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Old sunken boats



by Somasiri Devendra

(continued from last week)

Underwater archaeology also took us inland into rivers. I well remember the first expedition we undertook, which was a modest one carried out by a band of enthusiasts. A newspaper report filed by a local correspondent was headlined ‘Gemmers unearth ancient canoe’. It said that `Gem-diggers in the river Kuru had come up with a Teppama or a boat, about 300 years old, at Gamage-Tota at Teppanawa, in the Ratnapura electorate, while searching for gem veins, deep down in the river.’ We hastily boarded a pick-up truck with our gear and went in search of the place.

It was off Kuruwita and by judicious questioning we were able to find the site. What we found was interesting. The gem-miners were there. They had been digging their pit on the bed of Kuru Ganga, the water level being low during this dry season. About 15 feet below the riverbed, they had come across this ‘log’. Such logs were prized as very good firewood. This was about thirty feet long but they could not see it properly in the pit on account of the muddy water. Because of its size, they had obtained a jack to lever it out of the water, but they failed. Then they lowered a large saw and cut it in two, and that is when they found out that it was a log boat.

As was usual in such instances, the event was a three-day wonder and everybody around had come to see it. Among them was the village schoolmaster who had got the local newspaper correspondent to report it. He had made a linguistic connection between the village name (Teppanawa) and a type of watercraft (teppama) without knowing that the latter was no log boat. The gem-miners had wisely kept the two pieces in the water, and that is where we came in.

The river was sluggish, with a sandbank having formed on one side and the water flowing along a channel on the other bank. We were thus able, with minimum effort, to float the two pieces onto the sandbank and set about photographing, measuring and examining it. It was a log boat all right, with no signs of having had an outrigger. The wood was spongy, but surprisingly the heartwood had not separated itself from the sapwood on one end, as it generally does. It was a pity they had to saw it in two, but even this had its advantages. The clean crosscut gave us a perfect cross-section of the boat and showed that the hollowing-out process had not been done with sophisticated instruments. Perhaps this might help us to learn from it.

The village-folk were very helpful to us, working alongside us and bringing tea in a kettle. My daughter, an artist, soon got into a sarong from the closest house and sketched the two pieces in detail, such drawings being more valuable than photographs. We made our report to the Department of National Museums, which retrieved the two pieces. Now conserved, they are being exhibited at the museum in Ratnapura.

Paruva craft

Another day, a group of us went in search of the vanished paruva craft to the Kelani Ganga. How big a part these craft had played in our history and culture, and how soon they have been forgotten! There was no genuine one to be seen, but we did not return empty-handed. Our first stop was at a timber shed where, the owner said, he had been commissioned to build one decades ago, but the man had run short of money. He showed us the two log-boat chine strakes (iri kaduwa), which he had hollowed and were still stored in his loft, along with the broad planks he had bought for the craft.

Most interestingly he showed us the metal (copper) fittings of a sunken paruva they had tried to salvage, but failed. It was still there, he said, half out and half in the water. We managed to trace it and it was a really magnificent wreck, lying there like a stranded whale. It was massive, well constructed of good wood but no one could have pulled it out of the river. We went through the familiar routine of photographing, measuring and interviewing people, while small boys played around us, taking us as a good excuse not to do their homework! We saw the last, but poor, remaining craft in the shape of the waeli paruva used for sand mining. But most importantly, we were told how to get to the house of “Bomba Sira”, the last builder of these craft in that area.

With some difficulty we found him in his house. Too old to work maybe, but he was not too old to talk. It took some time to get his mind to run on the same groove as ours. He had built both the madel paruva of the coast and the very different paruva of the rivers. The river paruva, according to him was 50 feet long. The reason for keeping to this length was not clear to me till I found the reason years later.

