From Java with love
The book, carrying the long name, “Saga of the exiled royal Javanese
unearthed “, was sent to me for review but I changed my mind for were it
to be judged by the conventional norms of an evaluation of a book as
accuracy of spelling and coherent phraseology, it could not fare well.
Instead I decided to let words and scenes rotate around the theme of
much historical significance substantiated by recorded data aligned to
State documents. Author —- Tuan Arfin Burah, a senior professional in
Land Surveying and Land Economics in Sri Lanka.
First scene (not presented in book) —- two or three men strumming
some musical instrument to the refrains of those dear old Sinhala songs
as “Olu pipeela vila lela denawa” and “Sobhana me sandawe”.
Now and then they would playfully snatch from each other the papers
on which the songs are written to refresh their minds for they are not
young men whose memory is perfect. The songs were written in Sinhala.
Their medium of education probably, Sinhala judging by their age(post
new State language policy)..
The group sat in the porch of an estate bungalow which was our
destination and what intrigued me about them were that they (I had
gathered earlier) belonged to the Malay community. Perhaps they were the
only males in that female-dominated group. Far into the night they kept
on singing pronouncing the Sinhala words flawlessly. Back to the book.
The Javans, according to the book form a major component of these
Malays. Actually the two strands themselves have welded today. Just
moving about together for about 3 days can end up in friendships and
once I was back, I received the above book by post from one of them
tracing the advent of the Javanese political exiles from the Indonesian
Wading through a welter of linguistic errors mostly caused by
irresponsible proof reading, I reached some very significant facts
revealing mostly the brazen part played by Western colonizers just
packing off Asians here and there as though they were some merchandise.
The Javanese who came over belonged to political exiles of the Dutch
Govt., Cape of Good Hope serving the other exile outpost. (Our own
political rebels too were sent by the British to Cape of good Hope and
the Island of Mauritius).
Java shares our political history to some extent. For conserving
space we would forego the account given when it was a part of a large
Buddhist empire to which evidence, soar in wondrous proportions the
amazing structure of Borobudhur. Hindu shrines testify to the spread of
After the Moslem invasions the populace turned Islamic by faith. Then
as in our country the Portuguese had been the first Western power to
conquer parts of it. Today Roman Catholic East Timor remains the only
religion-wise and culture-wise evidence of this subjugation. They built
a string of forts but according to author, Tuan A.Burah, their rule had
been so abhorrent.
The Dutch succeeded them to begin a rule of 350 years but there were
many political rebellions.and intrigues that the Dutch began the
practice of sending ring leaders of these outside the country. These
leaders were naturally princes or those connected to families of
supremacy and according to the author one strand of those who came here
from this archipelago belonged to this group.
As far as I could glean from the facts that sometimes are in a rather
confused form, the Javanese streak is identified with this group and
forms the core group that the book deals with.
The other streak comprises those who were recruited by the Dutch for
service in the Dutch East India company. They are offspring of the
natives of Malacca and the Chinese while the Javanese correspond to the
earlier mentioned category.
Author quotes articles 12 to 21 of the terms of capitulation (of
Dutch territory to the British) to testify to the fact that the Javanese
carried princely titles before they took the Oath of Allegiance that
stripped them of all those titles and made them on par with the other
Today all those who speak the Malay language come under the common
umbrella, Malay. It isa language knit community. The author at different
instances gives lists of names of these exiles as got from State
documents which include familiar nomenclatures and forms of address as
Nona and Machan. (They could be coincidences too).
After the Treaty of Amiens the Javanese, had been given the option of
staying or going back. Some went back while a few of those who opted to
stay had been sent to Hambantota to join the Malays who were already
working very industriously in the salterns or Lunu levayas. An allowance
that was being paid to them had been stopped forcing them to work as the
This led to more common bonds. Author quotes Governor North’s diary
that mentions a category of Malay prisoners of war who received a State
allowance. The author’s progenitor could be a member of this category .
After the allowances were stopped the Javanese had taken to many
avenues of employment in order to survive even taking to military
service while some pioneered the opening of jungle tracts in and around
Colombo. Marandhan and Hulftdorp are mentioned as such areas though it
is a well-known fact that these areas burgeoned into cinnamon producing
areas in the Dutch period itself.
