1. Commemorating Indian Arrival in Guadeloupe 1854-2004
2. Osley Baptiste Vincentian of Indian descent
3 Jamaica: Indian Heritage Day is May 10
4 Jamaica celebrates 160th anniversary of Indian Arrival Day
4. Indian Arrival Day in Florida
5. Dougla: The double/triple heritage
6.. Race retention and culture loss: South Asians/East Indians in St Vincent
INAUGURATED IN GUADELOUPE, FRENCH WEST INDIES
In Guadeloupe in the French
West Indies, 2004 brought a whole year of commemoration of the 150th
anniversary of the arrival of the first indentured Indian workers in
1854 to a close with the inauguration of a First Day monument in the
business capital, Pointe-Pitre, near the sea-side spot where the
indentured Indians alighted between 1854 and 1889.
The plaque on
the monument carries an eloquent and very pedagogical text, which is
necessary considering that almost no mention of the history of the
Indians and their contributions have been made so far in the French
school text books.
The plaque reads:
"On December 24,
1854, the sailing ship "Aurelie", after a dreadful three-month passage,
disembarked on this spot 314 East Indians, requested by the Colony to
cope with the loss of labour resulting from the abolition of slavery in
Thus began a long period of transplantation that brought
42,326 East Indians to Guadeloupe, of which 24,891 were to perish,
particularly because of the ill-treatment they received, and 9,460
returned to India.
In memory and homage to the contribution of
those from India who founded the multicultural Guadeloupe of yesterday
and today, the Regional Council, the General Council, the City of
Pointe-a-Pitre, in accord with the Bharat-Gua Federation, have
erected this First Day monument, on the occasion of the 150th
anniversary of the arrival of the first Indians in Guadeloupe."
more than 600-kilogram bronze monument by Indrajeet Sahadev, an
Indian-born sculptor residing in France, is a combination of symbolic
representations of the long Kalapani journey, a boat with Lord
Ganesha's figure at the prow, masts with Lord Siva's trident and damaru
engraved in gold obliquely sectioned at the top to form a golden OM.
art piece stands on a circular lotus mandala base, the whole monument
resting on a marble yantra. On the four sides of the rectangular base
block are figures of a conch, a golden sun with the date 1854 in the
middle, and sugar cane shoots - the bitter reason that brought the
Indians to the island. The auspicious Indian symbol for water also
turns out to be the letter G, representing the Universal Master, the
initial of Lord Ganesha, and that of Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe was called
Kalaoukera, meaning "island of beautiful waters" by the original, now
decimated, Amerindian inhabitants.
As Dr. Henry Bangou, Mayor
of Pointe-Pitre and a renowned historian, and all the official
speakers said, the contributions of the Indians to the evolution of
Guadeloupe and its population is incalculable. Today Indians in
Guadeloupe are to be found in all sectors of society, from agriculture
to politics. Their painful integration, in spite of all the hardships
and persecutions, is considered today a success. This is due to their
non-violent attitudes and determination in the work place, since the
time of the sugarcane fields.
Their integration was achieved at
great expense - the almost total loss of their original languages from
South and North India, replaced by French and Creole, the forced
abandonment of their religion to Catholicism, and the transformation of
their customs and culture to becoming Europeanized. However, in the
crucible of change, they have managed to do much more than just
influence the local cuisine, costume and folklore.
associations, under the federative banner of Bharat--Gua ("From India
to Guadeloupe") are reawakening the Indian awareness. Rituals
clandestinely kept across time are being revived, scholars are
researching and documenting the past. Interestingly enough, people of
all cultural heritage, Indian or mixed ethnic backgrounds, are
attracted and are participating in these activities. People of all
origins also took part in the year long commemoration events.
scheduled for December 23rd, 2004, the inauguration of the monument
took place on January 23rd, 2005, due to an earthquake in Guadeloupe in
December 2004. After the official discourses and the unveiling of the
monument at the sound of the "tapu" (a flat Indian tambourine drum),
flower petals were thrown by Guadeloupeans of mixed ancestral heritage,
onto the nearby sea.
This homage was accompanied by moving prayers that the offering may reach ancient ancestors, across the sea of time.
(ARTICLE IN FRENCH)
MÉMOIRE & HOMMAGE
AUX PREMIERS INDIENS DE GUADELOUPE
1854-1889 —> 2004.
DIMANCHE 23 JANVIER 2005 - DARSE DE POINTE-A-PITRE
Cérémonies de clôture de l'année de commémoration de la première arrivée indienne.
.(cliquer sur les images pour agrandir).
Après l'abolition de l'esclavage de 1848,
les colons eurent recours à des travailleurs indiens, principalement du Tamil-Nadou (Sud) et du Bihar (Nord), à qui on faisait miroiter l'Eldorado, pour sauver les plantations de canne à sucre abandonnées
par les nouveaux libres.
Traités en apatrides,
coupés de la vie sociale, leurs descendants devront attendre 1923 pour
devenir citoyens français, à la fin d'une âpre bataille juridique
d'Henri Sidambarom avec le gouvernement français.
En effet, ce dernier leur
refusait, ainsi qu'à leurs descendants, nés en Guadeloupe et
Martinique, le droit de voter. Ce procès politique dura 9 ans
L'intégration réussie des indiens, grâce à
leur volonté d'honorer leur terre d'accueil malgré les persécutions,
à leur ardeur au travail, et les riches apports de leur Inde d'origine à la
vie aux Antilles françaises, sont aujourd'hui unanimement reconnus
comme hautement bénéfiques au pays de Guadeloupe tout entier.
