Peregrinations and Hallucinations in the Kumana Wild

DAVID GDavid Graham … a Comment which the Editor considers worthy of Individuated Airing

Interesting post — [that by Stefan d’Silva on  “Legend and Mystery in Kumana National Park”  ]. Didn’t hear about the nittaewo until one of the wildlife trackers told me about them on a trip in Kumana in 2014. My dad took my brother and me on big game hunts for wild boar in Okande in August 1963 and April 1964. Dad’s friend Dr. Guy Paranavitharne and his three sons were among the hunting party. Also along were my dad’s childhood friend Dr. Rajah Beddewela and Dr. Guy’s cousin Claude Abeywardena and his two sons.

47424388.cached editors’ addition from

We also went to Kumana on both trips. The game warden was a fellow named Jayawardena, and the game ranger’s name was Buhary. An old man would walk all the way from Pottuvil to deliver the mail once a week. The first time we were there, we saw a dead elephant about a quarter mile from the game warden’s bungalow. A cultivator had shot it, and it had apparently suffered for a few weeks before succumbing to its injuries. It was crawling with maggots and its hide was hanging from its backbone like the folds of a collapsed tent.
We had heard of Yapahath Hamy but some other hunters had already engaged his services when we got there. This happened on both trips. So we hired a fellow named Chelliah. One of them, I forget which, had lost a hand in a bear attack. It might have been Yapath Hamy since I don’t recall Chelliah missing a hand.
In Diversions of a Diplomat in Ceylon, Philip K. Crowe writes about big game hunting in Okande in the 1950s. He mentions a tracker named Carolis. P.E.P. Deraniyagala had illustrated Crowe’s book. My brother and I met Deraniyagala at his residence in 1967. We were on a mad enterprise with an older friend named Shelton Wijesinghe. Deraniyagala was a confused old man by then.
The most fascinating character at Okande was a swami who lived in a cleft of a rock close to the ocean. He wore a span cloth and his hair was long and coiled and a reddish brown from being burned by the sun. He would spend hours doing yogic exercises, including staring straight up into the sun. There’s a hindu kovil on that rock now. Cedric Martenstyn managed to speak to him and wrote an article about him in the Sunday Observer circa 1966. I forget the details but apparently he’d been doing that for forty years. I should go to the national archives and look it up. When I asked about the swami a few years ago, some fishermen directed me to a grave. No idea if that was that swami’s grave or the grave of  a swami who came after him.
We went back to Okande for the first time in forty years in August 2004. Came back to the area in December that year and spent Christmas night at a hotel in Arugam Bay. Checked out fifteen minutes before the tsunami hit. Didn’t even hear about it until we reached Tissamaharama a few hours later.
I need to go back and take another look at the Kudumbigala jungle monstery. I photographed an elephant on a rock near there. Very unusual place. According to veteran scuba diver Nihal Hewapathirana, Hermann Hesse and his friend, painter Hans Sturzenegger, went there on their trip to Ceylon in 1911. Aldous Huxley is supposed to have visited some years later. Also the occultist Aleister Crowley. Nihal is a good raconteur. The next time you visit Arugam Bay, ask him about the time he served frozen vodka shots to a lachrymose Marlon Brando at the Ramada Culver City on Sepulveda Boulevard in the early 1990s. Nihal once told me he’d seen Satan in Arugam Bay. The devil was blue, he said. He might have been hallucinating.
ADDENDUM, one day later: “Should have mentioned the cave paintings of elephants and the Kiripokunahela cave paintings. They are similar to the petroglyphs at Arches National Park in Moab and the rock art in Thompson Springs and Sego Canyon, Utah. The lack of proper tools had something to do with it, but these rock artists also struggled with basic issues like proportion and perspective–problem shared by primitive cultures around the world.  It could also be that people with better artistic gifts were kept from doing cave paintings of their own, that privilege being reserved for shamans who kept a tight grip on who got to relate the tribal narrative.

ADDENDUM TWO, two days later: The first thing I should have asked our drivers before we headed into Kumana National Park was,”Have you guys ever done this before?” Clearly, neither one had. And yes, we had two drivers: the first guy was the one who drove us from Arugam Bay to Panama in his three-wheeler scooter taxi, and the second guy was the one who drove us from Panama to Okande and Kumana in his jeep. They were both highly excitable, jumping out of the jeep with a clatter of doors as soon as they spotted an animal. Finally had to threaten to physically restrain them if they didn’t quit doing that. Both sat upfront (my bro and I and the guide from the wildlife department were in back) and between them they managed to startle a leopard and spook a small herd of elephants.

Had a strange experience at Kudumbigala. After going up to see the ancient chaitya at the summit, I was looking around and taking pictures when I noticed an elephant on a rock a couple of hundred yards away. He hadn’t been there when I looked in that direction moments before, and then he suddenly appeared as if conjured up by a genie.
DG 3
It made me nervous on the way down, and I kept expecting to encounter him on the long walk back through the jungle to my vehicle. I didn’t put it past the guy–who spent a few unnerving moments looking directly at me–to sneak through the thickets and surprise me somewhere on my back trail. One of the most surreal things I saw there was an elderly monk sitting on a rock, limned against the hard blue sky with a cell phone glued to his ear. I didn’t want to offend him so I didn’t take his picture.
I also wanted to visit the grave of the famous swami at the hindu kovil at Okande. My brother and I had seen this enigmatic mystic–who did incredible yogic things like staring up into the sun for hours without suffering retinal damage–when we were hunting for wild boar with our Dad in 1963 and 1964.
DG 1
DG 4 “I know how Robert Capa must have felt after seeing blurred prints of the pictures he took on Omaha Beach in Normandy. We had happened upon a small herd of elephants when our drivers lost it and started yelling “Aliya, aliya, aliya,” as if we didn’t know what we were looking at. The animals bolted, trumpeting indignantly. I just had enough time to capture a few shaky images before they disappeared into the jungle.” — David Graham
DG 2 “Our drivers scared the daylights out of this young male leopard as he sunned himself on a rock. His expression reminded me of that line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Jesus, who are those guys?”
AA=jungle-dwelling-vadda-people-sri-lanka See jungle-dwelling-vadda-people-sri-lanka


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2 responses to “Peregrinations and Hallucinations in the Kumana Wild

  1. I am all for hunting Wild Boar, but not any other. Wild Boar is a menace specially to the cultivator. They also multiply so fast. The strange thing is that the law allows you to kill it, but not transport.

  2. I am reading this article 5 years after it was published. Correction – Dr. Guy Paranavitana had four sons and I was the youngest. David (the author) and his brother Tony Graham were about my age, and I remember them well. It was a fantastic trip, never to be repeated. In later years I became a tea planter and visited Oakanda and Kumana about 38 years ago when I was planting in Nanu Oya. It is in my ‘to do’ list to visit these places again on my next visit to Sri Lanka. I now live in the USA and my life and experiences in Sri Lanka are what defines me.

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