Is Sri Lankan culture losing to growing Western influence?
The thing is culture is not something that is easily defined. It is not just the way we are educated and brought up. It is very much a social construct. It is what we make of it, comprised entirely of what is accepted as social norms, attitudes and values.
So then, what exactly is our culture? Are we a nation of Kandyan dancers and tea drinkers? Or are we more than that?
A lot of people, particularly the older generation, believe that Sri Lankan ‘culture’, whatever this means, is eroded by the onslaught of Western influences. Take, for example, the increasing demand for “coffee culture”. It’s ironic that in a country that is known around the world for its intrinsic affinity towards tea is now being drawn towards the typically Western phenomenon of coffee shop hang outs. Why? Because it’s the ‘cool’ thing to do. And how do we know this? Because Western media told us so.
Change is natural. It is normal to be attracted towards the new and the exciting.
Globalization and the influx of Western ideas mean that this influence is all around us. Radio, Internet, TV- we are being constantly bombarded with other cultures, whether it is the idea of the formulaic ‘All American’ classroom structure of jocks, nerds and other miscellaneous socially ambiguous stereotypes, or even the increase in Western trends of dress, like the inexplicable crop tops, high-low skirts and bustiers that are making countless appearances on Instagram accounts worldwide.
The question is, is this really a bad thing?
Thalaal (19) said, when asked this question, “what are values really? A group of people created a social paradigm and thought it would benefit the community as a whole. But then again no one is obligated to follow that. Westerners are far ahead in terms of development and standard of living, so their lifestyle and ideals probably have something to do with it.”
This view was shared by Sabeena (19), who added, “I really believe that at the end of the day, it comes down to the strength of your own roots. Do you want the west to influence you, or do you not?”
It’s true enough that the scope of globalization has greatly developed our way of life. The onset of the Internet has given us access to everything that is happening around the world. The growth of multinational companies in our country has increased our socioeconomic opportunities, and given us more variety and choice as consumers. Some would even argue that the onslaught of Western ideals might even be progressive for society. The improving, more liberal role of women outside the domestic stead, or even the way Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender individuals are viewed today is a testament to the influence of Western ideas on Sri Lankan cultural values.
But this has also to an extent, eroded the ‘Sri Lankan’ way of life. Most young people today speak better English than Sinhala or Tamil, and are in fact ashamed to be seen speaking their mother tongue. Has Western media conditioned us to the point where we are embarrassed of who we are? Do we feel that we don’t measure up enough, when compared to the west? Has it come to the point where we are ashamed of our ‘Sri Lankanness’?
Chamath (24) opined, “I think that Westernization and globalization has mixed implications upon Sri Lankan culture and our way of life. Sri Lankan cultural values and traditions are slowly disappearing due to increased exposure to popular Western culture. For instance the youth tend to celebrate Halloween with greater vigor yet have no idea regarding the Sinhala Tamil Avurudhu traditions. We just have to appreciate the best of both worlds rather than just sticking to one.”
This story, which appeared in the Nation
on December 1, led to another story, titled ‘7 signs you’re becoming too Westernized’ published in the Republic Square