Milford Primary School

Operation Phoenix North Shore

Sri Lankan Culture

We made a list of our questions about Sri Lankan Culture. They were very kindly answered by Mrs Kusuma Gunuwardane who is a Stormwater Operations Project Engineer at the North Shore City Council. She grew up in Sri Lanka.

How big is their population? Nearly 20 million.

Who is the President? Their leader is President Mahinda Rajapatse.

What kinds of products do they make or grow? The products are mainly tea, coconut. rubber, rice, gemstones and garments.

What is it like to live in Sri Lanka? It is peaceful in some parts but not in others. At the moment there is a civil war going on in Sri Lanka. How to achieve peace is a bigger issue than the tsunami.

Are they a poor country? Yes, compared to New Zealand they are.

How big is their country? 65,610 square kilometres.

Are there primary schools, secondary schools and universities? Yes there are. Everyone goes to primary school. Education is free and textbooks and uniforms are provided. Children are expected to stay at school until they are 16 years old. There are 15 universities. But, as there are 20 million people living in Sri Lanka, it is hard to get a place in University.

What age do they live up to? The life expectancy for women is 74, and for men it is 69.

What diseases do they have that we don’t have in New Zealand? They have malaria in the dry zones and dengue fever in the polluted areas.

How often do they get diseases? Just like in New Zealand people can gets lots of diseases. But there is a good basic health service in Sri Lanka and this is free so people can get to the doctor when they need to. People who are wealthy may also use private consultants. There is now also an immunisation programme for when children are born. People are well educated about diseases through the news media.

Do they have fresh water? Yes. They do have fresh water. But after the tsunami a lot of water in the wells was contaminated by seawater in the coastal areas. People could not drink this salty water and they had to bring in special containers with water in them. Much of the water infrastructure has had to be rebuilt after the tsunami. There are five main rivers in Sri Lanka which start in the hill country and flow down and supply water to most areas. Sometimes this water is polluted and has to be treated to make it safe. In the area of Sri Lanka which is dry, water supply can be a problem. People there have deep wells from which they can draw water.

What TV shows are there? There are nine local TV channels as well as overseas channels. There are lots of local shows but we can also watch the BBC and CNN.

What sorts of jobs do they do? They do all sorts of different jobs, just like we do in New Zealand. But because there are so many people looking for jobs it is sometimes hard for people to find one.

What is it like to live as a child in Sri Lanka? Every child can go to school and most children have enough to eat. But it is still a hard life for children who live in poor families.

What do children in Sri Lanka play with? They play lots of different games including computer games, card games and table games like chess.

Do they skateboard? No. I have never seen them do this.

What do they like to do in their spare time? They watch TV, listen to music, visit friends, go to the temple and play games such as cards.

What is a famous pastime? Sinhalese people love to talk! They are great story tellers. But nowadays people don’t do so much of it because they watch quite a bit of television.

What is the weather like? Sri Lanka has a tropical monsoon climate. There are two rainy seasons: the South West Monsoon (May to August) and the North East Monsoon (November-February)

How many times does it rain in the year? During the monsoon seasons it rains a lot.

How do they travel? People used to be driven in bullock carts quite often but although these are still used by a few people most people nowadays travel mainly by bus, car and train. Auto rickshaws are also popular.

Do they travel by car? Yes but only people who are well off. Ordinary people use buses and trains. Travelling around Sri Lanka can be a big challenge because the roads are quite narrow. When I went back four years ago I noticed how much the volume of traffic had increased. It’s a bit like driving on the motorway in New Zealand in rush hour traffic and it can take a long time to get to your destination. This is why many people prefer to travel at night.

Do they have any bikes? Yes there are bikes and also lots of motorbikes.

Where was all the damage done in the tsunami? In the coastal areas. The 26 December, 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami hit two thirds of the country’s coastline. The damage stretched from Jaffna in the north, right down the entire eastern and southern coast, and covered the west coast as far north as Colombo.

How many Tsunamis are there in Sri Lanka? This was the first major tsunami for a very long-time. Hopefully such a disaster will not happen again. About 3000 years ago there was also a big tsunami in Sri Lanka. The king who ruled Sri Lanka at that time thought that it was because the gods were angry with him so he put his daughter on a raft and floated her out to sea as a sacrifice. Luckily she did not drown but managed to land in another port.

What language do they speak? They speak mainly Sinhala, but also Tamil and English.

What is the favourite food of Sri Lanka? The Sinhalese have a special oil cake called Kawun. They also have another special food called milk rice. There are also traditional sweets which are fried in oil.

