Question of origins and Indian Indentureship: Updated

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
September 12, 2012

lettersIn 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 to Trinidad in May 1845. 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-Trinbagonians 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 suddenly be 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”: Afri-centric Background

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:

  • 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 (high unemployment).
  • Famine due to failing crops and high food prices.
  • The promise of land for themselves.
  • 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.
  • Criminals escaping from police and afraid of returning to the village as well as loafers could go to the colonies.
  • 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.
  • 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. (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.

Indian Arrival Day—Guyana

5 May 1847, when two small sailing ships, the “Whitby” and “Hesperus” arrived with 396 immigrants from India; only 18 died during journey.

Indian Arrival Day—Jamaica

10 May 1845 when 261 Indians arrived on “Blundell Hunter.”

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; they were treated with respect as equal human beings.

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.” Ten years after the contract ended, immigrants could return to India—free passage provided.

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.

Dispersal of Indians in Diaspora

According to Prof. Isaac Dookhan, the Caribbean indenture dispersal of Indians is as follows: Trinidad, 143,939 (1845-1917); Jamaica, 36, 412 (1845-1885); Guyana, 238,909 (1847-1917); 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.

4 Responses to “Question of origins and Indian Indentureship: Updated”


  • Come Professor… We must not forget Suriname.. Not because they because they speak dutch . As a matter of fact, it’s because they speak dutch.. Yep, the Dutch were the chief architects of designing this western Caste System.. being the good students they were in india…

  • Indian indentureship was the golden era of Trinidad’s liberation of the African.

    The freed African Americans did not enjoy such freedom until the 1960s through the civil rights movement a movement that found its inspiration from another Indian name Gandhi. Africans in western culture owe a lot to Indians.

    The Guyanese experiment propagated by Burnham was perhaps the saddest story of African/Indian engagement in the south American nation. Nevertheless such history had many players and Burnham could only do what he did with the blessings of the Americans and British.

    The Trinidad experience though painful was bearable. The high rate of suicide in the Indian communities during the earlier PNM years is a testament to the frustrations of exclusion in nation building. Thankfully today such things are almost non-existent.

    Today the way forward for me is one of mutual respect and admiration for people of all ethnic persuasion. The African conquest of China I am sure must be applauded by all. So to their many brave exploits.

  • Mamoo, how come evrything how PNM and Africans did detriment to Indians in Trinbago. Did you in you lifetime in and out of TT see African and Indians square and kill one another. Did you ever hear Eric and PNM tell Africans not to support Maraj jewellers, Kirpilanis, Ackbaralis, Jumans, Joseph Charles, Jaleel. I don’t hear you giving praised to Eric for giving Mootilal Moonan and Seeraram Brothers the big highway and infrastructure projects over his African base. If Eric was so racist and wicked, he could have an Afro Trini company get all them contracts.

    Then again Africans in TT get what they deserve. They wanted ERIC to hold their hand and tell them what to do. They always looking for a messiah to guide them to the promise land instead of seizing the initiative.

    • Let us not continue is this trend of racially charged innuendoes Brilliant. I am not saying everything was bad under Eric. I am simply saying for the majority it was painful at times. Eric was a great Prime Minister, he did what he had to do and made Indians stronger as you indicated in your blog. For that we should all be greatful. In the process he created a dependency syndrome amongst our Afro brothers and sisters that still exist today. The state technically became massa. When Eric said “massa day done”, he essentially said “Eric day started”, meaning that he was going to be sole provide for the tribalist, that was done very well with 75% of all government jobs going to his supporters. Today this dependency symdrome continues already the tribalist are crying racism at every turn because dey doh wanna wuk…

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