How Arabs brought luster to Sri Lanka’s historic pearl trade

The Travels of Ibn Battuta

The Travels of Ibn Battuta

-First Arabs arrived in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C. and dominated its trade

-Pearl fishing in Sri Lanka began to struggle in the 19th century, under British rule

When Ibn Battuta arrived in northern Sri Lanka, the ruler of the Jaffna Kingdom greeted him with pearls more beautiful than any he had ever seen in his life.

The famed Moroccan explorer’s ship arrived in Puttalam in September 1344, and he spent a few days on the island, entertaining the king who was interested in his voyages, and visiting Adam’s Peak, a mountain venerated by Muslim pilgrims as the site of the footprint of the first man and prophet.

Ibn Battuta recorded the journey in his “Travels,” and gave a detailed description of it, focusing much of his attention on pearl reefs and pearl hunting — one of the main revenue earners for the Jaffna king’s coffers.

He wrote in his memoir that the gems he was gifted were “wonderful pearls, the biggest and most beautiful pearls in the world!”

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