Colombo, March 28 (Sunday Observer): The pulse of a nation beats through its traditional knowledge. This holds true for ancient civilisations such as Sri Lanka. For nations such as ours to wipe out that which is indigenous and create a socio-economic path for its people on totally alien lines can only spell disaster.
This is the post-colonial economic reality that we are witnessing today. A frog does not feel it when it is in a pan of water atop a fire rising in temperature that is slowly bringing the pan to boiling point.
The ignorant frog will adjust itself to the temperature until it is too late for it to jump out. By the time it tries to get out, it is dead. This is what has happened to us. We have been ignorant frogs cooked atop the fire of over technologised, over modernised, over concretised, over immunised and over industrialised global economy upon which we have been scorching for 73 years without dying and without having the common sense to jump out.
Saving ourselves would mean creating a far-thinking economic model that suits us and makes us master the global economy and not the other way around. To do that a nation should have the guts not to blindly imitate the neighbours, however near or far or rich or opulent they may seem to be. To thus stand strong and steady a nation needs to mould its policies around its own resources and blend the past with the present. But if a nation is clueless about its national and value-based resources or its past and only focuses on the present, then it is sure to sink.
Sri Lanka’s pre-colonial past is linked to its traditional knowledge. This encompasses a vast realm of facets and cuts across the material and the immaterial, both of which are inter-connected. These realms fall under Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) and its economic importance is not realised because it seemingly appear to be out of the boundaries of finance.
Yet such knowledge can be a goldmine for the economic stability of a nation. Young nations such as those in the West that we term as prosperous had no inherited national knowledge.
With their commitment to developing Western science, on the lands they occupied of indigenous people and thus created modern ‘Western’ countries, they had to a large extent borrowed the gamut of non-Western expertise they gathered from other cultures during the pre-renaissance time period.
It is a fact that Western nations are today putting to use age-old sciences of traditional societies to modern use and even having international university courses on it; for example astrology/universal/ nature energybased agriculture techniques that ancient Lanka had mastered (but learnt to scoff at after imbibing the Western science addiction.
But this universal energy based agriculture is taught in Western lands under the tag line ‘biodynamic agriculture.’ The irony is that Sri Lankans are paying dollars to study such courses from foreign lands while scoffing at this knowledge and refusing to put it to practice in their own country.
Just think, we could have created our own indigenous universities for global audiences using all the knowledge that we have learnt to laugh at, considering it non scientific, if we had not squandered the consciousness of our ancient forefathers.
This is not to say we should not have used modern science. We should definitely have mastered Western science and used it to promote and prove the validity of our own ancient knowledge and not the reverse. Not to validate our knowledge in a condescending way to ourselves but to place what is ours on a global platform where Westerners whose understanding is limited, would enhance their comprehension.
For example, we could have dissected (through modern knowledge) how in ancient Lanka controlling elephants were done through the manthra shasthraya which was common everyday knowledge to the then citizens. We could have done the same to uphold our Sinhala Wedakam (Deshiya Chikitsa) Wisawedakama relating especially to snake bites which are also heavily dependent on so-called non-Western scientific’ methods including the manthra shasthraya, all of which had worked accurately in ancient times.
All this could have been used in creating university programs related to indigenous knowledge in wildlife management and woven it around the theme of sustainability. But no. Even for concepts such as sustainability which is practically virtually webbed into our DNA through our ancient practices, we are today looking to the Western world for solutions.
These solutions and so-called expertise is not free. It costs money. Dollars to be precise. And there are traps in every grant or loan or whatever a hand out is labelled. Today with the human-elephant conflict at its worst, just a handful of persons would knowhow certain words and tone (as in a manthra) accompanied by basic gestures could tame an elephant as done through the ‘Ali mantras’ that we had.
Having dumped these kinds of knowledge in modernity’s waste paper basket and considering it rubbish we are spending millions of rupees on electric fences as solutions for the human elephant conflict and once even had shooting at elephants as a last resort.
Today with former Western colonies such as Sri Lanka becoming more and more ‘non-local’ and forever looking for Western or non-Lankan ‘expertise,’ from anything from water resource management, wildlife conservation, food preserving technology, soil nutrition, medical science and even national unity – to name a few vital areas for a stable survival, there is absolutely no introspection or even basic common sense based comprehension on the need to revive the concept of traditional knowledge and heritage in practical terms for mainstreaming this into the economic wellbeing of the nation.
