4: Chapter IV
<< 3: Chapter III || 5: Chapter V >>
>From the foregoing description, the reader will have inferred
that Newera Ellia is a delightful place of residence, with a mean
temperature of 60 Fahrenheit, abounding with beautiful views of
mountain and plain and of boundless panoramas in the vicinity.
He will also have discovered that, in addition to the healthiness
of its climate, its natural resources are confined to its timber
and mineral productions, as the soil is decidedly poor.
The appearance of the latter has deceived every one, especially
the black soil of the patina, which my bailiff, on his first
arrival declared to be excellent. Lord Torrington, who is well
known as an agriculturist, was equally deceived. He was very
confident in the opinion that "it only required draining to
enable it to produce anything." The real fact is, that it is
far inferior to the forest-land, and will not pay for the
Nevertheless, it is my decided opinion that the generality of the
forest-land at Newera Ellia and the vicinity is superior to that
in other parts of Ceylon.
There are necessarily rich lots every now end then in such a
large extent as the surface of the low country; but these lots
usually lie on the banks of rivers which have been subjected to
inundations, and they are not fair samples of Ceylon soil. A
river's bank or a valley's bottom must be tolerably good even in
the poorest country.
The great proof of the general poverty of Ceylon is shown in the
failure of every agricultural experiment in which a rich soil is
Cinnamon thrives; but why? It delights in a soil of quartz sand,
in which nothing else would grow.
Cocoa-nut trees flourish for the same reason ; sea air, a sandy
soil and a dry subsoil are all that the cocoa-nut requires.
On the other hand, those tropical productions which require a
strong soil invariably prove failures, and sugar, cotton, indigo,
hemp and tobacco cannot possibly be cultivated with success.
Even on the alluvial soil upon the banks of rivers sugar does not
pay the proprietor. The only sugar estate in the island that can
keep its head above water is the Peredinia estate, within four
miles of Kandy. This, again, lies upon the bank of the Mahawelli
river, and it has also the advantage of a home market for its
produce, as it supplies the interior of Ceylon at the rate of
twenty-three shillings per cwt. upon the spot.
Any person who thoroughly understands the practical cultivation
of the sugar-cane can tell the quality of sugar that will be
produced by an examination of the soil. I am thoroughly
convinced that no soil in Ceylon will produce a sample of fine,
straw-colored, dry, bright, large-crystaled sugar. The finest
sample ever produced of Ceylon sugar is a dull gray, and always
moist, requiring a very large proportion of lime in the
manufacture, without which it could neither be cleansed nor
The sugar cane, to produce fine sugar, requires a rich, stiff,
and very dry soil. In Ceylon, there is no such thing as a stiff
soil existing. The alluvial soil upon the banks of rivers is
adapted for the growth of cotton and tobacco, but not for the
sugar-cane. In such light and moist alluvial soil the latter
will grow to a great size, and will yield a large quantity of
juice in which the saccharometer may stand well; but the degree
of strength indicated will proceed from an immense proportion of
mucilage, which will give much trouble in the cleansing during
boiling; and the sugar produced must be wanting in dryness and
There are several rivers in Ceylon whose banks would produce good
cotton and tobacco, especially those in the districts of
Hambantotte and Batticaloa; such as the "Wallawé," the "Yallé
river," the "Koombookanaar," etc.; but even here the good soil is
very limited, lying on either bank for only a quarter of a mile
in width. In addition to this, the unhealthiness of the climate
is so great that I am convinced no European constitution could
withstand it. Even the natives are decimated at certain seasons
by the most virulent fevers and dysentery.
These diseases generally prevail to the greatest extent during
the dry season. This district is particularly subject to severe
droughts; months pass away without a drop of rain or a cloud upon
the sky. Every pool and tank is dried up; the rivers forsake
their banks, and a trifling stream trickles over the sandy bed.
Thus all the rotten wood, dead leaves and putrid vegetation
brought down by the torrent during the wet season are left upon
the dried bed to infect the air with miasma.
This deadly climate would be an insurmountable obstacle to the
success of estates. Even could managers be found to brave the
danger, one season of sickness and death among the coolies would
give the estate a name which would deprive it of all future
supplies of labor.
Indigo is indigenous to Ceylon, but it is of an inferior quality,
and an experiment made in its cultivation was a total failure.
