Every Day Life on a Ceylon Cocoa Estate

by Mary E. Steuart
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FEBRUARY 14th. - Owing to ignorant noncompliance with some legal regulations, the marriage of our Appu could not take place on the date originally fixed; and it was only yesterday that the ceremony was really performed, in the Roman Catholic Church at Kandy. In the early afternoon, as I sat working in the verandah, I was startled by the approach of the bridal procession. First came the bride and brideroom, hand in hand, followed by a little girl of six, in the inevitable pink frock made very long, with a veil of needle-run net hanging from the back of her head; beside the girl walked a particularly sharp boy of ten, in white jacket and cloth, and embroidered velvet cap; and behind them came two women - one the aunt in a heliotrope silk cloth and beautiful jewellery - the other the mother who being a widow was quite enveloped - head included - in white muslin. The bride's dress was extremely picturesque, a cloth of red brocaded silk, with border of orange and green, worn Tamilwise, over a low short-sleeved bodice of red silk shot with yellow. Her hair was dressed in one long thick plait, fastened off with three bell shaped gold ornaments, whilst on the crown of her head she wore a round bossed gold ornament about three inches in diameter, two similar but smaller discs being fastened on the plait of hairs. In addition, she had very handsome side combs, a row of pink garnets with fringes of seed pearls; also massive gold ear-rings, three nose-rings, the centre one a fine pink garnet - two rosaries of gold beads - several rings, and particularly pretty Indian filagree work bracelets. Over all this grandeur she wore a white tulle veil, just like an English bride, but was kind enough to take it off that I might inspect the jewellery which was shown me with great pride by the aunt, who happily came from Madras, and could speak English. The poor girl herself was quite overwhelmed with shyness and never once lifted up her head or uttered a word.

The bridegroom, in spite of its being a broiling hot afternoon, wore over his shoulder a thick woollen shawl of the most hideous red and blue plaid conceivable. I am sure no loom in Great Britain could produce such a terrible combination of the two colours, its birthplace must have been Germany. Later when I saw him for a moment without the ladies, I asked him if he did not find it very hot; "Oh yes, lady, it is very hot, but I must wear it; it is part of my wedding dress." A very incongruous part, I thought to myself, for the rest was a pretty white muslin cloth with narrow border of crimson and gold, a white linen jacket, and sapphire blue velvet cap embroidered with silver.

Unfortunately Rob was at work on the Estate, and so the whole burden of entertainment fell upon me: and greatly at a loss I was to know what to do. I gave a santhosem (present), took them into the drawing-room and showed them pictures of England, which seemed to interest, gave them cakes, and finally made a bouquet for the bride. I picked roses, but the aunt came running after me, to say that chrysanthemums were what the Tamils prized most. At last I made an excuse that I must write letters, and dismissed them to the kitchen regions to have a cup of tea, where by this time the kitchen coolie had made two enormous wreaths of bougainvillea, which he insisted upon their wearing round their necks. At last Rob returned to the bungalow, and soon afterwards the party pursued their onward way to the girl's home, where a wedding feast was prepared for twenty people. Our servants gave us some dinner, and then hurried off to join the festivities, leaving us to the care of a watchman, who mounted guard over the bungalow, whilst we slept.

Yesterday, besides being the wedding day, was a great Mahomedan Festival of Ramadan. No sooner had the bride departed than a young Moor boy, whom we are training to be a servant, arrived with a small brother and sister, all bearing gifts - a parcel of Jaffna cheroots for Rob, and pomegranates, bananas, and eggs for me. We had let him go away to attend Ramadan at great inconvenience to ourselves, and I suppose this was his parents' way of showing their gratitude. He did a most unusual thing for a native - refused to accept a santhosem in return for his gifts, saying when he brought a present he didn't want to be paid for it. Generally the dark race is most rapacious, and I shall always respect this boy for his proper pride and disinterestedness.

