I’ve visited a lot of places in Sri Lanka and during my passages through the ancient cities, tea plantations and its beaches I’ve learned a lot about the country. After all the time I’ve spent navigating the isle from the back seat of an Ashok Leyland, there is one thing about Sri Lanka that has still remained a mystery to me. It’s not Sigiriya, nor the giant footprint at the summit of Adam’s peak, it’s the notorious Sri Lankan head wobble…
A head wobble is most commonly associated with Indians and other South Asians, but in my opinion, it’s the Ceylonese that top the jingly league. What exactly is it? Is it a yes? Is it a no? Or is it neither? This can cause much bewilderment when you first arrive in Sri Lanka, here is a typical scenario…
Do you have Airtel recharge?
Is that a yes?
500 rupees worth please
So in this case it seems the wobble can mean yes, ok and you’re welcome. But there’s more to it than just that. I eventually learned that a casual wiggle from side to side can be a way to acknowledge someone you know when passing on the street, a little more predominant one can be a gesture of kindness, for example, if someone lets you sit beside them on a train…
The more time I spend here, the more I seem to pick up on the jingly language. The wobble can basically be used as an affirmative, if I were talking at somebody their head would consistently move from side to side at a fair pace to confirm they are listening, in a similar way that us in the West would nod. A more rapid and vigorous head wobble begins when someone is receiving instructions as a way to say the person understands fully. So, the more dramatic the head wobbling, the more understanding there is. One time my tuk-tuk driver stopped to ask directions from a police officer, and I swear I thought the guy’s head was going to fall off.
The rhythm and movement of the wobbling can vary from person to person, some may have a smooth motion like a charmed cobra, whereas others could be more of an up left/up right bounce as if watching a fast paced game of tennis consisting solely of lobs.
I observed that the dark skinned Tamils seemed to be noticeably more enthusiastic jinglys than the Sinhala folk. They rave their heads about whilst addressing you as if to say “You get me? If so, why aren’t you wobbling back!” Tamils are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the entire world, when they were devolved from a higher state of pure consciousness as Hindus believe, were the screws in their necks slightly loose? Or is this just a characteristic that spans back hundreds of generations, when actions spoke louder than words.
The wobble is highly contagious and soon enough I found myself wiggling along without even realising. So, after all this time have I finally deciphered this phenomenon? *head wobble*