Question of Origins and Indian Arrival

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
May 31, 2011

Dr. Kwame NantambuIn the aftermath of the celebration of Indian Arrival Day on 30 May 2011 in T&T, this article focuses on certain origins and the historical dynamics of Indian Arrival. These origins include the Asian-Chinese Dynasty, “Ganges” River, Indian Originality and the label “Indentured Servants.”

Asian-Chinese Dynasty

At the outset, it must be stated that Afrikans ruled all of Asia in the B.C. era. In fact, China’s first two most important dynasties, the Xia (2205-1766 B.C.) and Shang/Chang were ruled by Afrikans.

Indeed, the current A.D. Asian facial type of eyes being slanted are characteristic in West Afrika, the Sahara and in South Afrika among the Kong-San Bushmen. These ancient Afrikans brought this facial dynamic when they ruled Asia for centuries and mingled with the indigenous population, just as the Afrikan-Moors did in Euro-Spain from 711-1492 A.D.

The historical records show that the earliest occupants/inhabitants of Asia are Afrikans from ancient Kemet/Egypt. These Afrikans built pyramids in China located near Siang Fu city in the Shensi province.

In addition, the 1st Chinese emperor, Fu-Hsi (“Son of Heaven”) 2953-2838 B.C. was a woolly-haired Black-Afrikan man who invented the oracle of ” I Ching” or “The Book of Change.”

Moreover, the genre of sports called “martial arts” and medicine called ” acupuncture ” today were all brought by the ancient Afrikans from Kemet/Egypt to China. The proof of all these historical truisms is painted on the walls of the Temple of Ptah . In ancient Kemet/Egypt B.C., Ptah “was the pre-dynastic Mennefer god of craftsmen, pottery and creation. The ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony was believed to have been devised by him.”

“Ganges” River

The “Ganges” river— sacred river in India today — is named in honour of the most famous and powerful Afrikan/Ethiopian King, namely Pharaoh/King Ganges, who invaded, conquered and ruled Asia as far as this river in India circa 1,500 B.C.

Indian Originality

The historical truism is that Indian “Indentured Servants” came from India in May 1845 to Trinidad. They did not come from Indo. Put another way, Indians were the people who came from India; they were not the Indoes who came from Indo.

Ergo, the descendants of these original Indians are now proud Indian-Trinibagonians in May 2011. They are not Indo-Trinbagonians—this label is totally ahistorical and must not only be immediately relegated to the ash heap of T&T’s cultural-ethnic history but must also be expunged from T&T’s societal lexicon.

By way of elucidation, there exists the Indian Premier League (IPL) in cricket that was established and financed by Indian entrepreneurs/businessmen in India. The IPL was not established and financed by Indo entrepreneurs/businessmen in Indo.

Furthermore, when the IPL was played in South Africa in 2009, it was still called the Indian Premier League. However, if this cricket league were to be played in T&T, would it be suddenly called the Indo Premier League? Another poignant question: How can something and/or somebody be Indian in India but Indo in T&T?

I rest my case!

“Indentured Servants”

In his magnum opus titled Capitalism and Slavery (1938), Dr. Eric Williams asserts:

“The immediate successor of the Amerindians was not the African but ‘poor whites.’ They were regarded as ‘indentured servants’ because before leaving England, they had to sign a contract binding them to service for a stipulated period in return for their passage. Others were criminals/convicts who were sent by the British government to serve for a specific time on plantations in the Caribbean.” (p.9).

