Kathy Hinde

27 February, 2019

Weaving and Nesting

SURA MEDURA Residency, Spring 2019 – Blog post :

During our first week we were invited to meet Mangalika, who lives close by and is a long term friend of Neil (who runs the Sura Medura Residency). Mangalika was very welcoming and showed us how she weaves hats out of dried grasses dyed in different colours. It was wonderful to watch her work, she has such a natural and skillful technique. Always a pleasure to watch someone at one with their craft, which I often assimilate with playing a musical instrument. We looked round her place and garden, and it was wonderful to see and hear many birds and insects in the wetlands behind her house. I noticed she had collected 2 weaver bird nests that had fallen from the palm tree at the back of her house. I looked into the palm and there were 4 or 5 more weaver bird nests there. I was touched that Mangalika spent her days weaving hats amongst birds that weave nests.

I returned to visit Mangalika this week, because I wanted to speak to her more about the weaving, and about the birds in her garden. We went for a walk in the marshy land behind her house and saw many birds together. I tried to learn the Sinhala names for them… Myna is Myna and crow is Kaka, nice easy ones to start with. As we returned, I proposed an idea to Mangalika. I asked if she might be able to weave a nest  – like the weaver bird nests she has collected. She laughed a bit at this idea, but we chatted some more, and she agreed to give it a go, so I said I’d commission this special piece of work from her.

I was thinking about Mangalika’s skills, and also observed how her daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter live all together in a small, improvised, self-build place behind Mangalika’s house, with the repaired chair (from my last post). I thought about the resilient way her daughter and family are making things work, clearly without much money by improvising, repairing and adapting to create what they need. I hope to spend some more time here and get to know Mangalika and her family more.

Interestingly the weaver bird is also quite resilient, inventive and skilled. “This clever little bird knows 14 to 18 different types of knots,” says [Siddhesh] Surve, [project assistant at BNHS and organiser of the pan-India survey]. “He uses them to hold his nest together so that it can resist monsoon storms and hold the weight of his mate and their eggs.” The bird also makes small mud pellets to weigh the nest down.