Features

Men and Memories
Rajapaksas of Giruwapattuwa
Buddhika Kurukularatne

The name Rajapaksa is synonymous with the Giruwapattuwa in the Hambantota District — the Kurakkan country.

How a man hailing from the Wellabodapattuwa in the Galle district came to be writing about a dynasty in the South, deeper than Galle, begs an explanation.

Since 1985 that means four years before I was elected to represent the Galle district, I formed a voluntary social service organisations - the Ambalangoda Deshapremi Sanvidhanaya (an NGO incorporated by Act. No. 47 of 1992) which helped children from low income families in the Galle district in their educational activities by the award of A/Level scholarships and a free English programme at two centres in Galle and Ambalangoda, sponsored by the Maharaja Organisation Limited.

Mahinda Rajapaksa has been the chief guest on two occasions at our annual scholarship awards ceremonies when he was a PA Cabinet Minister - once as the Minister of Labour and Vocational Training thereafter as the Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

On both occasions he was thoroughly impressed with the work and the organisational skills of the Sanvidhanaya and requested the writer’s assistance to revamp a similar organisation that he had started in the Hambantota District in memory of his father D. A. Rajapaksa.

‘It is not running as smoothly as your organisation. Machan, can you come and stay a weekend to recognise the scheme and also talk to our organisers?’

When a question of education arises, it doesn’t matter who does it and what political party he belonged to.

That was why I spent a weekend at the ‘Carlton’ — Mahinda’s home in Tangalle - much to the surprise of both PA and UNP supporters. Some may have believed, I am sure, that I was going to do a political jump.’

Many have asked me as to how I managed to conduct the affairs of the ADS, for so long a period of time. My answer was very simple ‘No politics’.

We never considered race, religion or political differences when selecting children for the scholarships or the English classes.

As Mahinda was basically a politician, I had to investigate whether the selection of students for scholarship awards had any political undertones. I arrived at the town reception hall well ahead of the time scheduled for the meeting whilst Mahinda left for Matara as he was chief guest at a cricket match between the Sri Lanka team (then captained by the ‘local boy Sanath Jayasuriya) and a Rest team. Mahinda asked me to start the proceedings and promised to join the ceremony later.

I made use of the opportunity to speak to the children and the parents. The children-50 of them were seated on the right of the stage and the parents to the left.

I found that the children were all from very poor families in the Hambantota district. Their parents were either farmers, chena (slash and burn) cultivators or peasants owning a few heads of cattle. I also discovered that all the children had a minimum of 7 distinction passes at the ‘O’ Levels. I have a habit of testing the General Knowledge of the students whenever I address an audience of students.

I told them that I was indeed privileged to address the very fortunate young men and women from the Giruwapattuwa which will produce the future leaders of the country.

‘If the leader is appointed from the ‘wrong’ party then, it will be my friend and your Minister Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. The future, leader hailing from Giruwapattuwa on the ‘right’ party will also be a person I used to call ‘putha’, from almost the day he was born - ‘Sajith Putha’.

There were peals of laughter and applause and I knew that Mahinda had not considered petty politics in the selection of scholarship recipients.

I told the parents that their children would answer the questions to exhibit their knowledge. I asked the first child — a girl with 7 distinctions to name the person who was known as the Father of Free Education. She did not know the answer. I then put the question to the 49 other scholarship recipients. The silence was deafening. No one knew the answer. Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara, the Father of Free Education would have been turning in his grave in shame at the ingratitude of the very beneficiaries of the Free Education system that he launched.

Not only did these children with a fine academic record at GCE ‘O’ Levels did not know who the father of Free Education was (inspite of every school in the country expected to hold a ‘Kannangara Day’ in memory of Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara) but also were unable to answer the other simple questions put by me such as who the Father of the Nation was and who the First Prime Minister of Ceylon was? To the latter question several children answered ‘S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike.’

Then I told the children that instead of asking questions about personalities at national level. I would come ‘home’ to Giruwapattuwa and asked the children as to who was the person who was popularly known as the ‘Lion of Ruhuna’?

