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Preserving Our Culture PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 25 July 2006

1. Indian Culture and its transformations in Trinidad

2. Researching the Indian presence in St Lucia 

3. Belize Indians: Trying to preserve themselves and their culture 

4. The East Indian legacy in St Lucia 

Indian Culture and Its Transformations in Trinidad

Vinay Lal
Associate Professor of History, UCLA

When one thinks of the Indian presence in the Caribbean, a number of people at once come to mind. In the cricketing world, the names of Sonny Ramdhin, Alvin Kallicharan, and most of all Rohan Kanhai are not easily forgotten; in the political realm, there is Cheddi Jagan, President of Guyana, and Shridath Ramphal, who for many years was the Commonwealth Secretary-General. The President of Trinidad & Tobago for the last seven years has been Hasan Ali, whose ancestors came to Trinidad 100 years ago. Most prominently, there is V.S. Naipaul, whose house in Chaguanas, just south of Port of Spain in Trinidad, still stands -- immense, forbidding, abandoned, decayed, aloof, desolate, not quite unlike Naipaul himself.

However, in thinking of the exceptional journey, from servitude to resistance to freedom, undertaken by Indians in the Trinidad and the rest of the Caribbean, it is not the fame and fortune of some Indians that is most striking, but the manner in which Indians as a whole, despite the formidable adversities placed in the way, have been able to retain their self-dignity, preserve and enhance their culture, and enrich themselves by a selective engagement with other cultures. The landscapes, art, music, cuisine, and religious edifices and customs of Indians in Trinidad provide an illuminating testimony of the manner in which Indians have been able to inscribe themselves into the history of Trinidad. Having been severed from their homes and families, many Indians made new friends on the long passage to the Caribbean, only to lose them as each man was shunted off to some plantation or the other. It was all the more imperative, in an alien and hostile land, that Indians be able to inhabit a space which they could claim as their own, and to which they could offer their attachment. Those who came from the Gangetic heartland named many of the streets after the principal areas from where they had been recruited, such as Mathura, Kanpur, and Lucknow. Those hailing from Basti in Uttar Pradesh created Basta Hall, while Faizabad became transformed into Fyazabad; indentureds from Barrackpore and Chander Nagar, both in West Bengal, retained these names for the villages in Trinidad to which they were despatched. While Europeans were intent on claiming lands for their sovereigns and for cartography, transforming land into space, Indians sought to render space into place, localizing spaces into habitats for communion with self, nature, and fellow human-beings. In so doing, they also cherished memories of the ancestral land.

In conditions of adversity, Indians were bound to take refuge in their culture, thinking of it as the bhakta in Indian devotional songs does of the boat in which she or he is placed, which gathers the storm unto itself, but they also rowed their boats to different shores. Again, as in the case of bhakti, the classical had perforce to yield to the vernacular, and other transformations and adaptations were inevitable. Those who have made a communalist reading of Indian history might well be tempted to turn the history of Indians in Trinidad and the Caribbean into another communalist affair, and though this is not the place to enter into a debate on Indian history, there can be little doubt that Trinidad's history does not allow of communalist interpretations. In the nineteenth century, the "Hosein" festival, a celebration of Muharram, was the principal festival for both Hindus and Muslims, and the Muharram Massacre of 30 October 1884, in which at least 16 Indians were shot dead by the colonial police, was a desperate attempt by the colonizers to infuse Indians with a distinct and irreconcilable sense of being 'Muslims' and 'Hindus', besides being a brutal assault on a burgeoning labor movement that paid little attention to religious identities. In other spheres, too, such as the celebration of Divali, Indians in Trinidad have shown an extraordinary pluralism.

In food and patterns of eating, as well, Indians were to show their capacity for adaptation. Those caste distinctions that made impossible commensality in India were, in the conditions of migration, broken down, and vegetarianism was to have little appeal among Indo-Trinidadians. Tandoori cooking remains unknown among Indians in Trinidad and the Caribbean, and curry is made with a curry powder, rather than by mixing a curry paste. But it is the prevalence of "curry" in Trinidadian food that impresses, and in most respects Indo-Trinidadian food bears an astonishing similarity to certain varieties of Indian food. As one author of a cookbook on Caribbean food was to note in 1974, "the Indians have had a deep effect upon the Caribbean Cuisine primarily through their enthusiasm for curry, which is becoming as much a part of Caribbean as of Indian cooking." Trinidadian fast food, usually eaten with chutney, is mainly of Indian origin: their saheena is like pakoras, "doubles" is a variation on the channa batura, though more in the form of a chick-peas sandwich, and their kachowrie has a marked similarity to its namesake in India. Though many Afro-Trinidadians will not admit it, even their own main meals are now predominantly Indian in origin, for alongside callooloo there is curried goat, and roti is easily the most popular food in Trinidad. Indeed, to understood just how far roti has come to be a marker of 'Indianness', and the resentment felt by some Afro-Trinidadians, consider that in the 1961 election, the black party took up the slogan: "We don't want no roti government." Roti shops proliferate, and though in India the middle-classes have adopted a Western-style breakfast, complete with poor white bread and corn flakes, in Trinidad roti with dhal and subzi or tarkari constitutes the bread and butter of most people at breakfast and dinner and often at lunch as well. The prevalence of Indian food is reflected in calypso, and many songs sing, often with mockery, scorn, and disturbing caricature, of 'roti' and 'chutney'.

