Many people are interested in the small island Sri Lanka; where it is, what the people are like, and most of all the characteristics of the culture. Sri Lanka is located about thirty miles south of India. Due to the island's pear- shape, it is often affectionately called the "Teardrop of India." (Wanasundera 7). Both cultures have contributed to the American culture, are faced with many stereotypes in America, and have many intriguing customs and traditions. Sri Lanka is similar to India in its culture but stands strong as an independent country.
The Asian Indian culture has made many contributions to the American culture. A main contribution of both the Asian Indian and Sri Lankan cultures is the important knowledge about a different culture. Another one of the many contributions is the assorted styles of clothing, which has greatly influenced Western styles. The Asian Indian culture has influenced the Americans with different styles of clothing, as well as manufacturing clothes.
Another important contribution is the hard- working, intelligent people of the Asian Indian culture who have acted as good examples and positive influences. The most significant contribution from the Asian Indian culture is the introduction of many varieties of spicy foods, which add an interesting and different taste to the typical American food.
A major part of the Sri Lankan and Asian Indian cultures are their intricate backgrounds. In Sri Lanka (originally called Ceylon) the people first migrated from northern India, as well as Portugal, to form their own small, island nation. Asian Indians originated from nomadic tribes from Central Asia. These important explorations and migrating into India occurred between 1500 and 500 BC. (Schulberg 31). There are a variety of reasons why Indians and Sri Lankans left their own countries to come to the United States. Before the eighteenth century, there were very few people migrating to America from Sri Lanka or India. The first immigrants were small numbers of farmers in India called Sikhs. Throughout the 1800's there was a very slow increase in the migration of Asian Indians to the United States or any other country. The greatest immigration of Asian Indians occurred after 1905. The reason for this massive increase in immigration was that over five thousand Indian laborers, who were mainly Punjab, were leaving their country in search of better working conditions and generally better opportunities. Between the years 1906 and 1908 these Indian laborers attempted to immigrate to Canada, which was easier than immigrating straight to the United States. When Canada began turning these immigrants away, some emigrated south to Washington, Oregon, and California. Those who successfully immigrated to the United States worked in railroads, lumber mills, and other manual job fields related to agriculture. During those few years when immigrations rates into the United States were very high, 3,453 Asian Indians were denied entry by the United States. Between the years 1908 and 1920 about 6,400 Indians were admitted, due exclusively to the existing exclusionist policies. (Natividad 94). The most important reason why Asian Indians and Sri Lankans originally came to America, and continue to come today, is for better and more advanced education for their children. Earlier in Sri Lanka, a common reason for people to wish to leave their country was to avoid the danger of the war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Currently, war is not the primary reason for Sri Lankan people to leave their country because although it continues today, the war is no longer as bad as it once was. Other important reasons are the search for more comfortable life, and greater opportunities and freedom. (Seneviratne- personal interview). Although American culture is completely different from Asian India, Sri Lankans and Indians continue to practice the customs and traditions in their everyday life.
Both Sri Lanka and Asian India have similar cultural backgrounds, though there are distinct differences between the two countries. Although there are many similarities in customs, traditions, education, and stereotypes. There are also various distinctions between the countries in the areas of food, drink, language, and religion.
In both countries there are many general and widely observed customs. One of these customs is the practice of arranged marriages between young people. ("Sri Lanka" 3). Some other customs in the Sri Lankan and Asian Indian cultures is the stressed importance of family and respect for elders. (Wanasundera 64). In Sri Lanka, children show their respect towards their parents by kneeling down in front of them, often before leaving to school in the morning, to worship their parents and be blessed. Another Sri Lankan custom is that in families, the eldest child must get married first, then the second oldest, etc. (Seneviratne- personal interview). These customs are a regular part of life, and are usually not considered to be surprising or difficult to follow. Another important part of the Sri Lankan and Asian Indian culture is the foods which the people eat. Even in America, most families who migrated from Sri Lanka or Asian India eat the foods which they originally ate in their countries.
