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‘Nature’, nationhood and the poetics of meaning in Ruhuna (Yala) National Park, Sri Lanka

[journal article]

Jazeel, Tariq

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Abstract Ruhuna, or Yala as it is more commonly known, is Sri Lanka’s most famous national park, attracting hundreds of thousands of nature lovers annually. Included in the wealth of attractions that Ruhuna offers its visitors are transcendent landscape experiences amidst what is popularly considered to be its sacred and premodern ‘nature’. This paper traces the powerful connections between this popular poetics of landscape experience and the creation of racialized difference and political enmity, in the context of a modern nation-state that has only just seen the end of a fiercely contested civil war between a Sinhalese Buddhist majority and Tamil separatists. It suggests that movement through Ruhuna’s space variously fosters senses of belonging, attachment and exclusion in relation to Sri Lankan soil. The paper begins with the history of the reinscription of meaning in this former colonial game reserve. It then proceeds to show how the park’s contemporary and sacred meanings shape experiences in the present, mapping subjects’ bodies with historical, religious and territorial discourses that configure Tamils as ‘invaders’ and ‘interlopers’ in national space that has become Sinhalese and Buddhist by ‘nature’. Ruhuna emerges as a powerful tool whose Sinhala history and Buddhist ‘nature’ are not merely palimpsests of a primordial and premodern antiquity, but map and signify Sri Lanka’s exclusive topographies in the present.
Document language English
Publication Year 2005
Page/Pages p. 199-227
Journal Cultural Geographies, 12 (2005) 2
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)