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The rhythms of daily life seem to belie the effects of outsiders over the centuries. Today, Kovalam is a small, almost magical place which typifies the region’s timelessness and allure. It remains an idyllic paradise of coconut palm forests and rocky cliffs descending into the Arabian Sea. The local economy is tied to nature. Fishing flourishes, and agriculture produces rice, bananas, spices, and coconut products in abundance. Despite the advent of electric lights installed in beachfront cafes, a visitor to the region suspects that little else has changed in the nearly two thousand years since Thomas’s arrival.

Early in the morning at Kovalam beach, a handful of fishermen load neatly coiled lengths of handwoven fishnet into small, hand-carved boats before facing the sea. They row into the furious waters and let out their half-mile-long nets, just as their ancestors had done for generations. Returning to shore, they wait patiently for the nets to fill.

Soon they are ready to gather the sea’s harvest. While the day is still young, the fishermen gather on shore in their colorful lungi skirts and begin to pull the heavy nets back onto shore. While they toil, they sing rhythmic songs in Malayalam, the native tongue. The hands around the weighty coils make one strong pull per measure until the net is close to shore. Meanwhile, boys enthusiastically beat the water with their hands to scare the fish back into the net.

Once ashore, the daily catch is sorted. Jellyfish are thrown back. Thousands of smaller silverfish and squid are separated into woven baskets to be hoisted into the dugout boats for transport to market.

The sharp-toothed kingfish, measuring three to five feet, are the pride of the catch. They provide delicious steaks for the evening feast. Curry fish, tomato-sauce fish, coconut-topped fish: the creative possibilities reflect the richness of the local resources.

An elder male acts as a broker auctioning fish to kitchen workers from the nearby Ashok hotel. Despite tough negotiations, the woman buying for the hotel cannot argue a price lower than twenty rupees, about $2. After all, the fishermen know what a good fish is worth, and they must make a living.

Finally, the catch is divided among the fishermen and local restaurateurs representing such glibly named establishments as the Wood Star, Blue Sea, Woodstock, and Black Cat. The remaining fish are loaded back into the dugouts to be taken to the local markets in Trivandrum.

Suresh, not yet twenty years old, is in charge of the Velvet Dawn, a seaside grass-shack restaurant which caters to the relatively few tourists at the somewhat remote village. The young manager is a devout Hindu. Each evening he lights a series of votive candles and incense in a corner of the restaurant in honor of Lakshmi, goddess of beauty and good fortune born of the churning ocean.

Because Suresh comes from a large family, he must wait until all his older brothers and sisters have been married before his parents find him a suitable bride. When his older sister wed recently, she had known the groom for only one month. Everyone in town, whether a relative or one of the few tourists, was invited to attend the ceremony. The event cost Suresh’s parents a fortune – nearly 150,000 rupees, or $13,000. The bride must have a good dowry, which includes everything she needs to set up a household plus as much gold as the family can afford.

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Tags: Christianity Kerala Cultural Identity