The Fishing Communities of Sri Lanka

The Fishing Communities of Sri Lanka

attempting to photograph early morning rush hour in
bus station, a chance encounter led me to an extraordinary group of
people living a disappearing way of life in Sri Lanka. Curiosity
about my camera from a man en route to his remote fishing village
began a conversation that took me on a very different journey than

At this village on the east side of Galle Fort, I saw
traditional oruwa boats returning from a night at sea with
fishermen unloading catches of tilapia, tuna and mackerel ready for
delivery to a local market. At Hambegamuwa Wewa Lake, I met men
herding fish into their nets by banging the side of their boat, and
up the coast from Dalawella Beach I found stilt fishermen perched
on their poles in the surf. This practice, often considered
ancient, probably started after World War II due to intense
competition for limited fish stocks which forced the men onto poles
in search of small reef fish.

The tsunami in 2004 swept away many of the poles and decimated
fishing communities along the coast. Nearly everyone I met had lost
someone close to them and all had struggled to re-establish their
livelihoods and survive. Today, a rapidly growing tourism industry
has provided new income opportunities; lake fishermen subsidise
their catches with tourist boat tours, while the stilt fishermen
pose for photographs for paying tourists.

You have to travel away from popular tourist destinations to
find the genuine fishermen using poles that have been passed down
from father to son. I could have spent months photographing these
extraordinary people with their weathered faces and slight bodies,
whether at work or relaxing, often completely at odds with the
noise and chaos of their process. They welcomed me, embraced the
photographic process and spent time explaining – using a
combination of sign language and fractured English – their lives in
these vibrant and beautiful communities.

@williamhenrythompson |

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