Carpentry Workshops in Moratuwa Uniting Communities with Craftsmanship


How carpentry brings a community together

A set of chairs make a panel for discussion. Any furniture or woodwork including cartwheels, roof or wardrobe unites a people. Carpentry workshops fit not only wood but also people together.

Moratuwa is a town full of carpentry workshops which have been supplying furniture both to poor and wealthy homes belonging to people of all communities and religions. They include Buddhist and Hindu temples, churches and mosques around Sri Lanka, north, south and the hill country.

Over 60,0000 Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Islam families are connected to the carpentry industry in Moratuwa town. The people we meet at Moratuwa include traders, manufacturers, suppliers, transporters, carpenters, helpers and porters as well as customers.

Justice of Peace Somasiri Waduge of Moratumulla is the chairman of the Association of Wooden Furniture Manufacturers. Waduge means the family of carpenters, and he is a community leader who provides leadership to the carpenters in Moratuwa.

Speaking about the history of Moratuwa, Waduge explained, “Moratuwa is famous for carpentry since ancient times like colonial Portuguese and Dutch periods. The carpentry workshops produced furniture for churches mainly then. Many became carpenters, and anyone from anywhere in the country could come to Moratuwa to get their furniture made at a reasonable cost. Carpentry is a traditional craft here. We produce furniture graded as number one to three so that they match the economic capacities of the customers. Stores in Moratuwa supply furniture to the entire island. We have a network of retailers and transporters who distribute our products islandwide.

“Timber from all parts of the island reach Moratuwa. There is even a proverb about a tree that meets another tree at Moratuwa. We also make the maximum use of timber. No part of the tree trunk is wasted. Sawdust and waste pieces are used as fuel. It is a network of industries too.

Ajith Peiris of Moratumulla is an owner of a carpentry workshop. He told us that about 200,000 people engage in this industry from felling trees to the door-to-door transportation of furniture. These people include rich and poor people of diverse ethnicities and religions. The designers are sometimes educated people, but the helpers may not be well-educated. All of them struggle with timber to supply a quality product to the customer. Many of the suppliers of accessories are Muslim businessmen. Women engage in polishing of furniture at some workshops. Some porters are Tamils. Sometimes, the people who use this furniture are westerners. Buddhist monks sit on an artistic Dharmasana or preaching chair when they deliver sermons. The altar and the long benches of churches are also products of Moratuwa carpenters. The Veil Cart of Hindu temple is also a marvellous wood creation.

The cart that helps the baby to stand up and walk first, the swinging horse, school chair, coffins of various status are made in Moratuwa and people of all walks of life, and all ethnicities and religions use them equally. Moratuwa is a city of harmony.

Do you know that even the wooden cross-bars that hang the curtains hiding in-house secrets are made in Moratuwa? However, most of the poor carpenters and helpers in Moratuwa do not have luxury furniture in their own houses. They use old sarees as curtains instead. Lines of small houses of the woodworkers in Moratuwella lie between the railway and the eroding sea. Their life is not as beautiful as the carvings on the wooden furniture they make.

“Many children drop out of school due to poverty. Parents lack the money needed for food, clothes, books and tuition. Most become wage labourers who are also drug and alcohol addicts. There are times of difficulty in which work is less,” described Sudesh Senadheera, a resident of Moratuwella coastal village.

The traders in Moratuwa pointed out that the biggest challenge they face today is the flooding of furniture imported from Indonesia.

Moratuwa carpentry industry faces several other challenges like the license fees of timber. However, the seasoned, 73-year-old chairman of the Association of Wooden Furniture Manufacturers, Justice of Peace Somasiri Waduge is still optimistic. “The collapse of the agrarian economy of the country is a serious problem. There is an issue of cash flow because the money is not returned even though we have good demand. Previously, we delivered wholesale stocks to Polonnaruwa after the paddy harvesting time. When the pepper harvest is reaped, we supplied stocks of furniture to Monaragala. If the farmers have money in their hands, our economy is also good. Industrialists and businessmen are looking for new strategies to face this situation. We must build a future that is good for the economy of all of us,” Waduge said determinately. He is bridging the gap between the carpenters of Moratuwa and the policymakers.

This article was originally published on the catamaran.com

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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