By Nira Wickramasinghe –
The state – actually a shifting complex of peoples and roles…– Herzfeld (1997: 5)
Walter Benjamin warned against the “appreciation of heritage”, describing it as a greater “catastrophe” than indifference or disregard (Mathur 2007: 168). Indeed, heritage can be considered an essentially present- centred cultural practice and an instrument of cultural power. It is as much about the production of the present as it is about the reproduction of a past.
The changing fortunes and popularity of places and sites indicate that no site is inherently valuable as heritage. There is therefore no heritage per se and all heritage, as Laurajane Smith argues, is intangible (2006: 3). What make sites valuable are the present-day cultural processes and activities that are undertaken around them. It is through these constitutive cultural processes that things and places are identified as possessing meaning and value. As we will see in the case of post-civil war Sri Lanka, the choice in valorisation reflects con- temporary cultural and social values, debates and aspirations (ibid: 3).
What then is the hegemonic discourse of heritage “which acts to constitute the way we think, talk and write about heritage”? (ibid: 11). This paper will explore the way this dis- course has evolved in a post-war situation and the extent to which it has validated a set of practices and performances that inhabit popular, expert and state constructions of heritage.
For the purpose of clarity, and although I recognise that this formulation does not sufficiently take into account overlapping trajectories, I would like to argue that there are at least two main routes to the past: history and heritage, which share many commonalities but differ in a fundamental way. The purpose is not to idealise history as the true, pure method of inquiry and exposition of the past. Records of the past are indeed filtered by time and what are bequeathed to us are only a few traces. Few would contest the fact that there is no objec- tive history where the voice of the author does not haunt the narrative. Most historians who admit that they cannot be ob- jective at least try to be impartial. But where historians differ from producers of heritage is in their appreciation of the past as a truth that while imperfect and unachieved, is yet more a truth than a faith or belief, fixed and devoid of ambiguities. Mostly, the historian tries to convey a past open to inspection and proof following certain protocols recognised by all mem- bers of the guild. But as Chakrabarty (2000: 29-36) has shown, there are many knowledge asymmetries in the academic world, with scholars from the South unable to access the data produced in the North and often expected by journals and publishers to refer to works by western authors while the converse is not demanded.
To read the full article click here ; Producing_the_Present
*Nira Wickramasinghe is with the Modern South Asian Studies at Leiden University and the author of Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History of Contested Identities (London: C Hurst and Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 2006).This article was originally published at The Economic and Political Weekly – Vol – XLVIII No. 43, October 26, 2013 and is reprinted here with the author’s permission.
Thiru / November 25, 2013
Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe,
You are a true academic: Your paper is excellent for scholars to read; it’s not for a plebian like me.
Keep up your good work, but make sure you don’t distort facts of history like all Sinhala majoritarians do all the time.
Manor / November 25, 2013
This is a useful critique of the ABUSE OF “cultural Heritage (Sinhala URYMAYA) in by the Rajapakse Regime in Sri Lanka today.
But the distinction that the author makes between “history” (which she considers good) and “heritage” (which she considers political and bad) is spurious and misleading. BOTH history and heritage – like culture – are CONSTRUCTS – (selected and objectified) to suit present-ist political and social preoccupations..
Long ago Nietzsche wrote about the ABUSE OF HISTORY – mostly by so-called modern historians…
Sinhalaya Modaya / November 25, 2013
Best to Translate into and publish in Sinhala – you need to be educating the Sinhalaya modayas who vote Rajapassa..
This is old hat for English speaking academics and Lanka’s Minority communities
Kapila / November 25, 2013
Yes, this is best for Sinhala audience..
Prof. Wickramasinghe is and was from the Sinhala establishment at Colombo University – she will say the right thing at the right time.. Her family is a “good’ Sinhala family – right caste and all that!
She has benefited from racist and discriminatory academic system in Sri Lanka. No top rank Tamil academics are able to work in the Sri Lanka University system because of racism and discrimination and JEALOUSY of elite Tamil academics – but people like Nira will not speak up about this rot within the system. Only reap the benefits as a member of the majority and write politically correct stuff of the western academics..
Carlo / November 25, 2013
Sinhala academic establishment SCAPEGOATS top ranked Tamil academics.. There is no one in the system – only the yes men from the minorities who have no research publication survive Lanka university – because of JEALOUSY and ENVY. The best minority academics are the easiest to scapegoat..
