VOL. 22 No. 1
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
5. The Impact of the Indian Immigrants on Colonial Trinidad Society
19. Race and Ethnic Identity in Rural Jamaica: The East Indian Case
Allen S. Ehrlich
28. East Indian Indenture and the Work of the Presbyterian Church
Among the Indians in Grenada
40. The Hindu Sacraments (Rites de Passage) in Trinidad and Tobago
53. The Hindu Festival of Divali in the Caribbean
62. Extracts from the Far Journey
64. Euroscope and Monday
66. Bibliography of Literature from Guyana
Compiled by Robert McDowell
67. Port Royal, Jamaica Michael Pawson and David Buisseret
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra Mural Studies (Editor)
Lloyd Braithwaite, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.L, St. Augustine, Trinidad.
Sidney Martin, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., Cave Hill, Barbados.
Roy Augier, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica.
J.J. Figueroa, Professor Caribbean Centre of Advanced Studies, Puerto Rico.
G.A. Alleyne, Professor, Department of Medicine.
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, UWI, Mona.
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, U.W.I., Mona.
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor.
All correspondence should be addressed to:
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University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommended subjects which they
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This issue of Caribbean Quarterly is concerned, in a purely exploratory way, with
the East Indians in the Caribbean. As "latecomers" to the Caribbean cultural complex
they naturally assume continuing significance in a society that still functions within
the parameters of "plantation America" which had consolidated itself before their
advent to the region. Questions of assimilation, retentions, and creolisation are
naturally raised in any discussion of the East Indians and the present volume seeks to
explore some of these without claiming to provide all the answers.
Marianne Ramesar in "The Impact of Indian Immigrants on Colonial Trinidad
Society" demonstrates the several dimensions of the complex process of acculturation.
The Indians have not only undergone change, they have themselves helped to change
the society which they enter, and are altogether products of the larger process of
decolonisation. Whether the impact is fundamental or likely to be lasting must be a
test of history but there is little doubt that such an impact has been, up to now, a very
forceful one. From being a minority group with lowly status, the very large Indian
community has risen to be one of the dominant forces of contemporary Trinidad; and
not insignificant in all this has been the power of numbers.
This is in contrast to the experience in Jamaica where much smaller numbers of
East Indians, as compared with the vast 'African' population, has led to assumptions or
implications that the East Indians have been totally assimilated and therefore without
"self-identification as an Indian". Allen S. Ehrlich refutes any such assumption in a
short exploratory article "Race and Ethnic Identity in Rural Jamaica: The East Indian
Case". The author argues that the absence of sizeable retention of traditional Indian
cultural traits is not a bar to ethnic identity among the Jamaican Indians. Significantly
the East Indians' perception of "self' in Jamaica is based on what Professor Ehrlich
refers to as "forms of shared social categorization and perception". Such forms, it
might be added, are shaped out of the plantation system which the Indians found
when they arrived in the Caribbean. This is an important observation for any future
study of Caribbean society.
The Christian Church, by the time the Indians arved, was already an important
mechanism in the entire process 6f socio-cultural change in the Caribbean of the 19th
century. Beverley Steele, the sociologist, writes on "East Indian Indenture in Grenada
and the Work of the Presbyterian Church". The paradox is that schooling through the
Presbyterian Church while allowing "East Indians (to reach) positions of distinction in
Grenadian society within a generation of their arrival", also served as an effective agent
The East Indians of Trinidad did not escape this particular influence themselves.
But of Hindu sacraments and festivals there are enough of these retained among the
Trinidadian Indians to merit a twin study by J.C. Jha who gives an account of them in
- "The Hindu Sacraments (Rites of Passage) in Trinidad and Tobago" and "The Hindu
Festival of Divali in the Caribbean" Only "some aspects of the main sacraments have
been retained by the Indians in Trinidad"; and although certain aspects of the Divali festi-
val "are not celebrated in Trinidad ...... the central theme of the festival .... remains".
Professor Jha in his study has demonstrated the compelling paradox of Caribbean
life. On the one hand, there is the inescapable process of transculturation/-
deculturation and yet the collective cultural memory of migrants and their des-
cendants remains, despite the passage of time, a positive and oftentimes dynamic force
with which the society must reckon.
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
Marianne D. Ramesar
Dr. Allen S. Ehrlich
is Research Fellow, at the Institute of Social and Economic
Research, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine,
is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of
Eastern Michigan, Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA.
is Resident Tutor in Grenada of the Department of Extra
Mural Studies, University of the West Indies, St. George's,
is Professor of Indian Studies, U.W.I., St. Augustine,
is a West Indian Poet now resident in the United Kingdom.
is a young poet now studying at the U.W.I. in the Arts
is lecturer of the Department of Geography, University of
the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
is lecturer of the School of Library Studies, Mona, Jamaica.
THE IMPACT OF THE INDIAN IMMIGRANTS ON COLONIAL
An assessment of the impact or influence of one identifiable ethnic group of immi-
grant origin and considerable size on the socio-economic activities of other groups, is a
singularly elusive task, and one which poses more questions than answers. In the case
of Trinidad, its complexity is heightened by the presence of numerous immigrants and
transients in other ethnic groups during the period of Indian entry.
After a duration of nearly 70 years, Indian immigration affected the population size
and composition, the nature of social relationships and the economic development of
Trinidad. It is these large, but limited influences which I have defined as "impact"
Impact on Population Size and Composition
Together with immigration from the neighboring British West Indian islands, Indian
immigration was an important factor in the substantial growth of the Trinidad popula-
tion which more than tripled in size during the half-century between 1851 and 1901, and
increased by a further 22% during the decade 1901-11.1 Likewise the later movements of
Indian migrants contributed to the decline in population growth in Trinidad after 1911
(See Table 1). This resulted from the suspension of the regular transport of Indian
immigrants during the First World War, and the termination of the immigration system.
INTERCENSAL INCREASE IN THE POPULATION OF TRINIDAD 1871-1921
Natural Increase Increase by Migration
East Indian Recorded
Intercensal Total Total
Period Increase Numbers %* (Estimated) Numbers %**
1871-1881 43,490 4,666 10.7 38,824 21,362 55.0
1881-1891 46,900 10,892 23.2 36,008 19,848 55.1
1891-1901 55,120 18,913 34.3 36,207 16,185 44.7
1901-1911 57,642 30,120 52.3 27,522 16,906 61.4
1911-1921 29,733 28,859 97.1 874 7,169 (820.2)
*Of total increase
**Of total migration
Source: West Indian Census, 1946, Clh 1, Table L, quoted in: Jack Harewood: "Population
Growth of Trinidad and Tobago in the Twentieth Century" Trinidad and Tobago C.S.O.
Research Papers, No. 4, Port of Spain, December, 1967, p. 72.
