18 May, 2021

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Writing The American Ceylon Mission: A Review Of The American River Of Love That Flowed Into Jaffna

By Mahendran Thiruvarangan

Dr. Mahendran Thiruvarangan

When cultures and faiths meet one another, there often crop up debates, dissonances and worse, even violent conflicts. But is that all we can say about such events that history unfurls time to time? Didn’t such moments of the past also include cultural fusions that make us who we are today? Aren’t we all carrying in our bodies, thoughts and practices of the present some of these blends made in the past? How do we narrate these histories that created simultaneously both ties that cut across linguistic, cultural and religious borders and violent hierarchies that organized our communities unequally? I found myself grappling with these questions when I was reading The American River of Love that Flowed into Jaffna, a book by Bishop Jebanesan launched recently in Jaffna. 

This book narrates the story of a Protestant Christian missionary movement from the USA, known as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), that arrived in nineteenth-century Jaffna and went on to fuse itself with the language and traditions of the local Tamils and contributed significantly towards the region’s progress in the areas of education and health care, whilst being involved in proselytizing the inhabitants of that region. The long voyages that the missionaries undertook amidst battering weather conditions, the emotional pain that confronted them following their separation from their families, the cultural and ecological challenges they faced in acclimatizing themselves to a new environment are all vividly described in the book. 

Bishop Jebanesan’s book gives prominence to the missionaries’ attempts to educate the people of Jaffna, their concerns related to the education of the oppressed caste communities to whom education had been denied at the time, their keenness in educating the local women and their contribution to the health care of the people. The Bishop gives an overview of the activities the missionaries initiated and the schools and hospitals they inaugurated as a way of developing Jaffna. The author also highlights the interest shown by the missionaries in giving a central place to the Tamil language in the work they did. Tamil education, the missionaries held, was important to cultivate of a group of Tamil theologians who would take the gospel among the locals in a language that the latter understood. 

Even though the primary objective of the missionaries was to spread Christianity, the book notes that missionaries like Hoisington engaged with Hindu philosophy in a scholarly manner and even translated some of the canonical philosophical texts associated with Hinduism into English. Hoisington’s interest and scholarship in Hindu Philosophy, Tamil literature and Tamil astrology suggests that the educational ambience that these missionaries nurtured in Jaffna was cosmopolitan in some ways and could not be indifferent to the religious worldview of the locals.  

The book pays special attention to the missionaries’ contribution towards the creation of a book culture in Jaffna. The author writes in detail about the establishment of a printing press in Jaffna by the American missionaries, their role in inaugurating Uthayatharakai (the English version of the newspaper was known as The Morning Star), the first ever newspaper in Tamil to be published from Sri Lanka, the educational and religious texts that were produced and translated as part of this culture. 

Bringing in anecdotes from his family archive, the Bishop writes about his great grandfather who initially resisted the missionaries’ attempt to preach the gospel to his sons but later embraced Christianity. In addition to the personal stories gleaned from the letters and communications that the missionaries wrote from Jaffna, the book includes stories about the missionaries that the author had heard from his mother and teachers at Jaffna College. It is noteworthy that this book, woven with several orally transmitted narratives, came out of an oral history initiative where the Bishop delivered a series of lectures on the American Ceylon Mission (ACM) via YouTube. In the book, the Bishop praises the missionaries with gratitude for the work they did to propagate Christianity and remembers them with love for their societal contribution. 

In order to understand the social and religious roles the ACM played in nineteenth-century Jaffna holistically, its work needs to be reviewed from a postcolonial angle too. The cultural, religious and social work done by Christian missionaries in Asia and Africa during colonial times was often imbricated in the material processes and ideological apparatuses of colonialism. Although the American Missionaries were not interested in colonizing Jaffna, some of their views on the locals and their religious beliefs reek of orientalism, a process of knowledge production whereby, as Edward Said argues, colonizers and those associated with them portrayed the native populations and their beliefs as inferior to European ways of being and living. Samuel Green’s proclamation, “I’ll go to a land of darkness and heal the bodies and enlighten the minds of some error bound people,” suggests that the ACM’s outlook was not free of such orientalism.