In fact, nothing will permanently succeed in Ceylon soil without
abundance of manure, with the exception of cinnamon and
cocoa-nuts. Even the native gardens will not produce a tolerable
sample of the common sweet potato without manure, a positive
proof of the general poverty of the soil.
Nevertheless, Ceylon has had a character for fertility.
Bennett, in his work entitled "Ceylon and its Capabilities,"
describes the island in the most florid terms, as "the most
important and valuable of all the insular possessions of the
imperial crown." Again he speaks of "its fertile soil, and
indigenous vegetable productions," etc., etc. Again: "Ceylon,
though comparatively but little known, is pre-eminent in natural
resources." All this serves to mislead the public opinion.
Agricultural experiments in a tropical country in a little garden
highly manured may be very satisfactory and very amusing.
Everything must necessarily come to perfection with great
rapidity; but these experiments are no proof of what Ceylon will
produce, and the popular idea of its fertility has been at length
proved a delusion.
It is a dangerous thing for any man to sit down to "make" a book.
If he has had personal experience, let him write a description of
those subjects which he understands; but if he attempts to "make"
a book, he must necessarily collect information from hearsay,
when he will most probably gather some chaff with his grain.
Can any man, when describing the "fertility" of Ceylon, be aware
that newly-cleared forest-land will only produce one crop of the
miserable grain called korrakan? Can he understand why the
greater portion of Ceylon is covered by dense thorny jungles? It
is simply this - that the land is so desperately poor that it
will only produce one crop, and thus an immense acreage is
required for the support of a few inhabitants; thus, from ages
past up to the present time, the natives have been continually
felling fresh forest and deserting the last clearing, which has
accordingly grown into a dense, thorny jungle, forming what are
termed the Chénars" of Ceylon.
So fully aware are the natives of the impossibility of getting
more than one crop out of the land that they plant all that they
require at the same time. Thus may be seen in a field of
korrakan (a small grain), Indian corn, millet and pumpkins, all
growing together, and harvested as they respectively become
The principal articles of native cultivation are rice, korrakan,
Indian corn, betel, areca-nuts, pumpkins, onions, garlic,
gingelly-oil seed, tobacco, millet, red peppers, curry seed and
The staple articles of Ceylon production are coffee cinnamon and
cocoa-nut oil, which are for the most part cultivated and
manufactured by Europeans.
The chief article of native consumption, "rice," should be an
export from Ceylon; but there has been an unaccountable neglect
on the part of government regarding the production of this
important grain, for the supply of which Ceylon is mainly
dependent upon importation. In the hitherto overrated general
resources of Ceylon, the cultivation of rice has scarcely been
deemed worthy of notice; the all-absorbing subject of coffee
cultivation has withdrawn the attention of the government from
that particular article, for the production of which the
resources of Ceylon are both naturally and artificially immense.
This neglect is the more extraordinary as the increase of coffee
cultivation involves a proportionate increase in the consumption
of rice, by the additional influx of coolie labor from the coast
of India; therefore the price and supply of rice in Ceylon become
questions of similar importance to the price of corn in England.
This dependence upon a foreign soil for the supply involves the
necessary fluctuations in price caused by uncertain arrivals and
precarious harvests; and the importance of an unlimited supply at
an even rate may be imagined when it is known that every native
consumes a bushel of rice per month, when he can obtain it.
Nevertheless, the great capabilities of Ceylon for the
cultivation of this all-important "staff of life" are entirely
neglected by the government. The tanks which afforded a supply
of water for millions in former ages now lie idle and out of
repair; the pelican sails in solitude upon their waters, and the
crocodile basks upon their shores; the thousands of acres which
formerly produced rice for a dense population are now matted over
by a thorny and impenetrable jungle. The wild buffalo,
descendant from the ancient stock which tilled the ground of a
great nation, now roams through a barren forest, which in olden
times was a soil glistening with fertility. The ruins of the
mighty cities tower high above the trees, sad monuments of
desolation, where all was once flourishing, and where thousands
dwelt within their walls.
All are passed away; and in the wreck of past ages we trace the
great resources of the country, which produced sufficient food to
support millions; while for the present comparatively small
population Ceylon is dependent upon imports.
These lakes, or tanks, were works of much art and of immense
labor for the purpose of reservoirs, from the supply of which the
requisite amount of land could be irrigated for rice
cultivation. A valley of the required extent being selected, the
courses of neighboring or distant rivers were conducted into it,
and the exit of the waters was prevented by great causeways, or
dams, of solid masonry, which extended for some miles across the
lower side of the valley thus converted into a lake. The exit of
the water was then regulated by means of sluices, from which it
was conducted by channels to the rice-lands.
