The 150-year-old story of Sri Lankan tea-making

 

Two tea pluckers work on a plantation in Sri LankaImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE

Almost 5% of the population of Sri Lanka work in the billion-dollar tea industry, picking leaves on the mountain slopes and processing the tea in plantation factories.

The cultivation and selling of black tea has shaped the lives of generations of Sri Lankans since 1867.

Documentary photographer Schmoo Theune visited plantations in the country to explore the world of Ceylon tea production.

A tea plantation in Sri LankaImage copyright SCHMOO THEUNE

Tea bushes on mountain slopes are situated above the barracks-style housing which each plantation provides for its workers.

Tea buds must be picked by hand every seven to 14 days, before the leaves grow too tough.

This means the working location can change from day to day, depending on where the buds need to be collected.

The tea leaves are gathered in tarpaulin bags, which are lighter than the traditional wicker baskets that were once used.

A tea plucker in a plantation fieldImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

The leaves are weighed throughout the day and a tea-picker earns 600 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR), which is approximately £2.70, if they reach the desired quota of 18kg a day.

If they do not meet this target then they are paid 300 LKR (approximately £1.30).

Some plantations use different wage models, such as paying staff monthly and offering temporary loans to employees.

The majority of Sri Lankan tea workers are ethnically Indian Tamils, a people who were transported by the British to work on the plantations.

They differ from Jaffna Tamils who originate from Sri Lanka’s north.

A person travels down a road in a small sunlit valleyImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Dirt roads connect the workers’ housing to the tea plantations.

Tea bushes are grown on steep hillsides a metre apart.

Altitude affects the flavour of the tea, with higher altitudes producing a more delicately flavoured crop.

This is more highly valued than the robustly flavoured tea produced at lower elevations.

A tea plucker holds out her handsImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Veteran tea-pickers often have rough callouses on their hands.

The difficult physical nature of the work is causing a shortage of young tea-pickers.

Many daughters are choosing to work in garment factories, or abroad in domestic roles, rather than the fields of the plantations.

There can be four different levels of hierarchy on a small plantation, ranging from the owner down to tea-pickers.

Each layer supervises the level below it.

The sun sets over worker houses on a tea plantation near Kandy.Image copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Some of the houses the workers live in were built by the British during a housing boom in the 1920s when about 20,000 rooms were built for tea-pickers.

The buildings have changed little since.

Families raise their children in a village setting in colourful barracks-style houses.

Many buildings only have electricity or running water for a few hours each day, or do not have them at all.

Many daily tasks such as washing or bathing are carried out in streams and rivers.

Families walk outside their houses next to a tea plantation.Image copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE
The side of a tea plantation houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
A woman collects water in containers outside her houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Some areas of housing are supplied with water only once every three days which must be collected in containers.

Tea-pickers and other labourers start work at 7.30am.

In plantation communities, children often have to walk several kilometres to school.

Tea-picking earns relatively low wages, so some tea plantation families have family members who work abroad in the Middle East, or in other cities around Sri Lanka, who send money back home.

A tea plucker poses inside her houseImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE

Women who labour on the plantations also have household duties such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of children.

A shelf of food containersImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

The fresh tea leaves are taken to a factory near the plantation for processing, like the one seen below near the Sri Lankan city of Kandy.

A view of a tea plantation factoryImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

‘Withering’ is the first step, requiring the blowing of dry air to extract moisture from the leaf, which gives it a pliable texture.

A batch of 18kg of fresh leaves can yield 5kg of Ceylon tea after it has been processed in plantation factories.

A worker places tea leaves into a machineImage copyright    SCHMOO THEUNE

A rolling machine then twists the withered leaves and begins the fermentation process, which starts to develop the distinctive flavour.

The machinery used in the tea processing is often up to 100 years old.

Finished tea is separated by leaf size, and packaged in bulk bags to be sent for auction in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

A machine processes tea leavesImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
A woman past a large pile of processed teaImage copyright   SCHMOO THEUNE
Workers work in a tea shop in KandyImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE

Ceylon tea is not just an export, it is an essential part of Sri Lankan daily life, consumed by office workers, labourers, students, and everyone in-between.