In Trinidad, however, chutney is not only a condiment, but a form of music that Indians have made their own. In the arena of music, as in others, there appears to have been a divide between Afro-Trinidadian music and Indo-Trinidadian music. Calypso, which occupies the mantle of the 'national music', complemented by pan, came to be seen as the exclusive preserve of Afro-Trinidadians, though Drupatee and a few other Indians came to acquire a considerable reputation as calypsonians.



























St. Lucia's mango shape adorns the Caribbean with its varied population, and its French creole.



Le premier convoi d'engagés de l'Inde arriva à Ste Lucie sur le  Palmyra le 6 mai 1859. En tout, 13 navires amenèrent 4.354 indiens  sur l'île.

La plupart venaient de l'Uttar Pradesh et du Bihar, mais certains bateaux venaient aussi du Bengale et de Madras.

On note que 2.562  travailleurs retournèrent en Inde à la fin de leur engagement.


The History of St. Lucia

For my spirit, India is too far...

- albeit not so far
Derek Walcott cannot continue in the following verses,

...these fields sang of Bengal,

    behind Ramlochan Repairs there was Uttar Pradesh...

 Here is an article Richard B. Cheddie wrote back in 1997 and was published in Peter Carr’s Caribbean Historical and Genealogical Journal. 


Saint Lucia is a 238 square mile Caribbean island nation about 1500 miles SE of the US mainland. St. Lucia has a very rich and colorful history from its inhabitation by South American Indians, colonization by European powers, to the introduction of African slaves and Indian indentured laborers from India. 

It is this blend of cultures that make St. Lucia a very interesting place to visit. I recently returned from a two-week trip to St. Lucia where I met my paternal kin for the first time and tried to trace one hundred years of my family's history on the island.

When researching your St. Lucian heritage the first thing that you have to remember is that your family is the greatest source of genealogical information.

They may hold the key to finding out that one vital piece of  data necessary to close a whole chapter of your research. I was able to see pass a couple of clerical errors in the records I researched because I took the time to interview, re-interview, and cross interview my relatives before I went to St. Lucia. Take the time to note the names and nicknames that they give you.

Find out what part of the island the family lived, worked, or visited. It will pay dividends.

Nicknames in St. Lucia are so common, even friends and family members may know each other only by their nicknames. Hardly anyone knew my grandfather's name was Richard, but mention the nickname "Chum" and you would get an ear full of his antics. Friends, family members, and even enemies gave most of these nicknames to the individuals from early childhood and the names stuck.

Another thing to remember when searching for leads in St. Lucia is that most St. Lucians are either descendants of former African slaves or East Indian indentured laborers.

A vast majority of them were coerced or forced to be  baptized, after which they were given Christian names. For example, my paternal great-grandfather Ramdath Mirai was given the name Peter after being baptized. Depending on the time of baptism, some of the birth records listed his children as being fathered by Ramdath Mirai , Peter Merahie, or even Ramdath Peter. It did not help that most of the Catholic priests at the times were French, which resulted in further variation of the spelling of Mirai: Merahie, Merraie, Meralice, Maralice, Murai, etc.

There are also cases where the Christian name was added in front of the original names. My great-great grand Uncle Ram Cheddie was baptized as Paul...

In the records held by the Catholic Church, all of his children have their father listed as Paul Ramcheddie. The priest also wrote Chedy instead of Cheddie. To add further challenges to the arduous researcher, the East Indian laborers who were given Christian names after baptism often passed this new name onto to their descendants as the family's new surname.

My great-great grand Uncle Sobhan Rattie's descendants still sign Antoine as their surname today.

The Central Registry is the second best source of genealogical information. However, it can be the most difficult place from which to obtain information.

Baptisms, marriage, divorces, deaths, name changes, land deeds, and a slew of other vital statistics are deposited in the Central Registry, some going back to the 1600's. Although there are a few computers available to the clerks, virtually all the information are still maintained in log books. The front entrance of the Registry is a short hallway with counters and a wire mesh screen on the right side. You take a number and wait until a clerk calls on you.

