Living Heritage of Sri Lanka

Traditional culture of Panama village

Girl bathing in wewa. Photo by Steven Champion

Panama village and region still preserves traces of an agrarian tradition that is many thousands of years old, composed of highly skilled and knowledgeable farmers. The region is also home to an extraordinary genetic diversity, particularly renewable forest products from perennial species and from plants of known medicinal value. Many Panama villagers still maintain the cultural knowledge associated with this region.

Some indigenous doctors in the region still transmit their knowledge orally. Their memories hold together a vast storehouse of recipes, mostly in verse, which they call a Wattoruwa.

In Panama tribal knowledge is still passed on through activity in institutions like the Kamatha or threshing floor, the pela or watch hut, and in war games such as Pora Pol and Ankeliya; performed annually. Hereditary skills are looked upon as Rajakariya or duty. Each villager specializes in a particular function, and together the whole village in consensus maintains their cultural calendar of ritual duty understood as protection of Nature's balance. Each villager has a unique importance. This cultural memory can still be realized in this region.

Modern scientific progress is founded upon the myth that we can compensate for, work around, and improve upon the balance of nature. Economic 'development' has led man to attempt conquest of nature, not life in harmony with it. Indigenous populations are looked upon as 'primitive' beings whose beliefs, attitudes and practices are 'outmoded' and 'backward'. Of late, however, there has been a growing realization that indigenous lifestyles are harmonious with and respectful of the elements that comprise this planet; and that they transmit vital and rare wisdom concerning how to exist in harmony with ecosystems which more 'developed' cultures are recklessly destroying. Destruction has gone on under the guise of 'development' and 'progress' for too long.

Thankfully, it is not too late to reverse the process. The Living Heritage Trust intends to use information technology to focus on the imperative that social and political work must go hand in hand with work in nature, for nature. Global mass media is bringing about a far-reaching ecological perception of the world. This is, in turn, creating a 'green' consciousness that insists on preserving indigenous cultures for their value as repositories of wisdom.

This wisdom is related to the natural environment that surrounds each village. It is for this reason that the Living Heritage Trust proposes a modus operandi that embodies lifestyles that conform to the laws of the cosmos. It is only by following the paths of wisdom trodden by our ancestors for millennia that we can ensure the island's continuing fertility and happiness now and for generations to come.

The foregoing is only a small insight into traditional village culture, a storehouse of vital information that has survived centuries. This is what we want to preserve and re-learn in the Okanda-Kudimbigala Living Heritage Reserve and School for Traditional Studies.

Okanda-Kudimbigala is the unrivaled choice of location for the first Heritage Reserve and School for Traditional Studies for the following reasons:

  • A primordial legend
  • A living shrine
  • The isolation of the location
  • An abundance of life illustrating fertility and bio-diversity at its best
  • An abandoned village with paddy fields and hénas uncontaminated by chemicals
  • Passing pilgrims, an annual pilgrimage and a festival
  • Participation of the original villagers.