Solennelle ouverture en présence des personnalités du pays.
Péripéties et avanies de l'histoire
de nos indiens sont relatées par le Dr Henry Bangou, Maire de Pointe-à-Pitre et historien renommé.
Il loue leur contribution à l'évolution de la Guadeloupe
dans tous les domaines - de l'agriculture à la politique
"C'était le bas peuple de Calcutta et de
Pondichéry qui nous était envoyé, fuyant leur misère et la famine. Ils
étaient de race fine et parmi eux il y en avait beaucoup d'un joli
Chaque convoi était, il me semble, de 700 à
800 Indiens embarqués sur un grand navire à voiles qui mettait
plusieurs mois à faire le trajet. A leur arrivée à Pointe-à-Pitre ils
étaient débarqués à Fouyol à peu de distance de la ville, dans une
sorte d'immenses hangars où ils étaient parqués comme des animaux se
couchant pêle mêle par terre sur des couvertures. On en faisait des
lots de 10 que l'on répartissait entre tous les “habitants“ (c'est
ainsi que depuis le début de la colonisation étaient appelés les
Les propriétaires de toutes les habitations
de l'île venaient choisir chacun son lot selon
ses besoins et son goût. Il fallait parfois tirer au sort. Les
enfants étaient donnés par dessus le marché. Chaque Indien était payé
1.900 F à l'Inde (peut-être pour contribuer aux frais du voyage, je ne
me souviens pas) et contractait un engagement de 5 ans. Il appartenait
à l'"habitant" comme un esclave mais sous la garde d'un syndic chargé
de voir si de part et d'autre les engagements étaient bien tenus.
me souviens d'être allée une fois avec mon père à Fouyol pour choisir
un lot et avoir insisté pour l'un deux qui comprenait 2 fort jolis
adolescents dont ma mère fit de gentils domestiques (...).
- Ecrit par Renée Dormoy, fille de blancs-pays, cousine du futur poète Saint-John Perse, à la fin du 19è siècle.
La tradition indienne, porteuse de patience, de paix, de non-violence, tiendra désormais sa place pour tous dans notre ensemble socio-culturel, éducatif et spirituel. Pour M. Jean-Boniface HIRA, président de la Fédération d'associations culturelles Bharat-à-Gua, la clôture des manifestations du cent-cinquantenaire de la première arrivée indienne n'est la fin que du commencement.
Jeunesse multi-culturelle qui prend conscience, réveille un héritage malmené et occulté, l'offre au monde entier.
Inauguration du monument du Premier Jour, riche en symboles,
œuvre de Inderjeet Sahdev, sculpteur indien installé en France.
rigueur et imagerie abstraite,
dialogue avec les éléments et les idées, équilibre architectural des
formes, des relations logiques entre formes et espace, des codes et
symboles, entre le désir de solitude contemplative, la nature, et
l'architecture, tels sont les critères de M. Inderjeet Sahdev.
Avec une émotion communicative, l'artiste explique combien il a été frappé de voir
une communauté multi-ethnique célébrer avec tant de conviction une
intégration si étonnante pour lui, et pour l'Inde.
Il découvre qu'il a travaillé non pas pour
une communauté isolée,
mais pour refléter le riche destin de la
Guadeloupe, peuple uni et divers à la fois.
La plaque commémorative (cliquer pour l'agrandir).
La volonté d'éradiquer tout un
pan de notre réel créole nous a conduit à de tragiques malentendus et à
des souffrances inutiles. Mais au temps du mépris, les
travailleurs tamouls, héritiers de l'antique sagesse du monde indien,
adopteront la voie du silence et de la non-violence.
Sur leur terre d'accueil, ils scelleront dans leur cœur cette pensée que chantaient déjà leurs ancêtres il y a 2000 ans:
Ma maison est partout dans le monde,
et tout homme est mon frère.
Aussi est-ce dans cet esprit de fraternité
que nous avons célébré avec faste 150 ans de métissage avec l'Inde
jusqu'ici non avoué et non-avouable.
ouvrant les portes de la fascinante civilisation indienne, la
commémoration nous a révélé une image séduisante et mystique de
nous-même, car l'Inde a participé à la genèse de notre société créole
alors que nous étions si peu disposé à son égard.
N'avons-nous pas, par cet oubli, amputé notre société de la dimension spirituelle nécessaire à son épanouissement ?
Cette reconnaissance de l'indianité nous rappelle que la sagesse hindoue vise avant tout la réalisation, la
transcendance de l'être, et que c'est dans la culture que l'homme
manifeste sa souveraineté.
Mais le 150ème anniversaire de l'arrivée
des indiens a été aussi davantage pour nous une découverte historique,
symbolique, unitaire, et emblématique. - Francis G. Ponaman, doctorant en culture et civilisation indienne, Paris.
Pétales sur mer d'oubli. A ceux et celles qui franchirent les océans jusqu'aux îles,
dont combien aussi périrent en mer, de maladies, ou de sévices - et puis qu'on oublia.
OFFRANDE : sixième génération d'enfants,
porteuse de tous les sangs, issue de tous les
continents, accompagne anciens et plus anciens devant l'eau pour y répandre, à la
de nos ancêtres disparus, ces offrandes universelles.
«Pour obsèques reçois mes larmes et mes pleurs,
Ce vase plein de lait, ce panier plein de fleurs...»
Pierre de Ronsard, Amours, 1560.
Lisez aussi :
QU'EN DARSE AMIS! Fêtons 150 ans d'indianité guadeloupéenne
MISE EN QUESTION
L'outre-mer hexagonal a-t-il compris les indiens des Antilles ?
