chapter  11
16 Pages

‘RESPECTABILITY’, ‘MODERNITY’ AND THE POLICING OF ‘CULTURE’ IN COLONIAL CEYLON

ByMALATHI DE ALWIS

In his pioneering formulation of the Sinhala practice of lajja-baya, glossed as shame-fear (shame as well as the fear of being shamed), Gananath Obeyesekere observes that Sinhala females as well as males are socialized into such practices in very early childhood. He proceeds to point out, however, that ‘in spite of the cultural view that females should be especially lajja-baya [i.e., susceptible to ‘norms of sexual modesty and proper behaviour’], it is the male child who becomes sensitive to the second part of the verbal set, baya, or “fear of ridicule’”, as it is men who ‘have public roles and hence must be more sensitive to the reactions of others’.2 The higher a family’s social position, Obeyesekere further notes, ‘the greater the preoccupation with lajja-baya in socialization’ which reaches its epitome among educated urban folk.3