The Golden Wave: Culture and Politics after Sri Lanka's Tsunami Disaster

The Golden Wave: Culture and Politics after Sri Lanka's Tsunami Disaster

The Golden Wave: Culture and Politics after Sri Lanka's Tsunami Disaster

The Golden Wave: Culture and Politics after Sri Lanka's Tsunami Disaster

Synopsis

In December 2004 the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated coastal regions of Sri Lanka. Six months later, Michele Ruth Gamburd returned to the village where she had been conducting research for many years and began collecting residents' stories of the disaster and its aftermath: the chaos and loss of the flood itself; the sense of community and leveling of social distinctions as people worked together to recover and regroup; and the local and national politics of foreign aid as the country began to rebuild. In The Golden Wave, Gamburd describes how the catastrophe changed social identities, economic dynamics, and political structures.

Excerpt

“Why do they put a ‘T’ in front of sunaami [tsunami] in English?” my driver asked me. We were humming along the winding coastal road that morning in 2005 in his trishaw, an open three-wheeled auto-rickshaw.

I explained that tsunami was a Japanese word and that “TS” was one of their letters. “They have a lot of tsunamis in Japan, so they have a special word for it.” And that word made itself known with a vengeance around the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day, December 26, 2004.

On Sri Lanka’s southwest coast, the waves arrived before their moniker. Having described his harrowing experiences with the inundating water in Balapitiya, Pradeep exclaimed, “I learned the name tsunami only three days later!”

His friend Manoj nodded and said, “There was no electricity, but I heard on a battery-powered radio that this was what had happened.” He continued in English, “When I first heard the word tsunami, it was Greek to me.”

Similarly, a garment factory worker told me, “We learned about volcanoes and earthquakes in school, but never about tsunamis.”

Her colleague added, “We didn’t even know the word; instead when it happened here we said, ‘Muhuda goDa galanawaa’ [The sea is flowing into the land].”

And the sea did flow into the land, sometimes up to a mile beyond the high tide mark. The massive surge of water took people completely by surprise—taking lives, wrecking livelihoods, destroying homes, and massively rearranging social, political, and economic realities along 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s coastline.

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