Dans les milieux ultra-marins
hexagonaux, qui comptent nombre de personnes d'origine indienne ou dite batarindienne, la commémoration du cent-cinquantenaire de l'arrivée
des premiers indiens en Martinique (2003) et Guadeloupe (2004) est
Cependant, le regard des indiens antillais sur eux-mêmes, la reconnaissance de
leur immense contribution, la qualité de leur image dans nos
sociétés ont fait un grand bond en avant en 2003-2004.
Il sera avantageux que cette élévation de la conscience aux îles ait son
prolongement dans la mentalité métro-marine. Pour
ce faire, il conviendrait en 2005 que cet anniversaire, tout comme 1802 pour la part
africaribe, soit marqué dans l'hexagone par une geste de commémoration
historique, culturelle, artistique, musicale, spirituelle...
gastronomique... de la geste indo-antillaise.
Souhaitons que ce soit aussi un tremplin de fraternité
avec les milieux apparentés, originaires de l'Inde, de Sri Lanka, de
l'île Maurice... vivant en France.
Cela aiderait à évacuer les schémas désuets et
pallier l'ignorance des antillais sur l'histoire indienne des Antilles,
histoire hélas absente de nos manuels, et remplacée par de tristes
Cette partie intégrante et active du peuple antillais recevrait, enfin, un respect et une reconnaissance plus que mérités...
Crédit images :
Jude E. Sahaï
© Jean-S. Sahaï, 2005.
Osley Baptiste Proud to Share Knowledge
|Osley Baptiste, great grandson of Rambulock Singh, an Indian Hindi Pundit
in the knowledge of his ancestry, Osley Baptiste, a Vincentian of East
Indian descent, is proud to share some of that information.
Villa resident, tracing his ancestry, said he is the great grandson of
Rambulock Singh, an Indian Hindi Pundit who was brought to St.Vincent
and the Grenadines as an indentured labourer from India.
recalled meeting his great grandfather or (Arjah meaning grandfather)
on the then Argyle Estate for the first time at age four when he was
brought down from the Orange Hill Estate to live at Argyle. He remains
adamant that his great grandfather was not an Indian king (Rajah) as
some people have claimed. “He was an Arjah.
“He was praying to
the sun,” Baptiste recounted, speaking of a ritual his great
grandfather performed that struck him. Baptiste said the ceremonies
that were practised were called the Katha and Surajhpuran.
Rambulock died there was a gentleman by the name of Little John who
used to carry on the Hindu prayers. He lived at Calder, but when the
Hindu religion went out, the people became Christians,” said Baptiste,
who explained that the indentured labourers prayed to a God called
Rambulock said Baptiste died at the age of 112.
Baptiste noted that his foreparents told him Indian Bay was one of the landing points for indentured labourers.
were consigned to different estates and while living on the estates
they were christened and given Christian names. They were given the
names of the overseers,” said Baptiste, who mentioned that some of the
names given were: Baptiste, Sutherland, Moore, Phils, Bacchus, Bullock,
Woods, Joseph, King, Thomas, Bowman, Gunsam and Deane.
account of his family tree starting with his mother’s line, Baptiste
said he is the grandson of Sinanan Singh who was renamed Ridley
Bacchus, the son of Eugina Bacchus (mother) and Simeon Baptiste
(father), who was the son of Jhan Archoo, who also originated from
India like Rambulock Singh. Archoo was christened and given the name
“I should have been Archoo instead of Baptiste,” Baptiste proudly stated.
said his grandfather Archoo’s brothers were taken to other estates and
given surnames like Sutherland, Moore and Phils. This is one of the
reasons given for some of the intermarriages that took place between
the descendants of the East Indians.
Baptiste believes that the descendants of East Indians in St.Vincent and the Grenadines are fast losing their culture.
tried to organize an Indian Association but was told by legal people if
we do that it would be counted as being racial,” said Baptiste who
welcomes the idea of establishing an East Indian Heritage Foundation.
some of the areas of St.Vincent and the Grenadines where the East
Indians live, Baptiste referred to Calder, Akers, Richland Park
Jamaica, in recognition of the history of the Indians who came
has declared May 10 as ‘Indian Heritage Day’.
Migration of Indians to Jamaica – Integration and Contribution to Development
People from the Indian sub-continent were first introduced to Jamaica
as ‘indentured labourers’ on a contractual basis to work on sugar and
banana estates and livestock holdings, following the abolition of
The first group arrived on May 10,1845, on the S.S. Blundell with a
total of over 36,000 arriving between then and sometime around 1917.
( A plaque in commemoration of the first landing was mounted in Old
Harbour in 1983.)
These persons were allocated to estates in Clarendon, St. Mary,
Portland, St. Thomas, St. Catherine and Westmoreland, initially. The
terms of indentureship provided for their return to India on completion
of five years’ service. Overall just over one-third returned to
India, a small number of whom rejoined the programme. Some of the
benefits promised were not delivered hence some of the migrants were
unable to pay for return passages. Some remained as they saw the
opportunity for a better life, while others had formed alliances and
remained for that reason.
When the indentureship programme came to an end roundabout the 1930’s,
many then left the estates and sought employment in other parishes.
Some journeyed to neighbouring countries, Cuba in particular, where
they worked mainly on sugar estates, with some returning to Jamaica,
while others remained.
The Indians brought with them their cultural patterns, customs, and
practices – language, cuisine, religion, music, dance, craftsmanship
(many were jewellers), family systems, dress, discipline and reputation
for hard work.
