Sri Lankan minister calls on poets to help unite a divided nation

A view of Ella in Uva province: poets are being asked to turn their attention from poems extolling the nation’s beauty to rethinking what it means to be Sri Lankan. Photograph: WestEnd61/Rex

A view of Ella in Uva province: poets are being asked to turn their attention from poems extolling the nation’s beauty to rethinking what it means to be Sri Lankan. Photograph: WestEnd61/Rex

For centuries, the poets of Sri Lanka have sung the praises of the island nation’s stunning physical beauty – and spoken too of the conflicts that have torn it apart. Now, the government is looking to the country’s literature to heal the wounds of a brutal civil war.

Rajiva Wijesinha, the recently appointed minister for higher education, has called on universities to organise programmes of poetry, along with sports, drama and dance, to “bring together” the largely Buddhist Sinhala majority and the largely Hindu Tamil minority.

“The arts are important. They can only be a part of a much broader effort, but should not be neglected. Nothing will make everyone happy but you can reduce the intensity of grief and anger,” Wijesinha, who recently published an anthology of poetry translated into English from both the main local languages, Sinhala and Tamil.

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