‘Ceylon: A Divided Nation’ by Bertram Hughes Farmer

50th Anniversary Tribute

by Sachi Sri Kantha, Septermber 5, 2013

Farmer front pages

Anniversaries are regularly celebrated and remembered for their impact on the society. Last month Americans remembered the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech. In November this year, another 50th anniversary (the assassination of President John F. Kennedy) will be commemorated. For Eelam Tamils, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of a remarkable book ‘Ceylon A Divided Nation’ which anticipated the Sri Lankan civil war by two decades.

Farmer front cover‘Ceylon A Divided Nation’ is a short book of only 74 pages. It was authored by a distinguished British geographer Bertram Hughes Farmer (1916-1996) and he calls it a “short booklet”. For the benefit of Sri Lankan as well as non-Sri Lankan gasbags (the likes of Eelam skeptics – Subramanian Swamy, Cho Ramaswamy and Narasimhan Ram) and semi-literate academics who continue to rubbish the militant campaign of LTTE. It would serve them better, if they bother to read Farmer’s interpretation of Ceylon’s twisted history and what the British imperialists did in the 19th century to bring the Sinhala and Tamil nations together for their convenience.

The book has four chapters, two maps and a select bibliography. It is devoid of an index.

Chapter 1: The land of Ceylon and its peopling; fact, myth and conflict

Chapter 2: Four hundred and fifty years of foreign rule: The Portuguese and the Dutch

Chapter 3: Four hundred and fifty years of foreign rule: The British in Ceylon

Chapter 4: Ceylon since independence

In his Introduction, Farmer notes that his ‘booklet’ seeks to answer three questions; (1) What had happened to the apparently peaceful, well-governed and harmonious inter-community life of 1948? (2) Was the harmony of 1948 more apparent than real? (3) Have communal tensions a long history, or are they the product of new forces that have emerged in recent years?

In light of forthcoming vote on Scottish independence scheduled for September 18, 2014, it will be beneficial to Eelam skeptics if they care to read this ‘booklet’ by Farmer. Among Eelam skeptics, I include Tamil turn-coats (like Col. Karuna and Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias K.P) as well. This is because, when they open their mouths to support their new masters, they insult the history and millions of Tamils by preaching arrant nonsense.

In this book, Farmer describes how Ceylon was constituted as one state by the British imperialists 180 years ago, based on the W.M.G. Colebrooke and C.H. Cameron commission of enquiry. About the background of these two commissioners, Farmer notes “Cameron, a Scot and a barrister, was a Benthamite; but Colebrooke is at first sight a simple soldier, and soldiers are rarely political theorists, least of all radical ones.” The word ‘Benthamite’ is defined in the dictionary as a philosophy of utilitarianism, first promoted by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). I would assert that this sort of imperialistic, blood-sucking utilitarianism had created nothing but havoc in the Asian, African and Oceanic lands where British had set their feet in the 19th century.

Farmer’s Conclusion

Here are the first four sentences of the last paragraph of the book. “Ceylon is indeed a divided nation. The reader may be inclined to form the conclusion that it was always so, and that optimistic views on national unity held in Ceylon at the coming of independence, and repeated by commentators in other parts of the world, rested on illusion or ignorance (emphasis added by Sachi). Certainly, given the historical traditions of the Sinhalese and their particular national complexes, and given the history which set down in their midst the particular minorities that have come to exist in Ceylon, trouble might have been forseen. But need it have been as violent as in fact it was?”

If this was true in 1963, it has been proved unequivocally in the past 50 years.

Many Merits

This book has many merits. The first and prominent one was the foreword contributed by Herwald Ramsbotham aka 1st Viscount Soulbury (1887-1971), who served as the first Governor General of Ceylon between 1949 and 1954. He led the Soulbury Commission appointed by the colonial British government in 1944 for constitution reform. In this foreword, he had expressed his mea culpa, for his lack of foresight in not providing constitutional guarantees for the Tamils.

Soulbury had expressed his dismay on the Sinhala-Tamil conflict as follows: “Needless to say the consequences have been a bitter disappointment to myself and my fellow Commissioners….Nevertheless – in the light of later happenings – I now think it is a pity that the Commission did not also recommend the entrenchment in the constitution of guarantees of fundamental rights, on the lines enacted in the constitutions of India, Pakistan, Malaya, Nigeria and elsewhere.”

The second merit was the fact that Farmer was a distinguished geographer, and not a historian! His interpretation of Ceylon’s past history, especially the role played by Mahavamsa chronicle is more refreshing to read and comprehend. Farmer infers that Mahavamsa author’s interpretation “can naturally be most relied on when he is relating events nearest to his own times” (circa 4-5th century AD). Farmer also attributed the decline of ancient Sinhalese Dry Zone civilization, partly to malaria. His interpretation of history seems more valid scientifically. Rather than placing all the blame on Tamil invasions of Chola kingdom in the 11th-12th century AD, Farmer infers as follows: “It may well be that the repeated Tamil invasions, coupled with anarchy within the Sinhalese kingdoms themselves, had much to do with the decay that so manifestly set in. But there is no evidence of deliberate destruction. The damage wrought in Dry Zone irrigation works by the great floods of December 1957 and January 1958 demonstrated what Nature in the Dry Zone can do; and it would only have needed a breakdown in administration, such as must have occurred in the period in question, to allow Nature a free hand. Malaria, too, may well have played its part…”

The third merit of the book was that it appeared in print, when Prabhakaran (the leader of LTTE) was only 9 years old, and Prabhakaran’s view on the viability of Sri Lanka as a single state had been justified by Farmer!

Farmer died on February 6, 1996, a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday.

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No Responses to “‘Ceylon: A Divided Nation’ by Bertram Hughes Farmer”

  1. r.k.seethapathi naidu

    pl.forward a copy of the book to:
    prime minister,govt.of India,India

  2. Mathias

    Why don’t you make it available the Whole book? It seems to me it’s a valuable contribution to understand the present day struglle of the Tamils in sri Lanka