THE THEASOPHIE ARCHIVE

~ inscribed within each leaf ~

The STORY of TEA has been handed down for countless generations. Among Mon-Khmer peoples, the earliest known cultivators of the leaf, it is the story of the nats, or nature spirits, and of the tea ancestor Paya Alaung. Chinese culture attributes the discovery of tea, alongside agriculture and herbal medicine, to Shennong, the Spiritual Cultivator. Then, there is Damo, or Bodhidharma, the Indian monk who delivered Buddhism to China. He introduced tea into monastic practice as a way of preserving physical stamina and mental clarity during long hours of meditation:

禪茶一味
Chan and Tea, One Flavor

THEASOPHIE has spent the last decade learning these stories. We have sat in the forest and listened to the leaves, around countless village hearths listening to elders until we knew their words by heart. We’ve contributed in the preservation of ritual manuscripts and gathered original editions of the literature on tea going back to the 17th century. We have listened, translated, and read across several languages to seek out the origin story of tea and to understand its significance for the modern world.

 

The STORY of TEA has been handed down for countless generations. Among Mon-Khmer peoples, the earliest known cultivators of the leaf, it is the story of the nats, or nature spirits, and of the tea ancestor Paya Alaung. Chinese culture attributes the discovery of tea, alongside agriculture and herbal medicine, to Shennong, the Spiritual Cultivator. Then, there is Damo, or Bodhidharma, the Indian monk who delivered Buddhism to China. He introduced tea into monastic practice as a way of preserving physical stamina and mental clarity during long hours of meditation:

禪茶一味
Chan and Tea, One Flavor

THEASOPHIE has spent the last decade learning these stories. We have sat in the forest and listened to the leaves, around countless village hearths listening to elders until we knew their words by heart. We’ve contributed in the preservation of ritual manuscripts and gathered original editions of the literature on tea going back to the 17th century. We have listened, translated, and read across several languages to seek out the origin story of tea and to understand its significance for the modern world.

Nan Falai & Paya Alaung

So said Paya Alaung …

Should I leave you cattle and horses, I fear that they will die; gold and silver, it would soon be spent. So I leave tea trees for future generations to use without end.

He stood atop the mountain, waved his hands, and tea entered into the soil. The Bulang ‘Ancestor Song’ recounts:

Paya Alaung, our ancestor,
Paya Alaung, our hero,
left the bamboo hut & tea trees,
a walking stick to survive.


(more of Nan Falai &
Paya
Alaung’s story to follow!)

Bulang Manuscript Archive

The Bulang are a Mon-Khmer language-speaking group located in southwest China and the uplands of Southeast Asia. They are among the earliest inhabitants of China’s southwest border region, the first tea cultivators, essential to understanding regional cultural ecology. Yet, there has been little effort to bring the broader Bulang cultural identity into broader relief with respect to local knowledge and placemaking in the tea mountains.

Manuscript culture is one means towards establishing a more cohesive cultural identity across the Bulang culture sphere. Theasophie works on text preservation in several of the oldest Bulang villages. Our digital archive, initiated with a seed grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), is a cornerstone in our efforts to work in tandem with local communities for the continuance of intangible cultural heritage.

Rare Books & Ephemera

While Europeans began writing about tea in the sixteenth century, it was nearly two centuries later, in 1735, that we see our first account of Pu’er tea. Several decades later, a stream of first person colonial accounts begins to appear as the French make their way upriver through Indochina and the British through Burma. The trail of images, texts, and maps they leave behind is invaluable to the story of tea.

Theasophie collects and curates original editions of this historical material, presenting it in a variety of contexts throughout our work. Our collections have found their way onto tea wrappers as well as appearing in such venues as the Kunming International Tea Exposition and several exhibitions in support of Jingmai Mountain’s UNESCO World Heritage status.

Nan Falai & Paya Alaung

So said Paya Alaung …

Should I leave you cattle and horses, I fear that they will die; gold and silver, it would soon be spent. So I leave tea trees for future generations to use without end.