Through immigration, the small Trinidad population which had comprised a majority
of African and European descent since 1789 gained numbers from other national and
ethnic origins.2 The volume of the Indian influx resulted in the heavy representation of
this group. This trend was intensified as the Indians supplied the bulk of the work
force desired by the sugar estate authorities, and the importation of other groups,
notably the Africans and Chinese, was discontinued. Thus the composition of the
population was significantly affected.3 (See Tables 2 and 3).
SIZE AND PROPORTION OF THE INDIAN POPULATION IN TRINIDAD
Year Number of Indians Total Trinidad % of Indians in the Trinidad
1851 3,993 68,600 5.82
1861 13,488 84,438 15.97
1871 27,425 109,638 25.01
1881 48,820 153,128 31.88
1891 70,218 200,028 35.10
Source: 1891 Census Report for Trinidad, Part V, p. 4.
In fact the Indians became the largest immigrant group in Trinidad, a colony which
owed the bulk of its population to immigration. By 1871 Indians were twice as numerous
as the next largest immigrant group, the British West Indians, most of whom were of
similar racial stock to the majority of Trinidad Creoles. Since the Indians were of
different ethnic origin from the Creoles and other immigrants, their presence increased
the existing heterogeneous character of the society. Besides, the number of Indians
introduced and remaining in Trinidad ensured that this group would have a lasting
influence in determining the size and composition of the population, in which it might
one day form the majority.
Nature of Trinidad's "Immigrant" Society
Most significantly, the Indians constituted a new ethnic ingredient which could be
isolated, which was likely to be slowly absorbed, and which might even delay the
integrative processes within the Trinidad pot-pourri. Hoetink has defined the "seg-
mented" society as one which "at its moment of origin consists of at least two groups
of different race and culture, each having its own social institutions and social
structure. .. each of these groups having its own rank in the social structure; and society
as a whole being governed by one of the segments" 4 This definition is more appropriate
to the situation in Trinidad at the beginning of the slave trade when native Europeans and
native Africans were being transported, than to the post-Emancipation period in Trini-
dad. The "governing segment" since 1797 had been the British power, and the British as
conquerors had subjected subordinate groups to a deliberate anglicisingg" policy.5
THE MAIN IMMIGRANT COMPONENTS OF THE POPULATION OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO, 1891-1921
Year 1891 Year 1901 Year 1911 Year 1921
(Trinidad only) (Trinidad only) (Trinidad and Tobago) (Trinidad and Tobago)
% of % of %of %of %of % of % of % of
Total Indian Total Indian Total Indian Total Indian
Popu- Popu- Popu- Popu- Popu- Popu- Popu- Popu-
Numbers lation lation Numbers lation lation Numbers lation lation Numbers lation lation
Total Population 200,028 100.00 255,148 100.00 333,552 100.00 365,913 100.00
Indian descended) 86,941 43.46 111,724 43.79 140,708 42.18 159,236 43.50
(Indian descended) 24,641 12.32 38,714 15.17 59,535 17.85 84,066 22.97
Population 45,577 22.78 47,669 18.68 50,585 15.16 37,341 10.20
Total Indian Popula-
tion (by birth or
descent) 70,218 35.10 86,383 33.85 110,120 33.00 121,407 33.18
Indenture 10,782 15.36 7,715 8.93 9,627 8.74 502* 0.41*
British West Indians
resident in Trinidad+ 33,071 16.53 46,748 18.32 51.874 15.55 50,705 13.86
Born in the United
Kingdom and Colonies 1,052 0.53 1,489 0.58 1,428 0.43 2,372 0.65
Born in Africa, China,
Venezuela etc. 8,746 4.37 8,804 3.45 8,673 2.60 8.803 2.40
Population of Tobago 20,749 6.22 23,390 6.40
+British West Indians resident in Tobago
Total Indian Population in Tobago
+Tobagonians resident in Trinidad
Source: Compiled fr6m Trinidad and Tobago Census Reports, 1891-1921; Annual Reports of the Protector of Immigrants
*Number at 31st December, 1920.
By the time of the Indians' entry in the mid-19th century, the process of "hybridi-
sation" was well advanced producing mixed racial groups (European-African descended);
shared religious affiliation (Christian); and the general use of at least one "Creole
language". By then the social institutions and cultural elements of the early immi-
grants could only be separately identified to a limited extent.
The forebears of the Creole or "native" groups had themselves arrived in Trinidad
from intermediate locations, and during the process their cultural characteristics would
certainly have been modified. Many of the French Creoles, for example, were des-
cended from immigrants from St. Lucia, Grenada and other French Caribbean
colonies, and not direct from France. 6 There were natives of Africa in Trinidad before
and after Emancipation, but the majority of residents of African descent from 1851 at
least, were Trinidad-born, or originated in Barbados, Grenada and St. Vincent.7
From these considerable modifying processes an existing social pattern could be
detected in 19th Century Trinidad, deriving mainly from the master-slave, black-white
relationships of slavery. There was a "Creole cultural core" which was accepted and
articulated by the French Creoles on behalf of themselves and the African Creoles.
(During sessions of the Reform Franchise Committee of 1888, witnesses distinguished
persons and groups as "Creoles" as distinct from the Barbadians, Indians and the
"alien" Venezuelans.)8 When Sir Louis De Verteuil, the doyen of the French Creoles,
referred to "our habits and our civilisation", into which he regretted that the
newcoming Indians were not being assimilated, 9 he would doubtless have included
allegiance to the Roman Catholic religion as the denomination of the majority of
Christians. Another important feature was the Creole patois which was reported to be
the language of the Trinidad-born masses at the end of the 19th Century.10 These
"Creole" features as well as the general acceptance of certain groups as superior and
inferior in the society, provided an attitudinal system according to which the Indians
could be assessed. Prevailing attitudes and biases were adopted by immigrant groups,
including the Indians, towards the European-descended employers and slave-descended
blacks, groups which in turn also had a basis on which to label the Indians as
"heathen" and menial." (On the other hand some attitudes and prejudices which the
Indians developed were based on their own imported value systems. Haraksingh has
indicated some preconceptions which were likely to influence Hindus in their rating of
Trinidad groups, especially those of African descent.)12
Non-Indian groups in 19th Century Trinidad were certainly not homogeneous. The
Portuguese were regarded for a long period as inferior to other "whites" 13 The Creole
- including "white" Creole resentment of the British expatriate officials and sugar
estate owners was strongly articulated during campaigns for constitutional Reform.14
Differences in race and class divided the Creoles French and African and the latter
in turn differed according to language and religious affiliation from their Barbadian
and Vincentian cousins.15 The Indians too differed according to regional origin,
religion, and caste.16
Like their African slave predecessors, the Indians had undergone a measure of
deculturisation.17 This began with the separation of the single immigrant from his or
her family and village, and his departure as an indentured recruit to a large population
centre, by means of a rail journey of several hundred miles.18 By the time that he had
undertaken a sea voyage which involved, for the North Indian Hindu, a break with
accepted custom, 19 and the violation of caste taboos during the journey, he had been
wrenched perhaps irreversably away from the intricate fabric of the Hindu social
system. The formal period of "seasoning" or preparation for estate labour, and the
disruption of traditional social systems under estate conditions, were further stages in
the deculturising process.20
Position of the Indians
But as comparative latecomers to the Trinidad social scene, there were factors
which isolated the Indians as a group, thus intensifying the existing social divisions.
First of all, official policies maintained long-lasting distinctions between the Indians
and other groups, and these policies persisted even after the system of Indian immi-
gration was officially ended. Thus the 1921 Census Report bemoaned the failure of
Census enumerators to fulfil definite instructions for maintaining a correct account of
the descendants of the natives of India. As a result, the Report noted, it was necessary
to refer frequently to the Census schedules where persons with Indian surnames gave
Trinidad as their birth place "without the requisite qualifications as to parentage". The
reason given was the need to satisfy frequent requests for information without time-
wasting deductions from joint Population Returns.2' The effect however was divisive.
Indian cultural influences also tended to erect barriers between Indians and the
"General Population" Hinduism to which the majority of Indian immigrants adhered,
involved a hierarchical system which had influenced the status, occupations and social
contacts of its members in India. As a social system it restricted social intercourse
between fellow Hindus of different castes, and would implicitly have discouraged
social mixing as far as possible, and intermarriage with non-Indians. Observance of
Islam enjoined marriage within the faith to a certain extent, and this implied marriage
within the ethnic group, since few non-Indians were Muslims during that period.22
In comparison with other groups Indians in Trinidad remained unintegrated. Dif-
ferences between them and other groups were seldom softened by intermarriage, and
they preserved relative racial homogeneity by Caribbean standards. According to the
Census Reports, numerous marriages reportedly occurred "between all sections of the
foreign-born population and native women", excepting the Indians who were usually
married to women of Indian birth or descent.23 Similarly the number of children
produced by unions between Indians and non-Indians (also detailed in some Censuses)
was a relatively small proportion of the total number of Trinidad-born Indians.24
The Indians differed greatly from the other social groups in respect of religious
affiliation since relatively few Indians were converted to Christianity.25 Even among
Christian Indians, the high correlation between ethnic group membership and religious
affiliation persisted, because the Canadian (Presbyterian) Mission catered almost ex-
clusively to the Indians, and undertook almost singlehanded the education of this
group. Thus the tendency to separateness from other groups was reinforced.
Other differences, for instance of language, emphasised the "strange character" of
the Indians, whose ranks were reinforced annually by new Hindustani-speakers mainl]
from the United Provinces and Bihar. Some Indians retained native dress and customs,
thus underlining their differences from the westernized ways of the majority of the
population, and from Christian Indians who were adopting European modes of dress
and education in English.26 The food choices of Hindus and Muslims in Trinidad
remained sufficiently distinct from those of Trinidad Creoles to warrant
differentiation in a medical survey on dietary practices and nutrition in 1930.27
Contemporary observers remarked that the Indians retained or recreated tradi-
tional cultural forms especially in the rural towns and villages where many settled
outside the estates after the 1870s.28
As a group the Indians remained the persistent bearers of the germ of cultural
difference from the Western Christian model in Trinidad. They were products of
alternative religious and cultural systems which had the potential to influence the
religious and cultural development of other groups in Trinidad very greatly. Indeed a
measure of acculturation took place as non-Indians adopted Indian foods, and patron-
ised Indian craftsmen, vendors and drivers of hackney-carriages. Traditional products,
foodstuffs as well as new services which had been developed in Trinidad, were offered
and accepted, adding variety and spice to the quality of Trinidad life. But on the
whole, because of the prestigious status of European-derived systems and forms, for
instance of religion, the Indians were apparently more widely affected by their rela-
tively westernised milieu than were the Creoles and others by Indian religious and
cultural practices. Also the Hindu and Muslim leaders who kept alive religious and
cultural elements among the Indians29 were probably poorly-equipped educationally
and materially. It is unlikely that they were oriented towards spreading their cultural
influences more generally among non-Indians in the population.
Social Impact of the Indians
The Indians' early impact was that of a work force of mainly single adult plantation
labourers, employed to serve the sugar estates. As contract workers, with restricted
freedom of movement and leisure, and limited social contacts with other groups, they
remained relatively isolated, and non-competitive with other groups in the society, and
therefore they aroused little apparent resentment.30
After 1869 land grants schemes and opportunities for independent purchases en-
couraged the Indians to become a more settled population, aspiring to residence and
occupation outside the estates, as did the Creoles.31 Instead of remaining in their
original social position as "indentured" and "immigrant", the Indians became more
self-assertive.32 On the estates, Indian labourers reacted defiantly and even violently
though sporadically, to deteriorating industrial conditions.33 One organised group,
made representations to the West Indian Royal Commission of 1897, on behalf of
Indian groups.34 Others demanded similar privileges with other British subjects in
Trinidad.35 these articulate groups included persons who had acquired property and
education in Trinidad in which they were staking a claim to consideration as settlers.
Their upward economic mobility and the prospect of political involvement in Trinidad
made some Creoles apprehensive.6
The volume and rate of influx of an immigrant group helps to determine its re-
ception by the host population, especially in times of economic stress, and Trinidad
Creoles were beset by the large and steady influx, not of one, but of two immigrant
streams the Indians and the British West Indians. Friction developed where the
groups met in the overstocked labour market of Port of Spain. Here the effects of
economic depression during the 1880s and 1890s were worsened by job-competition
and resulting low wages.37 Not only did the Indians receive part of the general anti-
immigrant response, but as an unintegrated group towards whose introduction state
funds were contributed, they evoked a particular resentment.
In the 20th Century Indians and Creoles of African descent emerged increasingly as
the two subordinate, but numerous and potentially competitive groups in the society.
The British West Indians on the other hand were apparently merging into the society,
as there were fewer references to them as a separate group from the Creoles, and
potential newcoming West Indian immigrants turned to Panama and Venezuela instead
of to Trinidad.
The tendency for Indian and African-descended groups to become increasingly
differentiated according to occupational activity and residential location, bore the
seeds of potential polarisation. Social distance was maintained, with mutual ignorance
and stereotyping. Further than this, organised Indian groups expressed fear of domina-
tion by the majority, implicitly by the African-descended section of the population.38
Yet there was a minimum of open hostility between the two groups and this can
mainly be attributed to the persistence of "plural" features in the society throughout
the colonial period.
