Living Heritage of Sri Lanka

Ethno-Development and Traditional Lifestyles

Modern sociology has coined a term called ethno-development (ED), which places culture at the center of rural development planning. This approach demonstrates how indigenous or traditional culture, technologies, knowledge, organizational skills, and talents can be engaged for effective ecologically sustainable development (ESD) which is the goal of current development theory.

In some parts of Latin America the locally based, culture-centered approach of ED has actually created high value niche markets and benefited people leading traditional lifestyles through increased communications, innovative trade relations, and political alliances that transcend national boundaries and regions. Knowledge, relationships, and motivation that distant rivals cannot match have now become assets.

Information Age

The Internet, modern technology and satellites network the planet and consequently new markets are being opened up daily. We are all aware that we are at the threshold of the long awaited Information Age. We also know that when indigenous cultures caught between ‘assimilation' into the mainstream, or retaining their way of life discover a monetary value for the by products of their traditional way of living they want to return to it. Cultural memory becomes the key since ED utilizes and revalorizes indigenous knowledge about crops, plants, the environment, appropriate technology, art, social organization, and language.

In Sri Lanka the Sinhala word for development is sangvardana. But this word means much more than just growth oriented consumerism. The word portrays life as a pilgrimage with wisdom as the objective and true development the growth of the whole person.


The education of the whole person then is what is urgently required today in Sri Lanka as we enter the 21st Century witnessing the destruction of both the natural and cultural environment of old and wise cultures that ‘once upon a time' made this island their home. The establishment of a School for Traditional Field Studies will be the main focus of this project.

Traditional Lifestyles as an asset

Today cultures "embodying traditional lifestyles" have been recognized as a vital component of global bio-diversity and has been earmarked for conservation in the Convention on Bio-diversity. A traditional culture however, can barely survive when confronted with the onslaught of modern development and a growth oriented consumer mentality, hence the urgent need of a shift in paradigm to ED. In all societies it is only in remote regions that have escaped the modern development process that people still embody a traditional lifestyle. Therefore for ED to have validity the set and setting becomes vital. Most development efforts have failed because of the inability of planners to comprehend this sociological fact.

Colonization and Assimilation

Development policies in Sri Lanka like in most parts of the so-called developing world assumed it necessary to ‘integrate and assimilate' traditional people into the cultural mainstream of a modern industrializing society. Until now planning documents frequently describe traditional beliefs and customs as "backward" and "worn-out" obstructions on the path to modernization and economic progress. The literature of developing nations illustrates the same malaise. In Sri Lanka urbanized novelists writing in Sinhala either romanticized or ridiculed village culture. The village leader or gamarala was "depicted as a fool who went to the moon hanging on the tail of an elephant"!

The NIC Carrot

The development process we have followed so far has left us with a massive, ill-educated and consequently inefficient bureaucracy that is dictated to by much more ignorant and often corrupt politicians. The Newly Industrialized Country (NIC) ideology has been held up like a carrot to the public who are told that we can duplicate Singapore locally. In the meantime under the guise of achieving this goal the nation is stripped of its natural and cultural resources for the benefit of the elect. A proud, ancient and once ecologically sustainable wisdom culture is projected as a poor third world country in order to attract aid and grants from sympathetic foreign governments and agencies enabling this system to carry on.

The Altar of Economics

In today's world whether it is ESD or NIC the presiding deity is economics. However, aid and grants without being linked to trade and profit makes the donor into a good-hearted fool and a nation into a community of beggars. The equitable sharing of resources has also become a war cry in some nations with traditional people demanding a greater say in governing their own lives. When one man can carry the payload of a battalion on his back and is willing to die for what he believes in, centralized control becomes meaningless. Converting an outdated, post-colonial, insular, urban mentality that has governed Sri Lanka since independence in 1948 and reversing policy to recognize both ED and ESD is part of the challenge facing planners today if a return to peace and homeostasis are to be tangible goals of the development process.

Clusters and the New Economics of Competition

Fundamental for any sustainable development is to keep eco-systems or eco-regions intact for future generations. To do so, all the actors necessary for the management of such a system need to be identified. The idea of a cluster was first developed by Michael E. Porter in an article titled "Clusters and the New Economics of Competition" in the November-December 1998 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Clusters must include not only the people who live in the area under consideration but also the politicians who decide as well as enterprises that make use or want to make use of the area. According to Porter, "A cluster allows each member to benefit as if it had greater scale or as if it had joined with others without sacrificing its flexibility".

The transformation of a ‘grant or aid driven' society to a ‘commercial mode' will not be easy, but is essential for a nation's self respect and morale. It therefore becomes imperative that grant-driven planners create clusters with entrepreneurs with a proven track record to develop models, that while separating commercial activities from grant driven activities will at the same work towards similar objectives and ideals. At the intersection of clusters, insights and skills from various fields merge, sparking new businesses. Peer pressure, native pride, and the desire to look good in the community will spur executives to outdo one another. At the intersection of clusters, insights and skills from various fields merge, sparking new business. Finally, clusters offer a constructive way to change the nature of the dialogue between the public, private and NGO sectors.