One cannot assess the ABCFM’s activities in colonized locations like Jaffna without shedding light upon the political context of settler colonialism in the US where the group’s role in ‘civilizing’ the Native Americans has been called into question. The papers of the ABCFM composed when the group was working among the Cherokee people, a Native American community, reveal that its long-term purpose was to “gradually make the whole [Cherokee] tribe English in language, civilized in habits, and Christian in religion.” Gnimbin Albert Ouattara’s work on the ABCFM’s approach to Christianize the Cherokees holds that the group’s “civilizing strategy received a lot of support from the U.S. government and general public”.  

Equally important is that we look closely at the way the ABCFM missionaries engaged the local structures of caste power in Jaffna. A recent article by Mark E. Balmforth notes that during the early years of its work in Jaffna, the Mission “systematically allowed the operation of caste privileges demanded by the few Veḷḷāḷar members of its churches and schools, to ensure they remained.” Balmforth further argues that “the mission’s Veḷḷāḷar affiliation was a deliberate choice,” and thereby the mission “facilitated late nineteenth- and twentieth century Veḷḷāḷar dominance over the peninsula’s economic, social, and political life.” The missionaries’ collusions with the local elite indicate that the ACM’s role in challenging caste oppression in Jaffna was mired in contradictions. 

Similarly, recent feminist scholarship uncovers some problematic sides to the ideologies that underpinned the work done by the female missionaries. American women’s participation in missionary activism was in some ways a radical flight from the eighteenth and nineteenth century Anglo-American discourses of gendering which assigned to women the domestic role of mother or wife or nurturer or care-giver, while framing commerce and politics as arenas for the male preserve. The female missionaries’ departure from their homes and nations was thus seen as a productive moment. However, the hegemonic politics of gendered domesticity re-entered the picture when the missionary women were called upon to cultivate in non-Christian lands women who could create Christian households as wives and mothers. Malathi de Alwis notes that the American missionaries taught needlework to the female students Uduvil Girls’ College as a way of perpetuating American gendered notions about domesticity as ‘respectability’. Amy Kaplan describes “[this] outward reach of domesticity [which] enable[d] the interior functioning of the home” as “imperial domesticity” in her work. Scholars like Balmforth, de Alwis and Kaplan demonstrate that the missionary women’s work rested on cultural assumptions that were demeaning towards local women, their families and lifestyle. 

Critical scholarship on the ABCFM’s activities underscores that the group did participate in overt and covert ways in processes that affirmed and reproduced local and global hierarchies built around the axes of culture, race, religion, gender and caste. This scholarship, while bringing to light some of the hegemonic ideas and practices that sat within the ACM, richly complements Bishop Jebanesan’s attention to the progressive content of the work done by the missionaries. Recognizing this complex history which includes moments of progress, radical openings, and translation across religious and linguistic boundaries on the one hand, and moments of epistemic violence, cultural othering and intolerance on the other, is essential in assessing the historical role the ABCFM played in Jaffna’s evolution as a pluralist space and a center of modern education in the nineteenth-century. 

In the long history of Jaffna as a place and a meeting point of cultures and languages, the period of the ACM forms an important phase. How the ACM contributed to the rise of a Protestant Christian tradition that enriched the Tamil language, how it created changes in the political economy of Jaffna, how it disrupted the existent caste, class and gender relations and then re-oriented and re-constructed them, and how it shaped the social, economic and political processes of the people of Jaffna in the subsequent centuries are all questions that deserve scholarly attention. There is no doubt that Bishop Jebanesan’s book will be an indispensable resource in our inquiries into these matters. 

