Speaking of the "chank" shell, that is the name given in the East Indies to certain varieties of the voluta gravis, fished up by divers in the Gulf of Manaar, on the northwest coast of Ceylon. There are two kinds, payel and patty, the one red, the other white; the latter is of small value.
It was introduced by the Portuguese, and continued by the Dutch, the latter of whom had two elephant hunts in each year, and conducted their operations on so large a scale, that the annual export after supplying the government establishments, was from one hundred to one hundred and fifty elephants, taken principally in the vicinity of Matura, in the southern province, and marched for shipment to Manaar.
Here, at a certain spot, beds have existed for thousands of years, and are annually dredged for, or we should rather say, dived for, by organized companies. Pearl oysters are also found in large numbers in the Gulf of Manaar, between this island and the continent of India.
The rude approach to the human outline, observed in the shape of the head of this creature, and the attitude of the mother when suckling her young, clasping it to her breast with one flipper, while swimming with the other, holding the heads of both above water; and when disturbed, suddenly diving and displaying her fish-like tail, these, together with her habitual demonstrations of strong maternal affection, probably gave rise to the fable of the "mermaid;" and thus that earliest invention of mythical physiology may be traced to the Arab seamen and the Greeks, who had watched the movements of the dugong in the waters of Manaar.
In one enclosure they were nearly all red, and in an adjoining one brown. A trade more ancient by far than that carried on in chanks, and infinitely more renowned, is the fishery of pearls on the west coast of Ceylon, bordering the Gulf of Manaar.
There is a fort at the town of Manaar, situated on the southeastern extremity of the island. The harbor is too shallow to admit vessels drawing over eight or ten feet of water, but is completely sheltered. There are some twenty villages on this comparatively barren slip of land, but the people seem to be thrifty and healthy. There is no malaria here.
Their scales, instead of being imbricated like those of land-snakes, form hexagons; and those on the belly, instead of being scutate and enlarged, are nearly of the same size and form as on other parts of the body. Ælian speaks elsewhere of fresh-water snakes. I have sailed through large shoals of them in the Gulf of Manaar, close to the pearl-banks of Aripo.
We should advise a few days' delay also at Ramisseram, a part of the time being divided between this place and the large island of Manaar, which is quite accessible. The pleasantest way to accomplish this circuit is to take the boat at Point de Galle, the first place at which it is desirable to land being Batticaloa, the capital of the eastern province.
The solar rays pierced the curtain of clouds, piled up on the eastern horizon, and the radiant orb rose rapidly. I saw land distinctly, with a few trees scattered here and there. The boat neared Manaar Island, which was rounded to the south. Captain Nemo rose from his seat and watched the sea.
There I reflected on the incidents which had taken place in our excursion to the Manaar Bank. Two conclusions I must inevitably draw from it one bearing upon the unparalleled courage of Captain Nemo, the other upon his devotion to a human being, a representative of that race from which he fled beneath the sea.