In a Goiya's Looking Glass

By Manik Sandrasagra

The Lanka Guardian, Vol. 14 No. 16, 15 December 1991

Ecologist Magazine Editor Edward Goldsmith interviews Mudiyanese Tennekoon
Edward Goldsmith interviews Mudiyanese Tennekoon

It is always good to see ourselves as others see us. This is not easy when we are attached to our views.

In order that an English reading public hears another version of our society's rapid disintegration into anarchy, I spoke to Malwila Śrī Brahamana Wanninayake Mudiyanselage Mudiyanse Tennekoon.

Mudiyanse is a Goviya from Thimbiriyawewa in Wyamba. Farmer Tennekoon, as he is known, is fast becoming a cult figure in the international ‘Green Movement'.

In 1990, the editor of the British journal The Ecologist, Edward Goldsmith, who predicts a gloomy future for the world if present development trends continue, introduced Mudiyanse to European audiences as ‘the an with the answer' in his one-hour biographical programme on British television. Mudiyanse's peers in this documentary directed by Nicholas Claxton (who also made the critically acclaimed ‘Price of Progress') were former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Head of the F.A.O. Edward Saouma, and the widely respected ‘Father of the Green Revolution' Norman Borlag.

In 1971 Tennekoon was arrested along with Rohana Wijeyweera, and others for alleged complicity in the J.V.P. uprising. There was no charge brought against him, as Tennekoon insisted that no armed insurrection was required to destroy the system. He maintained that it would destroy itself.

The late Upali Senanayake, founder of the National Heritage Movement was the first to introduce Tennekoon to Colombo audiences. Senanayake, in an interview published in The Ecologist in September 1982, refers to Tennekoon as follows: ‘You will be the model and our youth will flock here to learn our traditions from you. This must be so because current trends cannot be sustained. The problem has got out of hand'.

On the 31st of October 1990 an audience of students at the New Arts Theatre of the Colombo Campus listened spellbound when Mudiyanse addressed them under the auspicies of Dr. Nalin de Silva, a leading advocate of ‘Jathika Chintanaya'.

In January 1991, Britain's famous television personality Dr. David Bellamy whose films on nature and environment have earned him a large following in the English-speaking world returned to Sri Lanka to film several sequences with Tennekoon for his six-part series ‘THUS HAVE I HEARD' based on oral tradition and indigenous culture.

The following extracts from my conversations with him will further illustrate Mudiyanse's view of life.


With the roads came the carters the land grabbers. Where the carts stopped every six miles became a Kuda Kada-mandiya (‘small bazaar'). Every twelve miles where they stayed the night became the Maha Kada-mandiya (‘big bazaar'). These carts brought with them coconut arrack and goods from the port. Strange gods, new laws and customs followed. These invaders took back with them the treasures of our land: our primeaval forests. Carts, thus became the first transport business with middlemen or ‘kanakapillais' running them.

With the carts also came the United National Party.

Every ‘Kadamandiya' also had a tobacco or ‘suruttu kade'. With these ‘kades' came the Lanka Sama Samaja Party.

This Kadamandi dialogue where the ‘loud mouth' became King took place either under a ‘Pacha Gaha' or in ‘Kopi Kade'. This was how politics first came to the village. To support this new conflict oriented system villages had to provide the natural resources, cheap labour and votes. Very soon even in agriculture a traditional farmer became the pupil and the city ‘poth karaya' or theorist became the teacher.

How then can a villager respect systems advocated by politicians? We see politicians as those possessed by ‘bala karma'.


The students of imperialism became our political leaders. D.S., Dudley, Sir John, S. W.R.D., Phillip, N.M., Colvin, Dr. S.A. Wicks, G.G. Ponnambalam, Chelvanayagam, Pieter Keuneman, J.R. — they all come from the same background. We had to listen and follow them. The politician and the platform became the new stars. They screamed and shouted like mad men casting doubt and fear. This became a new religion. Monks and priests also joined this bandwagon. Sri Lanka was made up of over 24,000 small villages that had lived peacefully for centuries. Kings fought battles with mercenaries — villages did not participate in this madness. Even today with radios, TVs and the press, the simple villager is still uninvolved. He cannot understand this power lust. How can for example a villager understand impeachment when even Colombo pundits cannot understand it?


