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The Sunday TimesPlus

30th March 1997



Comforter and healer: Dr. B. P. N. Jayasekera

By Chamintha Tilakaratna

Dr. Jayasekera, a friend to everyone.

They came from far and wide
They sought you
In your healing little niche
Down Elibank road
Some were the highest of the land
Many were the poorest of the poor
And some
Even rascals and ungrateful...
You treated them all
Wisely and patiently

Thus playwright Henry Jayasena remembers Dr. B.P.N. Jayasekera whose service in medicine lasted more than 50 years. He was more than a healer of the sick: he was a provider of the poor, the comforter of the disturbed and the confused and a friend of everyone he came to know.

"He gave me money once a week and sometimes twice a week," said a poor cancer patient Dr. Jayasekera had befriended. V.R. Amesh’s disease was complicated but the early treatment prescribed by the doctor had saved him from an early death. He advised Amesh to go to the cancer hospital and do the operation. Thanks to him he is living today and gets his drugs from the hospital free.

Fifty years, back as he passed out as a doctor, B.P.N. was sent to a hospital on the outskirts of Ratnapura. One night a patient was brought to the hospital who needed surgery immediately if her life was to be saved. The hospital had neither the facilities nor an anaesthetist. The trip to Colombo was too long and so strenuous that she could not stand it.

As the doctors debated what should be done, young Dr. Jayasekera decided to do the operation, the least he could do, as it was the only way to save her.

With the help of a nurse and light from an oil lamp he set to work. The patient was saved. "Ever since then she came every year in grateful remembrance; never did she forget a single year," said Mrs. Anula Jayasekera wife of the late doctor.

Money had no attraction for him nor did any pleasures except a sundowner with his close friends.

‘Don’t bother about my fees come to me whenever you are ill,’ he used to tell his patients, who came from all walks of life.

Henry Jayasena recalls: ‘Dr. Jayasekera was never in a hurry. He talked to his patients, put them at ease and then asked them about their ailments. The patients told him what they were suffering from. He studied them carefully. Their gait, the weight they put into their steps and the way they behaved told him a great deal of the patient, how really ill he was."

Angelo with his family.

One of the greatest things he had done was to adopt a one-pound child who was not expected to live. Dr. Jayasekera, who in his early years was at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital, took the baby in hand, fed him milk with an ink-filler, like one would feed a pet squirrel - he was so delicate and fragile a premature baby, the first of its kind the ‘bachelor father’ nursed. He nursed the little one with his own hands and with the help of his comrade Dr. Raphael nourished the child and saw him grow up. Today Angelo is a healthy and robust father of a small family.

Angelo recounted: "I always looked upto him as my father. I did not have the need to look for my real parents because I never felt their absence. He looked after all my needs: he sent me to school with his own children; when I was old enough to marry he bought me a block of land, put up a house where I brought up my family.

‘I am one of the most fortunate to have been brought up by Dr. Jayasekera who did not give up hope when even my parents left me,’ said Angelo.

A close friend and patient Bandara says: ‘A special quality of Dr. Jayasekera was that he did not rush to prescribe drugs. He advocated simple methods of cures like kottamalli and steaming with lime leaves. He drew up diet charts and gave his patients lots of advice on avoiding drugs to cure oneself."

Dr. Earl Fonseka, Sumithra Pieris, Livi Wijemanne, Gamani Corea said they all felt a void that cannot be filled.

Dr. Jayasekara died recently of an illness a team of doctors could not identify. When he died he was the UN doctor of Sri Lanka. His last words were: "We’ve had some good times, haven’t we?"

To conclude, here’s Henry Jayasena again:

Dear Friend
Comforter and Healer
Mentor and Confidante
May God
Give you peace
That you
Have so richly earned...

Isolated stone age tribeswoman abandoned her 20th century New Jersey life

American plans jungle trip to win back wife

"In 1993, unable to cope with the modern world of cars, fast food and central heating, Yarima Good shed her Western clothes and returned to the jungle." An American anthro pologist intends to go to the Amazonian jungle to search for his Stone Age tribeswoman wife and persuade her to rejoin him in the West.

Kenneth Good, 50, from New Jersey, hopes to find Yarima, whom he first met when studying the Yanomama Indians of the Amazon rainforest. He captured worldwide attention in 1987 when he persuaded Yarima, then 22, to leave her world of loincloths and spears and join him in the United States. Their unprecedented union was hailed as one of the greatest love stories of all time.

In 1993, unable to cope with the modern world of cars, fast food and central heating, Yarima Good shed her Western clothes and returned to the jungle. In the United States she had struggled to learn English, was frequently baffled by the fittings of late 20th century domestic life, and found the scrutiny of curious neighbours hard to bear.

Mr Good now hopes to return to South America to search for Yarima and persuade her to rejoin him and their three children, aged ten, eight and five.

According to South American news reports, Mr Good has promised his children that he will ‘’bring Mummy home" and has organised an expedition team which will work its way through likely areas of the jungle, equipped with hundreds of photographs of the Good children. Expedition workers will also carry copies of letters written by the children to their mother, and recorded pleas from them to her to return to the family home in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Mr Good did not return calls yesterday from the college where he teaches in New Jersey, but his expedition reportedly aims to make contact with Yarima in a dense area of the Amazon rainforest on the Venezuelan side of the border, between the Orinoco and Macajay rivers. According to one scientist yesterday, the region may still contain people who have never met a white man and who live in ignorance of the 20th century.

