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in their pearly shells at ease attend Moitt nutriment, or under rocki their food." Milton.
The pearl fishery, in the Bay of Condatchy, in the Island of Ceylon, affords occupation to some thousands of persons during the season, which begins in February and ends in April, The boats employed in this fishery carry twenty men, ten of whom are divers and ten boatmen, besides a chief, who acts as pilot. Five only dive at a time, when these come up the five others go down, and leave them to recruit their strength.
In or,der to accelerate the descent of the divers, large •tones are employed: five of these are brought in each boat for the purpose: they are of a reddish granite, common in this country, and of a pyramidical shape, round at top and bottom, with a hole, perforated through the smaller end, sufficient to admit a rope. Some of the divers use a stone shaped like a half-moon, which they fasten round the belly when they mean to descend, and thus keep their feet free.
These people are accustomed to dive from their very infancy, and fearlessly descend to the bottom in from four to ten fathoms water, in search of the oysters. The diver, when he is about to plunge, seizes the rope, to which one of the stones we have described is attached, with the toes of his right foot, while he takes hold of a bag of net-work with those of his leftj it being customary among all the Indians to <ise their toes in working or holding as well as their fingers, and such is the power of habit, that they can pick up even the smallest tiling from the ground with their toes as nimbly as a European could with his fingers. The diver, thus prepared, seizes another rope with his right hand, and, holding his nostrils shut with the left, plunges into the •water, and by the assistance of the stone speedily reachesthe bottom. He then hangs the net round his neck, and with much dexterity, and all possible dispatch, collects as many oysters as he can, while he is able to remain under water, which is usually about two minutes. He then resumes his former position, makes a. signal to those above by pulling the rope in his right hand, and is immediately by this means drawn up and brought into the boat, leaving the stone to be pulled up afterwards by the rope attached to it.
The exertion undergone during this process is so violent, that, upon being brought into the boat, the divers discharge water from their mouth, ears, and nostrils, and frequently even blood. But this does not hinder them from going down again in their turn. They will often make from forty to fifty plunges in one day; and at each plunge bring up about a hundred oysters. Some rub their bodies over with oil, and stuff their ears and noses to prevent the water from entering; while others •use no precautions whatever. Although the usual time of remaining under water does not much exceed two minutes, yet there are instances known of divers who could remain four or even five minutes, which was the case with a Caffree boy the last year I visited the fishery. The longest instance ever known, was that of a diver who came from Anjango in 1797, and who absolutely remained under water full six minutes. The only cause of dread to the diver during this ter« rific operation is the ground shark; and with a view to avoid his attacks, they consult their conjurer before they bt-gin to dive, and pay a religious attention to all his directions. These directions, however, as our readers will naturally suppose, are not always efficacious; and when, in spite of them, any diver meets with an accident, the ingenuity of the conjurer is exercised in the invention of a plausible excuse for the failure. ... ,
The invention of these fellows, in redeeming
their credit, when any untoward accident happens to falsify their predictions, deserves to be noticed. Since tbe island came into our possession, a diver at the fishery one year lost his leg, upon which the head conjurer was called to account for the disaster. Hit answer gives the most striking picture of the knowledge and capacity of the people he had to deal with. He gravely told them, " that an old witch, who owed him a grudge, had just come from Colang on the Malabar coast, and' effected a counter conjuration, which for the time rendered his spells fruitless; that this had come to his knowledge too late to prevent the accident which had happened, but that he would now show his own superiority over his antagonist, by enchanting the sharks and binding up their mouths, so that no more accidents should happen during the season.'" "Fortunately for the conjurer the event answered his prediction, and no farther damage was sustained from the sharks during the fishery that year. Whether this was owing to the prayers and charms of the conjurer, I leave my European readers to decide; but certainly it was firmly believed to be the case by the Indian divers, and he was afterwards held by them in the highest esteem and ve
iteration. His merits, however, in this transaction might be disputed, for there are many seasons in which no such accidents occur at all. The appearance of a single shark is indeed sufficient to spread dismay among the whole body of diversj for, as soon as one of them sees a shark, he instantly gives the alarm to his companions, who as quickly communicate it to the other boats; a panic speedily seizes them, and they often return to the bay without fishing any more for that day^ The sharki which create all this alarm sometimes turn out to be nothing more than a sharp stone, on which the divert happen to alight. As false alarms excited in this manner prove very injurious to the progress of the fishery, every means is employed to ascertain whether they are well or ill founded; and if the latter be the case, the authors of them are punished.
The following is the mode observed in extracting the pearls from the oysters.. ..
As soon as the oysters are taken out of the
boats, they are carried by the different people to whom they belong, and placed in holes or pits, dug in the ground to the depth of about two feet, or in small square places, cleared and fenced round for the purpose; each person having his own separate division. Mats are spread below them, to prevent the oysters from touching the earth; and here they are left to die and rot. As soon as they have passed through a state of putrefaction, and have become dry, they are easily opened, without any danger of injuring the pearls, which might be the case if they were opened fresh, as at that time to do so requires great force. On the shell being opened, the oyster is minutely examined for the pearls: it is usual even to boil the oyster, as the pearl, though commonly found in the shell,-is not unfrequently contained in the body of the fish itself.
The stench occasioned by the oysters being left to putrefy is intolerable; and remains for a long while after the fishery is over. It corrupts the atmosphere for several miles round Condatchy, and renders the neighbourhood of that country extremely unpleasant till the monsoons and violent south-west winds set up and purify the air. . The nauseous smell, however, is not able to overcome the hopes of gain: for, months after the fishing season, numbers of people are to be seen earnestly searching and poring over the sands and places where the oysters had been laid to putrefy; and some are now and then fortunate enough to find a pearl, which amply compensates their trouble in searching after them. In 1797. while Mr. Andrews was collector, a cooley, or common fellow of the lowest class, got by accident the most valuable pearl seen that season, and sold it to Mr. Andrews for a large sum.
The pearls found at this fishery are of a whiter colour than those got in the gulf of Ormus on the Arabian coast, but in other respects are not accounted so pure or of such an excellent quality: for, though the white pearls are most esteemed in Europe, the natives prefer those of a yellowish or golden cast. Off Tutucoreen, which lies on the Coromandal coast, nearly opposite to Condatchy, there is another fishery: but the pearls found there are much inferior to those two species I have mentioned, being tainted with a blue or greyish tinge^.