Changing socio economic pattern and conservation of Maduganga wetland

P. Manusinghe

Maduganga situated in the Galle District of the Southern Province is typical of the river systems which line the south west coast of Sri Lanka. In the global context the ecological significance of the system has enabled it to achieve the “Ramsar Wetland” status in 2003. In the local context it is a Sanctuary, a Tourist Development Area and a Special Area Managed (SAM) by the Coast Conservation Department. The present study was motivated by the unique environment of this river system and the close relation of the inhabitants with the environment. Man’s utilization of nature and landscape over time is quite obvious in this system. The history of the man and environment relationship of the region is revealed by the historic and literary sources. Archaeological remains which belong to the recent past shed light on the constant change of local socio economics. Thus the evolution of the socio economic pattern of the research area was studied from the historical and archaeological evidence. The current state of the conditions was recognized through the participant observation and interviews with a sample of the residents in the locality.

Maduganga System represents the typical situation of the south western Sri Lanka which became the centre of power and socio economic activities from the 13th century A. D. In the Early Historic Age Maduganga region as well as the most of the south west coast had been low lying wetlands with hostile conditions for the human settlements. In 11th – 12th century A. D. southern Sri Lanka became a battlefield where the kings, princes and other leaders fought for the throne. Some of them changed the hard environment of the region to facilitate settlements and cultivation. Dambadeniya Kingdom became the first influential centre of power in the south west in the 13th century A. D. Historic chronicles reveal that Minister Dewapathiraja of the King Parakramabahu II of Dambadeniya Era had resided in the suburbs of Maduganga and developed the roads, bridges and agriculture of the area. Due to the occurrence of lagoons along the south west coast the global scenario of rising marine trade penetrated and overwhelmed the coasts. Therefore in this period ports and trade developed in the estuarine river mouths of the region while the variety of commercial and subsistant cultivations dispersed inland. This was a very critical transitional period of the socio economical pattern. With the foreign trade Cinnamon zeylanicum which grew naturally in the upper reaches of the rivers in this part of the country became a commercial crop. It attracted foreign invaders and played a pivotal role over the administration and socio economics of the region for few centuries.

Cinnamon centred economy went through major changes under the British occupation to bring out new economic values. As a result current socio economic background of the Maduganga region is dominated by tourism and fisheries. Cinnamon cultivation has also risen back after the years of collapse. These socio economic factors are very influential over the biodiversity of Maduganga wetland which is amply populated today. From this population our sample was ten households of the Maduwa Island. The main living of the majority of these was government and private sector employments which consecutively form 40% and 20% of the total. The rest is consisted with fisheries 20%, trade 10% and agriculture 10%. Therefore the principal income of only the 30% of the households is connected with the environment. But all the households have one or more secondary incomes as cinnamon cultivation, coir industry and tourism which directly involve environment. It clearly depicts the trend towards engaging in the formal employments extract of the environment while making an informal living from their environment. The research revealed the pros and cons of this current socio economic background of the region and the most appropriate conservation and management measures. Some practices of eco tourism, such as encouraging residents and tourists in enriching the mangroves are an example.

P. Manusinghe Department of Archaeology, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.

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