Every aspect mentioned above has economic consequences. We are paying billions for the global chemical industry that has by now made our soil dependent on synthetic solutions the same way the pharmaceutical industry has done with our bodies.
Basic productivity is ‘maintained’ with arduous and artificial effort. The Covid pandemic is being controlled in the West through vaccines alone although it is known that human body, like the soil, has a limit in responding to synthetic solutions.
Sri Lanka which had a host of traditional physicians/ traditional medicine researchers who had treated thousands of Covid patients and cured them in less than three days Sri Lanka, did nothing to tell the world of its expertise.
Why? Because Sri Lanka considered their own traditional methods ‘unscientific’ and overwhelmed by the fancy term Covid given to what traditional physicians termed in the following manner; an immunity destroying semprathishyawa that could be cured easily, with limited effort if the body does not have health complications.
Yet the word of the traditional physician was not taken seriously and we considered expensive Western solutions as the ‘legitimate’ (and exorbitant) answer, without realising that the West itself was helpless with this one and only health solution for pandemics which also have its limitations.
It has taken us a few centuries of colonisation and seventy three years of post colonisation to take us to the dependency dug pit we are in now. It may seem as if we are at the end of a tunnel with no light. Yet, there is.
We have to admit that we have forgotten or been brainwashed to act as if we have forgotten or been lethargic or indifferent and wasted in the drain of corrupt party politics all of that which the ancestors of this nation held sacred.
We have been duped or coerced or happily donated our minds to be wiped clean of the relevance of all our inherited national expertise. Until we realise this no one political party can bring a solution to this economic malaise.
Even in this pitiable condition that Sri Lanka is in now, it is lamentable that there is no national discourse on the connection between national indigenous knowledge and national economic wellbeing.
It is also surprising that those who are busy wasting scarce fuel by bringing hordes of buses to Colombo are totally oblivious to how the economic significance of traditional national knowledge is the missing piece in the puzzle of why our economy has been devoid of progress.
Lankan students queue in hordes to get education in foreign lands which has cost the nation billions of rupees. Yet these young people remain clueless on how and why this nation was referred to as a highly respected, progressive and self-sufficient civilisation.
Although schoolchildren may learn about our ancient kings (even this is doubtful amongst the craze for international school education) they would not learn about the ancient policies that these monarchs had in place to ensure the sustainability and self-respect of the land and people.
The preservation and fostering of that vita resource from mother earth, water, to ensure the flourishing of national agriculture and the health of forests (any nations’ heartbeat is its natural heritage) to safeguard the richness of the soil are some of the basic needs for human survival.
If our water is depleted we have to buy water or get into further debt dependency by asking for grants for purchasing water. Sri Lanka would not have thought of this reality when we bypassed the advice of veteran ecologist Dr. Ranil Senanayake in the 1960s and allowed foreign ‘experts’ to moot the cultivation of water depleting pine trees on our mountain tops for ‘reforestation.’
When Senanayake suggested growing indigenous plant varieties on mountains so that the villages below could also benefit from them he was asked to show where such a ‘global model’ existed.
So today as a result of that decision we have hundreds and thousands of pine trees and pine nettle carpeted soil (where nothing else can grow) and vast areas of water depleted lands. The villages below the mountains have not benefited from this dubious reforestation and hundreds of our indigenous plants and herbs and yams have gradually become extinct.
Then comes our current battle with trying to reverse the chemical agriculture menace which certainly cannot be done overnight. Here again, we had cowed down to Western ‘expertise’ in the 1960s when the so-called green (poisonous) revolution was heralded by international organisations.
We have perfected the art of being foreigners in our own land. In pre-colonial Sri Lanka it would have been blasphemy to think that we would come to a position where we would be clueless how to enrich our soil and have to pay other nations vast sums for ‘organic fertiliser.’
Although we like to think that we received what is elaborately called ‘independence’ from the British, this has not been reflected in either our education system or our general policies. We have failed to recognise that the global education system that we have is tilted to think that only one set of people hold a particular set of ‘superior’ knowledge.
Africa would be a fantastic country to learn so many things from, but yet Africa, realistically the wealthiest place on earth with gold and gems and many other resources that are precious, have been ‘made poor’ largely due to the same reasons why we are ‘poor.’ Ignorance that they are rich in so many ways.
For traditional nations to create an indigenous education sector that is attractive and useful to themselves the world would first need to have us recognising and appreciating what is ours. Not because the UN says so but because our ancestors said it.
Our ancestors did not have foreign university degrees but they created a country that was economically sustainable by using all existing national resources. Can we say the same of ourselves?