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Story of Ningru La, first tea trader, on reel

- Documentary highlights contribution of Singphos to industry and opposition to British

Jorhat, Jan. 3: Wild tea bushes growing to the height of several metres, so tall the leaves had to be plucked from atop elephants. Bayonets snatched from the British during a skirmish in Singpho territory at Margherita of Upper Assam. A portrait of Ningru La, said to be Assam’s first tea planter, who sent the first consignment of tea to the United Kingdom.

All this and more will be part of a documentary on how the Singphos made tea over 200 years ago.

It has already been established that Robert Bruce, a major in the East India Company, came to know about the existence of tea after he was given a concoction of the beverage by the Singpho king Bisa Gam in the early part of 1800.

The director of the documentary, Rajiv Ningkhee, who is also a Singpho writer, said long before the British had discovered how to make tea, the Singphos were making and drinking the beverage! Even today, organic handmade tea is still being made by the community and exported to Canada.

“Although the practice of plucking teas from elephant-back was discontinued and the column system of growing the bush is practised today, we have put in one shot of how it was done in the days of yore by the Singphos,” Ningkhee said.

The director also said that while trying to unearth historical facts, many interesting things came to light.

The documentary, Ningru La: The first tea trader, portrays Ningru La, one of the mighty rulers of the Singpho community who had produced 35 boxes of the total 95 boxes of tea sent for auction to Mincing Lane, London for the first time by the East India Company in 1838.

“Ningru La received 480 pounds by selling those tea boxes,” Ningkhee said.

He said that Ningru La had sent these boxes even before Maniram Dewan had established his gardens and these facts were contained in books written by Amalendu Guha and Anjan Baruah.

“Ningru La has not received due recognition for his contribution to the tea industry and this documentary will highlight his achievements through an objective study of history,” the director said.

The documentary also deals with the Singpho-British conflict for land to cultivate tea.

It also highlights the events like the Singpho uprising in January 1843, in which several British were killed by the Singphos at Ningroo post, near the river Dihing under the present Tinsukia district.

After the skirmish, Ningru La was deported to the Baruah Pathar near Noa Dehing area in Arunachal Pradesh, where he settled down and spent the rest of his life.

“Ningru La Seng, grandson of the ruler, who lives in Ningroo Changlang in Arunachal Pradesh, has shown us two rusty bayonets, which were snatched away from the British by the Singphos during the conflict in 1843,” said Ningkhee.

Produced under the banner of Eco-Tourism Society, Assam and Singpho Development Society, the documentary is likely to be showcased in March-April. Barua Debanand Ulup, a noted artist of Assam, is the art director and photography is by Manash Pratim Gogoi.


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