Après le coup du sort qui prive le prince Ehelepola de Kandy, Ceylan, de l’accession au trône suite à la défaite du roi Rajasinha et l’exil de celui-ci et de ses proches en Inde, c’est au tour du premier nommé d’être la victime d’un coup tordu des Anglais en 1818. En effet, les Anglais ne voulant pas s’encombrer d’un allié princier qui ambitionne de monter sur le trône laissé vacant par le roi déchu Rajashina et suspectible de nuire à leurs intérêts au Ceylan, le font arrêter manu militari, emprisonner à Colombo pour sept longues années avant de l’envoyer en exil dans une de leurs colonies, l’île Maurice. (Voir dans le Week-End du dimanche 24 mai 2015 l’article “Le Premier ministre cingalais Ehelepola exilé à Maurice 190 ans de cela”). “Ehelepola had hoped to succeed to the vacant throne and when he realized that the British were not going to restore native kingships, he began to stir rebellion against British rule. On 3 March 1818 he was therefore arrested with several other Kandyan chiefs, detained in Colombo until 1825 and then exiled to Mauritius where about 30 Kandyans were already detained.” (1)
C’est à bord de l’Alexander, en route pour l’Angleterre, que le prince Ehelepola et sa modeste suite embarquent le 14 mai 1825. Ils sont débarqués le 6 juin 1825 à Port-Louis et le prince “was imprisoned up at Ponplemuses”. (2) Une entrée dans leMauritius Gazette fait état de l’arrivée du navire, de sa cargaison de cannelle et des passagers à bord : “Le navire l’Alexander, capitaine Richardson, parti de Colombo le 15 mai, pour ce Port et l’Angleterre: cargaison cannelles, etc. Passagers: le lieutenant-colonel Sulivan, les capitaines Sanderson et Wilson, le lieutenant Haggerston, les docteurs Hume, Tigh et Buckelyu, C. Rifles, Chas. Vanderstraten et Chas.Wilson, Esquires, un sergent, trois soldats, deux femmes et trois enfants, M.et Mme Riddell et deux enfants, Alleypolly, prince candien, et trois domestiques, trois hommes, une femme et un enfant, un interprète et un domestique.” (3) Après avoir déposé une partie de ses passagers, dont la suite cingalaise et le Prince de Kandy, le navire mettra le cap sur l’Angleterre. En fait, comme mentionnée plus haut, l’arrivée des Cingalais à Maurice en juin 1825 n’est pas une première. Il est fait mention des prisonniers cingalais à Maurice antérieurement. “Twenty or thirty Candian, or Kandyan prisoners had been sent thither several years previously, and were kept in confinement.”(4)
Un traitement royal
On ne sait au juste comment les prisonniers candiens à Maurice sont traités durant leur captivité. Ce qu’on sait c’est que Maurice est classée, “Penal Colony, where British subjects of ill repute and others were deported” (5) en tout cas, pour Ehelepola, le Prince de Kandy, le traitement est royal. “He resided at Powder Mill, Pamplemousses, where he lived in great comfort, receiving the kindest attentions from Major B. the officer in charge of the Kandyan prisoners. He was at liberty to travel about the country and made friends with many English and French families of the island.” (1) Major B. est le Major Bates. Ce dernier est chargé de la délicate mission “to have him accommodated with a house wholly separated from the place where the other Kandyan chiefs are confined, and in so pleasant and comfortable a situation as a due regard to economy and an attention to his not clandestinely quitting the island shall allow” (CO 54/88). (6) Le Major Bates est aussi invité à “liberally provide for his table and other wants.” (Idem).
