Goldsmiths seek support from the state
By Quintus Perera
Some of them claim they are descendants of royal jewellery makers. Like many of our ancient skilled craftspersons who came from particular groups, some of the best jewellers in the land come from the specific communities and are now spread across Sri Lanka.

However a group of 100 families from the famous chain of traditional jewellers have settled in the villages of Madapathala, Dangedara, Eliot Place and Bingeuda in Galle and are exclusively making jewellery for trade.

Like the communities who acquired skills in various forms like pottery, drumming and so on, the traditional community of jewellers have continued generation after generation to sell their skills in making jewellery, some of which must be in the homes of the rich and famous all over the world. They however earn a pittance for their skills while the traders who buy their goods reap the benefits.

One of the roads in Madapathala is named after U.A. Simon de Silva who lived in Madapathala for 84 years and died in 1971 and is said to be royal jeweller and a superb craftsman.

Small pockets of these craftspersons are also found in various parts of the island, supposedly in places where there were kingdoms. Legend has it that King Kavantissa married Viharamahadevi and set up their kingdom in Ruhuna. Some of these jewellers in the Madapathala area say that their ancestors served King Kavantissa.

Most of these small time goldsmiths are struggling to eke out a decent living as they work for others - traders - who earn the big bucks. Though some of their skillfully crafted jewellery are exhibited and sold in such exhibitions like the FACETS 2004, concluded recently at the Hotel Hilton, with a estimated sales figure of $3 million, these village craftspersons have no direct access to these exhibitions or buyers. The big stores and traders come to their workshops, bargain and buy their best crafted products at very low prices that are then sold at these exhibitions or to foreign visitors at fancy prices.

The Madapathala goldsmiths complain that the government is not doing anything to uplift their trade and help them secure their own markers instead of going through middlemen. What they lack is capital and marketing skills to start a business of their own instead of depending on others. Most of them are employed in workshops run by others, either for a fixed salary or on piece rate.

It is estimated that these goldsmiths in Galle deal with around eight kilograms of gold in the form of various ornaments, apart from silver and other metal work. A sovereign weighing eight grams would now cost around Rs 11,000. Though these people also deal with various gems it would be difficult to estimate how much money is transacted.

They are hoping the government will help them to get loans through banks at concessionary interest rates without collateral. They said that bank loans are very hard to come by for them. They could also be provided with some sophisticated machinery, like in other countries, on concessionary rates so that they could be competitive in the international market.

At Madapathala, A.W. Nihal, 40 years, has three children and has been engaged as a goldsmith since his childhood. His parents, grand parents and great grand parents also were engaged in the jewellery craft. He works for others and is paid on a piece rate.

Chandra Jayasekera, another goldsmith working in workshop owned by someone else, also laments the lack of support for their industry saying he recently made jewellery for some foreigners while a gold ring studded with gems and crafted by him was sold to an American tourist.

In Dangedara, the husband-and-wife-team of U.W. Janath and K.M.A. Roshanthi, has a jewellery workshop in their house, with the craft coming down the ages from Janath's ancestors.

Victor and Mallika de Silva in Bingeuda, another husband-and-wife combination now in their sixties could be classified as middle level gem and jewellery traders. They trade expensive gems and also run a jewellery factory with several craftsmen employed there. They have calibrated gems to be studded in jewellery. They said that they are getting a good income from their gem and jewellery transactions. They work on rubies, sapphires and diamonds which are studded in gold ornaments.

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