Why is memorialization important to us:
Sri Lanka’s 26-year war ended with a military victory, all but cementing the positions and politics of the victorious and the vanquished. In the aftermath, the triumphalist, single narrative created in the process of nation-building, did not help to truly unify the country or to alleviate feelings of marginalization, grief and loss. Such feelings of alienation, particularly in reaction to not being able to grieve, or access information, or remember or not being able to express one’s needs, or poverty and socio-economic instability may reignite violence and return us to the unaddressed root causes of conflict.
It is within this context, that the importance of remembering, and the urgency of memorialization exists. Personal experiences of war, will be forgotten with the passage of time. They may change according to the needs of the present time. Yet remembering, grieving and sharing one’s experiences are important to the process of healing. If people from all walks of life and across geographic and ethno-religious divides, don’t have the ability to tell their story and be heard, and hear other people’s experiences, they might not understand nor be able to empathise with each other. This will impact the ability to reconcile our differences, build peace in future and move towards justice.
Organic, grassroots processes of community memorialisation is vital to the process of ensuing the acceptance that multiple narratives exist and must co-exist for long-term perception of justice and equality. Incomplete histories therefore, impact the process of reconciliation, reparations and justice. The loss of memory and the space to remember, inhibits participation in democracy and politics –in other words, missing narratives means ‘missing people’ or non-representation in the processes of seeking justice and reparation. Not letting people express their own stories in their own words, and document those for posterity, means that others – such as politicians – will be able to manipulate fluid, undocumented narratives and speak on behalf of others, pursuing their own agendas. In addition, erasing memory affects the expression of identity and the feeling of being ‘Sri Lankan’ which affects future peace and non-recurrence of violence. The way people share and educate the next generation on our shared history as well as our violent past, will impact how future generations will make decisions about how they vote, who they select as leaders and how they understand/fight for justice. An understanding of ‘why’ Sri Lanka had a violent conflict, and the painful experiences of that past, shared by those who have experienced it might help future generations avoid the mistakes of our past to prevent a recurrence of conflict.
How does the Community Memorialization Project fill this need?
The Community Memorialization Project began in 2015, based on the experiences and the methodology of the Herstories Project, which was a memorialization project focusing on mothers from across Sri Lanka. The Community Memorialization Project goes beyond its predecessor to include, men, women, children, youth and elders as individuals and groups with the overall objective of facilitating an environment that acknowledges and preserves multiple histories in order to create the conditions for reconciliation, justice and non-recurrence of violence by :
- encouraging empathy and compassion through inter-generational transfer and inter-regional sharing of memories
- supporting reconciliation and non-recurrence of conflict in Sri Lanka through village-based dialogue on value-based understanding of conflict and value-based visioning for the future
- facilitating a process of common understanding on policy outlooks and programs on managing, and using historical memories for peace building and transitional justice
What is the project methodology:
Accessing communities – The project has created a network of partners in three districts, and through these partners established relationships with community leaders, community based organizations and local government authorities over a preperatory period. The project team has worked on consistently engaging with communities several times before engaging in project activities creating deeper partnerships with communities and individuals as stakeholders in memorialization. When accessing children and underage youth, their parents permission is taught and received.
Story collection and archiving – an archive of 320 life histories of individuals and groups at village level in Matara, Ampara and Mannar. These will be housed at the National Archives in Sri Lanka as well as a dispersed archive housed at libraries across the country. These come from mothers, youth, fathers, elders, ex-combatants, ex-soldiers and even children. As with the Herstories Project, the methods used are letters, memory mapping in groups, trees of life drawings, audio interviews, photo-essays and video stories. Individuals and groups are given the option of being anonymous, or being identified or withdrawing their story after being fully informed about the purpose, usage and the public nature of the archive.
Community dialogue and inter-generational dialogues – Deeper dialogue at village level by sharing the stories of others for conversations about empathy. These conversations will lead to community level, facilitated dialogue on ‘value based understanding of conflict and value based visioning for the future’, to create a basis for community resilience and resistance to violence in future. These are first done at homogeneous village groups, so that their prejudices and experiences are given space to emerge and dealt with, after which, the groups are able to engage with ‘others’ in constructive dialogue. There is special attention paid to working with young people by creating opportunities, such as the children’s memory mapping exercise, for conversations between generations while paying particular attention on non-recurrence.
Accompanying media campaign – this attempts to widen the debate to a national level by extending the reach of the collected narratives and the outcomes of the subsequent discussions through a media campaign, discussion meetings with related groups and social media outreach including invitations for anyone to add their life histories to the web archive by submitting their story.
Value-based understanding of conflict as a tool for non-recurrence of violence – Supporting communities and youth with conflict transformation skills to envision a value-based society that may have the ability to prevent future conflict, based on values of respect, understanding, empathy and justice
Travelling exhibitions – sharing stories from various communities as an exhibition at village, district and national levels over the project period as a multi-media exhibition. People will be encouraged to engage with the material and in discussions at these events.
Engaging practitioners and policy makers – is sharing case studies and documentation to widen the network and discussions within the community of practitioners on the project’s learnings, and to influence policy and engagement in the area of memorialisation for non-recurrence
Radhika Hettiarachchi (Project Founder and Curator)