Necessity is the mother of invention and this one calls for a balancing act that can last for hours. Fishermen perched on wooden poles driven into the coral reef wait unobtrusively until their unsuspecting prey swims along to be caught. The method, quite unique by any standard, is used by some 500 families living in the southwestern shore of Sri Lanka, mainly near the towns of Kathaluwa and Ahangama.

Many think this is an old tradition whose origins go back to the distant past. But the truth is that it only started during WWII. Prompted by food shortage, ingenious Sri Lankans initially used the wreckage of downed aircraft as fishing platforms. With time, timber replaced iron and wooden stilt “forests” sprang up. Cross shaped, these stilts can carry the weight of one man and his catch. The fishermen hanging precariously on them bring the fish out of the water with graceful, swift moves. The art requires both know-how and skill but also amazing fitness.

After the 2004 tsunami, stilt fishing practically disappeared along with the shoals of fish which were affected by alterations to ocean floor and shoreline, but it did resume some time later. Still, today many fishermen find tourism a much more profitable way to earn a living and accordingly they rent their stilts to any fellow Sri Lankan who would care to pose for a picture.

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