Tree Talks: A Podcast Unearthing the Stories of Lunuganga

May 15 2024.

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Geoffrey Bawa once wrote of Lunuganga, his sprawling Bentota garden and longest-running project: “Nature had often provided marvellous scenes and settings, but equally often human imagination and invention had emphasised this beauty.” Tree Talks, a new podcast by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust, taps into this intersection between nature and humankind by exploring wider narratives rooted in the flora of Lunuganga. Released in conjunction with the conclusion of To Lunuganga—a celebration of the garden’s seventy-fifth anniversary—Tree Talks’ inaugural season will explore the profound connections between humans and the natural world through recurring themes including rituals, healing, habitats, etymology, and preservation.

The podcast’s aim of interrogating overlooked relationships between humankind and nature coincides with that of To Lunuganga, which has explored the garden through a series of multivocal projects over eighteen months. Each Tree Talks episode features a special guest whose lens frames the garden in a new way, encouraging listeners to re-evaluate and deepen their bond with the environment.

Episode One, entitled “Rooted Histories,” follows leading Sri Lankan naturalist Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne on a walk through Lunuganga to uncover the link between tropical flora and migration. The author of A Naturalist’s Guide to the Trees of Sri Lanka, de Silva Wijeyeratne is widely recognised as having popularised the island as a wildlife hotspot. Accordingly, “Rooted Histories” is ultimately a reflection on how human movement across borders has influenced global horticulture, as traced through some of the trees that populate the garden including those of the betel nut, banana, and frangipani. This episode sets the tone for the series by inviting listeners to perceive Lunuganga as a site of transformation and human history.

The second episode,  “Plant Pigments,” highlights the practice of extracting natural pigments from plants to create clothing dyes, as explained by fashion designer and researcher Sanjeewa Wijesundara. Wijesundara, an industrial designer who is currently conducting postgraduate research at the University of Moratuwa, takes a special interest in power, culture, and heritage as it relates to fashion and consumerism. Drawing from native tree species on-site at Lunuganga including the Kumbuk tree, cashew tree, and tamarind tree, Wijesundara guides listeners through the intricacies of experimentation throughout history as different processes of extraction emerged.

Episode three, “Shaded Divinity,” expands the discourse around humankind’s coexistence with the green world by drawing on temple lore that influenced Bawa’s vision of Lunuganga. Intangible Cultural Heritage expert Dr Danister Perera features as the episode’s special guest; his qualifications in sociology and ethnobotany have led him to author various publications, work with UNESCO, and serve as a visiting lecturer. Perera specifically uses the Moonamal (Mimusops elengi) tree in the garden—positioned between the Main House and Dedduwa Lake—to convey the generational, cultural, and spiritual connections humans have to trees.

The brackish Dedduwa Lake is strongly associated with mystic folk tales, including one of a monk who is said to have made his home in a tree on Honduwa Island. Perera, an Ayurvedic expert and cultural anthropologist, uses this association as a touchpoint for his analysis of the interconnectedness between intergenerational storytelling and nature.

The next instalment, featuring architect Aquila Peris, is set to premiere on the 30th of May. Peris joined Geoffrey Bawa’s architectural practice in the early 1980s. In his episode, entitled “A Tree Story,” Peris recounts a fond memory—and now a fabled story— of Lunuganga. To further cultivate the immersive experience envisioned by the podcast’s creators, interactive elements on the To Lunuganga website accompany each release. Every instalment also contains a route map of the garden as it is traversed in the episode, a list of species mentioned, and a thoroughly researched reference list for listeners whose curiosity extends beyond the thirty-minute audio files.

Tree Talks is a project by the Geoffrey Bawa Trust curatorial team. Established by the late architect in 1982, the Geoffrey Bawa Trust works to advance art, architecture, and ecological studies through a host of diverse cultural programmes. Curator Aneesha Mustachi and Curatorial Assistant Tharakie Pahathkumbura co-produce Tree Talks. Shamin de Silva serves as the audio editor. New episodes air on the final Thursday of each month.

Tree Talks is available on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud (@geoffreybawatrust). More information may be found on the Tree Talks webpage: www.lunuganga.garden/Tree-Talks


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