The Fisherman's Tale



Anyone visiting the Ulla village where we’re based will come across an iconic character of Arugam Bay—the fisherman. We work closely with many fishing families and have found some serious life wisdom and friendship in their company. When our friends at Public Works stayed at the Spice Trail in Arugam Bay, we got them excited about the local fishing culture and how the fisherfolk see life through the lens of their work and being in constant connection with nature. As a result, they researched and created this short story based on discussions they had and people they met in Ulla. We hope it’ll get you excited enough to strike up a conversation with Arugam Bay’s fisherfolk the next time you stop by the bay. It just might change the way you see the world.


“The sea is a wild thing; a place where the potential for danger is very real; where the possibility of death is always. But, the master fisherman sees beyond the danger, and sees an enormous body of thought and action that can be read; if you only learn its language. The language of the sea is something that cannot be fully understood from words or books; it’s something you learn by going out there every single day.


Maddu started fishing at the age of seven. He has no answer to the question of where he spent the most amount of time— whether it’s land or sea that is more familiar. Like many people who spend time in nature, Maddu instinctively listens more than he speaks—a practice he can’t shake off even in the company of others. The sea speaks to him; its salinity, smells, rock formations, the dips and climbs of the ocean bed that become reflected in the movement of the waves; these are its words.



Maddu’s hunt begins with unbecoming. He allows himself to dissolve into the sea and the clouds in the quietly watchful sky; this is because he knows that part of the hunt is to be unfelt by the hunted. To Maddu, the ‘sense’ of the fish comes well before the sight of them. He senses them as a moving mass of fear and feeling. The key is to remain undone—part of the sea and the sky—without allowing your mind and body to get excited at the thought of a good catch, or missing it. There is no anticipating, no missing, only the right moment to strike. Maddu has never come home with an empty boat—not even in the worst year when the sands never came and the fish didn’t breed until September.


But what about danger? What about you being a speck floating on a strip of wood, in the great, big ocean? Maddu doesn’t disregard danger. To him, it is obvious, a given and something that is foreseen; so, all you have to do is act out the solution to the best of your ability. Danger is as much a reason to not go out to sea, as death is a reason to not live.”


Image: Raffaella D’Agostino


If you find the wisdom of fishermen as amazing as we do, talk to us at the Spice Trail during your next visit to Arugam Bay. Through our friendships with some of the oldest fishing families in the Ulla village, you can experience the East Coast fishing culture and the very best of their catch. Special thanks to @eastsurfcabanas and @surfntoursrilanka for sharing their stories with Public Works.

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