On my second trip to Mannar, I made a lucky find one afternoon when I stumbled across a temporary fishing village on a beach a few kilometers from town. The blue and white ribbons draped over the only lane of the village, and the relaxed atmosphere hinted that a special occasion was nearing. A friendly young Sri Lankan with good English explained that the inauguration of their first local church was to take place the following morning. They firmly invited me to come back and join the celebrations.
Looking towards the causeway linking Mannar island to the mainland from Bar road.
Although advised the day would start with a procession around 7:30am, I got there at 9:00am, which turned out to be perfect time as they were running late.
The procession started at a small shrine at the entrance of the village.
The locals gathered around a shrine at the entrance of the village before heading for the newly-built and very modest church - a small hut with a tin roof.
Despite a lack of means and funds, the locals managed to add a festive touch to their village.
After the inaugural mass, the fishermen pushed their boats out to sea, gearing up for a race. It took them a while to get themselves organised which allowed me to ask my improvised guide about the community.
He explained that they were all here on a temporary basis, many of them coming from around Negombo and Kalpitiya. They come to Mannar once a year for a maximum of 6 months, and fish as they can make more money off these shores than those around Negombo where competition is fierce. However, recently business has gotten much harder for fishermen as they recently saw a 33% hike in kerosene prices in the past year. The price of fish however doesn’t increase and catching the more valuable fish is increasingly difficult. These fishermen travel 13 kms from the coast to catch their fish and occasionally have to compete with larger Indian trawlers from Tamil Nadu who encroach in Sri Lankan waters. This has led to disputes between governments and even arrests.
After a while, they eventually got going and the race started. There was a 2000 rupee fee to enter the race (about £10) and the first three would collect the prize money. The race lasted about 15 minutes with a clear winner. All villagers watched and cheered on.
It was then time for lunch after which the drinking would commence. My young guide who very rarely drinks advised me to make a move as he said most weren’t used to drinking and these occasions often turned into a mess with the occasional dispute or even fight. I followed his advice and made an exit before a stiff drink or two was forced upon me.
Children move with their families to the village. They particularly enjoyed the eventful day, especially the boat race.
As I was leaving the village, an early drinker stopped me, demanding I take a picture of his baby. Not the portrait he would’ve wanted, but one I was quite pleased with.
On the way back along bar road, the skies darkened and I briefly stopped near the liquor shop to see if there was a good scene to shoot. The locals were already too drunk though so I made a move, taking this shot just before hoping back onto the scooter.