These tanks are of various extent, and extremely numerous
throughout Ceylon. The largest are those of Minneria, Kandellai,
Padavellkiellom, and the Giant Tank. These are from fifteen to
twenty-five miles in circumference; but in former times, when the
sluices were in repair and the volume of water at its full
height, they must have been much larger.
In those days the existence of a reservoir of water was a certain
indication of a populous and flourishing neighborhood; and the
chief cities of the country were accordingly situated in those
places which were always certain of a supply. So careful were
the inhabitants in husbanding those liquid resources upon which
their very existence depended that even the surplus waters of one
lake were not allowed to escape unheeded. Channels were cut,
connecting a chain of tanks of slightly varying elevations, over
an extent of sixty or seventy miles of apparently flat country,
and the overflow of one tank was thus conducted in succession
from lake to lake, until they all attained the desired level.
In this manner was the greater portion of Ceylon kept in the
highest state of cultivation. From the north to the south the
island was thickly peopled, and the only portions which then
remained in the hands of nature were those which are now seen in
the state of primeval forest.
Well may Ceylon in those times have deserved the name of the
"Paradise of the East." The beauties which nature has showered
upon the land were heightened by cultivation; the forest-capped
mountains rose from a waving sea of green; the valleys teemed
with wealth; no thorny jungles gave a barren terminable prospect,
but the golden tints of ripening crops spread to the horizon.
Temples stood upon the hill-tops; cities were studded over the
land, their lofty dagobas and palaces reflected on the glassy
surface of the lakes, from which their millions of inhabitants
derived their food, their wealth and their very life.
The remains of these cities sufficiently attest the former amount
of population and the comparative civilization which existed at
that remote era among the progenitors of the present degraded
race of barbarians. The ruins of "Anaradupoora," which cover two
hundred and fifty-six square miles of ground, are all that remain
of the noble city which stood within its walls in a square of
sixteen miles. Some idea of the amount of population may be
arrived at, when we consider the present density of inhabitants
in all Indian houses and towns. Millions must, therefore, have
streamed from the gates of a city to which our modern London was
comparatively a village.
There is a degree of sameness in the ruins of all the ancient
cities of Ceylon which renders a description tedious. Those of
"Anaradupoora" are the largest in extent, and the buildings
appear to have been more lofty, the great dagoba having exceeded
four hundred feet in height; but the ruins do not exhibit the
same "finish" in the style of architecture which is seen in the
remains of other towns.
Among these, "Toparé," anciently called "Pollanarua," stands
foremost. This city appears to have been laid out with a degree
of taste which would have done credit to our modern towns.
Before its principal gate stretched a beautiful lake of about
fifteen miles circumference (now only nine). The approach to this
gate was by a broad road, upon the top of a stone causeway, of
between two and three miles in length, which formed a massive dam
to the waters of the lake which washed its base. To the right of
this dam stretched many miles of cultivation; to the left, on the
farther shores of the lake, lay park-like grass-lands, studded
with forest trees, some of whose mighty descendants still exist
in the noble "tamarind," rising above all others. Let us return
in imagination to Pollanarua as it once stood. Having arrived
upon the causeway in the approach to the city, the scene must
have been beautiful in the extreme: the silvery lake, like a
broad mirror, in the midst of a tropical park; the flowering
trees shadowing its waters; the groves of tamarinds sheltering
its many nooks and bays; the gorgeous blossoms of the pink lotus
resting on its glassy surface; and the carpet-like glades of
verdant pasturage, stretching far away upon the opposite shores,
covered with countless elephants, tamed to complete obedience.
Then on the right, below the massive granite steps which form the
causeway, the water rushing from the sluice carries fertility
among a thousand fields, and countless laborers and cattle till
the ground: the sturdy buffaloes straining at the plough, the
women, laden with golden sheaves of corn and baskets of fruit,
crowding along the palm-shaded road winding toward the city, from
whose gate a countless throng are passing and returning. Behold
the mighty city! rising like a snow-white cloud from the broad
margin of the waters. The groves of cocoa-nuts and palms of
every kind, grouped in the inner gardens, throwing a cool shade
upon the polished walls; the lofty palaces towering among the
stately areca trees, and the gilded domes reflecting a blaze of
light from the rays of a midday sun. Such let us suppose the
exterior of Pollanarua.
