Dambana guys storm cricket pitch:
Cricket - Veddah style
The versatile Veddah cricket team
Velanpollen bola pojjata pata arima' (playing ball with a velan pole)
in Veddah villages is a common sight and is nothing new. This is game
akin to cricket.Their lean but strongly built dark tanned skinned bodies
are visibly adjusted to a rough jungle life or to engage in chena
cultivation in the jungles, a lifestyle typical to the Veddah community.
The stamina they need on hunting trails are visible in their bodies as
they tirelessly play in the tiny ground at Dambana Kanishta Vidyalaya,
the only available ground near their village to practice cricket, a game
many people think is a strange game to the Veddah community.
For 33- year- old lean but steadily built and soft spoken Heen Banda,
a son of the present Veddah Chief, Uruvarige Vanniyala Etto, and for his
team, cricket is not a strange game. They have played cricket in their
village with balls made of Kahata gedi (a round shape nut) and with bats
made of Velan Polu, a light timber pole taken from a jungle tree. So
they cleverly played the game.
They learned to play cricket from the teachers of Dambana Kanishta
Vidyalaya the school where they had their basic education in the same
way they learned how to use the bow and arrow to sharpen their
traditional life skills to spent a jungle life.
That was how bola pojja mandokirilla (playing cricket) became a part
of their life like the way they trained on mala leeyen gachchana
(shooting bows and arrows) from adults in their own community.
The keen eyes skilled on aiming at a prey in the jungle in their
hunting trails and the strong arms they have after engaging in
traditional chena cultivation have made their physical structure more
suitable to throw the cricket ball direct at the wicket and also for
batsman to hit hard on the ball to reach the edge of the ground.
Bowling to hit the wicket-the
young men have immense
practice firing the target
|On the way to
a boundary...Batting his heart out
Though cricket is not a traditional game of the Veddah community,
there is no ruley that the Veddahs could not engage in the gentleman's
As Veddah Chief Uruvarige Vanniyala Etto said, since playing with a
bow and arrow is prohibited in schools, the Veddah children of their
community has to adjust to the situation in schools and learn the games
they played in schools.
As he put in his own words, Bola pojja mando karanna hithlana ekata
mangachchana eka mala leeyata mangachchana ekama me attanta
thahanampojja madokarranna eka kudui . (I cannot stop or prohibit them
from doing what they prefer whether it is playing cricket or playing
with the bow and arrow).
"I cannot stop them from playing cricket as long as they don't break
values and traditions of the Veddah community," giving his candid
opinion about the game played by kekulo in his community Veddah Chief
Uruvarige Vanniyalaetto said.
Though he did not have direct control over these youth playing
cricket including his sons, his gave them his blessings with them as
long as his 'kekulo' do not act against tradition.
Therefore, their traditional attire, a faded sarong clad wrapped
around the waist and folded upto upper knee level , while their unruly
hair is tied in a tiny knot a little above the shoulder and the eta mala
(necklaces) made out of white and grey colored kirindi seeds worn around
their necks can impress anybody about their identity of the Veddah
The Veddah Chief is optimistic about the way his kekulo play the game
without breaking tradition and also believes that they won't go against
their community in the future too.
He thinks that people also like to see his kekulo playing cricket in
their traditional dress. Veddah youth playing cricket is no issue as far
as the community is concerned.
This does not mean that it will impinge on their traditional way of
life and the Veddah cricket team consisting of 15 youth were engaged in
their traditional cultivation when we visited Dambana without any prior
notice. The team comprised ,Heen Banda (Captain), Punchi Banda (Vice
Captain), Kalu Banda, Thupiya, Sudda, Kiriya, Mahathun, Chootiya, Manchi
Kekula, Chutta, Rathne Kekula, Kaluwa and Kadira are the members of the
team and many of them busy in their chena.
It was Kadira the youngest in the team or 'Avathevakaraya'
(supporter) as the team mates introduce him, was the one who could trace
team mates from the work they engaged in their village and gather them
near the playground. However, they also felt the absence of Manchi
Kekula the highest scorer in the team as he had gone to Hennanigala to
visit a relative that day.
They take bundles of 'bulath vita' (betel leaf), as they prepare for
the game and chew betel continuously as if it gives them a sort of
strength and mental balance to prepare for the game.
According to Heen Banda the Veddah cricket captain, they all played
cricket when they were schooling and played the game as they get any
spare time even after completing their schools education also.
Recalling the way they started playing cricket with teams outside
Dambana ,Heen Banda says that it was the President of Kurunegala Scout
Association, Jinna A Mohammed who encouraged them to play cricket as he
visited their school from time to time to organise scout camps.
"He taught us to play cricket and organised matches with students
visiting our school for camping. We won many of the matches we played
with the visiting teams to Dambana. For nearly eight years we played
cricket with him", Heen Banda said.
Their first exposure outside Dambana was also initiated by Jinna A.
Mohamed from the Kurunegala Scouting Association when he invited the
cricket team to play a match at the Welagedara Stadium in Kurunegala
nearly two years ago this initiated a beginning of a new journey for
Many people who gathered at the stadium to see the Veddah team
playing cricket obtained their contact numbers as the Veddah community
were using mobile phones to communicate.
"Many people participated in the match and took our phone numbers and
invited us for matches in various areas", Heen Banda said.Invitations
have come from various quarters to play matches with them for fund
raising events and many other purposes.
"One match we played in Hasalaka, to raise funds for a kidney
patient. They offered us Rs.10,000 for playing the match but we donated
that Rs.10,000 to the patients", Heen Banda said.
Though they are generous they face many difficulties. As many of the
cricket team members are in their twenties and early thirties they are
married and have children and depended on chena cultivation, hunting and
many other traditional vocations for their livelihood. Once they play
cricket they miss their livelihood activities.
"When we are invited for a match we have to go to that area a day
prior to the match. They may pay us transport expenses, food and
lodging. But when we return home there is nothing to eat. This is a
major problem for us", Heen Banda said.That prompted the team to play
the game in a more organised manner and move forward balancing the game
on the one hand and the livelihood on the other.
"Then we discussed this matter and decided to ask Rs.100,000 for a
match if any organisation wants us to play a match in any area apart
from transport, food and lodging provided to us during our visit. We
prepared that agreement", he said.Wimalaratne was included as media
spokesman and cricket commentator in the Veddah language.
After this decision they played their first match in Ahungalla
charging Rs.100,000 and also in many other places like Embilipitiya.
"I cannot remember the exact number of matches we played and won. But
I remember that we won many matches", Heen Banda said.
Vanniyalaetto also justified their position asking how the family
members of these cricket team survive in their homes when they play
cricket outside their village.
"They don't have any intention of playing cricket to earn money. But
they have their meals but how do family members in the village survive
when they are out of the village ?", Vanniyalaetto queried. They don't
have great plans for their team and hope to continue it only as a part
of their lives.
" We are not planning to go on a long journey with this. We may play
cricket if somebody asks us to participate. Otherwise we do not have
high hopes ', Heen Banda said.But they are have an idea to use such a
forum to help the old and sick in their community if they can collect
funds from their matches.
Though the game of cricket is considered a 'sudda's game', Veddahs
have broken tradition and infiltrated this territory after a lapse of
many years and are on their way to break the age-old traditions of
cricket ."It is our tradition to play the game of cricket our way in our
attire. We are ready to play anywhere in the world if we are invited to
do so but only if they allow us to play the game our way t", Heen Banda
said determinedly. His bright eyes and expressionless face spoke a
thousand words and how determined he was to protect Veddah traditions
while they played the game of cricket.