picking tea buds

picking tea buds
a bonded slavery still exists in srilanka.
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Monday, May 28, 2012

The ‘Whys’ and the ‘Wherefores’ of Sri Lanka -One ‘Son of the Soil’s’ reading of the past and the present
Posted on May 26th, 2012

By J.B. Müller

The Sri Lankan Diaspora overseas (mainly in Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the USA) eagerly and indiscriminately absorbs everything appearing about their Motherland in the international print and electronic media.  All what is done is done in the naïve belief that there isn’t a spin on the news and that it is completely unbiased and objective.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Of course, expatriates would like to believe that the BBC, VOA, Deutsche Welle, CNN, Al Jazeera and others are feeding their hungry and even curious minds with the unadulterated truth.
 It might be useful for those in the Diaspora to know, understand and acknowledge that Sri Lankans are no longer Eurocentric Anglophiles having at long last seen through the various Anglo-Saxon-Celtic ploys to continue their domination and exploitation by other, indirect means.  No longer are Sri Lankans willing to regard their erstwhile masters as ‘superior’ beings with a ‘higher’ civilization to which they should slavishly defer.  Those ‘good old days’ are gone and good riddance!
Sri Lanka is a very old country with a long history of civilization and a matured polity unlike some ‘Johnny-come-lately’ countries with hardly 500 years of history.  The latter period of its history was marred by 443 years of European exploitation, each European power building on its predecessors to refine its instruments of exploitation.  The British were the worst and the bloodiest when it came to merciless brutality as is evidenced by the manner in which it quelled the uprising of the Kandyans between 1818 and 1822.  It committed genocide before that word was coined by slaughtering every man, woman, and child (including babes suckling at the breast!) in the Uva Province.  That province comprised of the present Badulla and Moneragala Districts is yet to recover and is just now being developed by government.  The Colonial Office 54 series of documents available at the Public Records Office in London holds all the General Orders issued by Lt. Gen. Sir Robert Brownrigg, governor and c-in-c, to Maj. General Hay McDowall and the correspondence with the Colonial Secretary, the Earl of Bathurst. (The Great Rebellion of 1818 by Prof. Tennekoon Vimalananda, Five Volumes, Gunasena Historical Series, Colombo, 1970)
In 1823 the British began selling Crown Land at two shillings an acre to British entrepreneurs—first, to cultivate cinchona [from which quinine is obtained], then coffee, then tea and rubber—from which they made huge profits for 149 years—and Mincing Lane and the members of the London Stock Exchange prospered beyond the dreams of avarice. (Land Reform Commission Report by Colvin R. de Silva, tabled in Parliament)
They created a huge ethnic and social problem by transporting indentured labour from the Ramnad district of Madras Presidency (present day Tamil Nadu).  These helpless people were auctioned off at Matale like the African slaves at Charleston, SC, and families were cruelly torn apart.  They reached Matale walking over 100 miles from Talaimannar along a route that came to be known as the ‘Skeleton Road’ because of the numbers that had perished by the wayside from hunger, thirst, snakebite, attack by wild beasts, cholera, dysentery, and what-have-you.  Their tragedy has been carefully documented by Donovan Moldrich in his‘Bitter Berry Bondage’—the story of the 19th century coffee workers in Sri Lanka.  Another Burgher author, Lorna Ruth Wright, OAM, wrote “Just another shade of Brown” which graphically details the sexual exploitation of the women plantation workers and the creation of the Eurasian Community (disowned by their very prim and proper British fathers!)   Many authors domestic and foreign have written about what colonialism did to Sri Lanka (Ceylon up to 1972) and it is a wonder that the people of this country tolerated what was done to them for so long, so patiently. (‘Bitter Berry Bondage’ by Donovan R. Moldrich and ‘Just another shade of brown’ by Lorna R. Wright)
Father Paul Caspersz, SJ, head of Satyodaya, Kandy, has been labouring amongst the Tamil plantation workers of Indian origin for decades and has written extensively about how these human beings have been mercilessly exploited.  They have lived in sub-human conditions for over one hundred years and their emancipation has been a long and hard struggle to restore to them their intric dignity as human beings. (Satyodaya Centre, Kandy, sri Lanka)
When I was working at the then Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation as a Relief Announcer on the Commercial Service I distinctly remember reading a sign affixed to the gate of a British Club facing the Dutch Burgher Union headquarters which said: “Natives and dogs NOT allowed.”  This was in 1969!  I phoned friends working on the ‘Ceylon Daily News’ and they sent a photographer round to snap a picture.  It was published and shortly thereafter the Government ordered the Club to take down the offending notice.  Do any self-respecting people endowed with inherent dignity have to tolerate such barefaced arrogance?
Britain was one of the most ‘successful’ imperial powers on earth and they created a worldwide empire (on which the sun never set because it was everywhere on the globe) and bled its colonies.  London is such a magnificent city despite its foul weather because it has risen, literally, on the blood, sweat and tears of countless millions in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Australia.  In their imperial schema of things Australia produced the wool, New Zealand the milk, Malaya the rubber, Ceylon the tea, Rhodesia the tobacco, South Africa the diamonds and gold, Mauritius the sugar, West Africa the cocoa and so on—to the great delight of those who sat in London and counted their pounds, shillings and pence.  They didn’t mind exploiting their own in the textile mills of Lancashire and the coal mines of Scotland. [Charles Dickens]. The exported their poor Scots, Irish, and Welsh to all these colonies to supervise the black, brown and yellow natives [and the ‘half-caste’ Eurasian offspring known as Burghers, Anglos and even bastards].  The slightest rumble from their workers and the Redcoats (now Khakied) were there to shoot their b***s off!
