Sri Lanka’s cinnamon farmers seek divine help to spice up trade

SEENIGAMA, Sri Lanka, Dec 23, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka at the weekend revived an ancient ritual of offering the first cinnamon harvest to the gods, three years after a devastating tsunami wiped out centuries-old plantations here. Some 30,000 people are employed in chopping off cinnamon branches and turning out quills.

In a pageant involving traditional dancers and elephants, farmers resplendent in white walked three kilometres (two miles) in bright sunshine, carrying 90 kilos (41 pounds) of their precious virgin harvest to a shrine.

Sri Lanka is the world’s leading cinnamon supplier but waves of sea water gushed inland and destroyed lush plantations when the 2004 Boxing Day tragedy left 31,000 people dead and a million homeless across the country.

Saturday’s ritual to bless the industry saw some producers carry their cinnamon in wicker baskets, while others took unprocessed bark, leaves and oil, leaving a trail of the strong aroma.

They moved with piety at the southern temple town of Seenigama, which suffered one of the highest death tolls from the tsunami as well as seeing most of its crop wiped out.

“I brought along two bottles of cinnamon oil as part of my offering,” Kingsly Mendis, 39, told AFP as he w