He stood atop the mountain, waved his hands, and tea entered into the soil. The Bulang ‘Ancestor Song’ recounts:

Paya Alaung, our ancestor,
Paya Alaung, our hero,
left the bamboo hut & tea trees,
a walking stick to survive.


(more of Nan Falai & Paya
Alaung’s story to follow!)

Bulang Manuscript Archive

The Bulang are a Mon-Khmer language-speaking group distributed throughout southwest Yunnan and the uplands of Southeast Asia. They are among the earliest inhabitants of the tea mountains, pivotal in understanding regional cultural ecology. Yet, there has been little effort to bring the broader Bulang cultural identity into greater relief with respect to local knowledge and placemaking in the tea mountains.

Manuscript culture is one means towards establishing a more cohesive cultural identity across the Bulang geographic distribution. Theasophie works on text preservation in several of the oldest Bulang villages in southwest China. Our digital archive, initiated with a seed grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archive Programme, is a cornerstone in our efforts to work in tandem with local communities for the continuation of intangible cultural heritage.

Rare Books & Ephemera

While Europeans began writing about tea in the sixteenth century, it was nearly two centuries later, in 1735, that we see our first account of Pu’er tea appearing in Jean-Baptiste Du Halde’s Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique et physique de l’Empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise. Several decades later, a stream of first person accounts begins to appear as the French make their way upriver through Indochina and the British through Burma. The trail of images, texts, and maps they leave behind is invaluable to the story of tea.

Theasophie collects and curates original editions of this historical material, presenting it in a variety of contexts throughout our work. Our collections have found their way onto tea wrappers as well as appearing in such venues as the Kunming International Tea Exposition and several exhibitions in support of Jingmai Mountain’s UNESCO World Heritage campaign.

Nan Falai & Paya Alaung

So said Paya Alaung …

Should I leave you cattle and horses, I fear that they will die; gold and silver, it would soon be spent. So I leave tea trees for future generations to use without end.

He stood atop the mountain, waved his hands, and tea entered into the soil. The Bulang ‘Ancestor Song’ recounts:

Paya Alaung, our ancestor,
Paya Alaung, our hero,
left the bamboo hut & tea trees,
a walking stick to survive.

(more of Nan Falai & Paya
Alaung’s story to follow!)

Bulang Manuscript Archive

The Bulang are a Mon-Khmer language-speaking group distributed throughout southwest Yunnan and the uplands of Southeast Asia. They are among the earliest inhabitants of the tea mountains, pivotal in understanding regional cultural ecology. Yet, there has been little effort to bring the broader Bulang cultural identity into greater relief with respect to local knowledge and placemaking in the tea mountains.

Manuscript culture is one means towards establishing a more cohesive cultural identity across the Bulang geographic distribution. Theasophie works on text preservation in several of the oldest Bulang villages in southwest China. Our digital archive, initiated with a seed grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archive Programme, is a cornerstone in our efforts to work in tandem with local communities for the continuation of intangible cultural heritage.

Rare Books & Ephemera

While Europeans began writing about tea in the sixteenth century, it was nearly two centuries later, in 1735, that we see our first account of Pu’er tea appearing in Jean-Baptiste Du Halde’s Description géographique, historique, chronologique, politique et physique de l’Empire de la Chine et de la Tartarie Chinoise. Several decades later, a stream of first person accounts begins to appear as the French make their way upriver through Indochina and the British through Burma. The trail of images, texts, and maps they leave behind is invaluable to the story of tea.

Theasophie collects and curates original editions of this historical material, presenting it in a variety of contexts throughout our work. Our collections have found their way onto tea wrappers as well as appearing in such venues as the Kunming International Tea Exposition and several exhibitions in support of Jingmai Mountain’s UNESCO World Heritage campaign.

Each of the above narrative flows represents a discrete stream of a polyvocal storytelling style. Our inspiration derives from approaches used by local peoples in participating within the diverse natural-cultural landscape of the tea mountains. It brings the past into conversation with the present, host with guest, the art of the story and inherited wisdom conveyed to the accompaniment of fragrant cups of tea. We look forward to sharing more of this work as an honoring of the rich heritage of the Jingmai Mountains and the imaginal realm of tea.