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Sunday, 10 November 2013

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Dambana guys storm cricket pitch:

Cricket - Veddah style



The versatile Veddah cricket team



Heen Banda

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 with sagacity

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 game.

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 community.

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 them.

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.

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