Population Sri Lanka

The island is home to some 19 million people. This means on each square kilometre, live an average of 292 people. However, the population is distributed unevenly and the number of inhabitants of the western coastal strip, north and south of Colombo, is far greater than in the north and east of the island. With the exception of Colombo, which counts one and a half million inhabitants, the cities of Sri Lanka are relatively small. Jaffna and Kandy, the second and third cities of the country, are ten times smaller. For over 2000 years, agriculture and fisheries have been the backbone of the island’s economy. Rice and coconuts are the major staples for the mostly rural population. These foodstuffs are mainly grown on a subsistence basis, together with fruit, vegetables, spices and flowers. The fisheries are also largely traditional. Family members sail out in small canoes or catamarans or use fishing rods to catch a daily meal on the coast or in the many sweet-water lakes in the interior. In some places, you can witness people catching fish by hand, spiking it on a stick. Well-known are the stilt fishermen of the south-western coast. Over half of the population provide for their daily meals in this way. Often, a cow or a goat and some chickens form a source of animal protein to supplement the standard diet of rice and vegetarian curries. The occasional egg and particularly curd, a greasy buffalo yoghurt, are among the small luxuries that most families can afford once or twice a week. Apart from traditional forms of farming and fishing, the island has some large companies that grow tea, rubber, spices, rice and coconuts on a commercial scale. Tea is by far Sri Lanka’s most important export. Three-quarters of a million people work on the plantations and in the tea-processing industry. The average family does not have a high income. Clothing, school materials, kitchen utensils and the occasional bus ticket can only be bought by selling products at the market or from the salary of a relative with a job in a hotel, or a plantation or in a textile workshop. Drums, torches, flutes and wildly dancing people, men in particular, is what Sri Lanka is known for. During religious festive days, attempts are made to cure the seriously ill on New Year’s Day. The Sri Lankans, and in particular the Singhalese, reveal different aspects of themselves on the many occasions that call for song and dance. The two main dance forms of the Singhalese are those of the highlands and those of the lowlands. The former goes back to exorcist rituals that continue up to this day in the remoter villages. Villagers gather around an altar on which offerings are laid out. Crescendo and accelerating drumming on the yak beraye, the devil’s drum, forms the introduction to the dance of the men representing demons, wearing multi-coloured masks. They are called on, one by one, to appear before a priest who will beg and threaten the demon to stop causing suffering. If there is a sick person, the demon will enter the person and speak through him or her. An offering to the demon usually makes him disappear. The highland dances can be traced back to the dances once performed in the court of the Kings of Sri Lanka, who last resided in Kandy. These, too, are characterized by wild, masculine movements to the rhythm of special drums, particularly the geta beraye, which hangs on a cord diagonally across the belly of the drummer. The drum is beaten on both sides. The costumes of the dancers are unforgettable. Crowns, metal bands and breastplates decorated with stones give the dancers their kingly appearance.

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