The first video interview of DsporA Tamil Archive by Andam Media, Oslo was published on 16th September 2020 on YouTube. The interview, “தமிழர் தம்மை ஆவணப்படுத்த முன் வரவேண்டும்“(Tamils need to come forward to document themselves), by Andam Media, covered two different topics. Documentation and archiving on one side and Tamil language in the diaspora on the other side. This article would like to look at the public responses to the interview.
Documenting and archiving (ஆவணப்படுத்தல்) is a process. The primary value of this process is to maintain administration. The purpose of record-keeping for administration is to keep control, democracy and transparency in an organisational structure as well as in society. The secondary value of this process is preserving documents that can represent historical and cultural heritage. These can be gained by creating authentic documents that become evidence for our rights and history. However, this process is something distant and new for Tamils.
If we look back to the history of Tamils. The documentation practice among Tamil ethnicity has its races from the Sangam era, which is calculated to be from 6th century BC to 3rd century AD. This is the period where Chera, Chola and Pandiya dynasties ruled the ancient Tamil country (பண்டய தமிழகம்) in Southern India that includes nowadays Kerala. The Chola is a Tamil dynasty that is one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the world´s history. It has also ruled Eelam (the indigenous name for the whole island, nowadays Sri Lanka)1.
The Chola dynasty was based on sea trades and business2. Documents such as, “The Periplus of the Erythrean sea” (1912)3 by Wilfred H. Schoff explains the business practice in the sea trade between the Roman Empire and Tamils in South India. It also includes laws to be followed at the ports (customs), details about the traders that came from Roman, Arabia, and various places in nowadays India to the ancient Tamil country in South India. As well as the business events and details about major trade items. Archaeological artefacts of Chola coins and the use ofsea turtle seals and symbols are other evidence of their sea trade based on sea turtle migration. Wherever there is business there will be documents for administration and control. So, Tamils at this time built their governance through sea trade business that would have generated documents. Unfortunately, documents showing transactions of governance are not preserved in contemporary society. That could have been caused by the invasion, various colonisation, war and migration. The remaining available written documents are created by foreigners and limited archaeological artefacts from South India and Eelam.
The last Tamil kingdom in Eelam was the Jaffna Kingdom that fell in the 15th century by Portuguese invasion. It continued by Dutches and then British. The British ended their colonial period by giving the whole governance to the Singaleese in 1948. Governance generates public documents. So, since the 15th century, there has not been any Tamil governance representing the Tamil people on the island. This results that the Tamils in Eelam have not had their own governance for around 400 years. And it continues among the Eelam Tamil diaspora. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that during the period from the late 1980s, when the formation of Tamil Eelam Civil Administration4 started, till 2009, Tamil public documentation was created in Eelam by the governance of Tamil “de facto-state”.
DsporA Tamil Archive has received a good response where people are showing curiosity and interest to know about the field of documentation and archiving. On the other hand, we also acknowledge that we face scepticism among Tamils. Despite the challenges and scepticism, it is appreciated that Tamil organisations in Norway and other countries are now taking this topic into a social discourse at an organisational level. Hence, this discourse is much appreciated and needed for the present and future generation of Tamils.
According to Eelam Tamil history, this society is a “fighter society”/ “போராட்ட சமூகம்”. It means that the social development of Eelam Tamils has been triggered by various struggles. That has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is overprotectiveness and scepticism to new things. Nevertheless, history gives a unique characteristic for Eelam Tamil who is a self-educated society. This society has developed through sharing knowledge and educating each other.
The social discourse of bringing back documentation and archiving practices among Tamil society after more than 400 years will be a social process of different phases. The first phases of this process might include activities such as:
gaining awareness and knowledge about “documentation and archiving”.
maintaining social skills when undertaking discussions about this field at both the organisational level and society level.
handling social issues that can raise under discoursing this field of matter.
Please do not forget that this is a social process. So it may take many years. But it is imperative that this social process begins now when the first generations of migrated Tamils are still with us. Do not forget that this is essential for the existence of present and future generations.
3 Department of Tamil in Annamalai University and Thiruvannamalai Government Arts College Postgraduate Department of Tamil Studies (திருவண்ணாமலை அரசு கலைக் கல்லூரி முதுகலை தமிழ் ஆய்வுத் துறை) together organised a one-week International seminar under the title “வரலாற்றியல் நோக்கில் தமிழர் பண்பாட்டு அடையாளங்கள்” (Tamil Cultural Identities in Historical Perspective). The 6th day of the conference was conducted on 08th August 2020 under the topic “ரோமானியப் பேரரசு கால ஆவணங்கள் கூறும் சங்ககால வணிகச் செய்திகள்” (Roman Empire period documents telling about the trades from the Sangam era). The topic was presented by K. Subashini. She is a multinational cultural researcher and president of the Tamil Heritage Foundation, Germany.
4 Tamil Welfare Organisation, Trondheim. (14.03.1987). “புலிகளில் கலைமாலை சிறப்பு மலர்” (meaning arts garland of Tigers special publication”. Trondheim, Norway.
Disclaimer: Due to the lack of or fragmented archives or limited access to archives in Tamil society, it has been challenging to get access to available sources that can support oral history interviews. In this situation, writing about diaspora Tamil history will be a dynamic process that may change its shape and be updated over time. Thus, we welcome the public to provide feedback with any verifiable sources in the case of need for correction in the factual information on this website.