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith is one of the very few BRAVE and HONEST Sinhala academics who speak out.
Others keep their mouth shut and play see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil..
Hypocrisy is the name of the Sri Lanka academic game.. The Lanka university are doomed – because of the rot within and the Rajapassa patronage from outside… Best to privatize them because un-reformable from inside out!
Prasad / November 25, 2013
There is a world of difference between the true historian, academic and scholar Prof. Nira Wickramasinghe and the half baked pseudo historians (or rather his-story-ians) Bandu de Silva, Nalin de Silva and Darshanie Ratnawalli de Silva.
Kauytilya / November 27, 2013
Unfortunately, she is not wrting history, but ABOUT HISTORY! People who quote LauraJane Smith are the types who try to Hover over history without actually doing the hard work. French academics call this “sur-volism”. It gives a sur-volist the opportunity to attack others and assume a haughty, holier than thou attitude. Madam Nira’s manin Wikramaya is just that, viz. getting on the podium and bashing at others. Of course, the gallery likes it, and here we see many people already labeling Madam Nira as the true historian. Sorry Sir, and pardonne moi Madam, we have a tiny contribution to history covered by a thick layer of sur-volism here, n’est pas?
Of course Journalist historians like Dharshani Ratnavalli has also tried that game of sur-volism. I remember what she wrote about Karthigesu Indrapala. rof. Indrapla, unlike Nira W, is NOT a survolist but someone who actually did history, and wrote good history of the genuine kind anchored on empirical work. Dharshini R did have a few good points against Inrapala (e.g., Indrapala had completely ignored the facts that can be concluded from the Sigri griffiti in his “ethnic consciousness book), but Dharshini also does a lot of survolism. Indrapala also indulged in a lot of survolism in his book, and so he asked for it. Sudharshan has also been doing a bit of survolism, and it is a popular past time.
Nalin de Silva is not a HISTORIAN, but a very successful political plemicist, mainly nurtured by the Island newspaper. But the Island balances him with the rantings of political Kumar David, Jehan perera, rajan Phillips, RMBSenanayake etc etc, and even old Sebastian Rasalingam with his eternal casteism cry.
Bandu de Silva is a good historian in the empirical tradition and unusually well informed on many things historical and antiquarian. But he hasn’t written enough history to be labeled a full practitioner. Nira W and some others don’t like the fact that Bandu S was a diplomat, or that he does not peddle the US-Establishment-sanctioned world-vision that Gananath and Thambiah exude. Go back through the biographies of many distinguished historians, and they will see how many were diplomats or ended up in the corridors of power. Of course, being a diplomat means that one’s funding comes from a government source. The same goes for hacks who work and write for NGOs.
The Nira W types are the younger set have to fit in with the US-establishment sanctioned vision if they are to make any headway in the academic world they have chosen. We already saw that with the somewhat older set like H. L. Seneviratne and others.
is there such a thing as objective history?
Suresh / November 27, 2013
I have a feeling that Kauytilya is none other than DGB de Silva (Bandu) who lived in Paris as a diplomat for some years.
Gary / December 31, 2013
I came across this comment in a search re L Smith. Well, I must be tarred with the same brush as her, and must object to your rather curious proposition that her and the people that cite her (almost 2000 on google.scholar) hover above ‘history’ like sarcastic aliens in flying saucers. Just as the economy is far too important to leave to economists, so too is history too important to leave to historians. One does not have to be an historian (or trained in history, or at university, or that well educated at all) to draw on the past as a cultural and social resource in the present. Indeed, it is IMPOSSIBLE not to do so! If social scientists study the way that people draw on the past they will not do so in the way an historian might…that is because they are not ‘doing’ history. Indeed, despite intellectual innovations such as labour and social history, and in particular public history, historians are really still a bit suspicious that the great unwashed should dare to speak about history without actually ‘doing’ history, i.e. academic history. Prof. Smith has actually interviewed 4500 people visiting musuems and heritage sites on three continents to ask them how they are drawing on the past in the present (you might also like to see Sharon Macdonald’s recent book ‘Memorylands’). Is that not ‘doing the hard work’? Oh, I forgot, she is not an historian working in a dusty archive, so I quess she can’t really comment…
Anura / November 25, 2013
Truly, I have to put extra effort to grab the core things she is trying to teach us…
But, isn’t this a simple theory. If you ask 10 interested and educated individuals to write a summary of events happened at CHOGM last week. You will come up 10 different histories of those three days of the last week. What about things happened 1000 years ago reported by 1 or 10 people…
Theory of Multiple Histories is well proven in quantum world, in non-matter world of consciousness, there are 7 billions worlds and 7 billions histories….
