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News Features  


 

Yaka and the definition

An avid reader of Yakhanda, a bikini gusset designer from an English settler colony off Antarctica, cries:
“The concept of a Yaksha needs definition. Yaksha are crucial. They are also Caliban, Othello, Tupac Amaru, Malcolm X, Ravana, Trickster, Monkey King Sun Wukong, and the revolutionary Aravinda Ghose. The world is full of hidden Yaksha and we have to bring them to light, a Yaksha network! Else ALL our life and work will be forgotten and youth will have to stumble around truly bereft of traditional wisdom.”
Yet even as Yakhanda gives voice to the Yaksha, we must confess we know but a handha! - a loving spoonful.
To our neighbour, a framer of wildly diverse paintings, from Vihara Maha Devi to Olivia Newton John, the Yaksha are “the adhivasi of the adhivasi, the indigenous of the indigenous.”
Yet my cousin, a PhD in English as a Sycophantic Language (ESL), defines any so-and-so gentleman as “not a Yako.”

I told him: Yakos are cool, it’s us kalusuddho (whitened blacks) who are way more ignorant than even suddhas.
Kalusuddho (Importus Rilavensis Colombensis aka Kolombians aka Angoda Saxons), our united ‘multiethnic’ merchant party, are more like the “Yahoos” Gulliver met: obsessed with “pretty stones.”
Yahoos personify the merchant capitalists, Gulliver’s Irish author Jonathan Swift, endured in England: “The Yahoos appear to be the most unteachable of all animals....cunning, malicious, treacherous, and revengeful... Strong and hardy, but of a cowardly spirit, and, by consequence, insolent, abject, and cruel.”
Yahoo, however, has been laundered, becoming a search engine on NATO’s internet. Not Yako.

Ms. Understood
‘Yaka’ is misunderstood, notes Nation editor Malinda Seneviratne, has multiple meanings, and refers to “a collective and a history, a way of life and a disavowal, a vilifying term and one embraced with pride!” The Yaksha, Naga, Raksha and Deva make up the ‘Sihala’ or ‘Siv-hela’ or ‘the 4 helas,’ which gave rise to the island’s name as ‘Sinhale’ and it’s later twisted to ‘Ceylon.’
(Our take on the Euro fixation for ‘Ceylon’ is more mundane. Some Euros, ‘disoriental’ after being salted at sea for too long, spied a land luscious to alight upon, calling it ‘Sea Land.’ Going further, they saw another island, and called it New Zealand!)

Many are the tales about Yaka. Using the African Ptolemy’s ancient world map: Yaksha, who developed the hydraulic technology of our famed irrigation, are linked to the Iranians! For Ptolemy calls the Mahaveli: Phasis Fluvius, the Persian River. Ptolemy also notes Chinese merchants had warehouses at the mouth of river Krishna in India. The snake-worshipping Naga, described as Ethiopians, presumably settled our Eastern Ruhuna – tagged Nagadipa by Ptolemy. Herodotus says Naga also settled on the eastern Indus in India.
Anti-colonial author Kumaratunga Munidasa also has interesting interpretations of the Yaksha. Some Yaksha (such as Chitraraja and Kaladevala) mixed with migrants from India, from about 3,500 years ago, and began to form the nation of Sinhale during the reign of Pandukabhaya in 377 BC. Some Yaksha (such as Jayasena of Ritigala) fought the Sinhala, and later allied with them. Folklore has deity Upulvan referring to some Yaksha as evil spirits. Yet people also view the tragic heroine Kuveni not as an evil spirit but as a human who belonged to the Yaksha.

The Lankika take on Yaksha is much more nuanced than the English aspersion of Yaka as “devils.”
Indeed two can play this devil card. In southern China, the old label for imperialists is ‘vuk gui’ – white devils. Indians (used by the English as soldiers to invade and police to occupy China) were classified ‘Red-haired Devils No. 3!’
Malcolm X, the African-American prophet, at first described white people as “Blue-eyed Devils,” genetically engineered from rats in a lab experiment. But fleeing that intellectual ghetto called the USA, Malcolm, renamed as Malik El-Shabazz, prayed in West Asia alongside people of all different hues, and saw it was not a question of epidermis alone.
Demonised by white press, and then assassinated by the US state, Malcolm X reminds us: “If you aren’t careful, the media will having you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

Lazy, cunning linguistics
The Yaksha Anti-Defamation League (YADL) was formed during the recent (in)greasy Yaka fiasco, to drive home that Yaksha is not just that Euromanic hallucination of devils, demons, demimondes and pervs, etc. Though Yaksha may be that and more. For Yaksha can be both cause and cure.
Yet Yaka does not go from village to village, like salesmen of corporate pharma, first promoting the spread of diseases via televised toxic lifestyles, and then pushing drugs. Yaka is more like an immunisation booster: We expose you to a sprig of the truth so as to make you see beyond their crippling lies.
Yet it’s not only the Yakas who endured calumny under the English. The US slave master’s trope “lazy,” for instance, is still applied to the Sinhalas. It is a word used to chastise the resistance of the original ‘Red’ Americans and the Africans enslaved in those parts, for not accepting slavery under the plantation system. Tamils were also ‘lazy,’ but in South India if they opposed English recruitment into slavery. Yessing the white man’s project across the Puvak Straits seemed to wash away the slight of sloth, but not always.
Island people have a multiplicity of tags and nicknames for each other, not always accurate or just. Yet none remains more endearingly enduring or evocatively nuanced than Yako!