Posted by: lrrp | January 9, 2006

Portuguese encounter:Getting to know and coming to terms with the past

The interest aroused by the island’s Portuguese encounter was demonstrated by the spate of articles in the print media and programmes on the visual media that appeared recently on what was popularly imagined to be the 500th anniversary of their first arrival. The definitive event however to mark the anniversary, 499th really, was the International Conference organized by the Portuguese Encounter Group and held on December 10 and 11.

The brain-child of Dr. Susantha Goonetilake, this was a group of like-minded researchers who had come together for the express purpose of exploring all aspects of the Portuguese presence and to present their findings as an unbiased and objective study from an entirely non-colonial perspective of the whole of the island’s Portuguese experience.

Setting the tone and the whole rationale of the Conference one of the chief speakers at the inauguration emphasised that if the past was being raked up it was not as an exercise in religious fanaticism or pseudo-nationalism. But that did not mean either, he was careful to explain to a burst of spontaneous applause, that they were going to run away from the past. What they aimed at doing, he said, was to know the past and expose the past, expose it unemotionally and dispassionately so that by knowing the past we come to terms with it.

The plenary session of the conference was held at the BMICH on December 10. The cyclonic weather conditions that prevailed that morning delayed the arrival of two of the many international participants and even the inauguration itself, but despite the pouring rains the hall was overflowing when the proceedings commenced.

The opening session was devoted to presentations on the global overview of Portuguese colonialism. Making the opening address, Dr. Susantha Goonatilake spoke on “The Shadow of 500 Years” and was followed by D. G. B. de Silva who spoke on “Portugal Prepares for Expansion” and Gaston Perera on “The Ideology of Violence”.

The presentations in the afternoon and evening sessions dealt with the destruction caused to religious sites by the Portuguese.

The technical sessions were held the following day, the 11th, at the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science. The wide spectrum of papers presented that day was the clearest indication that the work of the Group was in no way slanted or biased but also of the width of the range of interests of the Group. Certainly religious and historical issues were dealt with but presentations were not confined only to those issues. Some dealt with the naval and military aspects of the Portuguese occupation and included presentations on military strategy and weapons. Others dealt with the Portuguese influence on the island’s music, architecture, languages, coins and the transfer of plants. The technical sessions concluded with presentations on issues related to Apology and Compensation.

It is intended to publish a consolidated edition of all the papers on which presentations at the technical sessions were based. These would be available shortly and those interested are invited to telephone Gaston Perera on 2585302.

(The Sunday Times 2006/01/01)


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