How do they get their food? They grow much of their own food but they also import some.

What do they eat? They eat lots of different foods. The most important food is rice. They eat curries which can also be hot. They eat vegetables and fruits. Many people are Buddhists so they do not like to eat meat. Although nowadays this is changing. Muslims do eat meat. Sri Lankans also eat a lot of fish, especially in the coastal areas. Fishing is something people do for their livelihood and not for recreation. Even in New Zealand Sri Lankan people do not go fishing for fun.

Do they eat with their hands? Yes, Sri Lankan people eat with their hands.

Does anyone starve? No, people do not starve in Sri Lanka, but some people do suffer from malnutrition.

Do Sri Lankan people eat takeaways? What type? Yes they eat lots of takeaways. They have McDonald’s, KFC and Sri Lankan takeaways.

Do they eat a lot of fruit? Fruit is an important part of the diet in Sri Lanka. In the villages each family grows fruit in their homesteads. There are all kinds of different fruits that people grow, such as different kinds of bananas, pineapples, mangos and papayas. In the hill country areas where it is cooler the British introduced apples, pears and grapes. People in Sri Lanka who live in the country areas don’t starve because of the jak fruit. This fruit has very good nutritional qualities and is widely grown in country areas. When it is green it is used as a vegetable in cooking. But when it is ripe and the colour changes to yellow, it is used as a fruit.

Do they have their own special fruit like we have kiwifruit in New Zealand? No there is not one special fruit. Sri Lankan people love the kind of fruits which can be grown in tropical countries. Mangos, jackfruit, the king coconut, pineapples and rambutan are seen as special fruits in Sri Lanka.

What kind of flowers do they grow? They grow all sorts of flowers. The British introduced many of the same flowers to Sri Lanka as they did in New Zealand. When I look at gardens in New Zealand they often have the same flowers as there are in Sri Lanka.

What kind of vegetables do they have? They have lots of different kinds of vegetables. They have tropical vegetables such as brinjal, okra, bitter melon and a vegetable they call drumsticks which have a long shape like a cucumber. The British also introduced vegetables such as carrots and peas. They use green jackfruit for a vegetable and when it turns yellow they also use it as a fruit. It is very nutritious

What do they cook with? They mainly cook with firewood. Electricity and gas are used in the urban areas.

What tools do they have for eating and cooking? Cooking equipment that Sri Lankans often use and which we don’t see in New Zealand are clay cooking pots.

What kind of clothes do Sri Lankan people wear? Sri Lankan people like to wear cotton clothes because of the heat. Most women wear a sari. Other women wear frocks and long pants. Men may wear trousers or sarongs and shirts. There is a unique style of batik design in Sri Lanka. Children may also wear western clothes. They wear school uniforms to school.

What kind of houses do they live in? Those who can afford it make their houses of brick and tile and reinforced concrete. Poorer people build their houses from timber. These kinds of low cost houses can especially be found in the coastal areas. Traditionally houses were also built from timber, clay and straw but such houses are now becoming rare.

Where is Sri Lanka in Asia? Sri Lanka is an island to the south-east of India.

What religions do they believe in? The majority of people are Buddhists but there are also other religions such as Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

Do they have churches? Yes there are churches in Sri Lanka. They are mostly in the coastal areas.

What celebrations do they have? There are lots of celebrations in Sri Lanka. The Sinhalese, Hindus celebrate New Year in mid April. Also there is Vesak (a celebration of the birth, death and enlightenment of Buddha) and Diwali (the festival of lights). Muslims have Ramadan and other celebrations.

Do they celebrate Christmas? Yes, Christmas is celebrated in Sri Lanka.

What crops grow there? Tea, rubber, cadju, vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, coconut, rice, corn, spices and coffee.

Do they have any special animals? Yes, they have elephants and monkeys.

Do Sri Lankan people have pets? Yes they do they have dogs, cats, birds, monkeys and parrots.

What is their currency? The Sri Lankan rupee

Do they have a special dance? Yes. There is a special Kandyan dance in the High Country. There are also Low Country dances and folk dances.

What other sports do they play apart from cricket? Swimming, tennis, soccer, golf, badminton, netball, baseball and even a little bit of rugby.

What is the capital city? Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, but Colombo is the commercial capital.

What cities do they have in Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka had many cities and towns. Here are the names of some of them: Colombo ( the commercial capital) , Beregala, Galle, Jaffna, Kandy, Matara. Nuwara Elya, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte, Trincomalee, Batticola and the old cities of Anuradhapara, Pollonnaruwa and Dambulla.