Ahikuntaka Community Upliftment Programme
The Ahikuntaka community is one of the most distinctive minority communities in Sri Lanka, having a very proud and interesting history. Essentially a gypsy-like community, the Ahikuntaka refuses to dwell in established settlements with others. They are involved in the amusement industry, engaging in activities such as monkey dancing, snake charming, handcraftsmanship, preparing ancient herbal medicines and fortune telling.
Unfortunately, with rapid social and environmental changes taking place in the country today, the gypsy community has as a result been detrimentally affected. Due to extensive colonization, they are faced with the unavailability of bare lands to put up tents to stay in or carry out their profession at a particular location. This poses a severe threat to their nomadic lifestyle, which involves shifting to a new camping ground every seven days, and engaging in vocations such as snake charming and taming monkeys for performing and fortunetelling. In addition to this, due to current economic pressures the Ahikuntaka community has been forced to engage in daily labour to sustain themselves.
Taking action, Dilmah Conservation thus initiated ‘The Ahikuntaka Community Upliftment Programme’ in hopes of empowering this cultural group by extending support for the establishment of stable and sustainable livelihoods and the preservation of their vanishing culture and colourful traditions.
- To gather empirical data on the gypsy community and culture such as their composition, resettlement, social welfare characteristics as well as their material and spiritual culture.
- To empower a marginalised community by introducing methodologies to preserve their diminishing traditions and culture, while upgrading their living conditions.
- To construct the Ahikuntika Cultural Centre - This facility will serve as a public forum at the Kudagama compound to showcase their cultural identity and shows. In addition, visitors will have the opportunity to understand the uniqueness of the Ahikuntika community by going to the museum and viewing their artifacts.
- Research on the socio-economic analysis of the Ahikuntika community will be carried out to understand more about their community livelihood. In addition, this data will be published in a coffee table book designed by DC.
- In order to identify the means required by the Ahikuntaka community to enhance their living conditions while preserving their cultural heritage, a baseline survey was conducted to gain a comprehensive understanding of the community’s socio-economic needs and concerns.
- In line with the needs expressed at the community’s 2011 Varigasabha or clan meeting (the first of its kind held in six decades), supported by Dilmah Conservation and subsequent consultations with the community, the Ahikuntaka Cultural Centre in Kudagama in Thambuttegama, Sri Lanka designed by the Faculty of Architecture in Moratuwa, was built in partnership with the Thambuttegama Divisional Secretariat. This Cultural Centre which provides the Ahikuntaka community with a stable income generating opportunity and a space to preserve their unique culture and traditions was handed over to the community in November 2013. The ceremonial opening was followed by a Varigasabha which brought together members of the Ahikuntaka community from across Sri Lanka.
- A book titled Traditional Communities of Sri Lanka: The Ahikuntaka that chronicles the history of this community and provides information on the work done by Dilmah Conservation to preserve their cultural diversity and empower members, was also published.
- Divisional Secretariat, Thambuttegama