Sri Lanka and Asian India also have similar foods in general. For both countries the typical food is always rice with curry, and the traditional way to eat food is with the hands. Also, traditionally wives do not eat their meals until after their husband has finished eating. The rich people often have cooks and servants to help with preparing food for the family and helping tend to the house and children. Other than these similarities, there are specific differences between Sri Lankan and Indian foods. For breakfast in Sri Lanka, urbanites enjoy Western-style meals of bread with bacon, eggs, and fruits. Week- ends are usually busy, so light foods such as bread and butter or jam, and other simple foods, are the typical breakfast for working days. For leisurely week-ends, kiri bath (milk rice) is prepared, as well as hoppers or string hoppers with katta sambol (ground red chilli, salt, onion, and maldive fish). When scraped coconut is added to katta sambol, it becomes pol sambol. For lunch, the people who are home enjoy a full meal of rice and curry, vegetables, and paripu (dahl). The working people who can not eat lunch at home simple meals, such as sandwiches brought from home. The typical dinner meal in Sri Lanka consists of at least four curries with one or two additional side dishes. Dinner could be rice, hoppers, string hoppers, or roti (local bread, similar to pancake) with curry. A balanced meal in Sri Lanka includes green malung (finely shredded leaves), badung (fried, dried fish or vegetable), and lentils. Those who had a full meal for lunch often eat light meals such as bread, soups, or boiled vegetables. (Seneviratne- personal interview).
Specific drinks in Sri Lanka add to its culture. "Ceylon Tea" is famous worldwide. The tea can be prepared plain, sweetened, with or without milk, with a slice of lemon, or brewed with ginger. Sri Lankans enjoy a cup of tea or coffee often throughout the day. (Seneviratne- personal interview). Some healthy drinks are tambili (water of the orange- hued coconut, kurumba (water of the green- colored coconuts). Many alcoholic beverages come from coconut palm and are considered to be rich in vitamins. The most common of these drinks are toddy (fermented sap of coconut flower), and arrack (distillate of toddy). (Wanasundera 120).
The languages most commonly spoken in Asian India differ from the most common ones in Sri Lanka. In both countries dialect is a very important aspect of culture. Asian India has one hundred known languages, although Hindi is spoken by thirty percent of the population. In India, English is essential for business, as well as government and national communication. ("India" 2). Although Sri Lanka are very close to each other in proximity, the main languages spoken are completely different. The official languages in Sri Lanka are Sinhala and Tamil. Sinhala is the primary language in Sri Lanka, spoken by eighty percent of the population. Sinhala has Indo- European language roots in Sanskrit and Pali, while Tamil belongs to the Davidian languages. In Sri Lanka, English is spoken by ten percent of the population. Similar to India, in Sri Lanka English is considered to be the primary language of business. ("Sri Lanka" 2).
The arts and crafts produced in Sri Lanka and Asian India are similar in style, and successfully express the countries' creative talents and appreciation for art. Some important forms of art which exist in Sri Lanka are historical sites, which are studied and visited. One of these sites is an enormous rock called Sigiriya, which is considered to be one of the world's wonders. Many people, especially tourists, enjoy climbing the rock. Halfway up, visitors are able to view the paintings of beautiful woman, holding lotus flowers, called frescoes. There are also verses written by visitors of Sigiriya, either praising or in ridicule of the ancient fresco drawings. The ancient drawings on the walls of this rock are interesting art forms in Sri Lanka. Other art sites are the many old ruins of castles. The city containing many of these ruins is called Anuradhapura. (Wanasundera 22-24). The arts and crafts made in India are admired worldwide. There is a variety of artwork which is made, and decorated with detailed patterns. Some of these things include painted boxes, ivory carvings, intricate jewelry, embroidery, woven carpets, and beautiful fabrics. (Motihar 30).
Education is an essential part of life in Sri Lanka and Asian India. In the Indian schooling system, the law is that children must go to school when they reach age six. For lunch students often bring packed meals from home called tiffin. (Ardley 38). The schooling in India between the ages six and fourteen is free for everyone. Although it is the law for children to go to school, one- third does not attend. The reason why some children are unable to participate in school is because it is necessary for them to stay home and work. Others, especially girls, attend school for a few years and then drop out. The schools in India consist of a lot of hard work, including many important examinations. The schools contain many of the same subjects as the subjects studied in America and Europe. There are various private and state schools available for Indian students. There are over one hundred universities, three thousand colleges, and fifteen research institutes for arts and sciences as well. Indian government programs are continually attempting to meet the increasing demand for better education. ("Sri Lanka" 4). In Sri Lanka, before western colonization, monks were the only source of education on the island. The higher education consists of seven universities, an open university, and many technical colleges. The literacy rate in Sri Lanka is eighty- nine percent, which is very high. Most boys and girls in Sri Lanka attend school, although females are not given equal rights to males. Currently, women are continually being crowded into lower- paying industries. (Wanasundera 44).
