Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago

By Dr. Kumar Mahabir
May 25, 2007

IndiansThe Indian heritage day will be observed as a national holiday on Wednesday May 30th.

On May 30th 1845, the Fath Al Razak docked in the Port of Spain harbour in Trinidad and Tobago with 225 adult passengers on board. The passengers were immigrants from India who had come to the British colony to work in the sugarcane plantations after the abolition of African slavery. They had spent 103 days on sea during the arduous and dangerous journey that spanned 14,000 miles (36,000 km). The immigrants were contracted for five to ten years to work in the sugarcane estates in a system that ended in 1917.

A total of 147,596 Indians came to Trinidad over a 70-year period. Although they were promised a free return passage back home, at least 75 percent of them stayed and settled in the New World colony. In many ways, they brought India to the Caribbean. They continued with their traditions of Hinduism and Islam, and eventually transformed Trinidad into a colourful cosmopolitan society with their introduction of new styles of dress, music, songs, dance, language, cuisine and customs.

Descendants of these Indian immigrants, who now comprise about half of the multi-ethnic society of the island (1.3 million), commemorate the arrival of their ancestors to these shores annually. The commemoration takes the form of prayers, speeches, songs, music, dances and plays in communal as well as public spaces. The spirit of the day is invoked at various beaches with the reenactment of the landing of the first boat-load of pioneers who gave birth to the Indian community in Trinidad. The historic day has been proclaimed a national holiday since 1994.

In most celebrations, replicas of the ship Fath Al Razak are constructed which holds the same sentimental value as the Mayflower has for Americans. At libraries, books and other reading materials are put on display. Schools engage children in art and research competitions, and in the re-construction of their respective family trees. Citizens are encouraged to collect and display old photographs and artifacts relevant to the history of Indians in the Caribbean. For the second year, the Indian Caribbean Museum at Waterloo will open its doors to the public with selected exhibits for the occasion. Its large collection includes old and antique items such as old musical instruments, agricultural objects, cooking utensils, pieces of clothing, old photographs and rare books. The Museum also houses an art gallery and a reference library.

Community, national, regional and world heroes like V.S. Naipaul and Errol Sitahal. are honored. Sitahal is an actor who starred in the Hollywood films Tommy Boy (1995), A Little Princess (1995) and Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004). Naipaul is a writer won almost every major literary award in English in the world and is the only Trinidadian to win the distinguished Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. Like Emancipation Day, which is also a public holiday every August 1st, participants re-commit themselves to traditional values and celebrate their respective cultural contributions to the multi-ethnic society.

The entire month of May has been deemed as Indian Heritage Month, but May 30th holds a special historical significance. On that day, participants gather to honour their ancestors who had crossed three oceans to travel halfway around the world to reach the Caribbean. They gather to pray for their souls and to seek guidance and blessings for the future. Scholars, teachers and elders share their knowledge of the past and increase public awareness on this important aspect of the nation’s history and heritage. Speakers and writers emphasize the common experience of Indians and Africans under colonial rule, and the links between indentureship and slavery. It is a day of remembrance as well as reflection, and a time for celebration of unity in diversity. Both Indian Arrival Day and Emancipation Day demonstrate the historical similarities rather than the differences of descendants of Indians and Africans in Trinidad and Tobago.

16 thoughts on “Indian Arrival Day in Trinidad and Tobago”

  1. Let us all hail this historic celebration in recognition of the migration of our Indian brothers and Siters from mother India. Let us bond together in harmony and Peace as we forge ahead making T&T a better country for all. Have a great ceremony on May 30th and tks for all that India has given us in T&T. Let’s all celebrate this day as our own and as one…..

    Best Regards

  2. Yawnnnnnnnnn………

    How many stupid public holidays must T&T have? (Shameless Pandering to Ethnic voters)

    We have 1 public holiday for each month encluding this so called “shouter Baptist liberation day” (talk about a tongue twister!) Just how many ppl in T&T are real “shouter baptists”? Muslims make up less than 10 % of the general population, so why does everyone who is NOT muslim, who don’t know A from bullfoot about Islam except what they see on TV (which is not positive) have to take time off to “celebrate” a Holiday that is basically meaningless to them?

