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Village in the jungle:

Woolf portrays a multitude of themes

Leonard Woolf was born in 1880 in Kensington, London, England. He was the third of ten children born to Soloman Rees Sidney Woolf and Marie Woolf.


Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf

Leonard Woolf was educated at St. Paul’s School, London and won a classical scholarship in 1899 and gained admission to Trinity College, Cambridge.

Leonard Woolf was a political theorist, author, publisher and a civil servant and identified as a liberal intellectual and was in the habit of carrying 70 volumes of complete works of Voltaire in his luggage during his travels.

During his university career in Cambridge his close associates were Lytton Strachey, John Maynard, Clive Bell, E.M.Forster, Desmond Mccathry and Thoby Stephen.

They formed ‘Bloomsbury Group’ comprised of intellectuals of the calibre of Virginia Woolf who was the wife of Leonard Woolf.

Just after his graduation In the year 1904 Leonard Woolf came to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and became a cadet in the Ceylon Civil Service under the British Colonial Administration.

First he served in the Jaffna peninsula and later in Kandy and again in the year 1908 he was promoted Assistant Government Agent of Hambantota district considered as the least developed district in the country.

After serving three years in the Hambantota district as the Government Agent out of seven years stay in Sri Lanka , Leonard Woolf left Sri Lanka in 1911 and got married to Virginia in 1912.

Woolf studied both languages of Tamil and Sinhala which facilitated him in his communication with the villagers of grass root levels.

An analytical study of Village in the Jungle reveals Leonard Woolf's mastery of Sinhala colloquial expressions of simple rural folk of Sri Lanka.

He has made use of expressions of the villagers in conversation during their day-to-day activities and also the filthy language when they lost their temper. ‘When the belly is empty the mouth talks of rice.’‘Vesi! vesi mau ! (How Silindu reacted when his wife Dingihami gave birth to twins of two girls the characters of Punchi Menika and Hinnihami in the novel.)

In addition, Woolf’s exceptional knowledge on Buddhism, Jataka stories, hinduism, superstitions, rituals, traditions, customs and agricultural methods of the country helped him in creating an authentic milieu to his tragic narration of ‘Village in the Jungle’ published in 1913.

‘The Buddha said, kill not at all, kill nothing. It is a sin to kill.

(This was the sermon given by by the old man to Silindu on his way to prison after killings.) Woolf had implied the effects of redemption taken place in the mind of Silindu just after listening the basic tenets of Buddhism.

‘The Village in the Jungle’ (Beddegama) compiled by Woolf can be identified as a tragedy of vast dimensions unfolding the stark reality of every facet of lives of rustic communities exploited by numerous forces including outside influences.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the reader of the novel ‘Village in the Jungle’ never feels leaving it till the last page which is of highly emotive in nature.

Evil forces lurking in the jungle, corruption rampant among the members of the administrative hierarchy and superstitions, effects of fate, poverty and hunger, alienation, exploitation and discrimination of simple villagers are the numerous themes highlighted by Woolf in his novel.


Monk's House’ where Leonard Woolf and his wife Virginia Woolf lived in Rodmill, London

‘A man may wash himself clean of oil, but however much he rubs himself he will never rub off fate.’(Chapter vii.)

Corruption

Woolf had constantly highlighted the corruption rampant among the peons, koralas and jail guards who were in the habit of obtaining bribes even to provide some information as experienced by Punchi Menika when she reached the Prison of Tangalla.

Mudalali Fernando tried to obtain a sexual bribe from Punchi Menika to relieve their family of debts and to offer her husband Babun a job as a gambaraya This was the situation during the Colonial era in Ceylon but now in post independent Sri Lanka the situation has become worst.

The novel can be considered a treatise on the socio-economic study comprising every aspect of the lives of the people of a remote hamlet in Ceylon under the British Colonial Administration.

‘Beddagama’ was the name of the village in the jungle and it originally comprised 10 wattle and daub huts and at the end Woolf had given a vivid description of how the last house where Punchi Menika lived in isolation disappeared.

When she was struggling for survival in her hut all alone Punchi Menika reminisced on the evil powers and devils reigning in the jungle.

This was constantly reminded to her by Silindu whenever she was with him in the jungle.

‘Did I not often tell you of the devils of the trees that lurk for you by the way?

I have stood by you against them in the day. I have held you in my arms when they howled about the house at night.’

Woolf had symbolically portrayed the evil forces of the jungle and the effects of fate in his narration.

‘When the end was close upon her a great black shadow glided into the doorway.

Two little eyes twinkled at her steadily, two immense white tusks curled up gleaming against the darkness.’

‘Appochchi, Appochchi’ she screamed. ‘He has come, the devil from the bush.

He has come to me as you said. Aiyo! Save me, save me! Apochchi!, were the last words of Punchi Menika.

Woolf had woven a closely knit story based on a family alienated and discriminated by the rest of the families of Beddagama.

Silindu was the protagonist of the story and he and his two daughters Hinnihamy and Punchi Menika were inextricably interlinked to the jungle and its evil forces, devils and its wild animals.

Unseen forces

In addition to the unseen evil forces lurking in the jungle the outside intruders to Beddagama brought endless problems to their family.

Silindu and his family were fully aware of the nature of the jungle and lived along with the evil forces and the devils suffering silently and never making an attempt overcome them.Silidu mistakenly believed by killing of two intruders to his family could put an end to all the misery.

Woolf had attributed misery, sorrow and tragedy destroyed the peace and harmony of Silindu’s family and the disintegration of the whole village to the outsiders who intruded Beddagama in order fulfill their vicious desires.

Throughout the story Wolf had given detailed descriptions about the abject poverty perpetual starvation and the deaths occurred on daily basis due to the affliction of malaria.

This was the atmosphere that pervaded the villagers of Beddagama in addition to the catstrophic effects caused chiefly by the non- availability of rain water for chena and paddy cultivations. ‘Usually the villagers lived entirely by cultivating chenas.’(Ch. 1) ‘hunger and the fear of hunger always lay upon the village.’

‘It was only for a few months each year after the crop was reaped that the villagers knew the daily comfort of a fully belly.’

Woolf could gather vital information during his frequent circuit visits to remote villages of Hambantota district.

Diary notes

‘Village in the Jungle’ is based on his diary notes he had made during his visits to the remote villages of Hambantoa district.

His unique knowledge on chena cultivation is evident by the authentic description given in the first chapter of the novel. ‘In August every man took a katty and went out into the jungle and cut down the undergrowth, over an acre or two. Then he returned home. In September he went out again and set fire to the dead undergrowth.’ As a writer deeply involved in political ideology of Liberal Party and a keen student of sociology, Woolf put into practice his knowledge when he assumed duties as the Government Agent of Hambantota.

Even though he was a British national he visited the remote village areas to gather firsthand information of the issues affecting the marginalised rural communities of the Hambantota district. Prof. Yasmin Goonaratne backed by her academic expertise on oriental and occidental literature and cultural diversities has done a comprehensive research on the conflict that emerged in between the two cultures which is vividly portrayed by Woolf in his narration on Beddagama.

The themes depicted in the novel bear some parallelism to the themes highlighted in the novels of Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad and E.M.Foster belong to the genre of British Colonial literature.

 

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