They faced many difficulties due to the cultural differences and no
doubt this led to their ‘holding on’ to aspects of their cultural
One major challenge was the legality of marriages performed under Hindu
and or Moslem rites – this meant the children were ‘bastards’ and could
not inherit the property of parents readily, among other things. At
the representations of the then active East Indian Progressive Society
the relevant Law was passed by the Government in the early1960’s.
The Indians engaged themselves mainly in agricultural pursuits, e.g.
rice growing, vegetable farming and floriculture. Significant
contribution was made in the growing of rice in the parishes of St.
Catherine and Westmoreland during World War II, thereby alleviating
some of the difficulties for the Island brought about by the
restrictions on overseas importation of food.
Some of the ex-indentured labourers displayed greater initiative than
others and eventually became landowners and businessmen which not only
improved their standard of living, but enabled them to provide better
educational opportunities for their children thereby accessing greater
Although many continued to struggle in the generally lower
socio-economic environment, Indians gradually became fully integrated
in the unique Jamaican diaspora of ethnic co-existence.
Descendants of the ex-indentured labourers have over the years equipped
themselves academically and their contribution to the development of
our country can be readily identified in all areas of national life-
Agriculture, the Arts, Aviation, Banking, the Civil Service,
Communications, Construction, Engineering, Finance, Information
Technology, Law, Merchandising, Management, Medicine, Politics,
Religion, Sports, Teaching, Transportation.
From sometime in the 1920’s other Indians came to seek a livelihood in
Jamaica – firstly there were the merchants who in time made Jamaica
home. Many are today involved with the In-bond trade. They and
their off-springs continue to contribute to the country’s economic
activity whether in business or the professions.
Later there were professionals who came on their own or under special
recruitment by the Government for specified periods, some of whom have
remained and have become naturalised Jamaicans.
The community of persons of Indian origin over the past three-quarters
of a century has been served by a number of organisations aimed at –
- preserving and promoting indian culture;
- fostering programes for the upliftment of the well-being of the
less privileged in our Society, e.g. assisting children for educational purposes, food packages for indigent and senior
citizens; free medical clinic and catering to the spiritual needs.
Cultural activities include stage presentation of songs and
dance, lectures on a range of topics by visiting experts from India and
elsewhere, observance of Indian festivals, e.g. Diwali, the Festival of
Lights, and auspicious days on the religious calendar, participation in
national events,e.g. Float parade for Independence celebrations.
There are several musical groups and Indian dance instruction is
available privately. More recently a Dance school has been
established. For over thirty years a weekly programme has been aired
on radio which showcases music, songs and other related matters.
There is much local talent which is being developed and there are
connections with external organisations and groups which permit the
interchange of cultural activities and transfer of knowledge.
People of Indian origin who were born in Jamaica are citizens by
birth; later arrivals have become citizens by naturalization, while
there are others who are working here on contractual basis.
Having regard to their known capacity for discipline and hard work,
they continue to strive for the best and make meaningful contribution
to the development of our nation.
The Government of Jamaica, in recognition of the history of the Indians who came has declared May 10 as ‘Indian Heritage Day’.
Contributed: Beryl Williams-Singh, C.D.
National Council for Indian Culture in Jamaica.
Georgetown, Park Hill, Orange Hill and Rose Bank.
Indian presence in Jamaica
published: Tuesday | May
WITH SONG, dance, food,
drink and speeches, the 160-year presence of East Indians in Jamaica was celebrated on Friday at the
Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston.
The glittering affair,
which took the form of an awards banquet and cultural presentation, was
attended by hundreds of Indians and their friends from around Jamaica, as well as Miami, Tampa, New York and Trinidad and Tobago.
The celebration was hosted
by the National Council for Indian Culture in Jamaica (NCICJ), an umbrella for
the numerous Indian ogranisations and groups in the island, including Prema
Satsangh of Jamaica, Indo-Jamaican Cultural Society,
Club India, Indian Cultural Society, Sanatan
Dharma Society, Friends of the Indian Community, Ananda Marga Society and the
Brahma Kumari Raj Yoga Centre.
Among the many dignitaries
in the audience were Governor-General Sir Howard Cooke and Shri Kailash Lall
Agrawal, High Commissioner for India.
The first ceremonial item,
the lighting of the Deeya (a semi-circle of candles), in which Lady Cooke
assisted, was followed by a welcome address by Beryl Williams-Singh,
chairperson of the NCICJ.
Shanti Badaloo then
performed an 'invocation dance', a classical Indian dance in the Odyssey style.
Dressed in a yellow and brown sari, bangles and a forehead jewel, she danced to
taped music. She kept her upper body erect most of the time, while rippling her
arms and hands up, down and around, her fingers making many intricate gestures.
The Naya Zamana Band, with
Dr. Winston Tolan as lead vocalist and members playing drums, flute, tambourine
and harmonium, performed a number of well-received items, including a number of
songs from movies. A second group, the Shiv Sangeet orchestra from Trinidad and Tobago, included saxophonist Narendra.
Indian movies seemed to be very influential with the night's performers
generally, for a number of the dances also originated with motion pictures.
There were three dance
groups. The Ratnavali troupe comprised teen girls Shavi, Janielle, Alicia,
Shakira, Sharda and Shakhti.Wearing silver tops, long, red skirts and long red
scarves, they executed a dance involving much hip swaying, arm extensions and
many sideways hops all very pleasing and much appreciated by the audience.
