By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
May 20, 2012
The historical truism is that Indian “indentured servants” came from India to Trinidad on 30 May 1845. They did not come from Indo. Ergo, the descendants of these original Indians are Indian-Trinbagonians. They are not Indo-Trinbagonians. This label is totally Euro-centric, ahistorical and must not only be relegated to the ash heap of T&T’s cultural/ethnic history but must also be expunged from T&T’s societal lexicon.
In his “Capitalism & 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).
In “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:
- 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.
- Famine due to failing crops and high food prices.
- The promise of land for themselves.
- The promise of higher wages in Trinidad and Guyana.
- Criminals escaping from police and afraid of returning to the village as well as loafers could go to the colonies.
- Some Indians were led to believe that they could find non-agricultural work as policemen, teachers, clerks, etc, in the Caribbean colonies.
- Contacts with returning relatives and friends who came back home with money encouraged Indians to want to emigrate.
- 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 British recruiters’ propaganda. (pp. 51-52).
In other words, the Euro-British government sent human beings to India but guns to Africa.
The religious breakdown of the Indians who came to Trinidad was as follows: 85.3% Hindus, 14% Muslims, and .07% Christians. These Indians were Hindus, Muslims and Christians in 1845; they are still Hindus, Muslims and Christians in 2012. Unlike the Africans, the Euro-British allowed the Indians to keep their religious identity on the whole.
On Indian Arrival Day, 225 Indians arrived at Nelson Island, Trinidad. Whereas only six Indians died during that journey via the “Kala Paani” or Middle Passage, millions of Africans died during their Middle Passage to the Caribbean.
The make-up of the Indians who came to the Caribbean consisted of men and women between the ages of 10-30 years. They were from the lower caste (Shudras not Brahmins). They were agricultural workers; 40 women to 100 men were selected.
On the ships, single men and women and married couples were separated and given separate cabins. Whereas the Indians were treated as equal human beings, Africans were packed like sub-human, chained sardines on the ships.
Indians came mostly voluntarily from Calcutta, Madras, Pondicherry, Punjab, Lahore, Karachi, Bihar, Hyderabad, Peshawar, Mardan and Kashmir. The Indians’ Motherland umbilical/ancestral cord is still overtly etched in the names of streets in St. James.
Conversely, the Europeans successfully/totally severed the Africans’ Motherland umbilical/ancestral cord and identity with Africa.
Indians who came in 1845, had original India names. They still have these Indian names in 2012.
Conversely, Africans who were brought totally involuntarily and violently, had original African names in 1516. On the whole, they now have Euro-centric imposed/derived names in 2012.
It must be interjected here that Indian-Trinbagonian entertainers sing Chutney songs in the tongue of their Motherland, while African-Trinbagonian entertainers sing calypso/soca in the tongue of their former European colonizer—save Ella Andall.
“Dey still living in dey mother (linguistic) house”, although they were supposed to be living on their own and independent since August 1962.
The Indian “indentured servants” were given 5 pounds and 5 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 servants” received the same treatment from the Euro-British government that was afforded the Euro-British “poor whites.”
Indian “indentured servants” were required to work only 280 days per year; pregnant women only worked part-time, while older women looked after the children.
Conversely, on the plantations, Africans worked from sun up to sun down- 24-7-365.
In 1869, the Euro-British government opened up Crown lands for sale and thousands of ex-indentured Indians acquired ten-acre estates. The Indians had money to buy land because they were paid wages.
Conversely, Africans received absolutely no wages; ergo, Africans deserve reparations, as in unpaid wages totalling USS770 trillion. Indians do not.
In 1884, the Euro-Trinidad colonial government established the Peasant Development Programme to assist in the economic empowerment of Indians. Africans are still waiting for economic empowerment in 2012.
Shem Hotep (“I go in peace”).
Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies.