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Some personal insights and a broad brush canvas of Ena de Silva



Ena de Silva’s 100th birth centenary fell on

Excerpted from
Exploring with Ena by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

Towards the end of 2019 I spent a couple of days at Aluwihare, where I had had many happy times with my aunt Ena de Silva. Since her death in 2015 1 tried to get there twice or thrice a year, not just for sentiment, but also to provide company for Piyadasa and Suja who have lived and worked there for many years.

The Matale Heritage Centre Ena established, for batik and embroidery, still continues on the premises, but the girls – some who started work there over 50 years ago – go home in the evenings and Piyadasa and Suja are left alone. Family members sometimes visit and occasionally stay overnight, but this does not happen often. And Piyadasa and Suja relish company and appreciate the fact that I now go up there to stay more than anyone else. So too Ena loved my frequent visits in the last years of her life. Ena’s daughter Kusum, who lives in California, thanks me but gratitude is unnecessary, for it is always a pleasure to be there, though one still sadly misses its chatelaine.

Piyadasa started at Alu in 1976, looking after Ena’s father, Sir Richard Aluwihare, and then took care of the house himself for around five years after he died in December that year. He then served Ena who went to live there in 1981, two years after her husband Osmund de Silva died. She had not wanted to continue in the home they had lived in for over 20 years and went off to the Virgin Islands as a Consultant, to adjust, shortly after she was widowed. When she came back, she moved to Alu and lived there for 34 years.

Suja came to cook for her in 1983, not able even to boil a pot of water in those days, according to Ena. But she turned into a marvelous cook, carrying out Ena’s wonderful ideas for the most delicious concoctions, ranging from polos sandwiches to Alu chicken, with a sauce combining sugar and spice and all things nice, as indeed the sandwiches did. And, though Ena claimed she had no expertise in puddings, Suja did well with Humbug, a pudding I was served when I first went there in 1993, and had often since though it always tasted different.

In 1983 went there with Nigel Hatch, whom Ena’s driver of those days, Sena, thought he recognized as the nephew when he was sent to pick us up at the bus stand. Nigel did look a bit like my Uncle Lakshman who had visited Ena two or three times after she moved there, coming up from Kurunagala where he was Bishop on his rounds of inspection of the clergy in his diocese. I think Sena saw him just the once, for he died in 1983 but, tall and handsome as he was, he had obviously made an impression.

On my visit in 2019 Nigel joined me on the second day, coming up on the early train from Colombo and then getting a bus from Kandy. That afternoon, after the statutory snooze after Suja’s wonderful lunch, we went up to the rock for tea which Piyadasa brought up on a tray, carefully negotiating the now slippery steps after the incessant rain of the last few weeks.

The rock was a natural feature which Ena had had cemented in 1989, so that the poruwa ceremony for her daughter’s wedding could take place high above the garden in front of the house, above too the upper terrace to which steps led from the garden . Bells had been strung up on the edge of the rock, to ring when the wind blew, and the sound would come to us for the next 25 years before the last bell fell away, shortly before Ena died.

And then, before it got dark, following Ena’s advice that we always be careful about what she described as creepy-crawlies, we went along that cliffside to the graves at the other edge, a little enclosure with inscribed stones for her parents over the vault where her ashes lie with theirs. Behind are inscriptions for her husband and her sister and brother-in-law and her son, though the ashes of the first are not there for they were scattered at the confluence of river and sea at Mutwal as he wished.

In the evening we sat out on the terrace over beer, and Suja’s vegetable patties, before going in for an Alu chicken feast. It was then that my driver Kithsiri, who had grown devoted to Ena in the 22 years he knew her, suggested we drive next day to Wireless Kanda. That was what she called Riverstone, the highest peak in the hills opposite, which we had often driven to in the eighties since Ena was always keen to go loafing.

So next morning, after breakfast, we set out, climbing through Rattota to the steep slopes beyond. With Ena it had initially been an afternoon drive, leaving early though so that we could get back before the descent of the mists that swirled round the hill at tea-time. And now, though it was morning, we had a sense of what we had experienced before, as rain started dripping down when we approached the peak.

But there was a big difference, in that 30 years before we had been the only people heading that way. Now, even on this rainy morning, there were crowds. It was obviously a popular place for a Poya day excursion, and at the turn-off to the peak there were heaps of cars and loud music.

Still, the drive brought back many happy memories. And it was on the way back that I thought that perhaps I would go through my diaries and set out the various journeys Ena and I had been on, starting with the excursion Ena had suddenly proposed to Nigel and me when, as she later put it, she had assessed us over lunch, way back in 1983, and decided that we were game to go loafing.

In doing this I am making use of what I wrote for The Moonemalle Inheritance, the book I produced for her 90th birthday in 2012. The second part of that book recorded travels with her over the preceding 30 years. Some of this is reproduced here but I have added so as to make clear what great friends we were, and the enormous fun we had together, not only travelling but sitting together and talking, at Aluwihare and elsewhere.

Some of this will read like a catalogue, but I wanted to record all our times together at Aluwihare, and much more that we did together. And I will try too to make clear the impact of her work, and how much she contributed to arts and crafts in this country.

It was only in 1983 that I got to know her properly. Having heard about my adventures at S.Thomas’, she decided that there was another unorthodox person in the family and invited me to stay with her at Aluwihare. It was 18 months after she had gone there at the end of 1981 that I made, in May 1983, the first of what were to be frequent visits to her.

Ena was not an especially close relation. Her mother Lucille was a Moonemalle, whose father’s sister was the mother of my maternal grandmother, Esme Goonewardene. But the two cousins, Esme and Lucille, both born in the last year of the 19th century, remained close, perhaps because they both married Civil Servants who were senior administrators in the last years of British rule.

My grandfather Cyril Wickremesinghe however died young and could make no contribution to independent Ceylon. Sir Richard Aluwihare, who had been five years younger, survived into the late seventies. He had retired in 1955 and moved to the new house which he had built on top of a hill in Aluwihare village, looking eastward towards the Gammmaduwa Hills. But a year later he was drawn into politics, contesting the Anuradhapura seat where he had served as Government Agent after my grandfather.

One of their predecessors had been a Britisher called Freeman who had won election to the Legislative Council on the strength of his service to the area. But there was no such gratitude in 1956 and Sir Richard was roundly defeated in the sweeping victory of S W R D Bandaranaike’s MEP colaition. Also defeated, in the Matale constituency in which Aluwihare lay, was Sir Richard’s brother Bernard who had crossed back to the UNP. In 1951, when Bandaranaike left the UNP government to form the SLFP, he had been one of his few aristocratic supporters.

His departure in 1956 was unfortunate, for had he stayed he would undoubtedly have been Bandaranaike’s deputy, and succeeded him as Prime Minister when he was assassinated in 1959. As it was, the Deputy belonged to a caste which others in the party considered unsuitable. That led to vast intrigues, an interim Prime Minister who was a disaster, a hung Parliament in March 1960 so that the UNP Prime Minister (Bernard was his deputy in that Cabinet) dissolved Parliament when he was defeated on the throne speech, and the emergence of Mrs Bandaranaike as leader of the Socialist United Party and Prime Minister after the July 1960 election.

Meanwhile Bandaranaike had offered Sir Richard the position of High Commissioner to India, and he served in New Delhi from 1957 onward. Lucille however died there early in 1961 and, though he soldiered on, he was not really in control and his daughters persuaded him to give up and return home. So in 1963 he went back to live at Aluwihare. When he died, in December 1976, his daughters found he had left it to them to divide up his property as they wished. Phyllis, whose husband Pat was a Ratwatte, at the top of the Kandyan aristocratic tree, took the properties in Kandy while Ena got Aluwihare. To everyone’s surprise she decided to retire there herself after her husband Osmund de Silva died, a couple of years after her father.

Osmund had succeeded Sir Richard as Inspector General of Police though, as Ena told the Queen, who expressed some surprise when introduced to the father and son-in-law as the head and deputy head of the police, that that was his profession. Sir Richard was a Civil Servant who had been brought in when the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon decided that the British head of police had to be replaced. Ceylonese officers were not however senior enough to take over so Ossie, as the most senior of them, had to wait until his father-in-law retired before heading the force.

Ena had run away from Ladies College to marry Ossie. He was from a different caste and her parents, who had found him excellent company as a police officer when they served in distant districts, were not comfortable at the idea of him marrying into the family. There was a court case at which, Ena said my grandparents were been summoned as witnesses. The judge hit on the healthy compromise of asking a British priest to keep Ena until she was old enough to decide on her own if she wanted to get married. At the age she was when she ran away, she required parental consent.

To her surprise she found that the priest expressed himself entirely on her side, when she was sent to his house, but told her she needed to be patient. She managed to achieve this, and duly married when she could, and a couple of years later was reconciled with her parents after her first child was born. Still, she continued to have a reputation for being unorthodox, and she lived up to this when, after her husband retired she abandoned social life altogether and instead concentrated on what became Ena de Silva fabrics.

Ossle’s retirement had been premature. When he was appointed, the then Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala had offered him a contract, and when this expired Bandaranaike did not renew it. Ena claimed that Ossie had made it clear to him that his allegiance was to the law and not the government. He was not helped by his colleagues, all angling for the post, though Bandaranaike characteristically trumped them all by appointing his bridge partner Abeykoon, another senior public servant, as IGP. Sadly several of the senior police officials then entered into political intriguing, culminating in the 1962 coup attempt.

There had been attempts to inveigle Ossie too into joining, and Ena would frequently cite his brusque response to Aelian Kannangara, a UNP stalwart who had been part of the conspiracy. Ossie had told him, ‘We are not the Praetorian Guard’, a line Ena relished. She also noted that he had firmly rejected Bandaranaike’s apologetic offers of other positions, embassies as well as the Chairmanship of Air Ceylon. Interestingly she claimed that the only relation on her side who appreciated Ossie’s position was her mother Lucille, who had been most opposed to the marriage, but who was a Moonemalle with rigid standards of public conduct.

Osmund de Silva died a little over two years after Sir Richard. Ena was devastated, and needed to get away. Friends, notably Tilak Gooneratne she would later say, who had also married into an old Civil Service family and been a respected Civil Servant himself before going to the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and then becoming our High Commissioner there, arranged for a Commonwealth Consultancy. Ena thus worked for a year and a half in the British Virgin Islands. She handed over the business to Ossie’s nephew Keerthi Wickramasuriya, who was married to Thea Schokman whom I had known as the Librarian of the British Council in Kandy during my schooldays. But they soon afterwards went through an acrimonious divorce which also devastated the business.

Fortunately Geoffrey Bawa, the architect who had developed a remarkable collaboration with her after he designed a house for her in Colombo, had rented that house as an office for the many projects he undertook for the new government of J R Jayewardene, most memorably the new Parliament but also Ruhuna University. So that iconic house at least remained safe.

When Ena came back, she retired to Aluwihare. She had set up there a Batik workshop, one amongst many that fed the flourishing business of Ena de Silva Fabrics which she had started after her husband’s retirement from the police. Though she was unable to resurrect the whole business, she decided to do what she could for the Aluwihare Centre which had provided gainful employment over the years to the villagers, including several relations.

Over the next thirty years the Matale Heritage Centre, as I first suggested it be called, developed not only fabrics, with traditional embroidery added onto its trademark batiks, but also a carpentry workshop and a brass foundry. These were started when Ena decided that the young men of the village also needed work, else they would get into mischief. The claim was prophetic, for the young men of Aluwihare escaped the fate of many others in the country when the JVP insurrection of the late eighties took its toll.

The workshops were followed by a Restaurant, or rather two, when Ena decided she should do something the middle aged women of the village too. They were known as Alu Kitchens. She had begun by supplying meals on order in a custom built kitchen on her own premises, designed with fantastic views by Anjalendran, Bawa’s best apprentice. This was K1 (kitchen one) and then, deciding she had to expand into the village too, she set up K2 as a small guest house in a property by the road that belonged to the family of her cousin Alick. He it was who had succeeded Bernard as the UNP candidate for the area, lucky in that, when Bernard died suddenly, his son had been too young to take over. The UNP, anxious for any Aluwihare, had found Alick, the youngest son of Bernard’s step-brother Willie, the most suitable of those willing, though he had nothing like the educational or intellectual qualifications of Bernard or Sir Richard. But he proved an active constituency MP and in turn established his own dynasty.

Ena herself steered clear of politics. Though the family was strongly committed to the UNP and indeed Chari, the oldest son of her sister Phyllis, had been active in the 1977 election campaign and occupied increasingly important administrative roles in successive UNP governments, she was strongly critical of J R Jayewardene and his behavior. I suspect one reason we got on so well was my forthright opposition to Jayewardene when this was not at all popular in Colombo circles. In fact she proved even more deeply critical of his legacy, suggesting when I finally decided to vote for the UNP, in the General election of 2001, in the belief that its leadership had reformed and would do better, that she was not quite so optimistic.

Though she claimed to know nothing of politics, she was an extraordinarily sharp observer of political developments, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. She had a few strong prejudices, but these often tallied with my own. The few things we differed on included both President Premadasa and, ironically given Premadasa’s own dislike of India, the role of India in Sri Lankan politics. I was myself a late convert to Premadasa, having come to appreciate his obvious devotion to rural development, as well as his very healthy approach to the rights and the welfare of the minorities. But Ena thought he had ridden roughshod over too many and, though she granted he was a better leader than either his predecessor or his successor, that did not make him acceptable.

Ena’s attitude to D B Wijetunge I think summed up her very practical if idiosyncratic view of politics. She claimed that she was never so frightened for the country as when he was President, because he was so clearly an idiot. That very healthy and no-nonsense approach was in marked contrast to the absurd panegyrics about the man by the old elite, which had resented Premadasa’s ascendancy, and it confirmed my view that an ounce of Ena’s prejudices was worth a ton of anyone else’s analysis.

About India she was less rational. Though she was quite critical about what she saw as the extreme Sinhala Buddhist prejudices of her husband, she had certainly absorbed something of his views in her hostility to the Indian Tamil presence in the hills which she claimed had been at the cost of the Sinhala peasantry. This was certainly correct, and we agreed in noting the responsibility of the British in having so altered the demography of the country, but she thought I was too indulgent in claiming that much more had to be done for them once they had been granted citizenship, and also that depriving them of citizenship in the forties had been unjust.

She was also convinced that the efforts of Tamil politicians to obtain greater autonomy were excessive, and we had to agree to disagree about devolution. But her essential fairness never left her, and she quite understood the enormity of what the Jayewardene government had done in 1981 and 1983 in unleashing violence on Tamils, and how this made Tamil demands for greater control of the areas in which they lived more understandable. But she continued to believe that India had stirred the pot out of pure self interest, and that Indian efforts to broker peace were not to be trusted.

Such criticism trumped even her awareness that the Jayewardene government had engaged in unnecessary confrontation with India in its effort to align itself with the West in the Cold War. For, interestingly given her elite upbringing during the colonial period, Ena had an even stronger distrust of the West and its efforts to control other countries. She had no illusions whatsoever about its self-serving agenda, and this made her a strong ally in recent years when, once again, the urban elite supported Western efforts to derail our struggle against terrorism. I was glad then that I was able to convince her that India had played a positive role in this regard, though I believe she continued to wonder what benefits India expected to derive from its support.

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‘A Jaffna-man, an eminent surgeon with an European reputation’



Dr. W. G. Rockwood

180th Birth Anniversary of Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood

March 13, 2023 marks the 180th Birth Anniversary of the late Hon. Dr. William Gabriel Rockwood, MLC, MD, MRCP, MRCS. Born on March 13, 1843 in Alaveddy, a small agricultural town in Jaffna; was the second of four children born to Elisha and Ms. Jane Backup, based on Alaveddy Church Records in the custody of Rt. Rev. Dr. Velupillai Pathmathayalan, Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI), formerly the American Ceylon Mission. Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood died on March 27, 1909 at the ‘Emms’, Horton Place, Colombo 7.

His father, Elisha born Sinnatambi on April 06, 1820, was one of six children born to a Saivite Hindu, Perumalpillai who migrated from Karaikal, South India to Sri Lanka and married a land-owner’s daughter Ms. Vairavi of Alaveddy. He was baptised ‘Elisha Rockwood’ in 1831 in Tellipallai and was given US $ 200 to complete his education at the Batticotta Seminary, known today as the Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai, by the American Congregational Movement, which later became known as the American Ceylon Mission. Elisha completed his education and taught mathematics at the same school. He later joined the Customs Department as a Sub-Collector.

Dr. W. G. Rockwood married Ms. Salome Muthamma Muttucumaru, daughter of Mr. Adam Cathiravel Muttucumaru on November 1, 1871. Mrs. W. G. Rockwood was born in Kalpitiya in the Puttalam District on March 15, 1857 and died at “Pembroke,” Horton Place, Colombo 7 on Saturday, August 29, 1925.

Thus born to humble beginnings, ‘Dr. W. G. Rockwood was a most skilful and distinguished physician and had by rare ability proved himself ‘the greatest surgeon in the East. His reputation was not confined to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) or the adjacent continent, but had extended far beyond the seas to Great Britain, where he won the esteem of such eminent members of the medical profession as Dr. Marcus Beck, Dr. Charles Stoiiham, Dr. J. Bland Sutton. Sir Thomas Barlow, Lord Lister, and Sir Frederick Treves’. Dr. Rockwood was also president of the Ceylon Branch of the British Medical Association (BMA).

Early life

Dr. W. G. Rockwood, in 1851 aged 08 years, had his early education at the Vembadi Boys’ School and later at Central College, Jaffna, which was founded by the Methodist Missionaries. In 1855, aged 12 years, he went with his father to Batticaloa and joined Central College, Batticaloa which was also run by the Wesleyan Mission.

Dr. W. G. Rockwood in 1862 was in the last year of his teens, when a maternal uncle, Mr. E. R. Chelliah Pillai told him to come to Madras University for a “good education.” Mr. E. R. Chelliah Pillai died on March 19, 1900 at the “Emm’s,” Regent Street, Colombo 7.

In January 1866, aged 23 years, Dr. W. G. Rockwood passed the Calcutta University Matriculation Examination in Madras and applied for the arts course. His father prevailed on young Rockwood to follow medicine which he did with many misgiving and much reluctance. His disinclination soon disappeared for Rockwood took to anatomy with such interest. In July 1866, he joined the Madras Medical College and received the scholarship of Rs.20 allowed for those who pass the London matriculation Examination.

‘On his obtaining the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the University of Madras, a member of the Board of examiners paid him the following rare compliment, “I have lately had, on behalf of the Madras University to examine a man of the name of Rockwood from Ceylon, for the Degree of Doctor of Medicine, and certainly was quite unprepared to meet a candidate for medical honours of this country so remarkably proficient. I fully believe that in any English or Scotch University he would have carried the highest honours” ’. (Source: Jaffna Catholic Guardian April 03, 1909).

Dr. W. G. Rockwood while he was serving in Puttalam skilfully handled an outbreak of cholera and because of his experience in handling it, he was sent to Jaffna in1868 to control the outbreak of cholera. He returned to Puttalam and then was transferred to Hambantota (June 1875) and later to Gampola (1878). It was while he was in Gampola that the vacancy for the post of Surgeon in the Medical Department of the General Hospital in Colombo arose.

Dr. W. G. Rockwood in 1878 aged 35 years held the post of Principal Surgeon at the General Hospital Colombo now known as the National Hospital, Colombo for a period of 20 years. He was the sole surgeon of the hospital and at the same time he was Lecturer in Clinical Systematic and Operative Surgery in the Ceylon Medical College. Besides this what leisure he could snatch from his official duties was given up to the demands of a large and growing practice.

He travelled to London in 1884 when he was admitted as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) and Member of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP).

Dr. W. G. Rockwood retired from active service from the Medical Department after 31 years on March 13, 1898 at the age of 55 years. Upon his retirement and in recognition of his long-standing service he was immediately appointed Consultant Surgeon to the General Hospital in Colombo.

It is said of his authority on handling tropical diseases that there was an instance when a colour conscious Englishman who had an ailment was asked to consult Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood of Ceylon while on his way to Australia from England. The Englishman thinking from the name – Rockwood – was an Englishman made an appointment to see him at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo when the ship docked at the Colombo harbour.

On that day Dr. Rockwood was at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo waiting to see his patient. The patient was informed that Dr. Rockwood had arrived, came to the lobby and was pacing up and down the lobby impatiently when the management of the Hotel who were well acquainted with Dr. Rockwood had to draw his attention to the coloured man in the room. Seeing that Dr. Rockwood was coloured he had returned to his room. A year later the patient was back with his pride in his pocket to consult Dr. Rockwood.

Another story is related where a passenger ship had docked in the Port of Colombo and an SOS was sent out for a surgeon to attend to a German National. It turned out that the German National was the German Consul Freudenberg who was treated and cured of his ailment and later became a very close friend of the family. Dr. Rockwood was also physician to the Governor of Ceylon Sir West Ridgeway.

A combination of medicine and politics

The Governor of Ceylon Sir West Ridgeway appointed Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood to the Legislative Council representing the Tamil community for a period of five years from March 14, 1898 to March 12, 1903. Dr. Rockwood succeeded Mudaliyar Ponnambalam Coomaraswamy who was the eldest brother of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who served as the first Tamil representative in the Legislative Council for a single term. Governor Sir West Ridgeway in a private letter to Dr. Rockwood inviting him to join the Legislative Council as the Tamil representative said: ‘The Tamil community could think of no one who has earned the esteem and the admiration not of one community or of two, but of every community, of all men, of all races, as Dr. Rockwood’.

Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood was presented to His Majesty the King of England, Edward VII at St. James’ Palace on June 01, 1902 while he was serving as a Member of the Legislative Council. He was appointed to the Legislative Council for a second term on July 09, 1903. Due to continuing failing health, Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood in1906 laid off from all public activity.

The Legislative Council was the first Assembly set up under the Colebrook Reforms with 15 members in 1833 by the British under Governor Sir Fredrick North. There were two categories of members. Officials numbered nine and unofficial members numbered six. The official members were appointed directly by the Governor and their communities nominated the unofficial members. The six unofficial members comprised one each Sinhala, Tamil and Burgher and three Europeans.

The Legislative Council was altered in 1931 under the Donoughmore Commission and lasted until 1947. Ceylon gained Independence from the British on February 04, 1948. Ceylon changed her name to Sri Lanka on May 22, 1972 when she became a Republic. The second Constitution was enacted in 1972 when Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister. Today we have the third Constitution enacted in 1978 when Hon. Junius Richard Jayewardene became the first Executive President under that Constitution.

‘Dr. Daniel Anthonisz, of Galle had demonstrated the advantage of breaking the monopoly of the legal profession over the unofficial seats in the Legislative Council. Dr. Rockwood’s tenure of the seat emphasised that advantage. Dr. Rockwood illustrated his preferences for his principles at the sacrifice of popularity when he proposed a motion in the Legislative Council on October 18, 1899, asking the salary of the judges of the Supreme Court to be raised high enough to make it possible to secure English barristers for the bench’.

On that occasion Dr. Rockwood said: ‘To have the certainty of even-handed justice is the greatest blessing a community can enjoy and the purity of that administration must be above suspicion. In a small place like Ceylon, where every man is known to every other man, it is necessary in the interests of the public that the Supreme Court Judges, who administer justice between man and man, must be men who have no local or permanent interests or connections. By, these remarks I do not mean to shut out local talent. Those who have established a reputation for efficiency and who have claims for meritorious service are possibly eligible for a higher post and these may be sent to other parts of the Empire where they have no personal interests to serve and no connections’. (Source: The Ceylon Morning Leader: Sunday, March 28, 1909).

Dr. W. G. Rockwood is described as one of Asia’s greatest surgeons who could operate with the use of both his hands (ambidextrous). He also promoted the choice of opium in the treatment of certain ailments. He was a member of the commission appointed by the then Governor of Ceylon to oversee the planning and construction of the Colombo-Chilaw railway line from Negombo. It was later extended to Puttalam. While serving on the commission he also suggested the construction of a railway line to Jaffna.


Six years after his death in 1915, Mrs. W. G. Rockwood donated Rs.20,000 to be utilised towards the construction of a 38 X 26 feet ‘Waiting Hall’ called ‘Rockwood Memorial Hall’ for patients who come to the General Hospital, Colombo now known as the National Hospital, Colombo for treatment. The foundation stone was laid in 1909 and the construction began in the same year. On April 16, 1912, ‘The Rockwood Hall’ was opened by His Excellency the Governor Sir Henry Edward McCallum (1907-1913). The plaque was unveiled in three languages – Sinhalese, Tamil and English to mark the donation: ‘The Rockwood Memorial Hall erected to the memory of Dr. William Gabriel Rockwood MD, MRCS, MRCP, Chief Surgeon of this hospital 1878 to 1898, Consulting Surgeon from 1898 until his death. Tamil Representative to Legislative Council from 1898 – 1905’. It is unfortunate that during the structural alterations made to the original building the three plaques and his photograph have been lost.

His character can be judged by his teaching. Once it is said that he rebuked a somewhat light-minded student and the latter, now an elderly man himself occupying a responsible position, remembers the rebuke. ‘Never make differences in your patients’, said Dr. Rockwood. ‘Every time a surgeon has a life depending upon his knife, it takes a fortnight off his own life, and the sense of responsibility is perhaps the greater when the man is a pauper than when he is a great and wealthy patient. The surgeon dare not take risks with the great man, for the world is watching him; but he fears still more to do so with the pauper, for then it is God who watches’.

He emphasised to his students that the surgeon must regard his treatise on anatomy as second only to the Bible. The words are characteristic of the man whose religion was always a predominant factor in his every thought and deed.

The ‘Rockwood Surgery Medal is awarded to the student who shows the greatest aptitude for surgery by the Medical Faculty of the University of Colombo, Peradeniya and Jaffna in memory of Hon. Dr. W. G. Rockwood.

‘A dutiful son, a faithful husband, an affectionate father, a loyal friend, a skilful surgeon, a good man, not slothful in business, fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.’ – Romans Ch 12; Vs 11-13

(Source: The Ceylon Morning Leader – Extraordinary Edition of Sunday, March 28, 1909).

(Excerpts from the book ‘From Williamstown to Vaddukoddai: The history of the Rockwood family’, published by the author William Sukumar Rockwood, MCPS, PgD. IHL, BA, JP, great grandson on August 21, 2011) -/end – 2280 words

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LTTE writ on coral exploitation more effective than govt. orders



Tragedy and drama in the dry zone jungle

Excerpted from the authorized biography of Thilo Hoffmann by Douglas B. Ranasinghe
(Continued from last week)

North of Thenaddi Bay and a little inland is the village of Kathiraveli. In 1975 Thilo discovered there a folk art not found elsewhere. He described this in an article published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Lanka. For many years he was a Committee Member of that body. As recently as 2004 he wrote a sequel, which was not accepted for publication. Parts of it are reproduced here:

“In 1980 I contributed an illustrated article to the JRAS (New Series, Vol.XXV: 91) in which I described certain remarkable decorations in Kathiraveli, Eastern Province, on the outer walls of thatched mud-and-wattle houses, painted by women on the occasion of the Tamil New Year. The pigments used are lime and natural clays of different colours found in the village environment. The painting lasts about a year and is renewed before the next New Year.

“During the following decade I visited the village once or twice a year. Calamity soon befell the remote area in the form of the ethnic conflict. The village was occupied first by the army, the IPKF and finally the Tigers under whose control it still is. (at the time this note was written) It was, much of the time, in a war zone. My last visit had been in January 1992. By then the spirit of the villagers had been broken by untold tragedy.

“Only one house had still some basic decoration. Compounds were neglected and houses dilapidated, the people apathetic and subdued. Farming had become impossible. An aged couple whose neat and tidy homestead was a model for my paper had lost their only son who was taken to the army camp and never returned. Sadness and grief prevailed.

“In April 2003 I was able to pay a visit to Kathiraveli, although it is in an ‘uncleared’ area. After answering a few suspicious questions and establishing my bona fides, I was allowed to pass the LTTE checkpoint situated a little north of Mankerni. Up to that point the landscape had been devastated by the extensive and far-reaching destruction of all vegetation for security reasons.

“Thereafter I was passing through the familiar countryside which had hardly changed during so many decades, even centuries, in parts. The majestic trees are still standing along the road and on the coast. There are forests and a serene tranquility and seemingly timeless peace. Only here and there a jarring note: the memorial to fallen Tiger heroes, a large ‘military’ cemetery. new LTTE offices and installations with loafing youngsters around them. With considerable curiosity and apprehension I approached Kathiraveli.

“Nothing seemed changed. Soon we spotted the first painted house, rather simple but unmistakably in the traditional style. In all we found about a dozen such houses, each freshly painted, along the main roads, though generally there are fewer inhabited homesteads.

“Unfortunately ‘progress’ has reached Kathiraveli in the form of corrugated metal roofing sheets; two of the painted houses were covered with this material giving them a totally different and far less pleasing appearance than those with the cool and pleasant cadjan thatch.

“But the younger women had remembered the New Year tradition and had revived it in its pure, simple and natural form, some rather tentatively as if still trying to recall the old designs and motifs. The colours and basic patterns give these dwellings a clean, even festive and happy appearance.

“In December 2003 I was again in Kathiraveli, when I distributed nearly 100 colour photographs of decorated houses I had taken in 1977 and 78. They were intended to help strengthen the old tradition.

Otherwise the visit was a disappointment because in the short interval of eight months ‘development’ appears to have overtaken the village. There are glistening roofing sheets on old houses many of which have been replaced by stereotyped cement block constructions.

“For living comfort in this environment nothing can beat a well-constructed and maintained mud-and-wattle house generously covered with a thick and overhanging thatch of cadjan: cool during the hot season, dry and warm and cosy when the north-east monsoon is on.

