Pasgama: Step into Remoteness

Pasgama is a unique concept in that it is an authentic reconstruction of a Sri Lankan village as it was prior to 1940. Situated in Ellalamulla, Pasyala, a few kilometres away from Nittambuwa, from where it gets its name, the village is five acres in extent.

The village of Pasgama is not an accurate representation of any one village located in a specific part of the country, but instead is a composite of elements from low-country villages all over the country. The village is the brainchild of Royston de Zilwa, who worked as a guide for tour groups visiting the country. He often took them for evening tea to a wayside boutique, where they would sip their tea in true Sri Lankan style. De Zilwa often found that even though many tourists could not remember all the places they had been to, they always remembered the tea at the wayside boutique. The realization that tourists valued the unique experience led De Zilwa to the concept of Pasgama, where people could see, experience and participate in village life.

As we enter the village, passing the mura pola or watchman"s hut, we go to the schoolhouse where we are greeted with a loud "Ayubowan" by a throng of brightly attired children. Usually when a visitor arrives at the village a bell is rung in order to notify the villagers of a visitor"s arrival. The visitor is first taken to the headman"s house.

The Arachchi or village headman gets into his bullock cart and is brought to the schoolhouse where he is requested permission to show us the village. He grants permission and we are given the rules of the village. Some include no smoking or drinking, no consumption of food and beverage, no giving of gifts to villagers etc. We are warned to watch our step as the footpaths are unpredictable, and to watch our heads when entering houses as the lintels are very low.

The headman is dressed in a white sarong, black braided coat with a red sash. He is escorted by a servant holding a palmyra leaf parasol. After he leaves we proceed to the place where carts and bulls are sheltered.

The devale (shrine) occupies a central spot in the village as well as in village life. The devale is dedicated to the goddess Pattini. Its floor is constructed out of rock lime and anthill clay while its walls are burnt brick and mud plastering and wild tree trunk pillars. The roof is of coconut palm rafters and jak timber strips and burnt clay tiles.

We come to the cane worker"s house which is made of stones and well compressed anthill clay. The struts are wild tree trunks and walls are out of bamboo. The roof is thatched with bamboo leaves tied down with creepers. The val pala or cane worker makes armchairs, cane chairs and cane beds.

We come to the home of the woman who weaves "cadjan" roofing. There is a chicken roost made of sticks and "cadjan", hung between two trees. We meet Banda who is rolling a toy, similar to a lawn roller, with two wheels made out of small tree trunks.

We come to the carter"s rest approximately six feet by eight feet where carters can relax after their long journeys from village to village. There is room for sleeping mats to be laid and a table and utensils for them to cook their provisions. Carters are the news media, as villagers would come and talk to them and exchange news, gossip and even barter their goods.

We go to the wood craftsman"s house where we find him busy carefully chiselling to create masterpieces in the form of statues and animals out of valuable hardwoods like satin, jak, teak, mahogany and ebony. We lift some of the wooden statues which prove to be quite heavy. He is also in the process of making an exquisite tea set out of hollowed coconut shells.

We meet the village kapu mahattaya or match-maker, who is also the school teacher. He shows us some photographs of the attractive lasses of the village as he tries to find suitable matches for us. He has details of the dowries they are prepared to give, as well as what they expect from the prospective bridegroom.

He shows us the horoscopes which he has. He explains how once the kapuwa found an eligible couple, he would even change facts and horoscopes in order to bring the pair together.

We come to the brick maker"s house where he is preparing bricks out of clay which are put into a mould and then dried. His house is constructed out of fired brick and coconut thatch. Even though he is busy constructing bricks for other peoples" houses, his house is still incomplete.

We visit the carpenter"s shed where we see him busy constructing tables chairs and shelves. All the furniture in the village has been built by the carpenter. He demonstrated the varied tools of his trade.

The lace making lady is typical of villagers in the south where beautiful lace is created. Using a circular instrument as a base, and many pins and bobbins she is busy weaving her elaborate designs as we watch.

We visit the brass craftsman, who is typical of an up-country villager. Normally he would get his brass from carters and traders who would travel from village to village. In this village though all the crafts people are supplied their needs by the management.

We come to the smithy, run by an 105 year old man, born in July 1892. He tells us that he had spent his whole life in the village of Ellakkala, a kilometre from Pasgama. When asked the secret of his longevity he tells us that he had smoked, drunk, and eaten anything without restriction or hesitation.

We see the toddy tapper climb up the coconut tree and learn that he pounds the flowers three times a day and takes toddy in the morning and in the evening. The toddy is collected in pots into which pieces of hal bark are put in order to prevent fermentation. This is used to make coconut honey and sweetmeats. The fermented liquid is toddy. Further fermentation produces vinegar.

In every village is to be found a pin thaliya. This is a pot of cool refreshing water, provided by the village to anyone who wishes to drink off it. Water is put into the pot by a villager living nearby and any visitor, carter or beggar or indeed anyone can drink off it. The water tastes cool, and invigorating.

We see the batik makers, busy waxing the cloths prior to soaking them in dyes. In each of these cottage industries, mother passes the art to daughter and father to son. Generation to generation without variation.

One man collects large logs and firewood for the village which he barters for his necessities.

The village has a boutique from which people could buy their daily necessities. Unfortunately it has gone bankrupt as the owner has squandered all his money on toddy.

