January 31, 2024

Remembrance and Reconciliation: Memorials as Healing Therapy and Coping Mechanism for Preventing Future Tragedies

Lughadarini Yogaraja

This blog provides an introduction to memorialisation, covering the aspects of memorials, symbolism, and historical narratives, and gives an overview of the memorialisation landscape in Sri Lanka.

Remembrance and reconciliation are essential components in the healing process of societies that have experienced conflict or trauma. Remembrance involves acknowledging and honouring the past, particularly the victims and the suffering, while reconciliation focuses on building bridges between different groups and fostering understanding and forgiveness. By remembering the past with empathy and actively working toward reconciliation, societies can move forward toward a more peaceful and harmonious future. To achieve enduring harmony, both parties must acknowledge the past suffering and change negative attitudes and behaviors into constructive interactions during the social process of reconciliation. Memories of the war and the way those episodes remain in the memory of people have the power to shape the nature and characteristics of post-war relations. Therefore, reconciliation is intrinsically related to the issue of how one responds to memories of a violent past. To begin the process of bringing about both national and personal healing, we must recall the past.

One way of preserving memories of people or events that happened in the past is through memorialisation. Memorialisation may include commemoration events, architectural memorials, museums, statues, and naming a road or public place in honour of those who lost their lives. Memorials, museums, and commemorative activities play a crucial role in educating future generations about the atrocities of conflict and ensuring that history is not forgotten. They serve as a reminder of the consequences of violence and can help society learn from past mistakes. By preserving the memory of those who have been lost, these initiatives contribute to creating a more peaceful and understanding world.

Memorials, in particular, help to examine the past, address contemporary issues, and show respect to victims. They can help create records to prevent denial and help societies move forward. Memorials serve as physical reminders of the impact individuals have had on our lives and society as a whole. They provide a space for reflection, allowing us to pay tribute and express gratitude. Additionally, memorials often serve as gathering places for communities to come together and commemorate the legacies left behind by remarkable individuals. For example, the 9/11 Memorial Museum, situated in New York City's World Trade Centre, uses narratives, media, and a collection of large, real artifacts to tell the story of 9/11 while offering visitors firsthand accounts of loss, hope, and healing (The Memorial | National September 11 Memorial & Museum n.d.). Another example is the Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD), an international commemoration day held on January 27 to remember the millions of people killed by the Nazis as well as the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust. It encourages people to reflect on their own potential for both complicity and heroism in the face of injustice (Holocaust Memorial Day Trust | What Is Holocaust Memorial Day? n.d.).

By preserving the memory of past atrocities, memorials serve as a powerful reminder of the consequences of hatred and intolerance. They can inspire individuals and communities to work towards a more inclusive and compassionate society, ensuring that history does not repeat itself. Additionally, memorials can contribute to the process of truth and justice, providing a platform for victims to share their stories and seek closure, while holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Memorialisation goes beyond physical reminders to symbolic gestures. For example, several facets of South African culture, including its multilingual national anthem and official holidays honoring the diverse ethnic groups' cultural legacies, are representative of this idea. To further emphasize the commitment to creating a cohesive and inclusive country, the government has also put policies and initiatives into place to support equal rights and opportunities for all citizens, regardless of their background. The title "Rainbow Nation" comes from the lively and colorful civilisation that is created by the merging of many various cultures and customs. South Africa sought to promote harmony and reconciliation among its people following the end of apartheid, and the Rainbow Nation concept represented the coming together of individuals from various backgrounds and the idea of creating a country that embraces diversity and encourages inclusivity (Shiraz 2023).  

Memorialisation can also be achieved by teaching history. However, the history books in the national school curriculum omit certain key events. For example, the uprisings of the 1970s along with the riots of 1983 and the 30-year struggle have profoundly impacted Sri Lankan’s history and will likely have far-reaching effects on its future if it is continued to be omitted from the Sri Lankan educational system's history curriculum. Another example of memorisalistion through preservation of history is the Community Memorialisation Project which is an archive of 320 village histories and life stories of individuals and groups, collected and memorialised the experiences of violence and conflict in three Sri Lankan districts. Using the archive, the project creates opportunities for dialogue within and between communities on the country's past, and the future, we as citizens, want to create for it and the next generation of Sri Lankans.

It is vital to take into consideration and carefully weigh the perspectives of all involved parties to foster social cohesion and unity. It is crucial to create a balanced and thoughtful approach that neither disregards nor inaccurately venerates those who have acted wrongly. By acknowledging the complexities of memorialisation, we can work towards creating a respectful and inclusive environment for all members of society. It is also important to advocate for the importance of having memorials and create awareness amongst the younger generation on how memorials can play a role in paving the way to the road of non-recurrence to avoid the spread of harmful narratives or the spread of intergenerational trauma from the past.

In Sri Lanka, different communities have contributed to the commemorative landscape. However, this practice of memorialisation has not been equally representative of all communities.  For example, the Kilinochchi War Memorial has been met with protests by local communities for not being consulted prior to the construction of the memorial. In addition, these monuments have contributed to a surge in "patriotic tourism." Furthermore, in the Eastern and Northern regions, civilian attempts to construct memorials have been met with legal obstacles, underscoring the selective nature of memorialisation. Despite these constraints, community-led efforts have persisted, creating virtual spaces for collective mourning and communal gatherings. This complex interplay of commemoration reflects the enduring impact of war on society, with the nation’s monuments and memorials inviting visitors to contemplate the multifaceted narratives.

Hence it is recommended that Sri Lanka take more motivated actions and a multiplicity of initiatives in the national/public sphere to achieve community healing centered around the priorities, needs, and perspectives of victims and survivors to gain social cohesion and reconciliation. To create platforms for individuals and communities, from across ethnic, political and regional divides, to share their stories and engage in community dialogue and memorialising.

Thus, in conclusion, memorialisation is a crucial process in honoring those who have fought and sacrificed during times of war and peace. War memorials remind us of the human cost of conflict, while peace memorials celebrate the individuals who have dedicated themselves to achieving harmony. These memorials provide a space for healing, reflection, and remembrance, reminding us of the collective responsibility to work towards a world where peace is the guiding principle. Through memorialisation, we can strive to build a future that values peace over war and ensures that the memories of the fallen and the achievements of peacemakers are never forgotten.


Gunasekara, A. and Pannilage, U. (1970) Impact of war memorialisation events in post war ethnic reconciliation process of Sri Lanka, IRUOR Home.

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust | What Is Holocaust Memorial Day? (n.d.) available from https://www.hmd.org.uk/what-is-holocaust-memorial-day/

The Memorial | National September 11 Memorial & Museum (n.d.) available from https://www.911memorial.org/visit/memorial

Rolston, B. (2020) War by other means: One-sided memorialisation in Sri Lanka, PeaceRep.

Shiraz, Z. (2023) Here’s Why South Africa Is Called the Rainbow Nation, 6 Must-Visit Travel Spot

Lughadarini Yogaraja is an Ungraduated following a B.A. in Social Sciences (Politics & International Studies) at the Open University of Sri Lanka. She has also completed a Diploma in Public Law (University of Colombo), Advanced Diploma in Transitional Justice (BCIS), Diploma in Diplomacy & World Affairs (BIDTI), and Diploma in International Relations (BCIS). She is the Co-Founder & Co-Lead of the Easter Attack Survivors Project (EASP) and Head of HR in the Sri Lanka Reconciliation Movement (SLRM).