Being Eco-friendly and eating organic food has become the talk of the town, locally and globally. Much emphasis is being placed on recycling and reusing. Such hype demonstrated in the major cities of Sri Lanka is promoted by some and scorned by many. On a recent visit to the Northern Province I discovered that a good majority of those living there have pursued an environment friendly lifestyle for decades if not centuries.
It begins with the careful selection of land for building a house. The large trees are retained to provide shade, and trees such as khomba are venerated. The house is built to absorb natural sunlight, and windows are broad to enhance ventilation. This is supplemented by high roofs, which are built using locally handmade tiles. The furniture is made of complete wood and weaved with rattan. Only in the recent past due to being displaced, people have begun to use plastic chairs. Trees are strategically places around the house, and are specifically grown to demarcate boundaries, an eco fence, which eliminates the need for concrete pillars and barbed wire.
A key factor is the well. Water sustains life. Care is taken to grow a hedge around the well, creating a cool ambience anytime of the day. It’s amazing to see a small drain around the well, collecting water that is spilt from the action of drawing the bucket. This water is channeled towards a nearby fruit tree, which stands tall and lush. In many homes the water from the kitchen tap (for washing) is also directed to plots of vegetation.
Vegetable gardening is a hobby and a priority for the housewife of the North. It is an active past time for the older folks. Here again the plots are precisely laid beneath the shade of larger trees. All the food waste from every meal is used as natural fertilizer. Many homes rear free range hens and ducks. Those with more land rear cows and goats. All the dung is collected and used as organic manure for plants.
The hens are kept in large woven baskets known as karapan, not in mesh cages. Even when a rooster or goat is slaughtered the entrails are buried under large trees, the decomposing meat enriches the trees. Most livestock is fed with grass and an assortment of leaves, though some are now starting to depend on mass produced mash. The eggs here display a rich orange yolk, the result of natural feed.
From sunrise to sunset the people here engage in an eco-friendly routine. Almost 90 per cent of food is made at home, using local ingredients. Many homes, even affluent ones prefer to cook using firewood, as this enhances the flavour. Firewood is obtained from trees within the compound. Old trees are skilfully cut by axe and chopped into desired size. It is stored on wooden racks. When the firewood rack becomes old it is cut and used as firewood, the epitome of reusing! The rising smoke from the clay chimney is also a natural mosquito and insect repellent.
The fronds of the majestic palmyrah trees are used for making sturdy fences. In addition, a variety of stuff is made with palmyrah, including edible delights. All purchases in the village grocery are wrapped in paper. At times fish is wrapped in large leaves. Only in the past few years there has been a steady rise in polythene bags. Transport in the cities pollutes with toxic gases. Yet in the Northern villages the bicycle reigns supreme. Using the bike keeps the rider slim and trim, though there are some fat riders, plus there is no carbon emission. These folks are resourceful in hauling large loads on bicycle that include coconuts, sacks of vegetables and paddy or even your occasional defiant goat!
The use of homemade herbal oils keeps the Northern folk healthy. The long black lush hair of the women is alluring. A bath is an artisan routine. The hair is massaged with oil and face is cleansed with a paste of ground saffron. After waiting in the sunlight they enter the privacy of the well.
Their eating habits also lean towards the organic. Northern food isn’t dependent on bread, jam and butter. This is still alien to them. To these women cooking is a celebration of family. They grind and pound every single spice. An assortment of high protein grains and flour keeps people in shape, except the odd glutton. Their meals include pickles, curds and sambals that subtlety aid in digestion to promote a healthy lifestyle. Even the aspects of worship promote union with nature. The simple pottu (Tilaka) using ground sandalwood is kept on the forehead as its fragrance is said to promote positive thoughts and cool the temperament of the person. Ayurveda is the desired cure for many ailments, although clinics are slowly cropping up in a few villages.
We don’t have to watch National Geography to learn about eco-lifestyles. Our ancestors in all parts of our motherland have been wisely doing it for centuries. Let us walk in their footsteps, as we keep in step with technology.