A Brazilian photographer, Valdir Cruz, claims to have seen Mrs Good recently in the jungle and taken several snapshots of her. Senhor Cruz said that she has abandoned the Afro-style haircut which she favoured briefly while living in the West and has re-entered tribal life.

Photographs showed her in the customary red body paint of the Yanomama people complete with the small white sticks which the Yanomama put through their pierced nostrils and cheeks.

"She was naked and her body was painted," said Mr Cruz. "She was carrying a child on her back." Since re-entering the jungle, Yarima is also reported to have re-married. Anthropologists were severely critical of Mr Good when he first arrived in the United States with his wife, whom he met in the jungle as a nine-year-old and married when she was 13. Friends insisted that his motives were genuine, but scientists deplored his actions as selfish and unthinking.

Carlo Zacquini, an Italian missionary in South America, said yesterday: "It would be more natural to take the Good children to the rainforest to visit her. It would be cruel to attempt to take this Indian woman back to a life of misery in the West."

She spurned the good life

"When she first stared into a mirror she feared that her reflection would attack her. As she lay in bed in their warm, two-bedroom house, Yarima dreamed of jungle streams and of upturning forest logs to search for a snack of beetles."

When Yarima Good arrived in the United States in 1987 she was a 22-year-old Stone Age woman, accustomed to a diet of insects, alligator meat and jungle leaves.

She mistook the first car she saw for a bright-eyed monster, and she had never worn shoes. Modern devices such as washing-machines, television and the telephone were as foreign to her as they would have been to Neanderthal man and her arrival in a suburban community in well-to-do New Jersey caused a worldwide sensation.

Western academics criticised her husband, Kenneth, an anthropologist, for transporting the dark- haired, almond-eyed beauty out of the Venezuelan jungle where she had lived a primitive but happy life with her Yanomama tribe. They are arguably the last people on Earth to have remained undisturbed by the 20th century. Their’s is a loinclothed, hunter-gatherer existence, which the young Kenneth Good went to study in 1975, intending to stay only a few weeks.

Instead. he stayed for 12 years, and fell in love with a woman he had first known as a jungle-wise nine- year-old. During their courtship, she addressed him as "Long Feet" and "Big Forehead" and giggled at his black beard.

Western life was hard for Yarima. Maritza Nelson, a language teacher who taught her English in her first months in New Jersey, recalled yesterday: "She was very eager to learn and a charming person, always smiling, but she had no concept of time. She did not know if it was morning or afternoon, or when she would next see her husband. She could not get used to the Western custom of her husband leaving her during the day while he went to his job."

The Goods had three children and Yarima was, said Mrs Nelson, an attentive, loving mother. She made moderate progress with English and was introduced to modern inventions such as supermarkets. "One thing you noticed about her was that she could not co-ordinate colours," Mrs Nelson said. "She was also very short - about 4ft - and when she was pregnant you could not really notice that she was carrying a child."

When she first stared into a mirror she feared that her reflection would attack her. As she lay in bed in their warm, two-bedroom house, Yarima dreamed of jungle streams and of upturning forest logs to search for a snack of beetles. As the months in the West passed, the holes in her face through which sticks had once been passed, began to heal and her feet grew soft in their modern shoes.

American food intrigued the young tribeswoman whose diet, up till then, had been one of plantain, Amazon fish, roast snake and tarantulas. Hamburgers seemed to suit her tastebuds, and she would go through crazes - chips one day, fried chicken the next. She soon lost the slender hips and svelte form which had helped her to survive in the jungle.

Some things in the West enchanted Yarima. She liked traffic jams, fairs and films. When she heard tape-recordings of her jungle people, however, tears would course down her cheeks and she would yearn to leave.

David Chanoff. who worked with Mr Good on his book, Into the Heart, said yesterday: "This is not the first time Ken has been back into the jungle looking for Yarima."

Mr Chanoff described Mr Good as "an unusual person, exceptional, very determined - he can be rough and aggressive, but he also has a deeply romantic side". Mr Good’s last attempt to persuade his wife to rejoin him in the West nearly succeeded. Lengthy negotiations were held with Yarima’s brother and she eventually agreed to accompany Mr Good to a jungle landing strip where an aeroplane was waiting to fly them and their infant child out.

At the last minute, she decided she could not do it. "It is hard to imagine the emotions she must have experienced," Mr Chanoff said. "So powerful were they that she left Ken and her baby and the last that Ken saw of her was as she ran back into the jungle."

Mr Chanoff, who lived with the Goods on and off for a year, added: "Yarima found it impossible to acclimatise to modern life." At home the three children spoke Yanomama, but as their English improved beyond the house, Yarima found herself increasingly cut off.

Mr Chanoff is not optimistic about the chances of his friends overcoming the gulf between the Stone Age and the 20th century. "The Yanomama trek for half of the year, their life-spans are not that long - they live to about 45 years - and they have evolved differently from us."

Mr Good was attacked by his American colleagues, but Mr. Chanoff said that he believed Mr. Good’s motives in bringing his wife out of the jungel were "utterly genuine" she may have been a simple tribeswoman, but he loved her.

- The Times

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