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3rd October 1999

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Purana villages lost in the mists of time

By Gamini G.Punchihewa

The brutal massacre allegedly by the LTTE of three to four villages of Rathmalgahaella/ Mullegama in the outskirts of the Gal Oya Valley, takes me back to the years between 1960 and 1970, when I lived and worked in Namal Oya. Namal Oya lies close to the woodland villages of Mullegamaand Rathmalagahaella about 5-6 miles away from Namal Oya. Rathmalgahaella is also known as Khana.

Past glimpses

Rathmalgahaella, Mullegama and a host of other such purana villages lie in the jungle in the Gal Oya Valley. Before the advent of the Gal Oya multi-purpose project in 1950 launched by the then Gal Oya Development Board/River Valleys Development Board, these purana villages were engulfed in the jungle fastness, sans any proper roads and other communications.There existed only cart-tracks or jungle foot paths. After the the Gal Oya project in 1950 this vast wilderness which was the veritable Veddah habitat, gained a new lease of life.

I lived and workd with the G.O.D.B in Gal Oya in Namal Oya in 1962- 70 as a village officer-in-charge of those newly carved out villages, 2B and 5B. Village 1B comprised some of those purana villages drawn from such displaced villages like Mullegama, Dabagolla, Puthuliadda, Thimburuhena Weva and Katuhampola. Even the Veddahs who lived in Hennebedda (now forlorn) and Bingoda, Iadambowa were re-settled in this village.

Dr. R.L Spittel at the turn of the century had traversed these vanished Veddah trails. His books like 'Wild Ceylon', 'Savage Sanctuary, and Vanished Trails give vivid accounts of these Veddah settlements and old villages, like Mullegama, Bingoda, Nelliadda, Kurunudwinna (through which the LTTErs made their way to Rathmalgahaella. For some time I lived with my family in a camp overlooking the serene Namal Oya tank set against the jungle swathed mountain frontiers of Moranahela, Ballaullahela and Guruhela.

Old cart tracks and foot paths

In those years there existed a rugged cart track starting from Himiduruwava, Paragahakella, among Mawela-Namal Oya, Mullegam, Rathmalgahaella-Galgamuwa after crossing the Rambakkan Oya. Beyond Rathmalgahaella and Galgamuwa , it was impassable save for foot paths which ran through the Mahakade pass. This area was filled with aralu, bulu and nellie forests. The Rathugala Veddah settlement is close by. Rathugala is about two miles away from Gaigamuwa after crossing Rambakkan Oya.

When the Gal Oya Development Board was in charge of its administrative activities, this old cart track was re- constructed to a motorable road from Namala Oya via Mullegama- Ratmalgahaella-Gaigamuwa-Rathugala Manakade - Bulupitiya falling into the Bibile Road. It was constructed in 1964/65 and a bridge too was built over Rambakkan Oya. The present road has a bus service running up to Galgamuwa.

The road construction unit of the G.O.D.B was housed in the old dispensary and school buildings at Mullegama. My old friend Dharamakeerthie,a technical officer was in charge. The Mana Oya-Padiyatalawa- Ampara road too was constructed by the R.V.D.B in the 1960's going past Uhana-Bakkiella where in the past too there were territorial incursions.

Presently there is a WildLife Department beat at Mullegama which existed even in those days.

Old memories never die

When I was working as village officer in Namal Oya from 1970-72, I had been a regular visitor to these villages of Rathmalgahaella-Mullegama-Galgamuwa-Rathugala. I still recall those joyful times spent around Mullegam, Rathmalgahaella, Nelliadda, Kurunduwinne, Galgamuwa, Rathugala. The villagers' diet was mostly Kurakkan thalapa and Kurrakan rotti mixed and some game flesh curry which we relished with gusto. The luscious oranges came from their orange orchards (which are now no more as a virus has set in some years ago).

Among those villagers at Rathmalgahaella, I had a good old friend and tracker named Madigawala. He and his family were constant visitors to our residence at Namal Oya.

The last time I visited these villages of Mullegama-Rathmalgahaella Galgamuwa and Rathugala was in 1991 when I met my old companions.

In 1990 another group of 40 odd villagers were brutally killed by terrorists at Bandaraduwa village which lies off Rathmalagahella. Browsing through the map of Gal Oya (drawn in the 1960's) which also appears in my book titled Souvenirs Of a Forgotten Heritage. (1990) where all these purana vilages, veddah settlements, archaeological sites, are mentioned. I can visualize the probable route they would have taken to reach Rathmalgahaella via Bingoda, Mullegama.

From reports it is presumed that the Tigers had taken the track through Bingoda-Mullegam -Rathmalgahaella, through the jungle and hit Rathmalgahella, guided by the hapless villagers they had taken hostage.

Orange orchards

As Bibile traditionally has been reputed for growing oranges, these purana villagers were skilled orange growers. Those days oranges in Mullegam, Rathmalgahaella, Dabagolla, Namal Oya, fetched from Rs. 5/- to Rs. 10/- for 100 fruits. After the roadways were constructed they were able to market their produce at good prices ranging in the 1960-1970's from Rs. 25 to Rs. 30 per hundred oranges. The G.O.D.B gave all agricultural extension services on scientific lines to them. Two experts were brought from Israel to impart their knowledge on growing of oranges. After the virus attacks on the orange groves in and around the Bibile regions, these orange orchards gradually became extinct.

Proud ancestry

These purana villagers have a proud history dating back to the Uva Welessa revolt (1810-17) to the atrocities perpetrated by the British rulers on these hapless villagers.

Some of them were forced to seek asylum in the Uva Wellassa jungles which was the habitat of the Veddahs.

The revolt led by by Keppetipola Dissawe and his accomplice Madugalle was abortive. They were captured and beheaded in Bogambara, Kandy in 1815.

Three trunk routes

All these past years with the LTTE intrusions into this region, there have been three trunk roads to Colombo, Kandy and Moneragala from Ampara. One is through Ampara-Inginiagala-Siyambalanduwa- Moneragala (also constructed by the G.O.D.B.)

In 1956 the second Ampara Uhana-Bakkiella-Padiyatalawa, Maha Oya- Mahiyangane-Kandy road was constructed in 1960 by the G.O.D.B and lastly this Ampara Namal Oya-Mullegama-Rahmalgahaella- Galgamuwa-Buluptiya Bibile jungle highway constructed by the G.O.D.B, in 1964 /65.

Of the three trunk routes the safest one from probable terrorists' attacks was the road via Namal Oya.

But with the recent brutal attack now this jungle road too is exposed to potential dangers and insecurity.

The Army Unit at Khodawattuwana, Ampara has been in existence from the good old days of the G.O.D.B times.

Though there is a police post at Rathmalgahaella, still it is worthwhile if the army authorities consider having some regular unit between Namal Oya-Mullegama which lies some miles away from Rathmalagahaella. Another alternative place to have an army units is at Kurunuduwinne where a cart track exists from Nelliyadda via Kurunuduwinne, Policedda (Dr. Spittel's famed Veddah outpost) - Maha Oya.

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