Apparently in the 19th. century, there were toll gates along the river at which boatmen had to pay customs duty depending on the size of the craft. The lowest rate for a paruva was payable only if it was less than fifty feet long, and therefore the size became standard. Sira was able, with no reference to any notes, to give us the exact quantities of different materials needed to build one, such as the number of coils of rope, cadjans, bamboos and nails, and the type of wood used. He introduced us to the jargon of the boat-builder, giving us the names of every part of a paruva. Once again I was thankful that I had tapped a reservoir of oral history before it was lost forever. My mind went back to Hiriwadunna and the idea of the flow of water from one tank to another in a cascade. I felt privileged to have had this good fortune.

More sobering was my encounter with the younger generation at another boat site. I was in the Archaeological Department, when word came that a “big ship, with walls and rooms” had been found at Attanagalu Oya. It was apparent to me that it could be no more than a iri kaduwa of a paruva, with its vertical strengtheners carved. The rest of the description was the usual mixture of ignorance and fantasy.

When I visited the site, it wore a carnival atmosphere, with people from everywhere clambering to see this “ship”. People were walking all over the remains of the craft with shoes on, damaging whatever had been saved by time. The sheer irresponsibility and disrespect for one’s heritage was irritating, grating on one’s sensitivity. We shooed all of them away and got down to the business of measuring, sketching and photographing. It was really large, being 60 feet long. I reckoned it would have been a near 100 feet long in its day.

It was subsequently raised by crane, upon a purpose-built cradle, and transferred to the Colombo Museum where, unfortunately, it is being allowed to rot away. It was radio-carbon dated to the 9th century AD. More than a thousand years ago, such craft would have been plying the then-gushing rivers of the Maya Rata, bringing cargoes of forest produce from the thick rain forests to the river mouth ports, particularly along the Kelani Ganga where communities of foreign traders resided.

It is to this century that the first Arabic inscription found in this country can also be attributed. It speaks of the death of an Islamic cleric who had been brought down to teach the correct tenets of his religion to the Arab traders in Colombo.

Further up the river, at Kelanimulla ferry in 1952, another very large log boat, which had an outrigger attached, was found and placed in the Colombo Museum. It too had been dated to the second century BC, about the time of King Kelani Tissa. Maya Rata, long written-off as a forested and uninhabited land, is providing us with new clues and waiting for its history to be rewritten.

Maritime history

Did the people of Sri Lanka venture out to sea and, if so, in what type of ship? It was this question that drove me to the study of boats, ships and maritime history. I have found the answers to my satisfaction. Perhaps the most satisfying was the discovery of the yathra dhoni and its study.

I discovered that Sri Lanka had absorbed the maritime traditions from all over the Indian Ocean, and maybe even from beyond. I found that even into almost the middle of the twentieth century, we have had functioning sailing ships of several types. In the south was the yathra dhoni with its characteristic outrigger. In the east, in Muttur, I found the Arab-Indian battal, large, undecked, sailing craft that brought the harvest from the Mahaveli delta to Trincomalee harbour. It was characterized by the single large Arab-Indian lateen sail hoisted from a pulley atop the for’ ard raking mast.

I would see them sailing daily past the balcony of my house and did not ever think of them disappearing so soon. But a scant 10 years later, there was none to be seen and there were many who did not even remember them. I was left with only one memento, a photograph taken by a fellow naval officer.

However, the ships of the north, the thoni of Jaffna, were to prove more rewarding. Though the last of its kind, the Annapurani, had been built and sailed to England around 1930 (there is a photograph of her in the Suez canal), there is none remaining to be seen. James Hornell, world authority on traditional watercraft, had seen and photographed them, when he had been working for the Fisheries Department in Sri Lanka in the 1930s. He had also studied the customs and traditions connected with their construction.

The thoni was a strange craft, in appearance very much like a 19th century English man-of-war. False gun-ports were painted along the sides. Masts were fitted with square sails and there was a towering bowsprit with a multitude of sprit sails. On board, the picture was very different and the scene was much the same as on a yathra dhoni of Dodanduwa, with cargo hatches with split bamboo thatching covering most of the deck space, and cooking facilities and water casks in the after deck.

