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Tuesday February 27th, 2024

Sri Lanka’s trade and cultural links across the Indian Ocean from antiquity

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s maritime trade links along the Indian Ocean dates back to pre-historic times and has helped nurture “the personality of Sri Lanka and shaped its landscape and cultural scape since pre-historic times,” according to a top archaologist and researcher of the island.

“By the early 4th Century BCE, this island was primarily a production-distribution portal within the Rim and reached even to the Mediterranean and the Far East,” writes Sudarshan Seneviratne Executive Director General of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Sri Lanka Secretariat.

“The discovery of large quantities of Mediterranean, East African, South Asian and West Asian imported luxury ceramic ware and beads including coins and foreign notices (from the Mediterranean to the Far East) confirms the status of Sri Lanka as a major trading hub through long-distance trade linked to multiple lands.”

Sudarshana Seneviratne is a former Professor of Archaeology, University of Peradeniya was Director General, Central Cultural Fund.

Legends, chronicles and material evidence place Sri Lanka as a recipient culture located in the center of the Indian Ocean, he says.

The antiquity of this convergence dates to the pre-historic period when people, floral and faunal evidence indicate migration to Sri Lanka from the Indian sub-continent, South East Asia and East Africa.

“The commercial vortex connecting the Indian Ocean Rim had developed a complex system by the Middle Historic period (post 3rd Cent AC),” Seneviratne writes.

“This period witnessed intense commercial activities reaching out to India, South East and Far East and West Asia. There are notices that Buddhist monks and nuns accompanied merchants to their travel destinations.

Monasteries housing Sri Lankan monks were established during 3rd Century AC in Nagarjunakonda (Andhra) and the Gupta period in north India.

The Mahavamsa also records the existence of residences housing foreign merchants.

“The discovery of a Nestorian cross at the citadel of Anuradhapura is a testimony to the presence of West Asian traders residents at Anuradhapura.”

The full article released by Sri Lanka’s foreign Ministry is reproduced below

Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean in Antiquity

The island of Sri Lanka is also known in history by different names, including Tambapanni, Lanka, Taprobane, Serendib, Ceilo, Ceylon and eventually Sri Lanka or the ‘Resplendent Island”. Legends and historical annals note peopling of Sri Lanka associated with the ocean or those who traversed the ocean arriving at the shores of this island.

It was the Indian Ocean that nurtured the personality of Sri Lanka and shaped its landscape and cultural scape since pre-historic times. It is also the Indian Ocean, which binds us to the larger oceanic scape and the communities of the Indian Ocean rim with a common thread.

The ocean is also the greatest repository that gifted the line of communication and resources. The cultural timeline of our connectivity with the Indian Ocean goes back to pre-4000 BCE. The earliest common term known for this ocean is Samudra, as recited in the Rig Vedic hymns (C.1500 BCE).

It is also known to have a western and eastern ocean. The earliest texts mention oceanic seafaring luxury trade (‘From every side, O Soma, for our profit, pour thou forth four seas filled with a thousand-fold riches.” RV 9.33.6). The ocean craft in Sanskrit Vedic literature is known as Nau (neva in Sinhala). Seafaring provided connectivity to multiple kingdoms, cultures and civilizations that thrived over time and space during the pre-modern period of the Indian Ocean Rim. Sri Lanka was a prime recipient of this Indian oceanic connectivity.

Our relationship with the ocean is an interdependent factor which is mainly due to the centrality of our location in the Indian Ocean and the commonality shared by its resident communities.

Pic 01. Austronesian proto-historic maritime trade network in the Indian Ocean Pre 2000 BCE

Antiquity of Connectivity

Legends, chronicles and material evidence place Sri Lanka as a recipient culture located in the center of the Indian Ocean. The antiquity of this convergence dates to the pre-historic period when people, floral and faunal evidence indicate migration to Sri Lanka from the Indian sub-continent, South East Asia and East Africa.

Pre-historic Austronesian engagement connected east Africa via South Asia and beyond. Legend has it that the pre-historic community, the Naga, were a sea-faring community associated with trade and gems.

