Of Demons and Drama: Ritual Syncretism of Sinhala Exorcism and Forum Theatre

Matt Coward-Gibbs


In her 1999 monograph Sri Lankan Theatre in a Time of Terror: Political Satire in the Permitted Space, Ranjini Obeyesekere noted that Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre had not caught on in the island state of Sri Lanka. Seventeen years later this is not the case. Organisations including the British Council and the Sri Lanka Development Journalist Forum are using Forum theatre at the heart of their conflict resolution works in Sri Lankan communities. But, why has it caught on? Originally brought to the island state in the wake of the disastrous 2004 tsunami, Forum theatre has become a flagship programme for conflict mediation and resolution.

This paper will argue that there is an intrinsic link between the religio-centric exorcism rituals used within Sinhala communities, for the purposes of healing, and the adaption of methods of communal performance for the purposes of conflict resolution, following the end of the ethnic conflict within Sri Lanka. Moreover, this paper will conclude that due to irrefutable links, stylistically, between ritual exorcisms and the performance styles of Forum Theatre that the historical precedent of ritual exorcism allows community to engage more openly in communal theatre initiatives.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1494231


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