Dès son arrivée dans l’île, Ehelepola est confortablement installé. “Ehelapola arrived in Mauritius with several of his attendants, among them was Don Bastian, his interpreter. Maj. Bates found for him a house in Pamplemouses at a monthly rent of 30 Spanish dollars (SP$). Ehelapola was said to have been ‘highly pleased and satisfied with it’.” (Idem) Lady Bartrum, épouse d’un fonctionnaire britannique en poste à Maurice, décrit le lieu de résidence du Prince comme “a small but comfortable cottage at Pamplemousses.”(4) Et les autorités britanniques veillent à ce que l’officier en charge de l’intendance “did everything in his power to render the old chief happy in his exile.” (Idem). De plus, vu sa notoriété, le prince est souvent invité à des fêtes données par les familles anglaises de l’île et en donne à son tour avec le concours éclairé de son interprète, le jeune Cingalais Don Bastien : “The old prince being frequently invited out to parties, amongst the English, thought it incumbent on him to give one in return ; he had every thing in the English style, under the superintendence of Don Bastien, who, being well acquainted with English customs, had the arrangement of the whole: tea, coffee, and cakes were handed about, and card-tables were prepared for those who wished to play. Eyhelapola himself joined in a game of whist.” (Idem)
L’interprète Don Bastien
Le Prince de Kandy est ainsi présenté par Lady Bartrum : “A prisoner of war from Ceylon ; this was Eyhelapola, the maha nilimi, or prime minister to the king of Candi in Ceylon.” (Idem) Il est tenu en haute estime par des Anglais résidant dans l’île et s’attire même de la sympathie : “Indeed many of the English paid him much attention and respect : his domestic misfortunes and altered condition inspired much sympathy, and he was an object of interest to all who had seen him: he was always entitled the Prince, although I do not know that he had a legitimate claim to that distinctive appellation.” (Idem) L’image qui se dégage de sa personne est aux antipodes du guerrier énergique et intrépide qu’il a été dans le temps. “His countenance is very mild in its expression , and his manner is gentle and unassuming: if one might judge from his physiognomy, I should pronounce him a person by no means likely to foment political disturbances, or to take an active part in public affairs; he seemed devoid of energy, and looked like a very harmless, quiet personage.”(Idem)
La tenue vestimentaire du prince Ehelepola impressionne. “He wore a flat kind of hat, covered with white muslin, sometimes ornamented with gold; his hair, which was white as snow, was rolled up in a ball at the back part of his head, nearly on the nape of his neck, and was even projecting beneath his hat; the rest of his dress consisted also of white muslin, and he had a necklace of lumps of gold, much the size and shape of a small hen’s egg; whether these were solid or not, I cannot say; if they were, the weight of the whole necklace must have been very great; he wore also a ring, the stone of which, apparently an emerald, was nearly the size of a half-crown.” (Idem)  
Le fait que le Prince de Kandy ne parle pas anglais, un interprète lui est alloué par le gouvernement de Sa Majesté. Il se nomme Don Bastian. “Eyhelapola was attended by a young Cingalese, who was employed by government as interpreter; his name was Don Bastian, and he styled himself as Mohandenam.” (Idem). Tout comme son maître, Don Bastien impressionne par sa tenue vestimentaire qui combine habillement à l’européenne à celui à l’oriental. “His dress was very remarkable, being a compound of European and Asiatic: he wore a coat, made in the English fashion nearly, either of blue or green silk, very much ornamented with gold lace, loose white trowsers, a shawl wrapped round him, like a kind of petticoat, and reaching to his knees, another rich shawl round his waist, like a regimental sash, and shoes and stockings, such as Englishmen wear; his sword was sheathed in a scabbard of silver, beautifully embossed, and the hilt of which glittered with precious stones; he never had any covering on his head at any time, or in any weather.” (Idem) 
