By Natale Dankotuwage –
Reconciliation is a part of my intimate-personal narrative. It is a journey dictated by love; an effort to love society in its wholeness, beginning with learning to love myself in my completeness.
As I walk back into the ancestral clutches of an Island past-on to me. I see the Island’s society as it may perceive me and my blood; worthy or unworthy of their honour. I seek to reconcile this disharmony.
There are parts of me that I can pipe with pride. My mother, the child of a high-caste Kandyan who was educated in English and spent his afternoons with his glasses at the rim of his nasal reading English newspapers because he couldn’t read Sinhala. My grandfather was the son of a great lineage where doctors, lawyers and government officials were born. And he married my grand- mother of the same black-smith caste.
But, there are parts of me I whisper under my breath to the unsuspecting. I look pensively through their eyes after having spoken to see if I’ve been accepted. The part where I am the daughter of a father that grew up on a small plot of land in the low-income ‘hoods of Kotahena. His mother educated only to know Sinhala. She was a proud indigenous woman that ran her own Kadai, but she had no Victorian sensibility. She was known for her aggressive and almost manly nature. Ministers would come in search of her to round up votes in the area. An Arachi by sir name, when I hear stories of her, I feel she carried her village chiefdom tact into the urban city.
The little I do know of this side of my family has been picked up in bits and pieces. The history of this side of my family is often left un-spoken. I know very little of my father’s father. They were always at odds, for as long as he was alive. And it was only in his passing, when returning for his funeral, that I discovered my grandfather’s brother’s sons were known as house-builders.
I don’t know when I learned to hide the part of me that revealed ancestry that lacked wealth or western education; the things that a Euro-centric-minded individual would de-value.
But as the love child of these two converging human narratives, I am subjected by the very nature of my being to learn to love these sides of myself equally for the social poise or lack thereof.
Thus, Reconciliation is coming to terms with why parts of me are deemed worthy while others are not. And in that search for personal healing and acceptance, I have aligned with the stories of the marginalized and their stories of oppression. Somewhere in their critical analysis of their histories, I hear mine as well.
I am Educated enough to know better than to sweep the past away, rather than to come to terms with the shame I and others have been taught to carry. A few post-colonial history courses set me off course to rediscover a part of me that I was taught to disown, devalue. To learn to fall in love with a part of myself, I had been taught to not share; the part of me that would set me at the bottom of an imagined social hierarchy.
And in returning, as I grow in my courage to speak, as I grow in my courage to be in my wholeness, I watch the way I engage with society transform. My path is that of one who claims her inferiority as her shield, discomforting those who live under a shield of imagined superiority. I hold it above my head watching in curiosity whether the ocean of social perception will part or submerge; colliding into me in unity, in a deep remembering of innate oneness.
*Natale Dankotuwage was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. She has dedicated several years to reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka, where her family is from. She has worked closely with a Toronto think-tank called the Mosaic Institute to co-found the Young Canadian Peace Dialogue on Sri Lanka. She has assisted in founding the fundraising consortium Build Change and is a former board member of the Citizenship and Immigration funded non-profit organization Sri Lankans without Borders. She has recently returned from South Asia. Completing one fellowship in Sri Lanka funded by the Asia Foundation and another fellowship in Bangalore provided by Gray Matters Capital. She is an avid journeyer, traveling the world and engaging in innovative projects such as Free Space, Roots Hyderabad, OMNI and Project:Spaces.