Dr Sujit Sivasundaram shows how local knowledge in Sri Lanka was used as a means of resistance against the British in the 1800s, and subsequently absorbed and adopted by the colonists as their own..
In this short film Dr Sujit Sivasundaram, from the Department of International History, challenges the idea that European colonists brought Modernity – in the form of systematic knowledge – to countries such as Sri Lanka. He argues that it is not just territory that is occupied by a colonising force, local knowledge, too, is also absorbed and utilised by the colonisers.
Dr Sivasundarams research looks at the Kingdom of Kandy, a state set deep in the forested highlands of central Sri Lanka. Kandy was one of the last outposts of native rule to fall to colonists, successfully repelling the British in 1803, before finally succumbing in 1815.
One reason for the Kandyans success was superior information: technical knowledge useful to the military resistance could be passed between Kandyans in the form of an oral tradition that is preserved in “palm-leaf manuscripts.”
By examining surviving palm-leaf manuscripts, Dr Sivasundaram is able to reconstruct indigenous knowledge from the 1800s, and show that what we think of “enlightenment knowledge” is sometimes actually founded on indigenous knowledge although the link has long since been obscured..