Look at the Burghers.  The British looked down on them with great disdain classifying them as ‘half-castes’ and included them amongst the indigenous population.  In 1796 they issued the Burghers an ultimatum—learn English or leave.  Many who had the means went to Batavia (modern Jakarta).  The others stayed and learned the new tongue.  Very soon, these Burghers knew better English than the British themselves and were therefore enlisted in that great corps of clerks that they employed.  These Burghers also learned how to play cricket and challenged the British to a one-day on Galle Face Green.  They were superciliously asked what the name of their ‘club’ was to which a Burgher sharply retorted:  “Nondescripts Cricket Club, Sir!”  The name stuck.  The club still exists (from 1889).  So do the ‘nondescript’ Burghers. The entire British establishment including the ‘shoppies’ turned out one fine Sunday morning to watch these half-caste upstarts being licked.  The imperial governor himself came and occupied the clubhouse that now stands before the Taj Samudra Hotel.  Well, to cut a long story short, the Burgher ‘nondescripts’ beat the British who were ‘hoist with their own petard!’  They were learning, ever so painfully, that other people were not only their equals but could also better them in many spheres and they learned this lesson on this Island.(People Inbetween by Michael Roberts, Ismeth Raheem, Percy Colin-Thômé, Sarvodaya, Ratmalana, 1989).
There is no land on the globe that the British touched that has not been left with a wholly untenable legacy of problems:  India with Pakistan have Kashmir; the Holy land has Jewish Israel contending with Arab Palestine; the Cypriots are divided between the Greeks and the Turks; Africa is an indescribable mess.  Glaring problems were created on the North American continent with the marginalization of the native Amerindian and Inuit peoples not to mention the stand-off between Blacks and Whites.  In Australia the original inhabitants, the aborigines were decimated and then marginalized whilst their land was robbed from them by white colonists.  It is a despicable record of man’s inhumanity to man carried forward on the specious premise that ‘White is Right’ and because they had a head-start in the practice of barbarism!  What is even more despicable is that their so-called ‘Christianity’ condoned their barefaced discrimination and unfettered brutality.
Today, these Anglo-Saxon-Celts pontificate o the whole world about human rights—yes, fundamental human rights which they denied millions from the 16th to the 20th centuries of the Common Era.  They sanctimoniously presume to interfere in the internal affairs of countries that attempt to stand-up to their bullying (amply exposed by Wiki-Leaks).  The ongoing bloodletting in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate their manifest hypocrisy.
They left behind what were basically alien concepts, structures, systems, and constitutions that have confused and confuted the peoples they formerly ruled.  They uprooted and deliberately destroyed indigenous systems that had endured for millennia and which the indigenous people were comfortable with.  Today, the peoples of these lands are divided into innumerable factions and cliques contending bloodily for command and control in the name of the ‘democracy’ they left behind.  They are happy with what they see because it is a continuation of their ‘divide et imperia’ or ‘divide and rule’ policy.  It is easy to manipulate and exploit those who are divided!
Sri Lanka’s problems which some expatriates gleefully point out (as a justification for their living overseas) is a damaging inheritance bequeathed by the departing British to a class of indigenous people brainwashed and nurtured by them in their own image:  the English-speaking Middle Classes represented by several leading families of Low-country upstarts and Up-country traitors.  These families have lick-spittle hangers-on who have attained some upward social mobility and the privileges that go with that mobility and occupy the second and third tiers of governance.  Whether they inhabit the governing party or the Opposition or their sundry and various coalition cohorts they have become the ‘corrupt of the earth.’
The decent and law-abiding majority are a patient, tolerant and hospitable people (sometimes referred to as the ‘broad masses’) who have taken much abuse. If you believe the many travellers who passed through, they are a giving and forgiving people.  If we are to trust the historical record, these gentle, hard-working people have been driven to and fro by the Pandyans, Cholas, Cheras, Pallavas and Javakas; then, by the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British—each, in turn, more subtly brutal than the previous.  Ever since 1186, when the indigenous polity began disintegrating with the breakdown of central authority [and fissiparous tendencies manifested themselves], there has been a traumatic crisis that is yet to come to a conclusion.  We know that history works in cycles and that that conclusion will come, perhaps unobtrusively or dramatically to sweep away the detritus of several centuries.
True civilization does not consist of the worship of science & technology or the tinsel and glitter of modernity or of roads, railways, harbours, airports, and the frenzied rush one might be bemused by.  It consists of the maturity and wisdom gained through the practice of virtue, the development of good moral character, to decent family life and values, the unswerving commitment to social justice and equity.  This also means and implies the practice and active pursuit of harmlessness and a belief in the sacredness of all life—all mankind is of one blood.  The serene tranquility of spirit thus attained is a universal norm that needs no sectarian labels.  This is the civilization that grew and was nurtured on this Island for centuries until rudely and repeatedly disturbed.  It is yet the goal of those who appreciate the intrinsic beauty of Nature rather than that of soulless concrete, glass and steel.
Let’s discuss this further if you are minded to,

