If you say, ‘I’m Sri Lankan”, people then ask what race you are – Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim. For an certain generation of children, however, the race label is becoming completely inapplicable. There are quarter-caste children of half-caste parents who really have no race at all. They’re simply Sri Lankan. They look much the same as other children (perhaps because races were mixed in the first place) but there is no racial label you can stick on them. For example, I know children who are half-Burgher/half-Sinhalese. Burgher is a mixed race in the first place, what happens when you mix it further? Which is the dominant allele, Sinhala or Burgher? Is race transmitted through the father or mother? To all these questions the answer is irrelevant. These children are simply Sri Lankan.
Of course, a child born in the Vanni or Matara is likely to be either Tamil or Sinhala, but even elements of that are illusory. There are Sinhala castes around the coasts which arrived later than most Tamils and mixed their Indian blood with the locals. Then Arab traders are the supposed ancestors of the ‘Muslim’ race, even though they look like everybody else and are probably mostly Tamil. Personally, I think if you go back far enough we’re all Tamil, and Africans before that but I remain, on paper, 100% Sinhalese.
Race is fundamentally an illusion and after that a social construct. Real, but artificial. The Hispanic ‘race’, for example, is a mix of European settlers and natives. They are now having trouble integrating with a mix of European settlers and slaves that call themselves American. At some point race becomes a political identity, but modern races actually form out of some sort of race mixing. Barack Obama the American, for example, or the presumptive Brazilian President Rousseff whose father was Bulgarian.
Sri Lanka, while not a recent settler nation, is still an island. We are about 30km from India and our ancestors have been sailing for thousands of years. Indeed, that distance is even swimmable. The idea that the Sinhala race descended from one ‘Aryan’ King Vijaya is pure myth, they have been waves of settlement from India over the years. When people say Tamils should go back to India they might as well be talking to themselves. We all came from India at some point. Being an island, there were also constant visitors with the ensuing marriages, affairs and otherwise contracted pregnancies. So, whether people admit it or not, there are no ‘pure’ races here.
As those artificially stable races intermarry you then get to a point where the illusion is no longer sustainable. I know a kid who is quarter Sinhalese, quarter Tamil and two highly disparate quarts of Burgher. What on earth is he, if not for Sri Lankan?
post syndicated from www.indi.ca