Labours of Love

BY AMA H. VANNIARACHCHY | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 20 2021
Echo Labours of Love


“A glass pitcher, a wicker basket, a tunic of coarse cloth. Their beauty is inseparable from their function. Handicrafts belong to a world existing before the separation of the useful and the beautiful.”

 —Octavio Paz 

Sri Lanka has a long and rich history of handicrafts. These handicrafts are beautiful, creative, and eco-friendly. They are all made of natural material; hence they are organic and degradable. In a time when we are rapidly losing our roots which means we are moving away from our natural lifestyles and pushing ourselves far from Mother Nature, our handicrafts remind us that we need to go back to our roots. Decades ago, we Sri Lankans lived a more natural lifestyle, mostly a minimalist lifestyle, very close to nature. Most of our household objects were made of natural materials. 

We hardly ever had plastic or polythene a few decades ago. We used to make our household objects with clay, stone, dried parts of trees, and many other natural, degradable materials. These products are environmentally friendly and have very little toxic effect on us. Local communities produced these, not on a mass scale, as these were for long-term use. However, as plastic and polythene hit the local market, and as the country opened its doors to the open economy, a few decades ago, our lifestyles rapidly changed. 

Ecofriendly household items were pushed away whilst people chose more convenient modern products which are found on a mass scale in the market. Many of these household products are not eco-friendly and are made of synthetic material and are factory-produced. ‘Sri Hastha Artisans Pvt Ltd’ is an attempt to bring our natural lifestyle, and our lost legacy once again close to us. Their products are natural and local. All of their products including clay water bottles, cane baskets and boxes, wooden masks, clay jewellery, and many other handicrafts are made of natural materials, mostly using traditional technology. The Sri Hastha handicrafts workshop is located at Homagama and it is a place where our traditional handicrafts come to life. 

Empowering local artisans 

All of these products are produced by local traditional artisans who have been doing it for centuries. “The primary objective of Sri Hastha Artisans is to help local craftsmen develop a sustainable business plan to open up the market segment of their products and services through a trading platform so that they can introduce their products and services worldwide,” explained Charith Dharmasiri, founder of Sri Handicrafts. He also said that one of their priorities is to increase the income of local communities, ensuring employment and improving their living standards. 

Improving local handicrafts may be an important solution to combat unemployment in the country. Therefore, Sri Hastha Handicrafts arranges all types of credit facilities for local artisans. As per the Export Development Board (EDB) industry report, there are approximately 200,000 artisans employed in the handicraft industry in Sri Lanka. 

“Therefore, our priorities are aimed at increasing the income of these traditional artisans, ensuring employment, and improving the living standards of all Sri Lankans.” He also said that an admirable feature of the handicrafts sector is the hard work of artisans, the participation of women in production, the diversification of household income sources, the reduction of income risk, the use of internal concepts, and many other economic and cultural factors. 

They are all eco-friendly 

Most of these products are ecofriendly. As cane crafting is made from natural materials and utilises traditional techniques, it is not harmful to the environment. Overall, cane craft is environmentally sustainable and safe for use. They are stylish and artistic too. These products are lightweight, inexpensive, sustainable, and ecofriendly. The strength of traditional handicrafts is not only in preserving the rich culture, heritage and traditional wisdom of its glorious past, but they are also a source of international revenue and generating rural employment. 

“However, traditional handicrafts are greatly important for the fact that they are very environmentally friendly.” Handicrafts use locally available natural materials and re-used materials whilst being resourceefficient and toxic-free. These realisations can bring about a positive change in the perception and discernment of the consumer and make him responsible for choosing traditional handicraft products in place of industrial products, wherever possible. “The prospects of these traditional crafts are numerous and bright as the term sustainability seems the best solution in the present world, with environmental, social, and economic concerns.” 

The portable clay water bottle 

The Sri Hastha clay water bottle is one of the most attractive products of all. We all know that water in a clay container becomes cooler and develops a wonderful texture. This is why the Sri Hastha clay water bottle caught our attention. This is not just a clay container that you can keep inside the house, but a portable bottle. You can take it to work, keep it in your vehicle and carry it when you travel. “Drinking water from a clay pot maintains a level of testosterone in your body unlike plastic, which in turn reduces the amount of testosterone in the body. 

Clay keeps water naturally cool which further helps in increasing the metabolism of the body. Dharmasiri further explained that the water inside the clay pot is cool due to the evaporation process. The clay pot has tiny pores on the surface and water gets evaporated very quickly through these pores. Due to this evaporation process, the heat of the water inside the pot is lost, which lowers the temperature of the water. He also told us that the clay water bottle has five amazing health benefits: 

1. Cooling water 

2. Porous 

3. Alkaline 

4. Improves metabolism and virility 

5. Gentle on the throat 

They carry a legacy 

Sri Hastha handicrafts have a vast variety of handicrafts, including decorative items and jewellery which carries a legacy. It is the legacy of our past. “Sri Lanka is a country with an ancient civilisation. It has a continuous written history of over 2,500 years. Moreover, archeological excavations have revealed that the history of Sri Lankan civilisation goes even further,” explained Dharmasiri. As he further mentioned the history of Sri Lankan handicrafts is as old as the history of the nation. According to folklore, we have produced textiles from cotton as far back as the 6th - 5th centuries. 

He also said that these traditional handicrafts were in good harmony with nature and agriculture, which was the main livelihood of Sri Lankans. These cottage industries were also a part of people’s daily lives. The farmer supplied the rice and the artisan provided the tools and equipment needed for the kitchen and the farm. He also highlighted something very interesting about our traditional handicrafts. 

Although these products are tools and equipment that were used in the daily life of the villagers, the craftsmen decorated each of these tools with a carving or painting. That is why they are beautiful and detailed. That is why these little pieces are works of art are unlike massproduced factory products. Many of these decorations are inspired by nature and the folk culture of the villagers. “Our artisans had the skill, patience, and time required for the art. Therefore, every tool was an instrument of art. This explains the aesthetic thinking of the ancient craftsmen.” 

A fading craft 

As Dharmasiri explained, these handicrafts are an art that is gradually fading away. With the rising popularity and accessibility of modern products, traditional handicrafts find it hard to compete with them. As he explained, the young generation of these artisans is moving away from the craft. “For example, the making of traditional sesath today survives in only one solitary village, namely, Unaveruva. The next generation of these artisans is moving away from crafting sesath, as the demand for the sesath is declining,” Dharmasiri expressed his concern. 

Therefore, these dying rural handicrafts of Sri Lanka are in desperate need of our support. The pandemic had a huge negative impact on these artisans. They have been out of work and the impact on the livelihood of this community is high and tragic. “I request the public to show their support and concern to our traditional craftsmen and support our artisan community. We believe it’s our responsibility to keep alive the industry for the next generation. So let’s help each other and ‘Be Sri Lankan and buy Sri Lankan products,’ he concluded. “The fact that I still find so much beauty in a handicraft is because my mother taught us to see not just the craft as a product but the craft as an embodiment of human creativity and human labour.” 

– Vandana Shiva

BY AMA H. VANNIARACHCHY | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 20 2021

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