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Culture

Elegantly thatched farm houses …home gardens with multi storeyed vegetation… stone barricades…exotic arecanut groves …fascinating rice terraces … excellent
Toddy , juggery and treacle…smiling villagers…ancient customs, traditions and folklore…a true bio-cultural landscape .


The villages in and around knuckles forest region form a unique bio- cultural landscape About 80 villagers are located around the buffer zone of Knuckles. Traditional villages such as Meemure, Kaikawala and Galamuduna are true models of harmonious co-existence of man and nature. Until recently, most of these remote villages in Knuckles remained hidden in the forest ,due to poor access. This may have been the very reason for these villagers to exist as true traditional villages, sustaining their cultural heritage for several centuries, in this unique landscape locally referred to as ‘Dumbara mitiyawatha ’ (Misty Valley) .


The Meemure traditional Sinhalese village is located in a valley between the two mountains of Kalupahana and Kehelpathdoruwa .The general village landscape consists of home gardens with multi –layered vegetation, farm-houses, terraced rice fields and /or chenaland, and irrigation canals. Several vantage points in Knuckles offer a breath-taking picturesque view of these Bio-culture landscapes. The traditional architecture in these villages depicts a unique blend of natural and cultural recourse. The home gardens in villages such as Meemure are surrounded by a wall of laboriously arranged layers of stone, forming a barrier that is 3-4 feet in height. The intention of these barriers is to protect the crops grown in home gardens from animals such as wild boar, deer, sambar, cattle and buffalo. Narrow lanes bordered with neatly arranged rock walls separate the thatched farmhouses. Some traditional houses contain a central indoor garden. An oval-shaped Granary built with mud and covered with rice straw is located closer to the farm house, to store paddy. A cattle shed is another common structure close to the farmhouse. Bundles of firewood collected from the forest are stacked neatly against the wall of the farmhouse.
       
The mountain slopes have been tamed into beautifully terraced rice fields, which receive water from irrigation cannels connected to streams. The rice fields and traditional home gardens are separated by arecanut palm g
roves. A water well could be found at the border of the rice fields and home gardens. The traditional home gardens have been planted with all items of vegetation that is beneficial for the house holds, spices, medicinal herbs, edible yams, vegetables, fruit trees, timber trees, fodder plants and ornamental plants. In some home gardens, pepper is cultivated on a commercial scale. These home gardens depict a natural ‘botanic garden’, that blends well with the surrounding natural forest. The high species richness of birds and butterflies in home gardens bares direct testimony to the latter aspect.

The general lifestyle of villagers is very simple. Most of them are subsistence farmers, involved in the cultivation of paddy, supplemented with chena cultivation.
Some of them are also involved in plucking cardamom, planted inside the forest. Farming practices are bound with auspicious times determined by village astrologers. Traditional folksongs are an essential element of paddy cultivation, sung by women during seedling transplanting, manual weeding and crop harvest. Buddhism plays a major role in the day-to-day lives of traditional household in Knuckles, which has enabled them to appreciate, value and pre
serve the natural heritage of Knuckles regions for centuries.

The villagers ar
e extremely hospitable in nature, who are always ready to treat a visitor with a cup of tea, a herbal drink with juggery, or a mug of toddy – an excellent local brew made out from the sap of the flower of ‘Kitul’ Palm (Caryota urens). They rely on cattle for transporting goods between villages and sub-urban areas, and this practice is referried to as a ‘thawalama’ (Pack Ox). In the event of illness, the villagers rely on traditional ayurvedic physicians in their village. These ayurvedic physicians are true ethno –botanist, who process a good knowledge on plants and their ayurvedic properties, passed down to them by their predecessors.
The House-wives of the village are culinary experts, who are able to prepare several types of traditional sweet meats and curry dishes. The sweet meats are made using three major ingredients – rice flour, coconut and ‘Kitul’ Honey and such sweet form an essential item of festive occasions in the village.
On such festive occasions, traditional dance troupes entertain the villagers with a splendid performance. The elders in the isolated villages have ensured the preservations of ancient customs /rituals, traditions, folksongs and folklore past on to them by their ancestors. The trashing grounds of the rice fields, commonly referred to as the ‘kamatha’ is the common meeting place of the villages who gather around to discuss important matters pertaining to their village. It is also a place where ancient customs/rituals related to rice cultivation is performed annually.

The traditional villages in Knuckles depict the rich cultural diversity associated with the unique natural landscape of Knuckles . being isolated from the relatively well-developed sub-urban and urban areas, the rich cultural heritage passed down through generations have been well preserved in these remote villages. With the resent development initiates such as access road targeted towards improving the livelihoods of local communities in the area, sustenance of the cultural diversity for future generations is a matter of concern for villagers who have inhabited this rich bio-cultural landscape. Therefore, those who visit Knuckles should not only contribute to conserve the rich biological diversity of the area, but also contribute to sustain a rich cultural diversity that has been preserved by the local communities for centuries.

     Diagrmmatic sketch of the Knuckles Massif showing the main ranges                                      and peaks (heights in feet) Map>>
 
 
 
 
 
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