Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 17 June 2012





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Are grinding stones forgotten today?

Unlike in the past, housewives of the present day hardly use grinding stones or mortars and pestles to grind and pound spices. They now use electric blenders to crush or grind spice such as pepper, cardamoms, chillies, garlic or fennel seed. Some however use grinding stones during power failures.

As we know in Sri Lanka spices should be added to curries to get the real flavour. Spices should be crushed and ground before they are added to a curry, to get the real flavour.

Before the advent of electric blenders in the market from foreign countries, Sri Lankans used mortars, pestles and grinding stones to crush spice. These utensils were manufactured from large granite boulders.

Granite boulders are in plenty in some areas such as Bulathsinhala, Uggalboda, Gallassa, Baddegama, Elpitiya, Mathugama, Mahiyangana and Badulla. People in the country have been using grinding stones and mortars from the time of the Veddahs 2000 years ago.

Woman at work

The Veddahs depended on granite. They used granite stones not only to construct houses, but also to make weapons. They also made crude mortars and grinding stones to crush spice.

One can say that only a handful of people in the country are now engaged in the grinding stone manufacturing industry, but there is no truth to this.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Small Industries, over 300 families are still engaged in the grinding stones and mortars manufacturing industry. They are mostly living down South.

Although mortars and grinding stones are hardly used by people nowadays. These two utensils could still be found in kitchens of even modern houses. Some household preserve their aged-old grinding stones as antiques.

The Sunday Observer last week visited Meemaduma rural village in Baddegama to meet several families whose livelihood is manufacturing grinding stones and mortars.

According to an elderly villager N.B. Ratnasena of Meemaduma over 30 families are presently engaged in the grinding stones and mortars manufacturing industry.

He said unlike many other industries, this is a difficult and painstaking industry and people are injured often because of moulding stone.

"Manufacturing grinding stones is not a dying industry. I have been manufacturing grinding stones and mortars for the past 25 years and I learned the art from my father and also from my grandfather. I remember my grandfather saying that he learned the art of manufacturing grinding stones from his great grand father 200 years ago,".

He said in addition to mortars and grinding stones, manufacturers are producing Pinthalis (water cans), Tose gal mortars, beetle crushers, herbal medicine grinding stones and floor tiles.

He said there is a demand for mortars and grinding stones from tourist hotels from Colombo and outstations as these aged-old kitchen utensils are kept inside hotels to add glamour and beauty.

A grindstone manufacturer, Opatha Kankanamge Dharshana said he use his own tools to cut granite boulders and make mortars.

"The weather is important to cut and polish granite boulders and people who are engaged in the industry could manufacture about 20 mortars a month if bright weather permits.

He said using of blenders has affected the development of the industry to an extent.

"Before the arrival of electric blenders to the market about 30 years ago, we had brisk business and there was a demand for mortars and grinding stones.

A father of two sons, 45- year old, D.W. Nimal of Gallessa said he manufactures about 15 to 20 grinding stones and mortars every month and earns about Rs. 45,000.

He said in addition, he manufactures pinthalis, beetle crushing mortars and also garden tiles.

He said there are varieties of granite and only the black variety is used to manufacture mortars and grinding stones.

"The price of mortars and grinding stones range from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 3000,".

Nimal said if the Government helps manufacturers financially through a bank, the industry could be developed, unless industrialists have to give up this traditional industry.

He also said a scheme should be implemented to register manufacturers with area Divisional Secretariats, so that they could obtain Bank loans to develop the industry.

"In addition, there is a safety for persons involved in the industry,".

A long standing women grinding stone manufacturer B.A Haramanis said an insurance scheme should be implemented by the authorities for the benefit of over 1000 people who depend on this industry.

He said that the majority of manufacturers do not have a sound financial background even to buy tools, used to break granite boulders.

He proposed the Government to appoint a team of officials to look the grievances of persons involved in this industry as the Government does in the case of other industrialists.

He also said he has been in the industry for the last 20 years and not a single politician has ever visited them and inquired after their problems.

He proposed Government officials, including parliamentarians to visit their factories and discuss their problems. A long-standing woman monument manufacturer, 65-year old S.P. Gunawathi of Uggalboda said her late husband was a famous monument manufacturer in the area and the burden fell on her after his death.

" I cannot make monuments, but I could manufacture only grinding stones. I produce about 12 grinding stones a month and earn a monthly of Rs. 15,000,"

She said over 20 families in her area Meemaduma are engaged in the industry for the past 80 years, but all these families are oor and no one gets a steady income.

"As there is no steady income, these families lead pathetic lives. The authorities should register all industrialists in the village, that manufacture mortars, grinding stones and monuments to enable us to obtain bank loans to develop our industries,".

She also said she and three other people in her village received certificates and cash awards from President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a ceremony, conducted by the Southern Province Handicraft Association in 2007.

She requested officials to invite President Mahinda Rajapaksa to her village Meemeduma to see the situation of grindstones and mortar manufacturers.

A grind stone manufacturer, 43- year old, Saman Kumara of Neboda calledupon hoteliers to buy grindstones, mortars, Sandakada pahana, floor and garden tiles direct from manufacturers without buying them from middlemen, so that they could get good money and earn a sufficient monthly income,"



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