Utilization of molluscs as a food resource among traditional communities in Kalpitiya Region (KR) of Sri Lanka

T. Siriwardana


The present ethnography of fishing communities can be divided as; Deep sea fishing and Littoral – lagoonal fishing. Over the recent decades, the number of coastal zone users increased considerably and so has the nature of demands. The latter include the exploitation of resources found in the zone. Studying current uses of marine and brackish water mollusc resource has two prime values. First is, as it is depicting the periods in history and changes of the shell utilizing pattern. The second is recording recent trends for future studies. Currently the shell resource is drastically running out due to escalating use. Therefore research on fishing culture and utilization of molluscs is important to the future archaeomalacological studies, which is largely untouched by the Sri Lankan researchers. Present research partially fills this void by examining the exploitation of marine and brackish water gastropod and bivalve molluscs in archaeological and ethnographical contexts for the better understanding of the relation between man and molluscs. The research is focused on traditional cultural-economical uses, specially the food economy.

From the edible marine organisms, molluscs fill a considerable amount of sea food consumed by man. Two major classes of them, i.e. bivalves and gastropods are utilized to meet this demand. One main locality was examined here, i.e. Kalpitiya Ânavâsala (KA) in North West coast of Sri Lanka. Shell samples were collected from the kitchen middens in the selected region, participant observation and interviews were made with locals. Total shell sample was measured and recorded. Results.

Thirteen main edible species were identified from the kitchen middens of KA. From them three types can be found largely in the middens, i.e. Pugilina cochlidium, Paphia sp., Gafrarium tumidum. The other species are very scarce in the middens, but that does not indicate their dietary importance is minor. The main point is that the gatherers collect all species which they know as edible. The said
abundant species are higher in total biomass and easy to collect. Except Turbinella pyrum, Murex ramosas and Lambis chiragra, others are collected mainly from their usual habitats such as sandy bottoms, intertidal flats, subtidal flats and on muddy sand flats seaward from mangrove forests. The rate of the utilization pattern, when it was analyzed with the composition of kitchen middens of the studying area ca. 70% of kitchen middens are comprised with the shells of bivalves (9 middens) and ca. 30% (4 middens) with gastropod shells. In the west coast mollusc collecting is started in April and prevails for six months, which is the active period of high sea (vârakan) of south west monsoon. In the diet of the locals shell fish play many roles as a staple food, subsidiary foods, snacks, and an alternative food source when other subsistence strategies fail. Traditionally maritime communities have their own
terminology not only for the various species but also for collecting, shucking and cooking methods.

Utilization of marine and brackish water molluscs in certain traditional maritime cultures is a vertical process of cultural transmission (generational transmission through time). The horizontal process or the cultural exchange across space can be seen through history and society. Hence the use of marine molluscs as a food resource is significant in socio – economic studies of both archaeological and
environmental approaches.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.31357/fesympo.v14i0.382


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Proceedings of International Forestry and Environment Symposium, Sri Lanka. Published by Department of Forestry and Environmental Science, University of Sri Jayewardenepura