The Gallow Girls and
Friends, two teen couples, delivered a bouncier piece with a slight flavour of
Western pop music. The Prema Youth dancers, Rani and Nallini (one in light
blue, the other in burgundy), presented the final dance, a charming piece with
much hip swaying, delicate arm movements and coy hiding behind scarves.
Two female solo singers,
members of the Shiv Sangeet orchestra, rounded out the entertainment aspect of
the evening. Trisha Ramdhan, a nurse, wore a blue sari for her sad-sounding
song. Amina Ramsaran, in a pink outfit, dedicated her song to the audience.
The second major component
of the function, the awards ceremony, saw the presentation of NCICJ awards to
honour those who have served the Indian community over the years.
Remarks by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael at the Indian Arrival Day Commemoration Organised by the Florida Hindu Cultural and Religious Association at Lantana, Florida on June 8, 1997*
I am indeed very happy to be with all of you today to participate in
your programme by which you commemorate "Indian Arrival Day" for the
first time in South Florida. Let me from the onset congratulate the
executive and members of the Florida Hindu Cultural and Religious
Association for having the vision to organise such an activity which
highlights the history, culture and achievements of people of Indian
origin in the region of the Caribbean.
Of course, when we talk about "Indian Arrival Day" we refer to the
commemoration of the arrival of the first Indians in the Caribbean, and
not in the United States. I want to get that part very clear since as we
all know, there has also been a large migration of people from the
Indian subcontinent to the United States, particularly after 1960.
The migration of Indians to the Caribbean has a greater meaning to us
since that process established new roots in a new land and chartered a
new chapter in the history of people of Indian origin. It also posed new
and difficult challenges to the early migrants and succeeding
generations to maintain cultural traditions which have been buffeted by
other existing and invading cultures. In the process, Indians in the
Caribbean have, as a result of various factors, lost the gift of the
languages of their ancestors, but have managed to cling to their
religions and family traditions, and have made positive advances in
solving caste differences while blending their culture forms with a
variety of other culture patterns found in their respective countries
into a generally solid unit.
Unfortunately, I can only speak of the historical experiences of Guyana.
For us, Indian Arrival Day is celebrated on May 5, for it was on that
day in 1838 -- 159 years ago -- the first batch of Indian indentured
immigrants landed in Guyana.
You will recall that in 1838, in the Caribbean region, most of the
people were Africans who had been brought as slaves by the European
plantation owners. By that year, slavery had lost its usefulness, and
the British Government, which ruled many of the Caribbean territories,
abolished slavery on August 1, 1834. But the slave owners were not
willing to let their African slaves go, so their friends in the British
Parliament allowed them to continue extracting more labour from them for
four more years.
Since the slave owners now knew that they would no longer have free
African slave labour, they began to look around for new sources of cheap
workers on their plantations. In 1834 they managed to recruit small
groups of Portuguese from the islands of Madeira and the Azores and they
were put to work as indentured labour on the sugar plantations of
Guyana. But these people were by no means agricultural workers so their
productivity level was very low. A payment of about 10 cents a day was
also not very encouraging to them as well. So, as soon as their
indenture was completed, they moved to the towns to find other better
paying jobs or went into the interior region to look for gold.
The sugar planters and the British Government then began a new task of
looking elsewhere for further inexpensive replacements. They initially
thought about China, but because of the distance, their minds turned to
India. The economic situation in some Indian states at that time was
very depressed. This was particularly so in Bihar, near to Calcutta,
which continued to be ravaged by flooding, cyclones and the occasional
famine. It was therefore easy to recruit indentured migrants from this
state especially when lucrative promises of easy working conditions and
good wages were made to them.
There is no doubt that most of the recruits were fooled by the
recruiting officers, many of whom were Indians themselves. Since most of
the migrants were illiterate and had probably never ever travelled more
than a few miles from their own home villages, they were also misled to
believe that the new place where they were being taken to was not very
far away. They did not have the concept of distance, and maybe they felt
that they would have the opportunity to see their relatives and their
friends and their home villages on a fairly regular basis.
They marked their indenture contracts -- most could not sign their names
-- and these were duly witnessed by the Indian recruiters. In most
cases, the indentured Indian was bonded for five years during which he
or she would be housed and given a daily wage, which ranged from about 8
to 24 cents. At the end of the indenture, return passages would be
guaranteed and a small lump-sum of money would be given. Later, those
who opted to remain in the new land were each given small plots of land
instead of the lump-sum of cash.
When the first batch of returnees went back to India and reported the
harsh conditions under which they lived and worked, the recruiters had a
more difficult time to convince people to migrate to Guyana. The result
was that some people were kidnapped, and there were even stories of
arrangements being made for convicts to be sent. People who ran the
jails made some money on the side in furnishing recruits for indenture.
Those who recruited the migrants then moved to other states to carry out
their operations. The result was that indentured labourers were
collected from other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Mysore
and Kerala and parts of what is now Pakistan.
There are stories, too, that some Indian soldiers who participated in
the Indian Mutiny of 1857 were indentured to Guyana as part of their
What were the realities the immigrants encountered when they arrived in
Guyana? They were herded in logies (or barrack ranges) with very little
sanitation facilities. Significantly, some of these logies were the very
ones in which the African slaves used to live. Further, they were
prevented from leaving the plantation to which they were bounded under
penalty of the law. These penalties included fines and imprisonment. The
amount of days lost from work due to this imprisonment was added to the
indenture period. Permission had to be sought from the plantation owner
in order to visit places outside of the plantation.
The indentured labourer had the so-called right to complain about his
treatment to the Immigration Department in Georgetown, but for him to do
so he had to obtain permission to leave the plantation. If he decided to
go without permission, he was punished for breaking the law.
