文化遺産国際協力コンソーシアム Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Cultural Heritage JCIC-Heritage logo JCIC-Heritage

Country Assistance Study in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Country Assistance Study in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

JCIC-Heritage

Sri Lanka

Cultural Heritage in SriLanka

2013 Fundamental Research
01/04/2014
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BACKGROUND

A glittering country’s cultural heritage

Sri Lanka’s six World Cultural Heritage Sites are historical testimonies to the development of the country over many centuries under the strong influence of its neighboring states.
Sri Lanka flourished as a Buddhist country since around the 3rd century B.C., then the historical propagation of religions such as Hinduism, Islam and Christianity as a result of cultural exchanges with such neighboring countries as India, Southeast Asia, Arabia and Rome, built a culturally diverse, unique society that is now home to diverse ethnic groups and religions. Moreover, such blending and harmony of different cultures produced a cultural heritage unique to the island country, and nurtured tangible heritage such as architectures, sculptures, paintings, crafts and literature, and intangible heritage such as religious ceremonies. Rich cultural heritage, mainly represented by Buddhist monuments, is actively protected by the state and are also utilized as valuable resources for tourism.
Sri Lanka experienced the European colonial rule from the 16th century, war for independence in the 20th century, and a period of ethnic conflict after the independence. The ethnic conflict continued for 25 years until it ended in 2009,leaving devastating scars throughout the country, particularly in the northeastern region. Cultural properties in the area of the country were left abandoned without proper protection or management, and suffered tremendous damage.
The civil war also took a drastic toll on tourism, which is Sri Lanka’s principal industry. Thus, from the perspective of economic cooperation, Japan has also been economically supporting the promotion of tourism centered on the development of a museum at the World Heritage Site of the Ancient City of Sigiriya. However, as the security situation in the northern part of the country has remained volatile even with the end of the war, the area was inaccessible until recently.

Archaeological site in Thiriyai

Ongoing clearance of landmine on the way to the northern province

ACTIVITIES

Cultural heritage in danger due to the civil war and development

Northern and eastern Sri Lanka were incapable of access for more than 25 years because of the civil war, which led to scarce survey and research of cultural heritage in the region. Reflecting on such situation, the necessity to investigate the cultural properties within the region is starting to be heard. In specific, information related to listing the remaining cultural properties, the impact of the civil war on the heritage, as well as the possible assistance for the preservation and utilization of cultural properties were needed. Hearing surveys to the professionals of cultural heritage in Sri Lanka were done in Japan before the onsite investigation but updated information regarding the area was scarce. The targeted area is only recently accessible after demining efforts have been effective enough for civilians to also enter the region. The governmental officials of Sri Lanka also lacked information regarding the norther region of Sri Lanka. Considering such current state of Sri Lanka, the Japan Consortium for International Cooperation in Cultural Heritage has sent a research mission to grasp and examine current situation of cultural heritage in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka.
The recent mission was conducted in the area around Jaffna, as it could be considered the center of the northern region. Jaffna is currently experiencing a surge of economic development and the damaged buildings due to the civil war are razed. Simultaneously, we were informed that historical buildings and other such cultural properties are facing the danger of being destroyed without any plans for their examination or protection. The recent survey was conducted with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan Department of Archaeology, and the status of protection of cultural properties was examined based on a list of known properties prepared by the Bureau. A visit was also made to a museum managed by the Bureau, to study the state of protection and display of artifacts excavated from archaeological sites.

Jaffna old Kachcheri Building damaged due to conflict

Meeting at Ministry of National Heritage in Sri Lanka

RESULTS

Towards the utilization of cultural heritage for peace and stability

Result of the mission showed that Buddhist monuments dating from years before Christ and cultural properties of various eras up to the colonial period exist even in regions affected by civil war, and are mostly in critical state. In order to protect and remain such cultural heritage for the posterity, it could be necessary to accurately grasp of the situation through further detailed surveys. Given the fact that there are many monuments that remain unaccounted for even by the Sri Lankan government, urgent response is sought against the rapid tide of development. As the removal of land mines is expected to advance hereafter and widen the scope of areas that could be surveyed, there are many areas where Japanese experts could cooperate in large part by conducting detailed surveys of buildings and monuments.
The efforts of local residents are indispensable to cultural heritage protection, and it is necessary for local residents to gain an accurate understanding of the value of their cultural heritage. As matters stand, it is difficult for local residents to identify the dilapidated historical buildings that are found throughout their towns as cultural properties, since there are no information boards attached to them that describe their significance and are thus considered trivial. Accurately educating local communities of values of such properties and providing a ground for them to be incorporated in the active protection of cultural properties are urgent matters.
In post-conflict countries, museums play an important role in the education of the country’s history to create peace – Sri Lanka also has its potential to utilize the opportunity in the post-civil war status. Jaffna Museum was protected by the efforts of local residents during the civil war. Thus, developing the museum hereafter and utilizing it for the purpose of introducing the multicultural history of northern Sri Lanka, is also considered an important issue for the future.
Despite the civil war that continued for many years, universities and other educational institutions in Jaffna have maintained a high level of education and have also produced talents in cultural heritage protection. Japan’s expertise could also play a part in the development of such human resources in Sri Lanka.

It has not been long since the civil war that lasted over a quarter of a century came to an end. To prevent similar conflicts from ever occurring again, large expectations are placed on future cooperation for peace through cultural heritage protection, all the more because Sir Lanka is rich with culture.

Deserted historical building in Jaffna

Staffs at Jaffna Museum

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