Seattle’s vision as a poetic mission | Daily News

Seattle’s vision as a poetic mission

A highly devoted medical doctor, who is more known as a veteran cardiologist, has taken time off from his busy life with the patients for a visionary and prophetic poetic exercise that seems a surprising rediscovery. Herein, I refer to Dr Ruvan Ekanayaka. Most of us have perhaps missed one of his notable contributions titled Siyatala Desuma, a rediscovery in Sinhala based on the two speeches interlinked by the well known Chief Seattle (1786 – 1866), the leader of Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes.

As Dr Ekanayaka notes the term ‘India’ is given by Columbus who is said to have been misled in his excursions perceiving that the land he has come to is India. This information too is seen sensitively captured in the course of Dr Ekanayaka’s findings. At the outset, his intention seems to be the recreation of the well-known speeches of Chief Seattle into a poetic version, presumably far more penetrative than in prosaic form.

Lasting human legacy

The original speech of Seattle with references and allusions to nature, spiritualism and heartfelt emotive elements such as birth, decay and ownership though presented in prose form are nevertheless poetic and prophetic expressions reminiscent of lasting human legacies.

Dr Ekanayake has undertaken the function not only as a mere poet cum translator of Seattle’s speech but also as an analyst and interpreter of some of the historic and humane factors interlinked to the work. As the pages move on, the reader feels that the researcher cum creator takes all the necessary factors from not only literary legacies but also from anthropology, history and religiosity.

Siyatala Desuma was published in 2019 as an author publication. The work commences with a preamble-like note denoted as Patan Basa where the intention or the aim of the effort is clarified as a grave need of the time. There comes the background of the word where the reference is made on the aspect of the early settlers and their way of living with a special reference to the central tribes of the county presently known as America.

This note is gradually developed into another segment titled Prarthakatha or the factors that had gone into the making of groups of early settlers with various ways of living. The segment is well illustrated with a picturesque outlook that paves the way for an enthusiastic reader to find more and more on the subject. He leaves no stone unturned in the area.

Illiterate, yet expressive

Followed by this segment comes a profile of the leader Seattle with several hitherto unknown material. Herein, the researcher poet mentions that despite being a person who had no literacy, Seattle managed to express his innermost feelings brought forth from birth. As such, the speeches that the reader encounters have been later scribed by others.

Seattle, as the reader comes to know, settled the disputes that sprang up with the so-called invaders whose names too are recorded.

Seattle had managed to create a climax of mutual friendship in the form of a treaty retaining a lasting companionship and identity for his people. He had worked hard to settle any dispute that arose between the natives and whites as the invaders were called in a peaceful mission. The text of the Seattle speech is presented as the next item which is the most significant area of interest.

It is the poetic text runs to initially 76 stanzas denoted as the primary speech (28 – 43 pp) then proceeding to stanza numbered as 144 (44-57 pp). A contemplative reader of poetry may observe the extent to which the poetic skills are broadened and penetrated. I felt that the poet in Dr Ekanayaka is so sensitive that he recaptures the essence of some of the prose utterances in the most sensitive layers of expression in Sinhala.

I wish to quote one such mood. In the last words of the first speech, the words go as:

Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death only a change in words.

The Sinhala expression goes scintillatingly as follows, in an elevated poetic form.

Kavara heynavat mala giya atto

Belasun vu pusso novenno.

Mala? Kata veradini. Melovin giya aya venas kala pamanayi bhavaye lova!

A scholar in comparative literary studies may feel that the expressions in two different cultures could be well perceived via this poetic form. For a moment, I felt the pulse of the veteran poet Munidasa Cumaratunga in his translation of Thomas Gray’s Epitaph Written on a Graveyard as well as his original poetic work Piyasamara. I felt that this poetic mission comes as a welcome vision to fathom not only the innermost feelings of a leader who so expresses his ageless recollections but also is a prophet for all times. The poet cum researcher Dr Ekanayake devotes one large segment of his work to the explanatory notes on his recreative process. Herein, he envelops various areas of knowledgeable material culled from such disciplines as philosophy, religion, literature and history.

He brings the reader various Buddhist teachings selected from the Pali canons. For example, the phrases of their meanings in stanzas in Dhammapada, Parinibbana Sutta, and Vanaropa Sutta are juxtaposed in order to clarify the Sinhala poetic expressions. This section of the work is denoted as Peheliya consisting of notes and references the alluding to various sources.

By and large, the work is not a mere poetic translation but a recreation that has links to the studies in cross-cultural communication patterns as well as creative communication patterns to name just two areas. I sincerely wish that this is a lasting gift to the teacher at the school level as well as the tutor cum lecturer at the university level to disseminate a lasting spiritual legacy that will usher in a new era of existence to humans.