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Toddy Tapper II - Low County, Sri Lanka

A Sinhalese toddy tapper rope-walks quickly (for balance) from treetop to treetop at 30 to 40 feet above ground to harvest the sweet milky sap of the cut coconut blossom near Balapitiya, a small traditional fishing village on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Slide scan, shot with an Asahi Pentax SP Spotmatic, SMC Pentax Zoom 45~125mm f/4.

 

An individual tapper can harvest a hundred trees or more in a day as individual treetop circuits are routinely completed. The ropes are made of strong coir or coconut fiber.

 

Portable equipment carried on these aerial circuits includes two types of knives in a wooden case to slice the spadix, a small wooden mallet or piece of bone to tap the sides of the spathe, a coconut shell containing green-leaf paste to control the oozing sap, and a clay pot or gourd to collect the sap.

 

Toddy tapping is done by members of many castes in the region. As far as I can tell, this rope-walk harvesting method is solely unique to Sri Lanka.

 

The sap is ultimately fermented into palm wine and distilled into arrack, perhaps the most popular local alcoholic beverage consumed in Sri Lanka today.

  

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Taken in January 1984