At the start of 2017 the President’s Office and the Office for National Unity launched a campaign to raise awareness of “Sri Lankan Shared Values”. The proposed aim is to bring together the people from each of the individual ethnic groups in Sri Lanka and create a “unified national identity”. Given the reoccurrence in extremism emanating from all groups lately, creating this “unified national identity” is of national importance.
With this in mind, I wish to demonstrate via a drawing what I believe represents a unified Sri Lankan identity.
Note: This drawing has been designed and created by myself (the writer of this article). I apologise that it’s not the best drawn.
The background is split into two; three quarters being blue and the remaining quarter being yellow. These colours aim to represent the sea/sky and the land respectively.
The background aims to reinforce the concept that we are all living on one united and indivisible island. It also intends to bring to attention two of the most important (and historical) jobs that members of all of the ethnic communities in Sri Lanka partake in; agriculture and fishing.
The 3 headed tree
The most dominating and noticeable part of the drawing is the ‘3 headed tree’. Each of the ‘heads’ are different but attached together by the same trunk which is embedded into the land. The 3 ‘heads’ are the ‘Coconut Tree’ (middle), the ‘Palmyra Tree’ (left) and the ‘Palm Tree’ (right). What this aims to represent, is the different communities i.e. the coconut tree represents the Sinhalese, the Palmyra tree represents the Tamil and the palm tree represents the Muslims.
The Sinhala majority south of the country is dominated by the coconut trees. As you move north, the landscape takes a drastic change and the Palmyra trees come to dominate the landscape. The palm tree is heavily revolved around Islam and can be seen doted around the Muslim dominated parts of Sri Lanka. As a result, these trees have become synonymous with each ethnic group and are thus used to represent each community.
Whilst each of the trees individually is different (i.e. in terms of appearance and the fruits they provide) they are from the same botanical family, Arecaceae. In much the same way, whilst a Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim wear different clothes (appearance), speak different languages, practise different religions and participate in different cultural events (fruit), they are all part of the same family, Sri Lanka.
The 3 ‘heads’ are positioned at same height to symbolise that we are all equal. The ‘Coconut Tree head’ (Sinhalese) is placed in the middle to symbolise its central role (as the majority). The ‘Palmyra Tree head’ and the ‘Palm Tree head’ are connected by branches to the main trunk to symbolise the indivisible connection to both the land and the central ‘Coconut Tree’.
Trying to remove one of the ‘heads’ is impossible. Whilst you could try and cut off a ‘head’, it will grow back. Thus, the only way to permanently remove one of the ‘heads’ would be cutting the trunk off the tree. However, doing this will lead to all three ‘heads’ being destroyed. To put this idea into perspective, there have been times when one ‘head’ (Sinhala/Tamil/Muslim) has tried to hurt another ‘head’ (Sinhala/Tamil/Muslim) e.g. 1983 riots, LTTE expulsion of Muslims, Aluthgama riots etc. In all these cases, while the indicated target was one group against another group, the end result was all the ethnic groups (the whole tree) suffered.