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engal kudumbam

engal kudumbam
gayathry kalyana veedu

Title : Willie Group Tea Factory - The first tea factory in the island to use trough withering
Photographed by : Unknown
Submitted By : Ajith Ratnayaka
Approximate date of Photo : Unknown

Long Description : Abstract from the article �Remembering the �Local Pioneers� in the propagation of tea in Sri Lanka�, by Maxwell Fernando, published in the Daily News, Supplement of 4th February 2002

Satinwood Bridge over the Mahaweli river near Peradeniya


Satinwood Bridge over the Mahaweli ganga (Mahaweli river) near Peradeniya, Ceylon

Date Original 1894
Photographer/Artist: Jackson, William Henry, 1843-1942

Courtesy, L.Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library,
Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602.

A satinwood bridge, which spans the Mahaweli-ganga. The bridge was constructed in 1832-1833 by Lt. Gen. John Fraser (1790-1982) which lasted until replaced by an iron bridge in 1905.

This bridge is a remarkable structure; it crosses the river with a single span, in which there is neither nail nor bolt, the whole of the massive wood-work being merely dovetailed together. It is constructed entirely of beautiful yellow satinwood, which fifty years ago was so plentiful in the forests of Ceylon that it was used for common building purposes. This wood is extremely hard and dur-able, as is evidenced by the present condition of the bridge, which has now withstood the effects of excessive damp and tropical heat for sixty-two years.
Golden tips. A description of Ceylon and its great tea industry (1904) Author: Cave, Henry William. 1854

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Compiled by Ian Gardner
(From documents provided by J. M. E. (Mike) Waring)
September 2008

By Royston Ellis. May, 1996.

The factory at the Hethersett tea plantation played an important part in the development of Sri Lanka’s tea industry, and in helping Pure Ceylon Tea to become renowned as the world’s favourite beverage.

Tea from the Hethersett factory was the first to fetch the highest price in the world for silver tip tea from Ceylon. In 1891, Hethersett tea was auctioned in Mincing Lane, London for £1.10s.6d, over thirty times the then average price 1s0d for a pound of tea.

This was an exciting achievement for a new tea factory.