Ethical Investment and Common Consensus

Ethical green investment based on equity for all participants will naturally complement grant driven activities. In this Information Age with growing global awareness a frustrated and often unemployed rural youth will not tolerate exploitation in their backyards, and most wars are due to planners ignoring this fact. It is therefore of the utmost urgency that the marriage between aid and trade is properly regulated with clearly defined parameters.

This initiative has networked people from a varied background. On the one hand we have a distinguished group of social workers, educators and communicators with a proven track record in the NGO world coming together as the Living Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka (LHT), a not for profit organization incorporated under the Companies Act No. 17 of 1982 with the primary objective of "protecting and promoting the cultural heritage of the traditional people of village Sri Lanka". LHT is also a coalition of NGOs together with the Cultural Survival Trust (CST) and the Kataragama Devotees Trust (KDT).

Living Heritage Trust will be the designated project implementers of this proposal and CST and KDT will assist LHT in implementation.

Inspired by the ideology of LHT and in support of a development cluster-based on a green ethic, a group of concerned entrepreneurs who are leaders in their respective fields have joined hands. They have incorporated the Board of Investment (BOI) approved profit-oriented company Heritage Reserves (Private) Limited within the meaning of Section 30 of the Companies Act 17 of 1982 in order to develop a market for traditional lifestyles and their by-products through establishing Heritage Reserves "where traditional values, practices, lifestyles and knowledge are nurtured and appropriately disseminated both locally and internationally to ensure continuity".

The Living Heritage franchise

LHT will give this BOI company a five-year franchise on a predetermined basis to use the Living Heritage registered trademark and concept belonging to LHT for commerce and profit. It is envisaged that when the aid period ends the income from this franchise accruing to LHT will enable the school to be self-supporting. Furthermore many of the students will be absorbed into the spin-off businesses this will create. This initiative will also prepare an educated, ecologically and culturally sensitive workforce, for the fast developing information era with special emphasis on the cultural and eco-tourist industry.

All development capital with regard to the promotion and marketing of the ‘Living Heritage' concept will be borne by the franchise holder. Provision will be made at each location that LHT operates in to provide space for the franchise holder to build and operate at its cost limited visitor accommodation. The design, materials used, and facilities provided, will be the same throughout in order that there is integration. An agreed number of short term paying guests will be welcome as observers and participants in this adventure, but the same rules and code of conduct will apply to all. The paying guests however will be charged at prevailing international rates for a similar experience. We do not intend to sell Lanka short.

It is envisaged that close cooperation between these two organizations including Grant awarding organizations can enable a lobby to emerge, which will evolve a more active and realistic approach to aid and trade to indigenous and traditional people. Carbon sequestering to cash in on the carbon tax and credits by growing trees in village common areas will be another area of study.

Although certain local financial establishments have made the first steps visible on the field of environmental management, these establishments have limited themselves to the marketing and financing of clean technologies and ignored the contribution of ecologically sustainable or traditional lifestyles. Tapping into the competitively valuable assets within a cluster requires personal relationships and ‘insider' status and this is the unique advantage LHT has as a result of its association with indigenous peoples organizations like CST and KDT who have been active in this field for over a decade.

The areas we shall concentrate on are traditional agriculture, education, medicine, forestry, and native arts. We believe that by creating both a ground model that can be duplicated and by educating a new mindset that will manage and operate the opportunities that will consequently arise will within three years prove that aid and trade can have a symbiotic relationship.

The Panama region

Total acreage: 225,280 acres
Area: 352 square miles
Jungle 214,016 acres

Population resides in the villages of:






1/3 of Pottuvil

Ancient Sites of Pilgrimage



Budu Bawa

Mermaid Stone


Dagaba of Vedagama

Bodhi Rukkaramaya

Valley of Himbitillene

Image Rock

Sastra Vela

Vihare in the Tank


Game Vihara

Foot Print Rock


Talagura Vihara

Una Patura Caves

Kotiya Cave

Sirigana Cave

Image Rock of Jivul Pallawa

Ambagahatota Vihara

Kabilitta Devala

Kana Bisavunge Cave

Dramala Pond

Iti Kala Cave


Karade Vihara

Pallegama Village

King Kavantissa's Habutagala Vihara


Mirahala Adanpradava

Red Rock Viharagoda

Vihara Paudava Keenana


Pottuvil Region


Mudu Vihara

Vittama Ruins

Kudimbigala Region

Kudimbigala Hermitage

Nagapubbata Vihara

Lenagama Vihara

Monaravila Vihara

Viharagala Vihara

Gal Kanda

Kurundu Gahavela Viha

Okanda Dewala

Uda Halawa Vihara

Helawa Pattuwa Vihara

Tissa Na-Ulla Vihara

Kema Solamba

Ancient Tanks at:

Kumuna Bowattalava



Tambara Ketam

Uda Halava






















For more information contact:

The Living Heritage Trust
1, Horton Terrace
Colombo-7, Sri Lanka
Phone (094) 1 698255