Britain’s entry into the Second World War in 1939 affected not only the island nation but also the many pink areas of the globe that formed its empire. In order to urge all her colonial subjects to contribute towards the war effort, colonial authorities used propaganda in the form of posters, films, and more. These posters were adapted and framed according to the colony and area in which they were to be used, to sell the ‘product’ of empire most successfully.
Framed to best suit a Ceylonese audience, the poster above encourages the purchase of savings certificates instead of black-market goods. The poster portrays a snake profiteer in a coconut tree tempting people with the ‘forbidden fruit’ of black-market goods; a picture of the biblical story of Adam and Eve set in a local frame- with the Imperial authorities playing God. This technique presents a sense of loyalty and partnership- oneness, that would capture the attention of the people. Drawing on images of Britain and Ceylon; a man and woman represented in western attire and traditional Sri Lankan attire serve as symbols of this partnership. The ordinary man and woman in the poster (and an ordinary person viewing the poster) could contribute towards the empire-wide war effort by buying Savings Certificates- they could, in a sense, become partners of Britain in the war.
In 1942, the British colony of Singapore fell to the Japanese, an event that was partly attributed to the lack of support for the British from locals. Faced with the prospect of losing their other Indian Ocean colonies to the Japanese advance, the British reconsidered their colonial policies and came up with a new frame for the empire. This new frame showed the relationship between Britain and her colonies as a partnership between ‘equals’ rather than an unequal relationship between guardian and ward. Propaganda created after 1942 reflected this change, as in the recruitment poster below.
The common symbol of the two ‘partners’, the lion, is shown manning the defenses of the colony. The poster is framed as an alliance; the old Sinhala name of ‘Lanka’ is used instead of the English ‘Ceylon’, and while the British lion holds the Union Jack, the Lankan lion holds the flag of the last king of Ceylon- a flag which was also used by nationalist groups agitating for independence. After independence, the lion was to become a contested symbol in ethno-religious issues- seen through this lens, the poster privileges one ethnic group above others in representing ‘Lanka’.
The careful categorization and anthropological documentation of different races and communities was a major feature of later British colonialism, and the poster above plays on these perceived differences by using racial and class stereotypes to encourage different segments of Ceylonese society to buy Savings Certificates. The differences in class and race are shown through the cost of the certificates each of the five people are advertising; through the language each uses; and through the attitudes shown in their reported speech. The rubber tapper who promotes the Rs. 4.50 certificate uses broken English and manages to slip many other pieces of propaganda in- the (inevitable) defeat of the Japanese and Germans, the ‘good salary’ of estate workers who were and are notoriously underpaid, and the benefits of the slaughter tapping that was being carried out in Ceylon’s rubber plantations for the war effort. The other four people in the poster also exemplify this outlook- planning ahead for after ‘we have won this war’, with the cost of certificates rising through the Rs. 8.50 of the soldier to the Rs. 42.50 of the housewife, to the Rs. 85 of the Muslim businessman and the Rs. 850 of the European man. Again, stereotypes are pronounced- the Muslim businessman talks about the fact that no income tax need be paid on the certificates. Like the lion flag in the poster above, the fez worn by the Muslim businessman was also linked to independence movements- in this case, to the Islamic revival which contributed towards a new national identity.
Empire-wide pictures of partnership and cooperation in the fight against the Axis powers were repositioned in Ceylonese frames to attract popular attention, promoting a sense of shared responsibility and risk in order to increase support for the British war effort.