Saturday, 27 November 2010

Day 205-Glimpses Into A 19th Century Folk Culture

Martin Wickramasinghe childhood home, now part of the Wickramasinghe Folk Museum. 
Photo courtesy of Dream Into Reality

When I was in Sri Lanka, one of my most memorable visits was to the Wickramasinghe Folk Museum at Koggala, just 10 km from Galle and opposite the hotel that  we were staying in.  From the moment I walked into the compound and saw this house, I knew it would be one of my dolls house projects.


According to the museum book "From The Cradle" , this is a typical middle class rural home of the early 19th century occupied by the village gentry. The headman, the teacher, the native physician were among such people in the village.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT: It was a pity that my memory card was full right  after I took this photo of a monk in the museum garden.  I have thus taken great liberties with the pictures and text from "From The Cradle" . All words in italics are quotes from the book. 

Spacious Drawing Room -Photo courtesy of "From The Cradle"
Occidental influence is clear from the furnishings.

In the first picture, you can see a nice wide porch area at the entrance of the house.  This open veranda is where the homefolk relax and  where the casual visitors are also entertained. Relatives and gentry are invited in and they sit in the drawing room.

 Bed Room -Photo courtesy of "From The Cradle"

This is the main bedroom which  is on the left of the drawing room. There are others behind the drawing room.

  Photo courtesy of "From The Cradle"

This pitcher and basin is in the room where Wickramasinghe was born. That was the era when a mother gave birth in her own home. An experienced village midwife would handle the delivery. Wickramasinghe was the only male after 8 girls. In my own family, 2 of my siblings were also born at home.

 Dining  Room -Photo courtesy of "From The Cradle"

The dining room is separate from all the other rooms whilst the kitchen is in the rear of the house. 

 Typical village kitchen (kussiya) in a Singhala home -Photo from  "From The Cradle"

I am particularly interested in the Kitchen because that is the next room I have to tackle in The Rolla's House. 

 Traditional pots and pans used in my hostess' modern and affluent household.

I have seen quite a few kitchens in Sri Lanka and  invariably they bear some resemblance, whether it is old or new, rich or poor. This is one place where traditions are steadfastly upheld  and  where no amount of European influence can change. 

 Wooden decorative spoon holder (hendi aana) -Photo from  "From The Cradle"

Hearths & Pots - Photo from  "From The Cradle"

Cooking is done using firewood. A hearth (lipa) is prepared using either three stones (lipgal) or clay to raise the cooking pot above the fire. There would at least be two or three hearths. Above these is the dum messa- a loft where certain foodstuffs as well as pots and pans are stored. 


Paraphernalia used in the kitchen are varied. Most of them are earthenware utensils. Clay pots used  as cooking utensils are identified according to their shape and design. The kalagediya, for example is a vessel used to carry and store water. Females carry it on the hip with the arm passing around its neck. The muttiya which has a wide mouth is used to boil rice.  New pots are changed once a year.


Two or three days before the Avurudda or the Sinhalese New Year, the village potter brings a pingo load of clay pots and pans as gifts to each of the four leading families in the village. The potter is invited to partake of a meal of rice, coconut, chillies , salt and home made sweet-meats, which enable him to enjoy the New Year meal with his own family in style. In his pingo load of pots, the potter includes stack of little toy clay pots for the little children in the households he visits.

Sweet-meat containers Photo from  "From The Cradle"

On avurudu day, milk rice and numerous types of sweet meats adorn the table and the family members sit together to enjoy the first meal for the New Year. Following tradition, the neighbours are sent their share. They in turn would reciprocate.

 Rice Measuring Cans (Mum uses these too!)  Photo from  "From The Cradle"

The Sinhalese eats rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice and Curry is on every menu and in every hotel buffet. Now if you are in Sri Lanka and want a traditional breakfast, you ask for hopper or string hopper. These too are made with rice.

Paddy Measuring vessels (wooden and cane) Photo from  "From The Cradle"

Rice is obtained from paddy grown extensively throughout the country. Most rural folk own at least a small plot of paddy land which they could cultivate during the rainy season. Work at the threshing floor is done with the utmost respect. Great care is taken in what they utter and what they do. Before the paddy is measured and put into bags to be taken home, a few measures are kept aside as offerings to Buddha and the deities. 

 Barns-Photo from  "From The Cradle"

The barns for the storage of paddy are a common sight in rural homes even today. The straw roof is the lid of the barn. Paddy is loaded into the barn through the roof using a ladder to reach it. The door is at the bottom so that what is drawn out is the older paddy. The barns are of different sizes depending on the extent of the paddy fields owned by the family and the yields obtained.