We visit the toddy shop and for the first time I taste toddy. It tastes somewhat similar to fermented coconut water. Visitors can purchase bottles of toddy for their consumption.

There is a laundry where clothes are first washed with soap and water and then are boiled overnight and then rinsed and dried. We see an antique dry iron, which needs to be filled with red hot coals in order to press clothes.

A cycle is the pride of a villager and to keep all cycles in good repair the village also boasts a winkele or cycle shop. We visit the tea shop where many villagers come in the morning or after work to sip tea, play a game of draughts or exchange news and gossip.

We go to the toddy tapper"s hut where we see the tools of his trade " several sharp knives and an antelope"s foot with which he pounds the flowers.

The goldsmith is busy designing some jewellery when we visit him and, we learn how most of the jewellery worn by villagers was plated with gold or a less costly metal like silver or bronze.

We go to the Barber-shop and realize that there must not have been much business for such an establishment, as most village women wore their hair long and only cut off a centimetre or two rarely.

The rope maker demonstrates his art to us, as he quickly weaves a strand out of coir fibre. Then two strands are woven together to form a rope.

There are several women involved in weaving cloth. They first have to weave the thread, and then using a complicated system of looms and shuttles, weave the thread into intricate designs.

We go to the veda gedara or clinic, the second wealthiest house in the village after the walauwa. It is run by a veda hamine or lady doctor. She is a practitioner of Sinhala ayurvedic medicine and shows us various pills, potions, oils and pastes which are used to cure a wide variety of ailments. We also see the first aid kit containing several of the most common home remedies, and cupboards where leaves, bark, roots and other plant parts are kept to dry. We see her kitchen containing among other implements, large pots for boiling the potions and oils.

There are several guest-houses where visitors can spend a night. These are authentic houses constructed out of clay brick and roofed with "cadjan" or tile. They are completely similar to the village houses and the only modern addition is the toilet. People can book the houses for one night, for a period of approximately 24 hours. There is a ceremony where the Arachchi hands over the keys of the house to the residents. They participate in the night"s programme of nadagam, gammadu, devil dancing, fire limbos, plays, song, dance, games and other entertainment along with a sumptuous barbecue which is prepared by the villagers.

We climb the 'chena' which is a small hut on a raised platform constructed overlooking the paddy-field or the vegetable garden. The farmer stays in the "chena" all night and lights a fire underneath it to keep wild beasts away. He sings kavi or poems to keep himself awake. The village has its own paddy-fields and its threshing floor, where in a few days the villagers will be harvesting the paddy and then to an accompaniment of songs and dances will thresh the paddy with their feet through the night. The village also grows its own vegetables and supplies them to the restaurant.

We visit the potter"s house and observe how she takes a lump of clay and by spinning it on the wheel, can transform it into a graceful pot or jar. I try my hand at it and am successful.

The village also has representations of graves of the four major religions in Sri Lanka. There is a weva (lake), with its own resident ducks who are forced to waddle about as it is now dried up. We observe how copra is dried and then put into a grinding mill which is then rotated while being dragged by a bull, and compressed to produce coconut oil.

We go through a patch of virgin forest, and see crouched in a cave in its interior, a Veddah (Sri Lankan aborigine), before a fire, cooking some meat. We are told he is a genuine Veddah, all the way from Mahiyangana. He is quite shy of humans and his cave has various passageways he can escape into if over enthusiastic visitors jumps into his cave and chase him as some have been known to do.

We go into the amazingly designed restaurant for lunch. This restaurant is illuminated by warm yellow lights, and the motif is that of a jungle. Tables and chairs are out of tree trunks and even the taps are ingeniously constructed, giving the impression that water is flowing from a rock. The kitchen band entertains us with lots of good baila music. The band soon has most of the guests dancing on the floor and demanding for more. We start off with freshly squeezed fruit juice. Our meal consists of white rice, many varieties of cooked vegetable curries, fish, chicken, beef, salads, some hot curries, papadam and for dessert, we enjoy curd and treacle.

We explore the shop which has for sale, all the village products. Prices are reasonable and quality is good. Beneath the shop is a replica of a gem pit where people can buy gems and jewellery. We meet two mascots of the village, two little dogs called Pas and Gama.

Finally we enter the Arachchi"s house and see the Dutch style furniture, sofas, settees, almirahs, four-poster beds, writing cabinets etc. The Arachchi doesn"t live in the rooms which are displayed to the public but has his own rooms at the back. Most of the villagers actually live in the neighbourhood of Pasgama, while a few come from far away villages.

We speak to Christopher Lappen who explains the concept behind Pasgama as a "Step into Remoteness." He explains how the concept had developed and how villagers had been found to depict the lives of olden day people. Asked about the future of the village, Lappen explains how more facilities would be added, like a small tea and rubber cultivation while other similar villages have been planned for other parts of the country. He explains how when there was work to be done, everyone from himself to the humblest villager would have to pitch in and get it done. They hold a daily meeting for problem solving, village improvement, safety education and motivational purposes. Among notable visitors have been three beauty queens from India and the famous Indian novelist Shobha De.

We depart from Pasgama, with a fresh understanding of village life and customs of those times, departing from the simple, unrushed and serene life to the sophistication, and bustle of the city.

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