Tea was first grown commercially in Ceylon (which became Sri Lanka in 1972) by a Scotsman, James Taylor, on a coffee estate named Loolecondera, near Kandy, in 1867. Taylor, with encouragement from Dr. Thwaites, the Director of The Royal Botanical Garden at Peradeniya, planted 20 acres of tea grown from seed imported from India.

It was a wise move as, soon afterwards, a dreadful blight ravaged the coffee plantations on which Ceylon’s economy depended. Planters turned in desperation to tea and cinchona (for quinine) as alternative crops. Within a decade of Taylor’s planting there were 5000 acres of tea growing in the hills of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.

In response to requests to open up plantations, the government sold virgin crown land around Kandapola to pioneer planters in the 1870s. Among the bidders was Mr. W. Flowerdew. He was the first planter-proprietor, agent and resident manager of what became Hethersett Estate. This consisted of 250 acres of which he planted 150 with cinchona.

Flowerdew was a pioneer. He camped in the wilderness he had bought, working alongside labourers hired in gangs from India. Before clearing and planting the land, he built himself a log cabin, using boards sawn from trees felled to open up the land. The roof was foliage used as thatch. It was a primitive and tough life.

The name he chose for his plantation gave a clue about Flowerdew’s origins. He seems to have named it Hethersett after a village southwest of Norwich in England. Perhaps it was his home village since even today the distinctive name of Flowerdew is to be found in the Norwich area.

The Tamil name for the plantation is Poopanie. Translated into English it means Flowers of Frost. It is picturesque way of describing the cold mist that occasionally descends on Hethersett, which is 6800 feet above sea level, although only six degrees from the Equator. Actually the plantation name, however apt, is a direct translation into Tamil from the English name of its original owner: Flowerdew.

Flowerdew had a partner during his first year on the plantation, Jas. R. Jenkins, an experienced tea planter who advised him to grow tea as well as cinchona. History does not recall what happened to Flowerdew but by 1881 he seems to have sold the plantation. A temporary manager,[1] A.C.W. Clarke, was in charge and the estate was in the name of Jas. Whittall, with his own company, Whittall & Co., as agents.

The agent’s role was vital in the early days of the tea industry. Usually an estate proprietor was an individual or company based in England who needed an agent in Colombo to provide support, and supplies, to the manager of the plantation. A broker handled the sale of the crop.

Whittall & Co. remained as agents for a few years but ownership passed to Mr. J. MacAndrew. An experienced planter, K. MacAndrew, doubtless a relative, became the resident manager. In 1885, Hethersett consisted of 254 acres planted in tea and cinchona.

Cinchona served as a cash crop while the MacAndrews were nurturing tea. K. MacAndrews was also the manager of the neighbouring estate, Denmark Hill. This was the beginning of a link that resulted in green leaf grown at Denmark Hill being processed into made tea at the Hethersett factory.

The successful sale of the early shipments of Hethersett tea in London, and the record-breaking price selling price, in 1891, began the formidable reputation of the Hethersett mark, making it synonymous with Pure Ceylon Tea of quality.

By 1897, Hethersett was swallowed up by the Nuwara Eliya Tea Estates Company Limited into a combined holding of 3000 acres. The Company, registered in London, had Leechman & Co., as agents in Colombo. It was an association with both companies which Hethersett that was to last 75, years until nationalisation.

George Leechman founded his agency house in 1866. He was previously a partner with Wilson, Ritchie & Co. That company, was founded in 1830, eventually became part of Aitken Spence & Co., Ltd. the present managers of Hethersett.

The tea factory that produced Hethersett’s silver tips (a hand-rolled, sun dried, whole leaf tea) and its Orange Pekoe, was located down hill from the present factory, where the village crèche now stands. It was a small wooden building that expanded under the direction of a dynamic young planter called John Mac Tier.

Mac Tier arrived at Hethersett in 1900 when he was 27. There were 270 acres of tea then. He stayed for 25 years, dying suddenly in the old Hethersett factory when he was 52. There is a memorial plaque in the Holy Trinity Church, in Nuwara Eliya, “in affectionate memory”.

During Mac Tier’s tenure, the owning company happily reported dividends of between 9% and 12% every year.