The Registry is a very busy place. The best time to go to there is early in the morning before the crowd does. By the late afternoon, the heat, crowded hallway, and frustration of the patrons can get the best of any clerk and lessen their enthusiasm to help you. You would need some form of I.D. and a little extra cash since a certified copy of your document could cost $5.00 USD or more; especially if the clerk has to search through many logs to find your information.

Some searches could take more than a week, so doing one's homework can help cut this time down greatly, and even put a smile on the clerk's face. I find that it was a lot easier to mail in my requests.

It cut down on the expenses by half and a response was often more forth coming than going there in person. I send US postal money orders of $5.00 for each search.

The Catholic Church Presbytery is the third main source of genealogical information in St. Lucia. The hours for the Presbyteries vary. They normally operate between the hours of 09:00 AM to noon, are closed from noon until 3:00 PM, and then are reopened from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. They are closed on Tuesday or Wednesday, always on Sunday. Saturdays are normally only half days.

There is usually a church in each of the larger towns, so it is very important that you find out which area your family members lived during the time of their births, death, marriage, etc. Records of these events are kept in logbooks, one for each year, at the Presbytery. Each of these entries is given a reference number and is listed in order, by year, in an index log.

Index logs contain listings for more than one year.

The index logs are the keys to the vast storehouse of information kept by each church. A typical baptismal listing would have the individuals name, year, and place of birth, name of mother, name of father, and names of godparents. After the clerk finds the correct listing in the index, the reference number is used to look up the corresponding logbook entry.

A certified copy of the entry can be had for $5.00 EC or less than $2.00 USD in cash. Entries prior to 1960 were typically written in French. If you know French ask the clerk to let you read the entry. It typically contains one or more valuable pieces of information that would not be placed on the copy of the certificate that you get.

After X amount of time all the logbooks are sent to the Central Registry in Castries. For instance, all the logbooks before 1920 for Vieux Fort, the largest city at the south end of the island, have already been moved to the Central Registry. However, each Presbytery maintains a copy of the index logs for their church only. I was able to search indices that go back to the late 1700's in Micoud, another town on the East of the island.

The fourth valuable of source of information is St. Lucia National Archives. The archive houses some of the oldest material available on the island. It had quite a bit of information dealing with European sources, as well as, those dealing with the importation of East Indian indentured laborers.

Private Citizens donated many of the documents found in the there, or copies were obtained from other Caribbean archives, such as from Grenada. Many of St. Lucia's original records were lost in two great fires, one in 1927, and the other in 1941.

The St. Lucia National Archives is located right next to the airport in Castries, the runway being only a few hundred yards away. A taxi ride from Castries is cheap. It is one of the few places I visited that allowed me to physically search the records at my own leisure. Once again a basic understanding of written French, or good a French dictionary would be a good investment before searching here. There was only one computer available, but it was not available to the researcher.

A photocopier is available.

The last major source of information is the Central Library. The pickings here are slim, but you can never tell when a gem may be found among the various works. On my trip I was able to obtain a very informative paper on the East Indians indentured laborers in St. Lucia. The reference section is located upstairs in the library. Bags and large purses are not allowed into the reading area to prevent book theft. They can be left at a check in station near the front receptionist desk, where an attendant keeps watch over them.

The key to researching in St. Lucia is to be persistent and thorough. Even if someone says that a particular record is unavailable, still search for it. It may turn up in the most unexpected place. A source of information that I heard was available but did not tap into, was the private collections held by some former plantation families. No one knows how large this source is, but the value of it should not be underestimated. Plan your searches carefully and you will not be disappointed.

The final tip that I can offer is when going about to conduct research, be aware that some places do not have public places to eat, especially in some smaller towns.

Moreover not all places have public restrooms.

There is one at the Archives, none at the Central Registry, and some Presbytery do not have one, but the church would. In either case walk with your own supply of toilet paper.

Richard B. Cheddie.

ikewise, Indians never made the music of steel bands their own, though again today an Indian, Jit Samaroo, is probably the most well-known orchestrator of pan music. But it was in the creation of chutney songs and rhythms that Indians found their own soca or soul music. Taking with easy abandon rhythms from pan and rap, and drawing from the well-springs of Indian folk and even more so film music, Indians evolved a distinct musical form. If the prevalence of Hindi words in chutney helped to maintain a living contact between Indo-Trinidadians and those they left behind in India, today Sundar Popo, Anand Yankaran, and other chutney singers have become one of the principal threads around which Indo-Trinidadians in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., three countries to which they have migrated in large numbers, weaves the memory of the homeland.


