Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pet theory No.2 .US and Sri Lanka .Two Countries built on immigration

I woke up today and realised the world has turned upside down .Check this out JVP-USA lovefest . I was sitting on my theory number 2 (theory 2 ) for too long! I have to get this out before comrade Somawansa,comrade Wirawansa or comrade Tilvin beat me to it.Of course Sri Lanka resembles ethnic composition of US loosely(White 70% Black 13% Latino 13%) .Some similarities doesn't end there ,it runs deeper .It might explain how group of immigrants reacts in different countries .US and Sri Lanka are both immigrant countries which still keeps connections to the roots in different ways.

DISCLAIMER:I have not studied history or anthropology in any formal way.I claim no expertise in the subject I'm about to jump into.
The immigration waves to US is well documented and can be checked ellisisland.org or here ellisisland.com . Sri Lanka is a different story which we have to depend on written and oral history .Conflict ridden ,over crowded Europe(continent ) and India(sub-continent) provided source for the mass scale migartion ( 1600 -1950's for US and 500 B.C- 1950 A.D Sri Lanka)In both cases immigarnt came from different rich cultural traditions and but merged in one culture . The natives in both cases Red Indians and Veddhas suffered almost the same fate and are in reservations in their own lands.
Why Orgin of American Whites = Sinhalese ?
Orgins of Sinhalase may be North Indian(still a debate about whether it is from west or east) but Sinhalase are a mixer of ethinic groups from all over India.Suprisingly these groups kept there identies somewhat intact in the form of Caste.Caste?First of all Sinhalese caste system was not the indian system at all .It was less opressive.When it comes to hierachy it is a upside down pyramid unlike indian system which has brahmin on the top.Govigama which is supposed to be on the top is estimated to be 40% of the Sinahalese. Nobody will dare ask you or mention the caste in SriLanka anymore unless it comes to marriage or voting (Influance was waning but propotional system introduced by 1978 consititution has kept it on the feeding tube).It is politically incorrect to talk about caste.I was lucky to discover "Caste Conflict and Elite Formation: the Rise of the Karava Elite in Sri Lanka" by Dr.Micheal Roberts I found a review .Also I read lot of articles by Victor Ivan in "Ravaya" on the subject.It was amazing to discover that each caste (Govigama,Karava,Durawa ,Salagama etc..) had it's own theory of where they came from.The sirnames they kept pointing us to their origins in India. This is amazing similar to to the fact the white americans consider them as WASPs,Irish- American ,Italian- American ,German - Americans(Polish ,Scandinavian also).Of course most of them have inter-married and differences are fading away fast.So does the caste in Sinahalese!If you check marriage proposals in the classified section which is sort of a "dating site (match.com) with parental guidence" you see the decreasing relevance of caste compared to 70s or 80s.Now the parents seems to be mixed and they don't seem to care about the caste that often. When 60's free love was changing rest of the world ,our parents ,uncles and aunts were in the forefront, inter-marrying and running away with their partners from different castes!Exihibit no.1. Chandrika Bandaranayake. (She is low country/up country Govigama.Had a boy friend from Salagama and married a guy from Durawa)
Most of the people can identify Italian-American accent form a mob movie .So can Sinhalase identify Salagama (specially Rathgama area) .I know a waiter who fakes the accent at an Italalian restorant(He is not Italian nor Italian-american) .I also know a guy from Rathgama who can switch on and off his accent at will ,according to the audiance.Most of the old US cities are dotted with ethnic neighborhoods and so does Sri Lankan villages with caste neighborhoods.It is highly likely that if you are white and you are from Chicago without checking the name ,there is a big chance that you might be of Polish origin .If he/she is from Minnesota or Wisconsin the orgin might be Scandinavian.If you are from Balapitya there is big chance that you might have Salagama origins or if you are from Ambalangoda it might be of Karava orgin.Micheal Roberts exmanines all stories about origins(immigration) of Govigama,Karava,Salagama and Durava along with the rest of castes in his book.
Integrating into one culture was no small task for white americans or Sinahalese.Check this How the Irish became white .Irish ,Italian and Eastern europeans had a long way to be accepted and merged into mainstream. Also check The way of the WASP from Richard Brookhiser. There are several other lines of similarities {super-patriotic Scots-Irish orgins which is a majority in west virginia to the south and in pensylvania which gave the world country music with Vahampura caste which prides in being the only caste which doesn't have any members converted to other religions .Also all these caste have there own nikaya's when it comes to religion(Buddhism).It is a separate lengthy study not that relevant here .compare it with all these different ethnic groups in US have different preferences when it comes to Christianity}
If above is true then who are African Americans and Latinos when it comes to Sri Lanka?
The African-Americans brought in as Slaves and on whose blood and tears the early american capitalism was built has some parallels with the Indian - Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.They were herded like cattle from South India .Thousands died on there way to hill country to work as almost slaves for the British.Sri Lankan welfare state was built on their slave labor. If indian Tamils are African-Americans in Sri Lanka, is Thondaman(sr.) our MLK or Muralitaharan our Jackie Robinson ?Probably not, considering the fact that their families migrated for business (Although the story has similarities).
So where does the Sri Lankan Tamils fit into the Story?
Hispanic Americans have a large population that speak their language in neighboring countries. Can claim ownership to part of the country (Texas and California) based on history .Also rapidly becoming a majority in their areas.Since they are using their own langauge at large ,the integration is harder and the right wing crazies are builing up a case with illegal immigartion which can easily be turned into something else(check Michelle Malkin or The american resisitance ,Minute Man project). How can we ignore that parallel with our north and east?
Although Tamils have been in Sri Lanka for 2000 years( as a part of the south indian invations)looks like that they have merged into Sinhalese community over time in early history.Only after 13 th. century that it seems like separate kingdoms been established for longer periods of time.(Even in late 17th. century there seemed to have been migrant farmers and fisherman from south india in the north according records)