Raja Oesman also called Cpat (mis-spelt for Capt. ?) Cinnamon who
according to the book seems to have pioneered these plantations perhaps
would have been a superintendent. The author however calls him king,
perhaps translating the word Raja. Anyway there is high drama later
related in this well-researched book.
Raja Oesman ‘s son-in-law dies suddenly leaving the widow, Sitti
Afisa, a legacy of nine children and a debt of 3000 rix $ s. Seven
hundred rix dollars have been spent on funeral expenses and more money
on an eye cure for the widow.
All these facts and figures are given in Commission for examining of
Malay claims included in military diary of governor North dated 3 rd
December 1803. To make matters more catastrophic four sons die
simultaneously (perhaps in combat as they were probably enlisted in
military service. No one can explain an alternate way of 4 sons dying
It reminded me of a Prethi Vasthuwa that narrates the tale of a
prethee who carries one hungry child on her hip, another hanging on to
her hands, herself starving and roaming about “carrying all the misery
in the world”. Closer still was Patachara, who lost a husband, all her
children and her parents in one day. Today of course she queens over our
Vesak pandals running to Buddha near naked and mad in her grief.
Javanese, Malay, Sinhala, Tamil, Indian, European —— The terms are
there but the universality creeps in as in the case of the suffering
female. The three singers up in that bungalow off Kuruwita knew it as
they sang with gusto the favourite songs of the land their ancestors
chose to stay back and which they now consider as their own land. Any
plans to ask for a homeland of their own, I remember asking. What
homeland? Whole of Lanka is our homeland, was the answer. I sensed that
they would opt never to leave it.
A timely handbook on home gardening
At a time when a grave food crisis is threatening the world with the
spiraling cost of food grains and other agricultural produce, Sri Lanka
will have to improve cultivation of food crops as a priority task. This
requires a colossal effort. It could no longer be considered a task of
the rural farmer or the modern agricultural enterprises alone. It needs
a national effort with the participation of the entire population.
The world food crisis is exacerbated by several other factors that
are contemporaneous such as the oil crisis and climate change. Added to
this are problems of the local market manipulation, weak infrastructure
and food preservation facilities.
In this context the publication of Gevatu Vagaawe Vidyaatmaka
Padanama (Scientific basis of Home Gardening) by an agricultural expert,
former Deputy Director of Agriculture, former Principal of Sri Lanka
College of Agriculture and lecturer in the Rajarata University K.L
Jayatissa is most timely and welcome.
He not only shows that home gardening could be practiced with equal
profitability both in the city and village but also gives practical
guidelines of how to do it. His years of experience as an agricultural
scientist and his own research into home gardening in Sri Lanka has
enabled him to blend traditional home gardening practices with modern
knowledge and technology.
The book is written in lucid Sinhala with illustrations. The subject
matter is analysed systematically and comprehensively. He has not only
outlined the different types of home gardens in different geographical
climatic zones of the country but also explained their utility.
Home gardening has multiple benefits including the supply of
nutritious vegetables and fruits that go towards the composition of a
balanced diet and a healthy life, additional revenue for the family,
cheap sources of biomass and supply of indigenous medicinal herbs etc.
The book is a reliable guide for home garden planning and optimum use
of physical and human resources including soil and labour, water
management, crop adaptability, rational use of land, use of different
types of fertilizers, production of compost and bio-gas etc. There is
also valuable information on crop management including pest and weed
control and crop rotation. The reader is also introduced to modern
methods of home gardening like protected- culture and hydroponics.
What makes Jayatissa’s book interesting is his use of traditional
knowledge to perfect a system of home gardening to be popularized in the
country. In fact, this was a challenge he had to face as a young
scientist when entrusted with the task of training instructors for home
garden cultivation for which no text books were available.
As he says in the introduction the original basis upon which he
accumulated the knowledge that is condensed in this book came from
recollecting how his uncle maintained the small plot of land at home in
a remote village of Matara district. It is a book that could be
confidently recommended for anyone interested in the subject. It will be
of equal use to college students, undergraduates and the general public.