A tea plucker works on a plantationImage copyright  SCHMOO THEUNE  
BBC News 10 April 2018
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Lake Chad: Can the vanishing lake be saved?

Lake ChadImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Lake Chad – a source of water to millions of people in West Africa – has shrunk by nine-tenths due to climate change, population growth and irrigation. But can a scheme dating back to the 1980s save it?

“It’s a ridiculous plan and it will never happen.” That’s the reaction many people have to the idea of trying to fill up Lake Chad and restore it to its former ocean-like glory by diverting water from the Congo river system 2,400km (1,500 miles) away.

Sceptics in Nigeria, who have seen successive governments fail even to make the lights work, wonder if the region’s politicians have nodded off and have been dreaming a little too hard.

But the government ministers and engineers who were recently sipping mineral water in the capital, Abuja, at the International Conference on Lake Chad had good reason to be thinking outside the box.

Lake Chad

Lake Chad has shrunk by 90% since the 1960s, due to climate change, an increase in the population and unplanned irrigation. Its basin covers parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and has been a water source for between 20 million and 30 million people.

But with the desert encroaching further every year, it is getting increasingly difficult for families to make a living through agriculture, fishing and livestock farming. The UN says 10.7 million people in the Lake Chad basin need humanitarian relief to survive.

“We used to pass fields of maize on our way to the lake and there were vast numbers of boats bobbing up and down on the water back then, and huge fish markets,” says Bale Bura, who grew up by the lake in the 1970s and now works for the Lake Chad Fishermen’s Association.

Drawing of Transaqua planImage copyrightGROUP BONIFICA
Image captionTransaqua would cost tens of billions of dollars to build

Now far fewer farmers are able to earn a living on the mineral-rich but bone-dry shores.

This is one reason why the delegates in Abuja decided to dust off a scheme first mooted back in 1982 by the Italian engineering company Bonifica Spa.

It came up with Transaqua – a plan to construct a 2,400km (1,500 mile) canal to transfer water from the upstream tributaries of the mighty Congo River all the way to the Chari River basin, which feeds Lake Chad.

‘Deafening silence’

It proposed the transfer of up to 100 billion cubic metres (3.5 trillion cubic feet) of water a year and featured a series of dams along the route to generate electricity.

“I sent one of our engineers to the USA, to purchase the only reliable maps of Africa, which were made by the US Air Force and were the only maps with contour lines,” says Marcello Vichi, the Italian engineer who was asked to look into the idea during the early 1980s.

“After a couple of months of solitary study, I announced to the then chief executive that this thing could be done.”

He says 500 copies of the plans were sent out in 1985 to government representatives of every African country, as well as international financial agencies.

“The response was a deafening silence,” he adds.

But more than three decades later, minds are finally focusing on the lake’s shrinkage, prompted by its link to the deadly geopolitical crises of Islamist militancy and migration.

Freed schoolgirls in NigeriaImage copyrightEPA
Image captionBoko Haram recently seized more than 100 schoolgirls, before releasing most of them a month later

In 2014, I headed out of the north-east Nigerian city of Maiduguri towards Lake Chad in a new minibus. There were armoured vehicles in front as well as behind, and right next to me was a Nigerian soldier – fast asleep. Our destination was Kirenawa, the latest village that the marauding Boko Haram jihadists had terrorised.

As the road became steadily sandier, we entered a long-neglected area, passing the faded signs of abandoned government projects in ever hotter and sleepier villages.

Buildings had been torched and people had been left terrified, watching as others were killed in front of them.

In all the villages, people complained there was nothing for young people to do, nothing to dream of except getting out.

‘Ugly kinds of jobs’

It had become a perfect recruiting ground for the Islamist militants. The offer of a little cash and the promise of some training and a gun persuaded many to join.

Of course, Lake Chad’s decline is not the sole reason for the rise of violent extremism – a number of factors including poor governance have also played a role – but there is clearly a link.

