Abstract

This article takes a pan-historiographic approach in its analysis of three collections of artifacts in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Sri Lanka: a set of contact narratives compiled by both the colonizing Portuguese and the dominant people group of the island, the Sinhalese; correspondence between King Dharmapāla and Pope Gregory XIII; and correspondence between the Sinhalese poet Alagiyavanna Mukaveti and King Philip III. In bringing together narratives of first contact between colonizers and colonized and letters from members of the Sinhalese elite requesting the restitution of land by the Portuguese colonizers, this article showcases examples in which local Sri Lankans performed rhetorical resistance through subversive means. In examining these artifacts, I offer for consideration the concept of “phantom mobility,” a rhetorical strategy that creates the appearance (and sometimes the illusion) of movement. In this rhetorical strategy, movement is conceived in terms of proximity or distance in relation to persons, places, events, etc. In this article, I suggest that phantom mobility can help illuminate how rhetors navigate colonial power dynamics in ways that expand our reading of rhetorical texts.

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