Hambantota, Memories Of
A Tsunami Devastated Town
"And when one weeps with
eyes of welling tears.
Remembering a realm of pristine charm.
The thoughts languish on some fond bygone years.
The sadness rife surveying nature's harm.
A heavy heart now beats in soft refrain,
To quell the surging ghosts of this terrain !"
Â© Sunimal Perera, Montreal,Canada
This is a view of Hambantota Bay looking in a southerly direction
from where approximately the local fishmarket used to stand in the
60's as I recall , and all that is left now as depicted is a wasteland
of debris, desolation and emptiness which epitomises what the Tsunami
left behind in Hambantota as part of its sad legacy which also echoed
along thousands of kilometres of the coastal belt of Sri Lanka in
a trail of horror and devastation never before seen in such magnitude
in this part of the world.
A twisted and unretrieved bicycle, a boat washed ashore, perhaps some
poor mortals' only means of transportation and livelihood also bear
testimony to Hambantota's devastations as a vast expanse of empty
lonely space as far as the eye can see, which stares back in solemn
silence as one gazes in disbelief at this heartbreaking landscape
where only, a now tranquil bay in the distance seems calm compared
to its picture post card setting of just a month ago!
My memories of this idyllic beachside town goes back to a time when
I was a little boy filled with a sense of adventure and the love of
the ocean and the times I spent in Hambantota with two members of
my immediate family.
A maternal uncle and aunt were once stationed there with their families,
the former as Divisional Revenue Officer and subsequently Assistant
Commissioner of Agrarian Services and the latter whose husband was
the Government Agent, a tall broad shouldered and disciplined gentleman
well known and respected in the community and various enclaves of
the many Governent Officers stationed there at the time, being the
Chief Government representative for the Region.
Hambantota holds cherished memories for me as I spent many long holidays
there with my relatives and also lived for sometime with my Uncle
and Aunt who occupied the Residency at the time, through whom I was
privileged to enjoy the beauty of this pristine place and around whom
my time in Hambantota was richly spent and embellished with the joyful
exuberance of life which both my aunt and uncle generated as they
were wonderful people who brought so much joy into my life.
In those days it was a haven for holidaymakers both in Hambantota
and nearby Bundala, wild life buffs enroute to Yala and Weerawila
Game Sanctuaries and pilgrims on their way to Tissamaharama and Kataragama.
My personal anecdotes about Hambantota are cherished and etched in
my memory forever while my immediate thoughts reflect upon the countless
number of residents and visitors who became victims to the ravages
of a cruel sea in deadly turbulence set in place by an equally deadly
subterranean earthquake whose coming they never knew until it was
practically upon them in the flash of an eye!
Reflecting on the post Tsunami Hambantota today as I survey the damage
caused consequently, I am deeply saddened by the battering it has
taken from the onslaught and hope fervently that Hambantota will be
restored to at least a semblance of its former beauty which perhaps
in an idyllic sense was incomparable to any other location I have
ever been in and I say this as a personal tribute from the depths
of my heart to the town and its townfolk, simple, warm hearted, friendly
people typifying most of Sri Lanka whose pain and grief I share very
I had many friends there some of them poor fisherfolk who put out
to sea in their huge catamarans and later the mechanized fishing boats
and the gang of fisherfolk who cast the Ma Della or Big Net each Sunday
and dragged it in to their hypnotic chant of Odi Helleiya as I watched
in fascination at the vast array of fish, prawns and crabs as they
were arranged into pre-auction baskets taken from the net. Invariably
being recognized as the 'podi sir ' from the ' Ejantha Gedara' as
I was sometimes called, I was invariably given a medium sized Bonito
or Tuna fish which I would carry home and into the kitchen for a delectable
Ambul Thiyal they were eventually transformed into by the cullinary
expertise of the servants and in particularly a Malay boy who was
a local resident through whom I made many Malay friends.
Hambantota has a large Malay population alongside the Sinhalese residents
and I have sadly recieved information that many families , some closely
known to me were decimated and wiped out by the Tsunami and I dedicate
this narrative to their memory as well as all of Hambantota.
This was the town where the famous British writer Sir Leonard Woolf
served as Government Agent and was inspired to write his memorable
novel "The Village In The Jungle" , Sinhala Translation
Beddegama, based on a nearby vilage deep in the recesses of the fauna
infested Ruhuna Jungles and lived in the same majestic Residency or
Government House that I occupied many years later courtesy of my Uncle
and Aunt .It was a glorious tribute to Dutch Architecture once typifying
the period of Dutch Occupation of Ceylon with a Garrison and Parade
Ground to match, restored to an even greater ambience of British architectural
traditions refurbished and built solidly atop a hill , a vast house
with huge rooms, massive oak doors, a regal interior of spacious living
and dining quarters both for its Prominent Occupants and servants
as well as a row of vast stables designed originally for Horses and
converted to garages.
The walled Residency had a commanding view of the entire Hambantota
Bay and ocean surrounding it, with miles and miles of endless wild
coastline interspaced in places with steep columns of rocks and the
remnants of an ancient pier washed away with time and only the concrete
columns now standing, where the ocean surf boomed constantly, crashing
huge waves against them as I recall listening in awe to the sound
of the surf from my room, often late into the night, a sound which
fascinates me to this day wherever the surf booms against rocks and
I travel back in time to Hambantota albeit with a haunting ring to
it accompanying the many voices of the dead whose spirits surely linger
on along the coast !
Mercifully the Residency has been spared of the ravages of the perilous
Tsunami and still languishes as a majestic sentinel almost in sad
perspective bearing testimony to a vast tragedy that unfolded there
as the rest of coastal Hambantota has been reduced mostly to rubble
and debris and most of its humanity who lived along the coastline
washed away to sea together with their livelihood as this has been
an area of heavy human casualties where the low lying areas were once
heavily inhabited and only a lonely high wind now prevails across
the beaches, desolate but for the purple periwinkles and ipomea swaying
sadly in iambic rhythm to a staccato of the leaves of sentinel Palms
dotting the coastline almost as in a requiem for the dead.
But Oh how horrendous it was! when the tsunami struck this tranquil
beachside town and enveloped its helpless, screaming residents in
a instant and caught them unawares that fateful morning of the murderous
crashing of gigantic waves, the flailing hapless victims carried by
the swirling merciless vortex of churning black water to be battered
against the rocks and concrete of collapsed buildings, their bodies
crushed beyond recognition, their very souls torn apart as the wailings
of the living for the dead rose in a strange crescendo long after
the wrath of nature had subsided taking its toll and the lucky survivors
had an incredible mind shattering story to tell.
( To Be Continued......)