Believe me readers, not a single child could even answer that! One smart lass, thought since the scholarships were given in memory of the late Mr. D. A. Rajapaksa the ‘Lion of Ruhuna’ was D. A. Mahinda’s father. She had the audacity to refer to Mr. D. A. Rajapaksa as just ‘D. A. Rajapaksa’. I had to admonish her that when referring to an elder whether dead or alive she must be respectful. ‘This was more important than securing a distinction pass’ I told the gathering. In fairness to the young lady, she promptly apologised and said ‘Mr.’ D. A. Rajapaksa.

I was shocked at the ignorance of these students who were considered to represent the ‘cream’ of the student population in the District, reading for their ‘A’ Levels.

If I was shocked the parents were dumb-founded at the pathetic display of ignorance on the part of their offspring. The Directors of Education who were on stage were writhing in acute embarrassment at the performance of that wards who had a ‘brilliant academic’ record ‘on paper’.

Halfway through my speech, Mahinda walked in and I announced: ‘Here comes your Leader of the ‘wrong side’ to peals of laughter and thunderous applause (the laughter due to my comment and the applause to welcome the future leader from the wrong party!)

Mahinda was told the terribly low standard of General Knowledge of the students by somewhat embarrassed officials.

Never a man to runaway from a difficult situation in real or political life, Mahinda asked in his speech, ‘Oh! what are these mistakes’?. Turning to me and calling me ‘Manthrithuma’, he said,’ Manthrithuma these children are yet to enter the University. I have told you the story of University graduates from the Beliatta Electoral Division whom I wanted to appoint to my then Ministry of Labour and some of them did not know who the Minister of Labour was. According to Gunasiri Weerakoon, the Commissioner of Labour with whom I pleaded that he should not ask difficult questions at the interview as they were his ‘game lamai’ (village lads) some graduates when asked to name an institutions that came under the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training had replied, ‘Social Service Department’!.

Although it is unlikely that any of these 50 children who received scholarships on that day would read this article simply because it appears in an English weekly (and English is Greek to most of them) I thought of writing about the Rajapaksas of Giruwapattuwa at least for the sake of posterity.

As I myself knew only very little of this mighty dynasty in the South (and little knowledge was always very dangerous as is obvious from the doings and utterances of some of the Members of the Cabinet) I wanted authoritative information about the Rajapaksa clan.

The amiable Chamal, the eldest of DA’s nine children put me in touch with a daughter of the ‘Lion of Ruhuna’ — Kamala.

Chamal gave the telephone number and said Kamala was a Mrs. Wijesuriya and I immediately asked Chamal, ‘Isn’t Wijesuriya’ a Karawa ‘ge’ name? to which Chamal chuckled and said, ‘yes’ yes she married one of yours’.

I am yet to meet this most interesting lady in the flesh. Our contact have been to date via the telephone. As Chamal said she was most helpful, full of wit and humour and did not hesitate to disclose her age (67) unlike most others of the same species, whilst also divulging some very personal information, knowing very well that it would soon appear on print.

Kamala was the fifth child (third daughter) of DM. She was educated at Visaka Vidyalaya. She married out of her caste (Goigama) for which ‘Sin’ she was treated as an outcaste by some of her family - notably the females. She was however welcomed into the fould her brothers and uncles - notably Mahinda’s father DA.

She said not only was she welcomed but also used as a ‘bait’ to ‘fish’ for the Karava votes in predominantly Karawa hamlets in Mulgirigala, Beliatta and Tissamaharama Electorates where her relatives contested. She used to be ‘displayed’ in Karawa areas and the message to the Karawa voters was that ‘the Rajapaksa’s are your relations!’

The Rajapaksa ‘Family Tree’ as supplied by Kamala starts with D. M.’s father - Don Davith Rajapaksa Vidanarachchi who married Dona Gimara.

As this is an article not a thesis I shall confine myself to the politicians of this mighty clan.

Don David Rajapaksa (Vidanaarachchi) + Dona Gimara (Rajapaksa)

1) Don Coronelis Rajapaksa (eldest son) - ‘Coroner Ralahamy’.

