claim, “first stupa built in the world?”

In Sri Lanka no one in power or no government department nowadays cares about sensible world laughing at them for their claims, because there are some establishments in the world to back them, pour in money and capitalise on their pettiness.

The study, protection and presentation of the cultural heritage of a land are rights of the people of the land. When somebody else does it with the power generated from military occupation, it is a classical colonial exercise.

What takes place in the country of Eezham Tamils in the name of Archaeology is obviously a cultural genocide, when the Sri Lankan state that denies territoriality of Eezham Tamils prioritizes distorted archaeology in a ‘conquered’ territory and explicitly alienates the people of the land from their cultural heritage.

Why the German government should support such a programme and what are the academic minds in Germany that facilitate such cultural genocide of Eezham Tamils, in collaboration with minds habitually orientated for it in the island, are the questions raised in Jaffna.

Is it academic honesty to set eyes with such an undue haste on the heritage sites of a people just subjugated by brutal and foul means? Is it academic honesty to grab the right to study heritage belonging to those people without their participation but with the collaboration of their ‘conquerors’; without the empowerment of the people of the land to take care of their heritage and without seeing that the political rights of the owners of the land is restored, unless the so-called academics serve to synthesize the genocidal frenzy of the Sri Lankan State and the corporate interests of commercialisation of heritage?

The German school of Orientalist and linguistic thought that was behind the translation, publication and popularisation of the Pali-Buddhist texts of the island and the re-invention of the archaeologically and genetically baseless ‘Aryan’ origins of the Sinhalese, is still a lingering curse that prevents the Sinhalese from realising the generic affinities of them with Tamils and prevents them from accepting the sibling development of the nation of Eezham Tamils in the island.

* * *

Meanwhile, a German team, collaborating with Dr. S U Deraniyagala and with the colonial Department of Archaeology of Sri Lanka, is now embarked upon excavating the most important archaeological site in Jaffna Peninsula at Kantharoadai, which was one of the earliest urban centres in the island.

Veteran prehistorian and archaeologist Dr. Deraniyagala was formerly the Director General of Colombo’s Archaeology Department. His contribution to scientific Archaeology in the island is exceptionally significant. Informed circles say that he still exerts a lot of influence in the affairs of the department because of his rare expertise and because of the fact that most of the present day staff were trained by him.

He is well recognized internationally for his academic calibre and most of Sri Lanka’s foreign collaborations in Archaeology over several decades were routed through him. He also enjoys a long association with Germany.

No one can complain about his professional credibility in excavating Kantharoadai. But, questions are there about his right, morality and timing of the project when there is an ongoing agenda of structural genocide by state in Sri Lanka and when some outside establishments interpret that as ‘reconciliation’ and as a way for ‘lasting solution’.

* * *

The Sri Lanka defence website news is a good example how scientific exercises in Archaeology could be interpreted to the public in the island. Sometimes even scientific researchers of reputation in the island write one thing in academic papers, which very few see, but say some thing else in popular news releases.

There was a time when Sinhala scholars imagined nothing but ‘Aryan’ migration to the island in shaping the Sinhala nation. The Tamils were ‘outsiders’ who came as invaders, mercenaries and traders. The few megalithic monuments of Iron Age known in the island at that time were stray evidences.

Then came a time the widespread distribution of megalithic culture and associated assemblages noticed in the island became irrefutable evidence for the cultural commonality between South India and the island. It became a big challenge for the theory of ‘Aryan’ migration of the Sinhala psyche. So there were interpretative models such as language replacement. But some even then tried very hard to imply that the megalithic people were the ‘Aryans’ of the Mahavamsa myth.

Now comes the genetic evidence – an evidence that cannot be tampered or destroyed pointing to the larger genetic commonality between South India and the island. The evidence shows that it was only ‘memories’ coming through language, religion, culture and politics that made nations in the island. Ironically the present day Eezham Tamils comparatively have more Bengali/ Oriya (Kalinga) DNA than the Sinhalese (Dr. S. Thiyagarajah).

Memories are realities making nations in the island as long as oppression operates in those lines.

But then the response from some sections of Sinhalese is now naked: Through a historical process the majority has become Sinhala-Buddhist. Tamils were becoming Sinhalese in the distant past as well as in recent memories. The remaining Tamils should also accept the process and become Sinhalese to have ‘lasting peace’ and ‘equality’ in the island. This is the undercurrent of ‘heritage’ exercises undertaken by state in the island.

* * *

Paul E Pieris, the grandfather of Dr. Deraniyagala, who then served as a judge in Jaffna, first excavated Kantharoadai in early 20th century and brought out the Buddhist heritage of the site to limelight.

But the archaeological heritage of Kantharoadai is more than that. A Pennsylvania University team led by Vimala Begley and Bennet Bronson excavated the site in 1970, revealing megalithic cultural assemblages. Two of the carbon-dated samples of the excavation were more than 3000 years old.

However, no detailed reports of the excavations were published so far. Informed circles say that many of the artefacts found in the excavations and explorations of Kantharoadai and were taken to Colombo are untraceable now.

Sometimes back, another German team in collaboration with Sri Lanka’s Archaeology Department excavated the site Tissamaharama or the ancient Mahagama, which is another early urban centre located in the Hambantota district, down south in the island.

A pottery inscribed in Tamil language and script and dated back to 2200 years was found in the earliest layers of this site.

Neither the German excavators, nor the Sri Lanka Department of Archaeology recorded the find in the two excavation reports brought out by them. The whereabouts of the find is also seems to be not known to anyone.

Last month, when Dr. Deraniyagala and a German-based archaeologist came to the University of Jaffna, Dr Deraniyagala was asked why the Tissamaharama Tamil-Brahmi potsherd was not published in the reports. His answer was that no one in Colombo’s department was able to read it.

The academic circles in Jaffna wonder at the audacity of such a department, having no academic expertise at all in Tamil, searching for heritage at Kantharoadai and in the North and East of the island.

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