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In Search of Characters of Dr. Spittel's 'Savage Sanctuary'
(@Gamini G. Punchihewa/The Island)
Continuing the series of extracts from the book, 'Souvenirs of a Forgotten Heritage (1990) by the above author-Part II-Veddas' section reproduced below:
Pagara Gammane Gal Ketiye, Kukulan lak lak kianne, Athwel Badith diga sellam bo. (On the rock of Pagara. Jungle fowls keep on crying, Lak, Lak, Lak, And they keep on dancing together.)
Deep in the heart of a dense jungle infested with wild beasts in the Gal Oya Valley lived in complete seclusion the last son of the famous Tissahamy. Tissahamy - the jungle vedda outlaw - immortalized in Dr. Spittel's 'Savage Sanctuary', labelled as a 'fugitive' in the eyes of the law, roamed the jungles of Bintenna. Tissahamy's daughter Kombi, too lives in Gal Oya, close to her brother's place of abode, of Bandaraduwa.
My first meeting with Tikiri was way back in 1962, when he was living in the wilds of Gal Oya off the old village of Bandaraduwa, about fifteen miles from Ampara. At that time he was living in a bark hut, with his two wives Kalu Kumie and Ran Menika (his first wife Sellie's cousins). Then he had a brood of seven children. By his first wife Sellie, he had two surviving children Handuna, then fourteen years and Neela about 18 years. When I was living at Uhana, in early 1962, I was a frequent visitor to Tikiri's jungle abode. From that time onwards till I left Gal Oya on transfer to Walawe, in 1970, I became very intimate with him. Tikiri too was a frequent visitor to my quarters at Uhana, which was about six miles away from his place in Bandaraduwa. He was a jungle man with jungle instincts. Tikiri was mostly away from his sylvan home, frequenting his usual forest haunts, hunting game with his train of hunting dogs. When visitors from the outside world came, he used to go with them hunting with firearms.
It was after the appearance of my articles about Tikiri and his tribe in the local press that Dr. R. L. Spittel got in touch with me. Dr. R. L. Spittel wrote to me a number of letters (till his death in 1969) his letters are still preserved as souvenirs, inquiring about Tikiri, Kombi and the other Vedda characters, mentioned in this fascinating books. Dr. R. L. Spittel in turn, always encouraged me to meet the veddas and to write about them to the local newspapers. I can never forget him. He was the only benevolent person who lovingly and affectionately, encouraged me to meet the veddas often and to collect their songs, folk-lore, and other customs connected with them.
In the following pages, I shall be summarizing all the experience and adventure I had with the only surviving characters of Dr. Spittel's immortal book, 'Savage Sanctuary'. I had helped Tikiri to market his chena produce by introducing him to the local traders and they never exploited him. They purchased his products like chillies and other food crops, at very reasonable prices. By way of money too, I used to give him a few rupees to buy his betel and arecanut. His son Neela, who was then a lad of about 18 years also visited me bringing his chena produce. Neela was fond of wearing good shirts. Whenever he came home he was well dressed. Tikiri because of his wild nature, was at times rude. I had advised him several times, not to act indifferently when he came to market his chena produce. Many times, he had stayed the night over and had meals with us. When my transfer to Namal Oya came, I informed Tikiri about it. He came immediately with his son Neela. Tikiri was nearly in tears. I told him affectionately that I could never forget him and his children and that my assistance would be extended to him though he was away from me.
After my transfer to Namal Oya in 1963, I came into contact with his sister Kombi who lived at a place called Binbaliya off Bokkebedda. From Namal Oya through the old jungle trails, to Binbaliya was still closer. Kombi was not like her brother, she was quite rehabilitated on her own and was living in a well constructed mud-walled hut thatched with illuk (kind of grass). Her husband was a cultivator. When we were living at Namal Oya, Kombi came to be a frequent visitor. We used to give her meals and even some old clothes for her children. When I informed Dr. R. L. Spittel about my contacts with Kombi, he was glad and had sent me two copies of the Sinhala translation of his book, 'Savage Sanctuary' ('Wana-sarana'), to be presented to them on his behalf, with his compliments. Both copies were autographed by Dr. Spittel, one of which was to me.
I could recall the day when Dr. R. L. Spittel visited us to see Tikiri and his family. That was on March 12, 1963. I was then living at Uhana. I was in my office at Uhana when he came in his car, and how happy I was to see him. Before that occasion, I had seen only his photograph. The following day Dr. Spittel was our guest. Mr. Byon Ferdinands was the Lands Officer attached to the Ampara District Kachcheri, at Uhana. So he obliged me by taking Dr. Spittel, myself and my wife in his Volkswagen car. Mr. Ferdinand's car took us to the Khombana Junction. From there we were given a jeep in which all of us travelled up to Bandaraduwa to see Tikiri. Dr. Spittel recalled those yester years when he blazed those trails and when everything was in its great wilderness. He said, he had to trek on foot. He remembered Uhana well. He remarked how it had now marvellously changed and had blossomed into a small town. I had sent a message the previous evening to Tikiri, otherwise he would have vanished into the wilds on one of his hunting trips. From Khombana, we got into the jeep and took the cart track leading to Bandaraduwa.
Once we reached our destination, we found some villagers had collected there. As Tikiri was living a few yards away in the depth of the jungle, we could not take the jeep, as it was only a footpath of the jungle with tree stumps. So I went there with another villager. To our chagrin Tikiri had gone out into the jungle the previous evening. His bark-hut was still there. I told Tikiri's two wives and Neela to come to the village as Dr. Spittel had come to see them. One of the wives remarked in high glee, "Dostara mahatmaya avilla, yamalla" - (Dr. Spittel has come, let's go). Trailing the whole family, I took them before old Dr. Spittle who was anxiously waiting there. When I told the Doctor that Tikiri was out, how sad he became. I told him that the previous night he had set out for the jungle. Dr. recognised Tikiri's two wives and asked one of them "Are you Kalu Kumi," and even remarked, "Sellie had died?" Dr. Spittel called Neela and asked about his father, how he was getting on.
Tikiri was not interested in rehabilitation, but was seeking the path of the jungle for his living. We had settled him there with lands about five years earlier under the Village Expansion Scheme - Bandaraduwa. From 1962 onwards Tikiri had been receiving a monthly sum of Rs. 15 as a public assistance allowance and that was paid by Government Agent, Ampara District. The Doctor showered all of them including the two concubines to Tikiri, with handsome cash presents and bade them goodbye. The old (purana) villagers, some of whom had migrated from Bingoda, had recognized Dr. Spittel and were having a heart to heart chat recapturing those happy years, when he had blazed those 'Vanished Trails'. Those days, when he visited the vedda trails, he was popularly called 'Janel Dostara' by the veddas and the forest folk, presumably because he worked then in the General Hospital.
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