Could there really be 7 things that you didn’t know about Sri Lanka? Surely, you already knew about pretty much everything from winning the Cricket World Cup in 1996 to producing the world’s first female prime minister. So what else could there be to know right?
Well, there’s plenty more but we’ll be covering just 7 of these in this post. So let’s get stuck in!
1. Spice is Life
Since the time of Ancient Egyptians, Sri Lanka’s spices have attracted traders from far and wide.
The island nation has produced and exported several spices such as cinamon, tumeric, clove, cardemon, nutmeg and pepper for centuries and continues to do so, to date.
While other countries account for larger percentages of spice production, Sri Lanka still leads in terms of quality and diversity. Case in point: Sri Lanka is only the fourth largerst exporter of cinamon today. Yet, Sri Lankan cinamon is still hailed as being of the highest quality.
So the next time you sprinkle some tumeric powder and pepper into your post-workout smoothie, or order a cinamon latte, remember Sri Lanka!
2. The Jewel in the Crown?
It’s ok, we won’t lie to you and pretend that Sri Lanka was in fact the ‘jewel in the crown’. Everyone knows that it was India!
But quite a few of the actual gems (or ‘jewels’) that adorn the royal regalia of many of the world’s royal families are thought to originate from Sri Lanka!
Just like spices, Sri Lanka has been famed and reputed as the source of the finest gems and jewels for centuries.It was even called ‘Ratna-Dweepa’ (island of gems) by some for this reason.
And praise for the country’s jewels include that from Marco Polo and Ptolemy the Second.
The many gems and jewels you will find in Sri Lanka include saphires, Ceylon blue saphires (including what is thought to be the biggest ever mined in history), rubies, cat’s eyes, amethyst, moonstone and many more. You can find the full list here.
But it’s not merely the range and diversity that that is impressive, Sri Lankan gems are also renown for their exquisite quality, which is why they have been highy sought after even by royalty.
Even the engagement ring, which Prince Charles gave to Lady Diana in 1981 (and was in turn given by Prince William to Kate Middleton) contained a 12 carat Ceylon Saphire.
You can learn more about some of the famous Sri Lankan gems and jewels in the following articles:
3. Location, Location, Location!
Sri Lankas has been the chosen filiming location for many famous and successful movies and videos from the recent past.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
- The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
- ‘Save a Prayer’ by Duran Duran (1982)
The makers of ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ actually slipped up and displayed the sign over the Mt. Lavinia Hospital, Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known then) instead of changing it (as the movie was meant to be set in Burma and Thailand!
Similalry, the ‘Indian’ people speaking an Indian language in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ are actually Sri Lankans speaking Sinhala!
Of the above, we especially like the music video for ‘Save A Prayer’ by Duran Duran, as it showcases some of the timeless beauty that Sri Lanka is famous for. You can catch glimpses of Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, plus the sandy beaches and child Buddhist monks. How does it get better than this!
You can learn more about the making of the video here.
4. Stilted Fishing?
Ok, that title is a bit of a silly joke at the expense of the stilt-fishermen of Sri Lanka. But jokes apart, Sri Lanka is the only place in the world where fishing is done from stilts in this manner.
This practice thrived in the country’s Southern coast (largely between Weligama and Unawatuna). It is thought to have originated during the time of the Second World War, when some men looked for new ways to feed their families, owing to the food shortages they faced during the time.
Unfortunately, it appears that this form of fishing is dying out now. But perhaps that’s a good thing in a way because it means that food is pentlful.
Many of the stilt fishermen that one encounters today are thought to be not fishermen at all. Instead, they’re adventurous and business-minded individuals, looking to make money by charging tourists for taking pictures of them.
But some do still carry on this tradition. You can read more about the stilt fisherment of Sri Lanka here.
5. The Easter Sunday Raid of 1942
Speaking of World War II, did you know that Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was then known) was actually bombed by the Japanese during the war?
This is known as the ‘Easter Sunday Raid’ of 1942 or ‘Battle of Ceylon’. The raid was carried out by Japanese war planes based on air craft carriers and was aimed at destroying British naval assets that were based in the ports and waters of Sri Lanka. A similar raid was also carried out a few days later over the British naval base at Trincomalee.
Both raids resulted in large-scale damage and loss of life. The death toll included many service personnel and civilians. Several Japanse pilots were also killed in the raids. All, a very sad part of the harsh realities of war. You can read more about both raids here.
It should, however, be noted that Sri Lanka and Japan have long since mended fences and have enjoyed excellent relations for several decades since hostilities ended in 1945.
6. Polygamy, Polyandry, or Both?
On to a much lighter subject now. It might interest some readers to know that polygamy AND polyandry were fairly prevalent in Sri Lankan culture.
Polygamy, is where one man has more than one wife or partner. It is a fairly common phenomenon and occurs throughout history in many different parts of the world.
Just as in other counties, it was common for the kings of Sri Lanka to have more than one partner. Although it appears that ‘commonors’ were forbidden from engaging in this practice (rather unsporting of them perhaps).
But what is more uncommon, and somewhat surprising, is that ployandry, where one woman has more than one husband or partner, concurrenty, was also widely practiced in Sri Lankan society. This was especially so in the case of ‘fraternal ployandry’ where two brothers were married to or shared the home with one woman. Fraternal polyandry was especially prevalent among the peoples of the Kandyan Kingdom and is known to have been based on several practical reasons.
Both ploygamy and polyandry were abolished by law during the time of the British rule, although some communities are allowed to practice polygamy today under Sri Lankan law.
You can read more about polyandry as practised in Sri Lanka here.
7. Coffee Before Tea
Most people today know that Sri Lanka is one of the world’s leading producers of tea.
But what many may not know is that Sri Lanka was one of the world’s leading coffee producers before this!
Sri Lanka’s story of coffee production really begins at the time of the Dutch colonisation. Though they experimented with coffee cultivation, the Dutch were not successful in their endeavours. It was the British, who colonised Sri Lanka after the Dutch, who managed to master coffee production in the country. And by 1860 Sri Lanka was one of the world’s top three coffee producers along with Brazil and Indonesia.
But then, around 1869, Sri Lanka’s coffee plantations were devasted by a disease of the coffee plant (commonly known as ‘coffee leaf rust’). Although Sri Lanka cotinues to produce good coffee to this day, it no longer enjoys the large-scale success of its heyday.
The British, not to be defeated, then turned their attention to tea. And soon, Ceylon tea became the world standard of high quality, excellent tea.
You can learn more about coffee production in Sri Lanka here.
But if you’re ever in Sri Lanka and fancy a treat, try and sample either plain black coffee Sri Lankan style (that is to say, with a lot of sugar!) or better yet, try the Sri Lankan iced coffee. It’s simply awesomeness in a cup (and you’ll thank us later)!
Well, that conlcudes this post on 7 Things You Didn’t Know about Sri Lanka.
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If you’d like to read more posts about Sri Lanka, check out the following:
- A Backpacker’s Guide to Sri Lanka
- Planning Your Sri Lankan Backpacking Route and Itinerary
- Staying Safe While Travelling in Sri Lanka
- Sri Lanka Money-Saving Tips
- Sri Lanka Backpacking Budget