The other common food on the table must surely be fishes. Stilt fishing  is an old tradition in Sri Lanka although  it disappeared for a while after the tsunami. Lately though, these fishermen have been seen again along the coastline in the south. They are truly a sight to behold and have been depicted in many paintings and art form.


 Fishing traps use for fresh water fishing -Photo from  "From The Cradle"

These traps are designed by the village folk for shallow water fishing. They are made out of ekel or reed and are designed for the fishes to swim into them and get trapped. They are then collected and cooked for a home meal.

 Karakgediya- Photo from  "From The Cradle"

This one called the Karakgediya is, according to Robert Knox , a British sailor who was taken prisoner by the Sinhalese king in the mid 17th century, a kind of basket made of small sticks so close that fish cannot get thru; it is broad at bottom and narrow at top, like a funnel, the hole big enough for a man to thrust his arm in , wide at the mouth about two or three foot; these baskets they jobb down and the end stick in the mud which often happen upon a fish; where they do they feel it by the fish beating itself against the sides, Then they put in their hands and take them out. 

Can you guess what I am going to use to make the karakgediya? 
Isn't it amazing how similar some of our traditions are?

26 comments:

Patricia Torres said...

Oh my.. so so nice!! Such a pity that your memory card was full.. or we would get to see loads and loads of more pics.. :-)

rosanna said...

Oh Sans, I love the house. We used the same cages for fishing but the sight of men on poles is really something to behold.
The spoons holder is wonderful, may I have one in the tribal house,plzzzzz? I shall send you more pots in change, agreed ?
Now to bed again, I'm cheating with my flu but I cannot stay too much far from my pc, I feel lonely otherwise ;o)hugs Rosanna

Sans! said...

Patricia, you don't really want to see my pictures :). Vacation pictures are interesting only to the person who took the vacation. Truth is before I started blogging, I don't even bother taking pictures ..lol! My own vacation pictures bore me!

Sans! said...

Rosanna, of course we must have the spoon holder in the Rolla's. In fact, I am going to see if I can ALSO make in-built holders for the cabinets :). And dearie, you have given me so many pots already (funny you should mention this, I was looking at the one you gave me this year a moment ago to see where in the kitchen it should go!) I hope to build you a kitchen befitting of a great cook. With many many hearths ..lol.

You know Steve McCurry was the photographer who gave us the National Geographic "Afghan Girl"? His photos are breathtaking. He exhibited here in Singapore a years ago and there were these amazing pictures of Indian rural living. I was totally blown away by this picture of the fishermen.

Flora said...

Still beautiful photos, full of meaning and inspiration. I hope to see soon your doll's house, inspired by this ...
I love the bedroom, I'd spend one night...
Mini hugs, Flora

GB said...

Fascinating tour Sans! I just love all the effort you put into your research. Looking forward to Rollas' Kitchen

Caseymini said...

Sans! This will make a fabulous miniature project. I can't wait for you to start! Love the house!

Ascension said...

Un reportaje fotografico precioso.
Me encanta el trabajo que te tomas en documentarte para tus proyectos.
Seguro que te ha a quedar fantastico.
Supongo que lo vas a hacer con el mismo material que habeis hecho la cuna, no?
Enhorabuena, me ha encantado volver a disfrutar de tu gran prosa.
Feliz fin de semana
besitos ascension

christine said...

sans, you are so full of inspiration that you inspire others!!! i love the stilt fishermen, they are amazing.. xx

The Old Maid said...

It is easy to see why you want this house to be your miniature project Sans! It is a beautiful house and the photos are great - love the light in the rooms :) Can't wait to see your miniatures now :D

Glenda said...

Hey, I'm becoming a dedicated Sans-Air eco-tourist!! Your fabulous finds of amazing houses are keeping me very happy indeed!!
This is definitely a house to re-create - absolute simplicity and fitness for purpose. Exactly the way it should be - so satisfying :)

Daydreamer said...

The minute I saw the picture of that house I was sure it would be your next project, Sans! It has such an air of Old Colonial India... at least what little I know of Old Colonial India from design magazine pictures! LOL! I am not at all an expert! :) I think it is the clean lines and dark wood against the whitewashed walls that makes me think that!
It is beautiful and serene and timeless.... I can't wait to see what you do!
Don't you hate running out of "film"? (showing my age here....) ie "memory card"! I am such a photo glutton myself... I hate to delete unless it is too blurry to decipher! On my last trip to France I ran out BEFORE I got to Paris! LOL! I am glad you have the photos from the book to show us. I love this post, Sans!
And I love this music too!