The arrival of the Indians in Guyana brought about a new set of social
relations in the country. First of all, it brought about distrust
between the Indians and the Africans. When the Africans were freed from
slavery, most of them left the plantations, but they felt that they now
had some bargaining power to demand reasonable wages for paid employment
there. However, the arrival of the Indians on the plantations undercut
this bargaining power since the Indians were working in the same jobs
for very meagre wages.
Second, when Africans were freed, they were given no compensation -- no
money or land. On the other hand, when Indians finished their indenture,
they were given return passages to India or plots of land if they
preferred to remain. Obviously, this bred some form of ill feeling since
the Africans felt that they were given a raw deal while the Indians
benefitted from the bargain.
Third, rudimentary primary education was offered to Africans in schools
run by Christian denominations. There were no such facilities offered to
Indians who also were suspicious of the Christian churches whose aim was
also to convert Indians to Christianity. As a result, Indian children
were not educated and the Africans saw themselves as socially superior
since they were given jobs in the Government service because they were
educated according to British standards.
Some Indians who had completed their indenture became successful in
business and sent their children to these schools. To climb the social
ladder, some of these educated Indians converted to Christianity and
managed to obtain jobs in the civil service where they were nurtured as
favourites of the British rulers. The sad aspect of this development was
that some of these educated Indians from the late nineteenth century
adopted the British class attitudes and looked down on their Hindu and
Muslim working class uneducated counterparts. This class of Indians
proved to be allies of the British colonialists in promoting the
continuation of Indian indentured immigration from India to Guyana.
Fourth, the police recruited by the British were Africans and they were
the ones who arrested Indians and locked them up when they breached the
regulations. Further, when the Indians took protest actions on the
estates against poor working conditions, African policemen were let
loose on them
These actions were obviously the beginnings of strained relationships
between Indians and Africans. They were perpetrated by the British
colonialists who use these tactics to divide and rule.
But Africans and Indians also displayed strong bonds of unity on the
sugar estates when in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth
century they supported each other to struggle for better wages and
improved working conditions. So despite differences, the seeds of unity
were already planted and they now need to be properly cultivated to
continue the improvement of relationships.
Hundreds of thousands of Indians were transported to Guyana and
Trinidad, and smaller numbers were taken to Jamaica and Grenada, and
also to the non-British territories of Suriname, Martinique and
Guadeloupe. Where larger numbers lived the better were the chances to
maintain their culture. Unfortunately, with succeeding generations, the
ability to speak the main Indian languages of Hindi and Urdu have become
Finally, indentured immigration ended in 1917 after strong demands by
the Indian Congress Party and Mohandas Gandhi in particular. A
delegation of rich Guyanese Indians was sent by the British authorities
to lobby Gandhi to allow it to continue.
Without a doubt, the descendants of Indian indentured immigrants have
left, and are continuing to make, positive marks on the intellectual,
cultural, economic, social and political landscape of the Caribbean
region. Some who have continued the migration movement from the
Caribbean to North America are also registering their mark. I do not
need to give you a listing of those who have made their mark in these
various fields. But one name stands out like a flashing beacon. Cheddi
Jagan strode onto the stage of world history from the beginning of the
1950s and challenged the might of the British Empire which allied with
the CIA to force him in 1964 from continuing the work of improving the
social and economic welfare of all the Guyanese people. He bore the
burden of his people in the struggle against dictatorship and tyranny,
and led his people back to the victory seat in 1992, after nearly three
decades during which many Caribbean leaders patted the dictators on
their head and tried to dismiss the legendary Guyanese leader as
irrelevant. But the masses of the people are the movers of history, and
in Guyana they followed Cheddi Jagan as he propelled history and the
Guyanese nation forward and onward to better times. His death on March 6
was a dagger blow to all Guyanese of all ethnic groups, but his spirit
and his principles and his struggle for national unity remain a guiding
force for generations to come.
This guiding force gives the Guyana Government the determination to
carry out its task of rebuilding the country and treating all citizens
equally without any discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity or
anything else for that matter. This the Government of Guyana will
continue to do without any apologies.
On May 5, 1838, the first group of indentured Indian immigrants
disembarked from the British ship, the /Whitby/, in Georgetown. On May 5
of this year, an Indian Immigration Monument was declared open in
Georgetown, Guyana, and it depicts the/ Whitby/ in full sail. While this
monument causes us to reflect on more than 150 years of the history of
the Indians in our country, the ship in full sail is also symbolic for
the future, since it indicates to all of us that the descendants of the
Indian immigrants to Guyana, to Trinidad, to Suriname and elsewhere in
the Caribbean region are decisively moving forward to conquer more
horizons and win greater achievements in various fields of endeavour.
These will be positive factors which will certainly determine the
destiny of our region in the years to come.
DOUGLA: THE DOUBLE/TRIPLE HERITAGE
On the small Caribbean islands (St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada, Jamaica...), the "dougla"are viewed in the same light as Indians, due to the minoritiy of Indians.
They are treated the same way, and sometimes still called coolies.
But they in turn are viewed as black if they reside in Canada or the United
When they are on their island of origin they assume and share their
role and condition as Indo-West Indian.
Saint-Lucia's rainbow people enjoy racial harmony :
Tony M., Gentle St. P., Brandon G.
The small island Indian in society is considered Indian by society, mostly without prejudice.
consider themselves just Black just because they haven't been taught
their history and the indian culture of their ancestors was washed away
by the imperialist.