Up in the, bows again was quite different, dominated by the bowsprit and with the stem coiling backward in the spiral called the surul. On this was painted the three horizontal white stripes that one sees worn by Hindu Saivites on their foreheads, marked in ash. Below the surul was a little shrine room, containing the image of the deity sacred to the ship’s owner, a little stone quern or grinding stone for smashing of coconuts as in a temple, and other paraphernalia that adorn a shrine. Unlike the ships of the Sinhala people, who offered prayers to all the gods, the thoni neither launched nor would undertake a journey without a religious service performed by a member of the crew who officiated as the poosari.

It was off Ambalangoda that we were told of a mysterious shipwreck that appeared and disappeared under the seabed from time to time. Again we were pursuing a newspaper story. We found no wreck, for it had disappeared under the sands again, but we were able to study the artifacts that had been collected (some sold to dealers) by the fishing community nearby. There was a small cannon (sold), cannon balls, a bronze deity (sold), metal cooking vessels and Chinese porcelain, grinding stones, small coconuts (some broken), astrolabe (a mediaeval European navigation instrument) much repaired, several antique hand tools, weights and quantities of cowries and other shells. The likelihood, given all the above and Hornell’s description, is that she was a Jaffna thoni coasting southward before changing course westward to the Maldives. It was a post-colonial wreck, to judge from the cannon, cannon balls and astrolabe. So here we may have the first Sri Lankan shipwreck.

The Amugoda Oruwa, Hercules, Avondster, and the Ambalangoda shipwreck are all victims of the unforgiving sea. And now, the “Mansions of the sea”.


(Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka edited by CG Uragoda)

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Ukraine: The risk of a ceasefire dwindles



By Gwynne Dyer

Two months ago, John Bolton wrote an article in ‘The Hill’, the leading politics website in Washington, warning against a Russian ‘October Surprise’. He suggested that Russian President, Vladimir Putin, might suddenly cease military operations and declare a ceasefire – which would utterly snooker the Ukrainians.As one of the hawks who talked George W. Bush into invading Iraq, he proved himself to be a bad and dangerous adviser: he invariably defaulted to the toughest military option.

Neither did he cover himself in glory in 2018-19 as the third of Donald Trump’s four high-turnover National Security Advisers. He was the one who egged Trump on to break the treaty, limiting Iran’s nuclear activities and reimpose sanctions. If the treaty is not revived and Iran gets nuclear weapons, he’s why.John Bolton is, however, very useful in predicting what other tricky and ruthless people might do. The way things looked back in July, a surprise Russian ceasefire in October was indeed a potential nightmare for Ukraine, and it still remained a plausible threat down to only about one week ago.

By mid-July, the Russian offensive was stumbling to a halt on all fronts, but by then Moscow controlled about 20% of Ukraine’s territory (counting Crimea and the parts of eastern Ukraine that it had already seized in 2014). Moreover, Russia controlled almost all of Ukraine’s coast, leaving it only Odesa and a few satellite ports in the far west.On the other hand, Russia’s Army was exhausted and demoralised, and there was little hope that it would be able to make further new conquests in Ukraine. Whether these realities were clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin is unknown, but his old mates in the FSB (formerly KGB) would probably have been keeping him informed.

So, John Bolton calculated, Putin’s best option would be to engineer a ceasefire that freezes the battle lines where they are now. It would deprive the Ukrainians of an opportunity to launch their long-promised counter-offensive, leave a very big chunk of their country in Russian hands, and give Moscow time to rebuild its Army.

Putin could easily pass this off as a victory, as it would give Russia lots more land and greatly weaken Ukraine. He could even claim credit for having acted to save many lives. And since he would never let the ceasefire turn into a formal peace settlement, he could easily restart the war once his armed forces were ready.

As for the Ukrainians, they would be left insisting that the war must continue because they haven’t recovered their territory yet, to which the rest of the world (including most of their current supporters) could and would have replied that there was no evidence that they could ever do that. It’s time to be ‘realistic’ and save what you can from the wreckage.

