Living Heritage of Sri Lanka

East-West Symbiosis

Girl bathing in wewa. Photo Steven Champion

Here in Sri Lanka one finds all the classic ingredients of an ancient and ongoing struggle between two modalities of thought - almost separate worlds unto themselves. On the one hand, we have the civilizing mentality associated with urban life in general and modern and western ways of thinking in particular. On the other hand, a much older traditional modality based upon the rural culture currently associated with the 'Third World'. The outcome of their interaction may determine mankind's future. All the causes of that titanic struggle as well as their potential resolution can be found in microcosm here in Sri Lanka.

Surviving patterns of culture in puranagamas demonstrate how the village community or (gam sabha) elected its leaders on merit, resulting in grama raj (village rule) under the leadership of a gamini or gamarala (village leader), vel vidane (field custodian), vedarala (native doctor) and a kapu mahattaya (shaman). The balance between the spiritual authority and temporal power co-ordinated all agricultural activity.

"Co-operation is the most fundamental inter-relationship within natural systems. Without co-operation between the parts of a natural system, be it a biological organism, a family, a community or even an ecosystem, the system cannot hold together or exist as an unit of adaptive life processes - still less compete with other systems."