    Dispite the gigantic contributions Jewish ppl have made to the US and UK Canada etc, there are NO public holidays for this group but practicing Jews do get time off from work to perform their faith’s rituals at home and some corporations
    go out of their way to make sure this happens.

    These “holidays” are costing us billions in overtime $$ for the state and private corporations, Lost revenue that cannot be reclaimed in the future or put to other uses.

  3. are you serious?

    I hope someone can translate what you are trying to say about the muslims.

    But, the jews??
    Do you have the slightest clue about the rights of the Jews in the states?
    They were given the most rights in america just after the white shirted christians. utah.
    You want them to ask for a holiday on top of all that, come on, start being constructive.

    the other thing…”yawn” – keep out the personal updates.

  4. Mike…I don’t think public holidays are costing Trinidad billions. What is costing billions is the lackadaisical attitude of many towards work. In Europe and Asia there are countries with more public holidays than Trinidad and their productivity levels are far higher.

  5. What about African arrival day. We arrived hundreds of years before and don’t have a holiday to commemorate that. Emancipation day is not a celebration of African contribution to Trinidad and Tobago. It is about Europeans finally but partially coming to their senses.

    Lets have some parity here. Let there be an arival holiday for every significant group, and to hell with the cost. There are no holidays in trinidad and Tobago that explicitly connect with the ethnicity of Africans as IAD does with Indians. So let’s have some parity here man.

  6. I think carnival is enough for them. They are the ones who liberate themselves largely on that week…

  7. Found this site while doing some research and I am amazed at the myopic attitude of some people. We are trinidadians first and west indians second. That is what we need to celebrate. However, since most of us are multi-racial, we should be liberal and comfortable enough to celebrate the significant historic milestones in any ethnic group! As for the celebration of the arrival of Africans…hello…Africans were brought here against their will as slaves…what is there to celevbrate in that? Other races came here of their own free will…big difference! So if we want to celebrate something meaningful, lets celebrate our willingness to embrace the differences that make us the culturally rich society we currently are! I have a dream…

  8. I also found this site while doing some research on Indian Arrival Day and I will agree with Sims and Ruel to an extent. Africians were indeed brought here against there own free will; this did not happen to the indians. There should be no celebration for any particular ethnic group!! But as we already have one it should rightfully be Arrival Day. Is there a vacation for people that are of mixed descendant? I am a mixture of spanish, french, africian and indian where is my vacation? We are a diverse society and as such be treated that way. For the past ten years T’dad has seen a wedge placed between two major ethnic groups (I’ll leave the reader to decide which groups they are). The celebrations of Indian Arrival Day haa not done anything positive for T’dad and Tobago other than having a glorify holiday for the beach etc., which to my calculation is not positive. Let T’dad and Tobago celebrate oneness as people and not celebrate segregation based on ethnicity. As Sims rightfully said ‘lets celebrate our willingness to embrace the differences that makes us the culturally rich society’… God Bless. Note to Senior…Muslims are allowed to practice their religion any part of the world that they go to….but Christians cannot enter into Muslims countries and preach any sort of Christianity, THEY ARE LOCKED UP…so before u get agitated when someone mentions the word ‘muslim’, remeber this, WE ARE ALL HUMAN AND WE WILL NOT BE JUDGED DUE TO RELIGION!!!

  9. Holidays, holidays, holidays! As if there aren’t enough excuses to overly consume alcohol. It is clear that some of these holidays should not be a nation wide mandate because they target specific groups of the nation. However, if the majority of a nation sees fit to celebrate an ethnic holiday as a national holiday then it should be so. Why can’t everyone agree that there are already too many days to party and not enough of them to resolve serious issues that affect the entire populace?

  10. THe fact that Africans were brought against their will lends strength and morality to the argument that there should be a day set aside to recognize that fact. It’s not about celebrating enslavement, that is a myopic take on the whole idea. It is about parity. Indian arrival day is in recognition of the contributions of Indians, not about the fact that they came. You guys did not think holidays were no big thing when IAD was in the works. It’s when people call for parity then all awee suddenly become one.

