Book of Ser Marco Polo


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The Pearl-Fishers of Ceylon


You must know that the sea here forms a gulf between the island of Ceylon and the mainland. And all round this gulf the water has a depth of no more than ten or twelve fathoms, and in some places no more than two fathoms. The pearl-fishers take their vessels, great and small, and proceed into this gulf, where they stop from the beginning of April till the middle of May. . . . Here they cast anchor and shift from their large vessels into small boats. You must know that the many merchants who go divide into various companies, and each of these must engage a number of men on wages, hiring them for April and half of May. Of all the produce they have first to pay the king, as his royalty, the tenth part. And they must also pay those men who charm the great fishes, to prevent them from injuring the divers while engaged in seeking pearls under water, a twentieth part of all that they take. These fish-charmers are termed Brahmans; and their charm holds good for that day only, for at night they dissolve the charm so that the fishes can work mischief at their will. These Brahmans know also how to charm beasts and birds and every living thing. When the men have got into the small boats, they jump into the water and dive to the bottom, which may be at a depth of from four to twelve fathoms, and there they remain as long as they are able. And there they find the shells that contain the pearls, and these they put into a net bag tied round the waist and mount up to the surface with them, and then dive anew. When they cannot hold their breath any longer they come up again, and after a little while down they dive once more, and so they go on all day. The shells are like those of oysters. And in these shells are found pearls, great and small, of every kind, sticking in the flesh of the shell fish.

In this manner pearls are secured in great quantities, for thence in fact come the pearls which are spread all over the world. And I can tell you the king of that state has a very great treasure from his dues upon those pearls.

1 , bk. iii, ch. 16.


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Chicago: "The Pearl-Fishers of Ceylon," Book of Ser Marco Polo in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 479. Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: . "The Pearl-Fishers of Ceylon." Book of Ser Marco Polo, Vol. iii, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, page 479. Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: , 'The Pearl-Fishers of Ceylon' in Book of Ser Marco Polo. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.479. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from