Wednesday, November 25, 2009

About 100 families of Ratugala Veddah community are facing hardships for want of basic facilities....!!!

Veddahs ask authorities to help them live

By Prasanna Padmasiri and Wimal Dissanayake

About 100 families of Ratugala Veddah community are facing hardships for want of basic facilities. Ratugala which is surrounded by the Viyanpola, Danigala, Kulaleta and Ratugal hills is about 30 kilometres away from Ampara on the Bibile –Ampara road.

The tanks, canals and all water courses have run dry because of the drought, further aggravating the hardships of the people. The Veddah community in Danigala forest who depended on hunting and Chena cultivation were settled in Ratugala when their traditional habitats went under the Senanayake Reservoir Project in 1930. Ratugala Veddah Chief Suda Vanniya said “The authorities who settled us in the Ratugala colony were not concerned about the basic facilities of the colony. Our requests to the successive governments since independence have been ignored. We were born and bred in the jungle but now it is a forbidden territory for us. We are in a predicament for want of land for Chena cultivation. The people of my community are struggling for existence without any attention by the authorities”

Chief Incumbent of Ratugala Bodhirukkarama Temple Kudavila Hemaloka Thera said “Officials must understand that the Veddah community has lived in the jungles for decades and they make a living by using natural resources. Now they are not allowed to enter the jungle and collect honey, or medicinal herbs to make a living. These restrictions should be relaxed in case of the Veddah community”

Principal of Ratugala Junior School V.W. Susantha Gunarathe said “The children from Ratugala Veddah Village earlier attended Galgamuwa Vidyalaya. However other children ridiculed them and boycotted the school. This compelled the authorities to open a separate school for them in Ratugala. At present 54 children attend this school. After passing Grade five they are compelled to stay back home for want of a school with higher studies.”

A resident of the area Gunabanda said “If irrigation facilities and land are available ours will be a prosperous community. However, we have been ignored by the authorities for more than 75 years”

Meanwhile, Deputy Director of Agriculture, Moneragala H.K.P.Jayalath said steps were taken to alienate land to 15 selected families and to provide them facilities for agriculture. He said the Agricultural Department had implemented a programme to supply plants and seeds for agriculture to the farmers. He said the Department has allocated Rs.1.1 million for this purpose. He was hopeful that the living standards of the Ratugala Veddah community could be uplifted through the on going programme.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In a village deep in west Sri Lanka, one of the island's few remaining communities of African descent...!!!

Sri Lankan of African descent Peter Luis plays the drum at a colony for people with African roots in … .by Mel Gunasekera Mel Gunasekera – Sun Nov 15, 1:59 am ET

SIRAMBIADIYA, Sri Lanka (AFP) – In a village deep in west Sri Lanka, one of the island's few remaining communities of African descent breaks into song -- a poignant elegy to a disappearing culture.

The music starts with a slow, gentle rhythm played on a tambourine, spoons and coconut shells, before it builds to a climax with dancers swinging their hips, hands and feet wildly.

The performance is a direct link back to the tiny minority's distant African past.

"We are forgotten people," Peter Luis, 52, said. "We are losing our language and, having inter-married many times, our children are losing their African features."

The population of African-Sri Lankans -- now numbering about 1,000 -- is mainly descended from slaves brought to the island after about 1500 by Portuguese colonialists.

They are known as "Kaffirs", but the term is not the savage racial insult here that it is in other parts of the world, notably South Africa.

"We are proud of our name. In Sri Lanka, it is not a racist word like the word negro or nigger," said Marcus Jerome Ameliana, who believes her ancestors came to Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, as Portuguese slaves.

The slaves were also used as soldiers to fight against Sri Lanka's native kings, in the first stage of a long history of oppression under a series of imperial masters.

When Dutch colonialists arrived in about 1600, the Kaffirs worked on cinnamon plantations along the southern coast.

After the British took over Sri Lanka in 1796, the Kaffirs were further marginalised by an influx of Indian labourers who took most work on tea and rubber estates.

Lazarus Martin Ignatius, 82, remembers her grandfather telling how their ancestors were chained up and forced by the Dutch to take on the Ceylonese army.

Her memories, like those of most other Kaffirs, are fragmented, and she speaks a lyrical creole language with a mix of native Sinhalese and Tamil.

"We never learnt how to read or write, only to speak. Now young people go to school. They marry outside the community, so I think education comes from that influence," the frail Ignatius told AFP.

Louisa Williams, 17, dressed in jeans and a pink T-shirt, said she may train to become a traditional Kaffir dancer but admitted she rarely uses the dialect.

"I like to dance and will perhaps join a local dance troupe," she said. "I have heard about my ancestors from aunts and uncles, but I only speak a few words of creole like 'water', 'eat' and 'sleep'."

The future looks bleak for the Kaffirs, according to Anuthradevi Widyalankara, senior history lecturer at the University of Colombo.

"They have been denied education so they have a lack of interest in sustaining their language or culture -- unlike some other minority groups," Widyalankara told AFP.

Widyalankara, who is writing a book on the ethnic group, said the Kaffirs had assimilated over generations, having married Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.

But in the palm-fringed village of Sirambiadiya, about 100 Kaffirs remain, living in modest brick houses and earning a living as labourers and cleaners.

At lunchtime, the men chat and doze in hammocks as the women sing catchy creole tunes while preparing a meal on outdoor stoves.

Their songs, mostly repeating a few basic lyrics, speak of love, the sea and wildlife, explained George Sherin Alex, 43, one of the village dancers.

The performing arts remain one of the few expressions of the Kaffirs' roots, Shihan Jayasuriya, a senior fellow of the London-based Institute of Commonwealth Studies, told AFP.

"Music and dance seem to be the best indicators of African ancestry, other than their physiognomy. Their other cultural traits are not African because they have adopted local customs and habits," Jayasuriya said.

The Kaffirs were originally Muslims, but now they practice a range of faiths from Catholicism to Buddhism, and wear typically Sri Lankan clothes of long skirts for the women and sarongs for the men.

No one knows how many Africans were brought to Sri Lanka, but their descendants survive only in pockets along the island's coastal regions of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Negambo, according to Census Department officials.

Jayasuriya, who has done extensive research on the African diaspora in the Indian sub-continent, said the Kaffirs' predicament is centred on their struggle to find a place in post-colonial Sri Lanka.

"They have become disempowered because their patrons, the European colonisers have left the island. They have lost their role as a part of the colonial machinery," said Jayasuriya.