Monday, April 19, 2010

Tea & Nepali

About the history of tea plant in the Darjeeling Hills, it is a well known fact that tea was not cultivated as a crop in the Darjeeling Hills prior to the plantations started by the British. So far known history of Darjeeling tea, thus, begins with the Chinese saplings in the British plantations and the Nepali labourers. This points to the fact that tea plant is exotic to the Darjeeling Hills. On the other hand, Fred Pinn (1986) in “The Road of Destiny : Darjeeling Letters 1839,” mentions sighting of a tea tree in the wild near Mahaldiram which is prior to the cultivation of tea as a crop in the Hills. Now, this points that tea plant is not exotic to the Darjeeling Hills (at least, Mahaldiram).
At the cultural front, the tea drinking culture -- black tea prepared out of brick tea was not exotic to the locals specially among the Bhutias. This fact is supported by a Nepali word “चिया" which is derived from Tibetan “chha" < Chinese "tchai/cha" rather than from English “tea” < Dutch “tay” < “tay” in one of the Chinese dialects. This leads us to point that the Nepalis were accustomed to “चिया" prior to the British introduction of “tea” but not to the latter's command. Hence, कमान was borrowed and nativised into Nepali from English "command." Interestingly, it also proves that the Nepalis were resident of the Darjeeling Hills along with the Lepchas and the Bhutias prior to the opening of the tea gardens rather than after the opening of the gardens – an impression generally provided in the gazetteers. This fact is also proved on the basis of other accounts by scholars like Dr. Kumar Pradhan.
However, I have not come across any mention of /account on tea plant either in local botany nor in cultural resources like folklores, tales, etc. so far within my limited study. I would be interested to find/collect the account of the Lepchas, Bhutias, & Nepalis on tea plant in rituals, folk tales, songs, narratives, etc. but not related to the British plantation.

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