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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
10 January 2001
If there is one Sinhalese academic who deserves the gratitude of Eelam Tamils, my choice will be H.A.I.Goonetileke, former chief librarian of the University of Peradeniya. His five-volume compilation, 'A Bibliography of Ceylon'(1970-1983) is an irreplaceable jem, serving as the key to the portals of history and scholarship of the past inhabitants of Eelam as well as colonial Ceylon. Ten years ago, I purchased a complete set of this reference book, for my personal library, for 350 US dollars, and I haven't regretted once spending such a sum.
During the year-end holidays, I also retrieved from my closet (yet-to be-catalogued!) book collection, another volume prepared by Mr. Goonetileke, published in 1976, by the US Embassy in Colombo to mark the American Bicentennial celebrations. The title of this work was, 'Images of Sri Lanka through American Eyes; Travellers in Ceylon in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries'. In this anthology, Mr. Goonetileke has introduced the link Dr. Samuel Fiske Green (1822-1884), a New Englander, had with Jaffna. The contribution of Dr. Green, who lived with Jaffna people for nearly a quarter century from 1847 to 1873, to the Eelam soil is unique and is worth reminiscing. I provide below excerpts of biographical information provided by Mr.Goonetileke on Dr.Green.
"Dr.Samuel F.Green was born at Green Hill, Worcester, Massachusetts on 10th October 1822, the son of William E.Green and Julia Plimpton. He graduated in March 1845, and a year later....on offering himself to the American Board, he was appointed to act as missionary physician to the American Mission in Ceylon. A mark of his earnestness may be remarked from the fact that he plunged into the study of Tamil immediately. He sailed alone from Boston on 20 April 1847....He arrived at Point Pedro from Madras on October 6, 1847, and was soon caught up in the practice of his profession, to which he gave abundantly and without cease for over 20 years....
"He was both an outstanding physician and surgeon, despite being out of touch with advances in his profession; though he healed bodies, he considered it his primary mission to save souls, by exploiting his craft for the higher objective of evangelising the patient. He was the medical missionary par excellence in the Asia of his period. He spoke and wrote Tamil with ease and grace, and strove heroically to spread the benefits of western medicine and hygiene in the peninsula. He was almost fatally stricken by the cholera which raged in Jaffna in 1855. His hospital at Manipay was virtually the headquarters of medical science and training in the island, until the government instituted the Ceylon Medical College in 1870. He produced nearly 60 medical graduates, over half of them in the vernacular, and left his Tamil translations of medical books as enduring memorials of his work when he left in May 1873. He died on May 28, 1884 in the house he was born."
Sri Lanka's medical historian, Dr. C.G.Uragoda, in his research paper, "Surgery in Sri Lanka - the past" (Ceylon Medical Journal, Sept. 1996, vol.41, no.3, pp.111-114) acknowledges Dr.Green's status as the foremost pioneer medical surgeon of colonial Ceylon. While citing from a 1849 Green letter to his brother, in which the missionary doctor reported, "I have removed lots of tumors, have operated for cataract several times, for strangulated hernia once, amputated the arm once....", Uragoda wonders,
"Green could not have accomplished such a formidable list of surgical operations without anesthesia, but nowhere does he mention the anaesthetic used."
For details of medical procedures used by Dr.Green and the then prevailing social norms of Jaffna, one has to study the 456-page book of Ebenezer Cutler, entitled, 'Life and Letters of Samuel Fisk Green, M.D., of Green Hill', (privately) published in 1891. This is one book which is in my high priority list for purchase, if anyone is willing to offer me a copy.
What fascinates me about Dr.Green's professional career in Jaffna soil is that, he was a contemporary of Nallur Arumuga Navalar (1822-1879). Curiously, both were born in the same year 1822, within the span of less than 100 days. Both of them would have been adversaries in the religious battles, then staged in the Jaffna soil. In an extract provided in Goonetileke's chapter on missionary-surgeon, one gets a glimpse of Dr.Green's antipathy to Hindu rituals. He had written,
"What can be viler than their [Hinduism's] revered sacred books! A person could translate faithfully Koo-rul [Kural] into English without sentencing himself to perpetual infamy. When Siva is worshipped, the Dancing Girls stand by the idol, so that the first glance of the Divinity, as he comes to receive his honors, may be one of pleasure. Here you see the worst form of social corruption enshrined in the very Sanctum of the community."
Well, Dr.Green was entitled to his opinions. Even Arumuga Navalar fought against the ill-serving, entrenched traditions of Hindus in the 19th century Jaffna. There is no doubt that the remarkable career of Dr.Green in Jaffna still waits for in-depth studies.