Rebellious legacy of Wellassa
by S. B. Karalliyadda
@ Sunday Observer
Uva occupies a prominent place in the history of our Nation. Buddha's first visit to the Island thousands of years ago was to Mahiyangana, south west of Uva across Mahaweli to settle a rebellion between two tribes. People of Uva were rebellious and did not tolerate any infringement of their rights.
Centuries before the 1818 rebellion they fought against the Portuguese and the Dutch. It was the Portuguese Viceroy in Goa, Don Jao De Castro who first manoeuvred to destabilise the rule of King Senerath. His manipulation to divide the Kandyan an Kingdom to three principalities was acceptable to Senerath. Little did he realise that such divisions would weaken his writ of governance.
Even today this clamour for separate government is voiced by a strong section of our own country men backed by international vested interests. Senerath was forced to divide the Kandyan Kingdom among his own son and his two stepsons - the two sons of his cousin Wimaladharmasuriya.
Thus Rajasingha II was ruling in Senkadagala, Kumarasingha in Uva and Vijayapala in Godapola in Matale with equal rights among them. Later the Portuguese forced Senerath to sign a MoU with them on 15-04-1635 which contained six clauses. They were the three princes to enjoy equal powers, the main sea port of the Kandyan Kingdom. Batticaloa to be in the Portuguese territory, no Sinhalese to enter beyond 2000 fathoms near the sea port, the duty payable to the King be limited to one elephant a year, to release all the Portuguese prisoners held captive and King's permission to allow the Franciscans to stay in Senkadagala.
Having weakened the Sinhalese the Portuguese attacked Badulla in 1627 burnt the town and set up their camp in the Muthiyangana temple. In 1630 they once again tried to enter Badulla through Wellawaya. King Senerath with his young sons and 21,000 soldiers confronted the Portuguese troops at Randeniwela and routed out the aliens. Thousands died in this battle and the Portuguese General Constantinede Saa received gun shot injuries and fell on the ground.
The Sinhalese rebels who rushed to the site of the fall wanted to sever the head of De Saa but the king prevented them from doing so. In the melee De Saa accidently died of a gun shot aimed by a Portuguese soldier. The king accorded De Saa a funeral befitting a General with all the honours. Henceforth De Saa is treated as a demigod in Uva and is popularity known as "Kusal Mada Deiyo".
Such is the past of the people of Uva who led an independent and contended life who asweddumised one lakh of paddy fields and was hence known as Wellassa. The legacy left behind by the Portuguese and Dutch is leprosy and Parangi some of the rural Uva/Wellassa villages until the recent post independent times. Udikkapu-ara, Kahambana Etimole, Wedikumbura, Kolonwinna are some of these remote villages. The Dutch built a hospital for lepers in Mantiv in the east of Uva.
The Kandyan convention signed on 2nd March 1815 brought the entire country under the British. Yet by 1816 December and beginning of January 1817 William Tolfry the Chief translator of the British Government gathered intelligence that there was dissatisfaction among the natives and at any time there would be an uprising against the British rule. This information was conveyed to the Commissioner incharge of Kandyan affairs Mr. Sutherland.
The British ignored their pledge to uphold the conditions laid down in the treaty. The high appointments in the Kandyan Kingdom such as Adigars, Koralas, Muhandirams etc., were exclusively reserved for Kandyans, but appointed one Hadji as a Muhandiram to Wellassa. There was tension brewing against British administration. The "Gangoda" concept of the villager (cluster villages) was disturbed when lands were opened for plantations.
The villager found his energy from the firewood picked from the jungle, his needs for timber for household furniture etc. were restricted, the canals that brought water for the paddy fields were cut open which affected the paddy cultivation of the villager. His chena cultivation too was affected due to opening of new plantations in the hills.
There was trouble brewing in Tunkorala and a troop under the command of Major O'Brien was sent. David the Rate Mahattaya of Dolosbage reported that some rebels were seen marching towards Dolosbage in Gampola. Investigations revealed that it was only a rumour. But in Kinigoda Korale which was under Golahela Rate Mahattaya father of Keppetipola there was trouble and the British had to use force to bring the situation under control. The people of Sat Korale and Hatarakorale did not join the rebellion as a favourite of the British, Molligoda was administering the area. To show their gratitude to the people of this Korale the British reduced the grain tax from 1/10 to 1/14 by Gazette Notification Land tax was totally abolished.
