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If we land at Colombo, the capital, and journey across the island, we shall find much to interest us. Colombo owes its importance to the great breakwater, which, running far out into the harbor, makes a safe anchorage for all vessels passing to and from the East. The building of this breakwater was a great undertaking, but when it was completed, Colombo became at once an important port.
The Portuguese first came to this place in 1517, and gave to it the name Colombo in honor of Christopher Columbus.
In the harbor are ships from foreign lands, and, darting here and there among them, the queer little boats of the natives. The Cingalese boatmen are skillful in handling these skiffs, and in them many passengers are taken ashore from the steamers and ships anchored in the harbor.
Point de Galle, at the southern extremity of the island, was formerly the principal port of Ceylon, and the coaling station at which steamers landed on their way to and from the Far East.
But since the building of the breakwater at Colombo the greater part of the commerce with Ceylon is carried on there, and Point de Galle has lost its former trade.
The first curious sight to greet us on landing at Colombo is a two-wheeled, canvas-covered cart drawn by a pair of white bullocks. In this cart the luggage is to be taken to the hotel.
The driver carries no whip; but it is not because he is a merciful man and merciful to his beast. He is soon discovered to be a fit subject to be restrained by “ The
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals," for he urges his bullocks onward by violently twisting their tails.
This busy city is quite unlike any other we have thus far visited. In its very center is a beautiful lake, its shores fringed with banana and cocoa palms.
The English quarter, with its shops, banks, and modern houses, occupies but a small part of the city; and, while very pretty, it does not interest us as do the strange sights we see in the native quarter.
There are crowds of people passing to and fro, and, as their dress indicates, they belong to many nationalities; but the Cingalese and Tamils are the most
numerous. These two peoples came originally from southern India, and are to be found in all parts of Ceylon. They form two distinct castes, and differ in dress, language, and religion ; for the Cingalese are Buddhists, while the Tamils are Hindus. One characteristic feature of the dress of a Cingalese man is the large, semicircular tortoise-shell comb which he wears on the top of his head, with the ends projecting to the front. The dress of the women is very much like that of the men, both wearing bright jackets and striped skirts.
The roads leading from Colombo are lined with cocoa palms, and beneath them are clustered the native huts. Groups of brown children, humped cows, donkeys, and poultry are everywhere to be seen. The cocoa palms are carefully cultivated, as they do not grow wild in Ceylon. As the Chinese find uses without number for the bamboo, so do the natives of Ceylon find an endless variety of uses for the cocoa palm. They use the kernel for food ; the shell serves for drinking cups; from the fiber is made strong rope and matting; the woody stems form the framework of cabins, and the great leaves thatch them. In the rude huts to be seen in some of these villages, Cingalese workmen are engaged in the manufacture of cocoanut oil. A native, on being told there were no cocoa palms in England, was greatly surprised and exclaimed, “How do the people live?"
Near Colombo are the famous cinnamon groves covering hundreds of acres. The cinnamon bush is a shrub of the laurel species, and when once planted
grows without much cultivation. The well-known cinnamon spice is obtained from the inner bark. The preparation, sorting, and packing of cinnamon gives employment to many of the natives of Ceylon.
There are two seasons for gathering cinnamon in the month of April, the other in the month of November.
Because of the great quantity of cinnamon grown on the island the very air has been thought to be filled with its spicy fragrance; but this cannot be true, since the plant gives forth no odor until the leaves are crushed or the bark is peeled.
The railway journey from Colombo to Kandy, the old capital of Ceylon, affords a good opportunity to see more of the life of this beautiful island. The road passes first through rice fields, or, as they are here more correctly called, paddy fields, since rice in the husk is known as paddy, throughout India and Ceylon.
Rising to a higher level we see palms without number. The most interesting, the talipot palm, may perhaps be seen in bloom. This is a rare sight, as the tree never blooms until seventy or eighty years old, and after this it dies. The blossom is a great spike of yellowish-white flowers, twenty or more feet in height, rising above a crown of dark green, fan-shaped leaves. Some of these leaves are eight feet in diameter, and are used by the natives for umbrellas.
As the train ascends into the cooler regions, we pass tea gardens where once were coffee plantations. Coffee was, until within a few years, one of the chief products