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Identifier: Film Collection no. 220

Scope and Contents

Filmed during the Morden Expedition to Africa and Asia, 1922-1924. William James Morden's Ceylon is a travelogue of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1920s. Tamil and Sinhalese people, ancient Buddhist ruins, tropical landscapes, and day to day activities are shown in great detail on tinted stock. Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamil men, women, and children are seen in a variety of activities throughout the film. In one scene, a group of Sinhalese women wearing wrapped skirts called comboys bathe their children in a river. In another, an elderly Sinhalese man with slicked-back hair and a large tortoise shell comb poses for the camera. Tamil women wearing plain saris and bearing loaded wicker baskets attached by tumplines, pick tea leaves on a hillside. A group of brightly-dressed Tamil boys and girls sit on the first and second floors of the front of a large white house. The girls wear gem-encrusted jewelry (trills) in their hair, ears, and noses, and wear patterned silk saris. The boys sport round hats made of silk, jeweled earrings, and white silk outfits. Historic sites in the film include a view of Sigiriya (Lion Rock), a 600-foot high rock monolith that was the site of King Kasyapa's court in the fifth century B.C. Ancient Buddhist statues and columns are photographed, as are the remains of the Brazen Palace at Anuradhapura, an ancient Buddhist monastery and capital of the island before Sigiriya. The tropical beauty of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) is captured in views of a banyan tree forest and of the mountainous interior of the island. There are shots of mahout-driven elephants carrying logs and then bathing in a river. There are also shots of bullock carts of various sizes. The last scene, set in a village before a crowd, shows Sinhalese Kandyan dancers wearing elaborate hats, earpieces, and waist belts of shining silver, beaded chestpieces, yellow brass bracelets, and shoulder guards. The dancers, who are men, then strike various poses, and boys dance in a circle around a drummer; they are joined by a masked man who prances around the group. The Kandyan dance is usually performed each year during the Perahera festival which takes place in the city of Kandy during the midsummer's full moon. This film, photographed by Herford Tynes Cowling, is a picturesque portrait of life in Ceylon.


  • 1922-1924

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Not available through interlibrary loan. Contact AMNH Library Special Collections for terms of access.


1 Film Reel (35 minutes) : silent, black and white ; 35 mm.

1 Videocassette (U-Matic (35 minutes)) : silent, black and white ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy


Original format: 35 mm. print; incomplete. Tinted stock.



Herford Tynes Cowling, photographer.

Ceylon, 1922-1924
Iris Lee
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
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