Belize Indians: Trying to Preserve Themselves and Their Culture.


On August 15th 2006, Belizean Indians got together with newly arrived Indians at the Belize City House of Culture to take part in the first annual East Indian Festival.  


It was a day Timothy Bardalez from Punta Gorda had waited decades for. That's because Belizeans would normally refer to Bardalez as a coolie. But Bardalez wants to be called East Indian and he wants his culture recognized and respected. He says "This means the beginning of a new era for the East Indian people. It means that we can go on like other people.”


Richard “Dickie” Bradley Senator and Leader of Government Business, himself of East Indian ancestry, delivered the keynote address.

“There was a time,” he said, “ when Indians used to dance their dance and sing their music and meet regularly and remember their culture and remember their history. It is a sorry state of affairs that Indians lost both their culture and their history, that people don’t even know that today is Independence Day for India. They don’t know anything about India; they don’t know anything about the who seh me seh, they don’t know about anything that is going on with the Indians in this country and the people who don’t know are the Indians. Out of 40,000 people, who were tricked to come over here by the British, there are less than 7,000 Indians in Belize right now scattered across the districts. The history of our region tells us that just across the sea there were some people who were called the Siboneys, there were some people who were referred to as Arawaks and in the archives of Belize as late as the 1820’s there was some Indians who were petitioning the superintendent of this territory who were complaining that the Baymen were keeping them enslaved, that they had come from the Mosquito shores of Central America over to this countries and were continually being kept in slavery and that history tell us that there are no more Siboneys any where to be found not one single Arawak you could find any where in the region or in the world. That those people who came over and were brought over from the Mosquito Shore who we call the Wikas, not a single Wika is around anymore in this country, completely dissipated and disappeared. And if the native Indians who were brought here from 1845 onwards think that can’t happen to them, they better think again.”  

Comments made by other participants were more positive:

  Gabriel Pate,

"Today is the independence day of India. It feels good today. Being an Indian, it definitely means a lot. It makes you feel proud. It makes you feel good. It makes you feel really good inside."



Catherine Flowers,

"We put this together to come to one, from PG to Corozal and Belize. We are gathered here this morning to let the people know that our culture is still alive."


Gen. Cedric Borland, Commander of the Coast Guard

"I am an East Indian and I think this is a special occasion for all East Indians to come out and celebrate a day that we can put down in history."


Arun Hotchandani, a businessman and the Honorary Consul from India to Belize.


"East Indians were here many years ago and they were the ancestors and the newly arrived Indians community members have just recently commuted here. There is a difference when it comes to the migration but I think the culture is definitely important, I think the foundation is the same."


The same: food, music, kitchen utensils, jewelry and of course dance. As for the food - there was a wide variety from split peas to samosa. And all that was capped off when there was the offering of Tadjah to the sea honoring their ancestors. In simpler language - the house was thrown into the sea..


Maynardi Bood, East Indian, 13 years

"I usually hide my culture because I think people will tease me but I feel comfortable here. First I used to hide it but now it is just fun."




Froyla Salam of the Institute of Social and Cultural Research was one of the organizers of the event. She provided some insight into the reasons for the festival:

 We decided that since the Creole festival was in its third year this year, we decided it was time to highlight and showcase other culture that we have in Belize and that’s why we put forward the idea that it be the East Indians. They are a minority so why we need to provide institutional support and I think NICH has done a very good job, however for anything to be successful it has to come from the grass roots. So by having this festival I’m hoping that all East Indians and other Belizeans can go back and say “you know what East Indian culture is not dead. Its right here but we need to highlight it.” And that makes the first step in the right direction; it’ll take a lot of work to follow up on this.”

 One highlight of the festival was the food.

One of the participants at the festival was Estelle Ramclam of P-G Kitchen in Belize City.  “This is chicken safari with beans for the gravy, tomato, coco, some chutney and coconut chutney with white rice. That’s not everyday food ok, these are special occasion food. We also have the cohune cabbage that is used as a festivity food, weddings, funerals, anything like that. We also have that. We also have other food here, we have garden cabbage, we have coco bacari, and everything is yellow ginger, no curry. This comes from the yellow ginger root, the scientific rate is tamaric but we locally call it yellow ginger. This is in my kitchen, everyday you can get something with yellow ginger style.”  

When asked “What would you say are the staple East Indian foods?” one of the food vendors replied:
“I would say the split peas with taccari chicken or sometimes we have the taccari fish, shrimp. The white rice is main part of any food. We usually have the vegetables on the side, and there you have it.”

The newly arrived Indians represented by Sumathi Restaurant were selling nan, somosas, butter chicken, tandoori chicken, white rice and some pickles.”

