One For The Pot

Climate change is going to transform everything we know.

There are plenty of things we modern humans think of as “traditional” which are, from a deep-time perspective, just the merest blip of fashion. While coffee consumption is usually thought to have begun in Ethiopia less than a thousand years ago, tea is a little older:

The Chinese have consumed tea for thousands of years. People of the Han Dynasty used tea as medicine (though the first use of tea as a stimulant is unknown). China is considered to have the earliest records of tea consumption,[11][12] with records dating back to the 10th century BC.[11] The earliest credible record of tea drinking dates to the 3rd century AD, in a medical text by Hua T’o, who stated that “to drink bitter t’u constantly makes one think better.” Another early reference to tea is found in a letter written by the Chin Dynasty general Liu Kun.[2]

We humans are mere mayflies to the slow time of ecology and the deep time of geology. We tend to think of our “traditions” as immutable things. “Our family has always spent the holidays at your uncle’s house” only makes sense if “always” actually means “since before you were born.”

And, of course, we have always enjoyed our tea.

Well, when it comes to the soothing cuppa, it doesn’t matter if it’s Chinese green, Lapsang Souchong, Lipton’s with lemon, or the milky beverage that is integral to any prolonged social call in North India. There may be six million acres planted in tea right now, but thanks to the consequences of that planetary greenhouse effect, that number’s likely to plummet drastically. In Assam, rainfalls are getting erratic, stressing the bushes during periods of drought and eroding soil during torrential downpours.

Sic transit gloria Camellia sinensis.

“The weather is becoming very extreme and intense with much longer dry periods, or heavy downpours over many days and frequent hail and cyclonic storms,” Ashok Kumar of Goomtee Tea Estate told STIR, a tea and coffee industry publication. “The bushes are stressed, pest populations are increasing and monthly crop cycles are changing unpredictably.”

Assamese music maintains a classical tradition which shares aesthetic values with the rest of India, but has some distinctive features of its own. Borgeet:

…are a collection of lyrical songs that are set to specific ragas but not necessarily to any tala. These songs, composed by Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhavdeva in the 15th-16th centuries, are used to begin prayer services in monasteries…

Here’s a nice performance of a borgeet by Angarag:

There’s a vibrant dance tradition that straddles folk and classical styles, as witness this snippet of a regional TV presentation on the Bihu dance style:

Meanwhile, things aren’t looking so great for the tea plantations at the opposite end of the subcontinent:

In Sri Lanka, another major tea-producing region, new pest invasions are one of the largest sources of loss on the plantations. Pests like the shot-hole borer and live-wood termite are moving up to altitudes where they have never been seen before. The insects stress the plant and the financial resources of tea growers attempting to control them. Average temperatures in Sri Lanka have already risen nearly 1 degree Celsius during the last century and are expected to keep rising. Tea is Sri Lanka’s second-largest export after labor, bringing in about $1.5 billion in 2012.

The value of Sri Lanka’s most expensive tea, a seasonal variety known as Uva tea, slumped by nearly 30 percent last year after early rains changed the distinct and highly prized flavor of the leaves.

The tea plantations of Sri Lanka

As an island nation, Sri Lanka offers a variety of fascinating syncretic forms:

The music of Sri Lanka has its roots in four primary influences: ancient folk rituals, Buddhist religious traditions, the legacy of European colonization, and the commercial and historical influence of nearby Indian culture—specifically, Bollywood cinema. The Theravada sect of Buddhism has exercised a particular influence on Sri Lankan music since Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka around the opening of the first millennium.

Portuguese colonists were among the first Europeans to arrive in Sri Lanka, landing in the mid-15th century. They brought with them traditional cantiga ballads, ukuleles and guitars, as well as conscripted Africans (referred to, historically, as kaffrinhas), who spread their own style of music known as baila. The confluence of both European and African traditions served to further diversify the musical roots of contemporary Sri Lankan music.

Nadagam, developed from South Indian street theater:

The frame drums called Rabana:

A traditional dance accompanied by the Bera drums and a blown conch shell:

Modern band music at a cricket match

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