Accepted Paper:

The politics of forgetting in Colombo, Sri Lanka  
Catherine West

Paper short abstract:

Colombo is experiencing a period of rapid-fire remembering and forgetting: sometimes deliberate, sometimes incidental, often concerning life and death. What roles do modernity and religion play in the selection process?

Paper long abstract:

In the post-conflict era Sri Lanka has increased its articulation with the global economy, while simultaneously looking inward for an identity that can support lasting peace. Colombo is the political and economic centre of the island, and a locus of religious and ethnic diversity. As such, it is embroiled in the conflicted national process of remembering and forgetting. Connerton (2009) argues that 'modernity' explains the paradox of simultaneous hypermnesia (the drive to remember) and the post-mnemonic (a tendency to forget). He defines modernity in relation to a specific geo-political moment, which elides or excises religion. To problematize this position, we consider the role of religion in memory-making and how Colombo's past is narrated, embodied and performed at different scalar levels. At the level of the individual body, Mrs G (an octogenarian widow) invites us in to her apartment to drink tea, observe her quotidian rituals and listen to her story. Just a few blocks away, we meet a government official who manages a local council facility. His mission is to do good, and be remembered for doing good. To this end he has built a colourful shrine to the Buddha, so that passers-by will be delighted and think of peace. Finally, the city itself is defined by its monuments to religious and political heroes; the redevelopment of under-performing assets in to capitalist beacons; and the infrastructure that supports these erasures and selective memorialisations. Religious experience and innovation is crucial to the Sri Lankan national imaginary: past, present and future.

Panel P18
Bringing the past to life: narratives, practices and spaces of memory-making