Max Silva / November 25, 2013
“You are a true academic.Your paper is excellent for scholars to read”
I read it.Now Thiru take this blasted piece of paper and wipe my ass.Remember that you are paid to do the job.
Palayang yako! / November 26, 2013
Even your efforts at toilet humour are gross failures. Go jump back in the cess pit from which you seem to emerge every so often
justice / November 25, 2013
I read Our Heritage Parts I & II by G.C.Mendis,for subject of history,at the SSC examination in english.
It was an interesting book & was enough for me.It had a photograph of the Kandyan Convention with I think eleven signatures,of which,about 9 were in tamil. It spoke of ‘yakkas’ & ‘nagas’ as early citizens of Ceylon.
But I think a study of history and religion divides people and should be banned in schools.
Those who wish to study them may do so later.
We need now to focus on science & maths to produce useful citizens and english language as a compulsory subject.
Gradually,all teaching should be in english – and sinhala & tamil to be optional subjects.
We dont need our heritage to be patriots.
We do need just governance,law & order,independent judiciary and unflawed elections.
Countries which have these,prosper.
Emil van der Poorten / November 26, 2013
That was a civil, civilized, sane and refreshing change from the usual garbage that gets printed as commentary about some of the more interesting material appearing on this website.
Spring Koha / November 27, 2013
Every now then we come across a simple, concise, eminently sensible comment that makes sense. Thank You Justice.
Thiru / November 25, 2013
the term “In Post-War Patriotic Sri Lanka” already give a slant to your article: Who is patriotic and who is a traitor; is it as defined by Mahinda and Gota? If so your views are damned from the beginning.
Sunila mendis / November 25, 2013
prof. NiranWickremasingha wrote a history book as a supplementary reader for the secondary school students. It was sponsored by the National integration Program Unit which came under the ministry of ethnic affaires under madam CBK. I coordinated the project for NIPU. It was an objective analysis of the modern history of Sri Lanka. historical myths and fables which go as history found in the so called history books written by the National Institute of Education refused to use this valuable narration of history as a school text book. The NIE has the sole right to produce history books Ivor students. They are pseudo history written on the lines of one time TV narrative called MAHA SINHALESE WANSA KATHAVA romanticising the brave Sinhala kings who fought the Tamil invaders? These history books were translated into Tamil to be distributed to Tamil and Muslim students? The result is that all achievements of the Sri Lanka heritage were attributed to the Sinhalese people while the Tamils are depicted as non entities? Naturally late Prabhakaran got his authorities to produce a Tamil history and banned the use of NIE publications.
Patriot / November 25, 2013
We have seen more and more appeasement of terrorists and their backers towards the end of ChandrikaK rule. Indeed terrorists have become more demanding and belligerent separatists. LTTE had prepared child soldiers, makkal padai, human bombs pistol gangs and etc for a final showdown with Sri Lanka government. And I say, that’s about the only things you have achieved apart from mismanagement and daylight robberies after your coordinating ‘National integration Program Unit’ for eleven long years under your madam bandit queen.
And we the ordinary people were compelled to face the results of your ‘objective analysis’ and implements: Terrorists dumped the so-called ‘peace agreement’ and increased the frequency humanbomb blasts everywhere in Sri Lanka. We were not sure to come back home after work. Humanbombs ripped apart our buses, trains and public places killing and maiming tens of thousands of civilians. And husband and wives travelled separately for the sake of their children. That’s a war crime and you’re partly responsible of, Sunila.
Different scholars interpret history differently. When Nalin de Silva mentions that ancestors of the present day Wellalahs of Jaffna are imported labour by the Dutch to tend their tobacco plants, separatists accused him, he is no historian. But when Nalin quoted contents of Prof Indrapala’s PhD thesis to back his claim, Indrapala and Separatists said his own research is erroneous. But Indrapala seems happy to hold on to his PhD earned with erroneous research. Such is the blatant hypocrisy.
Chronicles 13:17 say; in a single battle, 500,000 Israelites (Hebrew) were slain. That is more than any World War II loss in a single battle, even higher than the deaths resulted from Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bomb attacks. At Gettysburg, the greatest battle of the American Civil War, the defeated army had lost less than 5,000 men. That was thousands of years after said occasion of Israelites and when the population was much higher. I bet Sunila has no trouble in worship and believe absurd Bible story, only they chastise ‘MAHA SINHALE WANSA KATHAVA’ as pseudo history.
