Political cartoons that made a difference and shook the nation in the 1950s

Aubrey Collette was a well known cartoonist from the mid forties who was virtually a regular contributor to the Times of Ceylon and the Lake House press until the early 1960s when he emigrated to Australia.

His cartoons comprised a sharp, visual comment on the social and political landscape of the time.  Notable issues of the moment, the political developments after Sri Lanka's independence and the far-reaching social and cultural changes in the 1950s found expression in his line-work.

Unfortunately though he was a talented Artist he found himself looking at the passing political scene through the eyes of an observer who could not appreciate nor sympathise with the growing public disenchantment with the ' Brown Sahib' approach to governance, press freedom and life styles.

Aubrey Collette was not alone in this respect. The lack of sensitivity of local Journalists attached mainly to English language newspapers, to the traditional culture, national history. Buddhism and ways of living of the Sinhalese people was described by the Press Commission headed by Justice K.D. de Silva in the following terms:

' In Ceylon many of the Journalists, especially of the English language Press, have other shortcomings. Most of them have been educated in Roman Catholic missionary schools; some are seminarists, having completed that education in Europe. They not only do most of the writing in the English Press but lay down policy for the Sinhala and Tamil papers as well. Missionary education was an imperialist device meant to condition the recipient to accept the Graeco - Roman - Christian tradition which goes as European and Western civilisation, as something superior. The European missionary, in following his mission, had perforce to look down upon and decry Eastern civilisation. His system of education fully ensured that. The missionary educated journalists took for their standards those of the West. That our only international news, photographs, and feature articles come through the Reuter's London sieve, is of immense help to him. They are accepted without question. An article in the Time Magazine or Osservatore Romano is good copy and gives him the line on any controversial international event. Any news from other sources is brushed aside as so much propaganda. " (PCR para 200, page 85)


Lack of impartiality and fairness

D. B. Dhanapala, a leading Journalist and Editor of the Dawasa, in an article published in the ' Ceylon Today ' November 1961, said as follows:


' There is no other country in the whole of the East, perhaps, where the Press as a whole has acted with such utter contempt for objectivity, impartiality and fairness as in Ceylon in recent years often going so far as the very invention of bogus news " (PCR para 198, (page 84)


Cartoons of Aubrey Collette

The following sketches reveal a level of contempt for indigenous ideas, policies and leaders such as S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and L.H. Mettananda. In fact these cartoons also contributed to a sense of alienation that the majority of the people felt in the 1950s that led to the electoral revolution of 1956.








Counter culture cartoons

' Mara Yuddhaya' (' The Struggle with Satan’)
 published by the Eksath Bhikku Peramuna.


The cartoon that sealed the fate of the UNP  in 1956

In this gripping cartoon the artist captures poignantly
the alienation of the rulers and the westernised social class
from the country's mainstream Buddhist culture and heritage.


Sir John Kotelawala and his henchmen paid dearly for an unqualified embracing of western trappings and indulging in decadent practices including barbecuing calves and consuming veal (gava mas) at Temple Trees.

The Eksath Bhikkshu Peramuna unleashed the Pancha Maha Balavegaya (Sanga, Veda, Guru, Govi, Kamkaru) led by Buddhist monks that engaged in a house to house street campaign nation wide on a scale that was never seen before or after 1956.   

After 450 years of western colonial domination the indigenous masses of this country demanded and obtained what they had longed for i.e. an ' Ape Anduwa' ( our Government ) led by a class of rulers that they can relate to and touch base with.

It reminded astute observers of the French writer Victor Hugo's classic observation:

 "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come"

The peaceful revolution of 1956 was a major turning point in the country's history. It reduced the UNP to a marginal number of eight seats and delivered to S.W.R.D Bandaranaike and his MEP a resounding electoral victory.

The rest is history.

Will history be repeated in the forthcoming general election? 


Senaka Weeraratna

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