Accepted paper:

Colonial encounters with the 'suicidal other': the British in Ceylon

Authors:

Tom Widger (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores British encounters with the Ceylonese 'suicidal other,' and discusses how colonial representations of suicide came to shape understandings and practices of suicidal behaviour in the local population.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores British encounters with the Ceylonese 'suicidal other,' and discusses how colonial representations of suicide in Ceylon came to shape understandings and practices of suicidal behaviour in the local population. As an exercise in historical ethnography, the paper draws from the writings of British administrators, travellers, newspaper reporters, editors, and other kinds of commentators, to investigate how local practices of suicidal behaviour came to justify British attempts at 'civilisation.' Focusing on how the British responded to widespread accounts of suicidal acts used as a weapon within interpersonal disputes under conditions of 'anger,' which they saw as 'barbaric,' the paper addresses attempts by the British to stamp out such practices if possible, and at least introduce more civilised kinds of suicide if not. The legacies of British encounters with suicidal Ceylonese on Sri Lankan aesthetics of suicidal behaviour today are explored.

panel P12
The aesthetics of suicide