With the early rays of the rising sun :
Rediscovering fishing in Sainthamaruthu
When the first flurry of sun rays makes visible the Sainthamaruthu
beach in Kalmunai, the scurrying sound of cart wheels alerts you that if
you go out now, you can see the fishing boats drag in their first haul
for the morning.
Sun rise at Sainthamaruthu fishery harbour. Pictures: Mahinda Vitanachchi
The carts have nothing to do with fishing. The riders scoop up sand
and a pair of kinniyas, white bulls, rushes each cart to a building
site. The wide spread activity on the coastline from Sainthamaruthu to
Kalmunakudi and beyond is fishing. Hundreds of fishing boats attach a
bobbing frill to the Sainthamaruthu beach, a few kilo meters away on the
waves. They slumber there during the day but morning is the time for
fishermen to drag in the nets, survey and weigh their catch, cut, chop
and make ready for selling. Scores of fishermen edge the beach line.
Their feelings are also on edge, expectant that at least this morning,
Allah will bless them with a sizeable catch and not lead them to
Small scale fish drying
The morning the Daily News met them in early September, their hopes
were running thin. In Kalmunakudi, one net had brought in only five
kilos of fish. "This is the fishing season," a fisherman told us. "But
no fish!" "Why?," we asked. "It is God you should ask," was his forlorn
response, adding, "The first month of the year, we catch a lot of fish.
The other months, not so good."
Akbar, another fisherman in Kalmunakudi expalined that the fishing
boats need to head about 25 - 30 kilo meters to the open sea and throw
in their nets to catch fish. By 9 - 10 in the morning, they returned
with their haul. Naming the fish likely to be netted, in local parlance,
he said, "In Kalmunakudi sea, you can catch parav, savara and thoru."
Akbar's brother-in-law who ran a small scale fish drying shed shared
the dejection of fishermen, saying, "These days, business is good. But
no goods!" A single line of skinned fish hung out to dry was his meagre
produce. The mode of fishing practice prevalent in Kalmunakudi and its
number of fisher folk was conveyed to us by Akbar. "We have 300 fishing
boats," he said. "One boat is operated by three families so there are
900 fishing families here."
Weighing the morning’s catch
About 300 fishing boats are at the Sainthamaruthu sea too, a young
employee who attended to the Daily News crew at Sea Breeze Restaurant
and Guest Inn at Beach Road along the Sainthamaruthu sea front, informed
us. The only luxury inn found in the area for many miles, it is owned by
M.Y.M. Jaufer. The view from its rooms was what treated us with the
strangely beautiful sights and sounds of Eastern Province sun rise,
kinniya carts and the profusion of fishing boats anchored at sea off
Sainthamaruthu Fishery Harbour.
On Beach Road of Sainthamaruthu, Mohamed Basheer sold katu fish and
parav. He had been sea fishing for the past five years. "In this area,
we catch a lot of hurullo," he said. As for bigger fish, the
Sainthamaruthu sea yielded balaya, thalapath, maduwa and moru. As in
Kalmunakudi, Basheer too commented that the catch was rather low but
could not define a reason for it. He had sold katu fish and parav at
prices as high as Rs.400 - 550 a kilo when the catch was poorer but on
the morning the Daily News met him, he sold katu fish at Rs.100 per kilo
and parav at Rs.200. Whether the gain was his or that of the buyer, we
could not fathom. One fisherman thought that fish haul was bad
As the morning wore on, fishermen in Sainthamaruthu sat on the beach
in small groups and attended to odd jobs which needed to be done before
the night fell and another venture of fishing commenced. Some mended
fish nets. Driving on Beach Road, we also saw several buildings with
names of people's companies of fishers, one being Muhathuwaram Fishing
Employees' Co-operative Society Ltd. But they were closed and we could
not meet the inmates. The ubiquitous coconut tree on down south beaches
was replaced here by the Talipot palm tree.
At dawn, fishermen of Sainthamaruthu hoping for a good fish
The sea that fed the fishermen and nurtured their families had played
traitor once, devouring all they loved and earned, so a Tsunami Warning
Tower has been erected in Sainthamaruthu. At all crossroads turning
inland from Beach Road, which runs parallel to the sea, evacuation
routes are marked and safe areas indicated. P.M.M.A. Cader who lives in
Maruthamunai, a few kilometers away from Sainthamaruthu and corresponds
to Thinakaran, our sister Tamil newspaper, told us how he and his wife
were whisked away at no warning by the swift tide of tsunami. They were
lucky to save their lives.
We did not see any men or women on the beach enjoying the sea breeze
as we have seen on Galle Face Esplanade. The employee at the Inn told us
that they came to the beach on Friday, the weekly holiday in
Sainthamaruthu. The other days, they were too busy with work to squander
their precious hours in leisure.
Kinniya carts busy at dawn
In Sainthamaruthu, or for that matter, on the roads we sped along in
Kalmunai, we did not see a single woman in trousers, as we see in
Mahiyangana or other predominantly Sinhala areas. Muslim women wore
abhaya, the caftans, over the garments they had underneath, and head
scarves without the face veil. Only the very young children were in
short skirts while the older ones were dressed in skirts up to their
ankles. Tamil women wore saris or shalwars.
Our entry to Sainthamaruthu, an essentially a Muslim area, was during
the fasting season. Some shops closed during the day and opened in the
evening. Communication barriers were quite a few as many did not
understand Sinhala and we managed with hand gestures.
A certain degree of English knowledge was there. But people were
friendly and accommodating and did not regard us with suspicion which is
sometimes directed at strangers in some parts of the country.
M.I.M. Azhar, Maligaikadu group correspondent for Lake House in
Sainthamaruthu, invited us to a break-fast ceremony. A number of family
members and relatives sat on the floor in a circle, with each one's
portion of food and drink in front, with women on ground floor and men
on upper floor.