But aside from appetizing dishes, the East Indian Community brought out a host of other cultural items and adornments. According to Cancy Ramclam
“We have a lot of cultural things we bought all the way from the south to show the people what our ancestors used to use, and what some of us still use in Toledo.” She did not specify

Rakhi Bhojwani, a newly-arrived Indian was more specific|
“Well this is Indian jewellery. I just wanted to show the East Indians, Indians and the Belizeans here, our Indian jewellery, our Indian costumes, and celebrate with them and share everything with them. This is our traditional Indian jewellery with earrings and the big necklace. Usually we wear it for weddings, for parties and for dances.
India represents a lot of jewellery and clothing. We are very well known for our clothing and jewellery.”

Traditional dances such as the Hoosay and the fire dance were performed at the festival.  

But an Indian cultural revival seems to have been going on for a while. In 1998 they celebrated Divali. On that occasion Indra Castillo, Treasurer, Indian Community, explained:

"Diwali, according to the Hindus, it is a celebration of from darkness unto light. In other words what we are saying here is that the Demon Rawana, he was destroyed on this day so everybody gets together, family gets together in little puja, they sing songs, they dance, in celebration that they have taken totally over by lighting the whole entire kingdom."

On that occasion, when asked "Indra, how is the Indian community in Belize? How are they doing?"  she replied

"Well we have been doing a tremendous amount of work you know. Actually we do not really go publishing it, because it is a traditional thing that Hindus don't really go about boasting about what they do and how much they have been doing. But every year, and as a matter of act, nearly every month, the Hindus from the Indian community, different groups, even individuals, even families, they go to the Children's Home, they go to the old folks home, they do a lot of donations. every month as a matter of fact there is a Sangham group which is a group of Indian ladies, they go to the mental institution and they do donations, they visit with the people, they sit and chat they play music for them, they allow them a bit of activity."

Deyas were lit that night, and there were dance performances by children and young people and adults.



Official Publication of the St Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association

August 25, 2007












For my spirit, India is too far", writes Derek Walcott. Albeit not so far that he cannot write, in the following verse,

"these fields sang of Bengal, behind Ramlochan Repairs there was Uttar Pradesh".

Far and near at once: the story of East Indians in St. Lucia is full of this paradoxical sense of historical distance yet generational proximity. Indian immigrants arrived in St. Lucia not so very long ago - yet they slipped away from India in such a remarkably unremarkable manner. "There are no more elders. Is only old people". Whereas a sizeable group of descendants of former African slaves continue to yearn for Africa, the grand- and greatgrandchildren of Indian indentured workers rarely look to India for political or spiritual guidance. Their lives and futures appear to be firmly located in the West Indies. The question remains: how did East Indians get to come to St. Lucia, and under what conditions?
With the full abolition of slavery in 1838 inevitably ahead of them, planters everywhere in the
West Indies frantically began to look for another source of cheap, reliable labour to work their estates. They found this in south-east Asia. Between 1845 and 1917, hundreds of thousands of indentured workers sailed from India to the Caribbean. Most went to Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica - but some six thousand set foot on shore in St. Lucia. Just over 1,600 people arrived here between 1856 and 1865 and another 4,427 Indians sailed to St. Lucia between 1878 and 1893.
By 1891, there were some 2,500 East Indians in
St. Lucia (colloquially known as 'coolies'), in a total population of 42,220 souls. Two years later, the last batch of indentured workers arrived on a ship called the 'Volga', totalling 156 people. Some of the other ships on which they sailed here are the 'Leonidas', 'Chetah', 'Royle', 'Bann', 'Bracadaile' and the 'Poonah'.
The labour contracts under which East Indians worked varied, but as a rule, they were bound to work on a designated estate for five years in return for a wage, housing, clothing, food and medical care. After five years they could choose between owning ten acres of land or ten pounds sterling or they could, after a further five or ten years of 'industrial residence', get a free passage back to
By 1895, 721 Indians were still indentured in
St. Lucia: 361 males, 152 females, 13 children and 195 infants. In 1896, their number had dropped to 149 and a year later, in 1897, the last Indians finished their labour contracts. By the turn of the century, St. Lucia had a free East Indian population of 2,560 persons.
The records show that about half of all indentured labourers went back to
India after finishing their contracts. Dozens, perhaps hundreds more would have liked to return, but became economic hostages after the Immigration Fund ran dry, leaving no money for return passages. Thus, all time-expired Indians who had arrived in 1891 on the 'Roumania' and in 1893 on the 'Volga' were forced to settle in St. Lucia, despite possibly having families waiting for them back in India.
So what do we see at the start of the twentieth century?
Two and a half thousand East Indian men, women and children, settled in a dozen villages around the island, usually near one of the central sugar factories that dominated
St. Lucia's economy until the 1950s.
And then...
"When sunset, a brass gong".
Walcott again. A brass gong, sounded to assemble the village elders. An assembly that remained sacred even to a younger generation of Indians who were destined not to perpetuate their elders' traditions:
"sacred even to Ramlochan,
singing Indian hits from his jute hammock
while evening strokes the flanks
and silver horns of his maroon taxi,
as the mosquitoes whine their evening mantras,
my friend Anipheles, on the sitar,
and the fireflies making every dusk Divali