At the beginning of the 20th Century Trinidad remained an immigrant society,
divided by ethnic and class differences, and mutual group prejudices. Single political
and economic systems had become relatively well-established, but the social patterns
were more complex. Contemporary accounts emphasised the continued flow of
migrants and transients, and the diversity of social groups and activities.
Within the limits of a colonial society sectional groups enjoyed a measure of free-
dom to preserve cherished cultural vestiges. Thus the French Creoles successfully
defended their religious denomination and denominational system of education in the
19th Century, and most Indians retained their religious affiliations, and practised
customary endogamy as far as possible. This tolerance Jf diversity together with
British political control, and occupational and residential differentiation may have
been the essential key to the relative absence of group hostility in Trinidad. On the
other hand these features also contributed to the failure to develop wider national
Economic Impact of the Indians
The Indians had been introduced into Trinidad for economic reasons. Immigrant
groups from distant locations are often age and sex selective, including a heavy propor-
tion of young adults, chiefly males. The Indian immigrants to Trinidad were no
exception: their numbers included a large proportion of members who were in their
most productive age-periods, as well as a high ratio of males to females.39 Both these
factors made them valuable additions to the plantation work force, as the slaves before
them had been. Similarly their effectiveness was impaired by wasted labour, work days
lost through ill health, defiance and malingering in response to coercive methods of
management; time spent in prison; and suicide.4
At the end of the 19th Century, the Indians comprised the largest section of the
Colony's work force, as formally defined by the Census criteria which were applicable
to all groups. Similarly a smaller proportion of them was registered as "unoccupied" or
of "indefinite occupation" than was the case with comparable groups. (The British
West Indians also, as immigrant labourers, were relatively heavily represented as
With their heavy participation in agriculture, the Colony's main economic sector
until the 1920s, the Indians played a vital role in the economic activities of Trinidad.
The agricultural staples sugar and cocoa were of first importance in Trinidad
during the period in terms of export values, acres utilised and numbers engaged in their
production.42 The Indians were the most numerous group in this sector by the close
of the Century. Of 65,593 persons or 48% of the total Trinidad population engaged in
agriculture in 1891, 40,902 or 62% were Indians and 78% of the adult Indian popula-
tion was employed in this sector. In 1921, whereas 40% of the total population in
Trinidad and Tobago were engaged in agriculture, nearly 60% were Indians, and 67%
of adult Indians were thus engaged.43
The Indians' most considerable impact was on the sugar industry, which was able to
increase production greatly, mainly through the availability of immigrant labour. This
industry benefited most directly from utilising the services of 80 to 90% of the
indentured immigrants down to the closing years of the system. A considerable part of
the expense of this importation was borne however by other industries which used
relatively few indentured immigrants, and by the General Revenue of the Colony.44
After the depression of the 1880s, the sugar industry reduced its contribution to the
cost of immigration. The cocoa and coconut industries on the other hand increased
their contribution from 20% to 40%, although they used no more than 10% of these
indentured immigrants until the 20th Century, and only about 20% at most, in the last
ten years of the system.45
These policies were disadvantageous to industries other than sugar, as H.J. Clark,
the Government Statist declared in his evidence before the 1897 Royal Commission:
"I call particular attention to the foregoing facts as it was from a knowledge of
them that I wrote as to the danger of handicapping the other industries in an
attempt to save sugar, and that in giving evidence I added, in regard to such
handicapping, 'I think there has been enough of that already' ".46
Wages and conditions of labour were steadily affected by the indentured influx. As
employers secured more adequate labour supplies, wage rates which had fallen during
the 1847-8 crisis from the high post-Emancipation levels, were not regained. Legal
restrictions which were intended to prevent the depression of wages, or the employ-
ment of indentured labourers where free labour was available, prevented the planter
from offering higher wages to unindentured or free labourers on the same plantation,
or in the same neighbourhood, unless he raised those of his indentured labourers.47
But this had the effect of keeping wages on sugar estates at a basic 25 cents per day or
per task.48 Together with the restrictive and uncongenial conditions obtaining under
the established indenture system, this factor drove free labour including Indian -
away from the estates.
The system of plantation agriculture in Trinidad owed much to patterns established
during slavery. Some of the conditions associated with the former system remained to
stigmatise those who were heavily involved in agricultural labour, as well as the status
of agriculture in general. Estate conditions for the indentured Indian were associated
with a low standard of living, manual drudgery, seasonal underemployment and wasted
labour, and unfair and ill treatment. In 1906 Rev. K.J. Grant, the Canadian mission-
ary, diagnosed the effects of indenture following slavery which had reinforced
prejudice against agricultural labour in Trinidad. He suggested the need for improved
wages and treatment for estate labourers, fewer prosecutions for breaches of in-
denture, one-acre plots for families near the estates, fairer weighing and prices for cane
farmers, and better preventive health care but with little effect.49
As the indenture system became established and labour abundant, a differential
system of wages became the norm. The practice developed in Trinidad of employing
Indians to do agricultural work for which they received lower wages than those paid to
labourers in other occupations, many of whom were non-Indians. In 1906 C. McLean,
a Princes Town planter, stated that he employed Indians on his cocoa estates at 25
cents per day plus free medical care, while for road work he used Creoles and West
Indian islanders as job workers at the equivalent of 60 to 80 cents, and even One
Dollar per day, these latter workers refusing to be bound to the estate "like
coolies".50 D.M. Hahn, Public Works Engineer, declared that he employed mainly
"Negroes" (African Creoles and West Indians) on his projects at 40 to 60 cents a
Wages were not the only determining factor however. F. de Labastide, a Public
Works Officer, testified in 1906 that even when wages on road-building projects ap-
proximated to the 40 cents per day or per task paid to the unskilled labourers on the
cocoa estates, or when the day's work on the road was longer than on the estate, the
labourer would not return to estate labour. Cultivation work had low status for all the
groups involved. Thus the Superintendent of the Botanic Gardens complained of the
reluctance of many to be trainee-agriculturists. They apparently feared to be
associated with a degrading occupation, since:
"to call a man a gardener is to class him with the Portuguese jobber who is of
low type ... there is much in a name, especially in a mixed community like ours
where the people are super-sensitive as to social standing."52
Worsening conditions during the 20th Century increased the earlier tendency for
labourers of African descent to retreat from field to factory labour on the estates, and
into non-agricultural openings outside.
Agriculture remained Trinidad's most important sector however, and non-Indian
labourers comprised 2/5 of its work force until the 1920s, especially in cocoa pro-
NATIONALITY OF LABOURERS EMPLOYED AT USINE ST. MADELEINE
Units of Labour (days' work) Percentage Work Done
Estates Factory Estates Factory
Year Indians Creoles* Indians Creoles* Indians Creoles* Indians Creoles*
1894 699,377 80,448 28,587 74,909 89.7 10.3 27.3 72.4
1897 619,772 55,897 21,916 63,337 91.7 8.3 25.7 74.3
1900 600,622 63,912 20,561 89,010 90.4 9.6 18.8 81.2
1904 667,084 30,681 20,214 74,964 95.6 4.4 21.2 78.8
Source: Compiled from the Labour Committee Report. Usine St. Madeleine included Trinidad's largest central factory.
