World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search


Sri Lankans still coming to terms with Boxing Day Tsunami

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Sri Lankans still coming to terms with Boxing Day Tsunami: Otago research

Six years after the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated coastal communities throughout South East Asia, survivors in southern Sri Lanka still struggle to make sense of the tragedy, according to new research by Dr Michael Bourk at the University of Otago.

Dr Bourk was in Sri Lanka on his honeymoon when the 2004 tsunami hit, claiming the lives of more than 39,000 people in Sri Lanka, and also destroying the livelihoods of thousands inhabiting most of the island nation’s coastal communities.

As a researcher and lecturer with the University’s Department of Media, Film and Communication Studies, he noticed how the event dominated the broadcast and print media for weeks afterwards. Last year he returned to interview survivors of the small coastal community near Galle in the South of Sri Lanka to find out how they had made sense of the disaster. He also researched local newspapers.

He found that the transformation of this previously benign environment into dangerous terrain had challenged the ability of affected Sri Lankans to describe and understand the tsunami phenomena.

"Survivors have been forced to resort to unusual imagery to describe and make sense of their environment behaving in strange and dangerous ways. For example, monster metaphors frequently emerged in the narratives of victims,” says Dr Bourk.

“All cultures have their own tales of monsters appearing suddenly, abnormal in size and appearance, causing senseless widespread damage, and disappearing just as quickly, leaving devastated victims anxiously wondering when it will next appear. Similarly, natural disasters exhibit many of the same characteristics as the monster.”

One participant in the study described the tsunami as transforming the body of his dead mother into a monster.

"He described his mother's bloated body and distended facial features as those of a riri yakka, a Sri Lankan demon with bulging eyes and a grotesque grimace".

Another survivor's account describes the six metre wave as a dark makara, a sea monster possessing extraordinary destructive power.

Dr Bourk says monster imagery in the stories of survivors serves a therapeutic purpose by allowing people to separate the apparent cruel actions of nature from the benevolent environment in which people expect to live and raise their families.

“Depictions of natural disasters as monsters may allow us to subconsciously reconcile the dangerous aspects of our environment with the more benign and nurturing,” says Dr Bourk.

Dr Bourk's research findings were presented in a paper given to the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association’s annual conference last month; and will be published next year in the Australian journal Media International Australia.


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


OECD: G20 GDP Returns To Pre-pandemic Level In The First Quarter Of 2021, But With Large Differences Across Countries

Gross domestic product (GDP) of the G20 area returned to pre-pandemic level in the first quarter of 2021, growing by 0.8% compared with the fourth quarter of 2020. However, this figure conceals large differences across countries... More>>

Myanmar: ‘Mass Deaths’ Alert As 100,000 Flee Junta’s Heavy Weapons

In Myanmar, international action is needed urgently to prevent “mass deaths” there, after civilians fled attacks by so-called “junta bombs”, a top independent UN rights expert has warned... More>>

UN: WHO Warns Of ‘Two-track Pandemic’ As Cases Decline But Vaccine Inequity Persists

Even though COVID-19 cases and deaths have declined in recent weeks, the world is facing a “two-track pandemic”, the UN’s top health official said on Monday in his ongoing campaign to get more vaccines to developing countries... More>>

Focus On: UN SDGs

G7: No Major G7 Stock Index Aligned With Paris Climate Goals

New research by CDP and the United Nations Global Compact on behalf of the Science Based Targets initiative calls on the largest G7 companies to take ambitious climate action... More>>

Report: Universal Access To Sustainable Energy Will Remain Elusive Without Addressing Inequalities

During the last decade, a greater share of the global population gained access to electricity than ever before, but the number of people without electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa actually increased... More>>

UN: Launches Decade On Ecosystem Restoration To Counter ‘Triple Environmental Emergency’

Heads of Government, religious leaders, activists and artists joined the United Nations on Friday in a rallying cry to heal the planet, launching the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration... More>>