Music, rites such as the Festival of Lights (Divali), some culinary traditions: they remain today at a time when, while some East Indians of the first and second generation are still alive, their youngest children are already seven generations or more removed from 'Calcutta', the place where their ancestors originated from, as they like to say. More likely, it is the port from which they were shipped.
Indentured labourers in
St. Lucia probably came from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in Northern India. They were rural people - agricultural labourers and small farmers - of fairly low caste, although not usually the poorest people in their homeland. Many owned farms, cattle and property in India and came out to the Caribbean with a purpose: to save money and return home for a better future. Others, most notably women, used indentureship as a 'vehicle for emancipation', with the period of indentureship the price they paid for eventual (perceived) personal freedom. About two-thirds of indentured women were single: widows, 'deserted women', women who had run away from unhappy marriages, former prostitutes, single mothers and others.
Migration of indentured labourers to St. Lucia was never very great but due to the island's low population density and their uneven distribution throughout the island, East Indians gained a fairly high profile in the ethnic make-up of the island. Essentially, Indian communities sprang up around the central sugar factories: Pierrot, Augier, Belle Vue and Cacao around the Vieux Fort factory; La Caye and Dennery near the Dennery factory; Marc and Forestiere near the Cul-de-Sac factory, and Anse la Raye near the
Roseau factory. Also, a small Indian village arose in Balca, close to Balenbouche estate.
Planters preferred indentured labourers to free workers of African descent because the contracts rendered the Indians more dependable. But in terms of physical endurance, East Indians were generally considered weaker. And while it is true that 25 to 30 percent of East Indians were in hospital at any one time suffering from malaria and spleen disease, 'dry-islanders' such as Barbadians living in
St. Lucia displayed the same susceptibility to these illnesses.
Moreover, the living and working conditions of indentured workers at the end of the 19th century were worse still than those of free people - and those were having a hard enough time as it was. There is the telling testimony of Colonial Surgeon Dr. Dennehy, who in 1897 testified that, "The coolies, to save money, run themselves down by underfeeding. When they come into hospital they pick up 10 or 12 lbs. in weight in as many days. Then they go out, work off their fat, and come in again to recruit". At the same time, it was said about other St. Lucians that they preferred not to be taken to hospital, "as for the sake of economy the diet has been cut very low, and they think they are not well enough fed."
While interracial relations in St. Lucia never became as bitter a source of contention as they did in Trinidad or Guyana, East Indian elders worked hard at 'protecting' their families from miscegenation. They did so with mixed success. From early in the twentieth century, there was already a high enough rate of interracial sexual relations - usually between black men and Indian women - resulting in a sizeable mixed black/Indian population (colloquially known as 'Douglahs'). But interracial marriages remained unusual until at least the 1950s. It is only in more recent decades that St. Lucia has essentially become a melting pot of racial and ethnic distinctions - never mind the fact that there are still distinctly 'Indian' areas in St. Lucia, and never mind that many people continue to colloquially indicate themselves and others as 'Koolies', 'Blacks', 'Negroes', 'Béchés' (whites), 'Shabeens' (fair-skins), 'Redskins', 'Syrians' and other such terms now shunned in official communications.
Derek Walcott puts his finger on it so well. Where academics and others often drown their own voices in the sugar water of political correctness, St. Lucia's Nobel Prize laureate for Literature speaks the sober - if not harsh - truth about the racial coming-together of St. Lucia since the second half of the twentieth century:

"they had started to poison my soul
with their big house, big car, big-time bohbohl,
coolie, nigger, Syrian, and French Creole,
so I leave it for them and their carnival -
I taking a sea-bath, I gone down the road."

At the end of the day, creolisation has created it all: the process whereby peoples and cultures from an 'Old World' are transposed to a 'New World' where they proceed to recreate and reproduce themselves, shaping a culture and society that it neither a continuation of its old, constituting parts, nor something unrecognizably new. In St. Lucia, creolisation has formed everything: from the uniquely vibrant annual carnival celebrations, to its society in which descendants from Africans, Indians, Europeans and Eurasians have come together and worked out a new social order: one permeated, as most modern countries nowadays, with materialistic values and concerns. At the start of the 21st century, perhaps the really important difference is that at least here in St. Lucia, if one cares to look out for them, there are still the fireflies making every dusk Divali...