*Referred to all non-Indians.
duction.53 But when alternative opportunities emerged, they tended to enter the
mineral industries54 and into clerical positions as far as possible, leaving agriculture
under a preserved plantation system increasingly identified with a single ethnic group
- the Indians with lasting effects in Trinidad. Unindentured Indians also sought
openings outside the estates, but these were found mainly in agriculture, so that this
group remained a largely rural population.
Following the decline in the sugar industry alternative products developed in
Trinidad, especially cocoa, rice and food crops which could be cultivated by indepen-
dent small farmers on the available Crown Lands. Through their heavy involvement as
peasant farmers, the Indians made their major contribution to the new economic
development in Trinidad.55 Thus they helped to improve a situation in which
thousands of pounds were spent annually to import tropical vegetables and ground
provisions sweet potatoes, yams and so forth from Venezuela and the neigh-
bouring West Indian islands, while thousands of acres remained uncultivated.56
Despite steady opposition from their employers who sought to confine them to
estate labour, except for the period of crisis and open unemployment on the sugar
estates, the Indians engaged in the production of food crops, participating in the
"opening-up" of undeveloped areas of Trinidad when Crown Lands were made avail-
able in small parcels after 1869. Joining the Creoles as cocoa producers, cane farmers
and market gardeners, they became an important land-owning group, mainly because
of their tendency to invest their considerable savings in land.57 Their production of
food crops, especially rice and vegetables, had a marked effect in reducing Trinidad's
expenditure on these imports.58
LAND OWNED BY INDIANS IN TRINIDAD IN 1916
Nature of cultivation Acreage
Sugar cane 10,228
Ground provisions 8,001
Mixed cultivation 1,620
Coffe and limes 448
Source: Protector of Immigrants Report for 1916. C.P. No. 76/1917. (These figures excluded
Couva Ward which had a large Indian population).
When immigration ended, Indians owned more than one-fifth of the total land
owned and cultivated in Trinidad, and they also utilised considerable rented and leased
The end of the immigration system found Indians numerically important in Trini-
dad where enough of them remained to make a lasting difference to the composition
of the population. They had brought an added diversity to an already heterogeneous
colonial society. Despite the assertion of a Creole identity, and expressions of proto-
Nationalism by some French Creoles and African-descended professionals, the society
remained unformed and divided. The continued influx of immigrants was largely res
ponsible for this. The Indians particularly influenced the development of a multi-
ethnic society with the complexities which this entailed. Fed by fresh annual waves of
compatriots, they managed to retain and to recreate traditional religious and cultural
forms. Similarly they were apparently less susceptible to conversion to Christian deno-
minations, or enrolment in local schools than was the case for other groups.
Increasingly, occupational and residential differentiation occurred between social
groups, leaving the Indians as the essentially rural sector. Their position was contrasted
with the rest of the population, including those of African descent, who became
steadily more urban-oriented. Relations between the Indians and the African-
descended majority were characterized by avoidance for the most part, especially in
the early period when Indians appeared mainly as transient sugar estate field labourers.
When they became potential settlers, however, aspiring to common economic goals,
for instance occupations outside the estates, they aroused resentment and hostility.
especially in periods of economic stress.
Like the African slaves before them, the Indians supplied an adult work force,
facilitating the maintenance of the production of the Colony's staples under a planta-
tion system, and contributing to their employers' prosperity. Indirectly some of them
benefited from opportunities for land acquisition, contributing to new agricultural
development in an undeveloped Trinidad. The Indians played a vital role in agriculture
mainly at a subordinate level, in a way which determined their status, and the status of
agriculture in Trinidad, with lasting effects.
Like the slaves, the Indian immigrants provided Trinidad with more than a la-
bouring force, however. Survivors of another crossing, they had endured hardship,
adapted to the discarding of traditional social customs, recreated broken family
systems, and clung tenaciously to some religious and cultural practices. Their ex-
periences had conditioned them to contribute, not only to the number, but to the
nature of the population of Trinidad.
MARIANNE D. RAMESAR
1. Trinidad and Tobago Census Report for 1901, p. 25; Census Report for 1911, p. 4.
2. West Indian Census Report for 1946, Trinidad and Tobago, Chapter 1, p. ix.
3. 1901 Census Report, Table A, p. 18.
4. Hoetink, H.: The Two Variants in Caribbean Race Relations. London, 1967, p. 97.
5. Wood, Donald: Trinidad in Transition: the Years after Slavery, London 1968, p. 181.
6. Millette, James: The Genesis of Crown Colony Government: Trinidad 1783-1810, Trinidad,
1970, pp. 31, 32.
7. 1891 Census Report, p. 22 and Part III unpaged.
8. The Royal Commission to consider and report as to the proposed franchise and division of the
colony into electoral districts . passim. (No publisher or date of publication).
9. De Verteuil, L.A.A.: Trinidad: Its Geography, Natural Resources, Administration, Present
Conditions and Prospects, 2nd. ed. London 1884, p. 350.
10. San Fernando Gazette, 1893, quoted in Howard Johnson: "Trinidadian Attitudes to Barba-
dian Immigrants, 1870-1897," 4th Conference of Caribbean Historians, Mona, 1972, pp. 10,
11. Brereton, Bridget: "The Foundations of Prejudice: Indians and Africans in the 19th Century"
in Caribbean Issues, VoL 1, No. 1, April 1974, pp. 19, 21, 24.
12. Haraksingh, Kusha: Book Review in Caribbean Issues, VoL 1, No. 1, April 1974, pp. 67, 68.
13. Braithwaite, Lloyd: "Social Stratification in Trinidad" in Social and Economic Studies (1953),
Vol. 2, Nos. 2 and 3, pp. 49, 86.
14. Royal Franchise Commission, 1888, evidence of Horatio Rapsey; Creole Bitters, 10 November
and 30 December, 1903.
15. Royal Franchise Commission, 1888, evidence of Harris Harragin, Robert Johnson, Henry
Chalomel; 1891 Census Report, Parts U and V unpaged.
16. Annual Reports on Emigration from the Port of Calcutta to British and Foreign Colonies,
17. Smith, R.T.: "Social Stratification, Cultural Pluralism, and Integration in the West Indies" in
S. Lewis and T.G. Mathews Caribbean Integration, 1967, p; 231.
18. Ramesar, Marianne: "Indian Immigration into Trinidad 1897-1917," M.A. Thesis for U.W.I.,
1973, pp.60,67, 80.
19. Gangulee, N.: Indians in the Empire Oveseas. London, 1947, pp. 22-23.
20. Ramesar, op. cit., p. 124.
21. 1921 Census Report, pp. 4, 12.
