by Ananda Kannangara
The fleshy ‘hairy balls’ that are in abundance all over Colombo and which are relish grown with love and toil.
Will you believe that before these trees are harvested vows are kept for Paththini Deviyo and these vows are fulfilled once the harvest season is over. The fleshy Rambuttans adorning the streets of Colombo are harvested with tender loving care.
When the word `Rambuttan’ is mentioned automatically Malwana comes to mind. Malwana is famous for those ‘fleshy hairy balls’ known as Rambuttan.
Sri Lanka is a tropical country and varieties of sweet fruits are abundant elsewhere in the country, especially during the period commencing from June to December. Like many other traditional Sri Lankan fruits such as mangoes, pineapple, bananas and oranges Rambuttan trees do not grow everywhere in the country.
Rambuttans are only grown in the Western, Sabaragamuwa and Southern Province.
A famous Rambuttan grower from Malwana, Sumathipala Ranawaka says that although there are English words for many varieties of fruits, there has been no English word so far for Rambuttan.
Two varieties of red and yellow Rambuttan are cultivated in our country. The best variety which has a sweet taste is the Malaysian Rambuttan. The other variety which is a little sour is the `Val Rambuttan’.Legend has it that Rambuttan is foreign to our soil.
It is said that the Portuguese brought the first Rambuttan seeds to Sri Lanka from Malaysia and planted them on the banks of the Kelani River near Malwana.
The Portuguese also had a fortress in Malwana and later found that the soil in the Kelani Valley was ideal to plant Rambuttan trees.
According to history, kings, queens and their families during the colonial era were in the habit of spending their leisure at Rambuttan gardens in Malwana during the season. Although Rambuttan was first planted in Malwana by the Portuguese, villagers took the seeds even to other areas in the country. However, Malwana is synonymous with Rambuttan
Unlike the usually tall `Val Rambuttan’ trees in villages, the Malaysian trees are dwarf trees. The branches fall to the ground when they are heavily laden with fruits. Even a small child could pluck the fruit.
Rambuttan harvest could be reaped during June to August and from November to January every year. The best Rambuttan is harvested from June to August.
The Sunday Observer last week visited Malwana and Bomiriya,the most famous places for Rambuttan in the country.
Acres and acres of Rambuttan lands could still be seen in these villages. According to cultivators, some Rambuttan land owners who have over 60 acres earn about Rs. 25 lakhs during a season.
A longstanding Rambuttan cultivator, Wasantha Lanerolle of Kethe Watta, Pahala Bomiriya had planted over 2500 Malaysian Rambuttan trees in his 45-acre land at Pahala Bomiriya and earns about Rs. Two million during the season between June and August.
“During some seasons this income comes down due to rains and destruction caused by birds such as crows, parrots and bats”
He said unlike other birds who come during day time, bats who come after the dusk destroy thousands worth of ripe Rambuttan in one night and workers have to keep a close vigil on them. An old boy of Ananda College, Colombo, Wasantha said all his properties were given to him by his late father Lewis Duke Lanerolle who owned about 80 acres of agricultural lands.
He said according to the final wish of his father, he has allocated eight acres of cultivable lands with a paddy and fruit cultivation for birds and other wild animals.
He said this time he received the best Rambuttan harvest after twenty years.
Wasantha also said the workers who look after his Rambuttan plantation used crackers, flash lights and also loudspeakers to chase away birds during the day and in the night.
He said birds are scared of red and white flags and flags are also hung on trees to chase birds away.
Asked about the progress of the Rambuttan business, Wasantha said unlike in previous years, this time a good Rambuttan harvest is reported from everywhere in the Malwana area and the fruits are sold at cheap rates.
He said businessmen were coming even from Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts to purchase Rambuttan from his garden and now Rambuttan growers sell their harvest to the Northern areas.
A Rambuttan cultivator, Lakshitha de Silva of Mapitigama,Malwana said he has about twelve `Val Rambuttan ‘trees in his garden and earn a sufficient income every year.
He said unlike Malysian sweet Rambuttan, Val Rambuttan is sour and foreigners like them very much.
He also said during some seasons when there is a good Rambuttan harvest small trees are given on lease to businessmen in the area and earn a good income.
A retired Government servant and a longstanding Rambuttan seller, G.P. Smarasinghe of Yabaraluwa, Malwana said he has been in the Rambuttan selling business for the past ten years and he earns a sufficient daily income by selling them to people travelling to distant places via the Malwana village.
Anura Priyantha of Malwana who look after an eight acre Rambuttan land in the same area said his brother had got the land from a businessman on lease for Rs. Eight lakhs.
“We can get a profit of Rs. six lakhs from Rambuttans,” Premasiri of Batagoda village, Malvana said the soil in different parts of Malwana is ideal to grow any variety of fruits that are grown even in foreign countries.
A fruit seller, 34- year old, Nimal Premaratna of Kaduwela said Rambuttan is also coming to the market from Attanagalla, Polgahawela,Koslanda, Beragala and Labugama areas during the season between June and August
A Rambuttan seller Sujith Weerasinghe who is married and has two children said he started the Duriyan and Rambuttan business at Alexandra Place in Town Hall a few years ago, but due to various reasons, the Police did not permit them to carry on. We then shifted our business close to the Colombo University premises,”.
He said regular customers are very familiar with the present place which is located opposite the BRC grounds and requested Police and Colombo MMC authorities to permit them to carry out the business temporarily at other places in Colombo. “I earn around Rs, 10,000 a day and large number of foreigners visit our stalls even from their Hotels,”.
He said he visits Malwana, Ratnapura, Attanagalla, Koslanda, Beragala, Wellawaya and Polgahawela to bring Rambuttan.
Sujith also requested Police or any other authority to allow them to carry out their business once again at Thunmulla Junction and in Kollupitiya.
A 38 – year old Rambuttan seller at Bambalapitiya Market R.S. Wijepala said owners of Rambuttan trees were poor and urged Provincial Councillors to help them to develop their plantations by giving bank loans.
He also requested the authorities to allow them to sell their fruits in Colombo Fort and Galle Face areas where a large number of foreigners visit during the evenings. Gemunu Wijetilaka who has a fruit stall near the Wellawatta Super Market said he does business and requested the authorities to allow fruit sellers in the city of Colombo to carry out their business at prominent places. courtesy: The Sunday Observer