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The Koggala Folk Museum – A Tribute to One of Sri Lanka’s Most Beloved Writers

The Koggala Folk Museum – A Tribute to One of Sri Lanka’s Most Beloved Writers

The Koggala Folk Museum of Sri Lanka is one of the best museums entirely devoted to showcasing the lifestyle, industries and customs of traditional communities in Sri Lanka. It is housed in the ancestral home of renowned Sri Lankan author Martin Wickramasinghe, being established as a tribute to the writer by the Martin Wickramasinghe Trust.

The boy, who would grow up to be one of the greatest Singhalese writers of his time, was born in 1890 in the village of Malgama. The house presently serves as his memorial museum was the childhood home of the writer and his sisters, and is a well-preserved and classic example of a Southern abode of that time. The rear section is now nearing 200 years since its first construction and bears trademark Dutch architectural features as well as sparse, whitewashed walls and brick-paved flooring.

The house is the last surviving abode of the village, as all the other houses were vacated and demolished during the Second World War to build an airstrip for the Royal Air Force sea planes. However, the ancestral home of Martin Wickramasinghe survived by fortune of having been noticed by an officer, who, attracted by its demure charm, decided to make it her own residence for the duration of the military occupation.

The grassy knoll near the house, atop which is set a boulder from the Koggala reef, shelters the ashes of the famous author and his wife Prema. This was a special childhood haunt of Martin Wickramasinghe, as he has recounted fondly in his journals. More about his life, times and achievements can be discovered in the Hall of Life, which is an exhibition of photographs, souvenirs and other memorabilia belonging to the renowned gentleman.

The Folk Museum is actually the realization of one of his life-long dreams, who longed to preserve and educate the future generations about the cultural and technological aspects of village life that were familiar staples of his boyhood. He himself had acquired a notable collection of cultural artifacts during his lifetime. The museum, which was opened in 1981, used this as a starting point to build a more extensive repository.

Today, the museum comprises 25 categories, thematically showcasing the multi-faceted aspects of old and modern Sri Lankan folk culture. This encompasses everything from folk art, music and craft to medicine, agriculture and religion. Each collection serves as a visual narration of the development in the arts and technologies of fishing, pottery, metalwork and agriculture. These serve as potent reminders of Sri Lanka’s communal roots and offers invaluable insights to the fast-disappearing folk culture of the nation.

This was the culture which Martin Wickramasinghe most vividly brought to life through his characters and writings, providing a critical narration of its ebbs and flows. He had a deep love and respect for its values, which he believed were the adhesive that prevented the disintegration of the native social fabric. His museum is meant to promote these ideals that he upheld throughout his career, as well as understand a better understanding of the man who always kept Koggala and its people close to his heart.