“In this connection I might be permitted to touch upon another facet of personal contemporary history in this area. Not far away at Kayankerni on the coast I had for 30 years, a house, now a sad ruin. It was wrecked and the material looted in 1992. Even the well rings were dug up and carted away. For decades I had been fighting a mostly losing battle against the mudalalis who openly flouted the laws of the country by breaking and burning corals for lime. As a result erosion set in, the coast was altered and the protective reefs were destroyed, together with the trees and forests which provided the firewood.

“The process was aided and abetted by a lethargic and dishonest bureaucracy and a corrupt police force. Only once for a short few years was my campaign crowned with success when an energetic and honest GA at Batticaloa stopped the rapacious exploitation by ordering the police to destroy all the kilns in Passikudah, Kayankerni, Panichchankerni, and elsewhere in the district.

“When in 1990 the Tigers took over the area after the IPKF, they prohibited all coral breaking. The order was instantly obeyed by all, as non-compliance would have resulted in most dire consequences. Only ‘war widows’ were allowed to collect coral debris washed up on the shore and turn them into `sippi’, a traditional and acceptable ‘soft’ use of the resource.

“When the government regained the area the old abuse was resumed and as late as April 2003 did I note with dismay that more lime kilns than ever were in operation at Kayankerni, under the very noses of the security forces. (Note: The burnt lime is transported mainly to upcountry vegetable growing areas where it is used as a soil conditioner. Other uses are in mortar for construction and for whitewashing. Alternate sources of raw material are Miocene limestone and dolomite). All the more was I surprised when in December of the same year all the kilns had once again disappeared, again on the orders of the Tigers.

“Thus we have the absurd situation that in an area controlled by the Government an order from the LTTE is instantly and scrupulously obeyed, and the ordinary laws are brazenly flouted. Weak and disinterested authorities at all levels have long lost the will to enforce good laws, especially in the field of conservation. `Non- enforcement’ has been elevated to a fine art and policy under the influence of foreign gurus; doing nothing is so much easier than doing the right thing.”

The Vakarai area including Kathiraveli was retaken by government forces in early 2007.

Facets of the jungle

In the wilderness, too, there were aspects other than nature which engaged Thilo’s attention.Among the many parts of the dry zone he visited Wilpattu was a favourite. Several sections in this book describe his involvement with the area.

He explored extensively on foot the former Wilpattu West Sanctuary – now part of the National Park –especially the northern half of its 30 mile (50 km) coastline, between Kollankanatta and Kudremalai Point.

Much of this coast towards the north is formed by a cliff which is being eroded by the sea. To the north of Kollankanatta towards Pallugaturai this erosion exposes and destroys layers of the remnants of an ancient settlement. Thousands of clay and porcelain and worked seashell fragments litter the shore. There was even a clay-ring well. Thilo informed the Department of Archaeology, which then undertook a sample dig, but no further action.

It would have been a trading harbour during the Anuradhapura era, because in the vicinity on the track to Sinna Uppu Villu, not far away, he had discovered several baobab trees, as in Mannar, introduced from Africa. There must also have been, he thinks, a factory to make conch-shell bangles.

On the highest point, 225 feet above sea level, of the coastal ridge stands a chimney-like tower about 50 feet high. This and similar towers near Mullikulam and south of Arippu would have served as beacons during the time of the pearl fisheries.

In Kudremalai, at 123 feet, on the very edge of the cliff is the ruin of an ancient Hindu temple which, too, is fast disappearing with the erosion. Here is found the deep red soil, nearly purple or almost violet, to which is linked the ancient name ‘Tambapanni’ for Sri Lanka. It is said that Vijaya, the founder of the Sinhala race, landed here. A motorable track provided by the Park authorities now leads to this point.

The beacon at Arippu is near the massive brick ruin of the `Doric’, built by Frederick North, the first British Governor of Ceylon from 1798 to 1805, for use as a residence when visiting the pearl fisheries. Again due to the erosion the ruins are now rapidly being lost. In the book The Dutch Forts of Sri Lanka, 2004 update, these are wrongly identified and depicted as being of the small Arippu Fort, the ruins of which are aboutfour km further north in the village.

Thilo also explored the North-eastern sector of Wilpattu which lies between the old Arippu road (now long abandoned) and Tantirimale. The ruins at this site, on the extensive rock outcrop (highest point 298 feet), were originally inside the National Park, the boundary of which in that sector was the Malwatu Oya. The place was entirely engulfed by the dense jungle. He first visited it on Vesak Day of 1966. Later the Park boundary was adjusted, the forest was cleared and people began to settle there.

To enable his explorations, from time to time he exercised walking through thick track and featureless monsoon forest with the help of a compass. The danger of missing the target several miles away was great because of the very restricted visibility, especially, where the nillu (Strobilanthes sp.) had grown high. Nevertheless, he always reached the goal with reasonable accuracy.