“I know many young people from my own village who got into these ugly kinds of jobs,” Mr Bura says.

As if the delegates gathering in Abuja last month needed reminding of how dire the security situation had become, more than 100 schoolgirls had just been seized from Dapchi, Nigeria.

At the meeting, it was agreed that Bonifica and PowerChina, the company that helped build the Three Gorges dam spanning the Yangtze River, would complete a feasibility study. They announced that the effort to raise $50bn (£35bn) for the Lake Chad Fund should begin immediately.

Camels crossing Lake ChadImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Bonifica says its plan will use less than 8% of the water the Congo River discharges into the Atlantic and would not be a threat to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s continuing Grand Inga Dam project, which would create the world’s largest hydropower generator if it is completed.

Further engineering work would be needed to enable the Chari River to handle the increased flow of water. The project can be done in a staggered way, with each completed stage immediately adding to the flow of water into the Lake Chad basin.

Other options that have been considered include one which involves pumping the water uphill from Palambo, in the Central African Republic.

As well as the funding challenge for Transaqua, there will be resistance from environmental campaigners to overcome. And even carrying out the feasibility study properly requires peace.

Chinese media has reported the transfer canal would be 100m (328ft) wide and 10m (33ft) deep and would be flanked by a service road and eventually a rail line.

“It is a project which responds to the never-tackled infrastructural needs of the African continent, which maybe will give birth to a real African renaissance,” says Mr Vichi, who sees all along the route of the canal vast potential for agro-processing and transforming agricultural products for African and foreign markets.

Ministers know life is likely to get ever tougher for the people who live around Lake Chad. That’s why they are paying attention to the plans to bring it back to life.

Spice: Why some of us like it hot

Piles of spices in market (Credit: Getty Images)

Human beings around the world delight in fiery foods. Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Ethiopian – the cuisines that can take the roof off your mouth are numerous and flavourful.

Ranking the world’s most spicy peppers and comparing the most awe-inducing dishes is a common pastime, even if, past a certain point, the distinctions are somewhat moot. Who can say, subjectively speaking, that one Indian restaurant’s Widower Phaal, made while wearing goggles with chilis that rank about 1,000,000 on the Scoville Scale – an international measurement of pungency – is necessarily a fierier experience than the notorious Korean Suicide Burrito?

There’s plenty of burn to go around: more common dishes include vindaloo with ghost peppers and hot pot from Sichuan, where you must part a swarm of chillis bobbing in a sea of broth to fish out tender, fiery morsels of meats and vegetables.

As you savour these intense tastes, however, you may wonder, why do some cuisines compete for the title of spicy champion, while others feature barely the hint of a burn?

This is a question that has intrigued anthropologists and food historians for some time. Indeed, it’s a curious truth that places with warm climates do seem to have a heavier preponderance of hot and spicy dishes. That may have something to do with the fact that some spices have antimicrobial properties, studies have found.

Chilli pepper and powder (Credit: Getty Images)

Chillis pack fierce heat but also antimicrobial agents that could have been useful in the days before refrigeration (Credit: Getty Images)

In one survey of cookbooks from around the world, researchers note: “As mean annual temperatures (an indicator of relative spoilage rates of unrefrigerated foods) increased, the proportion of recipes containing spices, number of spices per recipe, total number of spices used, and use of the most potent antibacterial spices all increased.” In hot places, where before refrigeration food would have gone off very quickly, spices might have helped things keep a bit longer – or at least rendered them more palatable.

It’s also been suggested that because spicy food makes most people sweat, it might help us to cool off in hot parts of the world. The evaporative cooling effect that happens when we perspire is indeed useful in maintaining a body’s heat balance. In a very humid climate, though, it doesn’t matter how much you sweat: that evaporation won’t come to your rescue because there’s already too much moisture in the air. One study of people who drank hot water after exercise showed that they did cool down slightly more than those who drank cold water, but only in situations with low humidity. Thailand in August, that ain’t.

