Yakhanda 2: Yaka and Halloween


The day we can all give thanks is yet to come. Until then, let us see how modern Yaksha should greet a broke NATO, slobbering, “Trick or treat!” at our door.

I know little about Yaksha, maybe little more than you, but not much. I grew up in a 20th century Colombo, misspoken as a tropical suburb of anal London, where long hair, zesty music and dancing provoked epithets of “Yaka!” and “Veddha!”

We stiffly put on the bourgeois linens and lineaments of the white man’s narrow worldview that tie (and coat) our brown bodies. We are spooked (especially at twilight, when we hear drums) about ‘devil dancing’ in the dark exurban moors beyond. Perhaps our unease echoes from the carpetbagger Vijaya who, as he lay down to betray Kuveni, heard the yakbera of her kin in the distance.

Yet little did we know of the nuance in the thera/peutic traditions of thovil and huniyam, now recognised as creative expressions of community psychology, since it lacks patronage by corporate pharmaceutical pushers, and hence still not ‘acceptable!’.

No healing function
Today’s ‘devil dances,’ evicted out of their healing function into the docile theatres of ‘modern dance,’ offer no panaceas to anyone other than merchant sponsors and related beneficiaries in Colombo. 

As children, if we grew hair long, we were equated to the hirsute Veddhas. Yet they now appear “more civilised” than us Colombots. Veddhas, we hear, were not just the reconnoitering units of all our armies of yore, guarding our borders, but also our closely related kinfolk, who took the brunt of the English genocides of 1818 and 1848. 

Perhaps to physically distance the English army from these local warriors, the colonial state demanded in 1906 that: “Army Volunteers in Ceylon … no longer wear a konday (tuft).” This led the Ceylon National Review to retort: “We suppose it interferes with the defense of the Empire, still we can’t help wondering why.” Drums too were downgraded as the province of so-called lower castes.

Dark Prince
Beyond such phobias of hair and drums, we learn that Kuveni, one of the earliest misapprehenders of a neighbourly foreign policy, was a Yakini. An adept weaver of textiles, her industry was distracted by what the sea dragged in. And her children, who became the Veddhas, were protected by Kalu Kumara Yaka, our Dark Prince. But the most interesting anecdotes we hear about Yaksha relate to their skill in working iron. 

Now the importance of the production of iron in Lanka, in our past, let alone for our future, is being increasingly recognised as a must for modernity. Yet intellectuals or policy makers may be the last to know this secret, while the merchants who money them may not allow it. The working of iron and steel was an early art on this land. The famed Damascene swords of the 9th century Knights of Syria were produced in Matale, and some say it was the organisation of steel production that brought down Ramayana envy on Ravana. Steel was also what wrought Kashyapa’s power in Sigiriya.

History may be the history of states and the classes of feuding fools who ran them. But more importantly it is the history of the tools that built those states. Yet, it is not by using tools or making tools that a society is now measured, but by the making of the machines that make machines and tools. 

The Englishman Arthur presumably became king by pulling a sword out of a stone. This legend mystifies, with machismo, his ability to organise miners of the metal to pull it out of the ground, and smiths to make the swords. 

The Yakadaya aka smith, usually a military chief, was the most important artisan in any village, hence the preponderance of the suffix -nayake, aka Na Yaka, aka Smith, in all cultures. Even Perera is from Ferrera. Iron. As is Fabrici and Lefevres. Even as Silva is from wood. People who physically developed the society.

Totally forgotten!
It is the Lankan villages where iron and weapons were made that were repeatedly devastated by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English. In such ways, have we ‘forgotten’ how to make steel. We have prioritised mercantile compunctions that have turned our finest steel factories into gated real estate for the mistresses of merchants and politicians. Just as we ‘forget’ the industry that strengthened our society through this long scourge of colonial rule? 

If the Roman symbol for war was iron and was worshipped as “Mars,” then October is indeed the month of iron, when the world’s humongous weapons dealers grab their trillions from public purses. It’s that Gregorian month of the Pentagon when the corporate media scares a lugubrious world with ‘foreign’ plots and other imminent ‘attacks,’ and then invades an African, Asian or American country lacking intercontinental aerial defences (now an indispensable tool of sovereignty), to install not democracy but NATOcracy.

Trick or Treat
No coincidence then that their October ends with “Halloween,” where white North American settlers go around scaring each other for fun, shaking their ‘loot’ bags, crying “Trick or Treat!” (‘Loot’, interestingly, is a Bengali word, which entered the English language after the English looting of Bengal in 1757. While ‘trick’ also refers to a prostitute’s client). 

After the annual Halloween scare, and the huge Pentagon budget is passed, they celebrate “Thanksgiving,” presumably about how “Indians” taught starving fundamentalist ‘Pilgrims’ to grow corn and carve turkey. Those “Indians,” who were “Indian’ long before the ones next door became ‘Indian,” were banished far from that dining table. 
The day we can all give thanks is yet to come. Let us till then see how modern Yaksha should greet a broke NATO, slobbering, “Trick or treat!” at our door.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.