Ceylon Tea, the Raw Gold of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka, once Ceylon, is an equatorial paradise in the most strategic position of the Indian Ocean, and is second only to China and India in the production of tea.
When in 1867 an epidemic destroyed all the coffee plantations on the island, some British farmers and landowners, thanks to perfect weather, decided to bring tea seeds, planning to start a new agricultural business. The plant in fact root perfectly and soon made Tea the most valuable product to export.
To cope with the increasing production was soon necessary to employ a huge amount of expert and skilled workers. Thousands of Tamil families from the south of India were recruited and brought to Sri Lanka to work in the tea plantations. As a result, these families end up living in absolute exploitation, poverty and ethnic and linguistic marginalization.
Today, after almost 150 years things have improved, but the conditions are still far from being acceptable.
Tea, though, is still one of the main sources of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka.
I spent 30 days traveling around Sri Lanka with Nayanadeepa Dhilan, a local documentarist I hired for my project and which later became a very close friend.
Without his assistance I would have never been able to reach all the places I have been to and meet all these incredible woman I have portrayed.
Together we managed to visit some incredible and isolated communities of pluckers, such ad Matara, Passara and Matugama, from small fields to huge estates in the upper country region.
Being Nayana a perfect interpreter, I managed to get access and permission to photograph in some extraordinary places, but above all, I was able to establish an interaction with my subjects which is extremely important in portrait series.
The purpose of these series is not necessarily to denounce the hard work, but rather celebrate the dignity of the people, of the work, of everything is behind the exploitation, which is the human with all of his background, heritage and story. If this contribute to discuss and denounce, in a way, the conditions of work, then I think it’s a good collateral effect which I don’t neglect.
My Raw Golds series, though, aim to enlighten the protagonists behind what comes to our daily lives as we know it, whatever it is, it could be Tea, Cinnamon, Coffee, Tequila, Agave, Tobacco or whatsoever. Each and every good has a community of people living around it and having their lives depending on it. I think it’s important to keep a track of the diversity, of the different traditions and habits between people and countries, in order to be able to understand how this is a synonym of richness and beauty, that have to be preserved.
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