“The power of an illustration to inspire, instruct and inform cannot be over-stated.”
The above quote is mine but I have become more and more convinced of its truth as
I continue to illustrate aspects of village life in the 1950s in Ceylon. My mother’s recent story in her weekly newspaper series was about the preparations for the traditional new year at her childhood home.
Since the traditional new year in Sri Lanka is centered around the rice paddy harvest and
the cooking of the first meal using newly harvested rice, housewives play a key role. Needless to say, the kitchen and all that is connected with it receive a ‘spring cleaning’— even though our tropical climate has no spring season as such.
The advent of the traditional new year is calculated according to astrology and all key
rituals associated with the day are carried out according to auspicious times. Out of these events, the lighting of the hearth to cook the first meal in the new year is of paramount importance. The very first act in this regard is to boil a pot of milk until it overflows slightly, thereby symbolizing the hopes for a year overflowing with prosperity. Thereafter, a pot of milk rice is cooked as the first meal. An earthenware pot is traditionally used for this all-important occasion—a new pot being used each year. Needless to say, the purchasing of
a suitable pot is high on the list of priorities of all housewives, even in the 21st Century.
One can imagine the hassles involved in going to a village fair to purchase earthenware
pots and bringing them home in one piece before the advent of modern roads. However, there had been travelling tradesmen who brought earthenware pots to the homes of farmers, sparing the womenfolk of the trouble of going ‘shopping’. It was this subject which I had to illustrate a few weeks ago.
The pots were carried in two huge rattan baskets fixed with ropes to a horizontal wooden pole. Known as a pingo, this contraption was carried on the tradesman’s shoulder. Apart from earthenware, pingos have been used for carrying various produce such as vegetables, fruits and fish. Indeed, fish vendors carrying fish on pingos can still be seen even in cities. However, they are getting replaced by faster modes of transportation such as scooters, even in rural areas. Although slow and physically laborious, pingos are an eco-friendly means of transport from a simpler and leisurely era.
I ended up using several different media for this illustration—something which happens quite often. For the horizontal pole I used Derwent tinted charcoal atop a light wash of brown watercolour. The ropes and woven effects of the basket were done using a gel pen, whilst the pots and straw were done using watercolours. As usual, using a slightly rough textured watercolour paper helped to bring out the crude appearance of the subject matter.
Hopefully, illustrations such as the one I have done will enable future generations to learn about facets of the lifestyle of bygone times...