Health care in Sri Lanka and in Asian India have greatly improved over many difficult years. Sri Lanka now has many public and private health care facilities. These health care facilities include hospitals and clinics with higher quality care. There are many serious problems causing sickness and death in Sri Lanka. Malaria is one of the nation's most serious problems. Another cause of a large number of deaths is the continuos fighting in Sri Lanka, which over sixteen years has killed over fifty- seven thousand people. ("Sri Lanka" 4). Asian India also struggles for more sanitary and improved health care facilities. There are over two hundred medical schools, in which the doctors and nurses of India are trained. Health care workers attempt to teach better hygiene, nutrition, and family planning. Even with the determined, hard work of the doctors, nurses, and other health care workers; there are still continuos health challenges due to poverty, malnutrition, and poor sanitation. The many diseases caused by these problems are malaria, cholera, yellow fever, typhoid, polio, and hepatitis. These diseases are spreading throughout India, and another life- threatening situation is that currently over four million Indians carry the virus which causes AIDS. Although there are doctors and nurses in clinics in the villages, there is still only one doctor for every 4, 200 people in India. Due to the lack of doctors and efficient health care, these sicknesses continue to plague the people of India. (Ardley 40).
The way of life in Sri Lanka and Asian India is only slightly different in their traditions, family life, and acts of marriage. In early India the basic family was known as a "joint" family. This name was due to the fact that parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins would often live together in one house. These crowded living conditions also included adopted children and servants. Currently in Asian India the tradition of parents-to-be is to perform three rites. These rites are to make conception, produce a male child, and protect the child in the security of the womb. In India there is a strong desire for male children, which still exists today. This desire is due to the common belief in Asian India, and Sri Lanka, that males can be more successful and are generally higher than females. (Edwardes 32-33). The basic social unit in life is family, which consequently takes precedence over the individual. Families are generally large and extended, and live either together or very near each other. In Asian Indian homes, the father is considered to be the head of the household, and few woman work outside their home. Most Asian Indian parents are very strict with their children, especially daughters, when they reach the age of dating. In India, Western- style dating is highly uncommon. Marriage is considered by Indians to be sacred, and it should be endured beyond death. Because of the emphasis on enduring marriage, divorce rates continue to remain low in India. Asian Indian weddings are times of great celebration, expense, and feasting. The tradition of the bride's family giving a dowry to the groom's family is still common, although illegal. The Sri Lankan lifestyle has the same shared values, although Sri Lankans are generally less strict, and less bound to their cultural background. In Sri Lanka, the behavior and nature of the people is greatly affected by their heritage, including traditions and character; and also religion. Similar to India, family is a very important part of life in Sri Lanka. In family life, there is a strong emphasis on respect for elders. An important occasion is when girls become women by reaching puberty. Traditionally there is a celebration for the young woman. After reaching puberty the girl is in seclusion for a period of sixteen days, during which she must stay inside her room, eating non- oily, non- fatty foods, without seeing any males including her own father or brother.. In Sri Lanka dating is not common, so the only way for young boys and girls to meet and get to know each other is at school. As young people reach the age when they must begin to think about marriage, sexual purity is essential. Teen marriages were once common, while now marriages occur later due to economic reasons. A common method of finding a marriage partner is by placing advertisements in the local newspaper. In these advertisements, people can describe themselves, as well as what kind of person they are looking for. Marriage between different ethnicity's is considered unacceptable. ("Sri Lanka" 3). In Sri Lanka, about sixty percent of marriages are arranged. After a couple's marriage is set, the dowry is settles discretely, and the groom is left to the good grace of the bride's parents. The weddings are celebrated lavishly, and traditionally the honeymooning couple returns to a homecoming party at the groom's family home. For weddings the groom can wear the traditional dress, but presently most men prefer the Western style of a suit with jacket. Traditionally, the bride wears beautiful, lavish jewelry and a different, more elaborate style of sari. Bridal wear is now done by design salons who also dress the brides' hair for these special occasions. (Wanasundera 71-73).
Both in Sri Lanka and Asian India, the youth and city people enjoy wearing Western- style clothing. Also traditional forms of dress still remain common today. Woman generally wear a sari, which is a long piece of fabric draped in variations. The sari can represent status, as well as religious affiliation. In India it is also very common for woman to wear colorful pantsuits with knee- length shirts, considerable jewelry, and bindis (small red mark) on their foreheads. ("India" 2). Men in Sri Lanka and Asian India wear either Western- style suits or traditional loose- fitting trousers with a mid- thigh length shirt. In Sri Lanka, men may also wear a sarong, which is a cloth wrapped around the waist. ("Sri Lanka" 2-3). Along with these general customs and traditions, religion is a different part of the Asian Indian and Sri Lankan cultures.