*Mahendran Thiruvarangan is attached to the Department of Linguistics & English, University of Jaffna

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Latest comments

  • 3
    6

    That was disrupted by people like Akumuka Nalavar saying they fed Tamil children beef, alcohol and taught them ballroom dancing!

    American education concentrated mostly on fishing caste kids in Jaffna which shatterred the advantage of Vellala people. Tamil Christians were far ahead of Tamil Hindus which didn’t go down well in Tamil society.

    • 8
      0

      Oh Jee
      I am interested to know which “people like AN” said all those things, and where. Others too may be interested.
      *
      Did the American Missionaries really concentrate on fisher caste folk? If they did, and with conversion being their aim, who converted the fisher community to Roman Catholicism?
      *
      When did the Vellala lose their advantage? I wish they did like their counterparts among the Sinhalese.
      *
      When one knows next to nothing on a subject, it is in everyone’s interest to keep the two audio organs on the sides of the head on and the one on the front off.

  • 11
    3

    Thank you Thiruvarangan for the article. Matters like the position of women and caste predated the American missionaries and are challenges mainly left to us. Missionary activity, like everything else in history had its ups and downs, and its share of scandals. As you point out, to leave homes of relative comfort, make hazardous sea journeys and experience utter loneliness in work is an enormous decision that few of us would readily undertake. Finding fault with persons who took the challenge often involves quibbling, when we have little to show for ourselves. One is saddened by the state of the institutions they left behind, sharing the decay of Jaffna as a whole. I was raised in the Protestant tradition and am immersed in its values. Most importantly, speaking the truth and fidelity in marriage; when these values are in short supply we have a society in decay, decay in secular terms.

    • 5
      0

      “Finding fault with persons who took the challenge often involves quibbling, when we have little to show for ourselves.”
      True if the interests are shared.
      *
      Many a soldier has sacrificed as much for “King and Country” and now to ‘defend the American way of life’.
      Are the victims of aggression supposed to simply admire the spirit of the invader?

    • 8
      1

      Rajan Hoole,
      Superficial thinking is not good for a man of your status / knowledge.
      Fulfilling the mission they had set upon themselves was their priority. How they went about it is secondary.
      I started as a student in an Anglican school; I ended up working in yet another. I know more than a little of the benefit Hindus received from the missionaries. To imagine that speaking the truth and fidelity in marriage are values only the Protestant tradition could have given you is very shallow thinking; it is unfair by the Hindus, your ancestors, not many generations ago.

  • 7
    1

    The writer brings much needed balance and objectivity to the study of the role and contribution of American Ceylon Mission – or for that matter, Christian missionaries in general – to Jaffna society through his critique of Bishop Jebanesan’s book. The Bishop’s apotheosizing portrayal of ABCFM is one-sided and self-serving. It is serial hagiography throwing Christian modesty to the wind. Dr. Thiruvarangan brings out the big guns of postcolonial theory, but commendably keeps his critique civil and diplomatic – unlike some who write on the same issues in these pages to deliberately provoke. That aside, what I’m really intrigued by is the elephant in the room in all these kinds of discussions. That is, the missionaries might have taken all the risks, made all the sacrifices, performed all the hard work not because they were ascetic, but because they actually believed in the indoctrination they were given: that they could go to heaven by converting heathens. In other words, self-interest in spiritual clothing. But of course there were some missionaries who acted out of pure selflessness. However, they were all co-opted by colonial interests. My point is, in understanding historical developments, individual psychology is just as important as social structural factors.

    • 6
      0

      Ajay,
      “performed all the hard work not because they were ascetic, but because they actually believed in the indoctrination they were given: that they could go to heaven by converting heathens.”
      That’s what the Portuguese thought too, even if some heathens died in the process. Still, on balance ,we have chocolate, chillies, baila, cutlets, etc. Let’s hope they have reached heaven.

      • 2
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        Old,
        Will Champawati too will get her 72, when she go to heaven after converting Yapa Patunuva to Sinhala Buddhism? I heard unlike Allah who owns a large stock, Buddha had only a small boy.