It would also be quietly pointed out to Kyiv, by European governments, that all their voters are facing a long, hard winter with energy shortages and roaring inflation – but most of those difficulties would vanish if the shooting stopped and the sanctions on Russia were ended. Please don’t be ‘unreasonable’.

They wouldn’t say outright that the flow of arms and money will slow, or stop, if the Ukrainians won’t see reason, but you never have to say those things out loud. And in the end, Ukraine would have to give in.That was John Bolton’s nightmare, and it was entirely credible in July. The only thing holding Putin back was the fond hope that he could still win more territory by keeping the fighting going. Once he had been disabused of that delusion, he was obviously going to go with Option B.

But now, suddenly, that option has been taken from Putin’s hands. The very rapid advances of Ukrainian forces, in the past few days, in the north-east, with Russian troops fleeing before them, may not be a decisive turning point in the war, but Putin could only declare a ceasefire when he still seemed to have the upper hand in the fighting.

Where does this leave the Ukrainians? Far better off than before, because an imposed ceasefire-in-place was the biggest threat they faced. The temptation to push on and try to finish the war now will be strong, but they should think three times before giving in to it. The flow of weapons from the West will Army will be far readier to launch a sustained and decisive offensive in the spring than it is now. The Russian Army might fall apart, with just as few more hard knocks, during the winter, but it might not – and a serious Ukrainian military setback would revive the threat of an imposed ceasefire.

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A fitting final farewell



By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The slow descent of the lead-lined oak coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, to the Royal Vault in St George’s Chapel, in Windsor, brought a tear to many an eye and gave a feeling of emptiness to the millions who adored Queen Elizabeth II. Shortly before, the Imperial State Crown, as well as the Orb and the Sceptre, The Instruments of State, which she received at the Coronation, in 1953, that rested on the coffin, were removed by the Crown Jeweller and placed at the high alter by the Dean of the Chapel, following which the Lord Chamberlain “broke” his wand of office and placed it on the coffin, signalling the end of his service to the sovereign as her most senior official in the Royal Household. A lament played by the Sovereign’s piper floated in the air, masking the sighs of the personal congregation of 800 assembled to witness the end of the Elizabethan Era; one of the greatest in British history.

A few hours later, at 7.30, the same evening, at a private family service, the Queen was buried, together with her late husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, located inside St George’s Chapel. British Royals are actually not buried but their coffins are placed in the Royal Vault, or in a Chapel. Queen Elizabeth financed the construction of the Chapel that bears her father’s name, which is small due to constraints of the architecture of St George’s Chapel. The coffin of King George VI, which was in the Royal Vault, was moved to this Chapel, on its completion in 1969. When the Queen Mother died, in 2002, her coffin was placed next to the King’s and shortly after that the ashes of Princess Margaret, who died seven weeks before her mother, that were in the Royal Vault was moved to be with her parents. As previously planned, the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh was kept in the Royal Vault till the death of the Queen. Some say that Princess Margaret was cremated as King George VI Memorial Chapel can accommodate only four coffins but others say that it was her wish.

September 19th is a momentous day in British history as it is the day that the nation bid the final farewell to a much-loved quee, with a ceremony marked by splendour and pageantry. The Queen’s Lying-in-State, which started on the evening of 14th September, ended at 8.32 am, when the last of thousands and thousands who queued, sometime up to 24 hours, walked past the catafalque, on which her coffin lay. At 10.44 am, her coffin was lifted and bought out by the ‘bearer party’ of eight soldiers and placed on the State Gun Carriage, drawn by 142 Navy ratings. With their white-capped heads in rhythmic motion, the 90 ratings, in front, pulled, and when the procession reached Westminster Abbey, for the service at 11 am, those sailors behind had to pull backwards, to act as the braking party.By the way, the hallmark of a State Funeral, the State Gun Carriage drawn by naval ratings, is the result of an unfortunate incident that happened during Queen Victoria’s funeral, in the extreme cold of February, 1901. It is reported, in the website of ‘Memorials and Monuments in Portsmouth’, where the State Gun Carriage is kept, as follows:

“The timing for the funeral procession in London went awry and when the coffin and cortege finally arrived at Windsor the troops had been in position without moving, for more than 90 minutes. When the order to move off was given the gunners had trouble with their horses and some started to rear. It looked as if the coffin would fall from the gun-carriage. Immediately behind were King Edward VII, the Kaiser, the King of Greece and Prince Louis Battenburg. The panic among the horses spread to the leaders and the situation became very serious. Prince Louis whispered something to the King who nodded and Lt. Noble was ordered to stand by to pull the gun carriage with the seamen guard. Noble passed the message to Lt Boyle. The horses were led off and the sailors grounded arms and formed fours at the head of the cortege. Improvised drag ropes were brought in and so the great Queen went to her rest.”

Westminster Abbey, hosting the funeral service, deviating from tradition, is the historic church where Britain’s kings and queens are crowned, including the Queen’s own Coronation, in 1953. It was also where, in 1947, the then Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip. There has not been a monarch’s funeral service, in the Abbey, since the 18th Century, although the funeral of the Queen Mother was held in 2002.

The doors of the Abbey opened at 8 am for the 2000 invited guests to arrive. Among them were 500 foreign dignitaries, including 100 heads of state. If all the heads of state arrived separately, it would have taken more than four hours, in addition to being a security nightmare. Therefore, a decision had been made to bring them by buses in groups, some agreeing, reluctantly. However, one exception was made; for President Biden. As George Orwell stated in Animal Farm “Some are more equal than others”! Unfortunately for him, his armoured limousine ‘Beast’ and the large motorcade got stuck in London traffic making President Biden a late arrival and having to contend with a seat not in the front of the Heads of State section!

After the service in Westminster Abbey, when the coffin was brought out, golden sunshine illuminated the surroundings, though it was cloudy till then. Nearly two-mile route, from the Abbey to Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner, was teeming with people. Fortunately for them there was no rain and no scorching sun either. King Charles, Princess Anne and other male senior royals walked behind the coffin. The procession, which was about a mile long, was led by Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was made up of seven groups, each with its own band. Members of the armed services from the UK and the Commonwealth, the police and representatives from the NHS followed. As the coffin and the Royal mourners following them passed, in some place the crowd burst into applause; many observed silences whilst some shed tears.

At Wellington Arch, the coffin was transferred to the Royal Hearse, made by Jaguar, with input from the Queen, for the start of the 30 miles journey to Windsor. Throughout the route, crowds gathered and were throwing flowers in spite of requests not to do so. The approach to Windsor Castle, the long walk, was again teaming with people, some having camped overnight. Inside the gates, the approach road to the castle was lined on either side with flowers laid at various sites previously, giving the appearance of massive flowerbeds.

In London and Windsor and along the route, in all, around a million mourners had lined to pay respects to Her Majesty and around 28 million has watched on Television. In fact, The Daily Telegraph reported that in the UK the National Grid noted a two gigawatt drop in power, equal to switching off 200 million light bulbs, as people across the country paused to concentrate on their TV screens. Global audience, it is estimated, was four billion. According to The Sun it was the most watched television event in the world ever.

Among the other papers, The Daily Mail described the state funeral as the “greatest valediction in British if not world history”. It was a massive undertaking to honour the “People’s Queen” which was executed to perfection. As The Times stated it was “a day of history marked with tears” which was “flawless” and the “perfect farewell”.

The deeply religious Queen Elizabeth, it is said, believed in the afterlife and was confident that she would meet again her parents, sister and husband. Whether it happens or not, at least they rest together in the same Chapel.

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A superlative man of God



For and on behalf of the President, the Council and the Membership of the Catholic Doctors’ Guild, this tribute was formulated and presented by Dr B. J. C. Perera, at the Memorial Service for Reverend Father Crispin Leo, at Aquinas University College, this 14th day of September 2022.

This literary effort of a eulogy on our part is a supreme tribute, and a heartfelt gesture of gratitude to Reverend Father Gerald Chrispin Leo, the former Chaplain/Spiritual Director of the Catholic Doctors’ Guild of Saint Luke and Saints Cosmas and Damian, who left us forever and went to his creator in the evening of Monday the 12th of September 2022.

