Bangladesh Slideshow

07 July, 2008

Resourceful Lankans

Entrepreneurship is a key development concept. And in Sri Lanka I came across many such ventures.

The country is known world over for its handicrafts. These products are manufactured by applying age-old techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation. These artifacts are manufactured by using only the tools particular to them and from raw materials found abundant in nature. On the Colombo-Kandy road, the trades of these entrepreneurs ranged from the everyday to the exotic to the bizarre.

There was the Henry Batik Shop.

The craft of batik came to Sri Lanka from Indonesia; it was brought in by the Dutch at the time when they occupied these territories. A lot of work goes into the production of these hand crafted beauties. The first step in the process of batik is to ensure the readiness of the fabric to absorb and retain the color of the dye. For this purpose the material is dipped in boiling water to remove its starch-content. After this, the design is traced out or drawn out on it.

Before the application of the first round of dye or color, those areas of the design that should not absorb this particular color are covered with a 'resist' material such as molten wax or rice paste or mud. After this process, resist is removed by washing in water and re-applied in those areas which should not absorb the second round of dye-application. This alternate process continues till the entire range of colors planned for the design are exhausted. At the end of this, the cloth is dipped in boiling water and the finished product is obtained. This product is usually a multi-colored garment or material that can be stitched according to any desired style. The characteristic appearance of batik is obtained by the color seeping through the wax-resist that creates hair-line cracks on it.

The end result? Gorgeous colorful products!

I stopped at a number of family-run cane shops. They sold the most exquisite baskets in addition to furniture and everyday household wares. Alas, there would be no room in my luggage for these things.

There were leather shops, from which I bought two chair seats. I’ll add legs and turn them into tables once I'm back in Dhaka.

Sri Lanka has the most exquisite wood carvings. The expert craftsmen can turn a log of wood to a figure of an elephant almost looking alive with the help of only a chisel and mallet. I also saw cinnamon wood objects, and they smelled heavenly!

Couldn’t buy any wood carvings for their sheer weight, although the offer of having them air freighted was very tempting. I envisaged the hen-pecked hubby having a heart attack if DHL delivered an elephant to our apartment, and desisted. Oh, but they were so beautiful!!!

All the walking around had made me a bit peckish. Bought green mango from a fruit-seller. Declined the rambutan.

There were craft-stores selling masks, key chains and small wooden objects d’art. I bought the mandatory souvenirs.

I admired little papier mache objects.

My jaws dropped in amazement to find out the paper was made from elephant dung! Ugh!

I stopped at the Ishara Cashew Shop.

The husband-wife operation was small but efficient. I saw a cashew tree for the first time in my life, and poked among the leaves for a glimpse of the fruit. I saw the very basic factory and applauded their efforts. Bought the plain, roasted/salted and roasted/salted with chilli varieties. Yum yum!

Eating the cashew made me thirsty. Made a stop at a road-side fruit stall and had a drink of a king coconut. Lovely ladies were also selling rambutan (viewing the rambutan tree was also a first for me).

Among the soothing stretch of greenery, came a sudden eruption of color! There were inflated animals for sale, hung on strings and swaying in the breeze. I could identify Scooby Doo, and a Dalmatian. It was a Sunday, and I understood that the wares were intended to tempt families on a day’s outing. Smart, huh?

I also bought a number of other handcrafted objects from different handicraft shops in Colombo.

The village of Pallehapuwita in Matale District is famous for Lac work. Lac is a form of wax obtained from a specific species of insect. This wax is mixed with colors and applied on wooden objects with the help of hand-driven lathe machines. I bought a handful of Lac boxes.

Another unique Sri Lankan handicraft is a fabric woven on a primitive horizontal loom. The Dumbara fabric is mainly produced in a village called Henawala by the Kinnara people in the Dumbara valley of Kandy. The fiber is extracted from a plant somewhat similar to Jute. The Dumbara mats are predominantly black and white, but may also have splashes of red, sienna and beige.

There are many NGOs working with Sri Lankan craft villages to improve the quality of life of the craftsmen and women and to promote sustainable interactions between handicraft producers and their environment. Using the creative skills and local resources available in craft villages, these organizations are also providing access to viable markets for traditionally made handicraft products.

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