22. Ghurye, G.S.: Caste and Race in India. Bombay, 5th ed.; 1969. pp. 3-4, 7, 16, 27-28; Fyzee,
Asaf: Outlines of Muhammadan Law. London, 3rd. ed. 1964, pp. 93-94.
23. 1891 Census Report, p. 18.
24. 1911 Census Report, p. 12; 1921 Census Report, p. 31.
25. 1891 Census Report Part V: 1911 Census Report, p. 21; 1921 Census Report, pp. 184-5.
26. Morton, J.: The Canadian Presbyterian Mission (Trinidad 1911), passm.
27. Report of the Surgeon General for Trinidad and Tobago for 1930, Council Paper No. 54/1931.
28. Kingsley, Charles: At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies. London 1877, p. 363; Kohinoor
Indian Gazette, 16 October 1898; Creole Bitters, 22 April 1904; Franck, Harry: Roaming
through the West Indies. New York, 1923, pp. 392-393, 398.
29. Jha, J.C.: "Indian Heritage in Trinidad." Caribbean Quarterly Vol. 19, No. 2, June 1973.
30. See Wood, op. cit., pp. 303-304.
31. Labour Committee Report, 1906, p. ix: Ramesar, Marianne: "Patterns of Settlement in Trini-
dad 1851-1900." 7th Conference of Caribbean Historians, Mona 1975 pp. 24, 30.
32. Tikasingh, Gerad; "The Emerging Political Consciousness among Trinidad Indians in the late
19th Century". 5th Conference of Caribbean Historians, St. Augustine, 1973, pp. 18, 19.
33. Ramesar, op. cit. (Thesis), pp. 206-210.
34. Parl. Papers (Cd. 8657), Memo. from East Indian Immigrants, p. 351.
35. Port of Spain Gazette, 31 August, 1897.
36. Tikasingh, op. cit., p. 9.
37. Protector of Immigrants Report for 1890, Council Paper No. 68/1891.
38. Cd. , Report by the Hon. E.F.L. Wood 1921-22, pp. 23-25.
39. 1891 Census Report, p. 23.
40. Ramesar, op. cit. (Thesis), see Chapter 5.
41. 1891 Census Report, p. 24; Parts III and V unpaged.
42. Report of the Acting Collector of Customs on Trade of the Colony for the year 1919. Council
Paper No. 81/1920; Wardens' Annual Reports.
43. 1891 Census Report Part V; 1921 Census Report pp. 64, 65; 180-183.
44. One-third of the direct cost of immigration was borne by the Colony's General Revenue, and
approximately one-tenth of this Revenue was expended annually on Indian immigration. See
Annual Abstracts of the Colony's Revenue and Expenditure.
45. Report of the Special Committee appointed to consider matters relating to the Labour
Question in Trinidad, 1905-6, Council Paper No. 13/1906, p. 243 (afterwards cited as Labour
Committee Report 1906): Trinidad Hansard: 20 Dec. 1912.
46. Parl. Papers (Cd. 8657), Memo. No. 301, pp. 339-340.
47. Trinidad Immigration Ordinance No. 161/1903, Section 117.
48. Labour Committee Report, 1906, pp. 195, 196.
49. Ibid, evidence of K.J. Grant, pp. 65, 68.
50. Ibid., evidence of C. McLean, pp. 72-73.
51. Ibid., evidence of D.M. Hahn, p. 115.
52. Parl. Papers (Cd. 8657), Memo. by J. Hart, p. 323.
53. Shephard, C.Y.: Agricultural Labour in Trinidad, St. Augustine, 1929, pp. 44, 47.
55. Nearly 50% of cane farmers were Indians in 1917 (see Report of Trinidad Agricultural Society
56. Report of the Government Statist for the year 1899. Council Paper No. 125/1900. For an account
of the constraints on peasant farming see Ramesar op. cit "Patterns of Settlement", pp. 19, 20.
57. For proportion of savings by Indians retained in Trinidad, and of Crown Lands purchased, see
Ramesar: op. cit. (Thesis), Appendix A, Tables e and f.
58. Labour Committee Report 1906, p. 252, Appendix U.
RACE AND ETHNIC IDENTITY IN RURAL JAMAICA:
THE EAST INDIAN CASE1
The study of the retention of culture traits and patterns in the Caribbean has been
of interest to anthropology for approximately the past three decades. Initially,
Herskovits and a number of his students focused upon the survival of African cultural
forms in the New World. As early as 1930, Herskovits was suggesting to his colleagues
that, contrary to popular opinion of the time, African culture in the New World had
not been obliterated by the experience of slavery and that studies should be
undertaken to show the degree and kinds of retentions (1930: 149). Subsequently,
African survivals in a variety of forms, pure and modified, were thought to have been
found throughout the Caribbean by Herskovits and his associates.2
More recently, an interest in the East Indian3 populations of the Caribbean has
emerged which also has had the study of cultural retention as one of its major foci.
Research on the larger East Indian populations in Trinidad, Guyana, and Surinam has
indicated varying degrees of the retention of traditional Indian culture patterns or
their modified forms. (Niehoff and Niehoff 1960; Klass 1961; Smith and Jayawardena
1958, 1959; Speckmann 1965).4 However, when one turns his attention to the Indian
population of Jamaica, one finds scarce mention of them in the ethnographic
literature. Comitas' topical bibliography of the Caribbean lists 112 books anid articles
dealing with East Indians in the area (1968: 187-194); of that total, only three deal
with the Jamaican situation and all were written over thirty years ago.
While a dearth of material seems to exist on this group, nevertheless an image of the
rural Jamaican Indian has developed within the Caribbean literature. Wendell Bell, in
his study of political leadership, described Jamaican Indians as, "fairly well assimilated
socially and culturally (1964: 9). Writing on Jamaica's cultural heritage, the West
Indian author, John Hearne, perceived the East Indians as, "completely absorbed into
the mainstream of Jamaican rural life" (1963: 32). And Rex Nettleford in an essay
entitled, "National Identity and Attitudes to Race in Jamaica", emphasizes the point
that the various racial and ethnic groups on the island, indeed, have not shed their
particularistic loyalties. However, it is interesting that in the discussion of the separate-
ness of the various groups, Nettleford does not even mention the East Indians. It is as
if they have been totally assimilated as if self-identification as an Indian were
There are people 'negro' enough to feel a sense of personal affront when reports
of discriminatory acts against a black American college student are reported in
the local press. There can hardly be any difficulties of identification. There are
people 'Syrian' enough to want to return to Lebanon for a spouse. The bond
among the Chinese of Jamaica may be said to be a racial Chinese one and not a
sophisticated Jamaican one. And there are 'English' or white people who are
English or white enough to want to help out people who look like themselves
when it comes to the matter of a job. Whether this kind of differentiation is
strong enough to rend the society apart is doubtful outside the framework of
purely private individual relationships. But this is where the shoe pinches, and a
localized pain can affect the entire body (Nettleford 1972: 33).