* Derek Walcott, 1992. 'The Schooner Flight' and 'The Saddhu of Couva'. In: Collected Poems, 1948-1984 (Faber & Faber,
London, Boston).
* West
India Royal Commission 1897. Report of the West India Royal Commission, app.C, vol.3, part VII: Proceedings, evidence, and documents relating to the Windward islands, the Leeward islands and Jamaica.

Jolien Harmsen holds a Ph.D in Caribbean History. She is the author of 'Sugar, slavery and settlement. A social history of Vieux Fort, St. Lucia, from the Amerindians to the present" (St. Lucia National Trust, 1999). She is currently involved in writing a general history of St. Lucia and a series of crime novels set in the Caribbean.


Indian radio programming in TT- the unfolding drama
By Ashram B. Maharaj.

Public administration and information Minister Dr. Lenny Krishendath Saith, has recently announced that thirteen new radio stations will come on air over the next two years. Minister Saith also stated that this will comprise ten national stations and three community stations more details will be given later. One can expect that among these new stations there will be additional Indian frequencies. It is against this background that this analysis and critical review is being carried out. 
  From the arrival of Indians to Trinidad in 1845, Indian culture was not only relegated to the dark cell, but was treated with scorn, contempt and hostility by the powers that be, by the non-Indian population and later on the PNM government.

The Genesis of Indian Radio Programming

  In 1947, the first Indian radio programme was introduced by Kamaluddin Mohammed, though some authorities have argued that it was Pandit Teeluckdharry who introduced the first Indian programme, this is still to be verified.
  From 1947 until the advent of WABC 103FM in July 1993, Indian culture lovers were treated to bouts of tokenism by the two competing radio stations (what was then known as Radio 610 and Radio 730). Half an hour and later on, one and a half hours of Indian programming were allocated to approximately 45% of the population with additional hours for Divali and Eid-Ul-Fitr only. With the introduction of 103FM and its all Indian programming, many remarked that everyday felt like Divali or Eid-Ul-Fitr.
  The genesis of 103FM in 1993 brought not only smiles of appreciation to the Indian population, but also had the effect of catalyzing dramatic changes in policies and programming of at least two other radio stations, ICN 91.1FM and the then CCN 106FM. Also witnessed was the introduction of 90.5FM, another exclusive Indian Radio Station in October 1996 which brought the total to four Indian radio stations.

Black Response
  As far as the non-Indian population was concerned, this was a frightening, development as evidence by George Harvey’s article in the Newsday. He stated
  How come an arm of the state re-christened ICN (Indian Cultural Network) is allowed to peddle Indian music exclusively…..
  We are courting calamity in this calypso land by violating rules that guide our cherished institutions…..
George Harvey Newsday, June 19th; 1995 Page 8

  Comments by UWI’s Rhoda Rheddock, Errol Fabian calypsonians Gregory Ballantyne (GB) and Luta also supported George Harvey’s position: This was so despite the fact that there were at least six other radio stations with absolutely no Indian programming, neglecting at least half of the nations’ needs. No journalist, columnist or commentator has seen fit to comment on this blatant contempt and disregard for Indian cultural forms

Explosion of Indianness 

  At present, there are at least seven Indian radio stations (91.1FM, 90.5FM, 103FM, 106FM, 94.1FM, AND 101.1FM). How can we account for this explosion of “Indianness” and consciousness on the airwaves? Many theories have been advanced for this phenomenon, including, the need to fill a vacuum; providing an avenue for Indian expression, enhancing education about and among Indians and mostly the tapping of the advertising dollar vis-・vis the Indian market.
  A cursory glance at the above factors will reveal that the vacuum in which Indians found themselves has existed since 1845. They always needed, and still do, avenues for cultural expression, and they always needed to be educated about their culture. With very few exceptions, the need for education has not been fulfilled via the air waves. 

Call-In Programmes

  Programmes such as 90.5FM Shabnam (Gillian Lucky), 106FM Morning Panchayat (Dr. Suruj Rambachan) are commendable in this respect. Sad to say, the rest of the call-in programmes are disappointing to say the least. On most of these programmes the presenters/moderators demonstrate their incompetence and ignorance when dealing with issues, maybe it is due to a lack of preparation but it reflects badly on the airwaves.

