Martin’s devil dance
Posted on February 26th, 2016

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Courtesy Ceylon Today

Koralawella was primarily a fishing periphery of Moratuwa town. Turning off from the Moratuwa Bridge towards Modara, middle class families lived alongside the main road while the fisher folk had their dwellings away from the main road, closer to seaside.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church was situated just before the Koralawella Railway Station turn-off. An Italian priest, with a passing resemblance to Jesus, was in charge of St Michael’s Church in Koralawella and St. Mary’s at Egoda Uyana.

The Italian priest’s keenness to learn Sinhala to interact with the Christians in the diocese bore results in double quick time. Soon he started giving short discourses in Sinhala, especially after Sunday masses, of course with an accent! During a huge gathering, after a novena, he decided to get a message across to the audience in Sinhala.

Expressing his idea about the importance of maintaining the church building and the courtyard in spick and span manner, he delivered his short sermon in Sinhala, which was amplified through the overhead speakers loud and clear.

“Me obage Palliya (this is your church); Ballanna p….ye hema thenama makunudel (look at the cobwebs all over the church); p…yawateme Thuththiri (churchyard is full of weeds); meka api sudden thiyaganna oone nitharama (must keep it clean always) etc. Regrettably, what he did not realise was the Sinhala word he used for the church got mixed up with a similar sounding word that was inappropriate and caused everyone to control their laugher so as not to embarrass the priest!

‘Lella’ Martin

Martin was a devout catholic who lived in the vicinity of St. Michael Church, who had earned a nickname called lella! . He was about middle size, rather firmly and squarely built, with a fair, clear complexion, wore a thick moustache and a konde made into a knot at the back of his hair and had a pleasing expression of countenance. So was his wife Jane, slim and lighter skinned, but their only son Michael did not resemble either of them, born with a deep dark complexion!

Martin lived with his family in a tiled house in comparison to other fisher folk in Koralawella who lived nearer to the sea beach. Martin’s only weakness was to lose his temper whenever an impish guy attempted to antagonize him by asking why “Michael was so black when he and Jane had a lighter complexion?” Irate Martin would at such instances go into a rage and came up with the cream of Sinhala while the provokers had a hearty laugh at the expense of poor Martin.

He went fishing with two of his mates, starting early hours in the morning and returned in the afternoon. Four of them shared a catamaran (Oruwa) where they could hardly insert legs comfortably into the narrow hull. Oruwa was designed to keep afloat with the help of a piece of wood called the Kollewa attached to the boat by two parallel arch-shaped wooden contraptions.

Fishermen do not use alarm clocks to wake up in the morning, they wake up automatically! The wife would get out of bed first to prepare the fisherman’s lunch.

Ominous Day

On this ominous day Martin woke up in the middle of the night thinking it was dawn. Jane too became busy in cooking Martin’s lunch and made it into a neat parcel. Wearing his fisherman’s cap, Martin gripped the lunch packet under his armpit, carried a bottle of water from the other hand and proceeded towards the sea beach.

Martin’s route to the sea beach was along a footpath cutting across the Koralawella cemetery near the Railway station. While he was halfway through his journey in the middle of the cemetery Martin could feel someone trying to pull his lunch parcel, but he paid no heed. Instead he gripped it tight under an armpit and proceeded towards the Oruwa but did not see any of his mates there. He then released a shrilling whistle to inform others that they are late and sat against the boat where he fell fast asleep.

Around 5.30 a.m. his colleagues arrived at the scene to see Martin fast asleep leaned against the catamaran! Only then they realized how Martin had woken up quite early as 2 a.m and had started his journey towards the boat in a mysterious manner. Finally they all sailed towards the deep sea for fishing.

Lunch and Dance.

The four fishermen anchored the catamaran near a rock at noon to have their lunch. Lo and behold, immediately after Martin finished his lunch, he had started to dance in an uncontrollable manner shouting, ” mage bathmula deepan! Mage bathmula deepan“! (Give me my parcel of rice)! It had become quite impossible for the other three fishermen to control the rough behaviour of Martin in the middle of the sea. In the absence of any alternative they fastened Martin with greatest difficulty to the two wooden contraptions that connected Kollawa to the hull. They could not waste time and rushed back to the shore while Martin lay like a trapped animal in the catamaran, however, the moment they released him on to the shore Martin once again started to bounce and dance shouting, “mage bathmula deepan!”

There was such a pandemonium at the entrance of Martin’s house when inquisitive neighbours rushed to see what had happened to Martin who danced non-stop calling for his packet of rice! Finally a neighbour brought the Italian priest from St. Michael’s Church to do an exorcist operation. When the Catholic Priest started spraying holy water on Martin’s body from head to toe, holding a thick black cross in front of Martin’s eyes shouting, “Our Father, Who art in heaven…Hallowed be Thy Name……”, it did the trick and Martin came back to his senses.

He could not remember a thing except the feeling of someone trying to grab his lunch packet at early hours while walking across the cemetery at the dead of night.

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