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The Kirikoraha Vedda Dance

(@Gamini G. Punchihewa/The Island)

(This writer wrote a book titled "Souvenirs of a Forgotten Heritage', in 1990. It was published by the Department of Information and printed at the Government Press. The book was a collection of his published articles in the local English newspapers spread over 15 years-1955-70 about the chronicle of Gal Oya Valley in retrospect, history Dighamadulla region), Veddas, Dr. Spittel's Vedda characters, his "Vanished Trails', 'purana villagers, their customs, traditions and the fun and flora of Gal Oya Valley. This writer had lived and worked in Gal Oya Valley-the Vedda country.

'Souvenirs of a Forgotten Heritage' contained four sections, I. a Peep into the Sands Of time, ii. The lost tribe of the jungle inheritors - the Veddas', iii. Aftermath of the Uva-Wellessa Revolt-1817-18, IV, Vanishing flora and fauna. This book was sold out by 1994. A print is to be done by Navrang Publishers, New Delhi, India and it is expected to be released by mid next year.

'The Sunday Island' will be serialising in instalments certain sections culled from this book in its forthcoming issues. To start with, certain extracts taken from part ii-The Veddas from Chapter 13 pages 120-125, titled 'The Kirikoraha Veddha Dance are reproduced below.)

The Kirikoraha Vedda Dance

My friends and fellow officers helped me in the arduous task of rehabilitation of the Veddas. At that time officials from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Education came to the Ampara District to record the folk songs of these vanishing tribes.

The General Manager of the River Valleys Development Board, Mr. Harry Jayasinghe, knowing the deep interest I had in the veddas, directed these officials to me. During that time, Mr. N. S. B. Amunugama, was the Chief Lands Officer of the R. V. D. B. He too had instructed me to give whatever assistance I could to these officials by taking them to the vedda hamlets. It was somewhere in 1968, that we made this trip a few months after my last visit to Rathugala. I was accompanied by Mr. K. D. A. Perera, Lands Officer of the R. V. D. B. who was in charge of the Namal Oya settlement during that period. Then Mr. Makuloluwa from the cultural section of the Educational Department too went with us.

The day previous to our journey I had sent word to Handuna to be at home lest he went on his jungle jaunts. One fine day, we set out along the same jungle highway, Namal Oya-Bulupitiya. When we made this trip, the road was well constructed and bull-dozed, filled with earth up to Bulupitiya. Hence we drove smoothly up to Galgamuwa-12th mile post. Beyond that stretch, the road was on a rugged terrain. We had to struggle through it. I had told these officials about the deplorable state in which these poor lot were. They had brought with them some rice, coconuts, betel and vedda wares and we took some old clothes which I had collected from well wishers.

We alighted from the vehicle and trekked through the path to reach Handuna's hamlet. We were first greeted by the barking of dogs. Immediately Handuna came forward and drew away the dogs. Glancing at us, he gave us a broad smile. Then looking at others, he gave them his usual stare. At that time, in this back garden were a few men. They were arranging some sort of ceremony. In the centre was a mortar and a coconut beside it.

After greeting Handuna, I asked him, pointing to the scene of the assembly, what the commotion was. He said, 'ethama Kirikoraha netumak manda karanne-sipa kodai. The officials who went with me were flung into a state of surprise and asked me what those words were. I told them that as hunting had failed, they were going to invoke the blessings of the Nae Yakka (relative Spirit. I told them that they were fortunate to witness this rare spectacle where they could record the incantations as well.

Still Handuna remained silent. These officers asked me whether he knew Sinhalese at all. I replied in the affirmative. I called Handuna to me and told him that he should not show such indifference to strangers and told him in good terms to be more receptive towards them.

Handuna took my piece of advice. He became friendly with them and spoke to them freely. We gave Handuna all the presents we had brought with us. He accepted them with a bow and a broad smile.

Handuna told us that for about a fortnight he did not have any luck in getting any game. Though he went hunting with his hunting dogs, he could not get even a thalagoya and not even a batagoya (green pigeon) with his pellet bow. They were sure that the curse of the Nae Yakka had cast its spell over them. Pointing out to the hut at the entrance where he had said his massina (brother-in-law) had lived, Handuna told us that he too died there only a week ago.

Hence the Nae Yakka (relative Spirit) had to be appeased by a Kiri Koraha. In fact I found another small hut, constructed there replacing the old one where his brother-in-law had lived. One of the commonest customs that still prevailed with them, was that when anybody died, they abandoned it and moved into a new one.

Though Handuna's brother-in-law was of Sinhalese stock, yet as his sister was (who was of vedda origin), married to him, they still adhered to this ancient custom. The Kiri Koraha was performed in the manner described thus.

Before the ceremony commenced, I told the officials to be ready with their taperecorders, etc., so that the songs and dances accompanied by the beating of drums could be recorded. A mortar was placed in the foreground of their compound. On this 'pedestal', was placed a clay pot, which was filled with betel leaves, arecanut, and tobacco.

On it was placed, a coconut. In the olden days, when their people hunted with bow and arrow, the substitute for the mortar was a tripod (made out of jungle stumps). For the drum, they used to beat the sides of their bodies, with their hands. The drummer here was Ranhotti Bandaralage Punchi Banda (Paile Siya-grand father of the village called Paile). He was a septuagenarian, who beat his drums with full vigour with rhythm, in spite of his age.