The Indian Dollar

  The advertising dollar appears to have been discovered by WABC 103FM which escalated to be the leading station in the land. The meteoric rise of 103FM galvanized CCN 106FM into recognizing the Indian factor for the purpose of cashing in on the Indian dollar. Fast on the heels of 106FM, came the state owned 91.1FM, which had hitherto previously refused to even consider increased paid programming for Indian cultural expression, followed by 90.5FM which also wished to capitalize as well as 94.1FM.

Programme Format

  Indian radio programming by and large was based on a request format since its inception. This trend has largely continued and appears to be the most popular on at least five radio stations. Through the years, the request program has been the main form of programming and appears to be internalized by listeners. Clearly, it can be gleaned that listeners hardly learn anything from these programmes suggesting that the format, since its inception has met little education need. Hence, the large dose of Hindi songs and music, the repeated requests and announcements are very stereo-typed. This means that one Indian radio programme on one station parallels on another station. It is clear that with very few exceptions the producers are yet to exploit the true potential of the airwaves as a means of public education with respect to Indian culture.
  By and large the radio announcers with few exceptions on these stations could enhance their skills with further training. It appears as though one of the pre-requisites to become a radio announcer is the ability to sing which does not necessarily make one a good announcer. Their versatility and skill in dealing with the material at hand demands additional development and preparation before they come on the air. Then we may experience less un-informed opinions and bad pronunciations, bad grammar loaded with green verbs and pink adjectives, including statements like brother-in-laws, darma for dharma, Bagwansingh for Bhagwansingh, baji for bhaji, new innovations, Bay-joo-cal for Bejucal, Soowar (pig) Sangeet for Swar Sangeet, jess for just and the list goes on. Most of these announcers prove to be an embarrassment on many occasions. Clearly, what is required is further training and the knowledge of basic English and consultation on pronunciation of Hindi words. The irony is that some of these stations have Hindi lessons as one aspect of their programming. Listen to any of the Indian stations and one will be bombarded with these errors.
  The questions needs to asked, Are we happy with this form of programming or what we are subjected to? Are we happy to be continued being stagnated with thin or is it time for us to renew our efforts and re-format our programming? Is this the best that can be offered? Shouldn’t the listening population demand better?

New Breath of Life

  Perhaps, in the restructural process we can consider new vistas. This does not mean broadcasting more yagnas which earns the advertising dollar. Some exposure should be given to local Indian literary works. Since radio stations provide a service to the community on a daily basis, some West Indian literary works could be serialized which deal with the Indian presence in a social, historical and cultural complex. Fictional works of such writers like Sir Vidia Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Rabindranath Maharaj and Vishnu-Ramsamooj Gosine. Sharlowe Mohammed, Lakshmi Persaud and this author to name a few could be serialized for airplay. Dramatization of these works could even win a universal audience.
  Non-fictional works are available for use and, discussion in broadcast to schools. The radio remains a powerful medium for educating our people and liberating our minds. Positive lessons from our past, from our attitudes during and after indentureship could be used to re-inculcate in our progeny, family values, work ethics, self-esteem, consciousness and direction.
  What about problems rampant among Indians, obesity, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, exercise and dietary habits? What about alcoholism, domestic violence, drugs, incest, suicide? Moral decay, infidelity and breakdown of the Indian family unit are now common place. Self-righteousness and the victim psyche among Indians should be addressed. There are issues that should never be peripheralised. Solutions to these must be addressed. There are sufficient and capable exemplers in our society, skilled and qualified to offer prescriptive solutions. Radio stations have the unique opportunity to harness the talents of these individuals and achieve far-reaching and multi-benefits.
  Presently radio stations play music, especially Hindi film music and chutney. This is all well and good, it is commercially rewarding. What is necessary is more variety in the choice of music, e.g. Mehdi Hassan, Pankaj Udhas, Ravi Shankar and other regional music from India, Fiji, Mauritius, and South Africa (where Indians have settled). More local artistes should be highlighted which would assist in further developing our creative ability instead of fostering pre-packaged programming. This does not mean more of. “Rum till I die”, “Sand fly go bite you” or “Cat lick the butter” but songs with lyrics that can be uplifting.  
  Probably it can be argued that this is the successful formula and stations must be commercially viable. However, sooner or later, the Indian ear will become saturated with the similar music on all station and a new recipe will have to be explored, in order to retain or increase market share. Innovative measures and visions will have to be explored. It can be argued that the listening audience gets what it demands therefore change must come from the population.
  Indian radio stations and Indian radio programming to a large extent have instilled a sense of pride, self-esteem and consciousness among Indians. However, improvement in the talk-shows and call-in programmes should be encouraged. Radio stations have successfully captured the Indian pocket, it is now time for a larger vision to manifest itself in terms of further educating the Indian mind and not solely for entertainment.






Last Updated ( Sunday, 22 February 2009 )
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