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Citizens’ mail

Tamilized Sinhalese in the North

I refer to the letter on the above subject by Dr. Leo Fernando (July 21). It is very interesting to note that an analysis of samples of Mitochondrial DNA of low-country Sinhalese, showed greater affinity to that of the Tamils in the North, than to that of the Kandyan Sinhalese.

I wish to discuss only about the interpretation made and not the technique used. Recently I too explored and investigated, for my book on the Anthropology of Fishing in Sri Lanka and it became evident that there were considerable intermingling among the communities, with numerous waves of arrivals, settlement and resettlement of immigrants, during the Proto-Historic, Historic and colonial periods. There was intermingling through resettlement, even during the post-colonial era.

I am pleased that Dr. Leo Fernando’s hypothesis strengthens my view. However, the dynamics of the process described by Dr. Fernando could also have happened differently, considering evidences, listed below.

(a) British census of 1871 showed that there were more than 18,000 Tamil speaking Buddhists in the North but their fate remains unknown. It is possible that they moved to South and became Singhalese speaking Buddhists, with the expansion and popularization of Sinhalese, among Buddhists.

(b) One among the 5 Iswaram temples built by Indian Merchants/Traders, in the Medieval times, was ‘Tondeswaram’ in the South. History states Hindu families were also settled around all these temples. However the fate of Tondeswaram temple and Tamil Hindu families settled around it, in the South, remains unknown. It is very likely that they would have become Sinhalese speaking Buddhists and the Hindu temple disappeared due to neglect.

(c) Archaeological, geological, geographical and historical evidences examined collectively, tend to indicate that the arrivals and the Southwards migrations, during the Proto-Historic period (before the sea-level rise about 8 to 11 thousand years ago) to have been significantly greater, across the Land-Bridge (present Adam’s Bridge) as well as across the original Jaffna island, which was relatively much larger in area than the present day Jaffna peninsula and in very close proximity to the Indian coast, than the numerous arrivals by boats to various other locations around the country, during the historical period.

This is supported by the evidences of very high level of trade, well designed Port and the trade-emporium close to Mannar, well planned and structured ancient city in Anuradhapura; efficient navigation of boats through relatively larger and deeper river systems of Sri Lanka and the advanced irrigation technology applied all over the country.

An advanced civilization with advanced technological knowledge must have been responsible not only for these events but also facilitated planned settlements, re-settlements and intermingling, along the length and breadth of the island.


While thanking correspondent Ernest Rupasinghe of Gampaha (DN August 17) for his observations let me hasten to say that the material given in my column Gleanings (August 5) was basically from the book that was the subject of the column.

In fact, as suggested by Rupasinghe, knowledgeable archaeologists and historians among the communities should come forward to enlighten us on the origin of Maddakalappu.

Unfortunately historians and archaeologists among the Thamil community who are proficient in English at present is almost none, except for Professor Emeritus Pathmanathan and Dr. Raghupathy and perhaps Prof. Pushparatnam. Even Prof. Sudharshan Seneviratne, Dr. Deraniyagala can also give their studied views as the others mentioned in ER’s letter.

Part of our miscommunication problem is that we don’t communicate in the language of the others and remain exclusive to our own respective languages. Even English as a link language is not practicable now. So let’s try our best to communicate via English for a start. Yes Sir, the truth should prevail from wherever it emerges.

English teaching

This is in reply to the letter ‘Additional coaching in Sinhala’. I am not surprised that the children are getting low marks. I was School Medical Officer (Colombo) in the 1970s. I was doing the Med. Inspections in Grade 7 class. I was as usual talking to the boys, and accidently said something in English. I realized that no one seemed to understand. When I confirmed that, I asked the boys who came first and second in the class to bring their English textbooks to me. I just turned over to a page in the book. The first - Sinhala boy read the sentence I showed him, “Wash your hands in the basin”. He read it correctly but did not know what it meant. The second Muslim boy also read it and he said ‘Basin’ means Basama.

That is all he knew. They were Grade 7 children in a Colombo 5 school. I asked them whether the teacher in the English class speaks to them in English, they said ‘No’.

After the Medical Examinations were over, I went to the principal and told him what happened. He promptly told me off “That is Government rules that the teachers follow.” I was quite annoyed. I said “If you think that is correct, then I have nothing more to say,” and I walked out.

So this is the fault with our education system. I am sure that English teacher could only read but could not speak. How do you expect their children to learn to speak English? The education Department must see that the teacher teaching English is capable of speaking good English. Otherwise it is a waste of time and money and the poor students only will suffer.

Orabi Pasha Cultural Centre in Kandy - a tourist attraction

It is relevant to talk about the historical background of Orabi Pasha Cultural Centre in Kandy as an ideal place of tourist attraction when it is heard from its Director at 126th commemoration ceremony held on August 15, 2009.

May I draw the attention of the Tourism Minister Faizer Mustapha to make use of the Orabi Pasha Cultural Centre in order to attract more and more tourists from Middle East - especially Egypt since this centre has a very attractive and historically significant museum, which includes some of the belongings of the National Leader Ahamed Orabi and his colleagues.

This museum is situated in a picturesque site in 26, George E. de Silva Mawatha (formerly Halloluwa Road), some half a kilometre from the Kandy town. It was built on a green mount by Don Henry Wijenaike, a wealthy Kandyan who let in 1892 to Orabi Pasha as soon as he moved to Kandy from Colombo and since then the house has been known as ‘Arabi House’.

After the departure of Orabi Pasha to Egypt in 1901, Don H. Wijenaike gifted the house to his son Dr. Walter Wijenaike who on his turn took much care of the house and lived there with his wife Dulcee Wijenaike.

Before the death of Dr. Walter, he asked his wife to keep the house for the family and not to dispose of it for any outsider, but due to certain legislation, Mrs. Wijenaike was compelled to sell the house. Several landlords took possession of it and finally the Egyptian Embassy purchased the house with the assistance of the Sri Lankan Government in 1983 and transformed it into a national museum which contains a large number of portraits revealing the story of the Orabi revolution in Egypt and the life of Exiles in Ceylon together with a brief history of the house. Some exhibits also were prepared to depict the Egyptian civilization through the ages.

Today the name Orabi Pasha has become a household word in the Kandyan area mainly due to the social activities carried on at the Orabi Pasha museum and cultural centre.

Therefore, may I appeal to the Tourism Minister and President Rajapaksa to pay attention to develop this tourist site with modern facilities in such a way as to attract all tourists who visit Kandy city.



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