Ranee Elizabeth Emmanuel
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Mr and Mrs Emmanuel and all their grandchildren, 1998

Growing up

When I was about 12 or 14, my father said, " Child, study and stand on your own two feet. You might have money but if you study and you work hard, and you achieve a certain position, that is a much better standard for you, than anything else". And he said, "I have climbed one step more than my father, and now I want you to climb at least two steps" and he said, " There is always a place at the top of the tree. At the bottom of the tree you are one in a crowd, so if you are just mediocre you get nowhere. But if you rise up, and you go as far as you can, then the chances of getting a good job and a better standard of living is much better"

Family life

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Ranee Emmanuel with her sons, Houses of Parliament, 1971


"When I came in '73 to England after working 13 years in Nigeria, many people thought we were very rich….I only had £3000 in my bank account which I used to buy this house….I said, "Yes I have two bank accounts". I said, "Yes Swiss bank accounts". So I said, "The first bank account is my elder son, and the second bank account is my second son. These are my wealth!."

"In those days, that is the late 1940's, or even before that, a dowry was given to a girl. When they start out to get married in their twenties, instead of them having to go and buy a house, or rent a house, or buy furniture and all that, if a dowry was given, then they could use that, and not get into debt at the beginning of their life.

But later on it became such a scourge, that even educated people with a lot of money still demanded a dowry from the girls. So much so, that the man was bought! And what happened finally was that some of the parents got into debt, and some of them couldn't repay the debt.

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Walking down the aisle. The wedding of Mr and Mrs Emmanuel, St Lucia Cathedral, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1957

On my wedding day, there were two other weddings also, they were on either side of us, but we were in the centre. I was wearing a white silk, silver embroidered sari and a white blouse, with a long trailing veil and I asked the florist to make a special bouquet for me. I had three pompom dahlias and the rest were little florettes from the coconut palm, from the areca nut palm, and little sheaves of rice, ears of rice. I just asked, because coconut and rice are our staple food, and the areca nut the nut that people chew, so I thought it was symbolic of the customs of Ceylon.

I also had little sprigs of the coconut palm and the areca nut palm on my both sides of my hair and a little chain with stones on it and a little stone in the front, which is an ornament for the forehead.

When the registry is being signed, they give you a cup of milk, honey, banana and mango. It is like the land flowing with milk and honey. It's the first meal you have, and it's given first to him, and then to me. That is a symbolic thing that they do for every wedding."

"For the honeymoon we went to Negombo, it's a seaside resort, and there were many new hotels, so we went there to one of those hotels, and stayed for three days.

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In the car after the wedding of Mr and Mrs Emmanuel, St Lucia Cathedral, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1957

And I think we are unique in that our Best Man also followed us on the train going from our honeymoon to his town, and he came and stayed with us for the honeymoon, and the homecoming night he was also there. And even at my son's wedding he said that he was the only Best Man allowed to go with the bride and bridegroom on their honeymoon and also on their homecoming."

You change from white into a red sari, it is called a koorai. Which is a sari that the man gives you after the wedding when you go home for the reception. He opens it out, not fully, into four, and he puts it round your shoulder as if to say from now you are mine.

"The bride wears that and comes, and lights the lamp, because the lighting of the lamp is symbolic, that after that you are in charge of the home. And also even if you went to live with your father and mother-in-law, as happens in the Indian families, she enters the house with the lamp in her hands. And my father-in-law said about three months before he died, he told me, you came to light the lamp in my house."

Work

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Mr and Mrs Emmanuel after the wedding, showing koorai sari, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1957

"I was a graduate from London University, a first class trained teacher. I had a diploma for the teaching of English, but I was always on Grade One until I retired.

I think it was racism, but if you make a fuss it is unpleasant to work there. Actually if I had got my dues, I would be getting a much bigger pension than I get now. It doesn't matter.

After I left teaching, a fellow stopped me in the street in Penge. Somebody stopped in a big van, and this fellow got out and hugged me! I thought what on earth is this? And all the people were standing round with open mouths.

He said, "Miss, I am today in this job, because of you". He was one of those boys who another teacher had said was not examination stuff, and he got a "C" at O' Level, and he was a carpet fitter, driving a big van. And he hugged me there and said, "This is all because of you!" And that was enough, that was better than getting a bigger salary for me!."

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