Updated April 25, 2019​ 

Sri Lanka Express

Anecdotes from our history in the U.S.

The “international crisis” over pol mal (coconut blossoms)

“From Washington Thursday came a new international crisis,” said the Miami Herald on its front page,  February 13, 1959.  The crisis: no coconut blossoms.   

The Florida newspaper went on to report that Ambassador R.S.S. Gunewardene had a
grave problem on his hands.  “The  ambassador of Ceylon, it seems, has a daughter
who is marrying a Ceylon gentleman Feb 21. But for centuries no proper Ceylon maiden
has entered wedded bliss without a white coconut blossom decoration.”  Mr. C. Mahendran,
press attache at the Ceylon embassy was quoted as saying:  "The blossom is a symbol of
purity and graciousness.  White, of course, signifies purity, and in its simplicity
he blossom has its own grace.”

What to do without pol mal?

Ambassador Gunewardene “took his woes” to his longtime friend Spressard Holland.  It so happened that the Florida state senator (he later went on to become the state’s governor) was a “coconut fancier” and that he had in his office in Washington D.C. at the time a resourceful Miami accountant named James I. Keller who took the “international crisis”  home to his friend Hank Meyer.  As a publicist for the city of Miami Beach,  Mr. Meyer had sold sun,. surf, sand to attract tourists and there was no problem he couldn’t crack, especially when it came to coconuts.

Meyer went to the city’s Parks & Recreation and persuaded someone there to “climb a tree and pick a dozen coconut blossoms.”

And so, a week before the wedding that was to take place February 21, the City of Miami Beach shipped the flowers to Ambassador Gunewardene.

On February 21, 1959, the Miami Herald ran a follow-up assuring its readers that all was well.  Miami Beach city had shipped the blooms and the ambassador’s daughter Miss Iranganie Gunewardene was that day  having a traditional Ceylon wedding in D.C.
 R.S.S. Gunawardene

Have an anecdote to share?
Email story & pics to:
[email protected]