Sri Lanka is among three new pavilions at Saskatoon’s Folkfest this year: “Sri Lanka is like Canada. It’s a multi-ethnic country,” says one of the organizers. New pavilions always offer new things to see and cultures to sample. Thushan Withana-Gamage with the Sri Lanka Association of Saskatchewan Inc. and pavilion manager Janitha Wanasundara with the Sri Lanka pavilion talked about starting a new destination in the big festival.
Q:What made you want to get Sri Lanka its own pavilion?
A: (Withana-Gamage) So far, we’ve had our community gathering events, but we were never exposed to outsiders … we have a rich culture and rich traditions in Sri Lanka, so we thought, ‘We can do much better in the outside world,’ so we need to show our traditions and our ethnic groups, and basically our capabilities to the outside world.
Q:How big is the Sri Lankan community in Saskatoon?
A: (Wanasundara) Our community grew in 2009 and onwards. So there were very little — like five or six families to start with in the ’80s and ’90s, up to 2007 — then the Sri Lankan population in Saskatoon went up.
(Withana-Gamage) Still, we have only maybe 200 individuals — but we know from our previous experience organizing events and other stuff … almost everyone is participating in events, and has a lot of creativity and organizing skill.
Q:For Folkfest attendees, what can people expect to see at the pavilion?
A: (Withana-Gamage) Firstly, you can see Sri Lankan people. Sri Lanka is like Canada; it’s a multi-ethnic country. We have different people, different ethnic groups, so you will see those people and you can talk to them. We have our traditions: We have artwork, and our main focal (display) is a traditional Sri Lankan wedding podium.
(Wanasundara) And you will find the people with long last names. That is typical for Sri Lankans. And then … we have displays, souvenirs, videos playing, and then entertainment going.
Q:Every pavilion always has some cultural treats to share. What kind of food will be offered at the Sri Lanka pavilion?
A: (Wanasundara) We are offering one of the very popular street foods in Sri Lanka, which all of the food bloggers and visitors to Sri Lanka from foreign countries love … Then a lentil-based — right from Saskatoon — a red lentil-based fritter … deep-fried in canola oil. Then we have a sweet food based on coconut, and then we have for drinks a tropical mango drink and Sri Lankan black tea.
Q: Why is it important to you for Sri Lanka to have a presence at Folkfest?
A: (Wanasundara) It’s very important — and we are, as a group, contributing to the Saskatchewan economy and the city of Saskatoon as professionals in different ways … we would like to show that this is the culture we grew up (in) and we will be sharing with Canadians, and adding to the Canadian culture.
(Withana-Gamage) We will be the smallest nation representing Folkfest … it’s a very tiny country, and our population may be the smallest population. But still we have rich culture in Sri Lanka, we have rich ethnic groups. So that’s why we thought we need to come … and show our capabilities.