ATW Guneratne, courtesy of Daily News, 12 January 2016, where the title is “Wilderness is calling”
This remote Sinhalese village is situated in Eastern Sri Lanka, in the Yala East wild life park commonly known as Kumana. It is probably the only village inside a national park. Kumana village originated with the arrival of Sinhalese people who fled the upcountry areas following the 1818 Uwa Wellasa rebellion. Groups of people fled along rivers downstream to the Northern coast. Several families came down Kumbukan Oya and settled down close to the sea, near the mouth of Kumbukan oya. This is how Kumana village, Panama village 35 km from Kumana, and most of the Sinhalese villages in the East originated.
According to wildlife conservation officer G V Samarakoon who worked in the Yala East national park from 1981 to 1985 there were 20 families living there at that time. The houses were built of wattle and daub, except where Piyadasa Mudalali lived, which was tiled and made of brick. One of his sons was the gramasevaka and his eldest daughter was the only teacher at the school. Most of the Kumana girls married wildlife personnel of Yala East while males in some families worked for the Yala East national park.
The closest human habitation to Kumana village was the park office at Okanda which is 16 km away, and the nearest town Potuville is 50 km away. The villagers had minimal contact with the outside world. There was one boutique owned by Piyadasa Mudalali, who had only one ox cart to bring goods from Potuville. It took about one week to transport the goods.
The well-known “Simon of Kumana” was a 70 year old person who was blind in one eye and having asthma was the “Kumana Potuville Express”. He used to cycle to Potuville and bring essential goods to Kumana in his extra-large luggage carrier in two days. He was very popular and villagers and park officials were able to order goods and get it down for a small extra fee.
Kumana villagers cultivated rice with water obtained from the Kumana reservior. Most of the villagers had cattle and buffaloes and were self-sufficient in milk and curd. The villagers were expert fishermen; they used the line and the fish net. The Kumbukkan Oya, adjoining lagoon and the sea which was close by had plenty of fish; excess fish was dried and sold.
They did not practise ‘chena’ cultivation. Yams, fruits and bees honey were obtained from the forest. They laid traps on the sly to catch wild animals, though inside the national park. Kumana had a grove of coconut trees and it was sufficient for their needs.
The villagers were frequently attacked by wild animals when they went to collect jungle produce. Elephants, bears, wild buffaloes and snakes were the main threats while wasps attacked them occasionally. Transporting an injured person to Potuville hospital which was 50 km away and the lack of medical facilities was a big problem. All attempts to relocate the villagers to better houses with much better facilities at Maduru oya, close to Polonnaruwa failed, in spite of all the problems they had at Kumana.
When terrorists came to the East and killed a large number of wildlife officers and burned down the wildlife office at Kumana, the villagers were forced to leave the Kumana village. When I visited the abandoned Kumana village a few weeks back, a part of the school building, the coconut grove and a few tomb stones were all that was left of the famous Kumana village. The army still has a camp at the site where Kumana village was.
If you go to Yala East national park (Kumana) which is famous for birds, please visit and see the ancient Kumana village. During our visit we saw leopards, a bear and lots of spotted deer. Many people think that Kumana is only a birds’ paradise, which is not so. Very few people have visited the famous Bambaragasthalawa cave complex with the massive Buddha statue. This site is accessible only using a four wheel drive vehicle. Also Kudimbigala and Bowaategala which have been ancient monasteries are must see places. The roads are in fairly good condition and are being repaired.