        • 2
          1

          Malli,
          How do you know Champa isn’t already 72 ?

    • 5
      0

      If indeed the American missionaries came from a higher civilization, can anyone answer why the USA has faced so many issues in relation to slavery, segregation, treatment of Blacks/American Indians until today? Why is the Black Lives Matter still a relevant matter? Should the missionaries have spent their time and resources at home ? The answer lies in that the Blacks converted and had their identity/beliefs erased… No more work to do.

      They couldn’t do it in a more mature society like Jaffna.

      There cannot be a equal treatment of a native national identity with that of a occupying colonial power. Simple; provocative or not.

      • 2
        2

        Ben,
        “If indeed the American missionaries came from a higher civilization, can anyone answer why the USA has faced so many issues in relation to slavery, segregation”
        You are making a fundamental error., by applying 21st century standards to the 19th century.
        By 1860, slavery was ( at least in theory), abolished in the US, while it continued in Jaffna, along with segregation.Even Abraham Lincoln didn’t accept that blacks were equal citizens. But no American would say that openly now. But there are still people in Jaffna who think some castes are not equal citizens.

  • 2
    11

    Hello Sinhalese, do you hear the warning bells ringinginginginging?
    .
    Same as in all parts of Sri Lanka, the native inhabitants of Jaffna, our ancient Yapa Patuna or Pattana (Province) or Yapa Patunatota (the ancient Sinhala word for a port), were the Sinhalese people.
    There is no proof whatsoever that there were Tamils in Jaffna even in Portuguese or Dutch Eras, until they were brought from Kerala (Malabar), which was governed by the VOC at the time.
    The Malabars, who were brought to work in tobacco farms in Jaffna and cinnamon gardens in Colombo and suburbs were called Toepens or Toepes by the Dutch.
    The Malabars were named as Tamils only during the period of British colonization.
    There is unchallengeable Portuguese and Dutch documentary evidence to prove that the Sinhalese Buddhist people were the native inhabitants of Jaffna, who were called as “Chingalaz” by the Portuguese and “Cingalez” by the Dutch. According to records, the Dutch have supported the Sinhalese Buddhist people to spread Buddhism to other Asian countries by facilitating sea transport.

    • 2
      8

      Kankasanture Port, which is mentioned as “Dambakola Patuna” in the “rewritten Mahawamsa” was actually “Yapa Patunatota”. (We are compelled to refer to the “rewritten” Mahawamsa, despite it containing many omissions and additions.)
      The Dutch have called “Yapa Patunatota” as “Jafana Patanaoture.” The letter ”Ja” is pronounced as “Ya” in Dutch. (Eg: Jacob is pronounced as Yacob).
      (This to old codger:- The ancient Dutch name“Paneture-Panadura” could actually have been “Pantota”, “Panetota” or the “Port of Paana”.)
      .
      As proved by Vallipuram ancient Gold-Plate, Yapa Patuna had been governed by a Yapa appointed by King Vasabha in the 1st Century. Then another Yapa had been appointed by King Parakramabahu VI in the 15th Century. (Our history in the North-East remains undiscovered as-yet.)
      Who are Yapas? There had been Yapas, Mapas & Epas under Sinhalese Monarchs who were Ministers or the sons of Ministers who governed Patunas (Provinces) in ancient Sinhale. One Epa, a son of a Minister, has reigned as King Parakramabahu Epa during a period of destabilization in the Kingdom of Gampola.
      Contrary to what we are told that the ancient Lanka had been divided into 3-sections as Ruhunu Rata, Pihiti Rata and Maya Rata, it could actually have been Yapa Patuna (Northern Province), Epa Patuna (Central Province) and Mapa Patuna (Southern Province).

