house in which Martin Wickramasinghe was born has inspired the
Martin Wickramasinghe Trust to established a Folk Museum Complex,
surrounded by a restored ecosystem planted with hundreds of varieties
of indigenous trees and shrubs in which bird life abounds. The
house and the surroundings brings to life a little part of the
Koggala which is so vividly depicted in Wickramasinghe’s writings.
at the Museum grounds
Martin Wickramasinghe was born, in the village of Malalgama in 1890.
A section of the ancestral home, in which he and his sisters grew
up with their parents has survived the rigors of time. The partly
renovated house, part of the rear section of which is thought to
be nearly 200 years old, is a typical southern abode of the period,
with pleasing Dutch architectural features and cool, whitewashed
walls and floors paved with square bricks.
|The house was taken over by the Royal
Air force during World War II, when all villagers in Malalgama and
surrounding villages were asked to vacate their houses within 24
hrs. Most homes were demolished to build a sea plane base (the airstrip
of which is in use to this day.)
|Wickramasinghe’s house miraculously
escaped the fate of others in his village. The story goes that this
simple house with its subdued architecture caught the eye of a female
Air Force officer, and she made it her residence during the military
occupation of the area, ensuring its preservation.
It was a Catalina aircraft from this base which alerted the British
government to the presence of a Japanese fleet, thus ensuring that
adequate defensive measures were taken by the military to ward off
Paddy stores erected behind
|The grass covered mound to the right
of the house holds his ashes, surmounted by a wedge-shaped rock
from the Koggala reef, on which he spent many hours of his day during
his childhood. The ashes of his wife Prema are also buried under
this mound. An exhibition of memorabilia is housed in a Hall of
Life. The Hall of Life tells the story of Wickramasinghe’s life
through a series of photographs, awards and souvenirs.
|The Folk Museum was long a desire
of the author who wanted to recapture within it the technological
and cultural artifacts which were a familiar part of his childhood.
The various objects of folk culture acquired during his lifetime
have been the starting point of the collection found in the museum,
which was opened in 1981.
Trust has developed the museum into a growing repository of artifacts
depicting the history of Sri Lankan folk culture, from ancient
to modern times in order to remind the people of Sri Lanka of
their living roots. The museum is a fascinating collection of
artifacts, from Buddhist artifacts to those which portray the
development of rural technology in agriculture, agro industry,
fishing, pottery and metal craft artifacts, various artifacts
from folk dances and religious ceremonies and many others. Tastefully
presented, the museum offers visitors rare insights into Sri Lankan
Front view of the Museum
In providing the backdrop and context to the museum, a Trust brochure
states that “Martin Wickramasinghe delved into the life and culture
of our people from their early beginning to the present day and
through his writings, he identified our folk culture as a resilient
bonding substance which has not only prevented our social disintegration
and alienation, despite assimilation of elements from a multitude
of eastern and western cultures, but also moulded our collective
identity and values as a people. Wickramasinghe’s unceasing intellectual
exploration and his creative and critical writings relating to the
life and culture of the people of Sri Lanka continued for a period
of over 70 years”.
| The Folk museum is an ideal place to get to
know the author better, to understand a little of what Koggala and
its people meant to him. Wickramasinghe’s writings vividly recall
the carefree days of his childhood, exploring the marine life in
the Koggala reef, playing with his friends from the village and
enjoying the rural solitude of his beloved Koggala. Seated on the
steps of Wickramasinghe’s ancestral home, and enjoying the blessed
charm of this seven acre piece of rural paradise, it is easy to
understand why this piece of earth nurtured and set ablaze the imagination
of one of this country’s greatest writers.
Puppets exhibited at the