On the vessel were kept eight arrow heads (to represent bows and arrows). These wooden heads, shaped into arrow points and their ends coloured with the stain from the thimbiri fruit, were made by them. Armed with the arrow heads, they danced around the Kiri Koraha. They clasped the arrow heads with their hands, while doing so they made very loud incantations.

They placed the arrow heads on their heads, now and then again on the shoulders, alternatively. All of them while dancing began hopping, making half turns and while engaged in these movements swept their arms. They placed the axes across their shoulders, especially chieftain Handuna. All of them chanted supplications to the desired spirit in sonorous and synchronising voices, while they danced to the beat of the drum played by drummer old Punchi Banda of Paile.

In a high pitched voice, Handuna's son Randunna recited the stanzas which were repeated by the other participants. Handuna clasped the coconut in his hands, now and then kept it on his head, and danced round and round. Taking a katty, he kept the coconut on the mortar and split it into two equal halves. It should split into two identical halves, otherwise it was a bad omen. The coconut water filled the vessel-the Kiri Koraha. He then brought the coconut scraper, a locally improvised one made from the jungle itself. A forked branch was taken and the two points acted as legs, while the other end was sharpened to make the 'teeth' of the coconut scraper.

The coconut milk so extracted was splashed on his body, on the participants, and on us-the on lookers. The balance milk - was put into the vessel. In doing these acts, Handuna and the others, danced round and round sweeping their hands and making about turns and reciting the stanzas. When the participants were reaching the climax, Handuna who was now in a semi-trance, with his axe slung across the shoulder ran to his wife, plucked the necklace and bangles (all imitation ones-presented by tourists).

Encircling the necklaces and banglesin his hands, Handuna fell into a trance, muttering and shaking his body and limbs. In these performances, Handuna was making those about turns and half turns (the necklaces and bangles were taken as offerings to the Una Pane Kiri Amma, a female spirit who had to be also appeased.)

Handuna now immersed his right hand in the vessel. He allowed the coconut milk to trickle down his arms and continued his dancing. These he did vigorously sweeping his hands, while the drum was played to the tune of his synchronizing steps and song. The indication of pouring the coconut milk down his arm was that game was perceived and the animal was shot and was bleeding the latter manifested by the pouring of the coconut milk. This was also an inference that the Kiri Koraha was successful and that Kande Yakka (Mountain Spirit) was appeased.

The rest of the assembly of gam veddas, kept on dancing and reciting the incantations and ended up by falling on each others shoulders. Handuna then fell on the shoulder of another. Afterwards, he ran immediately to the Kiri Koraha, removed the vessel, and kept it on the ground. This when twirled with his fingers, rotated on its own axis and then became stationery, an indication Handuna told us that all the spirits and demons were well pleased with their offerings and prayers! (Actually what happened was something natural).

Even if you turn a top, it would have a few turns and then stop as its momentum was lost). Immediately after the ceremony was over, Handuna and his clan asked for a few ridi poru (silver coins), and thamba poru (copper coins). When we showered them with coins, they were highly pleased and retired smilling. So ended the Kiri Koraha ceremony of the veddas.

The Kiri Koraha ceremony was a bizarre dance, to appease the evil spirits of the night and day, that haunted their silent forest.

I had recorded two of the vital stanzas which were sung in the course of this kiri koraha ceremony and these are given below:-

Veddagalata Bedi Malda Maldan
Kokagala Bedi Malda Maldav
Hanika Hanika Waren Duwa Kelagena Madda Maldan
Demela Helata Bedi Malda Malddan
To the flowers that bloom in Veddagala,
To the flowers that bloom in Kokagala,
Come, soon, hurry to the mal Dabe,
And to the flowers that bloom in demela hela.

Gonange Damane sita Muwange
Damane Piyen Piyen Piya Thaba
Enne Ape Kande Polamul Wanniya
From the land of deer to the land of sambhur,
We came, step by step,
Where behold, comes our kande Wanniya.

From the land and open space to the land of the wild boar, where behold, comes step by step, our Kande Maha Wanniya.

(Kande Wanniya-meaning Spirit of the Mountain).

(Veddagala, Kokagala, Demela hela are ancestral hills of the Veddas).

Once the curtain fell in this awe-inspiring ceremony, the officials were happy that their job was well done. They had recorded some very interesting folk songs of these veddas. After I had given the clothes, which I had got as donations, and had distributed them among the children of the forest, I told Handuna, that they should be admitted to the school immediately and that at my next visit, would like to see them attending school. He assured me that this would be granted. In the days of yore, their ancestors, used the friction of sticks rubbed together from the jungle to make fire, but this ancient practice became obsolete many years ago. That antique method had been now replaced by a device which is made out of iron in the form of a C-shaped piece of iron (called ginikatuwa) and a piece of crystalline quartz (called iriman gal.) A piece of rag was sandwiched between them and the two were struck together, when the piece of rag caught fire spontaneously.

(Post Script): Danigala maha Bandaralage Handuna-chieftain of Rathugala died a few years ago. His son Randunna is the chieftain of Rathugala.

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