Reverend Father Gerald Chrispin Leo, who rendered yeoman service to the Catholic Doctors’ Guild and all of us, for 35 years, retired from that position in early 2022. From the year 1987, when the Catholic Doctors’ Guild rose from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix, following a self-imposed period of voluntary suspension from 1974, Father Gerald Chrispin Leo has been with us throughout a seminal journey of activities undertaken in the spirit of bringing Glory to God through an innumerable collection of Guild activities of spiritual splendour. He was responsible for the revival of the guild 35 years ago and from that time, when he was appointed by the hierarchy of the church as our Chaplain/Spiritual Director, he has not looked back in a singular commitment of a Man of God to the Catholic Doctors’ Guild. He has led us in collective prayer and his beautiful melodious voice has always taken the lead whenever we were called upon to sing hymns of praise to the Good Lord above, to the glory of his truly begotten son Jesus Christ, the gorgeous Mother Mary and all the much-venerated saints of the Kingdom of God in heaven.

Over a three-and-a-half-decade-long ramble with us, Father Crispin Leo has worked with 15 Presidents/Masters of the Guild and has been a deeply valued advisor for a myriad of activities of our guild. These include countless Seminars, loads of Symposia, Dr M. P. M. Cooray Memorial Orations, Lenten Pilgrimages, Maundy Thursday Holy Hours, Christmas Projects of Mercy for the Poor, Christmas Carol Services, Academic Scholarship Schemes for the Underprivileged Students etc; just to name a few of the events carried out by the Catholic Doctors’ Guild.

Reverend Father Chrispin Leo was profoundly respected and practically venerated by all of us while being most affectionately referred to by many of us as ‘Our Father’. From 1987 onwards, over many a decade, the pivotal contributions made by Reverend Father Gerald Chrispin Leo to the welfare of the Catholic Doctors’ Guild, as well as garnering general support for the Guild and the advocacy provided by him for its progression, were absolutely superb and priceless; c’est magnifique, to say the least.

The Good Lord above has now deemed it fit to summon this much-loved son of his, Reverend Father Gerald Chrispin Leo, to the eternal glory of a place in the kingdom of heaven. We have no doubt whatsoever that God the Father himself, accompanied by Saint Peter and all the Saints in his divine habitat would have been there at the pearly gates to receive Reverend Father Crispin Leo in person, into his perpetual heavenly abode. What else could we possibly envision for such a wonderful man whose sojourn on planet earth was just one of utmost dedication to the religion of Roman Catholicism that he believed in, and his undoubted commitment to the services he provided for the glory of the kingdom of God the Almighty.

As for us, we do celebrate the life of this dazzling personality that was Reverent Father Crispin Leo. He was indeed God’s humble messenger to all of us. The memories that we cherish are quite a legion, together with the visual projections of a person who thoroughly enjoyed all social gatherings to the hilt. We do admire him for his simplicity and for being a bridge-builder in all our activities. More than anything, he was a deeply admired friend to all of us; a man who lived a full, beautiful and holy life, and one who enjoyed his journey on planet earth with the fantastic grace of an angel.

We would most dearly miss his prudent, wise, sensible and gentle counsel. Yet for all that, we remain content in our firm belief, that our very dear Reverend Father Crispin Leo has now received the bliss of eternal happiness. It certainly is a just reward indeed, for such a marvellous and delightful man of God.

May this Prince of our holy faith rest in perpetual peace, very safe in the bosom of God the Father Almighty, in the company of Our Lord Jesus Christ, blessed by the Holy Spirit, and in devoted veneration of Holy Mother Mary, as well as all the saints of the kingdom of heaven.Farewell, our much-adored Reverend Father Crispin Leo. We certainly would most sincerely, earnestly and eternally be craving for your illustrious company from now on. Of course, that would be, just only until we meet again in a different celestial world in the future.

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