Wild elephants in Wilpattu Jungle often strayed into Ambarawa area.
They even strayed into settlers henas trampling their crops, digging up holes, breaking down makeshift fences …generally creating a nuisance of themselves.
When the elephants came, the settler families ran for their lives and took refuge in the temple on the rock.
Men folks tried to shout away the elephants from their huts built on tall tree tops, lit up fires or even fire crackers. Elephants seem to like this commotion instead of being afraid of it.
They would kick away the ladders, leading up to the tree houses. Shake the tree trunks hoping the men will fall off. While men kept shouting, the elephants circled the trees menacingly all night leaving the settlers high and dry. The jumbos would retreat back to the jungle only after they have had their fun or their stomachs full.
The villagers feared the Thaniya the most. He was a lone bull elephant hell bent on taking his anger out on anything in his path. A woman who had been gathering fire wood in the scrub had been chased by Thaniya. He would have crushed her to death if she had not run and jump into the lake to be rescued by a boatman.
Crops destroyed by elephants …
Crops destroyed by persistent heat, lack of easy access to water …
Malaria, making farmers sick for weeks, prevented them from working..
All factors contributed to demoralising the settlers. Often plunging them into debt and despair.
Some didn’t cope with these pressures. They got into the habit of pawning their meagre possessions or drinking their sorrows away. Families became destitute… broken up …some women folk took their children back to where they came from. Their men usually followed after selling their land to the local Mudalali or simply abandoning their lot.
Others like Haramanis worked hard to overcome all odds. Misfortune of others became his fortune. Haramanis started acquiring failed settlers possessions and land.
Siriyalatha often quarrelled with Haramanis not to get into the habit of profiting from others misfortune. However, temptation and greed won in the end.
Haramanis got others to work his land and the newly acquired lands. He bought a cart to collect vegetables from farms and take to the local pola to sell for a descent profit instead of receiving a pittance from the mudalali who came to collect the produce.
He was the success story of the settlers amongst the many other ruined lives.
Illustration by Saranga Peiris.