How about Sri Lankan Muslims ?
mmmm.. let me think about a community which is disproprotionately represented in business and commerce,lives in Urban areas mainly .Also their highly religious memebers (men)wear skull caps and long beards.Women cover most of the body and head.mmm..how about Jews!
I know it doesn't have anything to do with the above argument much but Sri Lankan Muslims were severely persecuted under Portugese rule in 15 th. Century.For just being Muslims.They had to seek refuge in up -country .King Senerath welcomed them and gave land in the current eastern province.It was a small scale holocaust they had to flee.

Moral of the above story is US might find itself in the same situation as Sri Lanka unless they do a better job of integrating latinos(mainly)/minorities.This might change if there is a major technological break-through like speach translation or we find babel fish mentioned in " Hitch Hikers guide to the galaxy".What do you think of a seperate Spanish speaking country within south -West US in 50-70 years ?

What can Sri Lanka learn from US ?probably nothing.Because Sri Lanka never learns anything.

6 comments:

Morquendi said...

Sri Lanka Muslims live 'in Urban areas mainly'? Where on earth did you get that idea? That is statistically wrong.

Chandare said...

I don't have the statistic to prove it.You must be thinking about the eastern muslim who are mainly farmers.
If you take Muslim population centers from Puttlam to Hambantota you can see that they are concentrated in coastal Urban Centers.Then of course, they had to flee jaffna which was a city.Then you have another concentration in Harispaththuwa close to Kandy and also I think in Balangoda area.
Only exception is the Eastern part of the country .In East , Kaththankudi ,the most dense city in Asia, is Muslim.
Outside East ,the mainly livelyhood of Muslims is Business and commerce.If you take percenatge of people who are involved ,according to ethnic groups ,probably they will have the highest percentage .That was the point I was getting at.

Chandare said...

I also forgot sizeable Muslim populations in Matale and Kegalle .Aren't all those areas "Urban" or Cities in Sri Lankan sense?

Morquendi said...

Kattankudy a city? Have you ever seen it? It might have the highest popolation density but it is most certainly not a city. And if you had ever been to the east coast youi would not be calling Kalmunai or the other small towns on the east coast cities.

Chandare said...

What is a city in Sri Lankan context?
Colombo is a city.It is probably the only one.Could even be called downtown Sri Lanka !All the others are population centers.Big Villages .You are right ,I should have caled it a town.My bad.
I have been to Kalmunai but not to Kattankudu.

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