      • 6
        2

        Champa,
        You really need to read up. How do you explain this:
        “Panathur is a major town in Vellarikundu Taluk of Kasaragod district, state of Kerala.It belongs to Kanhangad legislative constituency”
        Do you think Sri Lanka should claim this town, in addition to Kulasekherapuram, Vickramasinghapuram, and Padmanabhapuram, all in S.India ?
        Champa, anyone can play this game of name-twisting. It works both ways.

        • 2
          3

          old codger
          What I tried to explain was the way the Dutch have written the Sinhala word “tota.”
          Everywhere, they have written “tota” as “ture”. It is there problem. Not ours.
          You didn’t tell the meaning of Panathur.

          • 0
            1

            Champawati,
            Panathura:
            1). Pananthurai -பாணன்துறை – Just like Jaffna, Musical – Musicians’ port.
            2).Panathura or Panamthura – பாணந்துறை, பாணம்துறை- Lighthouse Port (I think Sinhalese take this meaning; பாணம் or வாணம் is light in Tamil. பாணந்துறை is how now it is spelled in Colombo buses.)
            3).Panathura – பாணதுறை, Port to drink or rest.
            .

            • 1
              0

              Mallaiyuran
              Jaffna is not a Tamil word.

              • 0
                1

                Champa,
                – ‘Jaffna is not a Tamil word.’.
                It doesn’t need an Einstein to discover such obvious findings.
                Did anybody claim that Jaffna is a Tamil word.
                Names of places get mangled and twisted when invaders with a completely alien dialect land in a country.
                We should stop squabbling over names of towns and cities that were given by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.
                It is obvious that the Sinhalese have been making it a habit of converting names to look and sound more Sinhala than Tamil.
                Let us move on and get along.

          • 0
            1

            Champa,
            The Dutch wrote “Tota” as “Tot” not “Ture”. Check the map. As in “Hambantot”, which is what some people even 50 years ago called Hambantota.
            So, Hambantota must be a Sinhala name.
            I know Gintota is labelled “Ginture” , but that must have been its name at the time. It means the same in Tamil. The Dutch/ Portuguese land records show that many landowners in coastal areas had Tamil names. So it is possible these place names had Tamil origins. If a coastal village has “thurai” (harbour) in its name, there is no need to look for convoluted explanations. Thurais may have been “Thotas” 2000 years ago, but many things changed between the 1st and 17th centuries.

          • 3
            3

            Champa

            Which one did come first Bandakka (බණ්ඩක්කා)-or Okra-or
            Vendakkai (வெண்டைக்காய்) ?

        • 3
          2

          old codger

          I know the Sinhala/Buddhist are not only bigoted but also very stupid.

          Pattinam has been found in Sangam literature Paṭṭiṉap-pālai (between 300 BC and 300 CE), and in the city names of Kavirippattinam, Kaveripumpattinam, and Pattanam is an archaeological site in the state of Kerala.
          -.
          The rate in which Sinhala/Buddhists have been impoverished in their knowledge and wisdom by the Sinhala/Buddhist morons is staggering.

          Sinhala/Buddhists are determined to finish off Sinhalese.

          • 0
            0

            Native,
            You have to be kind with those who are willing to learn. Not Eagle, of course.

            • 1
              0

              old codger

              I have no problem with Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, ……………………

              I can’t stand narrow nationalist stupid ignorant bigoted Sinhala/Buddhists, Tamil Saivaites, Born Again Christians, Khalifa crowd, ….

              Every group/gang has its own interpretation of life and death, …..
              They can have anything they believe in, however I don’t want them to shove their stupid ideology into my throat, …. nor in my back.

              Now we have good websites to fact check.

              In the case of Eagle Eye, he enjoys being a bigot.
              In the case of Champa its her/his pride/ego which prevents her/him from owning up his/her mistakes although they are obvious.

          • 1
            0

            The history of ancient Lanka is much older than 300 BC.

            • 1
              1

              Champa

              “The history of ancient Lanka is much older than 300 BC.”

              You mean older than 4 billion years?

              This island was part of mainland India until about 10,000 -12,000 years ago.