L’apparence physique de Don Bastien tout comme sa tenue vestimentaire attire le regard des curieux.“Don Bastien’s complexion was many shades darker than that of the Prince being of a copper-colour and his shining jet black hair was combed back entirely off his forehead and fastened at the top of his head with a large comb, similar to those used by females; this gave him a very singular appearance, and when he rode through the town with his uncovered head, great astonishment was excited in the spectators, particularly the negroes who used to say that he was ‘moitié homme, moitié femme’, his attire being that of a man, and his long hair, confined with a comb, giving his face a resemblance to that of a woman.” (Idem)
Les Britanniques Bartrum
Parmi les nombreuses familles anglaises résidant dans l’île se trouvent les Bartrum, arrivés dans l’île des Indes occidentales en février 1820 avec leur fille Ellen qui n’a alors que deux ans. Dès leur arrivée, le sieur Bartrum est embauché dans la fonction publique. “Appointed Colonial Clerk in the Audit Office he was later Controller of the Civil Hospital at Grand River North West.” (7) En décembre 1825, la famille Bartrum passera les vacances d’été à Pamplemousses et fera la connaissance du prince Ehelepola. Le Prince invitera les Bartrum à une fête donnée en sa résidence à Pamplemousses : “ the Bartrums were invited to a party which he gave at his house in Pamplemousses. The guests played whist and one of Ehelapola’s attendants sang some of the national songs of Ceylon.” (Idem)
En fait, il s’agissait d’un chant tellement élaboré et tirant en longueur qu’il finit par lasser les invités.“In the course of the evening, by way of amusing his guests, the prince ordered one of his attendants to enter, and give us a song; the man obeyed – but the song lasted a considerable time, and completely tried out our patience; — at one time the man ceased, took off his turban, wiped his face and throat, and then replaced his head-dress; during this interval Major B…, thinking that the song was over, requested Don Bastien to say that we had all been much gratified, and admired his performance highly; – to our great disappointment, however, we were informed that it was not half finished, and that the best part was yet to come , we were doomed to hear it out; for the prince was too proud of his national tunes.”(4) D’autant plus que ce chant glorifie une victoire remportée naguère par les Cingalais sur les Portugais.
Faisant jouer la loi de la réciprocité,“the Bartrums invited the prince to an evening party in return.” (7) C’était en 1827, à l’occasion de l’anniversaire de 9 ans de leur fille Ellen (entre-temps, une autre fille Mary est venue au monde chez les Bartrum). “We frequently met with him at Major B—-’s, and on one occasion (the celebration of my dear Ellen’s ninth birthday) we invited him and Don Bastian to join some of our friends in an evening party. Eyhelapola favoured us with a song himself that evening : on hearing a young French lady sing and play on the guitar, he expressed much pleasure; having enquired the subject of her song, and being told that it was about love, he said, with great simplicity, that he believed it was the most frequent subject of the music of all nations.” (4) C’est dire que le Prince de Kandy sait s’ouvrir à la culture autre que la culture cingalaise.
Le Prince de Kandy ainsi que son interprète savent aussi se montrer accommodant. Ainsi, ils n’hésiteront pas à lever le verre à la santé de la petite Ellen alors que généralement ils se montrent “very abstenious with regard to wine, and generally refused it.” (Idem) Aussi, “Eyhelapola, being informed by the interpreter that he was requested to drink to the health of the little girl whose birthday it was, smilingly took a glass of liqueur, and made a very flowery speech wishing all happiness and good fortune to the little damsel.” (Idem) Mais il poussera la sensibilité du geste plus loin en prenant sur ses genoux la petite soeur d’Ellen, Mary : “He said she must not be left out in the good wishes showered on her sister.”(Idem) Il faut saluer l’affection que le Prince de Kandy porte aux enfants (et pourtant n’a-t-il pas perdu femme et enfants, massacrés par le roi Rajasinha?) et que met en exergue Lady Bartrum: “Fond of children, he took great notice of those he met with amongst his English friends: my little Mary attracted his attention particularly; she evinced much apprehension on being placed on his knee for the first time, but soon became familiar with him, and smiled in his face as he patted her cheek.”(Idem)
La dernière volonté et le dernier jour du prince
