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The aim of this paper is to describe the cultural practices in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is an Asian country which is full of unique cultural practices and also home for twenty million people. Around 500 BC, the Sinhalese migrated to Sri Lanka from India. The country was ruled by monarchs in ancient times. It was colonized by the British, the Dutch and the Portuguese. However, Sri Lanka won independence on February 4, 1948. Buddhism is the major religion in the island followed by Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. The ethnic groups are Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and the Burghers. The official languages are the Sinhalese and Tamil while English is used in education. Portuguese Creole, Dutch and Malay are also used in the community. The government of Sri Lanka consists of the presidential system and the parliamentary system. The President holds the highest post while the assistant is the Prime Minister. Sri Lanka has always been a country that faces war and colonization since ancient times. However, the Sri Lankan Civil War which lasted for 25 years has finally ended in May 2009 and is a great relief for the people in the country.
Cultural Practices in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an island country in South Asia, located near the India southern coast. It is separated from India by Palk Strait. Sri Lanka is also known as the Island of Serendipity (Tourism Sri Lanka, n.d.).
Sri Lanka, officially named the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon before 1972, by the Portuguese when they arrived at 1505, stated by K. T. Rajasingham (2001). It was called as Taprobane in ancient times by Greek geographers. In 1972, the name was changed to “Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka”. The current name was changed in 1978, which is derived from the Sanskrit word lanka, and also depicted in the old Indian epics Mahabharata and the Ramayana, which means “island”, according to de Silva (1982).
According to Wikipedia, it is home for twenty million people which take up Buddhist religion and culture as their main practices since ancient times. The Sinhalese community forms the largest population whereas Tamils, which is more in the north and east of the island, form the largest ethnic community. Other communities are Burghers, Moors, Kaffirs and the Malays (“Sri Lanka,” n.d.).
Sri Lanka is a famous country for tea, coffee, coconut and rubber production and exportation. Due to the natural attraction of Sri Lanka's natural scene like the tropical forests, beaches, landscapes and its rich cultural heritage, Sri Lanka is a world famous tourist destination today.
In about 500 BC, the Sinhalese migrated from India to Sri Lanka, according to Lambert (2009). He also stated that according to legend, the first settlers were led by a man named Vijaya. According to Wikipedia, Sri Lanka was ruled by monarchs, especially of the Sinha royal dynasty that lasted for over 2000 years in ancient times. The island was also occasionally conquered by South Indian kingdoms and some parts of the island were ruled by the Chola dynasty, the Pandya dynasty, the Chera dynasty and the Pallava dynasty. The island was also attacked by the kingdoms of Kalinga and those from the Malay Peninsula (“History of Sri Lanka,” n.d.).
During British colonial times, Sri Lanka was an important port and trading post, and was gradually visited by merchant ships from the Middle East, Persia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. A Portuguese colonial mission arrived at 1505 headed by Lorenco de Almeida. It was consisted of three kingdoms, which is the Kandy in the central hills, the Kotte at the western coast, and the Yarlpanam in the north. In the 17th century, the Dutch reached. However, the interior, hilly region of the island remained unattacked, which its capital in Kandy although the country is mainly conquered by the European power (Wikipedia, n.d.).
The European colonists set up tea, cinnamon, rubber, sugar, coffee and indigo plantations. Indentured workers from Tamil Nadu were brought in by the British to work in the plantation economy. Besides that, the British brought Western-style education and culture to the local people. They also established modern schools, colleges, roads, churches and hospitals. In the 1930s, the ignorance of civil rights, mistreatment and abuse of locals by colonial authorities gave a chance to fight for independence when the Youth Leagues objected the “Minister's Memorandum”, which asked the colonial authority to increase the authority of ministers without giving away popular representation or civil freedoms (Wikipedia, n.d.).
During World War II, the island functioned as a dominant Allied military base (Wikipedia, n.d.). Stated in the Wikipedia, it said that following the war, pressure for independence increased. Don Stephen Senanayake was the first prime minister and the Prime Minister of Ceylon's office was built in advance of independence on October 14, 1947. On February 4, 1948, the country was independent as the Commonwealth of Ceylon. On July 21, 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike took over as the Prime Minister, and became the world's first female prime minister and the first female head of government in post-colonial Asia. In 1972, during her second term as Prime Minister, the country changed to be a republic within the Commonwealth, and the name Ceylon was changed to Sri Lanka. This country has good relationships with the United Kingdom and also had the British Royal Navy allocated at Trincomalee (“Dominion of Ceylon,” n.d.).
Sri Lanka is a multi-religious society and it plays an important role in the daily life and culture of the Sri Lankans. Buddhism is the major religion, but other religions such as Hinduism, Christianity, and also Islam are followed. About 70% of the population follows Buddhism, stated in the International Religious Freedom Report 2007 from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2007). According to Tourism Sri Lanka (n.d.), the religion was introduced in 300 BC from India during the reign of Ashoka. Buddhism played a significant role in the establishment of the Sinhalese kingdoms, and was regarded the highest ethical and philosophical expression of Sinhalese culture and civilization.
Hinduism is mainly practiced by Tamils in South India where Hinduism was predominantly practiced. Around the fifth and sixth century AD, the Chola dynasty conquered the island from the Sinhalese Kingdom, leading to the large number of immigrants from South India into the northern Sri Lanka. Therefore, Hinduism was introduced during the reign of Tamil kings. The major Hindu Gods that are worshipped are Vishnu, Shiva, Kali, Ganesha and Skanda (Tourism Sri Lanka, n.d.).
Islam was adopted by nearly 8% the population in Sri Lanka, according to Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] (2006). This religion was introduced by the Arab traders from the Middle East who visited the southern part of Sri Lanka for their business and who later settled on the island. The Muslim community gradually increased by 10th century AD (Tourism Sri Lanka, n,d.).
Christianity first came to Sri Lanka upon the arrival of the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Under their rule, many Roman Catholics schools were set up for the Sinhalese and the Tamils to spread the religion in a great mass in the island (Tourism Sri Lanka, n.d.). As a result, there were increasing number of both Sinhalese and Tamils converted to Roman Catholicism. When the Portuguese were replaced by the Dutch, Protestantism and the Dutch Reformed Church was introduced. Conversions increased especially during the British rule. However, later on when the European invaders were swayed, Christianity in Sri Lanka was restricted (Tourism Sri Lanka, n.d.).
According to Wikipedia, Sinhalese and Tamil are the two common languages in Sri Lanka. English is broadly used for education, scientific and commercial aims and it is only spoken by approximately 10% of the population. The Burgher community speaks various forms of Portuguese Creole and Dutch with different proficiency. The members of the Malay community speak a kind of Creole Malay that is used only in the island (“Languages of Sri Lanka,” n.d.).
Racial Ethnic Groups
Sri Lankans are divided into four major ethnic groups which is the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Muslims and the Burghers. Language and religion are the main characteristics that represent a person's ethnic heritage.
According to the U.S. Library of Congress, the Sinhalese are the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka, which comprise 11 million people or 74 % of the population of the country. An early form of Sinhala was introduced around 500 BC when groups from north India migrated to the country. The Sinhalese are claimed to be the descendants of Prince Vijaya and the immigrants from northern India. They gradually form a variety of castes and tribes which they absorbed from the island and from southern India since the last 2500 years (“A Country Study”, n.d.).
The Tamils comprise about 2,700,000 or 18% of the population, and they use Tamil language as their native tongue. There was a constant migration from southern India to Sri Lanka in the prehistoric times. Some of these immigrants abandoned Tamil for Sinhala, which was the ruling ethnic group, and became part of the Sinhalese caste system. But, they continued to speak Tamil and still recognized southern India as their cultural homeland. The Tamil speakers can be divided into two groups, which are the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indian Tamils. The Sri Lankan Tamils immigrated to the distant past and they are a native minority while the Indian Tamils are immigrants or the descendants of the immigrants who came under British sponsorship to work in the island. Most of the Indian Tamils are from low Indian caste and not being respected by the other higher classes (U.S Library of Congress, n.d.).
Muslims make up 7% of the population and they are a minor group of people that practice Islam as their religion. The Muslim community is divided into three parts, which is the Indian Moors, the Sri Lankan Moors, and the Malays, and each has their own history and traditions. The Indian Moors are Muslims who their origins are the immigrants that search for business opportunities during the colonial period. Some are from the Portuguese times, others are from the British period from all around India. The Sri Lankan Moors made up 93% of the Muslims. Between the 8th and 15th century, the Arab traders who immigrated to southern India and Sri Lanka adopted the Tamil language and settled permanently in Sri Lanka. The Malays are originated in Southeast Asia and comprises around 5% of the Muslims in Sri Lanka. They first came into Sri Lanka when Sri Lanka and Indonesia were both colonies of the Dutch. Most of the early Malay immigrants were soldiers, which posted by the Dutch colonial administration. Others were the prisoners from Indonesia who exiled to Sri Lanka and settled there (U.S. Library of Congress, n.d.).
The Burghers were named during the colonization of Dutch to European nationals that lived in Sri Lanka. It can be divided into the Dutch Burghers and the Portuguese Burghers. The Burghers immerse themselves in European culture, speak the language of current European colonial government, and dominate the best colonial educational and administrative positions. They lived in urban locations and remained as Christians. However, after independence, they lost their influence and their population became smaller due to emigration. The Burghers made up 3% of the Sri Lankan population (U.S. Library of Congress, n.d.).
The Veddahs is the last descendents of ancient settlers of Sri Lanka after the arrival of Sinhalese. They are the original hunting-and-gathering societies that gradually disappeared after the presence of the Sinhalese. They do not preserve their own language and they live in rural areas (U.S. Library of Congress, n.d.).
According to Wikipedia, the government of Sri Lanka is a combination of the presidential system and the parliamentary system. The roles of the President of Sri Lanka are to be the head of states, the commander in chief of the armed forces, and the head of government. The president is elected by the people for a term of six years and will be entitled for re-elections for two consecutive terms. The President is responsible and is the head to the Parliament which composed of 225 elected members (“Government of Sri Lanka,” n.d.). “The President's deputy is the Prime Minister, who leads the ruling party in parliament and shares many executive responsibilities, mainly in domestic affairs” according to the 123independenceday (n.d.). According to Chapter VII: The President of the Republic taken from The Constitution of Sri Lanka (2009), “The members of the Parliament are elected by universal (adult) suffrage based on a modified proportional representation system by district to a six-year term.” The main modification states that the party that received the most valid notes in each constituency gains a “bonus seat”. The Parliament has the power to make all laws in the country. However, the President has the right to summon, to suspend, or to end a legislative session and dissolve the Parliament at any time after it has served for a year. The current president and prime minister are Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who took office on November 21, 2005. Stated by 123independenceday (n.d.), “An outstanding feature of the political system of Sri Lanka is the enormous size of its cabinet whereby the constitution assigns 28 ministerial level portfolios which includes two held by the president.”
Sri Lanka has used universal suffrage as their democratic system since 1931. This country is also a member of Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations since 1948. Besides that, Sri Lanka joined the Non-Aligned Movement, the Colombo Plan, the Asia-Pacific economic Corporation, and the South Asian Association for Regional Corporation (Wikipedia, 2009).
Special Problems and Challenges
Sri Lankan Civil War
According to Wikipedia, the Sri Lankan Civil War was a conflict fought on the island of Sri Lanka for over 25 years since July 23, 1983 to May 18, 2009. From the beginning of the war, there was an on-and-off insurgency from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) towards the government, or also known as the Tamil Tigers. This was a separatist militant organization which fought to create an independent Tamil state named Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island (“Sri Lankan Civil War,” n.d.). According to Reuters India, “The insurgency caused significant hardships for the population, environment, and the economy of the country, with over 80,000 people officially listed as killed during this course” (“Sri Lanka Military, Rebels Trade Death Toll Claims,” 2008). The LTTE was being branded as a terrorist organization in 32 countries because of the tactic they used, by the United States, India, Australia, Canada, and the member nations of the European Union (Wikipedia, 2009).
According to Guardian, after two decades of fighting and three failed attempts at peace talks, a cease-fire was declared in December 2001 and a lasting negotiated settlement to the conflict appeared to be possible, followed with a ceasefire agreement signed with international mediation in 2002 (“Ceasefire Raises Sri Lankan Peace Hopes,” 2002). However, in late 2005, the conflict began to escalate until the government launched many major military offensives against the LTTE beginning in July 2006, driving the LTTE out of the Eastern province of the island. The New York Times stated that the LTTE then declared they would “resume their freedom struggle to achieve statehood” (Sengupta, 2007).
According to the Ministry of Defense of Sri Lanka, it was stated that in 2007, the government shifted its offensive to the north of the island, and formally announced its withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement on January 2, 2008 because the LTTE violated the agreement over 10,000 times (“Government takes policy decision to abrogate failed CFA,” 2008). Since then, the destruction of large arms smuggling vessels that belonged to the LTTE, according to Sri Lanka Navy, and an international crackdown on the funding of the Tamil Tigers, the government took control of the Tamil Tigers previous controlled area, including their de-facto capital Kilinochchi, main military base Mullaitivu, and the entire A9 highway, leading to the LTTE defeat on May 17, 2009 (“Sri Lanka Navy Destroys the 10th LTTE arms ship 1700km off Dondra”, 2007). According of BBC News, on May 18, 2009, the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed that morning in a rocket-propelled grenade attack as he tried to escape the war zone with his closest aides (“Sri Lanka's Rebel Leader Killed”, 2009).
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