SQUIZ THE WORLD (1400 × 700px)

Squiz the World goes to… Sri Lanka


Map of Sri Lanka: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lanka#/media/File:Sri_Lanka_(orthographic_projection).svg
Flag of Sri Lanka: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Sri_Lanka#Colours
Sri Lankan sloth bear climbing: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/K6A0st0IfD4
Sri Lankan cashew curry: https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2022/07/10/cashew-curry-sri-lankan-recipe/
Kiribath milk rice: https://www.islandsmile.org/how-to-make-kiribath-milk-rice/

Each week, we give the world globe a spin, and see where we land. Then we take the kids of Australia on an audio excursion to visit that country and its people.

I’m Amanda Bower, and today on Squiz the World we’re visiting a country that is shaped like a tear drop… has very clever crocodiles… and two capital cities. Can you guess? Strap yourselves into the Squiz Kids Super Fast Supersonic Jetliner as we take off and take a squiz at Sri Lanka …  

Sri Lanka is a tropical island in the Indian Ocean that sits off the southern tip of India. In fact, some people call it the ‘teardrop of India,’ not because it makes India cry, but because the island is shaped like a teardrop – have a look at the map in your episode notes and see if you agree!

Back before there were aeroplanes, and all the world’s business was done by ship, Sri Lanka was in a strategically important place – meaning that if a powerful country occupied and had power over Sri Lanka, it would be helpful for their trading, and their military. So like Australia, Sri Lanka was once a colony… first it was occupied by the Portugese… then by the Dutch… and finally by the British, who called it “Ceylon”. If you’re a tea drinker, you might know that one of the world’s most popular teas is Ceylon tea, named that way by the British… it has thin, wiry leaves, and is excellent hot or iced. Just saying.

Sri Lanka became self governing – meaning its people elected their own government, like in Australia – in 1948. It became fully independent from Britain in 1972. Australia still has the Queen as our official head of state, so we’re not considered fully independent.

Now we don’t often talk about a country’s flag in “Just the Facts”, but Sri Lanka’s is worth a mention! Also known as Lion Flag, it’s considered one of the world’s oldest, dating back to 162 BC. As far as I can tell, it’s also the only flag in the world to recognize different religious beliefs of its citizens. I’ve put a link in your episode notes explaining all the symbolism – there’s a lot! – but there are four golden leaves from the sacred bodhi tree, which represent Buddhism; a teal green stripe to represent Muslims; an orange stripe for Hindus; and a golden border to represent other minorities.

Sri Lanka’s 22 million people are governed by a Parliament and a President. The President is based in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s biggest city, and appoints ministers from elected members of Parliament. Parliament, though, is based in Sri Lanka’s other capital city, which has a much longer and more complicated name than Colombo! Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is where Parliament sits, and makes all the laws, and where the high court is based.

Whenever you travel, it’s important to learn a few words in that country’s language. It’s a great way to show respect. So, let’s….

Sri Lanka has two official languages: Sinhala and Tamil. The Sinhalese people make up about 75% of the population, and about 15% of people are Tamil. The languages have completely different systems of writing, and belong to different language families.
We’re very lucky today to have TWO Squiz Kids here to teach us a bit of each language. Keeran, you’re up first!

Thanks, Keeran! Ohasi is up next… she speaks Sinhala so that she can communicate with her grandparents back in Sri Lanka.

Now that we can speak a little of the language, it’s…

Education is a top priority in Sri Lanka.

When kids start school, they spend the first two years learning in their native language – either Sinhala or Tamil – and much of their learning is done through playing.

When they’re in year 3, they’ll start learning TWO new languages – English, and the Sri Lankan language they don’t already speak at home.

In year 5, all students sit a very competitive exam, which is used to offer kids from poorer families scholarships to attend fancy high schools, and to place all kids in a high school that suits their abilities. The importance placed on this exam is a bit like our Year 12 exams in Australia, and there’s a big debate in Sri Lanka about whether such young kids should be put through so much stress.

So, let’s move on to something not at all stressful – tourism!

When tourists visit Australia, they are amazed by the unique animals we have – kangaroos, koalas, platypuses. Well, it’s our turn to be amazed by Sri Lanka ….

Do you know what endemic means?

It means that something is restricted to, and native to, a certain place. So kangaroos are endemic to Australia. One of the reasons people think Australia has so many unique plants and animals is because it’s an island that was isolated from the rest of the world for so long… so plants and animals evolved differently here, and because they couldn’t leave, they can’t be found anywhere else.
Well, Sri Lanka, also an island, has one of the highest rates of biological endemism in the world. In 2019, over the course of just one year, 54 NEW endemic species were discovered!

More than half of Sri Lanka’s reptiles are native to the country, including my personal favourite, the mugger crocodile. These clever crocs actually balance sticks on their heads just before the nesting season for birds. Why? Well, birds need LOTS of sticks to build their nests, so they’re likely to come and grab them. And then… CHOMP. Bird for dinner. Scientists say this is the first known example of a reptile using tools. Brutal, but cool.

I’m also a big fan of Sri Lanka’s endemic mammals, including the Sri Lankan elephant, leopard, and sloth bear. They’re called “sloths” because they initially seem to be slow and clumsy, but they can run faster than a human and are extremely gifted tree climbers. Check out the video in your episode notes – I think you’ll agree that they are also super cute!

Many of Sri Lanka’s endemic animals have been threatened by habitat destruction – meaning humans have cut down native forests – as well as pollution and climate change. Sri Lanka’s government is trying to fix that – it has the highest percentage of protected land in Asia, with more than 500 separate protected areas. It’s a great place to go and spot animals in the wild.

Alright, it’s been a long day on Sri Lankan safari, and I’m starving! I think it might be…

The national dish of Sri Lanka is rice and curry… but it’s more complicated than it sounds! There are at least three, and ideally five, different curries involved – 70% of Sri Lankans belong to the Buddhist religion, which states that you should never take the life of a person or animal. That means most Buddhists don’t eat meat… so those curries are often veggie. But don’t for a second think they’re boring! They’re served with sambols, which are Sri Lankan relishes, a gravy with spices and coconut milk, a kind of salad with chopped leaves and coconut… and crispy foods like papadams.

It’s a lot to ask a kid to help make FIVE curries, so I’ve popped a link in your episode notes to a cashew curry recipe from a Sri Lankan restaurant in Sydney – the chef’s food is so famous and delicious that her recipes have been printed in overseas newspapers and magazines!

And I’ve also included a recipe for kiribath, or coconut milk rice, which is cooked, cut into diamond shapes, and served every New Year’s day, and on other important occasions. It’s really simple to make and …delicious!

This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening.

Question 1. How many capitals does Sri Lanka have?
Question 2. What is the word used to describe a plant or animal native to a place?
Question 3. Why are most Sri Lankans vegetarian?