Isle of Elephants

1952 - 1955, Sri Lanka (Other)

A holiday in Sri Lanka.

Film record of a road trip made by Laurie and Stuart Day in Sri Lanka in the early 1950s, comprising shots of visits to ancient ruins, visitor attractions, the landscape in the Central Province and encounters with the local population en route. Sequences include: a snake charmer/ magician in Colombo Zoo at the beginning and end of the film respectively; an elephant being bathed in the Mahaweli river; a visit to the caves at Dambulla; visits to historic and religious sites at Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Sri Dalada Maligawa; a visit to the Peradeniya, Botanical Gardens in Kandy; as well as encounters with the local population and observations of their activities in cocoa, rubber and rice production. The holiday footage incorporates later close shots of Laurie and Stuart Day in the United Kingdom within three sequences: the snake charming scene and mango tree trick in Colombo Zoo, and an encounter with an elephant and its handler on the road in Sri Lanka. The commentary is provided by Laurie Day and is interspersed with music as well as the sound of a pungi in the snake charming and mango tree trick sequences filmed in Colombo Zoo. In her commentary, Laurie Day refers to the ‘Mohammedan’ belief that human life began in Ceylon; comments on the colourful and contented population; briefly describes the sights at the Dambulla caves and sets out a brief history of the inhabitation and fortification of the Sigiriya; describes the sights at Polonnaruwa, remarking on its flowering under King Parakramabahu and its sacking and disappearance 20 years after his death; describes the process involved in cocoa production and criticises the outdated method of rice production; expresses fascination with the orchids in the Peradeniya, Botanical Gardens in Kandy and ponders on the origins of the Sri Lankan elephant.

Featured Buildings

Caves of Dambulla Statue of Parakramabahu, Polonnaruwa City ruins, Polonnaruwa Vatadage, Polonnaruwa Statue of reclining Buddha, Polonnaruwa Statue of Ananda, Polonnaruwa Kiri Dagoba, Polonnaruwa Sri Dalada Maligawa [Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic], Kandy


Sri Lanka; Ceylon; Tourism in the 1950s; British colonies; Colonialism; Snake Charmers; Ancient history; Historic sites; Cocoa production; Rice production; Elephants; Sumatran elephants

Other Places

Colombo; Mahaweli Ganga [Mahaweli river]; Dambulla; Sigiriya; Polonnaruwa; Kandy

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