          • 0
            0

            Native,
            It is the education system that is designed to kill inconvenient curiosity and imagination that is to be blamed.

        • 0
          0

          Ooops sorry.
          I forgot to correct what I wrote about Ratas (somewhere above).
          Ruhunu, Pihiti, Maya were not “Ratas,” but “Kingdoms,” bordering shared rivers.
          Ancient Lanka has been divided into 114 Ratas under the above mentioned 3 Kingdoms. (Ref: Kada-Im Books – There are several Kada-Im Books. However, everybody’s focus is only about Ruhunu, Pihiti and Maya.)

          • 1
            0

            The focus should be on our oldest Kada-Im Book which dates back to King Wesamuni’s time.

    • 4
      3

      Oh, dear Champa,
      .
      Much as I admire your independence, I get scared of some of the things that you say.
      .
      Some time ago, Professor Kumar David (who will acknowledge that he is no historian) made many references to the work of Professor Leslie Gunewardena whom I got to know while I was an undergraduate (roughly speaking) at Peradeniya from 1982 to 1986. I liked him well enough, but that doesn’t mean that I know History.
      .
      I read up quite a bit thereafter; things like this:

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/a-language-called-sinhala-through-r-a-l-h-gunawardana-a-very-dark-glass-darkly/
      .
      The thought did cross my mind that you could be the Darshanie Ratnawalli who has written many articles critical of Leslie and of Prof. K. Indrapala whom I have never met.
      .
      I’m making this comment just to let other readers know that there have been all these debates on subjects best left for discussion in scholarly writings. BTW, Malinda Senviratne also gets mentioned here – I knew him also quite well, but really, we have enough and more problems on this island without setting it on fire with talk of this sort.
      .
      How much of truth, and how much of myth in all this, I don’t know.

      • 4
        0

        SM,
        Champa is no Ratnawalli. D.R used to have a very well-written blog, which has now disappeared, which contained her thoughts on many things. Some of these were quite “hip” as the young say.
        http://ratnawalli.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-to-describe-chandre-dharmawardana.html?m=1

      • 2
        0

        Sinhala_Man
        You say “The thought did cross my mind that you could be the Darshanie Ratnawalli who has written many articles critical of Leslie and of Prof. K. Indrapala whom I have never met.”
        Excuse me, Sinhala_Man, I don’t understand what you say. Are you telling me that I am someone called Darshanie Ratnawalli? I have seen her name here, but no offence, I haven’t seen any of her articles that you have referred to.
        I am my own man. I have never written anything in other people’s names.
        I learnt the history of Sinhalese people and Buddhism even before I started schooling. At a later stage I started looking for documentary evidence for what I have known. The books and articles I read on one single history topic are numerous. Sometimes I have seen people giving different opinions on the same topic. When it happens, I dig deeper to find the most accurate account which tallies with what I have learnt as a kid. I am sure the other people have also done the same. But I am not Ratnavalli or anybody else.

        • 1
          1

          Champa,
          What you learn doesn’t have to tally with what you have been taught.

      • 0
        1

        Champa does not know what he is talking about at all. He is politically motivated and completely distorting the historical records. As a Tamil i can vouch for Darshanie Ratnawalli, she is actually an accurate historian:

        See how she dismantles one of Champa’s arguments regarding the Portuguese indiscriminate use of the word ‘sinhala’ to describe all Sri Lankans (including Tamils), which has result in Champa’s confusion.

        • 0
          1

          santhosh
          Oh, I know what I am talking about.
          Tell me, which part of my comment gave you the impression that I was politically motivated?
          Portuguese didn’t use the word “Sinhala” to describe “Sinhalese”.
          They called the Sinhalese as Chingalaz and the Javanese as Javanese.
          The truth is that there were no Tamils in Jaffna at the time.

