Posted by: lrrp | June 1, 2008

Portuguese forced conversions?

A running battle on paper tends to tax editorial space, not to mention reader’s patience and no real purpose is served when issues are dodged. So I have no intention of prolonging this. Here I only wish to point out very briefly just one thing. Now that Mr. S has been educated about Father S.G. Perera and his lecture, of which he was obviously ignorant earlier, he is using that as a diversionary tactic to dodge answering any of the issues raised in what is politely described as my “diatribe.”

He seems to suggest that I have mis-understood Fr. SGP and reproduces long passages from his lecture. Does he really believe that the passage regarding Faria Y Sousa really counters and explains that famous statement about “the decision of the sword” and is not just sarcasm and denial? Does he really believe that Fr. SGP did not caution his audience against rushing to conclude there were no forced conversions? If he does all I can say is that words mean different things to me and we are separated by a whole English language. When he triumphantly reproduces what Fr. SGP said as that the Mahawansa (sic) and the Rajawaliya make no mention of forced conversions as if that settles the question does he really believe that means anything? Does he really not know that the Mahavamsa (sic) and the Rajawaliya are equally silent about a multitude of other, well-documented and horrendous outrages perpetrated against the Sinhala Buddhist people – Dharmapala handing over the lands of the destroyed temples to the missionaries, for instance; Dharmapala gifting the 2000-year old Sinhala Buddhist kingdom to a foreign Catholic king, for instance, and by a notarial deed at that; the ruthless persecution of Buddhism, for instance : Fr. Lambert destroying the Munneswaram temple, de Sousa Arronches sacking Devinuwara, Nuno Alvares Perera throwing Buddhist priest to crocodiles, de Azevedo spitting babes on his soldier’s pikes? This is what happens when one merely repeats other’s arguments. (Fr. SGP’s version either by an error or printer’s devil refers toMahavamsa, not the Culavamsa; the error too is repeated.) These are the occasions one cannot help recalling again Alexander Pope’s telling couplet

about the need for deep draughts of the Pierian spring. Still, now that as a first step Mr. S. has come to know of Fr.SGP and his lecture the next step that could usefully be taken in the learning process might be to read Professor C.R. Boxer’s response to him. If he does read it – read it fully, I mean and not as poor Tikiri Abeysinghe was read – he will then learn of the real worth of the Father’s claims; the real meaning that “force” had to the missionary and statesman of the time; the real origin of the oral tradition which had nothing whatever to do with British missionaries; and the real reason behind the Father’s severe warning to his audience not to come to hasty conclusions that the Portuguese used no force in conversion. If nothing else he will learn that real scholarship is balanced and never afraid of speaking the whole truth. Professor Boxer’s response is entitled “A Note on Portuguese Missionary Methods in the East, 16th to 18th Centuries” and appeared in The Ceylon Historical Journal of July 1961.

But never mind the Father SGP smoke screen. There were certain issues raised in my “diatribe” in reply to his earlier article. Issues like what is the authority for stating the destruction of Buddhist temples were only acts of war and nothing more sinister? Was the missionary policy of the time blatantly directed towards the complete annihilation other faiths? Was there, therefore, only sophistry and double-speak in the prohibition against force? These are side-stepped deftly. Why? Why can he not answer them? Perhaps, the side-stepping may be the answer. So let it pass.

But there is one issue that one will not let pass. One issue that must not be dodged. The central thrust and purpose of “the diatribe” was to expose one thing. It was to expose the deliberate and perverse fashion in which random sentences and parts of sentences from the late Tikiri Abeysinghe’s doctoral thesis were torn out of context and twisted and distorted to suit an utterly biased purpose. Why is there no response to that? Why is there not even a passing reference to that? Why is that conveniently side-stepped? Why is there no explanation? Or is that the explanation?

Gaston Perera


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