Colombo Telegraph

Gordon Weiss And The Dynamics Of Redemption

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Darshanie Ratnawalli

Not for personal gain is this exercise of mine but in pursuit of redemption. Redemption is a curious thing. To counter every wrong pattern that gets drawn on the canvas of existence, it draws some other pattern, next to which the wrong pattern looks so godawful and out of place that it soon gets erased by the collective forces of existence.

Gordon Weiss too has sat in front of his computer and drawn the following pattern;

“The hitherto relatively contiguous area that has formed the basis for a Tamil claim to a historic homeland will be broken up and interspersed with hundreds of army camps, staffed by Sinhalese soldiers…There is nothing new about the creeping erasure of Tamil territorial claims in the name of development…Archeologists and historians, sanctioned by the government, unleashed on to conquered territory and possibly funded by UNESCO, will supply the academic legitimacy for the ‘re-territorialisation’ of Sri Lanka. Eventually, postcards will be printed of newly minted Buddhist sites in formerly Tamil areas, and tour guides will regale sightseers with stories of their discovery and antiquity. Just two weeks after Prabhakaran’s death, the president’s wife unveiled a statue of Sanghamiththa…the woman who – two and a half thousand years before- is said to have brought a seedling of the holy Bo tree to Sri Lanka. The statue now sits in the middle of one of the HSZs, in the heart of Tamil Jaffna…”- (‘The Cage’, pp.255-256)

Even the sheer godawfulness of this passage generated by the ignorance of its 21st century Australian author is redeemable. A 17th century Dutch mapmaker redeems it by his cartographical representation of Jaffna[i] (held at the Nationaal Archief, Netherlands, but viewable online at He wouldn’t have known that he was being an agent of redemption[ii] when he drew up this map of a Jaffna where Sinhalese and Tamil place names exist side by side. He was just exercising his craft in the service of imperial Holland. To him a Jaffna that could be interspersed with a Cottiewatte, Noenavil game, Watane, a Walandale, Lilagamo, Tangode, a Tambale, Batecotte, Anecotte, Naloer, Oergavature, Nagamoene, Tambegamo, Mepale, Pollopalle, Alipalle, Malwattoe, a Walewitakepoelo, etc. would have been business as usual, with no special significance. The fact that four centuries later, demographic changes both colonial state sponsored and natural, would render a major territorial division of his map Welligamo into Valikamam and leave a Vimankamam in place of his Vimangamo and affect almost total erasure of its Sinhalese names, would have, if known, filled the cartographer with indifference. If told that four centuries of political upheaval would make his map an embarrassing skeleton in the cupboard to a political ideology aspiring to own the SL reconciliation space in the global mind map, the cartographer would have tuned out in sheer incomprehension.

Yet four centuries later, the Redemptive Dynamic[iii] turns this Dutch cartographer into an agent and his map into a beacon that exposes the human frailty or the psychical darkness behind the Weiss tenets contained in the above excerpt, such as ‘Tamil Jaffna’, ‘Tamil territorial claims’, ‘Tamil claims to a historic homeland on the basis of a contiguous area’. It reveals the plight of men, who accept international postings under global organizations to complex countries swearing to uphold liberal principles, only to get bent by reason of their garden variety intellects into buying ethnic cleansing agendas for multicultural spaces. This agent of the Redemptive Dynamic and his beacon also show the sheer superfluity of “unleashing historians and archeologists on conquered territory” with or without UNESCO funding to give “academic legitimacy to the re-territorialisation of Sri Lanka”. All one has to do is give out framed copies of this map to the sections of the populace entertaining doubts about the legitimacy of the said re-territorialisation. In fact, I am not sure if the Redemptive Dynamic didn’t overdo it a bit with this map. There’s such a thing as having it too easy.

Re Sangamittha, that “woman” is indeed said by the Pali chronicle of Lanka to have landed in Jambukolapattana with the Bo sapling. But as this same chronicle was instrumental in establishing the identity of even this woman’s father in the inscriptions of India, it seems reasonable to assume that the chronicle was on the ball re the Asokan connection and she did indeed land in Jambukolapattana, which port is widely accepted by historians as belonging to the peninsula.

“……..a brief reference to the regional and not merely Sri Lankan importance of the translation of the Mahavamsa. In time it became the source for determining the identity of Devanampiya Piyadassi mentioned in a series of inscriptions on pillars and rocks in many parts of India, an identification eventually confirmed in the early 20th century, as the great Emperor Asoka. …”- (K M De Silva: Emerson Tennent Memorial Lecture: JRASSL, NS, VOL. XLI, Special Number, 1996)-

Did we really have as a UN official a man who was capable of regarding the celebration of this cultural association in Jaffna, as a violation and an abomination? The shock is fully comparable to seeing running sores on the body of a beauty contestant during the swimsuit round.

*The writer can be found at

[i] Kaart van Jaffanapatnam en onderhoorige landen en eilanden (Map of Jaffanapatnam countries and islands and dependencies). Browsers such as Google Chrome let you translate the web page into English. Get it full screen and start spotting the Sinhala place names.

[ii] There are other agents of redemption at large who help us by emphasizing the layered heritage of Jaffna. See for example; “The Kokila Sandesaya narrates the longest of the journeys from the southernmost point on the island, Devinuwara (Dondra) to its northernmost city, Yapa Patuna (Jaffna). It names seventy-two places along the journey. Some of the Sinhala place-names on the northern leg of the journey are no longer identifiable, because these areas are now home to a mainly Tamil population.”-

(Pieris, Anoma (2010) ‘Avian Geographies: An Inquiry into Nationalist Consciousness in Medieval Lanka’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 33: 3, 336 — 362)

I talked about the layered heritage of the North in “Communal claims on common land”. That article grew out of a conversation I had with a historian.

H- ‘I have mailed you that article by Anoma Pieris’.
Me- ‘She is the granddaughter of G. C. Mendis isn’t she?’
H- ‘Yes. She is at Uni of Melbourne. Thought the bit about the northern leg of the journey might interest you’.

Me- ‘That the 15th century Kokila Sandesaya should list Sinhala place names on its northern leg?  Hardly a revelation. Take a look at that 17th century Dutch map…

[iii] Another agent of redemption who emphasized the layered heritage of Jaffna very early on is Codrington; “The place-names in the peninsula indicate that it was held by Sinhala inhabitants at no very remote date, …” said he in Chapter VI, Short history of Ceylon, 1926. I have this mental picture of Codrington yawning from the Great Beyond when in 1965 the PhD student K. Indrapala highlighted “the toponymic evidence involving over a thousand place names of distinctly Sinhalese origin ‘in Tamil garb’” presented by the Jaffna peninsula.

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