Why are “planters” so disliked/hated?


Sigma left an insightful comment on my post about the caricature of the “Ceylon Planter” and link to an eye opening post about his entry to plantation life in Sri Lanka. It brought out some memories of other eavesdropped conversations and the few encounters I have had with those pointed out to me as “Planters”. One thing I never did grasped was why are “planters” looked down upon, and often hated.

The nature hierarchal nature of plantation and its colonial origins are just the broad sweeps of a more complicated tangles. I can see how the caricature of the planter is such a juicy and politically convenient target. A friend (a “planter’s child” as some family would describe him) told me a grim story about how the JVP murdered his uncle in during the dark days of 1988-89. It is easy to see how that event could be spun into a revolutionary propaganda play as the victorious politeriet snuffing out the bourgeois.

Closer to home I have heard of them being refered to has both snobs and undefined characters. Extroverts with little patience for the intellectual. “Uneducated” is the most frequently bandied term. There’s a certain aura of the maverick, and a shocking un Sri Lankan lack of reverence for hierarchy and procedure. People who got things done amidst the mud and leaves of far away estates. Without whom things would fall apart.

Family friends who knew planters would often feature them in stories told after dinner in the darkness of some far away rest house veranda. People (men actually) who did daring things with jeeps and land rovers. Knew how to use the shot gun. The type of friend who would bring the deer or boar he shot down to Colombo. Causing his city bound friends to phone each other asking if they wanted any.

Along with being mentioned in seat of the pants exploits accounts of planters friends also mentioned the drinks. Particularly the tales and the laughter they spewed between the emptying of bottles. Clearly there’s some sort of terrible tragic isolating sadness in that life. There’s a chapter called “Thanikama” in Michael Ondaatje’s “Running in the Family” that touches on this. Amitav Ghoshs’ The Glass Palace describes life in the teak harvesting business in the British colonial Burma that for some odd reason seem to capture the melancholy of the planter’s life.

Most likely its my ignorance grasping at straws.

2 comments

  1. Ah, I see these Cerno Planter posts getting a lot of my attention! I’m torn between describing the life of a Planter as this amazingly wonderful experience and confessing that the reason I left was because I found the it to be a narrow world, lagging behind the rest of the planet. What I will do is to write a few posts about my experience and leave it to you to judge…

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