Says Ram : Initially, I did not consider myself Indian
because I had a feeliing I had no right to claim my part of indianness part, since I do no
speak Hindi, I am not a Hindu, and I was not born in India.
not know much about the larger island i.e. Trinidad & Tobago or
Guyana Dougla people, but I assume they are sort of a people in limbo
that are not
accepted by either side, which puts them in the position of choosing
In the small islands the mixture of Indian can
make a difference in terms of classification. However, if you are a
quarter Indian you are not considered Indian, but you are known 'to come
from an Indian family'.
I have noticed that many dougla come to regard
themselves by depending on if they retain more indian or more black
Most Dougla consider themselves Black because they are shun
by indians from India or on the bigger Caribbean islands, and, to a
great extent, ignorant about that portion of their heritage.
Some Dougla also believe that reclaiming their indianness part would be a denial of being black. They feel as though they would be
viewed with disdain as pro-indian, and their features are more african, and so keep it inside themselves.
This limited conception needs to be overcome by all our people.
does it do to the psychic balance of part of the population is a
question one may ask. This can all change if one can cast light on the
veil of ignorance regarding indianness...
are reconnecting with the Indian part of their identity and claim the
Indian part of their history and heritage that used to be a shameful
their Indian ancestors and their contributions to their country need to
be acknowledged, and thus they are re discovering the wealth of
resources that India and her culture brought to the Caribbean and the
Considering the threat of globalization, this re-discovery can be an asset.
Indian people should be allowed to investigate the heritage, culture,
history and wisdom of their ancestors so as to share it as part of the
common modern Caribbean lifestyle.
is becoming aware of her contribution through the indentured servants
and trying to come to terms with this mixed facet of the once indian
In turn, India, Europe, Africa, and the world can also benefit from the Caribbean culture that is definitely not just African.
Photo and info contributed by Ram, a Saint-Lucian living in the USA.
First posting 26 March 2005.
retention and culture loss: South Asians/East Indians in St. Vincent
- The West Indian/Caribbean island of St. Vincent is home to a small
percentage of South Asians/East Indians, all of whom came to work as
labourers in the sugarcane fields after slavery under a system of
indentureship (1862-1885). On the island there are distinct areas
where Indo-St. Vincentians live, namely Richland Park, Calder and
paper takes the form of an interview done in 1982 with a 93-year old
Indian, Mr. James Woods. Through this key informant, readers get an
insight of the living conditions of Indian indentured immigrants,
their relationships with one other, and with the larger ethnic
African population. Woods also reveals the traditions and customs
that have been retained mainly through song, dance, religion and
marriage. He also attempts to explain why so many Indians converted
from Hinduism to Christianity.
following interview was done with Mr. James Woods, born 1889, at his
home in Richard Park, St. Vincent, on March 15, 1982 when Woods was
93 years old.
Mr. Woods, did your parents come from India?
My father and grand-father come in a boat from India. My father come
two years old, li'l child. He come here in St. Vincent in 1852.They
come on a boat, "Light in London." The boat wreck in
How did they reach St. Vincent?
They swim to shore. They take a next boat for come in St. Vincent.
Why did your grand-father leave India?
My grand-father (by my mother-side) name is Kowlessar. They did
immigrating people to come to St. Vincent to work. They come under
immigration. They come to work. They come here under immigration to
work. My father name is Seetaram. My mother come from India too. My
mother name is Rajani.
What work did your father do in India?
I believe he was a sheep-a-man, seeing about cattle. He was seeing
about cattle. He told me that. He and some fellar minding cattle for
other people, and he take a stick and he knock the fellar. So he try
to get-way in the immigration before they do anything with he.
Were you told anything about crossing the kala pani [black waters]?
In which estate was your father bound?
Argyle. My father did all kind of work in the estate, but his last
work was overseeing. All the work they got in Argyle, he head all the
work. To dig bank, he beat all hand; to cut cane, he beat all man. He
was the head work-man. You understand? So they raise him and raise
him until hecame over- seer. He was a sealer-man in Argyle too.
Sealing rum . my father.
Did he have problems, as an overseer, with workers on the estate?
All the Indian people, if they have any case, they go bring it to
him. He go set the case. If he say you wrong, you wrong. If he give a
judgement, you don't have to go through magistrate. The Indians used
to set they own case. They call all the people . estate people. He
take evidence from them. They no used to go to no court at all. He
used to be the ... am ... judge. He left Argyle in 1905 when he bound
Did he live in the estate barracks?
He been have a separate house because he was an over-seer. 5
And if anybody dead and you have a child - nine days, it used to have
big dance and all kind of thing. You have a daughter who go married,
some buy a gallon of rum, some buy half gallon, according. And two
pound a rice, three pound of rice, according.7 They invite all the
Indian; the woman them, the man them. The woman from Richland Park
went to singin the house. They knock drum and sing and dance and
Did people marry at an early age?
Just as they five year old. Little children - they getting married.
You are the father and you are the father. Well, he say you have a
daughter. He say you have a son. When the time come, they make a
gowna [ceremonial acceptance of bride]. They make a big feast. Their
parents choosing for them.
Did this happen in St. Vincent?
Yes. But the gyul go stop at the mother house until she come to a
certain age. When they feel they can go, they make a big feast and
they bring the boy and gyul. They put them in a rule, the Indian
rule. None of the gyul couldn't commit adultery with any other man.
So you done married before you know anything about the world.
Was the wedding big?
Oh yes. They build big shed cover with trash mostly. Cane trash.
Bamboo post. They had big broad bush call chaila bush. They spread it
all about and we go sit down right round. They share food in the
bush.That was the rule, the Indian rule.
