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Sounds of Furniture Shops Surround Visitors To Moratumulla, Sri Lanka

 

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The Moratumulla area in Moratuwa, a large suburb of Colombo, furnishes Sri Lankan homes. The men are loading furniture that will be resold to buyers across the country. Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Items to suit all incomes are made in the coastal town of Moratuwa and shipped around the country. Locals say the best deals are found in the Moratumulla area.

MORATUMULLA, SRI LANKA — Trucks rumble along De Soysa Road, laboring under the weight of giant logs. The fragrance of wood from nearby lumberyards wafts toward you, and within minutes of entering the street in this coastal community, you are surrounded: furniture shop after furniture shop, as far as the curving lane will take you.

That’s because you are in Moratumulla, the place that furnishes many Sri Lankan homes. This area is within the town of Moratuwa, located south of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital.

“Have you heard the saying that if it wasn’t made in Moratuwa, it isn’t worth buying?” asks Niroshan Fernando, owner of Sumudu Furnishers and a fourth-generation furniture businessman, waving his left hand toward his shop, filled to the brim with items for sale.

Many Sri Lankans have heard this saying, and many strongly believe it.

Moratumulla is the heart of Moratuwa’s furniture industry. Its shops display furniture made on its own streets and around the town.

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Small and large furniture shops line both sides of De Soysa Road in Moratumulla, Moratuwa, a large suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Even grocery shops stock furniture for sale.

Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka

Every type of household furniture is available in Moratumulla. The items spill out of shops and onto the streets, sometimes stacked on top of one another because of a lack of space. Some shops display their most beautiful pieces by the roadside, hoping to draw in customers.

Every small side street, every corner here is part of the furniture business. Roads are filled with yard after yard of stacked logs. Some small shops are filled with unpolished furniture, while a nearby street will house backyard furniture-making workshops. Each workshop usually specializes in making one type of furniture.

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Wood carvers labor in their workshop in Moratumulla, Moratuwa.

Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka

The origins of when and how the area of Moratuwa became the country’s furniture-making hub are lost in time, says Hiran Amarasekera, professor of forestry and environmental science at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. His 2003 research into Moratuwa’s furniture industry is widely cited in the country.

The industry developed as logs were transported down the rivers and other waterways that flow through Moratuwa, Amarasekera says. Sawmills lined the riverbanks until road networks developed in the early 20th century, allowing logs to be transported by land. Most of the furniture sold in Moratumulla is made of hardwood timber such as teak, mahogany, jak and satinwood, according to Amarasekera’s research.

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Men measure logs at Charles & Sons Saw Mill to determine how thick the wood sheets need to be cut.

Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka

Among Sri Lankans, Moratuwa has always been known for furniture making, he says. And, according to locals, you will get the best deals in Moratumulla.

Anura Dissanayake, who lives in Moratumulla, makes low-cost cupboards for a living in a workshop. He earns 3,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($19.50) for every cupboard he makes. This is more affordable than most of the furniture sold in Moratuwa. He says this is because his cupboards are in the “third-class” furniture category – low-quality wood and fittings, made quickly without drying the wood.

“I suppose you can say I make furniture for the poor man,” says Dissanayake, 50, who came to work in the area when he was 19. “It probably won’t last for generations, like other furniture from this area, but an average person can afford to buy it.”

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Anura Dissanayake, 50, makes cupboards in Moratumulla that are sold in bulk to dealers who transport them around the country.

Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka

He takes about two days to make a cupboard, and the unpainted items are sold for about 10,000 rupees ($65) by the owner of the workshop to nearby shops. The shops resell the cupboards and other unpainted and unpolished furniture at a bulk price to businessmen who transport the pieces to other parts of Sri Lanka, where they are polished or painted before being sold at a higher price.

Other workshops in the area produce high-quality furniture, using beautiful hardwoods to create both traditional and modern designs.

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High-end household furniture on display at Sumudu Furnishers on De Soysa Road in Moratumulla, Moratuwa, a large suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Niroshan Fernando, who owns the shop, sells furniture in both modern and traditional designs.

Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka

Sumudu Furnishers sells wooden veranda chairs for 7,000 rupees ($45.60), and there’s a carved teak dining table with eight chairs for just 185,000 rupees ($1,205). The cheapest item in his shop is a wooden clothes rack that costs 1,500 rupees ($9.77).

The steady hum of electric saws, the grinding of winches, the thumps of hammer blows and the annoying screech of other electric tools all fill the air as you walk through Moratumulla. Men are hard at work carving, joining, sanding, painting, polishing or varnishing thousands of items of furniture.

Walk through this area and watch them at work, or browse through shops overflowing with furniture, waiting for a home.

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A piece of furniture is painted at a workshop in Moratumulla, Moratuwa. Items are sanded and hand- or spray-painted.

Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka

 

VISIT MORATUMULLA:

You can reach Moratumulla via the Galle Road, about a 30-minute drive from Colombo by car. Public buses may take up to one hour.

Allow up to an hour if you are visiting during peak traffic times – 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The junction of four streets, one of which is De Soysa Road, is well known and easily identified by the large tree, called the bo tree, at its center.

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Workers at Charles & Sons Saw Mill in Moratumulla, Moratuwa, cut timber into pieces based on their customer’s request.

Manori Wijesekera, GPJ Sri Lanka

The finished-furniture shops are found along De Soysa Road. Walk about 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) from Galle Road along De Soysa Road to the Moratumulla junction. From there, you can hire a three-wheeler taxi to tour the area, a transportation style popular with locals. Make sure you ask the driver to turn on the meter, or agree on a price for the tour, before you begin.

You can visit Sumudu Furnishers at 164 (128) De Soysa Road, Moratumulla, Moratuwa. And, you can contact Niroshan Fernando at (+94) 777 557151.

Manori Wijesekera, GPJ, translated some interviews from Sinhala.