But spice is hardly limited to the tropics. While chilli peppers are originally from the Americas, this particular kind of heat grew widespread in the 15th and 16th Centuries, travelling with European traders. Other spices – not spicy in the same way as peppers, perhaps, but still strongly flavoured and bringing an extra oomph to a dish – had been circulating in Europe for centuries, with ginger, black pepper, and cinnamon brought in from the east.

As spice prices plummeted in Europe in the 1600s, and it became easier for just anyone to lace their food with them, tastemakers fell out of love with them

Heavily spiced dishes were the darlings of many cuisines we currently don’t think of for their zing. Numerous recipes in one 18th-Century British cookery book include potent doses of mace, cloves, and nutmeg, for instance. What happened?

Well, one possibility is that it became a bit uncouth to like quite so many flavours in one’s food, as Maanvi Singh has written over at The Salt. What we now consider classic European cuisine has a tendency to focus on pairing like flavours with like, rather than bringing in a riot of strong, contrasting ones. That may be because, as spice prices plummeted in Europe in the 1600s and it became easier for just anyone to lace their food with them, tastemakers fell out of love with them.

Shifting the goalposts for high-end food, they began to emphasise dishes where the focus was the purest essence of the basic ingredients, combined with flavours that served to bring that out. In a word – it may have been snobbery, Singh writes, that erased the thrill of spice from many European palates.

Nutmeg (Credit: Getty Images)

Many European cuisines used to be heavily spiced with ingredients such as nutmeg (Credit: Getty Images)

Indeed, the role of human culture in determining whether spice is hot or not cannot be underestimated. Like all animals, we use taste as a way to determine what’s safe to eat, and once we get used to certain flavors signalling the familiar, we like them all the more. It would not be surprising if some people, having acclimated to chillis, began to prefer them over the absence of chillis.

Today, we have our own reasons for eating spicy foods, and they may have more to do with adrenaline than social status or sheer flavour, per se. The physiological reaction to peppers, as we’ve discussed here before, is the result of temperature sensors in the mouth being activated. Your body responds as if you had burned it, causing you to sweat and flush, and in extreme cases vomit.

The thrill of triggering this intense experience without (usually) any long-term effects is thought to be part of the attraction – as well as, for some chilli fiends, the bragging rights.

Antimicrobial qualities and body temperature regulation are probably not on the list of possible draws today – something to ponder, and thank your lucky stars for, as you wait for your next curry.

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: FEBRUARY 27

Chile earthquake; Concepción

Chile struck by earthquake and tsunami
2010   On this day a magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck Chile, causing widespread damage and triggering a tsunami that devastated coastal areas; it was the most powerful earthquake to strike the region since 1960.

MORE EVENTS 

Nimoy, Leonard
2015  American actor Leonard Nimoy—who was best known for his portrayal of the stoic, cerebral Mr. Spock in the sci-fi TV and film franchise Star Trek—died in Los Angeles.
Buckley, William F., Jr.
2008  American editor and author William F. Buckley, Jr.—who became an important intellectual influence in politics as the founder (1955) and editor in chief of the journal National Review, which he used as a forum for conservative views and ideas—died in Connecticut.
Remains of an Iraqi convoy near Kuwait city, Kuwait, during the Persian Gulf War.
1991  U.S. President George Bush ordered a cease-fire effective at midnight and declared victory in the Persian Gulf War, a conflict triggered by Iraq‘s invasion and occupation of Kuwait in August 1990.
American Indian Movement members and U.S. authorities meeting to resolve the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
1973  Two hundred members of the American Indian Movement forcefully took the reservation hamlet of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
Saint Kitts and Nevis
1967  Saint Kitts and Nevis (with Anguilla) became an independent state associated with the United Kingdom.
Second Empire style; Reichstag building
1933  In Berlin the Reichstag (parliament) building caught fire, a key event in the establishment of Nazi dictatorship.
Elizabeth Taylor, 1953.
1932  American actress Elizabeth Taylor—whose career, highlighted by award-winning portrayals of emotionally volatile characters, was often overshadowed by her highly publicized personal life—was born in London.
John Steinbeck.
1902  American novelist John Steinbeck—who was best known for The Grapes of Wrath (1939), which summed up the bitterness of the Great Depressiondecade and aroused widespread sympathy for the plight of migratory farmworkers—was born.
Hugo Black.
1886  American lawyer and politician Hugo Black—who, as a Supreme Courtjustice, was known for his support of the doctrine of total incorporation—was born.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
1807  American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Massachusetts (now in Maine).
1884  Paul Kruger, president of the South African Republic, signed a treaty in London that disavowed British authority over the Transvaal.
1776  At the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, North Carolinian revolutionaries defeated loyalists during the American Revolution.