The gates are entered, and a broad street, straight as an arrow,
lies before us, shaded on either side by rows of palms. Here
stand, on either hand, the dwellings of the principal
inhabitants, bordering the wide space, which continues its
straight and shady course for about four miles in length. In the
centre, standing in a spacious circle, rises the great Dagoba,
forming a grand coup d'oeil from the entrance gate. Two hundred
and sixty feet from the base the Dagoba rears its lofty summit.
Two circular terraces, each of some twenty feet in height, rising
one upon the other, with a width of fifty feet, and a diameter at
the base of about two hundred and fifty, from the step-like
platform upon which the Dagoba stands. These are ascended by
broad flights of steps, each terrace forming a circular
promenade around the Dagoba; the whole having the appearance of
white marble, being covered with polished stucco ornamented with
figures in bas-relief. The Dagoba is a solid mass of brickwork in
the shape of a dome, which rises from the upper terrace. The
whole is covered with polished stucco, and surmounted by a gilded
spire standing upon a square pedestal of stucco, highly
ornamented with large figures, also in bas-relief; this pedestal
is a cube of about thirty feet, supporting the tall gilded spire,
which is surmounted by a golden umbrella.
Around the base of the Dagoba on the upper terrace are eight
small entrances with highly-ornamented exteriors. These are the
doors to eight similar chambers of about twelve feet square, in
each of which is a small altar and carved golden idol. This
Dagoba forms the main centre of the city, from which streets
branch off in all directions, radiating from the circular space
in which it stands.
The main street from the entrance-gate continues to the further
extremity of the city, being crossed at right angles in the
centre by a similar street, thus forming two great main streets
through the city, terminating in four great gates or entrances to
the town - north, south, east and west. Continuing along the
main street from the great Dagoba for about a mile, we face
another Dagoba of similar appearance, but of smaller dimensions,
also standing in a spacious circle. Near this rises the king's
palace, a noble building of great height, edged at the corner by
narrow octagon towers.
At the further extremity of this main street, close to the
opposite entrance- gate, is the rock temple, with the massive
idols of Buddha flanking the entrance.
This, from the form and position of the existing ruins, we may
conceive to have been the appearance of Pollanarua in its days of
prosperity. But what remains of its grandeur? It has vanished
like "a tale that is told;" it is passed away like a dream; the
palaces are dust; the grassy sod has grown in mounds over the
ruins of streets and fallen houses; nature has turfed them in one
common grave with their inhabitants. The lofty palms have faded
away and given place to forest trees, whose roots spring from the
crumbled ruins; the bear and the leopard crouch in the porches of
the temples; the owl roosts in the casements of the palaces; the
jackal roams among the ruins in vain; there is not a bone left
for him to gnaw of the multitudes which have passed away. There
is their handwriting upon the temple wall, upon the granite slab
which has mocked at Time; but there is no man to decipher it.
There are the gigantic idols before whom millions have bowed;
there is the same vacant stare upon their features of rock which
gazed upon the multitudes of yore; but they no longer stare upon
the pomp of the glorious city, but upon ruin, and rank weeds, and
utter desolation. How many suns have risen and how many nights
have darkened the earth since silence has reigned amidst the
city, no man can tell. No mortal can say what fate befell those
hosts of heathens, nor when they vanished from the earth. Day
and night succeed each other, and the shade of the setting sun
still falls from the great Dagoba; but it is the "valley of the
shadow of death" upon which that shadow falls like a pall over
the corpse of a nation.
The great Dagoba now remains a heap of mouldering brickwork,
still retaining its form, but shorn of all its beauty. The
stucco covering has almost all disappeared, leaving a patch here
and there upon the most sheltered portions of the building.
Scrubby brushwood and rank grass and lichens have for the most
part covered its surface, giving it the appearance rather of a
huge mound of earth than of an ancient building. A portion of
the palace is also standing, and, although for the most part
blocked up with ruins, there is still sufficient to denote its
former importance. The bricks, or rather the tiles, of which all
the buildings are composed, are of such an imperishable nature
that they still adhere to each other in large masses in spots
where portions of the buildings have fallen.
In one portion of the ruins there are a number of beautiful
fluted columns, with carved capitals, still remaining in a
perfect state. Among these are the ruins of a large flight of
steps; near them, again, a stone-lined tank, which was evidently
intended as a bath; and everything denotes the former comfort and
arrangement of a first-class establishment. There are
innumerable relics, all interesting and worthy of individual
attention, throughout the ruins over a surface of many miles, but
they are mostly overgrown with jungle or covered with rank grass.
