Plundering the past
Daily Mirror Editorial
Mar 19, 2011

Some histories were erased. Gutted to ashes. Razed to the ground. However, such were the actions of the invaders who were deliberately deaf and blind to the cultural and archaeological values of the countries conquered by them. Smuggling artefacts from museums and palaces were their off-time prizefights. They plundered treasures and spirited away half of kingdoms and civilizations.

A countryís pride always depends on the quality of preservation of the historic monuments and artefacts, which portray the self-sufficiency attained by people during a different era. Such heritage is meant to fuel patriotism in the generations to come; or so many people would have thought, including the Englishman who took the initiative to construct the National Museum in Colombo.

However, history is compelled to take a U- turn with the news that the National Museum in Cinnamon Gardens had been burgled on Friday night and 7 swords, 18 rings, 4 handles, and coins worth millions were found to have been stolen.

Language does not have sufficient expressions to verbalize the shame, guilt and agony, we ought to be feeling as a nation, who always took the easy way of boasting about the evidence of a proud history when it would have been our duty to be inquisitive of the protection it was granted. Our unpardonable complacency that, being situated in the heart of Colombo and surrounded by structures that come under the guardianship of the military could automatically make the National Museum a safe haven, has been severely punished.

It had been a common cry of those who walk under the patriotic flag that the foreign countries that spirited away our artefacts during the colonial period should return them with an apology. They waged war against the British, the Dutch and the Portuguese whose museums preserve the Sri Lankan relics along with their own works of art. However, the ugly truth we are faced with today is Sri Lankan artefacts seem to be safer in foreign lands than in the country in which they had been produced. Hence, by letting a burglar break into the heartland of heritage and allowing him to spirit away a treasure that cannot be valued with money, we have failed not only our ancestors but also the legendary history.

Whatever the reasons put forward as excuses by the authorities, it cannot wash away the guilt of not deploying adequate number of security personnel. It is worth questioning as to on what basis does one decide the level of security a place of national importance ought to have. It is quite difficult to fathom as to why the Museum had to satisfy with security guards when the Nelum Pokuna Theatre in the vicinity enjoys the protection and presence of hundreds of military personnel. Only armed with a few security guards and a night vision camera system, which is according to the Minister, had been out of service from March 15, even a member of a Pradeshiya Sabha is entitled to better security than what had been granted to the museum.

The question as to whether a sorry, a resignation, or even a restoration can rectify the damage and lessen the magnitude of the guilt we are compelled to bear as a nation, cannot go unanswered.

The damage has already been done; only this time itís not Geneva or the PRO-LTTE Diaspora, but a native, who had perhaps paraded the street with a national flag in hand in broad daylight.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka