The echo of the voices of fisher folk chanting ambawa kavi – the familiar tunes of hodi helei heliya- harmonizes with sea breeze. For the curious mind that takes a stroll along the Chilaw beach, the booming voices of these fisher folk would no doubt be an excuse to stop by. A fishing community that engages in this manual form of fishing using the large net- called maadela in the area between Iranawila and Ambakandawila in Chilaw, is truly a sight to behold: a gaze worthwhile!
A traditional form of fishing, it is a seasonal activity that comes alive only during October to April every year.
Closer to the season, the fishing community - predominantly from the village or places nearby, return to the Iranawila beach looking for their team mates who literally disappear from the beach area off season, in search of odd jobs, mostly to work in prawn hatcheries. The group is generally made up of the friends and family members of the leader of the crew who is referred to as the “Maandaliya” (the boss).
They would kick off their seasonal fishing activity by getting down a Catholic priest to bless their mission - a good harvest and a hassle free journey- an occasion on which female fisher folk prepare a dish of kiribath (milk rice).
The group of fishermen; about 40 of them; both men and women; is required to manually haul this enormous fishing net directed from the deep sea back to the coast. Pulling the fishing net, seems an arduous task. Seven hundred fifty yards in size, the maadela, is generally laid at a distance of about 600 meters from the coast.
Day’s activities begin when a team of male fisher folk – about six of them - sail into the deep sea in a boat carrying their colourful fishing nets to be laid surrounding the fish clusters. About six types of nets, they take with them to the sea, and according to the various schools of fish available on that particular day, they would pick the right type needed for the job.
In deep sea fishermen look for the seagulls and the shimmering red spots as these are an indication of the fish clusters in the ocean. Their observations help them target a good harvest. Once they identify the strategic points in which various schools of fish are available- they lay the net accordingly. This done, they return to the shore to join their fellow fisher folk to pull the net from the coast.
The art of pulling the net requires talent, experience and endurance. While they pull the maadela, it is equally important to ensure that the net does not get entangled in the boulders as a fishing net is worth a few thousand bucks.
Pulling the net is a very strenuous task madam, Margaret laments showing us the blisters in her hands. Understandably, because these fisher folk spend hours and hours under the scorching sun, pulling the net with all their might. Hence to beat the stress, they sing Ambawa kavi all along.
According to some of the females, money they earn during the season is an additional income. Helping their male counterparts to drag the maadela back to the shore apart, it is the job of the female fisher folk to sort out the fish entrapped in the net, to segregate and pile them up into different lots before the buyers frequent the beach.
“We earn according to the harvest. Sometimes you get a bountiful harvest, sometimes not. How much we earn during the season depends on the harvest,” the fishermen chorused.
“If we are lucky enough we get a good harvest,” they said.
“Sometime the harvest they get becomes a lorry load or two. There have been days when they have even laid the net twice just when they are about to call it a day.
“If we notice there is fish again, we unpack the nets and get down to the job once again. But it all depends on the tide,” says H. N Thomas, as he returns to his beach wadiya (small hut) to join his colleagues who are enjoying their mid-day meal- a mouthwatering combination of fried fish, pol sambol, dhall curry and rice -which they were even generous enough to offer their guests.Back to Featured Articles