In the world of antiquity, Sri Lanka possessed a nautical history involving ships, navigation and seafaring by its island community dating to C. 1000 BCE. By the 4th Century BCE, even before the discovery of the monsoon by Hippalus, Sri Lanka was connected with South East Asia, East India and the Bay of Bengal, trading mainly on precious metals, elephants, spices and pearls. The Bay of Bengal formed a sub-region in the Indian Ocean having its own dynamic in the history of trade and commerce.

By the early 4th Century BCE, this island was primarily a production-distribution portal within the Rim and reached even to the Mediterranean and the Far East. The discovery of large quantities of Mediterranean, East African, South Asian and West Asian imported luxury ceramic ware and beads including coins and foreign notices (from the Mediterranean to the Far East) confirms the status of Sri Lanka as a major trading hub through long-distance trade linked to multiple lands.

Pic 02.

Ptolemy’s Sri Lankan Map created by Claudius Ptolemy in 139 AD. The Greeks called Sri Lanka Taprobana or Taprobane.

Trading portals were located at convenient coastal sites suitable for safe anchorage (dating to the 10th Cent. BCE). In addition to events documented in the Mahavamsa and Jataka narratives, the most accurate and extensive travel catalogues perhaps are found in the cartographic evidence of Ptolemy’s Taprobane and the Periplus Maris Erythraei, a diary of a ship captain travelling between the Red Sea and India. Both mention Sri Lanka as an important travel destination for commerce, its emporiums and traded items including place names of the island.

It is not a coincidence that during the same period (according to notices of Pliny) and the Mahavamsa emissaries of king Bhatikabhaya (1st Cent. AC), the first diplomatic mission (headed by traders), arrived in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius Caesar. A second delegation from Sri Lanka arrived in Rome during the time of Emperor Julian (Circa A.D. 375). The latter period coincides with the reign of Mahasena, the age of great agrarian production, the construction of mega reservoirs and monasteries (Jetavana) and the intense expansion of foreign trade with the establishment of cosmopolitan Port Cities.

Pic 03. Emissaries of king Bhatikabhaya (1st Cent. AC) to Rome

The commercial vortex connecting the Indian Ocean Rim had developed a complex system by the Middle Historic period (post 3rd Cent AC). This period witnessed intense commercial activities reaching out to India, South East and Far East and West Asia. There are notices that Buddhist monks and nuns accompanied merchants to their travel destinations. Monasteries housing Sri Lankan monks were established during 3rd Century AC in Nagarjunakonda (Andhra) and the Gupta period in north India.

While the Mahavamsa also records the existence of residences housing foreign merchants.

The discovery of a Nestorian cross at the citadel of Anuradhapura is a testimony to the presence of West Asian traders residents at Anuradhapura.

Pic 04: Site locations in east Africa and South Asia in the Indian Ocean connectivity chain, 1st Cent. BCE

Pic 05: Teppam (outrigger boat)

Connectivity and outreach were possible due to advanced nautical technology dating to the pre-Christian period. It was a qualitative development beyond the outrigger canoe or teppam. The advanced development of this vessel is depicted on coins and inscriptions as single-mast and double-mast vessels that traversed the Bay of Bengal and South Asia.

Interestingly enough, it was also the famous spice and gem trail that connected Sri Lanka with the Arab traders of West Asia. Merchants, from this period and region, made their way to Sri Lanka through three trade routes: the Indian to the North, the traders to the East, and the Arab to the West. It is from this vantage point that we need to understand the movement of communities to Sri Lanka, especially from West Asia in the Middle Historic period.

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Sri Lanka president appoints Supreme Court-faulted official as police chief after CC clearance

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the 36th Inspector General of Police (IGP) of the country after the Constitutional Council (CC) cleared the official who along with three other police officers were asked by the Supreme Court to compensate 2 million rupees in a fundamental rights case last year.

“President Ranil Wickremesinghe has appointed Deshbandu Tennakoon as the IGP in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution,” the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

The island nation’s Supreme Court on December 14 ordered Tennakoon when he was the Acting IGP and three other officials to pay a compensation of 500,000 rupees each for the violation of the fundamental rights of an individual.