C’est durant la quatrième année de sa captivité à Maurice que le prince Ehelepola trépasse “in consequence of an attack of dysentery after an illness of six days during which he was attended by the Medical Officer of Mauritius” (CO 54/105).(6) Conscient de sa fin prochaine, il procèdera le 2 avril 1829, par voie testamentaire, à la distribution de ses biens. Il trépassera le 5 avril. Que donne-t-il à ses proches? “By his Will, he gave Dingiriya, his slave servant his freedom, all the goods and money which belonged to him and were at Mauritius. To Kedagamuwe Nileme and Dawgan-deniya Arachchy one hundred Spanish Dollars each and implored the British government to pardon them both and set them free. To Pilimatalawe he gave all his property and money which were in the custody of the Kandy Kachchery. To Don Bastian he gave 3555 Pagodas, his Sinhalese watch and carriage and the large ring set with diamonds. He also bestowed on Don Bastian all his landed property after the death of his sister. All the linen which were his wearing apparel were to be handed over to the Maligawa in Kandy.”(Idem)
La dépouille du Prince sera incinérée “at St. André forest a quarter of a mile distance from the Powder Mills where the other Kandyan prisoners were imprisoned.” (Idem) Lieu dit aujourd’hui Morcellement Saint André. La cérémonie mortuaire sera faite suivant les rites bouddhistes. La cendre du défunt sera recueillie dans une urne en cuivre et enterrée à l’endroit où un monument sera élevé à la mémoire du prince Ehelepola en novembre 1830. Sur bloc de granite l’épitaphe suivante :  
Ehelapola Wijesoondra  
Amerakoon Wahalanodianse,  
late First Adikar  
or Prime Minister  
to the King of Kandy,  
who died 4 April 1829,  
aged 57 years
Une traduction en cingalais, inscrite sur du marbre, figure au dos du monument : “British rulers of that time had the inscriptions done in Ceylon and had the plaques shipped to Mauritius.” (5) Des inscriptions parfaitement lisibles après tant de décennies: “To my amazement, I was able to read the Sinhalese letters so clear, even after 179 years, inscribed on marble stone.»  (Idem) L’oeuvre reflète un style en vogue à l’époque à Kandy «where the inscriptions were probably done by local stone masons.” (Idem) Le monument fait partie du patrimoine national et est protégé par la loi.
Une vénération qui transcende le temps
Presque deux siècles après, des gens se rendent au mémorial “to pay homage and remember.” Ils sont Sri Lankais, Mauriciens et touristes. “The odd tourist, usually a British, on his way to the beautiful North of the Island… would drop by at the monument, to get a glimpse of the British past and history. One or two Sri Lankans, now having stayed in Mauritius for almost three decades, would drop in, on April 4 at the monument ; once again to remember… They would light a candle or a Hadunkooru, on that day, where Ehelapola’s body was laid to rest, in the year 1829.” (Idem)
Les mots de la fin pour saluer la mémoire de l’exilé et un plaidoyer pour que la cendre du Prince de Kandy soit ramenée dans son pays et inhumée avec les honneurs autochtones:“From the many stubs of burnt out candles on the spot, it is apparent that even today someone lights a candle there in memory of a man whose life was only so full of promise, but devoid of any achievement, and futile to the point that he lost his kith and kin, and died in exile an untried and unconvicted state prisoner, ennobled unto eternity in this monument in a foreign land. Who today will dare suggest that his ashes be brought back to this country and interred with the appropriate honours due to him? I do.” (6)  
1. Auguste Toussaint, Ehelepola (1773-1829), in Dictionary of Mauritian Biography, une publication de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Ile Maurice.
2.  Ehelepola Family Tree (@wwwVirtual Library Sri Lanka)
3. Mauritius Gazette/Gazette de Maurice No. 10, samedi 11 juin 1825
4. Lady Bartrum, Recollections of seven years’ residence at the Mauritius or Isle de France, Editeur –  James Cawthorn, Cockspur Street, Londres, 1830. 
5. Lal Keerthie Fernando, Ehelapola: ‘Prince of Kandy’ in Mauritius, mars 2009 (media: fernando@webspeed.dk )
6.  Durand Appuhamy, The Rebels, Outlaws and Enemies to the British – éditeur M. D. Gunasena.
7. P.D. Hollingworth, An English Family in Mauritius in the Eighteen Twenties, in The Mauritius Guardian, March 1966.