In a tranquil village in the west coast, not far from the Gelenigama inter-change of the southern expressway, a simple craft is of great significance. Making bata palali or bamboo tats is the livelihood of the entire hamlet of Kimmanthudawa.
Hands moved skillfully and fast as the weavers spun the thread around the bamboo strips. After decades of practice, these weavers are efficient and well-versed in the making of bamboo tats. It is the traditional livelihood of this village and many families have
been weaving bamboo tats for over a century. In some families, three generations – father, son and grandson – are involved in the home-based weaving operation.
Bamboo used for making the tats come from the far corners of the country, especially from the Bulathsinhala, Ingiriya and Ratnapura areas.
Bamboo tats are completely hand-made. First the dried bamboo or bata is split into even quarters. Next the pith and heartwood are removed – it is the glossy bark that is of value to these craftsmen. Then the cleaned bamboo strips are woven together in a contraption made at their homes using stones and nylon string. The stones are flung back and forth on the makeshift loom, binding the bamboo together with the thread. It is fascinating to watch and to listen to the rhythmic tapping of the stones going “clink-clunk, clink- clunk”. The tempo only breaks when the weaver stops to slice off an even part in the bamboo strip.
Although they have tried to mechanise at lease some part of the process, the weavers say they always end up reverting to their simpler methods as no machine can achieve the perfection they seek.
From hotels to homes, for window and door blinds or for roof shades, there are a variety of uses for these eco-friendly bamboo tats. Bamboo tats are even painted in bright colours – one can see them laid out to dry while passing by some home gardens in the village. The villagers of Kimmanthudawa try to cater to every preference.