Sans! said...

Hi Flora :). Today is one of those days again when I worked on the house for a whole day like the hours of a full time job and worse :):). 9am-9pm :) but unlike a job, this one was fun :).

I didn't think I could do so much but it seems I am inspired every time I do a post like this one..haha.

And Flora, when I build this Sri Lankan rural house, there will be one bedroom for you :). After all, this will be a house for the gentry :):)

Sans! said...

Gagan, I seem to be doing loads of home tours :):). Your influence, no doubt !!

The Rolla's kitchen is a toughie and I am leaving it to the last :).

Sans! said...

Casey, I was just thinking that the furnishings in the room looked like something you will make , especially that beautiful bed. I am not sure if I can carry it off if I make them but at least if I really have to, they are furniture that I can buy quite easily to bash.

I will have to order a new doll's house if I am to start on this one :). Very tempted even though I still have 3 more to work on.

CLARA said...

Esta casa si es para reproducir. Una maravilla de reportaje y muy bien documentado. Gracias es un placer viajar de tu mano :)
Me encanta el detalle del colgador de cucharas muy elegante para la cocina.
Mies empanadillas están como tus curry puffs. Gracias por tus cometarios.
Besos Clara

Sans! said...

Mi fin de semana fue muy positiva y fructífera. Ascensión, tienes que venir y leer todo sobre ella, ok? :):) Y usted descubrirá lo que he usado.

Me encanta cada vez que se here.Do tú sabes que yo creo que son uno de los blogger más apoyo en el blogosfera :):)?

Muchos besos muchos muchos de Singapur

Sugerencia: no es el material de la cuna

Sans! said...

Thank you so much, Christine. You inspire me too :).

Steve McCurry has to be my all time fav photographer except my housemate when he takes pictures of my minis for me :):)

Sans! said...

Hehe Ewa, you know I take forever to finish one house. This one may be another 5 years! :):)

Sans! said...

Oh Glenda, this is your kind of house, isn't it? It really is very simple and reminds me very much of pared down old Europe. Sri Lanka to India is like Japan to China. It's minimalist Indian. This one is colonial India.

I am glad you like these tours. They are an acquired taste and not popular tourist destinations. hehe.

Sans! said...

Betsy :) , I lugged my laptop with me to Sri Lanka so that I could download all my pictures onto the computer so that I would not run out of "film" but so there!

It was the last 1/2 hour before closing, otherwise, I would go and get my spare card. I would not be able to take these beautiful pics anyway. I love the book. It's already dog eared because I referred to it so much :).

As I was saying to Glenda, Sri Lanka is the pared down version of India. Cleaner lines , less clutter, not so ornate. In Galle, the Dutch/Portugal influence is very strong and the gentry class uses a lot of furniture unlike the ordinary folks. Traditionally, Ceylonese, like the Indians don't use chairs and tables and beds. Their floor serves all these purposes.

I will have to have a mindset change when I tackle this project because the Rolla's house is so full of things :) but I do love "busy" :) and my Rollas are always busy creating. I have made them too talented. Ro's a great cook too and I am going through hell trying to create a fabulous kitchen for her. Wanna come help?

Sans! said...

Clara, ¿no es maravilloso que compartimos mucho en común? A pesar de que no se entienden entre sí sin Google Translate? :):):)

Estoy tan feliz de verte aquí:) y gracias por tus palabras maravillosas.

Sans! said...

I am now in my office right in the middle of some rather complex paper work and all I could think about is whether I really made the Rollas too talented. In the course of this perplexing thought process, I had an epiphany. I didn't make them "too talented". They really are . In fact, all miniaturists have the same multi-faceted talents , at once, builders, furniture makers, weavers and even potters!

WOW! Pat yourselves on your back, please :).

Sans! said...

O yes, Rosanna, if you are reading this, I just got your pot reference :):) . Sorry, I am very slow these days :).

Alison said...

Love your photo tours, Sans. Wish I could reproduce those baskets in miniature, as I am a basket collecting fiend! Today was an abnormally busy Sunday...thanks for the great getaway!

Sans! said...

Alison, I am a basket fiend (and case ..haha) as well. In my next post, I will show you with extra pictures, this really wonderful fish basket that I bought in Bangkok. If you can make a trip down here to Singapore, I will show you where you can get some pretty neat mini baskets in Bangkok :). Hey, maybe you can come with Kiva :):).

We are already at Manic Monday here. I am escaping ever so often here to relieve some stress :).

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