Humble Hunas highlighted in Parliament Hansard

by Published on SundayTimes on 25.08.2019 

The naming of six recently-discovered geckos after past Sinhalese warriors created controversy this week with Member of the Parliament Wimal Weerawansa calling it disgraceful.

One of the geckos that were named after a warrior- C. kivulegedarai.

The leading scientist behind the discovery, Sameera Karunaratne, protests that the new geckos, which are found only in Sri Lanka, were named thus simply to honour the forgotten national heroes.

Two of the geckos (known mostly by their Sinhala term,” huna”), were named after two members of king Dutugemunu’s 10 giant warriors, Gotaimbara and Nandimithra; they are, respectively, Cnemaspis nandimithrai and Cnemaspis gotaimbarai.

The other four geckos were named after great warriors that fought in the Uva-Wellassa rebellion against the British rule in 1817-1818 – Kohukumbure Walauwe Rate Rala, Meegahapitiye Walauwe Hitihami Mudiyanse Rate Rala, Butewe Rate Rala, Kivulegedara Mohottala. The geckos are, respectively C. kohukumburai, C. hitihami, C. butewai and C. kivulegedarai.

“The warriors Nandimithra and Gotaimbara are somewhat known but the warriors who fought in the 1817-18 rebellion in Uva-Wellassa are almost unknown other than their chieftain, Keppetipola Disawe. That is why we named these new Geckos after lesser known heroes,” Mr. Karunaratne said.


He also described another gecko two months ago as Cnemaspis godagedarai in honour of Godagedara Rate Adhikaram, another warrior from Uva-wellassa.

Mr. Karunaratne has introduced eight geckos and four lizards new to science. All of them are endemic to the country. The latest discoveries were announced this week in the journal Vertebrate Zoology, an internationally accepted peer-reviewed scientific journal.

It is learned that a group even laid a complaint to police alleging that researchers were dishonouring national heroes. But through a statement issued to media, the Director of Cultural Affairs, Anusha Gokula Fernando, said it was common practice to name new species after prominent personalities and that there are bugs and frogs named after popular personalities.

Mendis Wickremasinghe, another Sri Lankan researcher who discovered more than 25 species new to science, points out that Sri Lankan heroes become globally known when wildlife species are named after them.

“I named a snake Aspidura Ravanai in honour of great king Ravana and another, Pseudophilautus puranappu, in honour of the Sinhalese warrior Puran Appu. That doesn’t mean disrespect,” he emphasised.

World-renowned expert on species discovery Rohan Pethiyagoda, whose research led to the discovery of more than 100 new species of amphibians and freshwater fish, also backed the new geckos’ names.

“Two years ago, some scientists discovered that the frog commonly found in the toilets in Yala was a new species and named them as Uperodon rohani in my honour. I’m delighted and grateful. And the fact that ‘my’ frog infests lavatory bowls is something I find hilarious, not offensive,” said Mr. Pethiyagoda.

“These politicians should lighten up a bit and get a life.”

Mr. Pethiyagoda is a former Deputy Chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s global Species Survival Commission.

“I myself named a Burmese fish Lates uwisara in honour of a Burmese national hero and many Burmese wrote to thank me for this,” he said.

“Politicians will say all kinds of silly things, especially in an election year.

Scientists should just ignore them and get on with science.”

One Response to “Humble Hunas highlighted in Parliament Hansard”

  1. divinelines Says:

    It’s great to see endemic and treasured wildlife in the country named after – sadly, “unsung” national heroes. Our history and rich culture is something we need to protect and its part of our identity as Sri Lankans. There are also a wealth of names in historic documents pertaining to specific iconic locations and events that has created significant historic moments in our inherited culture and history. Having these associated with current topics will definitely create an interest to their colorful origins.

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