“Kuweni” the first female ruler: Characterization of intangible cultural heritage of folklore

Proceedings of The 13th International Conference on Humanities, Psychology and Social Sciences

Year: 2021

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.33422/13th.hpsconf.2021.11.314

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“Kuweni” the first female ruler: Characterization of intangible cultural heritage of folklore

S. Thilakarathne, S. Gopura2, A. Payne, A. Wickramasinghe



Folklore can be identified as a collection of information compounded with creativity and reflections of a specific culture which are imparted from generation to generation via oral transmission. Folklore has played a significant role throughout history to define the emotions, lifestyle and characteristics of people in the society through narratives. A significant turning point in the antiquity of the Sinhalese nation, Sri Lanka, is the story of “Kuweni.” In folklore and folk literature, Kuweni is identified as the first female ruler of Sri Lanka. There are different mythical attributes intertwined with the narrative of Kuweni, where she has been identified as the main inducement behind the victory of the Aryan Prince Vijaya (from India) who conquered the country. There were three communities of Yakka, Naga and Deva in Sri Lanka. Kuweni who belongs to the Yakka community, betrayed her own community in order to seize power for the prince. According to the written literature of Sri Lanka, it is believed that the Sinhalese nation originated from Vijaya who captured the power of the country with the help of native Yakka princess Kuweni. Nevertheless, there are some contradictions between the folklore and literature related to the historical phenomenon around the character of Kuweni. Accordingly, the evolution of Kuweni’s character as a young woman to a lover, wife, mother and a single parent finally murdered by her own tribe can be viewed as an inquisitive narrative about power. Through examining folklore narratives, the social and cultural attributes which prevailed at the time of Kuweni reveal her emotional dilemma and her place in the symbolism of Sri Lanka. This study’s purpose is to explore how the character of Kuweni, as the first female ruler, both physically and emotionally embodies a representation of Sri Lankan intangible cultural heritage.

The study reviews the literature of an expressively used mythical folklore of Kuweni through undertaking a systematic analysis of the story, drawing on two methods for examining folklore: a scientific and a social scientific approach. Using these approaches, the study reviews the character of Kuweni. This study will largely contribute to the literature of understanding folklore as an intangible cultural heritage and the study contributes to the contextual understanding of emotions, lifestyle, social attributes and power that existed during pre-historic Sri Lanka. The emotional journey of Kuweni will be studied to understand the holistic values embedded in her life. Through revitalizing the character of Kuweni, the study has implications for the contemporary creative industries of Sri Lanka, as Kuweni personifies the contemporary woman with many challenges in the life, and these may be expressed through dress and performance inspired by Kuweni. Kuweni’s emotional journey can be experienced by any woman during a certain stage of her life; therefore, she can be identified as an eternal woman.

keywords: Folklore, Kuweni, Myth, Symbolism, Cultural studies, Intangible Cultural Heritage.