During the last few months I have been so much at the mercy of non-English speaking servants, that I have perforce learnt enough Tamil to give orders, and to ask for what I want. When I do not know a word, I make signs, the meaning of which the natives are extraordinarily quick to catch. The other day I felt supremely ridiculous when, after trying in vain to ask for a small nail with which to fasten some fringe, I at last took Abdul to a wall and showed him one, and he exclaimed to his fellow servant in Tamil, "Oh, it's _tintacks_ she wants," using the proper English word. There is no Tamil equivalent for many manufactured articles, and the English word with a Tamily pronunciation is used.

Anyone coming to Ceylon should set to work at once to learn this language for a knowledge of it will add much not only to the comfort, but to the interest of his life. Even the few words I have picked up are a great help to me. Sinhalese is not necessary for a lady in the planting districts, as she very seldom comes in contact with Sinhalese natives. It is, of the two, much the prettier language, and has a soft liquid sound of the Italian type, very pleasant to listen to. The two races keep quite distinct, and it is not very often one finds a Tamil coolie who speaks Sinhalese.

FEBRUARY 25th. - To-day, amongst much shouting and vociferation on the part of the cattle-shed coolies, the working bullocks have been undergoing their monthly shoeing. I say undergoing with reason, for to them it must be a trying process. They are first thrown, then their four feet are tied together with a strong rope, a sack filled with grass being placed under the feet to support and slightly raise them, a coolie sits at the beast's head and another at his tail, and then the blacksmith swiftly and skilfully proceeds with his work. Bullock follows bullock, until all have passed through his hands, and as he is paid fifty cents (one shilling) per head, where the Estate is of any size, he makes a good day's pay.

The roads are hard and stony, it is therefore absolutely necessary that the bulls should be shod, but it is much to be wished that some other plan than that of throwing the poor animals could be invented, for they are apt to get strained, and otherwise injured, in their efforts to escape the ordeal of shoeing; but as yet no one has discovered an alternative method.

MARCH 4th. - The weather has now become intensely hot in the middle of the day, but the mornings and evenings are still cool. Heavy dews refresh the garden and the grassfields, and as yet they keep their freshness. The deciduous trees, of which there are many, are changing their leaves, and the birds sing in the early morning and late afternoon, so one is in a measure reminded of springtime in England.

MARCH 5th. - We have been to a picnic - a real English tea picnic - but with variations. I must really describe it. Some kind neighbours determined to give an Australian lady and myself the opportunity of seeing a very old Hindu Temple, just outside the village of Galmadua, situated four or five miles from Kandy. They arranged to have tea in the Temple enclosure, so one very hot afternoon, having rendezvoused at the nearest bungalow, we all sallied forth to Galmadua; some in smart dog-carts, some on horseback, and some in comfortable, shaded bullock hackerys, a box containing the good things, and a large kettle tied under the principal hackery, were suggestive of the object in hand. All the guests were attended by their horsekeepers, each wearing the distinctive colours of his master.

Our drive was for the most part over rocky, narrow roads bordered with cocoa and coffee bushes, and shaded by cocoanut and areca palms, whilst through the slender stems we had glimpses on all sides of fine mountain ranges, pearly grey, and violet in the already waning afternoon sunshine. After about a couple of miles we reached a grassy enclosure or compound, well shaded by cocoanut palms. The centre was occupied by the Hindu Temple we had come to see, a square building of grey stone, five stories high; each storey somewhat smaller than the one below, until the last tapered to a point. The lowest must, I think, originally have been a cloister, as it projects beyond the main building, and consisted of a series of arched windows, though no roof remains. The interior square structure is windowless and tapers inwards, the brickwork being so arranged that each layer of bricks projects a little beyond the previous one, giving the effect of a huge pointed funnel. There are the remains of a rough kind of high altar; otherwise the building is quite empty, and is not now used for religious purposes.