The People of Ellis Island- Portraits of immigrants arriving in the U.S.A from the early 1900’s

Featured image

Ellis Island was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States as the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. Between 1905 and 1914, an average of one million immigrants per year arrived in the United States.

Immigration officials reviewed about 5,000 immigrants per day during peak times at Ellis Island.Two-thirds of those individuals emigrated from eastern, southern and central Europe. The peak year for immigration at Ellis Island was 1907, with 1,004,756 immigrants processed.

The all-time daily high occurred on April 17, 1907, when 11,747 immigrants arrived. After the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, which greatly restricted immigration and allowed processing at overseas embassies, the only immigrants to pass through the station were those who had problems with their immigration paperwork, displaced persons, and war refugees.

Today, over 100 million Americans—about one-third of the population—can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America at Ellis Island before dispersing to points all over the country. Here are some photos of immigrants from the early 1900’s. All photos by  New York Public Library

A Bavarian man

 

A Danish man

A Dutch woman

 

A Greek Orthodox priest

 

A Greek woman

A Guadeloupean woman

 

A man whose descent was not identified, possibly Russian

 

A Romanian man

 

A Ruthenian woman

 

A Slovak woman with her child

During World War I, the German sabotage of the Black Tom Wharf ammunition depot damaged buildings on Ellis Island. The repairs included the current barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Main Hall.

During and immediately following World War II, Ellis Island was used to intern German merchant mariners and “enemy aliens”—Axis nationals detained for fear of spying, sabotage, and other fifth column activity.

In December 1941, Ellis Island held 279 Japanese, 248 Germans, and 81 Italians removed from the East Coast. Unlike other wartime immigration detention stations, Ellis Island was designated as a permanent holding facility and was used to hold foreign nationals throughout the war.A total of 7,000 Germans, Italians and Japanese would be ultimately detained at Ellis Island. It was also a processing center for returning sick or wounded U.S. soldiers, and a Coast Guard training base.

 

An Albanian soldier

 

An Indian boy

 

An Italian woman

 

Another man whose descent was not identified, possibly Russian

 

Several Romani people

 

Several Romani people

 

Three Dutch women

 

Three Russian Cossacks

 

Three Scottish boys

 

Two Romanian women

Generally, those immigrants who were approved spent from two to five hours at Ellis Island. Arrivals were asked 29 questions including name, occupation, and the amount of money carried.

It was important to the American government that the new arrivals could support themselves and have money to get started. The average the government wanted the immigrants to have was between 18 and 25 dollars. Those with visible health problems or diseases were sent home or held in the island’s hospital facilities for long periods of time.

More than three thousand would-be immigrants died on Ellis Island while being held in the hospital facilities. Some unskilled workers were rejected because they were considered “likely to become a public charge.” About 2 percent were denied admission to the U.S. and sent back to their countries of origin for reasons such as having a chronic contagious disease, criminal background, or insanity.

Ellis Island was sometimes known as “The Island of Tears” or “Heartbreak Island”because of those 2% who were not admitted after the long transatlantic voyage. The Kissing Post is a wooden column outside the Registry Room, where new arrivals were greeted by their relatives and friends, typically with tears, hugs and kisses.

https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/02/25/the-people-of-ellis-island/

Shaka Zulu, the man who forged a feared empire out of a tiny tribe in southern Africa

Each continent has had its own significant and feared warriors. For Africa, one name to remember is that of Shaka, the great king and founder of the Zulu Empire in the early decades of the 19th century. Shaka was born and raised in the southeast of what is today South Africa, and during his short but turbulent and violent reign, he brought together hundreds of independent Nguni chiefdoms.

