Page:Natural History, Mollusca.djvu/260

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"In preparing the pearls, particularly in drilling and stringing them, the black people are wonderfully expert. I was very much struck with the instrument they employ in drilling, as well as the dexterity with which they use it. A machine made of wood, of a shape resembling an obtuse inverted cone, about six inches in length and four in breadth, is supported upon three feet, each twelve inches long. In the upper flat surface of this machine holes or pits are formed to receive the larger pearls, the smaller ones being beat in with a wooden hammer. The drilling instruments are spindles of various sizes, according to that of the pearls; they are turned round in a wooden head by means of a bow-handle to which they are attached. The pearls being placed in the pits which we have already mentioned, and the point of the spindle adjusted to them, the workman presses on the wooden head of the machine with his left hand, while his right is employed in turning round the bow-handle. During the process of drilling he occasionally moistens the pearl, by dipping the little finger of his right hand in a cocoa-nut filled with water, which is placed by him for that purpose; this he does with a dexterity and quickness which scarcely impede the operation, and can only be acquired by much practice.

"They have also a variety of other instruments both for cutting and drilling the pearls. To clean, round, and polish them to that state in which we see them, a powder made of the pearls themselves is employed. These different operations in preparing the pearls, occupy a great number of the black men in various parts of the island. In the black town or pettah of Columbo, in particular,