Corridors of Oceanic Heritage: The Maritime Archaeology Museum, Gallelakshmi | Thursday, March 4th, 2010 | No Comments »
Sudharshan Seneviratne Ph.D., FSLCA
Director General. Central Cultural Fund
Sri Lanka was peopled by periodic community intrusions and interactions since the Stone Age resulting in the introduction of a variety of ideas, technological traditions, dialects, and belief systems into this island. The central location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean Rim on the one hand and its centrality between two World systems to the West and the East of the Indian Ocean on the other, provides a unique representation of the world culture blended in the ethos of this island society. As a consequence, the cultural landscape of Sri Lanka also represents a habitat of multicultural and varied biological identities.
The earliest human habitat in Sri Lanka is identified with the intrusive Pre Historic remains of the Middle Stone Age dating to 30,000 BPE. The Early Iron Age village culture that extended from Peninsular India succeeded the Stone Age culture from the beginning of the first Millennium and thrived until the fourth Century BPE. It introduced the earliest domesticated varieties of plants (mainly paddy / Oriza Sativa) and animals (e.g. humped bull [Bos Indicus] and horse), household crafts, the use of metals, megalithic memorials and rudimentary water management to this island. During the succeeding Historic Period, large inland and port cities emerged as representative cosmopolitan centers of trade connecting the Far East and the Mediterranean region. The people of this island constructed mega monasteries competing with the pyramids of Egypt, developed complex and unique hydraulic systems including aesthetically beautiful gardens and other monuments and the sculptured art. The culture in general was flavored by Buddhist and Hindu traditions – a tradition largely drawn from the sub continent and adapted to the overarching pan Sri Lankan culture.
Post 13th Century era witnessed the intrusion of Islamic traditions
from West Asia through the spice trade and subsequently governance through western mercantile communities and the Colonial regimes of Portugal, Holland and England. These regimes bestowed valuable contributions to the art, architecture, music,
language, religion, culture, society, economy and the political structure of Sri Lanka. Three Centuries of Western influence introduced a strong cosmopolitan flavour into the personality of this island society and has given Sri Lanka an identity somewhat different from its other South Asian neighbours.
The Sri Lankan cultural mosaic, coloured by a vivid multi-cultural, multi-ethnic island society and nurtured by a rich cultural legacy inherited from the past, is best represented in an encapsulated version in the Maritime Archaeology Museum at Galle. This museum is the first of its kind in the SAARC region showcasing the oceanic heritage of an island society. It is housed in the Dutch Warehouse; a heritage monument conserved by the Central Cultural Fund with total financial assistance from the Government of the Netherlands. The unique display in this museum presents three thousand years of trans-oceanic connectivity and the cultural plurality of Sri Lanka. Archaeological objects, dioramas, beautifully designed tri-lingual panels, electronic and visual presentations unfold the rich multi-cultural inheritance of this island. The museum offers several value-added services and guides the visitor through a unique heritage odyssey, which is an unforgettable experience to children and adults alike.
This publication marks the inauguration of the museum on by HE President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and offers a valuable user-friendly handbook to the visitor with a wide range of information and ‘road map’ to navigate through the galleries and visually absorb the display objects. It carries a summery of the context, cognitive values and scientific information relating to the objects through each of the accompanying presentation panels. The volume guides the visitor through Corridors of Oceanic Heritage commencing from the application of scientific Marine Archaeology as against oceanic antique looting and piracy, symbiosis between sea and land associated with simple societies of the pre historic hunting-gathering and early farming communities to complex societies that had advanced technological systems nurtured by cultural and commercial interactions with parallel World Systems in antiquity. The narration unfolds itself into different facets of human experiences and expressions associated with religio-cultural aspects and socio-economic interactions highlighting a multitude of impacting factors shaping the personality of this island society from the Pre Historic to the Colonial Period.
It is indeed the privilege of the Central Cultural Fund, the Custodian organization of UNESCO declared World Heritage Sites, to present the Maritime Archaeology Museum as another value-added facet of the World Heritage Site of Galle and as a gift to humanity!