As the story goes, Shaka was born around the year 1787, the son of Senzangakhona, who at that time reigned over the tiny chiefdom known as the Zulu. Shaka’s mother was called Nandi, and at that point, she was not a legal wife to Senzangakhona.

The two were expelled from Senzangakhona’s home and moved to live among the Langeni people. Being an illegitimate child certainly was not an easy thing to go through around the Nguni tribes, and during most of the childhood days, Shaka was bullied everywhere he went.

After spending some time with the Langeni tribe, the mother and the child eventually moved again, this time to live among the Mthethwa people, who were led by Chief Dingiswayo. It would be here that the next great warrior of the Nguni tribes found fulfillment while serving the army under Dingiswayo. Shaka soon mastered various tactics and strategies on the battlefield.

Sketch of King Shaka (1781 - 1828) from 1824. Attributed to James King, it appeared in Nathanial Isaacs’ "Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa", published in 1836.
Sketch of King Shaka (1781 – 1828) from 1824. Attributed to James King, it appeared in Nathanial Isaacs’ “Travels and Adventures in Eastern Africa”, published in 1836

Possessing the perfect body of a warrior and a remarkable diplomatic talent as well, he quickly rose in rank, eventually becoming a chief commander, and also someone who was excited by the idea of demonstrating power to others.

As soon as Shaka’s father died sometime around 1816, Dingiswayo helped his young trainee in ousting and murdering his older brothers back in the Zulu village, and that is how Shaka finally became a ruler. At this point, the Zulu people were a really small group, a community of not more than 1,500 in number. But everything started to change under Shaka’s reign.

Sketch of a Zulu warrior
Sketch of a Zulu warrior

Not losing any time in testing his military knowledge in real life, Shaka went after conquering the first and then more of his neighboring tribes. The Langeni, where he spent part of his childhood, were among the invaded people.

Military success came quickly to Shaka as he was outstanding in organizing his army. His regiments were armed with new weapons called assegais. These were a type of short spear but with a long blade, and almost always deadly for the adversary. “Victory or death” he would shout at his warriors to encourage them before carrying out a new campaign.

Shaka's military innovations such as the "iklwa", the age-grade regimental system and encirclement tactics helped make the Zulu one of the most powerful nations in southern and southeastern Africa.Shaka’s military innovations such as the “iklwa”, the age-grade regimental system and encirclement tactics helped make the Zulu one of the most powerful nations in southern and southeastern Africa

Discipline was at the core of Shaka’s method of training the army. No men were allowed to wear sandals for one. The reasons was that everyone got to strengthen their feet by running barefoot. In doing so, the Zulu forces came to be very mobile, and this was one of their best advantages compared with armies of other tribes.

 As time went by, more and more tribes were assimilated under the Zulu. Whoever survived was taken as a Zulu. By the year of 1823, the Zulu were no longer an insignificant  tribe–they now controlled a vast area of 11,500 square miles that spread along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Whoever didn’t want to get assimilated by the Zulu, had to go elsewhere.
Large statue representing Shaka at Camden Market in London, England
Large statue representing Shaka at Camden Market in London, England

Interesting enough, while Shaka acted as a terrible tyrant for the people back home, he was friendly enough with the first white traders who arrived at the port Natal around 1824. The warrior sent delegates to greet the visitors, and he also allowed them to use some of the lands of his kingdom. He was interested in learning more about the newcomers, perhaps obtaining some new technology, although he planned to attack at one point. No such conflict happened during his time in power anyway.

However, things got out of control as soon as his mother, Nandi, passed away in 1827. Initially, he became angry after judging that some people had not expressed sufficient grief at her mourning ceremonies. Shaka rage veered into madness, and he killed hundreds of Zulu. Supposedly, he also ordered all women carrying babies as well as their spouses be put to death.

Such deeds ultimately cemented the way for his inevitable downfall and assassination. In September 1828, Shaka’s own brothers went on to kill him, and one of them became the new king of the Zulu people.

By Stefan A