Old Time Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

WE have been five days on the Indian Ocean, sailing W through summer seas, and are now in the harbor of Colombo surrounded by ships from all parts of the world. There is a steamer coming in from Calcutta, and we have just passed one bound for Sydney, Australia. Our own vessel is a Japanese ship which we got at Singapore, and in the harbor are steamers from Africa and different parts of Asia.

Ceylon is another great oceanic crossroads station, and we are now in its chief port. It is a beautiful island. We can see the cocoanut palms lining the coast and the great mountains far behind them. Ceylon has plains at the north and around the coast, but in the interior the mountains rise to a height of more than a mile and a half above the level of the sea, and they are so beautiful that Ceylon is called the “Pearl of the Eastern Seas.”

The Arabs had several traditions concerning it. One was that Ceylon was the site of the Garden of Eden, and another that it was here Adam fell when he was cast out of the garden. The mountain upon which he dropped is still known as Adam’s Peak, and a little temple has been built upon it in which the Buddhists worship to-day. According to one story, Adam walked from Ceylon to the mainland of Asia on the reef of coral and sand bank which connects the island with Hindustan. This reef is still known as Adam’s Bridge. These stories are only tradition, but nevertheless it is interesting to know them.

Ceylon has the shape of a pear with its stem toward India. It is about as large as the state of Indiana; it is 270 miles long, and about 140 miles from coast to coast at its widest part. Its soil is everywhere rich. In the south-west are groves of cinnamon trees, in the interior cacao, coffee, and tea plantations, and about the coast miles and miles of cocoanut and other palms. Off the coast are pearl fisheries, and in the mountains valuable minerals and also rubies, sapphires, garnets, cat’s-eyes, and other precious stones. In fact, the pear has so many rich things in it that it makes us think of the apples of gold in the Garden of Hesperides.

This beautiful island was taken by the Portuguese about thirteen years after Columbus discovered America. In the middle of the next century it came into the hands of the Dutch, and later into the hands of the British who now govern it, sending out rulers from England.

The country is divided into nine provinces. It has a large population, composed of Cingalese, a light brow.n people who came across from India; of Tamils, another Indian people who are darker; of Malays, not unlike those we have seen farther east; and also of Chinese, Arabs, and Mohammedans called Moormen.

The Cingalese are Buddhists, and there are many Buddhist priests whom we shall know by their yellow robes, which they drape so as to expose the right shoulder. They shave their heads and frequently go about with begging bowls in their hands, asking every one for something to eat or a gift for the church. The Cingalese wear tortoise-shell combs in their jet-black hair.

We have now left the ship and are making our way through Colombo. The city is well laid out with large public buildings. The crowd on the street reminds us of Singapore, although it is, if anything, wilder and more strange. Those men with the dark coats or jackets, over petticoats of white cotton, are Cingalese. You can see the tortoise-shell combs on their heads. Some of them part their hair in the middle and put it up in a sort of knot at the back. Were it not for their beards, we might think them women.

The Cingalese women wear plaid skirts, and loose, white jackets; they tie their hair in a knot at the back, and many go bareheaded. Nearly all are barefooted, and some of them have their feet covered with jewelry. They have anklets and toe rings, and often the whole foot is decorated with chains of silver and gold. They have rings on their fingers, about their necks, and in their ears, and also buttons and rings in their noses.

Suppose we take a ride in one of the bullock carts which we see dashing about. The cattle are like those of Singapore, but in Ceylon they are used for carriages as well as for drays. We make a bargain with a half-naked, black driver, and he keeps his bullock in a fast trot upon the promise of a small extra fare. He takes us to the Cinnamon Gardens, where we see the museum, and then into Queen Street, past the governor’s palace. We drive out through the country, hurrying under the palm trees, which hang over the roads for fear that a ripe cocoanut may drop on our carriage as we drive by. We pass beautiful villas, and see mahogany trees, bamboos, gutta-percha trees, and old banyans, which cover the ground like gigantic umbrellas. We next drive along the harbor to watch the brown-skinned fishermen sailing about in their catamarans, long, narrow, canoelike boats with square sails and with logs fastened outside them to keep them from tipping over and throwing the men into the water.

The following day we take the railroad train to Kandy, in the mountains, seventy-four miles from Colombo. The ride is a beautiful one. The train climbs the hills through terraces of rice fields, through jungle and forests ablaze with orchids, and lands us in a cool, quiet nest in the mountains. It was hot at Colombo, notwithstanding the sea breezes, for Ceylon is not far from the Equator, and we enjoy the bracing air of the hills. We remain a few days visiting the temples and the botanical garden for which Kandy is noted, and then make trips here and there over the island before we go back to Colombo.

Ceylon produces a great deal of tea, coffee, cacao, and rubber. The rubber comes from trees grown in plantations, and it is exported by the millions of pounds to Europe and the United States. The plantations are owned chiefly by people from Great Britain, who employ the Cingalese to cultivate them, using the Tamils for the harder kinds of labor.

The cocoanut estates are especially interesting, not only from the vast amount of copra produced, but from the uses which the natives make of the tree and its nuts. The tree forms the building material for their huts, including the roofs. From the bark and leaves they make sheds, fans, and matting, and from the fiber, fishing nets, ropes, and sails. Some of the natives wear clothing made of the net which nature weaves about the roots of the leaves. The ripe fruit when pressed gives them oil for their lamps and for cooking, and they also use it on their hair and skins. They make a salad of the young leaves, they drink the milk of the green nut, and use the meat of the ripe nut for food. They make a medicine from the flower, and sugar and wine from the sap. The shells are used for drinking cups, spoons, and bottles, and the trunk of the tree, hollowed out, forms an excellent boat.

Ceylon has orchards of cacao trees from the seeds of which chocolate is made, and also cinnamon trees whose bark we use so largely in pickles, candies, and desserts. The cinnamon tree is a species of laurel, with leaves of a bright, glossy green, and bark composed of thin, separate layers, containing a spicy sap very pleasant to taste. The outside bark is rough and gray and the inside smooth and reddish.

The cinnamon tree as it grows in the forest is as large as our pear tree, but the cultivated varieties are kept trimmed down to about eight feet in height. They are planted from the seeds and grow rapidly, sending out strong shoots from year to year. The more the trees are trimmed the more shoots they have, and it is from them that the cinnamon bark of commerce comes. When the shoots grow to the length of an ordinary cane, they are cut off and stripped of their bark. The bark is dried in the sun, and then packed up in bundles, to be exported to Europe and other parts of the world. Sometimes it is ground and sold as a powder, and sometimes an oil is made from it which is used for medicinal purposes.