Poster from the Deyata Kirula exhibition
This country is ruled by Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers. Many ministers serve in his court. Two ministers – Wimal Weerawansa and Mervyn Silva are given special ambit. They are the symbolic gladiators of the media colosseum. When Mahinda cannot give us bread, he gives us circuses. Today the government is struggling with post-war issues of poverty, education, environment and education that have caused nearly daily protests. To communicate symbolically to these masses, Mahinda lets out his media mavens, unofficially, to soak up some newspaper ink, fill some airtime, give him a little cover. Weerawansa took a symbolic tilt at the UN, fasting unto drip. Mervyn tied a local government official to a tree to symbolically assume the sins of the bloody dengue scourge. Perhaps I’ve got the metaphor wrong. These are not gladiators, or jesters, or anything else. These are devil dancers, chasing out demons with demons.
Even in Canada I hung a demon mask up in my room. It looks cool, but having a house demon supposedly chases other demons away. That is, it’s better to have a demon in the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. Wimal and, to a greater extent, Mervyn Silva are unsavory characters, attack dogs and not especially thoughtful or compassionate human beings. Wimal hits below the belt verbally and Mervyn simply hits below the belt. In this modern media sphere, they are the devil dancers, chasing out the greater demons of a meddlesome UN and dengue.
Wimal and Mervyn operate with the full support of the Rajapaksas, denials aside. The government tried to assert no contest to Wimal’s occupation of the UN building and Mervyn’s tree-tying incident, but Mahinda himself personally ended Wimal’s fast and his brother Basil is mediating between Mervyn and infuriated government workers. These are entirely extra-legal methods, but they are not extra-cultural. Wimal technically shouldn’t prevent the UN operating in Sri Lanka and Mervyn shouldn’t technically be tying people to trees, just as someone dancing around in a devil mask shouldn’t cure a disease. Except sometimes it does.
I know people who’ve been sick and had it cured by demon dancing. I know children who were thought brain dead until a mother somehow prayed them to life. The Democratic National Alliance just recently smashed coconuts to hasten General Sarath Fonseka’s release. Sometimes placebo can cure as well as a pill. Sometimes faith and belief can get you through. This I say as things I have seen, but there are numerous studies on the power of faith or positive ignorance. Sometimes something, anything can work if you can convince your body that things are going to be OK, if you can give it the confidence to heal itself.
But I digress. The point is that random, symbolic acts can work. In the political sphere, the Rajapaksa’s seem to understand this so they let they’re devil dancers loose. Wimal is trying to dance away the ghost of wars past. Mervyn is trying to dance away the sickness of neglect. They may look random and out of control but they’re not. I know perfectly rational people who hire devil dancers. These are just the demons the Rajapaksas have hung on the wall to keep other demons out.