The last rites
A discussion on the decline of art at the Punchi
Art lay on the floor of the Punchi Theatre, on April 3, gasping for
breath while a handful of artists and intellectuals searched desperately
for the vital signs, hoping a revival could yet be achieved.
Instigated by veteran artist Wasantha Kumara the topic under
discussion was termed “The Decline of Art”; a belief he reinforced in
his opening speech by nostalgically recalling the glorious past when art
was at its prime.
Almost everybody present agreed art has declined. Only Yours Truly
and Prof. Carlo Fonseka refused to toe the line. Were there not good
plays like Madyavediyakuge Asipatha, good books like Professor Guruge’s
Andrew George good works of art that are produced today which are miles
better than the work done in the past? Could it be that everyone sees
only the negative side of everything that takes place today?
There may be nothing to watch on tv that might be intellectually
stimulating but it caters to the masses and if it makes them happy its
wrong to say we must change it. If we do we will be like Big Brother in
There would surely have been not-so-good things going as art in the
glorious 1960s too. But looking back we remember only the good ones and
because the bad ones fell by the roadside as time passed we think
everything that was done in the past was good. As time goes by all these
bad works of art that we are talking about today will be forgotten and
only the good ones will remain.
Who would disagree that in 30 years intellectuals will say look at
Great works like Madyawediyakuge was produced at the time. Why can’t
art go back to that era again?”
Nothing is wrong with today’s art. Its wrong to use the past as a
yardstick and say today’s art has declined!
Here is how Namel Weeramuni has responded to this staunch belief of
I am most thankful for your resourcefully interesting argument. I
agree in what you say. Yet I am not certain that volume and degree of
deep art takes place today, save may be in the field of literature
confined to novels, short stories and poetry. They are individualistic
arts and I agree the creativity and the intellectual stimulus that you
refer are higher in a degree and volume in those individualistic arts.
Nevertheless why is it that the many do not read such literature as
we experienced and are on record, like in the past. Is it because that
people today do not have the time and leisure to read books, which are
I think this is because that no public discussions or talks about
them take place, and the average person floats on these popular waves
(ralla) because they are unable to distinguish the good from the bad.
The ones who have an idea on these distinctions can educate the public.
This is what is required. Arts have declined because such education
is not given. Thirty years back when we travelled in public transport,
when we read newspapers, when we read intellectually stimulating
magazines, when we listened to the radio we got that education. Today
people are not interested in such education because I believe that the
resources are vulgarized and corrupted.
I say art is a “vulgar baby disguised” as popular culture with the
many. I am not saying it is wrong for us to change what the masses like,
what I advocate is to make them realize that there is a difference. If
that happens there will be responsibility, punctuality, care for the
others, etc etc, which does good for the whole community.
Take Madyavediyakuge Asipatha. Hardly any Sinhala paper or any
television channel was interested about discussing its merits or
demerits. This was not the case in the past.
That is why the so-called good ones remain. There are witnesses to
say they are good. In thirty years hence, every thing that happened in
the present may be valued as rubbish altogether or it could be vice
So what happens to the good ones that went unnoticed for lack of
In short, art is like the ‘core’ of love. I quote, from a passage in
Milan Kundera’s novel “Life is Elsewhere”. “In the past, love ——even the
greatest love —— was a kind of escape from social life which was
distasteful. But the love of today’s man is closely connected with our
social duties, our work, our struggle for unity. And that’s where its
new beauty lies.”
The other says, “That kind of beauty, my dear friend, is not new at
all. Didn’t the great writers of the past connect love with social
struggle? The lovers in Shelley’s famous poem were both revolutionaries
who died a common death at the stake. Is that what you mean by love
isolated from social life?” (pp 234-5)
I believe that the “core of love” remains forever. “This love is not
the ideally epitomized love of Romeo and Juliet. But the love for
humanity. Thus, “core of art” should be eternal though it changes from
epoch to epoch”.
He concludes with this apt quote from a play of Griselda Gambaro “Art
is all that deserves to last - lofty sentiments, things and beings
coming to life..........order. In a word: so the trees can keep growing
and putting forth new leaves, so the earth does not become a desolate
The next meeting will be held on June 14th at 4pm at the Punchi
Theatre. Catch you there.