Gem mining in Sri Lanka
SRI LANKA has been called Serendib, Thambapanni, Zailan, Ceylon , many beautiful names, trying to describe this island richly endowed with natural resources and breathtaking beauty.
One of the most valuable such resources is gems.Historically, gem production in Sri Lanka dates back to around 500 B.C.
Sri Lanka gem producing areas are 5 in number . The traditional areas extend from Avissawella, to Balangoda to Embilipitiya. This area includes the most important mining centers Eheliyagoda, Ratnapura, Pelmedulla and Kahawatte.
Most gem mines are found in thick jungles where facilities like electricity and such are not available. Logs of rubber trees are very important in gem mining.These logs are transported manually. Rubber logs are used exclusively to strengthen
the 4 walls of the mine.
Once obtained, they are cut into square blocks of specific sizes so they can absorb
large volumes of water.
After preparing the rubber logs and the location for the gem pit has been identified and the boundaries demarcated the clearing of the site is started. Now the digging of the gem pit commences after invoking the blessings of the gods.
Once the pit is dug deep, the implements have to be supplied to miners and arrangements have to be made to take the soil out.For this purpose, a manually operated roller is used to transport implements and other materials down and to bring the soil to the surface.Once the digging progresses, the pit gets filled with water which has to be constantly pumped out.
For this purpose a fuel operated, high powered water-pump is used.
Communication from those inside the mine to those above is vital.
The only source of light inside the mines are from candles. Candles also act as a warning of dangers from harmful gases, as the candles will not light if there is such a gas.
Once the gem bearing gravels are found inside the cross tunnels, this gravel is broken with the help of a crow-bar.
Sending up this gem bearing gravel to the top is a time consuming exercise.
They are filled into a basket and set up through a roller- operated rope.
The piled up gravel is collected and carefully piled up near the mine until all the gravel is unearthed.
The water pumped out of the mines, now comes in handy as it is used to wash the gravel.
Gravel in baskets is washed in a deep water pit.
Washing of the gravel is a job of an expert as you may see with every hulling the lighter
stones come to the top and the heavier ones descend to the bottom and settle there.
The gods, whose blessings were evoked at the beginning of the operation are now thanked for the blessings and help given.