Centralised political domination is only possible because of a Bureaucracy. They protect the laws and institutions under which they exist. The bureaucracy came into being in Portuguese, Dutch and British time in order to extend their influence in the villages which they had decided to control, govern and exploit. Our colonial masters went away but the bureaucracy remained. This became the new colonialism.


There was a Sanitary Service Department in Colombo called ‘Sandiboard Mahattaya' by the village. This became the first Trade Union. With the growing dependence on the port for many of the necessities of modern living trade unions were soon able to control the country with strikes. The village however remained unaffected. With the expansion of the Bureaucracy villagers were given small jobs by the government and they in turn joined trade unions and very soon the entire country was caught up in the fight between the Government and the Unions; or between capitalism and socialism, communism or Marxism as they called it.


In the Vanni for every five or six villages there was one temple. A villager from the area was always the incumbent and the lineage, village based. We participated in the occasional ‘Bana Pinkama' and the ‘Malvatti Vendeshi'. As outsiders started invading our lands on various colonisation schemes new temples were also built and monks came with them. They brought with them new customs and beliefs. This, they called Buddhism. Our beliefs and customs they called ‘folk religion'.


In the village we consider our ‘Amma' (mother) as Buddhas. For us there are many Buddhas, not one. We say ‘Budu Ammo', ‘Budu Appo', ‘Budu Maniyane', ‘Budu Nande', ‘Budu Marme'. The word Buddha was associated with reverence.

Our mothers were the only Buddhas we could see. We learned from them and from our fathers and other elders. The new ‘Pansal Ischola', however taught ‘akuru' in order to tell us what is in some book. A book we know is the obsession of individuals. We villagers are taught by experience. With one book came many books, each claiming to be the truth.


When ‘akuru' and books became the vehicle for education, mothers, fathers and elders ceased to be our teachers. Children went to the temple to learn. Here they learned rules and regulations. Experience was substituted for theory and words. A new class emerged with a new mentality. For example, a child who was ten years old in 1977 took up arms in 1987 — some to rebel against the State and others to protect it. Who benefited by this? Arms dealers and conflict peddlers. How can one family fight, unless the system teaches them to do so? Monks and students are all divided—why? Instead of village monks learning from their elders the pirivena system created educated monks with a theoretical knowledge devoid of experience. The village monk taught what was applicable to the village — a pirivena educated monk taught the ‘potha'.


A Sigiriya fresco shows a maiden indicating the ‘Mulabija'—the seed mantra—the breast. Our village religion is based on this. Kiri Rasa Danno is the best illustration of our collective culture both Sinhala and Tamil. Villages across Sri Lanka know this as the only truth. Rain is the energy of the kingdom and rain determined the just King. When there is drought, there is ignorance. City based doctrines however seek domination. Every villager was a free person, who under religion became a slave to some doctrine that sought to control lifestyles. Mahasen is today worshipped as ‘Minneriya Deviyo'—why? He eliminated religion and reestablished a water culture.


Lanka Guardian

Today we are harvesting the result of ‘Sadacharaya' or ‘Neecha Kula bandanaya'. This new morality came to the village from the city via religion. The youth started seeking new truths instead of doing what came naturally. All the ‘yakkas', ‘bhuthayas', ‘prethayas' and ‘Kunubandanayas' in their minds came to the forefront. ‘Maha-sammatta' (common consensus) turned to parliamentary democracy brings with it a million opinions and plenty of confusion and conflict.


The Buddha once told Ananda that what he had taught is only like a handful of leaves when compared to a forest. Life itself is the learning process. This cannot be put in the pages of a book. When people leave their natural environment, they become conditioned by their new environment. In our village, the wewa, our cattle and the forest came first. This, we protected as teachers. When the town influence crept into the village, the emphasis shifted to other things. The radio, the bicycle, the tractor, the umbrella, the sewing machine —these were the new necessities. This, we cannot stop. Desires will grow in proportion to what we know. We are now a part of the world linked by modern communications. We must however not be stupid in our decisions. Land may be limited but we have been farmers for centuries. With the current worldwide interest in organic food we can return to the land and market our priceless genetic diversity. This is our real culture. Why must we sell our Mother for less?

Manik Sandrasagra is founder of The Cultural Survival Trust and The Living Heritage Trust.

© The Lanka Guardian, Vol. 14 No. 16, 15 December 1991

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Edward Goldsmith interviews Farmer Tennekoon