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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.