“The Jaffna Peninsula is one of the most remarkable settlements in South Asia. The Tamil inhabitants are strongly individual in character, and the region is comparable with parts of Holland, where the people seem to be so much more important than the land itself”.
The above assessment of are scholar contains more than a modicum of truth.
At the end of the eighties, the number of inhabitants of the Peninsula was put at 750,000.
Though the population density per square mile is only 331, concentration of population in arable lands and in fishing areas is very heavy. The density of population per square mile of cultivated land is 1616, the highest in the Island.
Thenmarachi, an area mostly of barren lands with sandy stretches and alkaline soil but also of grey loam soil, has 400 to 500 persons per square mile. However, in the grey loam area the figure goes up to 1000 person per square mile. Valikamam East, an area consisting of both barren lands bordering the lagoon and of red soil, has 500 to 1000 people per tare mile in the area near the lagoon and more than 4000 people in the soil area.
Valikamam North, Valikamam West and Vadamarachi West, the first two areas containing lands of intensive cultivation, and the last area containing limestone wastes and grey loam soil, have 1000 to 2000 persons per square mile in general and 5000 in the cultivated areas of Valikamam North and Vadamarachi West. In the cultivated areas of Valikamam West, the density is 2000 persons per square mile. Pachilaippalai, teeming with malarial mosquitos, has merely 275 persons per square mile of the cultivated area.
The Jaffna town and surrounding area (Jaffna division) have more than 4000 persons per square mile. This density is due no doubt to the fact that the town is not only the administrative and cultural capital, but also the market and business centre of the entire Peninsula.” In 1993 the total population stood at 133,000.4 Fishing settlements are to be found in the Northern and Eastern coasts of the Peninsula. Population in the fishing areas near the Jaffna town such as Navanthurai, Gurunagar and Passaiyur is extremely dense.
Kayts, which guards the sea entry to Jaffna and is also the gateway to the Islands, together with Kankesanturai, Valvettiturai and Point
Pedro constitute the seaports of the Peninsula, with open, non- sheltered, harbours. Valvettiturai, the birthplace of Velupillai Prabakaran, the leader of the LTTE, has marine grottos and caverns overflowing with marine fossils. Sea pirates in the middle ages used these grottos. In the early and middle parts of this century, Valvettiturai had also gained reputation as a smuggling area.
Most of the agricultural settlements may be termed rural. Houses are to be found on the margins of gardens and are “strung like beads along the road” Where paddy and coconut are cultivated, houses are found in groups forming villages.
The tendency of the people of Jaffna to build houses along roads and even along railway tracks has intrigued some scholars. It has surprised them because of the “closed nature of the average Tamils dwelling” In point of fact, houses are shut off behind a fence of Palmyrah or cadjian leaves; the fence is supported by the live tulip trees (surya) that have thick foliage; to enter the house, one has to open a binged gate. However, it is a known fact that almost every inch of available land is made use of in one way or the other and that most people are prepared to shed their blood just for an inch of land.