A Beautiful Friendship:
How Drought Started One Sri Lankan Community’s Tradition
Water can cause conflicts between communities but in one Sri Lankan case, it brought two antipathetic communities closer together.
Seven years ago, the large reservoir known as the Yodha Weva, in Mannar, northern Sri Lanka, was running low. Local farmers feared that their annual rice harvest would be destroyed because of a lack of water. However there was spare water, but in the nearby Nachchaduwa reservoir. Farmers in the Anuradhapura area, where the tank is located, gave permission to release some of the water to hydrate their neighbours’ fields. The cracked paddy fields around Yodha Weva returned to life.
To show their gratitude the farmers from there donated rice to their neighbours, who had released the water, on the occasion of the annual Poson festival; this festival commemorates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and is celebrated nationwide. The Yodha Weva farmers also brought with them dried fish – katta fish is a speciality of the island and considered extremely tasty.
Both communities ate together, accepting their gifts in peace, at a time when the Sri Lankan civil war made such relationships particularly tense. Two groups of farmers who had harboured feelings of suspicion and possibly even hatred, were suddenly united by their cooperation and a common meal: It was the beginning of a beautiful thing.
The following year the Yodha Weva farmers didn’t need any extra water. But they decided to continue giving the dried fish and rice to their neighbours anyway – and it remains a tradition to this day and is also seen by the two communities as a way to ask for blessings, and to pray there not be such a drought again.
“We make this donation happily every year,” says Wawa A. Sandaranayagam, 74, who headed the farmers’ delegation bringing the rice and dried fish donations this year. “And by coming to the Poson festival here, we are also blessed.”
“This is a valuable occasion, attended by both Tamil and Sinhalese speakers,” explains P. Sadiyes, an irrigation engineer from Anuradhapura, as he sat amid the farmers who had come from both communities and ate lunch.
If only peace could flow through the hearts of the Sri Lankan people, the way the water flowed so calmly between these two communities.