One should read a book or two by eminent professor and historian Tennakoon Wimalananda, and Jane Russell and etc to understand what’s behind Mahavamsa bashing or ‘myths and fables’ attribution to our history.
MR has been in power only eight years. Yet his achievement are visible in every nook and cranny of the country. That’s why he keeps winning in spite of vile writing by anti-Buddhists.
Suresh / November 27, 2013
What Prof. K Indrapala wrote in 1965 as a PhD student is completely different from what Prof. K Indrapala wrote in 2005. In 1965, he said, there is no evidence to prove that the Tamils lived in the island before the 13th CAD. In 2005 he says, there were Tamils living in the Island since BC and therefore they cannot be considered as outsiders.
Within the 40 years of archeological research (from 1965 – 2005), the archeologists have discovered enough evidence for him to change is opinion. What we learn today (whether it is Natural science or Social science) is obsolete tomorrow. The PhD or any other qualification that we obtain today is valid for employment or anything else only today. Unless we continue to update our knowledge according to the rapid changes that is taking place, our knowledge becomes obsolete.
Indrapala would have got a job in the university with his 1965 PhD during the sixties but he did not stop with that, has 40 years of research done as a historian.
PEOPLE DO CHANGE THEIR OPINIONS UPON NEW FINDINGS (and it is absolutely natural).
JULAMPITIYE AMARAYA / November 25, 2013
Please do not take Me responsible for all those on History books.
and I did not give instruction to Pirabaharan to rewrite the Tamil History books as inspired to him and
not gave Instruction to Ban National Institute of education publications,
Somebody may have bribed him to do that, like that presidential election, where Sungod stopped the north east Tamil voters for voting after taking bribes from our LOKKAS.
Or he may be jealous, like our politikkas, who do not like the Education, Academics, Students And journalists, who are educated or getting educated.
Neither DO I LIKE EDUCATED PEOPLE AS I AM NOT EDUCATED.
What about that, If we can give contracts to rewrite our history to that Teledrama Actor cum historian.?.
JULAMPITIYE AMARAYA, IRC, Welikada SL,
IRC, Changi, Singpore.
Manoharan / November 27, 2013
Sunila being a sinhalese forgets that the Tamil Militancy produced its own myths which are even more venomous than anything the Sinhalese have got. I know what we heard. How we had our own kingdom, and how we were there even before Viyaya, and that even Vijaya was a Tamil known as Vijayan. King Kasyapa (who built sigitya) was really Kasi-appan. The Sinhalese language itself, we are told, was derived from Tamil. The sinhalese are a hybrid or mongrel race with the tamil part being the thing that gives them some qualities of handwork and perseverance etc — in fact, apparantly G. G. Ponnambalam used to say these long before even independence, and according to articles by Sebastian Rasalingam, the 1st Sinhala-Tamil riot came after a fiery speech by Ponnambalam in, guess when, 1939!.
By the time Nira and Sunila began writing books for the benefit of the Sinhalese, much water had flown under the Arippu bridge, and tamil nationalism had transformed into Tamil terrorism, assasinating the very leaders of that militancy. This polarization leading to terror arose not because of historical myths of the sinhalese or the tamils, but because of our hubris-filled rich lawyer-leaders (actually tamil leaders) who thought they can capture power from the Sinhalese (read the 1949 Arasu document published by the ITAK). They invented myths for the benefit of the militant tamils. This was a very foolish move because pitting a small minority of about 10% of the people against 70% Majority is simple madness – in the end it was inevitable that the tails loos – it was just a matter of time. if the war had got dragged on, even more tamils would have got killed.
The Marxist leaders did nothing to help. They misunderstood Tamil nationalism and even now interprets it in terms of fossilized Leninist thinking that has proved to be wrong every time.
Today, I don’t care about any of this race or ethnic bullshit. I see how there is an amicable multi-ethnic city in Colombo and the suburbs. If you wish to correct myths, the most pernicious myth is that the tamils have an EXCLUSIVE homeland and that they can drive out others (mulsims and sinhalese) from there. None of you have written against those myths poisoning the minds of tamils. I believe that the homeland of the tamils is the whole of Sri Lanka, just as it is for the Burghers and the Malays and the muslims and the Sinhalese .
