Ceylon Tea Museum
Hantana Estate, two miles out of the Kandy Municipal Council limits has been known as a commercial tea plantation for over a hundred years. The Hantana mountain range itself was known during the era of the Kandyan Kingdom as they were of strategic importance to the kings by provision of a barrier to the capital, Mahanuwara on one side, while the Mahaveli river provided protection on the other three sides. The range was therefore known as Giri Durgha (Mountain Barrier) or Vana Durgha (Jungle Barrier) in those times. It was over these hills that Rajasinghe II fled from Kandy to Nilambe and from there to Hanguranketa when faced with a rebellion in 1640 knowing that he could not be easily followed.
Coming closer to our times the Tea Research Institute of Ceylon commenced setting up in 1959 a Sub Station on land leased from the Estate on the lines of the Passara Sub Station established about three decades earlier. The Hantana Station was to cater to the needs of Mid Country tea plantation interests with regard to the physiology, entomology etc. of tea and in particular the identification of clones (vegetatively propagated plants with identical characteristics of the mother plant) resistant to drought conditions and the insect pest shot-hole borer which were the main problems in the region then.
On 9th January 1998 under Section 21 of the Companies Act of 1982 the Ceylon Tea Museum was incorporated and declared open on 1st December 2001 in the Hantana Tea Factory. Mr. Clifford Ratwatte then Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board who initiated the move and the then heads of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon, Tea Research Institute, Tea Small Holdings Development Authority and the Colombo Tea Traders Association will be remembered for the roles they played in setting up this Museum. The significant contribution made by Mr. Dharmasiri Madugalle, Manager of the Museum from its inception to date with the collection and installation of exhibits is most praiseworthy . These two gentlemen can be justly proud and happy that their wish going back to 1985 to collect and preserve for posterity memorabilia of the tea industry which were rotting and rusting in all corners of the plantation areas is now a reality. However, there are literally hundreds more out there which needs to be collected and preserved.
Members of the museum staff such as Ms. Judith Samuel, who show visitors round with commendable ability to explain clearly the function of each item, creating a lively interest in tea processing in those who are not familiar with it, make a visit to the Museum worthwhile.
The Hantana Estate Factory which has been silent for many years, due amalgamation of small plantations into larger units for more economic and efficient use of all resources, is an excellent choice for several reasons. The ground and first two floors house the exhibits, some well over 100 years old. Polished and painted items of machinery beginning with early sources of motive power, through leaf withering, rolling, roll breaking, fermenting, drying, sifting and ending with an old vibratory packer for maximizing capacity of standard plywood tea chests. Such packing came into practice only about five decades ago as tea for export was previously packed in different materials including cloth bags; one of which is exhibited. There are also a series of bins for graded teas with appropriate labels but latter day bin cards are not seen.
The fourth floor is a spacious restaurant where factory fresh tea and the sweetest (opined some who ate it) chocolate cake are on sale. . The panoramic view of Hunasgiriya, Knuckles and Matale hills in the distance is a rare feast to the viewer as much as the brisk flavour of the tea to his taste buds.
Perhaps in the years to come the library will have more exhibits not only of histori
cal value but literature of recent times as well on tea, our most valuable export even today after it was experimentally planted 137 years ago at Loolecondra Estate by James Taylor. The story of the tea industry, preceded by cinchona and coffee, in Ceylon is by itself most fascinating. A quote from the brochure given to visitors to the Museum is a must. It reads thus, "The adventure began 132 years ago. Today as another millennium has dawned, the epic saga of Ceylon tea continues to enthral the world and challenge those who follow in the footsteps of the indomitable pioneer planters. No less a personality than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle paid tribute to the spirit of these gallant men when he said ‘not often it is that men have the heart, when their one great industry is withered, to rear up in a few years, another, as rich to take it’s place and the tea fields of Ceylon, as true, a monument to courage as is the lion at Waterloo.’
The great industry that Sir Arthur refers to as having withered is coffee, due to the fungus Coffee Rust (Hamileia vastatrix). Reading the numerous accounts of the hardships; financial, social and physical some coffee planters faced as the fungus spread is sad, to say the least. Thanks however, to some of those early planters who would not be broken turned to tea and large numbers of them both European and latterly Sri Lankan proved their mettle resulting since many years ago to turn this country into the worlds biggest exporter of tea - a high percentage being of exceptional quality.
It is good to know that the Tea Research Institute is planning to exhibit some items of interest in these premises. They will perhaps tell the tale of the move from planting seedling tea to vegetatively propagated tea which dramatically increased production volumes and gave the industry clones with desired characteristics such as resistance to drought, blister blight and with good manufacturing qualities. Over the years it also provide the industry with solutions to control several pests and diseases and innovative methods in field and factory operations with a view to reducing costs of production and enhancing quality.
There is no doubt that there are many items of tea machinery, field implements, books, records, pictures, photographs and numerous other artifacts connected with the early days of the industry lying in plantation factories, stores, offices, clubs, estate bungalows and private homes which deserve places in this Museum. Hence, people who have access to these, in particular, Managing Agents of today’s tea plantations and their Superintendents owe it to this country to locate such items, gift them and enrich this national asset which is the one and only tea museum in the world.
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