          • 0
            1

            Champa,
            They called the Tamils “Malabars” because they landed first in Malabar, and found people speaking a similar language in Jaffna. They confused Malayalam with Tamil (which at the time was very similar and was also the court language in Kerala).
            In the same way they called the Muslims “Moros” ( North African Muslims) because that was the kind of Muslim they were familiar with.
            The same way that any foreigner was a “paraya” to ancient Sinhalese.

            • 0
              0

              old codger
              Oh, the Dutch didn’t call the Tamils “Malabars”. They have mentioned the people in Zeylan as Cingalez, Toepes, Muslims and Misfits.
              “Malabars” were registered as Tamils only in the period of British colonization.

          • 0
            0

            Champa,
            Portuguese, not Dutch.

    • 1
      1

      Champa,
      “According to records, the Dutch have supported the Sinhalese Buddhist people to spread Buddhism to other Asian countries by facilitating sea transport.”
      You are VERY confused. The Dutch provided transport for the Siam Nikaya to get Upasampada in Siam, and later for the non-Goigamas to be ordained in Burma.

      • 0
        0

        old codger

        It is controversial and my research is still ongoing. That’s why I said “according to reports”. I didn’t talk about “evidence.” Therefore, there is no confusion.
        It is reported that the Dutch supported Buddhism because they disliked Catholicism. I did not mention this reason as I wasn’t convinced.
        What happened in the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras is a RESERVAL of Buddhism. Therefore, the reason for the Dutch support is debatable.

        • 0
          0

          Oooops, typo.
          It should read as REVERSAL of Buddhism.

        • 0
          0

          Champa,
          There is no doubt about it because unlike the Sinhalese, the Dutch kept good records.
          Also, you should read this:
          [T]he plot of 1760… occurred during the reign of Kirti Sri Rajasimha and shortly after the formal beginnings of the Siyam Nikaya in 1753. One group within the local aristocracy conspired to overthrow the king and to place a Siamese prince on the throne. The leaders are said to have included not only key lay administrators… but also some of the leading Siyam Nikaya monks. Valivita Saranamkara, founder of the Siyam Nikaya, and his chief student… were named among the conspirators. The plot was discovered, the Siamese prince deported (with the reluctant assistance of the Dutch), and the lay administrators executed.[“
          And this too:
          http://karava.org/other/siyam_nikaya

      • 1
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        old codger

        Don’t you think Champa is another ramona grandma therese fernando?

  • 3
    1

    I suggest it was the Jaffna’s Hindus who civilised the American missionaries and provided them a new way of looking at humanity.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_segregation_in_the_United_States

    https://www.apmreports.org/episode/2017/09/04/shackled-legacy

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_at_American_colleges_and_universities#:~:text=The%20role%20of%20slavery%20at,academic%20buildings%20and%20residential%20halls.

    https://tif.ssrc.org/2018/06/26/conversion-and-race-in-colonial-slavery/

    Tip of the iceberg study on how backward their society was until they interacted with Jaffna HIndus. Plenty more available.

    The good news for Americans and Black Lives Matters is there will be two Tamils; Kamala Harris of a HIndu mother and Rohini Lakshmi in leadership positions to educate and literate the Americans to treat the Blacks better.

    In the meantime, it is time for Hindus to do a proper study on the actual cost of colonialism and missionary acitivty. Until then the Slave Holders and students who learnt civilisation from Tamils will be dominating the narratives.

    • 2
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      Now, in excitement or anxiety, I have messed up my handling of the bold lettering -which has become the opposite of what I intended.
      .
      Sorry

  • 2
    3

    Dr. Mahendran Thiruvarangan,

    Thanks for a well compiled article. I have still not come across of this book, “The American River of Love that Flowed into Jaffna,” by Bishop Jebanesan.

    Hence, it will be impertinent on my part if I make any observations or comments based solely on your article.

    However I had read another book, “Images of Sri Lanka Through American Eyes” compiled by well read H.A.I Goonetileke former librarian, University of Peradeniya and published on the occasion of American bicentenary in 1976. .