Observations at historical sites across the country were recorded in his notebooks, described later.Thilo also took an interest in the villagers who live in or by the jungle. Amidst his memories are tragedy and drama:

In a village called Manawa, some distance from Anuradhapura, Tikiri Bandara and 15-year-old Bandara Menike had fallen in love. Her family opposed the marriage. In desperation he shot to death three members of her clan. Then he took her by the hand and disappeared with her into the jungle, as witnessed by some women bathing in the village tank. He carried only his gun.

Tikiri Bandara was charged with three murders before the Anuradhapura Magistrate, in November 1957. The police mounted a search with dogs but failed to find the couple. Some months after this a poacher waiting for game in the fork of a tree at an abandoned tank observed a young man and woman coming out of the jungle in tattered clothes, she highly pregnant. They had a bath and vanished into the forest. Four years later, two skulls, some bones, two ear-studs and plastic bangles, a knife and the rusted barrel of a gun were found by hunters and produced before the magistrate.

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Jathiaka Namal Uyana Marks 32nd Anniversary



Wanvasi Rahula Thero planting saplings with children

Mother nature welcomes all. She doesn’t judge, she doesn’t discriminate, she just opens her arms to one and all. There is a space and place in nature for all. Nature is filled with breathtaking landscapes and has gifted us some of the most beautiful creatures on earth. All of us love to experience natural beauty and be one with nature. We should give her thanks everyday for being so gracious and kind to us by providing us with the means of survival.

Humans and other fauna and plants have a complex relationship extending far back into our joint evolutionary history. Natural vegetation refers to a plant community, which has grown naturally without human aid and has been left undisturbed by human for a long time. Sri Lanka’s natural vegetation covers about one-third of our total land area.

‘Jathika Namal Uyana’ is the largest ironwood forest and pink quartz mountain in Asia. It is a world heritage site that has gained the attention. Namal Uyana is rich in biodiversity. It provides a healthy and healing environment that has attracted local and foreign tourists. This ecosystem is a national resource of great religious, ecological and geographical value. The Na Uyana forest covers a total more than 2,000 acres.

The pink quartz mountain range in Namal Uyana is the largest of its sort in Asia. It consists of seven hills covering an extent of about to 600-700 acres. According to history, during the construction of Taj Mahal in India, pink quartz from here was taken to carve its windows. An amazing creation of nature, the pink quartz mountain belongs to prehistoric era.

Namal Uyana is an extremely rare phenomenon replanted with Iron Wood trees in the Eeghth century AD beginning during the reign of King Dewanampiyatissa and ended during the reign of King Dappula IV. It has been a sanctuary for Buddhist monks during King Devanampiyatissa’s reign in the eighth century. King Dappula declared it as a human sanctuary and It was decided to establish ‘’Mahamevna Uyana’’ here.

Our country is a blessed with a variety of natural vegetation . Trees are important part of every community. In the 21st century, instead of planting trees, the majority felled existing trees for construction and other uses. Deforestation has many effects on the environment and most importantly it affects biodiversity directly. If we cut one tree , ten trees should be planted in its place.

School children visiting the Namal Uyana

We are fortunate to have people who know the true value of natural vegetation and are committed to protect it. Wanvasi Rahula Thero who came forward with great sincerity to protect The Jathika Namal Uyana is an exemplary Buddha putra. He bravely undertook that great task in the midst of grave privation in the early days.

He said in an interview that he started this historic mission in March 1991. “At that time, this place was devoid of human habitation. When I set foot here, the Namal Uyana had been destroyed by treasure hunters and timber thieves. I built a small wooden house on a ‘Mora’ tree and started this mission for my country. There are no words to describe this journey and the challenges overcome. I am glad to tell you tha the Jathika Namal Uyana celebrates its 32nd anniversary in March.

Ven Rahula said that In order to gain more international attention, we need to improve and protect a world heritage sites like Namal Uyana to attract more tourists. As a developing country, Sri Lanka does not always need to seek loans from elsewhere but develop our own resources to fund economic development.

“From former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to current President Ranil Wickremesinghe all governments have supported this endeavour. I am not a monk who supports any political party. I did all the administrative work here from 1991 to 2018 when Jathika Namal Uyana was brought under the Central Cultural Fund (CCF) which now handles all operations. As a Buddhist monk I understand the true meaning of the word ‘renunciation’. it means ‘doing what must be done with no expectation of any reward. I am not the owner here just a keeper.

“I stared this national mission for the welfare of all beings. This is not something belonging to the Sinhalese but to all the people living on this island. Students of school from all provinces visit jathika Namal Uyana. It gives children of all races and religions the opportunity to marvel at this wonder. The responsible authorities should be directed to provide the necessary facilities to maximize the opportunities available here. It is a place where research on geology , ecology and archaeology is possible.

“All the electronic and print media of the country have supported me to complete this mission successfully. I give my special thanks to the Divaina newspaper for the good work done on its initiative. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported me.

Rahula thero said he has plans to undertake many meritorious projects like providing houses for the homeless, equipping schools, providing clean drinking water and succor to the sick through the Jathika Namal Uyana project. He said in this 32nd anniversary year of the project we must all strive to achieve national unity spurning racial and religious differences.

Fathima Nusra Uvais

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