History of the Gem trade in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has long been renowned for its gems. The history of the gems ofSri Lanka can be traced back some 3,000 years or so. They are part of many legends, folk lore and literary works. In the chronicles, reference is made to gems being brought fromCeylon to the court of Solomon. The “Mahawansa ” the great historical record of the Island refers to the singular reputation of theIsland for its gems. Sri Lanka’s gems are much written about by early travellers from Europe, Arabia and Asia. They have adorned many a Crown, Sceptre and Throne. These gems are the prized possessions of royalty and the rich and famous through the ages right up to this day.
Several Greek writers of the first and second centuries refer to the reputation of Sri Lanka for its precious gems. From about the fourth century to the eleventh century the Arab and the Persians exercised a great influence over the trade of Island. The Venetian traveller Marco Polo in the thirteenth century visited Sri Lanka on his homeward journey from China and his book he mentions the gems of the Island. He also records that he found the Moors, the descendants of the Arabs, in undisputed possession of the gem trade of Sri Lanka. It is also believed that Sinbad’s Valley of gems in the Arabian Nights is probably the Ratnapura gem fields. Sri Lanka has therefore been famous for its gems since early historic times.
The main gem bearing area of Sri Lanka which has been known for centuries comprises a serious of parallel hill ranges separated by longitudinal valleys and situated in the Sabaragamuwa province. To date, the main gemming field in theIslandare confined to this area which covers nearly 1500 sq. km. The neighbourhood Avissawella, Ratnapura, Rakwana and Balangoda has undoubtedly supported the most actively worked gem pits in the Island for a number of decades.
The gem and jewellery industry has been an important part of Sri Lanka’s economy for well over two centuries and remains so even today, and is likely to remain so into the foreseeable future. The majority of economic activity in the industry falls within 3 main sectors, mining, manufacturing and trading. There are four main trading oriented activities which are gem dealing (wholesale), importing, exporting and retailing.
Galle is the ancient port city of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), with a history dating back to probably two millennia. Sir Emerson Tennent thought that the city ofGalleinSri Lankawas the Biblical Tarshish from which King Solomon obtained Ivory, Apes and Peacoks. Arabian Travellers called the city Kalah which was a seaport lying between China and Persia, and was a great emporium of trade in the East. Ships of all nations met there and exchanged commodities. The Arab traders exchanged cotton, silk, gold and silver for ivory, precious and semi-precious stones (Gems) and spices, which were abundantly found in Sri Lanka. Arab traders settled in Sri Lanka in the 8th century-AD.
The port of Galle was much frequented in the middle ages too. It was the chief landmark of eastern navigators. There is an area called China Garden in Galle where Chinese traders once resided, and a Chinese inscription was discovered in Galle which recorded the dealings of the Chinese in Sri Lanka .Ibn Batuta the famous Arab traveller visited Sri Lanka in 1344, and in Galle he found a well established Moor Community engaged in the trading of spices, ivory, gems and jewelry. It is from the port city of Galle that Ibn Batuta embarked on an ancient ship that took him to the Maldives a group of atolls situated about 500km South West from Sri Lanka