In the meantime pretender to the throne known as Wilbawe entered Uva and proclaimed himself as the King on 17.09.1817. He declared that he was the son of Kalu Nayakkara direct descendant from the clan of the depose King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha and mustered the support of the people to revolt against the British.
He called himself the King of Wilbawe. Major Douglas Wilson sent a Muslim decoy, the brother of slain Hadji to monitor the situation in Wellassa. The rebels of Wellassa caught Hadji and produced him before Wilbawe King. A rebel leader Butawe Rate Rala and his brother Upasaka Mudiyanse caught hold of Hadji and beheaded him.
The Sinhalese were already unhappy with the Muslims as the Muslim traders disrupted the supply of salt and dryfish to the Kandyan Kingdom. When the news of this tragedy reach Wilson in Badulla, he himself came to Wellassa on 12.10.1817 with a troop under the command of Lt. Newman. On their way to Bibile Wilson was shot with an arrow by the rebels near Etanawatte and succumbed to his injuries. His body was taken by the assailants and hung in a tree near the palace of Wilbawe.
The British troops set fire to the houses, chenas, livestock and everything possible. Major Mac Dowell mobilised the services of the most cruel Army officers such as Col. Hook, Lt. Kelley, Lt. Newman, Col. Hardy etc. The British had to bring down additional troops from India through Batticaloa. Simultaneously by proclamation No. 6 of 1817 the British government announced a reward of two thousands and six dollars to anyone who produce the heads of the rebel leaders.
The rebellion spread to Matale, Dumbara, Denuwara, Hewaheta, Walapane, Kandy and Hanguranketa. Pilimatalawa the Disaawa of Hatkorale produced one Weerabahu as the King and led the rebellion under Weerabahu who was supposed to be a relation of the deposed King. The British Government confiscated the properties of eighteen rebel leaders.
They appointed Keppetipola who was in Kandy at the time as the Dissawe of Wellassa and sent him to contain the rebels on 17.10.1817 with British troops. Keppetipola went upto Alupotha and joined the rebels having returned all the arms and ammunition of the British, Rev. Wariyapola Sumangala of Asgiriya fled to Hanguranketa with the relic casket which resulted in a more and a vigorous phase of the rebellion. By September 1817, two rebel leaders surrendered to the British and Pilimatalawe led the rebellion. The British captured Ellepola who was the Disawa of Viyaluwa and brother of Maha Adikaram Ehelepola and beheaded them in Bogambara.
Leaders of the Rebellion
The leaders of the rebellion were Wilbawe Disawa of Walapane, Kiulegedara Mohottala, Ellepola Disawa of Viyaluwa, Kobbekaduwa Disawa of Udapalatha, Dambawinna, Dimbulawa, Basnayake Nilame of Kataragama Godagedara, Adikaram, Butawe Rate Rala Ihagama, Badalkumbure Rala etc,. But most of the writers who write to commemorate the Uva rebellion forget the ordinary commoners who joined the aristocrats in the rebellion. To be fair to their descendants, who live upto date, mention must be made of those heroes as well. They were Madulle Aruma, Nindegama Dinga and Paliya Maha Duraya, Badulla Kiri Naida and Ganitha, Diyakele Pinhele and Helegiri Menikrala etc.
End of the Rebellion
The Sinhalese found it difficult to face trained soldiers. They did not have enough arms and ammunitions to meet sophisticated and modern British arms. Some of the rebels surrendered by now. Keppetipola and Madugalle Uda Gabada Nilame were captured. Both these leaders were beheaded on 26.10.1818. Forty seven who were involved in the rebellion were sentenced to be hanged.
Twenty eight out of them were hanged, sixteen were exiled, two acquitted and one died a natural death while in prison. The last remaining rebel Kiulegedara Mohottala too was put to death. It is said that ten thousand Sinhalese youth died in the battle field. No paddy or chena cultivation was done in the area for ten years due to lack of man-power Davy records that on a journey he made to Uva with Governor Browning they saw only thatched houses in Uva. Governor Ward recorded that during his inspection tour he had not seen a single person throughout his journey for seven days.
Major skinner has recorded that the population has decreased and immediate steps should be taken to repair the damaged village tanks and settle people in the land. The most appalling minute is made by Herbert White, a Government Agent after the rebellion in the Compendium of Uva Journal.
"There is no record of the population of agriculture development of Uva after the rebellion. No records is left about Uva before the rebellion. If thousands died in the battle field they were all brave fighters. If 4/5 of the remaining population after the rebellion is considered as children and the old, the damage done is unlimited.