Lankan craftsmen: woes and achievements | Daily News


Lankan craftsmen: woes and achievements

Laksala, Chairman M. Hamza
Laksala, Chairman M. Hamza

The inflow of imported brass and silver craft items into our country has been the main obstacle faced by thousands of traditional craftsmen and their dependents living intheir village, a traditional craftsman 67- year old W.G. Jayaratne in Naththaranpotha Kalapuraya village said.

According to another craftsman, Sampath Kumara,the day to day increasing unbearable prices of raw materials that are used to manufacture brass and silver craft items has also become another major problem faced by traditional handicraft manufacturers in this village.

These are some of the comments made by Sri Lanka’s traditional craftsmen in the Naththarampotha Sri Narendrasinghe Kalapuraya Village in Kundasale, Kandy. The legend says that manufacturing craft items at this village has a long history and even during the colonial era British families had visited this village on their way Kandy.

The Daily News visited this village with officials of Laksala Gift Emporium , the state owned premium gift and souvenir boutique, Colombo to have a close “look of the art of manufacturing traditional craft items.

The Daily News also had an opportunity to discuss with craftsmen and craftswomen and also with their families about the manufacturing of craft items and also to listen to their grievances.

According to Naththarampotha Kalapuraya, Cooperative Society, Chairman P.P.Gamini Dharmawardana, the name of this ‘Kalapuraya Craft village’ was established in 1964 during the time of the “late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike” following the commencement of various livelihood projects by traditional craftsmen in the area.

Naththarampotha Craftvillage is located about 15 kilo meters from Kandy town.Villagers say that during the latter stage of 1960’s nearly 160 families were engaged in manufacturing brass and silver craft items and sold them in Kandy town area to cater foreign tourists who visited this ancient village during the Kandy Perehara season .

Some of the traditional brass and silver items manufactured in the Naththarampotha village are statues of gods and religious dignitaries, traditional oil lamps, relic caskets used in peraharas, badges worn by Nilames in the Perahara, Jewellery for Kandyan brides and bride grooms, silver and brass badges for official ceremonies in tri –forces, school badges, temple bells (Gantara), pinnacles for pinnacle laying ceremonies, sesath for religious festivals, flower pots, silver chains, betel trays, oil lamps, statues of animals, especially elephants etc.

Craftsman 64- year old M.S.P Karunaratna said although there were lot of craftsmen in the Kalapuraya village 40 years ago, the number has declined due to the high cost of raw materials. The Government should take measures to look in to the livelihood of craftsmen and their families.

He said if this situation goes on continuously due to lack of attention of Authorities, the number of craftsmen will decline further.

However, Karunaratne admired the effort made by Laksala to fulfil their expectations by purchasing 90 percent craft items manufactured by Kalapuraya craftsmen.

Sixty Five –year old Craftsman C.M. W. Jayathillaka said officials from Laksala visit their village every year to purchase items and proposed authorities to visit the village many more times, so that they could sell their craft items without any delay.

He also said that he has been involved in the business for the past 20 years and earns a monthly income of Rs. 35, 000 and that was sufficient to bear the expenses of the family.

He however said his children do not like to manufacture craft items, saying that this industry cannot be carried out without the state patronage.

A father of three, M.S.P. Karunaratna proposed that Sri Lanka Tourism to send at least two buses with foreign tourist to their Kalapura village, so that they could sell their items directly to them He said unlike in the past, craft item manufacturing business has become a dying industry not only due to the high cost of raw materials but also due to import these items.

However, Karunaratna also thanked Laksala for the unstinted support extended towards craftsmen in Naththarampotha Craft village by purchasing finished items.

Recalling an old incident craftsman 67- year old W.G Jayaratna said that with the request of Laksala he manufactured a silver tray to be used for former President J.R. Jayewardene’s swearing – in ceremony held in 1977 and engraved the relevant details on it.

“Now this tray could be seen at the Parliament Complex at Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte,”

He also said in addition to brass and silver items, some craftswomen are now engaged in patch work and manufacture table clothes, pillow cases, wall hangings, batik garments, chair covers etc.

A father of three children Ananda Wijesuriya said there are many feeble craftsmen in the village and proposed to commence a pension scheme to spend the latter part of their lives happily.

He also said many craftsmen using modern electrical items to manufacture craft items and requested authorities to introduce an insurance scheme considering the safety of their lives.

Craftsman B.G. Ranasinghe thanked the village Cooperative Society for the support given to sell their products to Laksala.

Meanwhile, Laksala officials said in addition to purchasing craft items, Laksala management also help craftsmen with financial assistance for various purposes. Traditional craftsman A.D.Nawaratna requested authorities including Parliamentarians and Sri Lankan Tourism officials to visit the Kalapuraya Craft Village to see the inborn talents of craftsmen. He also proposed authorities to start a handicraft training school to encourage schoolchildren the art of making brass and silver items.

He said an exhibition of craft items should be held every year in Colombo with the assistance of craftsmen in the village to enable them to earn an additional income.

A 71- year old Ranmuthuge Premasiri narrating his pathetic story said,“ the livelihood of over 1,000 families in this village depend on manufacturing brass and silver products and their daily income is now significantly coming down due to high cost of materials.

When interviewed Laksala, Chairman M. Hamza said Laksala will make every effort to keep the traditional crafts alive, whilst adapting itself and evolving to new needs and demands of buyers. He said Laksala also helps small entrepreneurs who supply goods to us to sustain their businesses and earn a reasonable livelihood.

Chairman Hamza also requested both local and foreign visitors to visit Laksala and buy a gift or souvenir which reflects the Sri Lankan heritage, while giving them the value for their money and the quality”

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