Dynamics of Indian Arrival

In his book titled A Post Emancipation History of the West Indies (1975), Prof. Isaac Dookhan suggests that immigration to the Caribbean was very attractive to the Indians for the following reasons:

  1. The establishment of the British factory system in India had destroyed Indian domestic industries, including the spinning of cloth and tens of thousands were thrown out of work.
  2. Famine due to failing crops and high food prices.
  3. The promise of land for themselves.
  4. The promise of higher wages in Trinidad and Guyana. In India, labourers were paid between 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pence a day. In Trinidad, they could earn 2 shillings a day and in Guyana , 1 shilling and 9 pence a day.
  5. Criminals escaping from police and afraid of returning to the village as well as loafers could go to the colonies.
  6. Displaced workers in cottage industries and agriculture and labourers experiencing seasonal unemployment were forced to search for work; when they got no jobs, they were ready to listen to the Euro-British recruiters’ propaganda.
  7. Some Indians were led to believe that they could find non-agricultural work as policemen, teachers, clerks, etc, in the Caribbean colonies.
  8. Contacts with returning relatives and friends who came back home with money encouraged Indians to want to emigrate. (pp.51-52)

The religious breakdown of the Indians who came to Trinidad is as follows: 85.3% Hindus, 14% Muslims and .07% Christians.

Indeed, the last Euro-British ship to bring Indians from India was the “Ganges.” The journey from India around the Cape of Good Hope (Afrika) and then to the Caribbean took about five months.

On 30 May 1845, 225 Indians arrived at Nelson Island, Trinidad, on the Muslim-owned vessel “Fath Al Razak.” Only six Indians died during that journey via the “Kala Paani” or Middle Passage.

The make-up of the Indians who came to Trinidad consisted of men and women between the ages of 10-30 years; they were from the lower caste (Shudras not the Brahmins); they were agricultural workers; 40 women to 100 men were selected.

On the ships/vessels, single men and women and married couples were separated and given separated cabins.

The Indians came to Trinidad from the following towns in India: Calcutta, Madras, Pondicherry, Punjab, Lahore, Karachi, Bihar, Hyderabad, Peshawar, Mardan and Kashmir. As of this writing ( 29 May 2011), the umbilical, ancestral cord of this historic, unforgettable journey is still etched in the names of streets in St. James— location, location, location.

The Indian “indentured labourers” were given 5 pounds and five acres of land to remain in the colonies after their contract ended; men received a five-year contract while women got a three-year contract. The salient, stark , historical reality is that the Indian “indentured labourers” received the same treatment from the Euro-British government that was afforded to the Euro-British “poor whites” or “indentured servants.”

In the colonies, the Indian “indentured migrants” were required to work only 280 days per year; pregnant women only worked part-time on the plantations while older women looked after the children.

In 1869, the Euro-Trinidad -colonial government opened up Crown Lands for sale and thousands of ex-indentured Indians acquired ten-acre estates.

In 1884, the Euro-colonial-British government established the Peasant Development Programme to assist in the economic development of Indians in Trinidad.

According to Prof. Isaac Dookhan, the Caribbean diasporan indenture dispersal of Indians is as follows: Trinidad, 143,939; Jamaica, 36, 412; Guyana, 238,909 ; St. Lucia 4,354; Grenada , 3,200; St. Vincent, 2,472 and St .Kitts, 337 (p.51). Indian “Indentured labourers” also went to Fiji, Belize, Mauritius, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. In total, 1.5 million Indians left India in this labour-intensive exercise.

On 21 March 1916, the Euro-colonial -British government abolished the Indian indentureship system with effect from 21 March 1917.

Shem Hotep (“I go in peace”).

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.

10 thoughts on “Question of Origins and Indian Arrival”

  1. I prefer to be known as the “brown man”. We already have the black man / white man. All these hypens do not make sense to me. I am reported as being East Indian, West Indian, South Asia, Indo Trinidadian, etc. I prefer to be a brown man, plain and simple. If you want to further qualify my land of birth we can change it to Trinindian. That much mischief I would accept.

  2. As for where Indians came from, my short answer would be Africa or to be specific, northern Africa. That is the place where life on this planet originated and that is where it will end. My ancestors journeyed from the Meditteranean region and built the cities of Mohenjodaro and Harrappa civilizations. From there “cross-polination” occured. The fair-skin Europeans intermingled and produced fair-skin Indians. Perplexed by all of this the caste system was born. The fairskin people were Brahmins and the dark skin became Harijans. My ancestors came to Trinidad about 5 generations ago. They settle on the sugar estate in La Romaine managed by Ms. Sheldon. Eventually they own the land. Thus my Trini roots run very deep in my family.

