The Multiculturalism of Sinhala Song: a Review of Sons and Fathers
By Eshantha Joseph Peiris - Mon May 28, 8:04 am
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Featured image by Thyagi Ruwanpathirana
Multiculturalism in Sri Lanka is often understood as the co-existence of distinct ethnic communities, whose individual histories have unfolded independently during different eras, in different parts of the country. Conventional historical narratives usually emphasize the pre-colonial origins of cultures, equating antiquity with legitimacy, and it is commonly assumed that the cultural artifacts and genetic makeup of ethnic groups are the same now as they were then.
Stories told about Sri Lankan performing arts have mostly followed the same trend: the origins of “Sinhalese music and dance” are typically attributed to the historical kingdoms of Kotte and Kandy, while the origins of “Tamil music and dance” are placed in ancient South India. These historical interpretations have been reinforced in the last sixty years through school syllabi, and in the past couple of years through short information videos produced for internet consumption.
Such overly simplified views have been questioned by scholars; unfortunately, revisionist history-writing rarely travels beyond an intellectual readership. But where academic publications cannot venture, narrative fiction can. Unfettered by the ethical demands of non-fiction and the limitations of available information, fictional storytelling (both literary and cinematic) can recreate the ethos of past eras by appealing to our empathy for individual human stories; and in doing so challenge our assumptions about the ways things might have been….