The apparent undulations of the ground in all directions are
simply the remains of fallen streets and buildings overgrown in
like manner with tangled vegetation.
The most interesting, as being the most perfect, specimen, is the
small rock temple, which, being hewn out of the solid stone, is
still in complete preservation. This is a small chamber in the
face of an abrupt rock, which, doubtless, being partly a natural
cavern, has been enlarged to the present size by the chisel; and
the entrance, which may have been originally a small hole, has
been shaped into an arched doorway. The interior is not more
than perhaps twenty-five feet by eighteen, and is simply fitted
up with an altar and the three figures of Buddha, in the
positions in which he is usually represented -the sitting, the
reclining and the standing postures.
The exterior of the temple is far more interesting. The narrow
archway is flanked on either side by two inclined planes, hewn
from the face of the rock, about eighteen feet high by twelve in
width. These are completely covered with an inscription in the
old Pali language, which has never been translated. Upon the
left of one plain is a kind of sunken area hewn out of the rock,
in which sits a colossal figure of Buddha, about twenty feet in
height. On the right of the other plane is a figure in the
standing posture about the same height; and still farther to the
right, likewise hewn from the solid rock, is an immense figure in
the recumbent posture, which is about fifty-six feet in length,
or, as I measured it, not quite nineteen paces.
These figures are of a far superior class of sculpture to the
idols usually seen in Ceylon, especially that in the reclining
posture, in which the impression of the head upon the pillow is
so well executed that the massive pillow of gneiss rock actually
appears yielding to the weight of the head.
This temple is supposed to be coeval with the city, which was
founded about three hundred years before Christ, and is supposed
to have been in ruins for upward of six hundred years. The
comparatively recent date of its destruction renders its
obscurity the more mysterious, as there is no mention made of its
annihilation in any of the Cingalese records, although the city
is constantly mentioned during the time of its prosperity in the
native history of Ceylon. It is my opinion that its destruction
was caused by famine.
In those days the kings of Ceylon were perpetually at war with
each other. The Queen of the South, from the great city of
Mahagam in the Hambantotte district, made constant war with the
kings of Pollanarua. They again made war with the Arabs and
Malabars, who had invaded the northern districts of Ceylon; and
as in modern warfare the great art consists in cutting off the
enemy's supplies, so in those days the first and most decisive
blow to be inflicted was the cutting off the "water." Thus, by
simply turning the course of a river which supplied a principal
tank, not only would that tank lose its supply, but the whole of
the connected chain of lakes dependent upon the principal would
in like manner be deprived of water.
This being the case, the first summer or dry season would lay
waste the country. I have myself seen the lake of Minneria,
which is twenty-two miles in circumference, evaporate to the
small dimensions of four miles circuit during a dry season.
A population of some millions wholly dependent upon the supply of
rice for their existence would be thrown into sudden starvation
by the withdrawal of the water. Thus have the nations died out
like a fire for lack of fuel. This cause will account for the
decay of the great cities of Ceylon. The population gone, the
wind and the rain would howl through the deserted dwellings, the
white ants would devour the supporting beams, the elephants would
rub their colossal forms against the already tottering houses,
and decay would proceed with a rapidity unknown in a cooler
clime. As the seed germinates in a few hours in a tropical
country, so with equal haste the body of both vegetable and
animal decays when life is extinct. A perpetual and hurrying
change is visible in all things. A few showers, and the surface
of the earth is teeming with verdure; a few days of drought, and
the seeds already formed are falling to the earth, springing in
their turn to life at the approach of moisture. The same
rapidity of change is exhibited in their decay. The heaps of
vegetable putridity upon the banks of rivers, when a swollen
torrent has torn the luxuriant plants from the loosened soil, are
but the effects of a few hours' change. The tree that arrives at
maturity in a few years rots in as short a time when required for
durability: thus it is no mystery, that either a house or a city
should shortly fall to decay when the occupant is gone.
In like manner, and with still greater rapidity, is a change
effected in the face of nature. As the flowers usurp the place
of weeds under the care of man, so, when his hand is wanting, a
few short weeks bury them beneath an overwhelming mass of thorns.