But in the same enclosure, and under the very shadow of the ancient shrine, is a comparatively modern Buddhist temple, containing an inner room where a colossal figure of Buddha painted yellow and red sits crosslegged on a raised platform; whilst on the outside walls of this square apartment are rows of colossal yellow figures carved in relief; the number corresponding to the number of the supposed incarnations of Buddha. Whilst we were being shown all this, active preparations had been going on for tea - a fire lighted - the kettle boiled, and then the younger members of the party proceeded to spread the tablecloth, and to arrange the cakes and the cushions, in the shade of the old grey walls. We were surrounded by a crowd of admiring Sinhalese, from the toddling infant, to the solemn looking caretaker. It seemed to afford them much amusement to watch the eccentric Britisher quitting his comfortable bungalow to sit sipping his tea under difficulties, amongst the lizards and the ruins. For my part, I think I never tasted more refreshing tea nor sweeter cakes. The novelty of our surroundings added a piquancy to the flavour. One of our party proceeded to sketch the temple whilst the rest worked off their high spirits in running-about games. Fancy playing touchwood with palms for your base.

The lengthening shadows warned us that it was time to wend our way homewards, so having given the caretaker a liberal santhosem, we left the spot once more to the natives and the bats, and so ended my first and last Ceylon picnic, but the memory of the kind friends and the lovely tropical scene, and the curious mixture of East and West, will abide as long as I live.

One of the pleasantest results of my delightful sojourn in the island is that I feel I have laid up a stock of charming mental pictures, with which to beguile the dark winter days, when I sit lonely by my own fireside, listening to the pattering rain and the raging wind of our more northern clime.

The March days, in spite of intense noonday heat, passed all too quickly for my pleasure, for it had been settled that on the 16th of the month I must say good-bye to Ceylon, and wend my way homeward in the good ship "Shropshire." Very loth was I to leave this beautiful country, and can imagine no more ideal home in which to settle, and no more interesting occupation than that of a planter, for those who find England too expensive and too overcrowded, and who have the necessary taste for out-door life. An income that would be decidedly narrow and inadequate at home would in Ceylon, when added to a planter's salary, provide all the comforts and many of the luxuries of life. A small patrimony (say five thousand pounds and upwards) well invested, added to good, steady, hard work, would probably, in time, enable a man to retire with a comfortable competency, but I cannot help saying that, in my opinion, Ceylon is no place for penniless men, unless, indeed, they have been brought up in unusually frugal homes, and are endowed with remarkably robust constitutions. Salaries have been cut down to the lowest sums at which it is possible to live and keep in health. If, by great self-denial, the young planter succeeds in keeping out of debt, he will find it to be the utmost he can do, and that no margin will remain for the proverbial "rainy day." Nothing for illness or periods of non-employment, misfortunes which may befall him through no fault of his own. The thriftless and idle, and unsteady, go to the dogs a little more quickly here than they would in the old country, and the virtues of industry, self-reliance, and dependableness are as necessary for success in Ceylon as elsewhere. But I wish once more to repeat that for those possessing the necessary qualifications, monetary and otherwise, it is quite one of the most charming colonies in which to make a home.

The 13th of March at last arrived. Having said good-bye to my coolie friends, and having received many tokens of their good will, in the shape of crystals, curious insects, a snake skin, and a parrot, I, escorted by my son, started for Colombo. There we were joined by other friends proceeding by the same ship. Those last days passed at the luxurions Galle Face Hotel, where we all made such desperate efforts at make believe cheerfulness, soon came to an end. The partings were over, the last boat had left the ship, and we steamed away in the moonlight, the lights of Colombo becoming ever dimmer and dimmer, until the very last flash from the tall tower told us that we had indeed left the shores of Ceylon and those we loved behind us.

Oh the sadness of these partings. The sorrow, and the aching hearts which many of us, alas, must bear, as the penalty for our proud heritage, the world wide British Empire.

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