Buddhism is practiced by seventy percent of the Sri Lankan population, primarily the Sinhalese. Buddhism was originally introduced by the Indian Prince Mahinda, son of the great Mauryan Emperor Asoka, in the third century BC. (Wanasundera 22). The essence of the Buddhist faith is the belief that all worldly things are changing and impermanent, and that becoming attached to worldly things leads to suffering. Buddhists believe that in life the soul continues in a consistent cycle of rebirths. (Natividad 11). In Asian India, Hinduism is practiced by eighty percent of the population; fourteen percent are Muslims and worship Allah; three percent are Christians; two percent are of the Sikh religion (mostly Punjabi people); and one percent of the people are Buddhist. ("India" 2). The main religion in India is the Hindu religion. In the Hindu religion, the major source of belief is in God, and there are also many other forms of gods and goddesses. The cow is considered a sacred animal to Hindus, and because of this most Hindus do not eat beef, and many are vegetarians. (Motihar 28). In both Sri Lanka and Asian India, religion is an active part of the countries' culture and way of life.
In Sri Lanka and Asian India, sports are a very popular pastime. Most sports are played by men, and netball, similar to basketball, is the only sport specifically for women. The most favorite sports are cricket, soccer, netball, volleyball, and hockey. As another pastime there is a strong interest in motion pictures and the theater. There are many interesting religious and folk festivals, and the traditional dances are cherished. ("Sri Lanka" 3-4). The Sri Lankan New Year festivities are joyous occasions: with parties, delicious foods, and many sports, including elephant racing. (Seneviratne- personal interview). In both Sri Lankan and Asian India the holidays include celebrations for the Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim religions. (Wanasundera 109).
In India, there are currently many clashing relations. Between the Indian Hindus and the Westernized Indians there are conflicting religious beliefs. One example of the conflicts is that Hindus believe that there are predetermined limits on progress. Westernized Indians have a different belief, which is that men should follow hereditary occupations by caste system. Another conflicting belief between Hindus and Westernized Indians is that Hindus believe that everything which occurs in life has happened once and will happen again. With a completely different opinion, Westernized Indians believe that time is steady, and continuos; with a different past, present, and future. (Schulberg 11-12). There are strained relations between Hindus and Moslems because of the religious differences which led and continue to lead great violence and bloodshed in India. (Petrovich 139). The unfriendly relationship between Asian India and Sri Lanka is because of the civil war between Sri Lanka's Sinhala Buddhists and the alienated minority of northern Hindu Tamils in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Although there are approximately four million Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese majority outnumbers the Tamils one to three. A large part of the problems between the Sinhalese and the Tamils is due to the Tamil peoples' angry resentment of the Sinhalese domination in Sri Lanka.
( Petrovich 242). There has also been strained relations between India and Britain ever since India began to demand freedom and independence from British rule in the 1800's. One of the first steps towards the country's need to become independent was the forming of the Indian National Congress in 1885. This new congress allowed the sharing of power in government affairs. The struggle for independence was led by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi and his many followers fasted and demonstrated peacefully against British rule. In 1947 India finally became a self- governing nation. (Ardley 24). The relations between Asian India and the United States have gone back and forth between friendly and hostile ever since the birth of India's republic. The hostile feelings are due to a general misunderstanding of world views, and basic differing realities motivating both nations. Although these differing opinion occur between Asian Indian and the United States, as individuals Asian Indians and Americans genuinely appreciate and enjoy many things about each other. (Petrovich 247).
There are many existing stereotypes concerning Asian Indians. One major stereotype is the media produced, ridiculed image of Asian Indians. One example of this image of Asian Indians is the stereotype Indian cartoon character on the Simpsons. The character's name is Abu, his occupation is working at the Quickie Mart, he has many children, and he has a strongly emphasized Indian accent. Other examples of the media's image of Asian Indians are the Bangladeshi guests on David Letterman's comedy show, and the stereotype Asian Indian character seen on Seinfield. (Raman 1). Another stereotype of Asian Indians is that they are expected to be smart, and study well in school. Generally, Asian Indians are perceived as generous, friendly, and forgiving. Although these are not bad characteristics, Asian Indians can often be taken advantage of, used, or treated unfairly because of these characteristics and their easygoing attitudes.
Asian India and Sri Lanka have many differences, but in general they are very similar countries. Both countries have similarities in different aspects of their cultures, including foods, history, art, education, health, lifestyle, clothing, and pastimes. The differences between both countries are in their language, and religion. Currently, Asian Indians and Sri Lankans continue to travel a great distance to America for better opportunities. However, the Indian culture has contributed considerably to the American culture. Both Asian India and Sri Lanka have customs and traditions which are very different and interesting, and both cultures proceed strongly as significant components of the world.
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