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
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
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.
RECHERCHES SUR LES INDIENS DE SAINTE-LUCIE.
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
that 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.
RESEARCHING INDIAN ANCESTRY IN ST. LUCIA
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.
researching your St. Lucian heritage the first thing that you have to
remember is that your family is the greatest source of genealogical
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
Find out what part of the island the family lived, worked, or visited. It will pay dividends.
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
to remember when searching for leads in St. Lucia is that most St.
Lucians are either descendants of former African slaves or East Indian
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.
Central Registry is the second best source of genealogical information.
However, it can be the most difficult place from which to obtain
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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:
"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."
"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
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
“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.
Publication of the St Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association
INDIAN LEGACY IN ST LUCIA
For my spirit, India is too far", writes Derek Walcott.
Albeit not so far that he cannot write, in the following verse,
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 question remains: how did East Indians get to come to St. Lucia, and under what
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 India.
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
"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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.