2) Dona Carolina Bandara Weeraman nee Rajapaksa (daughter)

3) Don Mathew Rajapaksa (D.M. 2nd son)

4) Don Alvin Rajapaksa (D.A. youngest son)

Don Mathew Rajapaksa (D.M.) + Emalyn Weeratunga

1) Lakshman Rajapaksa - son

2) George Rajapaksa + Lalitha > (1) Nirupamala ex-state Minister of Tourism (2) Shyamlat ex PC Member (SP)

3) Esther Rajapaksa

4) Pearl Rajapaksa

5) Kamala Rajapaksa

6) Niel Rajapaksa

7) Ruby Rajapaksa

Kamala told me that when her father (D.M.) was to marry Emalyn from the aristocratic Weeratunga family, (one of the more famous of the Weeratunga family was ‘Bull’ Weeratunga) there had been some reservations initially from the bride’s side.

‘Why should we marry into a family living in a thatched house rearing cattle?’ were the objections. Kamala says until quite recently her ‘Maha Gedara’ had thatched roof and her father owned several fine heads of cattle.

One yardstick of judging the social standing of a family in the olden days was the number of heads of cattle the family possessed. Weeratunga’s ancestoral house was known as Paregedara in Madihe at Matara. The hamlet Madihe had two powerful castes. The most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka Thero who hailed from a Christian family background was from the ‘Durawa’ caste whilst the Weeratunga were Goigama.

The ‘minor’ objections were discarded and D.M. and Emalyn were soon united in matrimony.

Don Alvin Rajapaksa (D.A.) was the youngest son of Don David Rajapaksa the Vidanaarachchi and the younger brother of D.M.

D. A. married Dandina Samarasinghe Dissanayake of Palatuwa in Matara and they had nine children - the eldest being Chamal.

Don Alvin Rajapaksa (D.A.) + Dandina Samarasinghe Dissanayake

1) Chamal - son

2) Jayanthi - daughter (deceased)

3) Mahinda - son

4) Chandra Tudor - son

5) Gotabhaya - son

6) Basil - son

7) Dudley - son

8) Preethi - daughter

9) Chandani - daughter

D.A. who was a founder member of the UNP named a son after Mr. Dudley Senanayake.

When S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike defected from the D. S. Senanayake, government, many UNPers had promised to cross the floor with him. But when S. W. R. D. crossed the great divide and looked over his shoulder to see the procession of defectors he saw only one man - D.A. following him like his shadow (several other UNPers ‘crossed over’ later - but it was only D.A. who actually crossed the floor with Banda).

I used to tease the Rajapaksa brothers - Chamal and Mahinda in Parliament saying that they reminded me of the Gira Pothaka story (story of the two baby parrots) of the Buddhist Jathaka stories.

The story goes thus:

A gale blew away two baby parrots from their nest. One baby parrot fell into a den inhabited by highway robbers. The other fell into a hermitage. The two baby birds grew up and started mimicking the words frequently uttered by their respective mentors. The bird with the highway robbers uttered the words ‘Kill’, ‘Hit’, ‘Rob’, etc., whilst the bird in the hermitage uttered words such as ‘Please come’. ‘Please sit down. ‘How are you?’ etc.

I told the Rajapaksa duo that while Chamal was the bird that lived with the hermits, Mahinda was the one who lived with the robbers. They never took offence at my comparison.

But now at the rate Mahinda is frequenting temples he would not only out do his elder brother but also is likely to break Premadasa’s record as well!

D. M.’s father was by all means a villager - though a primus inter pares (first amongst equals) being a Vidanarachchi ‘Ralahamy’, he realized the value of educating his children.

The Rajapaksa’s ancestral seat was at Buddiyagama off Tangalle in the Hanbantota District and all the children of the Vidanarachchi Ralahamy first went to the village school - the Mandaduwa Primary School.

(Next Sunday — D. M. Rajapaksa ‘The Lion of Ruhuna’)

 

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