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Leonard Woolf: He penned his love for Sri Lanka in ‘Village in the Jungle’

Daily News 2020-06-30 05:38:32

Leonard Woolf who served as a colonial Assistant Government Agent in Hambantota was the author of the renowned novel ‘Village in the Jungle’.

During his tenure as the Assistant Government Agent of the Hambantota District from 1908 to 1911, Woolf visited villages and jungles in Hambantota on his bicycle or a pony’s back. He conducted his inspections under the shade of massive trees. He was very much attached and devoted to his job.

Realising the inconvenience and issues faced by villagers who were involved in chena cultivation, he, while holding the colonial administrative office in Hambantota, fought for the rights of villagers, when the colonial Government attempted to impose legal barriers on chena cultivation.

He understood the pathetic plight of poor villagers whose sole sustenance was chena and paddy cultivation. Woolf had recorded in his diaries that rice was very valuable for villagers because they were able to obtain rice once in five years - only when village tanks were filled up following rains.

In his diaries and novels, Woolf mentioned that malaria was the scourge of rains which tolled the death knell for the village. Though he is not among us today, his novel ‘Village in the Jungle’ which revolves around the jungle and the villagers with whom he shared memories will live in our hearts forever.

Woolf arrived in Ceylon in 1904 and worked for three years in Hambantota. After 50 years, Wolf had said he was glad to meet villagers and officers with whom he had worked for many years. As the Assistant Government Agent of Hambantota, he closely associated with many mudliyars and village headmen. Some of the villages which he mentioned in his famous novel, are still existing though most of the characters are no more.

Woolf had been a member of Ceylon Civil Service from 1904 till 1911. In 1904, he was first attached to the Colonial Secretary’s Office in Colombo. In 1905, he served in Jaffna Kachcheri and later in several capacities such as the Collector of Customs and Additional Police Magistrate. He held the posts of Additional Assistant Government Agent of the Northern Province, Additional Police Magistrate and Commissioner of Requests of Mannar while involved in the pearl fishery. He died in Sussex at the age of 88 in August 14, 1969.