Friday, September 5, 2014

The Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka

For 30 kilometers along Sri Lanka’s southern coast, between the towns of Unawatuna and Weligama, fishermen such as Sunil Nishanti sit motionless on wooden stilts a few dozen meters from the shoreline.

The technique may be unique, but it is a fairly recent innovation, first adopted just after the Second World War when fishing spots on rocks and cliffs along the coast became too crowded. Men started fishing from the wrecks of boats and aircraft left behind by the war, then some of them moved to stilts erected at fixed locations, which they then passed on to their sons.

The practice is unlikely to last much longer other than as a tourist attraction. Local fisheries are in decline, particularly following permanent alterations to the shoreline brought about by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. The returns from fishing, never good, are worsening, and few fisherman pass their stilts to their sons, instead renting them to other men who find it easier and more lucrative to pose for photographs.

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