Tea Narratives: Global, National, and Local
In 2010, almost two hundred years after the establishment of
the imperial tea garden, Assam’s local tea plant and its indigenous
tribal people again made newspaper headlines. Since 2006 a Cana-
dian nonprofit organization had successfully sold organic tea, grown
by Upper Assam’s Singpho tribals, as an international fair-trade com-
modity.∞ One promising niche market for this Singpho tea was in
North America, where there was a growing demand for alternative
and ‘‘green’’ products. Another market was Thailand, which had eco-
logical and past cultural bonds with Assam that had been sundered by
Indian state policies dictating that the only legal travel connection
between the Mekong and the Brahmaputra should be through dis-
tant Delhi. In a post-imperial setting the hierarchical, exploitative tie
between the City of London and Assam seemed replaced by kinder,
more equitable, more multilateral ones born of the twenty-first cen-
tury’s alternative eco-visions. Indigenous tribal groups, long written
out of the garden project, appeared set to recover and disseminate
some of their lost heritage, where artisanal tea-making skills might be
repackaged for a new global commitment to sustainable living. This
initiative marketed a positive face for globalization.
But fair-trade tea is a metaphorical single leaf in a plantation of
bushes. The grand vision of fair trade sometimes obscures the ongo-
ing reality of life in the postcolonial commodity garden. The nega-
tive impact of globalization remains starkly evident in the condition
of the millions of people who still make up the plantation workforce
Previous Page Next Page