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Colonising Knowledge in the Kingdom of Kandy


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Contributor(s): Dr Sujit Sivasundarum

Released on 8 September 2009.

In this short film Dr Sujit Sivasundarum, from the Department of International History, challenges the idea that European colonists brought Modernity in the form of systematic knowledge to countries such as Sri Lanka. He argues that it is not just territory that is occupied by a colonising force, local knowledge, too, is also absorbed and utilised by the colonisers. Dr Sivasundarum's research looks at the Kingdom of Kandy, a state set deep in the forested highlands of central Sri Lanka. Kandy was one of the last outposts of native rule to fall to colonists, successfully repelling the British in 1803, before finally succumbing in 1815. One reason for the Kandyan's success was superior information: technical knowledge useful to the military resistance could be passed between Kandyans in the form of "palm-leaf manuscripts." By examining surviving palm-leaf manuscripts, Dr Sivasundaram is able to reconstruct indigenous knowledge from the 1800s, and show that what we think of "enlightenment knowledge" is sometimes actually founded on indigenous knowledge - although the link has long since been obscured.

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