Was there a priest?
The Indian minister there. They call him pundit. He come and married
What sort of clothes did Indians wear?
When they come from India, they used to wear dhoti [loin cloth] and
thing. All ah them been ah wear dhoti. All the woman and them beenah
wear orhini [veil] till they get the English wear. One time when I
send my hand under the stone in Argyle River, the bera [bracelet]
jam. My father bring cruba [picket] and turn the stone from my hand.
I used to have , three bera 'pon me hand and my mother used to have
nose-ring,jewel all over her hand. They call it julana [nose-ring].
How did Negroes see the Indians' wedding, clothes, etc.?
The Negro dem used to be slave. In 1834 the slavery come off ah them.
They release them from they slavery. Indian people was under bound.
Was there any trouble between Indians and Negroes?
The Negro and dem live separate from the Indian and them. We did
living separate from the Black. The Black and them did living in a
place call Bottom Barrick. It did have one Indian man living there.
They call that man William Laban . he English name, but he did name
How did your father convert to Christianity?
My father didn't come to Christianity. At the time of his death, he
did still living the Indian way. But in 1931, I was baptized by
Seventh Day Adventist. I was 41 years of age. I didn't stop long with
the Adventist because their teaching not right. I change to the
Church of God.
What made you change from Hindu?
There were two boys, Manoram and Ramrattan. They come Trinidad. When
they come, one ah them used to stop at any house because he find
Ididn't used to eat anything unclean. Ramrattan used to stop at a
fellar named Harry Gonzales. One used to stop at me down there. But
whenthey ready, the two ah them go back to Trinidad. Them come as a
colporteur [bookseller] for the Seventh Day Adventist. They selling
book andthing. I buy a book called The Great Controversy between
Christ and Satan and The Revelation and Christian Sabbath. I buy
those booksfrom them. Those boys.
What did you find wrong about the Hindu religion?
My father dead. See? After old Indian people dead off, we take up the
English way. Before, Indian, when they have a child born nine days,
theyhave big dance and singing and thing. When it come to a man dead,
forty days, they have big party; sit down and eat and drink. All them
Tell me more about Hindu funerals in St. Vincent?
When they bury the dead, everybody have to go and bathe. The woman
and them na go for burial you know. When we done, you have to go to
the river and bathe. They mean to say you unclean. When you done
bathe, you come back home.
Did they ever burn anybody in St. Vincent?
No. They never burn anybody in St. Vincent. They never burn none. All
them ah used to bury them the same. They used to have the
Indianminister, the Indian sadhu [ascetic] they call them.
Did your father stay separate?
All the Indian whe' come Argyle; they come in one like. They join up
with one another. They have Dowlat and them, they have Sieunarine
them. All ah them ah different nation [caste] you know. Some ah
Chamar, some ah Garedhia, some ah Ahir.
Did Muslims stay apart from Hindus?
Well, Muslims did there too with them. All the nation there. If you
is a Hindu, you is a Hindu; if you is a Chamar, you is a Chamar; if
you isa Muslim, you is a Muslim. But all ah them go mix up because
they nuh have you' family.
Do you remember any katha [Hindu ceremonial worship] being done in
Yes man. We used to have katha. We put up a white flag on bamboo in
the yard. We sing and so. They no eat no meat - milk. Up to now
medon't eat no beef you know.
Did they blow horns during the ceremony?
Yes. Blow you' shell man. Ring ah bell. pundit [priest] have their
book.21 Them ah read.
Can you read Hindi?
No. Me can't read man. Me humbug meself man. My father could ah read
and write in Indian.
Did Indian marry Blacks in those times?
No, no, no. Black can't come near them. They wouldn't accept them at
all. No. That time no Indian at all ever married a black. Negro find
their rank; Indian find their own rank. Now Indian ah go with Black;
Black ah go with Indian. All before that time, when we there in the
estate, Indian people have nothing to do with Black, and Black people
have nothing to do with Indian. You ah Indian, you keep by yourself;
you ah Black you keep by yourself. No other people eh mix up with one
Do you know about Muslim functions?
Do you know any Indian songs?
Oh yes man. Wha' you talk? Me and a fellar named Seecharan sing whole
night till day clean. Indian song.
Well, sing a piece for me.
All right . Rama kena bhajo mana mariobow lagai kay Put your mind on
Rama and praise him until deathRama kena bhajo mana mariobow lagai
kayPut your mind on Rama and praise him until deathKoi kaie phiira
jilebi baraphi mangai kay Some people send for phira jilebi and
baraphi [sweetmeats] to eat Koi kaie phira jilebi baraphi mangai kay
Some people send for phira jilebi and baraphi [sweetmeats] to eat
Sadhu kaie ruka suka hari gun ah lagai kay Sadhus [ascetics] eat dry
and plain food and sing praises to God
Did non-Indians ever abuse you by saying "coolie"?
Them ah say "coolie," but I say I no "coolie," me
ah "Indian." I say, "Me nuh come as slave; I bound."
We used to call them African, "Negro."
When did the Indian way of life change?
I used to follow the Indian way right up to the time when the old
Indian dead out. After, the young people take up the English way; so
we throwdown the Indian rule. Everybody begin to christen they pickni
[children] and baptize they pickni in different, different religion.
Some ah Pentecostal, some ah Salvationist, some ah Church of God,
some ah Seventh Day Adventist, all different religion.
What do you have to say about the young Indians in St. Vincent?
Them young people today cyan even give their own account. They have
to work out their own salvation.
Mr. Woods, thank you very much for speaking with me.