“This is certainly not the case: most middle-class people, as well as ordinary villagers whom I know have a strong Sinhalese – Buddhist identity, But they did not engage in violence against Tamils and were for the most part shocked by the brutality and suddenness of these events. It is true that some connived in acts of violence, but others gave Tamil refugees shelter in their homes at great personal risk. They were not without a profound ambivalence, but this was not a mass movement of the Sinhalese people against the Tamils. If this were so, one would have to give up any hope for the future not just of the Tamils, who could flee to the north and east of the island or to South India, but for the Buddhists entrapped in their own violence. What a fate for a nation subscribing to a religion of non-violence!”
This essay by Gananath obeyesekere that appeared in Sri Lanka in Change and Crisis(Ed.James Manor, 1984) is a close investigation into post 1977 political realities, the implications of which have much to do with present impasse that Sri Lankan society seems to be in.
Gananath obeyesekere, the greatest anthropologist produced by Sri Lanka was born at Meegama in Darga Town in Kalutara. His father D.D.Obeyesekere, as he once remarked a cosmopolitan figure at that time in his life, was a lecturer in the Institute of Indigenous Medicine in Sri lanka. And he was also an adherent of Anagarika Dharmapala. Gananath obeyesekere received his B.A. in English with a first class honours in 1955 at the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya. He recalled later about his higher education as to how he came to refuse the suggestion offered by his professor to join the English department, at that time the prestigious department in the university and also automatic scholarships to London and Oxford because of his sneaking anti-colonialism despite the fact that left-wing leaders of Sri Lanka went to London or Oxford, or Cambridge. He obtained his M.A and PhD in University of Washington. Gananath Obeyesekere is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. Before his appointment to Princeton, Obeyesekere held teaching positions at the University of Ceylon, the University of Washington, the University of California, San Diego. His books include Land Tenure in Village Ceylon, Medusa’s Hair, The Cult of the Goddess Pattini, Buddhism Transformed (coauthor), the Work of Culture, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Myth-making in the Pacific, Imagining Karma, Cannibal Talk, Karma and Rebirth and The Awakened Ones. He was also engaged in collecting and publishing rare historical manuscripts in Sri Lanka, which challenge the orthodoxies dominant in history. Among his numerous academic awards is the Thomas Huxley medal, which is given by the Royal Anthropological Institute and is listed as “the highest honor at the disposal of the Institute”. Obeyesekere has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Suntory-Toyota Fellow (STICERD) at the London School of Economics. His book on Captain Cook won the Louis Gottschalk Prize in 1993, awarded by the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.