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“They killed each other, no one gained from it.”

Punchage Kalumanike is 106 years old and lost family during the war. What she has witnessed in her lifetime remains a cautionary tale about civil strife.

Punchage Kalumanike

“I had 12 grandchildren in the military. One of my sons and a grandchild died due to war. But it was not only mine, the war destroyed many boys in all of Sri Lanka. Even so, I do not have any hatred, anger or jealousy toward anyone.”

Punchage Kalumanike is 106 years old. A national identity card issued in 1973 states her date of birth as 04-07-1912. She says she can also be called Manika and Manike, “I like all those names.”

She lives on the lower side of Sangilimahakanadarawa in Madawachchilya where she had given birth to 10 children and now has about 120 grandchildren. She lives a religious life, lives alone in a house, cooks and works all by herself without expecting anyone’s help. She does not like to leave the house for more than a few days, even if her children have called her.

“I am like this because I engage in religious activities. I observe ‘Sil’ on every full moon poya day. I have built temples and offered ‘Atapirikara’. I listen to sermons and ‘Pirith’ chanting. Those have helped me.”

Kalumanike is still physically and mentally strong and she remembers most of the of 106 years of her life and the events in the country.

“My son died in 1996 in Trincomale. The grandchild had runaway with others when the Tigers attacked Kilinochchi camp. Until today there is no information about my grandchild. Most of the other children who joined military have retired now.”

A photograph hangs on the wall with the son who died during the war. She wipes her tears with the end of her sari.

“What else was it other than killing? They killed each other, no one gained from it. This happened because war was created.  If that did not happen they would not come to our house to kill.

It started in the 1970s. They did not allow us to take goods and made check points. That is how the problem started. There was no way to take rice to Jaffna. Rice was taken by cutting pumpkins, filling them with rice and covering them  with the pumpkin lid. Some were caught and if you did not give them something to eat and drink, they would get in to war. Those days busses were not allowed to go to Jaffna. Goods lorries were also not allowed. The war accelerated.  At last it came to an end. We do not know exactly what the ones in the North think. Our minds are different. All of this was done by the leaders.”

Learning from an older and wiser generation

Kalumanika with her daughter

Kalumanike’s familiy is among the first ten families who came here with a farmer community movement of D. S. Senanayake in 1945. Kalmanike’s got five acres. Until recently Kalumanike lived alone.

“All these lands were cultivated by me. It’s difficult, I can’t do it anymore. I gave the children their parts and leased out my part. A group of officials came and said my house had to be removed as there is a canal going this way. I told them to give me a small place to live somewhere.

The line of houses to this side of the Madawachchiya bridge had Tamil families living here. Sinhala people have taken over those now. Government agencies said those families are asking for their land and have to be given it (back).

If they have land and housing deeds, those should be given. No use of saying it should not be given to them. Didn’t King Elara rule Anuradhapura? There are lands made by clearing forests and paddy fields with hardships by them. Some of the houses are damaged. Some of the houses are in good condition. It is not good to live in their houses by force. We should give them back to them. We should not grab those from them. It is the same sadness another one gets similar to the sadness I (would) get if I lost my house.

There were Tamil people from Jaffna in many villages. We all were staying together. We gave them goods. They took those to Jaffna in carts. Retail goods from Jaffna were brought and sold to us. We gave our harvest to them for cash. There was no money at that time, the way there is today. Most of the things were brought from Jaffna. Villages near Madawachchiya were close to them. Suddenly the war broke out and they left.”

Kalumanike’s daughter says: “My mother said there had been no racial differences in the village. They had a satisfaction beyond money by depending each other. What is important is to listen to these events that have been kept with a mother with a long life span.”