Tea from the factory began its journey to market in tea chests carried by bullock carts down the rough tracks to the Railway station at Kandapola. The narrow gauge railway line was opened in 1903 (it closed in the 1940s) from Ragalla via Kandapola to Nuwara Eliya and Nanu Oya. At Nanu Oya the tea chests were transferred to the main, broad gauge line, and sent for delivery to the Colombo godowns. After auction, the tea chests went by steam ship to England or Australia.

The journey by train from Nuwara Eliya to Kandapola took one hour as the toylike engine puffed and weaved through the hills. Its maximum speed was six miles per hour.

Cyril Travers Nettleton, an unofficial police magistrate, was the planter at Hethersett for a couple of years after Mac Tier. He too, rests at Holy trinity Church, having been in charge of the Concordia Group, which includes Hethersett, when he died in 1944. He was succeeded at Hethersett, by A.J. Waterfall. During Waterfall’s time the original wooden factory in the village was burnt down.

The head of a hill was scalped to create a plateau for the new factory which is the hotel of today. When it was built in the mid-1930s, it was regarded as a remarkable work of engineering. There was no water or stem to power it, or mains electricity, only the ingenious use of an oil fired engine with fly-wheels and pulleys to operate the large fans for withering the tea, and also the rollers and sifters.

The factory produced top quality orthodox tea, both whole and broken leaf, for export. Tea grown on the neighbouring Denmark Hill estate was shuttled down to the factory in sacks along a wire stretched across the valley separating the two estates.

The planters in charge of Hethersett during the 1940s to 1960s were personable, capable men from Britain. Gordon Windus, manager for most of the 1940s, was a member of the prestigious Hill Club in Nuwara Eliya. In May 1934 he wrote testily in the visitor’s book there, “I should like to suggest that peas from the garden instead of tinned peas are served.”

Windus is remembered by the Hethersett villagers for the agricultural projects he started. These included a piggery in the village and a vegetable farm in the jungle at Kuruwatta.

Planter John Bousfield used to surprise the labourers by working in the fields with them, pruning the tea bushes himself. It is said that the bushes he pruned yielded the most tea.

Another British planter, J. M. E. Waring, who took over Hethersett in the late 1950s, and eventually, as group manager, supervised the closing down of the factory. He owned a horse which he used when inspecting the fields. He also raced this animal with a jockey, at the Nuwara Eliya race meets.

In 1968, the Hethersett factory had passed its heyday. Its machinery was regarded as old fashioned and uneconomical. It was the time of cost cutting and so the factory was closed. The Hethersett green leaf was sent to other factories in the Concordia group for manufacture.

For three years the factory was used as a warehouse for refuse tea, which is the fibrous reject after the manufacturing process. A few people were employed to sift the fibre and extract any remaining tea for local consumption. The residue was sold as fertiliser.


In 1867 the Church missionary society (Anglican) established the Borella School for girls and in 1875 a similar one for boys. In 1923 the boys’ school was amalgamated with Christian college, kotte (now jayawardhanapura) and the girls’ school with mowbray college, Kandy, which is today a residential fee-levying school attended mainly by the daughters of estate clerks and conductors and those of similar rank. The boys’ school and its successors provided for many years not only clerks and conductors and their ilk, but also teachers, priests and trade union leaders serving in the plantation districts. It has ceased to perform this service after the closure of the Tamil stream consequent to the take-over of assisted schools in 1961. A day- school established to serve the same class of estate employees is now Uva College, Badulla, where the Tamil stream has had a similar fate; a government junior Tamil school stands on the site of the Kandy bazaar school, catering to the poorer children from the estates and the town of Kandy.

In the course of time the Christian missions established several schools, big and small, in the planting districts. Those run by the Anglicans include St Mary’s, bogawantalawa, St Andrews, nawalapitiya, Holy trinity college, Nuwara eliya and girl’s schools run by the church of Ceylon zenana mission, like the CMS girls’ school, Gampola. The Methodist contribution includes kingswood, Kandy (which closed its Tamil stream even before the ‘take-over’), Highlands, Hatton, and girls’ schools like the Badulla and Kandy high schools while the Baptists established two well known girl’s schools, Viz. Ferguson high school, ratnapura and the BMS school, Matale.

The Roman Catholics did not enjoy the patronage of the state the Anglicans did, but in course of time established schools like St Anthony’s and later St Sylvester’s, Kandy, dehiowita and girls’ convent schools like St Anthony’s, Kandy , St.ursula’s ,Badulla, and St Gabriel’s, Hatton.