A murder in Nilaveli

‚Jungle life, I’m far away from nowhere. On my own like Tarzan boy. Hide and seek!'

Jungle boy was a very special character and long stay guest in the early 80’s in the village of Nilaveli at Sri Lanka’s east coast where I wrote my M.A. thesis. He was a young engineer from Stuttgart who worked ‚beim Daimler‘ (i. e. the Mercedes-Benz plant) as he told me. He lived in a bungalow near a creek in a banana plantation. When I met him, he had unauthorizedly extended his annual leave by three months and apparently had no intention of ever returning to ‘Daimler’. The sunburnt, long-haired fellow walked around in leopard pattern swimming trunks and was nicknamed ‚jungle boy‘ by the locals – not least because of his trunks. He confided to me that he found the name so fitting that he adopted it for himself. Well, he really did look a bit like Tarzan. Somehow he was an odd guy who was a bit hard to befriend. In 1985, during my last visit to Nilaveli for decades (the area was off limits because of the Tamil Tigers’ activities), his name came up in a conversation I had with my old friend Reggie Samson of the ‘Trail’s End Inn’ (the one with an ox skull on the gate). „How’s that German guy, Jungle Boy, by the way?“. „The case is still pending!“ he told me. „What case?“ I asked, and Reggie was amazed that I didn’t know he was in prison on suspicion of murder. „I’m sorry, come again! What exactly has happened?“.

He told me that a German girl had stayed in Jungle Boy’s bungalow and one morning she lay dead in the garden with numerous stab wounds. He tried to flee and was arrested by the police at night when he fought his way through the jungle alongside the main road towards Trincomalee. And now he was in prison. Although in Reggie’s opinion the gardener (!) was the murderer. I have no idea what became of him later …

Furthermore, I owe Reggie Samson for teaching me an important lesson for life. I was fascinated by the way the extended family lived in their simple house where they rented rooms to backpackers. In the evenings they sat by the glow of the Petromax lamp, one of the sons played the guitar, they drank beer and

rum, sang and laughed a lot – in short, they enjoyed life. I told Reggie that I almost envied their – supposedly – pure, natural existence. And that I would wish them to be able to continue it for as long as possible. Then he almost got angry: „Hey!“ he snapped at me, „We’re not your monkeys and this isn’t a zoo! We also want to share in the blessings of civilization! We’re tired of sitting in the lamplight! We want electric light! We want a fridge instead of getting blocks of ice from the factory every other day to bury in the garden!”. It took me a while to swallow that, but the man was right! As a backpacker, it might be nice to spend a few days there; having to fight for your existence there day in and day out – that’s a different issue! So far for the unadulterated life …