In one year a jungle will conceal all signs of recent
cultivation. Is it, therefore, a mystery that Ceylon is covered
with such vast tracts of thorny jungle, now that her inhabitants
Throughout the world there is a perpetual war between man and
nature, but in no country has the original curse of the earth
been carried out to a fuller extent than in Ceylon: "thorns also
and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." This is indeed
exemplified when a few months neglect of once-cultivated land
renders it almost impassable, and where man has vanished from the
earth and thorny jungles have covered the once broad tracts of
A few years will thus produce an almost total ruin throughout a
deserted city. The air of desolation created by a solitude of
six centuries can therefore be easily imagined. There exists,
however, among the ruins of Pollanarua a curious instance of the
power of the smallest apparent magnitude to destroy the works of
man. At some remote period a bird has dropped the seed of the
banian tree (ficus Indicus) upon the decaying summit of a dagoba.
This, germinating has struck its root downward through the
brickwork, and, by the gradual and insinuating progress of its
growth, it has split the immense mass of building into two
sections; the twisted roots now appearing through the clefts,
while the victorious tree waves in exultation above the ruin: an
emblem of the silent growth of "civilization" which will overturn
the immense fabric of heathen superstition.
It is placed beyond a doubt that the rice-growing resources of
Ceylon have been suffered to lie dormant since the disappearance
of her ancient population; and to these neglected capabilities
the attention of government should be directed.
An experiment might be commenced on a small scale by the repair
of one tank - say Kandellai, which is only twenty-six miles from
Trincomalee on the highroad to Kandy. This tank, when the dam
and sluices were repaired, would rise to about nine feet above
its present level, and would irrigate many thousand acres.
The grand desideratum in the improvement of Ceylon is the
increase of the population; all of whom should, in some measure,
be made to increase the revenue.
The government should therefore hazard this one experiment to
induce the emigration of the industrious class of Chinese to the
shores of Ceylon. Show them a never-failing supply of water and
land of unlimited extent to be hid on easy terms, and the country
would soon resume its original prosperity. A tax of five per
cent. upon the produce of the land, to commence in the ratio of 0
per cent. for the first year, three per cent. for the second and
third, and the full amount of five for the fourth, would be a
fair and easy rent to the settler, and would not only repay the
government for the cost of repairing the tank, but would in a few
cars become a considerable source of revenue, in addition to the
increased value of the land, now worthless, by a system of
Should the first experiment succeed, the plan might be continued
throughout Ceylon, and the soil of her own shores would produce a
supply for the island consumption. The revenue would be derived
direct from the land which now produces nothing but thorny
jungle. The import trade of Ceylon would be increased in
proportion to the influx of population, and the duties upon
enlarged imports would again tend to swell the revenue of the
The felling and clearing of the jungle, which cultivation would
render necessary, would tend, in a great measure, to dispel the
fevers and malaria always produced by a want of free circulation
of air. In a jungle-covered country like Ceylon, diseases of the
most malignant character are harbored in these dense and
undisturbed tracts, which year after year reap a pestilential
harvest from the thinly-scattered population. Cholera,
dysentery, fever and small-pox all appear in their turn and
annually sweep whole villages away. I have frequently hailed
with pleasure the distant tope of waving cocoa-nut trees after a
long day's journey in a broiling sun, when I have cantered toward
these shady warders of cultivation in hopes of a night's halt at
a village. But the palms have sighed in the wind over tenantless
abodes, and the mouldering dead have lain beneath their shade.
Not a living soul remaining; all swept away by pestilence; huts
recently fallen to decay, fruits ripening, on the trees, and no
hand left to gather them; the shaddock and the lime falling to
the earth to be preyed upon by the worm, like their former
masters. All dead; not one left to tell the miserable tale.
The decay of the population is still progressing, and the next
fifty years will see whole districts left uninhabited unless
something can be done to prevent it. There is little doubt that
if land and water could be obtained from government in a
comparatively healthy and populous neighborhood, many would
migrate to that point from the half-deserted districts, who might
assist in the cultivation of the country instead of rotting in a
One season of pestilence, even in a large village, paves the road
for a similar visitation in the succeeding year, for this reason:
Say that a village comprising two hundred men is reduced by
sickness to a population of one hundred. The remaining one
hundred cannot keep in cultivation the land formerly open;
therefore, the jungle closes over the surface and rapidly
encroaches upon the village. Thus the circulation of air is
impeded and disease again halves the population. In each
successive year the wretched inhabitants are thinned out, and
disease becomes the more certain as the jungle continues to
advance. At length the miserable few are no longer sufficient to
cultivate the rice-lands; their numbers will not even suffice for
driving their buffaloes. The jungle closes round the village;
cholera finishes the scene by sweeping off the remnant; and
groves of cocoa-nut trees, towering over the thorny jungle,
become monuments sacred to the memory of an exterminated
The number of villages which have thus died out is almost
incredible. In a day's ride of twenty miles, I have passed the
remains of as many as three or four, how many more may have
vanished in the depths of the jungle!
