Posted by: lrrp | October 6, 2004

Ashes of Konappu Bandara in Portugal! by Gaston Perera

This is what the Ambassador of Portugal in India is supposed to have said according to a spokesman of the Cultural Ministry. In fact the Ambassador is said to have gone even further. He had promised to return the ashes. In the course of a discussion between him and the Minister of Cultural Affairs as reported in the Ceylon Daily News of 14th. September the spokesman is supposed to have said –

“Margues promised to return the ashes of Konappu Bandara, a hero to Sri Lanka.”

There is a nice touch here in this promise, that is if we benighted souls know our own history. For this is the 400th anniversary of the death of Konappu Bandara. In any case this news is absolutely sensational. If it is true it must be the most amazing historical development of our times, overshadowing even the discovery of the Trojan jewels or Tutankhamen’s tomb.

There is much else in the news report which is exciting and promising and which, if effected, would place Luso-Sri Lankan relationships on a new plane of reconciliation and forgiveness instead of resentment and confrontation. For the Ambassador is supposed to have said “… the new Government in Portugal wants to put its colonial past behind it,” and agreed to the formation of a Joint Commission for certain purposes.

But what concerns me here is this thing about Konappu’s ashes. Being a historical novelist by vocation and my novels being all set in the Portuguese period and, most of all, my first novel, “The Rebel of Kandy” being all about this same Konappu, this news that his ashes were taken to Portugal and have been lying there unknown to us for 400 years and is now to come back to us, is a matter of the intensest interest and excitement. If true, that is.

But – unless we have here yet another classic example of bureaucratic ignorance, misreporting and bungling – why should it not be true? The promise is made by no less a person than an ambassador, a plenipotentiary representative of a sovereign state. When an ambassador of one country makes an official declaration to a Minister of another country, it has to be authoritative, informed and official. Or to put it another way he will not be announcing something through his ambassadorial headwear. Or, to be crude, he would not shoot his lip. Besides this is no ordinary ambassador. This is the ambassador of Portugal talking. He of all persons would not do the dirty on Sri Lanka. (I almost wrote Ceilao.) Not again! Not when the 500th anniversary of his ancestors’ arrival is round the corner! No, not again.

So it just has to be true. Unknown to us they had been having Konappu’s ashes with them all along in Portugal. And he being “a hero to Sri Lanka” and all that, this magnanimous gesture is made of returning the ashes in the very year of the 400th anniversary of Konappu Bandara’s death.

The Ambassador will, of course, be keenly aware of the compulsive necessity of scrupulously authenticating these ashes. But, no doubt, incontrovertible evidence is bound to be furnished to substantiate the genuineness of these ashes, the manner, reason and circumstances of their being taken to Portugal and the location of their storage for the last 400 years. The veracity of the whole business will, naturally, be established to the satisfaction of even the most skeptical.

Most of all it will be satisfactorily explained no doubt why not one single Portuguese historian or missionary or official has made any mention of this ashes business. This is something I look forward to very keenly. For when researching my first historical novel, “The Rebel of Kandy” which was all about this very same Konappu Bandara, in all the Portuguese histories and missionary and official reports I accessed – not archival or in the original Portuguese, I hasten to say, but only in English translation – I came across only one reference even remotely connected to these ashes.

Queyroz mentions the cremation of Wimaladharmasuriya (the regnal name of Konappu Bandara). He mentions this to deride a poignant oral tradition among the Kandyans that the cremation consumed everything but the heart – a touching piece of folk symbolism to signify the indestructibility of his achievements. But for Queyroz – who never refers to him but as the tyrant or apostate or rebel of Kandy – it had a different significance. It was because the heart was reserved for “the infernal flames.” (Vide Queyroz, page 605).

But there could well be other more conclusive references that one has missed. Or perhaps new documentary evidence has surfaced in the archives of Goa or Lisbon. That is why one awaits with bated breath for further disclosures.

No doubt also the ambassador will explain adequately how Konappu Bandara’s ashes came into Portuguese hands at all. It could not be that they were peacefully handed over. Why on earth did the Kandyans do that to the remains of their adored leader – just give it to the hated enemy who was destroying their temples, ravaging their land and molesting their women? Besides there was continuous war between Kandy and the Portuguese throughout these years. Azevedo had encircled Kandy with a ring of forts and was making bi-annual marauding expeditions into the hills, destroying and massacaring. How the did the Portuguese get these ashes in these circumstances? Did Azevedo accidentally come across the tomb on one of his predatory raids and reverently remove the ashes of this hated and bitterest foe of the Portuguese without simply desecrating the place as he did with temples? And then solemnly take it and preserve it for posterity in Portugal? It is all so mystifying to simple minds. But let us wait patiently, it will all be explained.

How much this promise of the Portuguese ambassador would have warmed the cockles of the hearts of men like Sir Paul Pieris or Tikiri Abeysinghe. “Tikiri” one is tempted to say, “thou should be living at this hour.” For Portuguese studies have died with him and there is none now in the History Departments in the groves of academe to appreciate the true implication of the ambassador’s words.

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