  3. I did not believe this had so much drama. I am Trinidian and I do not know exactly where my forefathers came from. I tell my daughter who is English, German, East Indian that her roots are in Trinidad.

    1. Judy: The history of Indians in the Caribbean has not been of historical significance enough for it to form part of the school cariculum. I studied Caribbean history, learned a lot about slavery, the Incas, the work of church in the Caribbean, but zilch about indentureship to the Caribbean. I studied of course during the PNM years. Hopefully, indentureship is now part of Caribbean history.

      Fortunately, some of our sons are finding and writing more about this history.

  4. Mamoo, I studied during the same PNM years and in primary school read about East Indian festivals like Hosay (with pictures) in the West Indian Reader, but absolutely nothing about slavery.

    Also, check out any copies of the earlier Royal Reader series, and the only references there to Black people is a poem about a Black King Cophetua (or was this in the West Indian Reader?), and a picture depicting Black people cutting cane.

    The British, whose curricula these were, still didn’t trust its Black colonized descendants of enslavement as much as it trusted its Indian descendants of indentureship.

    So, don’t go there, mon ami, don’t go there.

    What history under the PP’s curriculum will most lilely not show is the number of Black women, who when the ships carrying children of indentured mothers docked, breast-fed emaciated Indian babies, saving their lives.

    Are the offspring of these babies among those who today despise Black people even more than do whites?

    Also, how many Black women or men who married East Indians or had children with East Indians will have their horror stories told about the treatment meted out to these children by Indian mothers and fathers-in-law?

    In the US, recently an Indian father, Chiman Rai hired a hitman to murder the pregnant wife of his son. His business was located in Black areas from whom he profitted and had no discrimination yet he murdered the woman and the unborn child.

    Where have you ever heard of a Black father murdering his Indian daughter-in-law and child out of racism? Remember Boysie Singh, the Rajah who, for his accomplice Boland Ramkisoon murdered his own Afro-Trini relative, Thelma Haynes?

    Denzil Washington’s movie, Mississippi Massala speaks to this depiction.

    Talk to me Mamoo. Talk to me!

    My wife’s parents have their own story.

    As Sabbath-keepers they would be absent all day Saturday from their home and be in church. They owned several cows, milking cows which Indians nearby offered to buy from them.

    One Sabbath returning home they found every cow dead, frothing at the mouth from bitter cassava water the Indians made them drink.

    The Indian neighbours, sat placidly on their porch watching Pupa bury his life-stock.

    Also, today, many Black students in North America complain more about unfair treatment experienced under Indian professors than under whites. In fact, the Indians are, if anything more brazen, if not more racist.

    In our case, however, one of our sons finishing medicine was greatly assisted and advised by Indian professors whom we met at graduation. So, the story isn’t altogether one of doom and gloom on both sides.

    Hopefully, the curricula will be objective, and not like T&T’s parliamentary channel where the history of the struggles against colonialism in T&T is narrated by two Indian professors and if one didn’t know the history of T&T well wouldn’t believe Black people ever lived in T&T.

    Only two references are there to Black people. One is a faded picture of Butler, and the other of two elderly Black people speaking about him.

    Should one be hopeful about positive changes for all? Consider the following. One is that in the world today, money talks and morality walks. Indians for a variety of reasons possess much more wealth than do Blacks. This affects both communities in divergent ways.

    Among these is the home and school,lives of their children, and the hopes and optimism or lack thereat each community’s children have about themselves and for others.

    Before one addresses curricula, what should be addressed is an independent, resourced Ombudsman’s office in T&T to be both proactive and reactive; both educating the populace and also hearing from the populace about racist acts and challenges.