In contrast to the portrayals of Indians in other parts of the British Caribbean, the
East Indians of Jamaica have generally been depicted as being part of some
undifferentiated lower class embodied in the rural masses of the island. The present
paper will attempt to show that such a depiction is a distortion of the actual social
situation as it exists at the village level, and that Indian self-perception and social
differentiation do exist in Jamaica.
At the outset, it might be noted that the Indian population living in rural Jamaica
represents the interplay of larger historical and economic forces. Indians came to the
island under contract as indentured servants to work on sugar estates. Recruited
primarily from northeastern India, they were seen by the Jamaican plantocracy as a
source of labour replacing the emancipated slave population. Between 1845 and 1917
approximately 36,000 Indians came to the island of which it is estimated only 18,000
remained when the indentureship scheme came to an end (Cumper 1954: 70). In
Jamaica, the historically-created pattern of linking the Indian to the sughr estate did
not produce the phenomenon of self-contained villages or dense ethnic populations
with the concomitant retention of traditional Indian culture patterns as has been
witnessed in Trinidad, Guyana, and Surinam (Ehrlich 1971). Ethnic identification is
not rooted in cultural differentiation for there are no groups of activities or customs
by which the Jamaican Indian can set himself apart. One does not find in rural Jamaica
notions of caste, panchayat, patrilineal extended families, village exogamy, nor the
practice or use of Indian religious beliefs and languages.
It might be argued that the sole remnant of the people's Indian heritage appears to
be manifest in the foods they eat they pride themselves on their skill at currying
foods, whether it be chicken, fish, beef, crabs, or, especially, goat. The last mentioned
item is considered to be their piece de resistance and is only made with the flesh of a
ram goat. Negroes in Canelot joke that the Indians will curry just about any food they
can get. Many of the women in the village go to the trouble of grinding their own
curry powder.5 However, it should also be pointed out that dishes which the Indians
identify as their own, have become popular with other segments of the population.
The culinary art of currying foods has been co-opted by the larger society with "curry
goat" now an island-wide favourite, served even at Colonel Sander's Kentucky Fried
Chicken franchise in midtown Kingston. Hence, this area of supposed Indian
specialization is of little utility in discussing the problem of East Indian ethnicity. At
the overt cultural level, rural Jamaican Indians are an assimilated population. Today,
the general round of life of the Indians in Canelot differs very little from that of the
With these facts in hand, one might legitimately ask what, if any, are the ways in
which the Indian differentiates himself from his Negro counterpart in the village. In
answering this question, it is necessary first to come to grips with the Indian's
perceptions of himself and the Negro. Possessing none of the cultural attire of
traditional East Indianisms with which to garb themselves, Indians in Jamaica turned
to features from another social system.6 They have found a means of differentiation
by attaching themselves to the values of the colonial plantation system based upon
racial segmentation. It is to this mode of social stratification that the Indians in
Canelot cling most tenaciously and which provides them a basis for social
differentiation from Negroes. Rooted in race, the pyramidal social structure of the
plantation system was in force long before the East Indians' entry into the island.
Upon their arrival, Jamaican indentured labourers, in turn, appear to have readily
accepted the established colonial-racial basis of stratification.7 Today, it still underlies
the raison d'etre for their self-perception as being different from the Negro.
The casual visitor passing through Canelot might report to friends that he had
visited a rural Negro village, failing to differentiate the Indians, many of whom are
quite dark-skinned, from Negroes. Such a mistake would be highly insulting to the
Indians in the village; for they perceive themselves as not only different from the
Negro villagers, but also superior to them. To back up this claim, most Indians are
prepared to dig into the colonial bag of arguments of racial superiority. Negro physical
features are intrinsically bad, white ones are good. In discussions about race, Indians
merely point to their Caucasoid physical features as proof of their superiority to
Negroes. However, equal emphasis is not given to such features as "thin lips," "narrow
nose," "light skin"8 or straight hair" Rather, it is the last feature, that of "straight"
or "good hair", which is most continuously singled out by the Indians. I think one can
say, without being accused of crude mass psychologizing, that a type of cultural
fixation upon "hair" seems to exist among the Indians in the village. The positive value
put on this particular physical characteristic was repeatedly brought out when the
topic of intermarriage was broached. Intermarriage, it was feared, would bring "bad
hair" to the Indian's family line.
Using this argument, an elderly cane worker dramatically expressed his feelings on
racial separation. After discussing Indian-Negro relations for a few minutes, the man
pointed to a picture hanging at the rear of the room; he then rose and brought it to me
so I might inspect it more closely. It was a picture of Christ clothed in blue robes with
golden hair falling towards his shoulders. The man blurted out "He's just like us!"
He then jerked off his cap, revealing a full head of straight graying hair and grabbed
one of my hands bringing it to his head and exclaimed: "Look at it! Touch it! You
ever see Negroes who have hair like Jesus? No, man! They don't have nice hair like us.
Only Negroes should marry Negroes." 9
On another occasion when I attempted to voice a protest to an Indian couple that
the type of hair or skin colour one is born with does not automatically make him a
good or bad person, the man and his wife disagreed strongly. They inquired if whites
married Negroes in America. I answered that while it was not a general practice, such
intermarriages were definitely on the increase and gradually becoming more accepted.
They shook their heads in astonishment and virtual disbelief. They then gingerly asked
me if my wife was white I replied, pausing sufficiently long to whet their curiosity
and light their fear, that she was. For the moment, at least, they appeared relieved.
The racial cleavage which pervades Indian relationships with Negroes has under-
standably led to the development of attitudinal concomitants. Much stereotypical
thinking goes on in people's minds. The Indians characterize Negroes as being lazy,
argumentative, wasteful of their resources, and wanting only to sport and drink rum.
The Negro villagers' stereotype of Indians is that they are prolific, frugal, and
always hiding their money so that others will not know how wealthy they
really are.10 These attitudes were expressed openly and seriously throughout the
As one might suspect, the Indian and Negro perceptions of each other do not lead
to a particularly harmonious atmosphere. At the day-to-day level of experience there is
surprisingly little overt hostility. However, an air of suspicion permeates life in the
village and underlies the attitudes of the two groups each tolerates the other, but at
the same time distrusts the other.
In talking with Negro cane workers about the problems of earning a living in
Canelot, they were quick to point out that things would be a lot better if there were
fewer Indians in the village. They angrily called Indians "Coolies", arguing that the
Indians were stingy and stuck together at the expense of Negroes. One Negro cane
You will find few fair-minded Indians. They care only for themselves. They will
help one another and step on someone else. Many of the Indians have plenty of
money, but they don't show it. They have a humble, poor look; but they're
tricking you to make you think they're poor they have money in the bank.