    This book was a collection of experiences, observations and insights of American travelers who had visited this island since the beginning of the 19th century. They were not only missionaries, but many others who belonged to a diverse social background.

    Jaffna had a special place and how these visitors looked at Jaffna and her people made fascinating reading with their honest innocent opinions. We at present have no right to make value judgment on views expressed by them in their life time.

  • 1
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    This comment is specifically for the author’s attention.
    “…the missionaries’ attempts to educate the people of Jaffna, their concerns related to the education of the oppressed caste communities to whom education had been denied at the time, their keenness in educating the local women and their contribution to the health care of the people.”
    *
    Were the people not educated when the missionaries arrived? Or does education mean education in English, as some still think.
    (The mission of civilizing savages was the theme of all missionary work undertaken amid colonial expansion.)
    *
    It may be true that educating the oppressed castes and keenness to educate women became part of the mission’s purpose subsequently, but one has to dig deeper to understand the motives.
    Notably, it was the Vellala and other castes on the higher rungs of the caste ladder that got converted and rose further socially. This is vastly different from what happened in the South, which had fewer American missionaries.
    To expect answers for such doubts from a biased source is not fair I suppose.

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      SJ

      “(The mission of civilizing savages was the theme of all missionary work undertaken amid colonial expansion.)”

      Was it not “The White Man’s Burden”?

      The White Man’s Burden

      TAKE up the White Man’s burden –
      Send forth the best ye breed –
      Go bind your sons to exile
      To serve your captives’ need;
      To wait in heavy harness
      On fluttered folk and wild –
      Your new-caught sullen peoples,
      Half devil and half child.
      ….
      ….
      by Rudyard Kipling
      http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_burden.htm.

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      SJ,
      I wonder why the Southern Govigamas weren’t very keen to be converted, though many took English names. Were Anglican missionaries less enthusiastic?

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        OC
        Kumari Jayawardena in her “From Nobodies to Somebodies” may have some answers.
        *
        Points to ponder:
        Rival castes like the Karave, Durawe and Salagama seemed more enterprising in business and the trades than the Govigama it appears.
        Religious conversion is a two-way street and demand for education under British rule seems stronger in Jaffna than elsewhere.
        Statistical data that I came across claimed that 66 percent of the Roman Catholics and 43 percent of the Protestants in the early 1980s were Sinhalese. This means that conversion rate to Protestant Christianity was way stronger among Tamils than among Sinhalese.
        That among Jaffna Tamils would be even stronger.

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      SJ,

      Thinnai Pallikoodangal were in operation when the American missionaries arrived in Jaffna. The author of the book acknowledges this point. But there was no place for students from the oppressed caste communities in those Pallikoodangal according to the writer.

      Mark Balmforth’s work indicates that the ACM had to soften its approach to eliminating caste discrimination within its institutions when it found it difficult to retain at Batticota Seminary Vellala students who did not like to share accommodation with students from oppressed caste backgrounds.

      I agree that the ACM’s work cannot be assessed in isolation of the agenda of ‘civilizing’ the natives that many missionary groups saw as their responsibility during the heyday of colonialism.

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        M.T,
        “difficult to retain at Batticota Seminary Vellala students who did not like to share accommodation with….”
        I suppose the missionaries had to be practical as well as idealistic. In any case, American Whites and Blacks didn’t share accommodation at the time.

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    ‘Nineteenth Century American Medical Missionaries in Jaffna, Ceylon with special reference to Samuel Fisk Green’ by Thiru Arumugam is a very well researched book on this subject as well.

    There are good and bad in what people do. Role of American Missionaries (Portuguese & Dutch before that) in transplanting modern knowledge to Jaffna, and laying the groundwork for spreading education and breaking the caste barriers among the natives cannot be denied. As in mathematics, in this case product of two negatives turned out to be positive.

    Cheer up Sri Lankans – develop a global outlook.

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