By Shannon Jayawardena
Professor Manfred Domroes, a lecturer and adventurist with an immense passion for Sri Lanka’s natural beauty and exquisite tea, recently paid his 100th visit to the country. His maiden visit was in 1967: since then, he has remained loyal to the country, calling Sri Lanka as his second home.
In this interview with Daily FT, Professor Domroes shares why he loves the country and details of his 100 visits, mainly promoting the study of the geography and economy of Sri Lanka to groups of students from Germany.
Prof. Domroes said: “In 1965 I joined a research unit in Germany at the famous Heidelberg University, became a lecturer in geography, and there I had to specialise in any part of South Asia. Therefore I chose Ceylon. I chose Ceylon because I love islands, not the big country of India, and thereafter I started to get interested in tea. Those days it was the most famous product in Ceylon, and then I was able to receive a research fund from the German government.”
Having arrived in Sri Lanka for the first time, Domroes went on to carry out his research in the ‘tea country’ of the central hills. In August 1967, he was stationed with a tea landlord, a retired tea planter with whom he travelled to many tea gardens, doing interviews on the climatic conditions and other conditions of tea growing in the country.
These findings were published in a book titled ‘The Agro-Climate of Ceylon’ in 1974 and was translated into many languages. This book is used mainly by students studying agriculture at the Peradeniya University. “I love Lanka and started with tea in 1968, and thereafter I did work in other fields such as tourism, agriculture, infrastructure, fishery, gem-mining and so forth. These were fields which are all part of geography, which I love, and of course geography is a wide field in which you have various aspects to deal with. For me, the starting point was tea and the climate, and then I had many opportunities of publishing books and articles. I have written several books on tourism in Lanka, specifically six books and 50 articles.”
Having read his articles and books on the wonders of Ceylon, Domroes’ students developed a great interest on the subject. In 1974, he brought a group of German students to Sri Lanka who he said were very keen and interested in the beautiful country. German students love Sri Lanka and they love being in the country, he noted. “I love Lanka because I am never regarded as a foreigner or stranger, and people always think of me as a friend. Altogether I was here in Lanka for seven years, and I hope to be in good health for a long time to come again and again. I was here even during the critical time, which was very awful, and even then I had a good relationship with the entire country, and had friends among all ethnic groups and all religions. It is always like coming home when I arrive. Your country is an outstanding country.”
Prof. Domroes stated that the locals often don’t realise the beauty of the country, and that it is the obligation of everyone, especially young people, to ensure it stays beautiful - Lanka must remain a bright island filled with warm hearted, friendly people. He went on to say that this is a smiling country, which is a great value. People in Sri Lanka respect other foreigners and are most friendly – it is the obligation of the youth to carry Sri Lankan friendliness and hospitality on to future generations.
Prof. Domroes visited the country year by year to give lectures, teach classes at local universities and even helped the general public during the time of the tsunami. He inaugurated a Friendship Society in Germany, and went on to build a small village near Galle with ten houses, as well as a home for orphan children in Badulla. He is also a constant aid and comfort to many slum children who live in Colombo.
“In the 1970s, I went with my family to Beruwala and had a wonderful dinner buffet. When I was standing at the buffet looking around, a gentleman approached me and asked if he could help me in any way. That man then gave me his business card and I read the name Balendren. His personality was filled with friendliness and hospitality, and he was truly a wonderful man. Actually it was because of him that I got closer in contact. Walkers Tours is still how I travel to Sri Lanka up to date. I have been to all corners of the country, there are hardly any places that I haven’t been to.”
He is currently working on a book titled ‘100 times and 50 years of Sri Lanka’, and is soon set to visit the country again, with two other professors from Germany. He hopes to visit Yala East and continue to explore the country for many years to come. Prof. Domroes has not only co-operated with but helped the country immensely with his passion to serve Sri Lanka, his second home.
Pix by Sameera Wijesinghe