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Sunday, 8 February 2004  
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Kala Bhooshana award for Spittel's 'dirty little darling'

Hunting abilities still intact, though blind in one eye - Gomba

R.L. Spittel's "dirty little darling - snivelling brat covered with ash and dust" who followed the much adored 'Sudu Hura' and his daughter, in their ventures in the veddah territory is a grand old man of 74 today. A grandfather, the leader of three clans of veddahs from Bingoda, Danigala and Rathugala all settled in Pollebedda, in Maha Oya, received an accolade for his contribution to ritual dance and was conferred the Kala Bhooshana award on Wednesday, February 4.

A landmark in veddah history without a doubt, for it is the first time that their contribution to culture was recognised by the Cultural Ministry of Sri Lanka. Gomba, accompanied by Thala Bandaralage Heen Kaira, Danigala Maha Bandaralage Badanna, Danigala Maha Bandaralage Heen Thutha, Karunaratne, the Grama Niladhari of Pollebedda and Bandara, Principal of Pollebedda Vidyalaya were in Colombo last week to receive his award. The Sunday Observer, met them at the residence of their patron Russel Kuruppu.

by Vimukthi Fernando

"Maamini Maamini Maadeiya...." chants the deep, reverberating voice, continuing long stanzas.

The song goes on to explain how they ran to meet their "Sudu Hura" in expectation of betel and other little gifts. Without a trace of tiredness, the voice proceeded to sing a lullaby - which pacified children who are crying of hunger pangs to wait for a tasty meal of monitor (Thalagoya) meat. The voice belonged to Gomba, 74 year old leader of the Pollebedda veddah clans. The voice and his aptitude of dance won him an award from the Cultural Ministry. Gomba was preparing himself to receive this award when we met him on Wednesday.

"He is now too old to perform the ritual dance", says Russel Kuruppu who had befriended the veddahs since 1965 and seen Gomba's better days - strong and middle aged. But the voice refuting the age of its owner, flows on.

Those were the days, Gomba reminiscences - of the times he was stronger and when more space was covered with the lush forest. "After a kill I brought one whole sambar to the village, carrying it on my shoulders all the way," he shows us the resultant hump on his back. A swelling of about the size of a lime formed by coming into contact with the hooves of the sambar. "But now, I do not go into the jungle, for I'm becoming blind. One eye of mine has completely lost its sight and the other is also losing its." He had accepted the reality.

From Pollebedda to the concrete jungle - the four veddahs who visited Colombo 
Pix. by Chinthaka Kumarasinghe

It was in 1941, he says, that Dr. R. L. Spittel settled their clan of veddahs from Bingoda in the Pollebedda village. "Two or three in our clan died of an infectious disease (Parangi) and the doctor thought the disease would wipe us out. So, he settled us under the care of Pollebedda folk." They were under the charge of Sudu Banda brother of R. B. Banda Gamarala of Pollebedda. The role of the caretaker and leader however, fell on Gomba in 1988 when his uncle Poramola Saka died.

Prior to settling in Pollebedda, they lived in the jungle in the caves, says Gomba. They had travelled extensively with Dr. R. L. Spittel his daughter Christine Wilson and her husband. "Alugalge, Dikgalge, Balanagalge, Nuwara Gala" Gomba recites a list of places they visited with the assistance of Heen Kaira another remnant of the youngsters who roamed the jungles with Spittel. Gomba could be the son of Gama an intimate of Spittel. The famed Kalu Veddah of the Vanished Trails, says Kuruppu. And Heen Kaira, the son of Handi, another of his intimates.

Whatever the fame these veddahs gained during the days of Spittel has all dissipated today.

They are left without a living in a village of depilated conditions, they complain. Their village off the main routes and 7 miles away from the nearest town is in want of roads, housing, drinking water, a proper school and so on. Most out of the 125 families in the village, work as labourers in the fields of the Sinhalese villagers, while a handful engage in cultivation themselves. Though needs are many, they are requesting only the basics of life. If the veddahs of Pollebedda perish, a link to the purest surviving veddahs will vanish from this earth.

So, isn't it time for the authorities and philanthropists to open their eyes?

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