The story of Sri Lanka’s handicrafts goes back many centuries. Production of the island’s hand-crafted memorabilia and other delicately curated products (with the exception of jewellery) is essentially a cottage industry. Products are made using natural raw materials by means of age-old and time-tested techniques that have been passed down through generations.
What’s unique about these is that such traditional skills have been preserved over the years, resulting in a continuance of distinctly Sri Lankan handicrafts.
To this day, many well-preserved hand-crafted memorabilia and products are being produced.
The most common are those made of rush and reeds, which have become a timeless tourist favourite especially among environmentalists. As environmental pollution has increasingly critical ramifications today, the value of rush and reed work has grown, giving the island’s domestic economy a much needed boost.
Hand-crafted product ranges use natural leaves as raw material and are a hundred percent eco-friendly. Rush and leaves from the talipot, coconut and palmyra palms are used to create products that offer people a far more environmentally-friendly alternative to items made of artificial materials.
For tourists, rush and reed ware are considered souvenirs that they will take back home to remember their time in Sri Lanka. But for locals, these products are everyday items found in their homes and are sometimes gifted to a foreign party as a token of appreciation.
Hand-crafted reed and rush products include table mats, handbags, ornamental wall hangings, purses, sun hats, baskets, lamp shades and other household items. These products are also embellished with eye-catching patterns using natural floral extracts to give their otherwise pale appearance a touch of vibrant colour.
Small-time vendors sell rush and reed products alongside the road on the way to the south of the island. And since the art of producing these items is passed down through the generations, it means that this is probably their sole means of income.
So the next time you’re driving along the southern coast of Sri Lanka and see the smiling faces of local vendors, stop and check out their delightful rush and reed products – and help support a generational trade.
Compiled by Ashwini Vethakan