The Supreme Court also instructed the Police Commission to take disciplinary action against the said Police officers after it considered the petition filed by W. Ranjith Sumangala who had accused the Police officers of violating his fundamental rights during his detention at Mirihana Police Station in 2011.

The Supreme Court held that the four police officers violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner by his illegal arrest, detention and subjection to torture at the Mirihana Police Station, which was under the supervision of Tennakoon at the time of the arrest.

President’s Secretary Saman Ekanayake presented the official appointment letter to Tennakoon on Monday (26) at the Presidential Secretariat.

When Tennakoon was asked over if the Supreme Court decision would have an impact on his appointment as the IGP last week, he declined to comment, saying that it was a Supreme Court matter and he does not want to say anything about it.

Tennakoon was also criticized by Colombo Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith when he was appointed as the Acting IGP citing allegations against him related to security lapses leading up to the Easter Sunday attacks which killed at least 269 in April 2019.

However, Tennakoon rejected the allegations. (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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No water tariff hike in Sri Lanka this year: Minister

Millennium Challenge Corporation Photo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s planned water tariff formula is ready, and the government will implement it this year only if the formula’s tariff is lower than the current price, Water Supply Minister Jeevan Thondaman said.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government has been implementing IMF-led pricing policies on utilities and the Water Supply Ministry has already come up with a formula.

“There is a water tariff formula in place right now and we are waiting for it to be drafted and seek approval from the cabinet,” Thondaman told reporters at a media briefing in Colombo on Monday.

“Once this water tariff formula is in place, there will be an annual revision with an option of biannual review.

The formula has been developed with the help of the Asian Development Bank. The formula includes electricity and exchange rate among many others as components like the fuel formula.

The National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWS&DB) increased the water tariff in August 2023, claiming that the operating cost had been increased owing to high interest payment for bank loans and increased electricity prices.

The last year revision saw the consumers paying 30-50 percent increase from the existing water bill.

Minister Thondaman said he will implement the new formula this year only if there is a reduction.

TARIFF CUT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED 

“We will have to wait to see what the formula is. If the formula shows us there needs to be a reduction in the water tariff, we can implement it. But if there is an increase, why should we burden the people when we are on a road to recovery?” he said.

He said a group of experts including University Professors are working on the formula and the numbers.

“Once they come with the number, we will have to take a decision on whether we are going to impose on the people or not,” he said.

“We have already spoken to the Asian Development Bank and informed them we have established the formula. But according to the ADB requirement of this policy-based loan, the implementation period is only in 2025.”

“But right now, you want to take the approval for the formula for sustainability.”

The Energy Ministry is considering a drastic slash in electricity tariff soon. Thondaman said the exact numbers will be decided on after the finalized electricity tariff.

However, he said that as per the formula, there has to be a up to 10 percent increase in the water tariff as of now.

“Given the current formula set up, there must be around a 9-10 percent increase. It was actually at 14 percent. What we have done is since it is at 14 percent, we also did a calculation to see how we can do a cost cutting,” he said.

“So, despite our cost cutting measures, there will be an increase of 9 or 10 percent. But we will not be imposing it as of now because this year is meant to be policy sector reforms. Next year is meant to be the implementation.”

“As per August 2023 water tariff hike, we are able to come close to sustainable. So right now, there is no issue in the water sector. But a formula eventually needs to be established.” (Colombo/Feb 26/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed at 310.80/311.00 to the US dollar Monday, from 310.95/311.05 on Thursday, dealers said.

Bond yields were down.

A bond maturing on 01.02.2026 closed stable at 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2027 closed at 11.80/90 percent down from 11.90/12.05 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.03.2028 closed at 12.00/12.15 percent down from 12.10/25 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.07.2029 closed at 12.20/70 percent from 12.20/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2030 closed at 12.30/70 percent down from 12.40/95 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.05.2031 closed at 12.60/80 percent from 12.45/13.00 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2032 closed at 12.50/90 percent from 12.50/13.30 percent. (Colombo/Feb26/2024)

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