The Village in the Jungle (Baddegama) | Sunday Observer

The Village in the Jungle (Baddegama)

The film adaptation of Leonard Woolf’s novel The Village in the Jungle (Baddegama) is directed by Dr. Lester James Peries. It stars Joe Abeywickrama as Silindu, Malini Fonseka as Punchi Menika, Nadika Gunasekera as Hinnihami, Trelicia Gunawardena as Karalinahami, Henry Jayasena as Babehami, Vijaya Kumaratunga as Babun, D. R. Nanayakkara as Punchirala, Tony Ranasinghe as Arachchi and Arthur C. Clarke as Leonard Woolf.

The novel is based on Leonard Woolf’s tenure in the Ceylon Civil Service in the early twentieth century after he graduated from Cambridge University. Woolf soon rose to the rank of Assistant Government Agent and was the chief administrative and judicial officer of Hambantota. Woolf dedicated the novel to his wife Virginia whom he married in 1912 after his return to England.

The novel begins in the jungle village and Woolf creates a sense of foreboding in his description of the jungle village in the opening paragraph: “The village was called Baddegama, which means the village in the jungle. It lay in the low country or plains, midway between the sea and the great mountains which seem, far away to the north, to rise like a long wall straight up from the sea of trees. It was in, and of, the jungle; the air and smell of the jungle lay heavy upon it – the smell of hot air, of dust, and of dry and powdered leaves and sticks. Its beginning and its end was in the jungle, which stretched away from it on all sides unbroken, north and south and east and west, to the blue line of hills and to the sea. The jungle surrounded it, overhung it, and continually pressed in upon it. It stood at the door of the houses, always ready to press in upon the compounds and open spaces, to break through the mud huts, and to choke up the tracks and paths. It was only by yearly clearing with axe and katty that it could be kept out. It was a living wall about the village, a wall which, if the axe was spared, would creep in and smother and blot out the village itself.” Woolf also tells the reader, “All jungles are evil, but no jungle is more evil than that which lay about the village of Baddegama.”

The plot revolves around the family of a farmer named Silindu whose real occupation as Woolf tells the reader is hunting. Silindu is a widower with two young daughters Punchi Menika and Hinnihami who are raised by his sister Karlinahami. Silindu is not on good terms with the village headman Babehami because Silindu’s wife was a relative of his and Silindu abused his wife for bearing him two daughters and not a son. But Silindu grows to love his two daughters and teaches them about the jungle and takes them to the jungle with him when he goes hunting. Woolf repeatedly tells the reader that the jungle is a place of evil, devils and danger.

Punchi Menika and Hinnihami grow up to be different from other village children which incites jealousy, anger and hatred among malicious villagers such as the village headman Babehami’s wife Nanchohami and Angohami. To make matters worse, Babehami’s brother-in-law Babun (Nanchohami’s brother) is attracted to Punchi Menika and expresses his desire to live with her and goes to live in Silindu’s compound.

About one year after Babun and Punchi Menika start living together, a man named Punchirala proposes to Hinnihami but she rejects him because she finds him disgusting and repulsive. Punchirala then approaches Silindu and tells him to force Hinnihami to live with him but Silindu refuses to give his daughter to him. Punchirala is evil and casts spells and does voodoo on his enemies and threatens to cast a spell on Silindu for revenge. A few days later Silindu falls ill with fever and Karlinahami foolishly approaches Punchirala and pleads with him to remove the spell. It is foolish of Karlinahami to approach the enemy Punchirala and request him to remove the spell because she is falling further into his trap. Instead Karlinahami should have reported the incident to the British Government Agent and requested him to take legal action against Punchirala because forced marriage is a criminal offence.

Punchirala instructs Karlinahami to take Silindu and Hinnihami on a dubious pilgrimage to a so-called god who is very evil. Karlinahami is unknowingly using Hinnihami as a sacrifice by foolishly following the instructions of the evil Punchirala. Karlinahami gives Hinnihami to Punchirala against Hinnihami’s wishes and Punchirala removes the spell he cast on Silindu. Hinnihami leaves Punchirala after the spell is removed and Silindu is cured of the fever. Punchirala then takes revenge on Hinnihami by poisoning the minds of the villagers with malicious lies about Hinnihami being a devil and the villagers kill Hinnihami. Woolf tells the reader, “Silindu knew now, when it was too late, that in giving Hinnihami to Punchirala he was giving her to certain death.”

Silindu and his family suffer more misfortune when a filthy businessman named Fernando who is invited by the village headman Babehami to live on his compound in the village becomes interested in Punchi Menika and tries to manipulate her into sleeping with him in spite of the fact that she is not interested in him. Woolf tells the reader, “Fernando was not a Sinhalese, and spoke Sinhalese very badly. Some people said he was a Tamil…” Punchi Menika tells Babun about Fernando, and Babun immediately leaves to lodge a complaint against Babehami and Fernando with the British Government Agent. But unfortunately for Babun, the British Government Agent is away on duty and he returns to the village and faces false accusations of theft by Babehami and Fernando who have framed him for a crime which he did not commit.

The novel is based on a true story and Woolf’s prose presents a vivid picture of the tragedy that befalls Silindu and his family, and Dr. Lester James Peries’ film is a brilliant adaptation of The Village in the Jungle.