Keppetipola made a hero after ‘Nine Score years and Nineteen’
“…we cannot dedicate, we cannot desecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated far above our poor power to add or detract…”
-Extract from Gettysburg address by Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the USA.
The President deserves praise for de-gazetting or posthumously awarding ‘medals’ for personal acts of valour above and beyond the call of duty for their heroic acts and meritorious services against invaders in the past while running a unity government with someone who once initiated a plan to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Portuguese invasion during his short stint as Prime Minister in 2001-2004.
Rajapaksa Wickramasekera Mudiyanselage Bandaranayake Monarawila Keppetipola [Monarawila Keppetipola Dissawe] was the leader of the Uva rebellion 199 years ago. Keppetipola was sent with 500 men by Governor Brownrigg to suppress the rebellion. However, at the request of the rebels, Keppetipola joined them to lead the struggle. His men joined him too. Keppetipola returned the British arms and ammunition to the Governor. The rebellion began in Uva-Wellassa on October 12, 1817 spread to Dumbara, Hewaheta, Harisspattuwa and Nuwara-Kala-Viya, was a great success until it was broken with the disbanding of the rebels. Two new army divisions, including an Indian one were dispatched to Uva by Governor immediately after the news that Keppetipola had joined the rebels.
Wilbawe Doresamy was formally crowned by the rebels. Keppetipola was appointed as the Maha Adhikaram (Chief Minister) and the new King urged the fighters to free the country from the invading British. A guerrilla war was waged by Keppetipola, though aware that the rebels were lesser in firepower.
On January 10, 1818, Governor Brownrigg castigated Keppetipola and several other leaders of the uprising as outlaws, rebels, and enemies to the crown through a gazette and they were found guilty of high treason, and their properties were confiscated.
Keppetipola captured and executed
Keppetipola along with Pilimathalawe were captured by Captain O’Neil On October 28, 1818. As the troops surrounded the house, Keppitipola boldly came out and greeted Capt. O’Neil; he was taken to Kandy, and tried for high treason and sentenced to death in a gruesome crime of history. This national hero is well known for the exceptional bravery that he showed at the instant of his execution, and has been honoured as a national hero of Sri Lanka since then. Honouring their memory, of course is an exercise in generosity. His skull was taken to London by the colonial authorities, but was returned to Ceylon on February 9, 1948; a few days after the declaration of Independence.
In 1813, the colonial office recommended Robert Brownrigg appointed as Governor of Ceylon. In 1815, he acquired Central hills of this island through a treaty known as the “Kandyan Convention” assisted by the defecting ministers of the King, and annexed it to the British Empire, which they thought “ on which the sun never sets”, since its spread around the globe meant that the sun was always visible in at least one of its colonies. [it was Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who once said, “Yes, the sun never sets in British Empire, because God never trusted them in the dark].
Another mass de-gazetting planned for March 1 for the rest
The genocidal policy of the colonial British during the Great Rebellion of 1818 recognized his ‘achievements’; Brownrigg was honoured with the hereditary title by the British Crown in 1816. Brownrigg who defeated the 1818 Rebellion and ordered the beheading of Keppetipola, attained the rank of General before leaving the colony in 1819. [The organizers of the ceremony may revoke the above two gazettes as well before they wind up the de-gazetting process].
It was reported that another mass de-gazetting was planned for March 1 for the rest of the national heroes, to be held in the Maligawa precincts, Kandy.
There had been many national, cultural, and political massacres, butchery and slaughter committed by the British and other colonial powers who ruled for 443 years from 1505 to 1948. The Badulla atrocity undertaken by Robert Brownrigg involved the slaughter of adults and children, including babies suckling at the mothers’ breasts. They destroyed their paddy cultivation the irrigation schemes and other infrastructure as well.
The historical Gettysburg address delivered on November 19, 1863, by Lincoln, [who’s four years in office is regarded by historians as the most critical period in American history], was made at the dedication ceremony of ‘Soldiers National Cemetery’ at Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, the place where one of the worst battles in American civil war was fought which left over 7000 men dead. [The speech conveys a message to our organizers of de-gazetting ceremonies]. The Union Army defeated confederation. The classic speech demonstrating mastery of thought and expression is generally accepted as one of the most enduring addresses ever delivered by the lips of a man.
Dedicating the cemetery to the war heroes, Lincoln began with the now iconic phrase…,
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of the field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.
"Keppetipola along with Pilimathalawe were captured by Captain O’Neil On October 28, 1818. As the troops surrounded the house, Keppitipola boldly came out and greeted Capt. O’Neil; he was taken to Kandy, and tried for high treason and sentenced to death in a gruesome crime of history"
It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But…In a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot desecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead who struggled here have consecrated far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did there. that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vein - that this nation, shall have a new birth of freedom- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln took nearly two weeks to prepare the small speech, lasting just under three minutes. Our national leaders have lacked the courage to write their own speeches. They depend on ‘social scientists’. These people have dominated state strategy with incompetent and unproven academic theories.
Unnecessary, if not farcical
There is no way of undoing these grave injustices. Reversing the record on these shameful crime is ‘farcical’ and the government needs to concentrate on burning issues of the day instead of wasting everybody’s time. The British authorities may have condemned the 1818 rebellion leaders Keppetipola and 18 others as ‘traitors’ through a Gazette. It is an unnecessary exercise to expose this disgraceful obsolete and archaic British document and trounce it. Those who advised the government to dwell upon erasing the British gazette have resorted to publicity feats. If it necessitates ‘erasing’ even a small part of the colonial legacy it is an act of distortion of history- besides everything else.
It is an act of remembering people who had their own personal concerns, individual ambitions to live peaceful lives. But being confronted with events that affected not just them, but the nation, yet, they could have chosen to remain focused on their personal battles, ignoring what was going on around them. They set aside their personal agendas, their fears, they did not waver. They knew that if they did not use their strength to resist it, then the abuse and violence would continue. These are the people we consider heroes.
After all they say - heroes are people like you and me who were placed in unexpected situations, and yet, still preferred to do what is right; do they need Gazettes to become heroes?
‘The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.’- Benjamin Disraeli.