Sri Lanka

A Different Kind of Fishing Pole

by Charlotte McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States

In the United States, all we have to do to get our dinner is head to the grocery store or sit down at our favorite restaurant. It’s pretty easy to get our food, but in Sri Lanka, some fisherman go to a lot more trouble to feed their families.

About Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a small island off the coast of India in the Indian Ocean. It is about 25,000 square miles with a population of about 20 million. It has been the longtime home of many different religious and ethnic groups. There are the Islamic Moors, the native Vedda tribes, the people who have moved over from nearby India or Bangladesh, and the Europeans who have lived on the islands for generations, called the Burghurs. All these different groups have their own unique customs, but perhaps one of the most interesting, is stilt fishing.

How Does Stilt Fishing Work?

Stilt fishing is a method of hunting where a fisherman places one or two sticks deep into the sand a few meters offshore, he then builds a thin bench to sit on, forming a triangle. The triangle is the best shape for this bench because it is the most stable polygon. These seats are no more than a thin piece of bamboo that may be less than 6 inches wide! Can you imagine sitting on something that skinny? It can’t be comfortable.

Next, the fisherman casts his line, and waits until a fish comes along to be caught. Sometimes, they stay out for up to 12 hours! However, these fish are not barracudas, they are barely even the size of a sardine and probably weigh less than 1 pound. Natives call them bollu or koramboruwo, and they live on the reefs around the Sri Lankan coast.

Origins

Nobody can say exactly when stilt fishing began. Locals say that the skill is passed down through generations. A father will give his son the family pole when he is old enough to try it for himself. Traditionally, many people used this method to feed their families. Those with the best sticks and locations had a certain pride and status.

Nowadays, the custom is fading, with only a few hundred families practicing it now. This is not a lucrative business to support a family on, and many fishermen have needed to search for new jobs. Still, this is an amazing custom that requires patience, skill, and strategy — sounds a little like learning math!

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Math Questions

  1. The first fisherman catches 17 fish, the second one catches 24 fish, and the third catches 30 fish. If there are 15 people in their families, how many fish does each person get?
  2. If one person catches 4 fish and another one catches 7 fish, how many fish did they catch?
  3. If the seat on which the fisherman sits forms a isosceles right triangle, and the the base is 5 inches long and the height is 3 inches long, using the Pythagorean theorem, determine the length of the hypotenuse.
  4. A fisherman catches 3 fish in the first hour, 6 fish in the second hour, and 9 fish in the third hour. If this pattern continues, how many fish will the fisherman catch in the twelfth hour?
  5. If the seat is 12 inches deep and the support forms a 27 degree angle, how long will the support have to be?
  6. If each pole is 6 ft long and the stilts are 10 feet apart, how much area would overlap between the two fisherman?
  7. If each of the 500 families catches x fish per hour for 12 hours a day, write an equation and solve to find the number of fish per hour they would need to catch to feed a town needing 6,000 fish.

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Social Justice Questions

  1. Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan government fought a civil war from 1983 to 2009. Research how this conflict was resolved and state your thoughts on whether this relatively new peace is sustainable.
  2. Sri Lanka is the first Asian country known to have a female ruler (Queen Anula, 47-42 BC). Why do you think female rulers were so rare in the past history of the world?
  3. Research the benefits and drawbacks of having a minimum wage. Who would benefit most? Who would lose the most? What is the minimum wage in your state? Which jobs pay typically minimum wages? Compare a monthly salary based on minimum wage with average rents and the cost of living in your area.

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Resources

  1. Short video of Sri Lankan stilt fishermen at work
  2. More photographs of the daily lives of stilt fishermen

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