If people like Sunila, Nira, on the one side with their prejudices, and the Tamil and Sinhala nationalsist on other sides, ALL STOP this and allow us to look after our basic needs (jobs, health, education, security) which are common to every one irrespective of ethnicity, things would be much better. I live in the Dehiwelai area and we have great tamil culture in Colombo. This, and NOT the northern province, is out homeland.
Wickramasiri / November 27, 2013
Manoharan, Thank you for helping reconciliation by your words.
karl singham / November 27, 2013
I think Manoharan correct in every particullar except for the opening sentence:What has Sunila Mendises’s Sinhalaness got to do with her enlightened views?
J.Thavarajah. / November 25, 2013
I remember reading an article by Prof.W.I.Siriweera formerly of the Dept.of History University of Peradeniya published by the Social Scientists Association way back in the 80s.The title of the article is The Dutugemunu-Elhara conflict-A Reassesment.A brilliant and balanced analysis.Could the C.T.publish this for the benefit of its avid readers?
Fathima Fukushima / November 25, 2013
Tamils have no history in SL. History is written by winners of war not LOSERS.
Tamils first came to SL as tobacco slaves. This is the truth.
There are Tamils in every country but they have no country of their own!! Shameless.
JULAMPITIYE AMARAYA / November 25, 2013
You Sitting on the brain IDIOT.
YOU are like your Moronic Bosses Jarapassa clan.
Tamils are every where,
There are Tamils in every country but they have a country of their own,
It is called Tamil Nadu in India.
We have a mother Country called Sri Lanka.
In our mother country, Sri Lanka,
We have Tamils, They are called Sri Lankan Tamils, And Sri lanka is their own mother country as well.
I am no muslim / November 27, 2013
You Tamils are utterly confused! How can you have different mother country if you have a similar culture and speak one language? Regardless where they live, all Tamils have one motherland. And that is Tamil Nad.
I am muslim / November 27, 2013
There are more than 25 Arab countries in the middle-east and north africa. They all have similar culture and speak Arabic. No body tells them they belong to Arabia.
The Sinhalese are the ONLY people in this entire world who thinks people who speak one language and have one culture belongs only to one place. Tamils belong only to Tamil Nadu and Muslims belong to Arabia. No wonder they call you people modayas.
James / November 25, 2013
Seemes like you get your rocks off by the stupid comments you keep making
Are you seriously so demented or these comments that you keep writing makes you feel empowered?
I presume that you are saying that the “Sinhala” people have SL as their homeland… who are the “Sinhala” people who you are reffering to? do you know the DNA make up of your so called “Sinhala” people?
Anyway a fool is a fool and I have been told never to talk to a fool
Avb / November 26, 2013
Fat Mima proves Mahawanse history by showing animal genes in it (he/her?)
Kautilya / November 26, 2013
Please refrain from making comments on the subjects that you cannot understand.
JimSofty / November 26, 2013
Article does not mention any specific group. So. the intentions are not clear right now.
Once we find out it, we talk.
Fedrick / November 26, 2013
Good evidence to show that Sr Lankan Universities are full of jokers claiming as professors. Can we see her ISI and Scopus journal publication list. Seems like family dept catcher. God bless for Colombo University.
k singham / November 27, 2013
Wickremasinghe’s essay is a brilliant exposition of the problems of taking what is written as history as a true record of what happened in the past. History is written in the present not only to serve present purposes but also under the auspices of a particular theory of how to select and interpret events and processes from the past. Kautilya’ comments, for all its confusions, praising work of certain writers is really based on a particular theory of writing history initiated in Europe in earlier centuries. For all his snide references to Euro American establishments, the work of the various Silvas and de Silvas and Mendises and etc are also produced under the auspices various theories of historical writing initiated in English and French and German universities in earlier centuries –though some of the work of the Silvas have also been written to appeal to the serene joy and emotion of the pious.
It is utterly naïve to imagine that the dominant school of historical writing in Sri Lanka is not influenced by European theories of the production of historical writing – though extremely dated and exploded theories.
Wickremasinghe essay is a brilliant exposition of the problems of
karl singham / November 27, 2013
I should have added the names of various Tamil writewrs who too have written stuff that was written to serve A political purpose.the chatter about traditional homelands, for example.How “TRDITIONAL” is traditional?Is the hill country where large number of Tamils have lived for a hundred years traditinak homeland too?If not,why not?