Thoughts on Planter Lifeways in Ceylon evoked by the Braine Biography

Joe Paiva[1]

Camellia sinensis is a species of evergreen shrubs or small trees in the flowering plant family Theaceae. Its leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea. Common names include tea plant, tea shrub, and tea tree. Wikipedia. If allowed to grow freely can reach up to 6 ft or more. For commercial agronomic purposes they are maintained as a compact shrub at approximately 4 ft, to increase productivity. And to suit the stature of female tea pickers.

Tea plants grow at the tea plantation in Trabzon, Turkey on June 27, 2022. (Photo by Resul Kaboglu/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Ratnapura, Sri Lanka – April 23: R. Chitrakumari (left) and K. A. Punchimeneke pick tea leaves in a tea garden on April 23, 2022 in Eheliyagoda, Sri Lanka. 2022

BOP = Broken Orange Pekoe, the very best grade of marketed tea. Flavour. Aroma, Colour. A very refreshing brew.


Even in 50s and 60s many young men, especially ruggerites, from the Colombo/Kandy Colleges had dreams of upcountry plum planting jobs. ……………. Little realizing it is a lonely life, in the cool, cold, wet central hills of Sri Lanka …. from a social perspective. The fairer gender dared not venture into clubs such as Dickoya, Dimbulla, Kelani Valley were the watering holes and sites of inter- club Rugby encounters.




Clandestine illicit liaisons did occur ……….. similar to the periods before in the British colonial times. Then, in British Ceylon, expatriates, some or most black sheep (rebellious, rascals) from wealthy, elite, blue-blood British families were hidden amongst the lush green tea plantations in the Colonies (in Ceylon, north India, Africa)

I understand the Kanganies (Field Foremen) played a vital role in facilitating the secret liaisons, involving the ‘Sinna Dorais’ and at times the ‘Periya Dorais’ living in bungalows set amongst the tea gardens. Cooks, house boys, gardeners.

Of course, there was never a free lunch or dinner, as far the Kangany was concerned. He received unsolicited and handsome remunerations.

The sensual pleasures are a potent, irresistible emotion.



[1] Joe Paiva (b. 14 April 1946) at Bambalapitiya and raised in that suburb of Colombo; attended St. Peters College. He has been an active member of ASLA in Adelaide at various periods over the last 40 years.


 From my occasional visits to up/country estate bungalows where relatives served as planters and when playing rugger or cricket for Peradeniya University against planter clubs, I did not get any indication that planter wives found their clubs intimidating. The odd photograph or two from the late 19th century also indicates that the club was a vital centre of relaxation for uppercrust men and women on weekends…. Michael Roberts








Filed under British colonialism, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, cultural transmission, economic processes, Empire loyalism, ethnicity, heritage, landscape wondrous, life stories, plantations, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, travelogue, working class conditions

3 responses to “Thoughts on Planter Lifeways in Ceylon evoked by the Braine Biography

  1. Sachi Sri Kantha

    May I add my tuppence (or, as Michael would present it recently – ‘Tangential Tamil sniping’) on two words used in the above commentary by Joe Paiva.

    Mention of Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) reminds me the time, when I came to hear it first. That was in 1965, when I visited my uncle Dr. K. Sivapalan, who was a biochemist at the Tea Research Institute, Talawakelle. For long I had wondered what this unusual word ‘pekoe’ means. This morning, I checked it’s etymological origin, from ‘Hobson-Jobson; a glossary of Anglo-Indian colloquial words and phrases, originally authored by Col. Henry Yule and A.C.Burnell, and revised by William Crooke (originally published in 1903, John Murray, London, 1969 reprint). Under the extensive description given for the entry ‘Tea’, it says, Pekoe: [from] Pak-ho, Canton pron. of characters poh-hao, ‘white down’ (p. 909). Now, I’m clueless about what ‘white down’ means, in Chinese language.

    The other word is ‘kangani’. This word, is derived from Tamil, but NOT included in the Hobson Jobson. Originally the word meant, ‘One who observes’, the root word ‘kan’ meaning ‘eye’ in Tamil. Subsequently, it gathered few shades of derisive meaning, such as ‘a broker’ and ‘lazy guy who don’t do a real job’.

    Paiva’s thoughts, towards the end of his commentary on kanganis in the hill country of Ceylon, are very much interesting. Their contribution to the island politics also deserve some recognition. For example, two prominent politicians Sauvmiyamoorthy Thondaman (1913-1999) and C.V. Velupillai (1914-1984) were from wealthy kangani families. I wonder whether C.V.Velupillai, being one with literary bend, had authored any poems or stories, on ‘sensual pleasures’ brokered by kanganis, as mentioned by Paiva. I need to check. But there is no doubt that Thondaman did receive ‘handsome remunerations’ for his ‘brokering’ work, by joining the Cabinet of J.R.Jayewardene in 1978.

  2. Chandra Maliyadde

    I spent my younger days on a lush, cool tea estate hidden in misty hills. The story brings the memories flooding in my mind. My brother and I used to walk 5 miles up and down through tea estates and run around tea bushes.

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