What connects the pristine Pigeon Islands, the jovial sounding Great,Sober Island, and the ominous Bone Island? These are not Caribbean islands from a pirate movie but are in fact islands of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is often viewed as a single island and this belief occludes the appreciation of the archipelago in its entirety. An archipelago is a collection of islands and a fastidious look at a map of Sri Lanka will reveal a wealth of history dotted around the main isle.
Each island has its own rich history and millennia of stories representing an important part of our shared history. Ile du Soleil was named after the “Sun King”, King Louis XIV, during Sri Lanka’s association with France. Fort Hammenhiel was named as the island was thought to resemble a leg of ham and was a quarry, garrison, prison and now a hotel. Delft, Leiden, and Enkhuizen islands were named after various locations and ports in the Netherlands.
Delft Island is the last location in Sri Lanka where wild horses may be found, along with a historical Dutch fort and a thousand-year-old Chola temple which attest to the rich layers of multiculturalism suffused into local islands. Caes dos Elefantes (Portuguese for Elephant Quay) is an island on the North-West of Sri Lanka which was ultimately known as Kayts, was famed as a shipping point from which Sri Lankan Elephants were exported to southern India.
The multicultural and multi religious Velanai Island, formerly known as Leiden after the Dutch City continues to produce evidence of sophisticated civilisations predating recorded history. The Pigeon Islands, now a national park are known for their large population of rock pigeons. The pristine coral reefs on these islands have made them a safe haven for a various endangered turtle species.
The intriguing sight of Baobab trees in Sri Lanka, a plant iconic to the plains of Africa surely indicates that you are on Mannar Island. Ancient Arab traders trading between African continent and Ceylon planted Baobabs on Mannar as they settled the island. These Baobabs, the youngest of which are over 500 years old attest to a rich and vibrant history of connection between Ceylon and Africa through the Middle East.
Many more fascinating narratives likely lie undiscovered on the islands surrounding Sri Lanka and we encourage readers to explore these islands on their travels to the archipelago or through Google Earth.
Randika Jayakody and Jerome Perera
Among Randika and Jerome’s many interests is a
deep passion to understand Sri Lankan history and
culture. This has been facilitated through exposure to
multiculturalism through their travels and living
experiences in multiple countries.