Wherever the cocoa-nut trees are still existing, the ruin of the
village must have been comparatively recent, as the wild
elephants generally overturn them in a few years after the
disappearance of the inhabitants, browsing upon the succulent
tops, and destroying every trace of a former habitation.
There is no doubt that when sickness is annually reducing the
population of a district, the inhabitants, and accordingly the
produce of the land, must shortly come to an end. In all times
of pestilence the first impulse among the natives is to fly from
the neighborhood, but at present there is no place of refuge. It
is, therefore, a matter of certainty that the repair of one of
the principal tanks would draw together in thousands the
survivors of many half-perished villages, who would otherwise
fall victims to succeeding years of sickness.
The successful cultivation of rice at all times requires an
extensive population, and large grazing-grounds for the support
of the buffaloes necessary for the tillage of the land.
The labor of constructing dams and forming watercourses is
performed by a general gathering, similar to the American
principle of a "bee;" and, as "many hands make light work," the
cultivation proceeds with great rapidity. Thus a large
population can bring into tillage a greater individual proportion
of ground than a smaller number of laborers, and the rice is
accordingly produced at a cheaper rate.
Few people understand the difficulties with which a small village
has to contend in the cultivation of rice. The continual repairs
of temporary dams, which are nightly trodden down and destroyed
by elephants; the filling up of the water-courses from the same
cause; the nocturnal attacks upon the crops by elephants and
hogs; the devastating attacks of birds as the grain becomes ripe;
a scarcity of water at the exact moment it is required; and other
numerous difficulties which are scarcely felt by a large
By the latter the advantage is enjoyed of the division of labor.
The dams are built of permanent material; every work is rapidly
completed; the night-fires blaze in the lofty watch-house,, while
the shouts of the watchers scare the wild beasts from the crops.
Hundreds of children are daily screaming from their high perches
to scare away the birds. Rattles worked by long lines extend in
every direction, unceasingly pulled by the people in the
watch-houses; wind-clackers (similar to our cherry-clackers) are
whirling in all places; and by the division of the toil among a
multitude the individual work proceeds without fatigue.
Every native is perfectly aware of this advantage in rice
cultivation; and were the supply of water ensured to them by the
repair of a principal tank, they would gather around its margin.
The thorny jungles would soon disappear from the surface of the
ground, and a densely-populated and prosperous district would
again exist where all has been a wilderness for a thousand years.
The system of rice cultivation is exceedingly laborious. The
first consideration being a supply of water, the second is a
perfect level, or series of levels, to be irrigated. Thus a
hill-side must be terraced out into a succession of platforms or
steps; and a plain, however apparently flat, must, by the
requisite embankments, be reduced to the most perfect surface.
This being completed, the water is laid on for a certain time,
until the soil has become excessively soft and muddy. It is then
run off, and the land is ploughed by a simple implement, which,
being drawn by two buffaloes, stirs up the soil to a depth of
eighteen inches. This finished, the water is again laid on until
the mud becomes so soft that a man will sink knee-deep. In this
state it is then trodden over by buffaloes, driven backward and
forward in large gangs, until the mud is so thoroughly mixed that
upon the withdrawal of the water it sinks to a perfect level.
Upon this surface the paddy, having been previously soaked in
water, is now sown; and, in the course of a fortnight, it attains
a height of about four inches. The water is now again laid on,
and continued at intervals until within a fortnight of the grain
becoming ripe. It is then run off; the ground hardens, the ripe
crop is harvested by the sickle, and the grain is trodden out by
buffaloes. The rice is then separated from the paddy or husk by
being pounded in a wooden mortar.
This is a style of cultivation in which the Cingalese
particularly excel; nothing can be more beautifully regular than
their flights of green terraces from the bottoms of the valleys
to the very summits of the hills: and the labor required in their
formation must be immense, is they are frequently six feet one
above the other. The Cingalese are peculiarly a rice-growing
nation; give them an abundant supply of water and land on easy
terms, and they will not remain idle.
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