    One of the first challenges they might consider is the number of Black women who complain of having their wombs tied against their wishes.

    The other factor compounding the divergencies between wealth and poverty is that much of the narratives each community holds dear about the other appear irreconcilable. Both speak about the other more from suspicion and myths than from hope and facts.

    Do you truly feel hopeful about the future between these two races in T&T?

    One from Indenture; the other from Slavery? One receiving land; the other receiving none? One celebrating Indian Arrival; the other commemorating Emancipation? The former still not unable to acknowledge by word and deed that there would be no voluntary Indian Arrival had there not been rebellious Africans demanding Emancipation from involuntary enslavement?

    Remember from history that while the struggles of Black people are unending, they are indefatigible.

    Remember Rosa Parks? Cuffie? Butler? Bambata? Palmares?

  5. India is a nation-state that did not exist prior to European colonialism in South Asia. Capitalism and colonialism gave birth to this nation. “indo” as a term is problematic but no less so than “Indian.” If my family orginially inhabited lands today known as Pakistan, or Bangledesh, or perhaps I am of Tamil or Punjabi decent – how than can I be “Indian”.

  6. I am surprised and indeed dismayed that my fellow Trinis, Indo and Afro are still perpetuating these old divisive and inconsequential arguments lased with misinformation and suspicion. However I guess that this is essential in the process of figuring out who we are as a nation as we emerge from this grand British experiment, called Trinidad & Tobago. It seems as though they threw a little bit of everything in the pot, stirred it up, left it simmering but not waiting to see through the awful flavours or delightful culinary gift to the world. How this dish emerges, depends on us Trinbagonians. We can either have a bad tasting brew, culinary superiority or we can leave it for another generation of chefs to complete. It is often said that that too many cooks spoil the broth but remember that after 50 years, we are now experienced chefs and although we will have arguments, they should be based on facts and not misconceived perceptions. As chefs assigned to this culinary experiment we each should have an equal say, our ideas and contributions should all be elevated, respected and appreciated.
    That process as I advocated years ago should begin in school where we learn about each others history, not just from a Tribagonian perspective which is our collective history but the true history of our ancestors and not the European story of them their value or who they were. I humbly summit that our problem is one of misconception of who we are and our value to the world in which we live. India and China, fortunately are becoming powerful and relevant in the modern world and with their help and ours the countries of Africa will find modern legs and reclaim their place in the nations of men.
    As for me, I am happy to be as Trinbagonian, it is a privilege growing up here and attending QRC. This gives me a unique vantage point. A view of the world that is all encompassing and culturally diverse. This serves me well where I reside in Florida. Now let me briefly address this Afro and Indo business, remember my friends language is dynamic flowing like water to serve the needs of intrepid communicators. I do submit correctly or incorrectly but in any case as a matter of convenience, that Indo and Afro are latinizations in Trini style, of the words Indian and African. Now, can anyone tell me what’s wrong with that expression of our Trinbagonianess. Nuff said. Love you all.

  7. I did not believe this had so much drama. I am Trinidian and I do not know exactly where my forefathers came from. I tell my daughter who is English, German, East Indian that her roots are in Trinidad.

    You are mixing apples and oranges here, to coin a term. English, German, Trinidadian are nationalities, East Indian is an ethnicity. People are not mixed, the sense of race or ethnicity, with nationalites.

    I often hear people say they are mixed with black and jewish, (Colin Powel), black-white and Brazilian, (Maria Cary) and a host of other convoluted descriptions. I use the term convoluted because of the mixing if different descriptive identifications. I mean one can be East Indian and English and come from two parents who are both Indians.

  8. William Wallace would have considered by our definition of ethnicity that the English are an Ethnicity. England is also a country. Chinese is a ethnicity and China a nation. All of this is rediculous to argue over. Chinese and every man may come from Africa, but Asians weren’t identical to modern west Africans when they created China, Korea, etc..Thats just mad.

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