Happenings, News

A day on the Mission plantation

This evocative piece by C. E. Draper, who supervised the Sitiawan Industrial School, goes back to when the Methodist Mission invested in rubber plantations. It contrasts the hustle and bustle of daily labour with the angelus bell for evening prayers – a balance from which 21st century Christians can profit.

‘THERE are no spare moments on the plantation. From the first faint light of the early morning till the sun has sunk to rest and “night shakes out her sable curtain around us,” the hum and chatter of the busy workers is heard in the fields and coolie lines.

At dawn our sleep is rudely awakened by the alarm clock which nature has given us – the geese and the fowls refuse to let us linger in slumber, so we arise to another day’s labour. Soon the trees are ablaze, and the rice merrily cooking, while the coolies are preparing for the roll call at six o’clock.

Makan over, the “thin brown line” trudges off to the fields, with changkols and scythes on their shoulders while the patient little bullocks are yoked to the discs which turn and tear and twist out the grasses. As the day grows older, the soil is worked up by the discs and changkols while the persistent roots of the lalang – that foe of healthy plantations – are torn from the sod – and placed in piles by the small Tamil boys, where it will dry and be ready for burning.

The tappers, too, are at work and they rapidly pass from one tree to another paring away a thin shaving from the milk-bearing and directing the flow of the latex into the little glass cups placed at the base of the tree.

… The rubber which has been gathered the previous day is rolled out into long thin sheets and hung to dry and season, awaiting the time when it can be shipped to the world’s busy markets, and enter into its destiny – the welfare and comfort of man.

… The whistle has sounded and the men cease their work, hastily gathering together a bundle of faggots which, well-balanced on their heads, are borne to the coolie lines for fuel for the evening mean.

Life in the coolie lines, too, is interesting and one may learn many a lesson from those “uncultured children of Nature”. First comes the bath at the well, then the oil bath and hair dressing. Next the curry stones are brought into requisition and the cloves, tamarind and cinnamon, the caraway and coriander blend their fragrant spices with the chilly, the garlic and ginger, while a large pot of rice and a small piece of flesh, fish or fowl help to form that unknowable mixture, the Indian curry.

… The evening shadows have softly gathered round us, and from the little church that stands for so much to us, there clangs out the peal of the old cracked bell which calls the coolies to evening prayer. The efforts of our own native pastor have made themselves felt in the actions, at least of our Christian Tamil workers and we are hoping that the influence and example may pass on to those other lives that are thrown in contact with ours.

The day is done. As we take one last look out over the rubber trees to the palm-fringed horizon beyond, there floats in on the night air the faint sound of a tom-tom from some neighbouring plantation or the … strange melody of a Tamil song, and we go to our own rest with a prayer that our Father might use to His own honour and glory the offering of the day.’ — MM November 1911, p.10.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.