A look at Mt. Lavinia from a new perspective
Author: Mohan Raj Madawala
A Biso publication
Lovina, the latest tale written by Mohan Raj Madawala, in a way
should be analysed in a cultural and anthropological point of view.
Cultural anthropology consists of matters such as basic cultural scope
of a particular group of people and the beliefs, practices, traditions,
folk tales, hobbies, sexual and religious behaviour.
At the same time, ethnology, the science that speaks about the
historical evolution of a certain ethnic group and the anthropological
status that is capable of assembling such a group of personnel in a
social construction is also a subcategory of anthropology.
Here it seems that the author has named his narrative by keeping in
mind the present end of the relevant historical sequence. Lovina is a
young woman who had been born to Pinchi, a Portuguese national Aponsuwa.
At the end she is depicted as the heroine of the story as well as a
crucial and a revolutionary character, who even changes her name to
“Lavinia” after falling in love with the British Governor Maitland.
However, Mohan is not defining his historical construction really as
a traditional account of history. Even in his Maagam Soliya story, Mohan
did not emphasise it as a historical narrative as he had only extracted
the mere sap out from these ruins of lives that had lost their way in
the dark unfathomable caves of history and made use of it as material to
built his story.
This particular avenue of writing where the writer is permitted to
breathe life into these human remains that can be found in many places
in history that have been buried under the sand of time without any
identity, is also profoundly described by Prof. Wimal Dissanayake in his
series of articles titled “Literature and varieties of history”.
Hence Mohan makes a creative commentary on the Hulawaali caste to
which Lovina belongs, from the tragic tale of Punni, the great
grandmother of Lovina's caste. Here it is evident that the author has
explored deeply into the social practices of the Rodi clans and their
For example, the points and issues raised by Mohan in his
construction regarding the marriage traditions, family life and hobbies
of the Rodi groups, is proved by the facts presented in the Rodiya
chapter of M.D. Raghavan's The Ceylon book.
The dance item performed by the group of Hulawaalis including Lovina
at the Governor's Mansion, is described in Mohan's book as something
that does not belong to the genre of classical dance style. In The
Ceylon, Raghavan describes the Rodi dance as “The swaying dance of the
men and women”.
Raghavan also says that the Rodi teach their young ones the history
of their ancestors.
The Rodiya has a percentage of literacy in keeping with his rich
traditions and the literature few impart what they know, to the
children'. That is how Punni becomes a traditional teacher to Lovina's
mother Pinchi and Pinch's daughter Lovina.
In many places in Maagam Soliya and Lovina, a mystery that could not
be placed alongside the reality is evident. In Maagam Soliya, a house is
built with clay mixed with breast milk belonging to a woman with an
enormous pair of breasts. In Lovina, Punni constantly plays with herself
by jumping into a well in the vicinity. At the end she even comes of age
in the well. These unbelievable depictions often exceed the generality
of the theory of life and mock the rules of nature. But in his book
Lanka janathawa (People of Ceylon) Dr. Nandadeva Wijesekera points out
in the chapter titled “The sex life”, that most of the unnatural events
of the folk society had taken place in the well.
An interesting fact brought forward by Dr. Nandadeva in his book is
that although lustful feelings are generated in the mind of the village
girls and children, there are no fair and justifiable opportunities for
them to be engaged in such activities. Moreover, the young villagers did
not even know what “lust” meant.
Hence the village girls are tempted to spend a lot of time at bathing
places such as the river and the well. That is why Mohan exaggerates the
long hours spent by Punni at the well.
When “lust” is socialised in an incorrect manner, others fall into
trouble, That is how adultery is born. Crime is also an extension for
the story. On the other hand, if men and women, who look at each other
in a kind manner and mutually understand each others’ sexual cravings
with respect, satisfies their needs without harming society, it does not
constitute a crime. One should not be eager to look at it with a greedy
and narrow traditionalistic point of view. And that is how the amorous
relationships and sexual satisfaction found in Lovina can be analysed.
Even if there is someone who looks at them with religious or
philosophical outlook undoubtedly they might have behaved the same way.
The other important aspect of Mohan's creation is the supernatural
formula he uses in his stories. One might even consider this as a chain
of false and mysterious state of events.
While describing certain practices and events in his tales, Mohan
does not show us their general timeframe. Phrases such as “she started
this task when the boy was still a toddler” and “The trunk of this tree
had worn out because of the constant rubbing of her body” are good
examples for this pattern.
This is the sub-conscious rule on time found in our communal psyche.
Henry Parker collected many folktales by travelling through numerous
villages in Sri Lanka and he compiled them into three volumes titled
Village folktales of Ceylon. In the appendix of the third volume of the
series, he records some lively expressions of villagers. The story
“concerning the royal prince and princess” starts like this....
“Once upon a time there was a king, a carpenter and washer....”
At one pint of this story a long time period is described as....
“When would this prince collapse with his flying machine?” Then the
astrologer said,” it will crash into the sea after three years and three
months from today....”
In the folktale the prince drives the flying machine and remains in
the sky for tree years and three months. And the villagers at that time
did not doubt it as they only required entertainment.
Mohan Raj uses this formula in his creation. One can see through not
the direct structure but the innocent enjoyment, the timely thought and
the rhythm of ancient life that lingers at the heart of Mohan Raj
Madawala's grand tale.
The writer is a lecturer at the University of Peradeniya