Coming to terms with the Portuguese encounter
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 were appearing 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 the 10th and 11th December.
The brainchild of Dr. Susantha Goonetilake this was a group of
likeminded 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
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 10th
December. 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 on 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 of not
only 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 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 at 2585302.