  11. I think the holidays in Trinidad are a waste; not because they divide (people do this on their own), the waste is that most holidays are not celebrated for the reason they are given. Everyone goes to the beach or some other cliche trini use for a holiday like drinking. However the holidays don’t actually divide people. Giving a holiday for any reason is a waste – celebrating its cause is more important. That aside, I see nothing wrong with celebrating one’s culture and more so preserving it. Some people think we should just live as a kalaloo but if we do this then we will eventually adopt an impure cultureless culture of indulgence. Instead we should have respect for each other, and still practice our individual culture.

  12. instead of making statements like that about how stupid indian arrival day is research what emancipation day is about and then talk shi———– for those who dont seemed to be educated enough to post comments like that please go back to school and see if you can at least get your maths and english before you open your trap

  13. The celebration is not about landing in T&T. That is emphasized as a means of clouding the deeper implications of such a holiday. The holiday is about the contributions of one ethnic group to what T&T is today. In that context, since every other group, regardless of the circumstances that brought them here, made no less a contribution to the development of T&T, recognizing this circumstance for one group and not for the others amounts to discrimination.

    Look, since you were not enthusiastically making the case that all “awee a one” when the Indian Arrival Committe was lobbying and screaming for this recognition, doing so now when the call comes from elsewhere is somewhat disingenuous. Again, one horse is out of the stable. Shouting now that the gate should be locked seem to be a strategy to silence claims for something many of you supported when the claims came from elsewhere.

  14. Be careful of what you ask for cousin Curtis. It might not be what you really envisage for Sweet , Sweet, T&T aka Rainbow Country. Assimilation according to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology “is a term synonymous with acculturation, and is used to describe the process by which an outsider , immigrant , or subordinate group becomes indistinguishably integrated into the dominant host society. It implies that the subordinate group simply came to accept and internalize the values and culture of the dominant group.”
    You might well be advise to let our nation remain ‘a toss salad’ as opposed to the ‘melting pot’ as sometimes pushed by big brother America conveniently. Look what it did to Michael Jackson. A wonderful young man captivating the world with his voice since he was five , with female teenagers of all stripes and races throwing themselves at his feet through his youthful years even with his flat nose, thick lips, and kinky hair , and now dead by 50 from drug overdose addictions after spending half of his fortunes on 5,000 plastic surgeries, bleaches ,hair products , and make ups to look like his white dominant masters. You would not want to see that in Baby America now would you Curtis?
    Imaging trying to decide which is the dominant as opposed to the subordinate group- Afro Trinidadian’s children of former slaves who had all theirs stolen by Europeans, or South Asians Indo Trinis indentured children who was allowed to keep theirs by the crafty colonials , and today proudly point only to selective parts of it as explanation for every conceivable iota of success they achieved.
    Now for the clincher, where does that leave the children of the colonials that remained .

    I have a wonderful suggestion , let’s wait on the PM to obtain his Caribbean integration dream , in compromise and or collaboration with his so called arch nemesis Mr Panday , and thousands of desperate Guyanese, Surinamese , and Eastern Caribbean islands citizens are allowed cart blanch to enter your country to work our farms, cut our lawns, baby sit our kids , take care of our aged, and perform countless low end jobs that children of the competing dominant majorities no longer enjoy doing. We can then fight all the way to Mother England’s Privy Council to see who stole the right to have a census and periodic snap election, so as to decide who has the rights every four years to control and distribute the economic spoils of the nation.
    “Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!,” especially in a place “where every creed and race , find and equal place,” Curtis.
    Only a fool would hate this country of ours, and Curtis , and I are certainly no fool, eh?

  15. all of this bull crap you all talkin and arguing about just steams up racism its nonsense wen we argue about who should get holidays and who shouldn’t its just people with nothing to do in their lives not only indians and africans came to trinidad also chinese and french and spanish also the caribs and arawaks and amerindians were here whyy dont i here these names coming up……no everyone is fighting for their own race wow…why not a cosmopolitan holiday instead huh? will that make you all happy?? STOP SEGREGATING LIVE AS ONE is that the kind of behaviour you’re passin on to the youths geezzzzz

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