Indians have brains when it concerns money. They're good at saving they
know how to keep money.
An often heard gibe in the village was, "Pay an Indian 1 a week and he'll save
Distrust, however, can be a two-edged sword. In general, the Indians were far more
verbal in their distrust of the Negro than vice-versa. There were few Indians in the
village who did not, at one time or another, reveal antipathy towards Negroes. One
man with whom I had set a time to sit and chat in his yard, requested that I wait a bit
until one of his sons finished talking with a Negro neighbour. When the Negro boy had
left the yard, the man turned to me and said, "I don't want to talk with a Negro in the
yard. I don't want him to know my business. I don't trust Negroes at all."
Hostility towards the Negro often came out when discussing situations in which the
Indian worker was in a subordinate position to the Negro. Many of the Indian cane
workers resent the fact that Negroes now hold important staff positions with the West
Indies Sugar Company. Several of them made statements to the effect that they feel
the Negroes have allowed their important positions to go to their heads so that it was
impossible to present a grievance to them. They feel the Negro lords his position over
the workers and that he is prejudiced against the Indian. Indian cane workers
continuously remarked that they would much prefer to have dealings with white
overseers and personnel that they received more sympathy from white personnel
and got along better with them.
In cases where animals belonging to Indians were stolen, mistrust was always voiced
through accusations that the thieves certainly must have been Negroes. The Indians
would not even consider the possibility that another Indian had taken the animals.
Suspicion was always outer-directed towards the Negro. One old Indian woman who
reported two cows stolen immediately laid the theft to Negro hands:
Those people are bad, Mr. Allen you can't trust them. The Negroes sleep
during the day and at night they walk around and steal. Stealing and killing -
that's their work. When they come at night to steal, if you speak they'll kill you.
They're the last people God made. They're an evil race. It's hard to find even
one good one.
This last statement underscores the ideological component of the racial-ethnic
cleavage in Canelot. As mentioned earlier, the values of the plantation system which
bred such strong prejudices towards racial differences is certainly still alive and plays a
most important role in the way the Indians perceive themselves and Negro villagers.
However, these attitudes and values are strongly reinforced by religious beliefs. The
old woman just quoted was positive that the Negro's evilness stemmed from the fact
that God created the Negro race last, after all the "good races" had been created. Time
after time, I was told by Indians that the Bible proves not only that Negroes are a
separate people, but one which is inherently evil. The following version of Biblical
proof was presented to me with slight variations by several Indian informants.
The Blacks, they're evil it says so in the Bible. It says that Cain killed Abel.
The Lord banished Cain from the Garden of Eden and made him live in the land
of Nod, where he married and had children. The land of Nod that's Africa.
Cain married a Negro woman there and had Negro children. The Blacks were
descended from Cain and the Whites come from Abel. The Whites, they're good
people; and the Blacks, they're evil like Cain. Negroes are impertinent just like
Cain. When the Lord asked Cain where Abel was, he answered, "Am I my
brother's keeper?" Cain was impertinent to the Lord. The Negroes carry that
bad seed of Cain and nothing can remove that evil. The children of Cain and the
children of Abel are separate peoples they shouldn't mix. The children of the
mixed bear a curse, because they're not pure.
It is interesting that the Indians are able to hold such a notion, while at the same
time attending the same churches as the Negro villagers, and even in some cases being
led in services by Negro preachers. The ability to compartmentalize the ideological
sphere of life from that of day-to-day personal interactions appears to be central to
Indian existence in Canelot. One might say that in relation to the Negro villagers, life is
a game Indians play. It is a huge charade in which masks are put on and pulled off
according to the colour of one's costume of skin. It is a twenty-four-hour-a-day
masquerade ball being held in a rural slum.
While additional materials bearing upon the ethnic-racial cleavage in Canelot could
be marshalled in support of the paper's basic argument, it is hoped that sufficient
evidence has already been presented to convince the reader that the treatment of the
rural Indian population of Jamaica as a completely assimilated entity is an over-
simplification of their present situation. In terms of East Indian identification, one
sees a type of compensating process at work. At the covert level of village life, modes
of perception and ideological factors are emphasized and compensate for the absence
of overt differences in the form of traditional Indian culture patterns. For social
scientists concerned with the problem of ethnic identity, the Jamaican Indian case is
of particular interest because it shows that ethnic group identification can be
maintained without the presence of either cultural or economic differentiation.12
Both Indian and Negro villagers share a similar round of life; both are part of a large
rural proletariat which supplies unskilled labour to the Jamaican sugar industry. Econ-
omically, they are in the same sinking boat and the existing differentiation appears to
give no material advantage to the Indians over their Negro neighbours.13 As one who
considers himself to be oriented towards a materialist theoretical approach, I must
confess that I cannot find a materialist argument to explain the phenomenon of East
Indian differentiation. Rather, ethnic identity for the rural Jamaican Indian appears to
be based upon forms of shared social categorization and perception.14 As Fredrik
Barth has noted in a recent discussion on ethnic groups,
The critical feature then becomes the characteristic of self-ascription and
ascription by others. A categorical ascription is an ethnic ascription when it
classifies a person in terms of his basic, most general identity, presumptively
determined by his origin and background. To the extent that actors use ethnic
identities to categorize themselves and others for purposes of interaction, they
form ethnic groups in this organizational sense (1969: 13-14).
Indeed, Indian ethnicity in rural Jamaica does appear to support Barth's argument that
it is categorical ascriptions which are crucial for an understanding of ethnic member-
ship. Clearly, if the Jamaican materials teach us but a single lesson about ethnicity, it is
that ethnic identity involves far more than simply the absence or presence of "cultural
ALLEN S. EHRLICH
1. The present paper is based upon field work carried out in the western part of the island of
Jamaica. The field work period spanned from September, 1966 to July, 1967. Throughout the
paper, I have used the fictitious name of "Canelot" for the village. The research was supported
by the National Institute of Mental Health through the award of a predoctoral fellowship,
5-FI-MH-25, 329-03, and an attached research grant, MH 12362-01. A modified version of this
paper was delivered at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in
New York, on November 18, 1971. The present paper is part of a larger study, "Canelot: A
Village Study of East Indian Caneworkers in Jamaica", which is to be published by the
Institute of Caribbean Studies.
2. Some of the ethnographic accounts dealing with the problem of Africanisms in the Caribbean
include Bascom (1952; 1953) for Cuba; Herskovits (1937) for Haiti; Herskovits and Herskovits
(1947), and Simpson (1962) for Trinidad; and Simpson (1956) for Jamaica. These works
appear to have generated considerable heated discussion in anthropological circles with no real
resolution of the question of the emphasis of African tradition in contemporary Caribbean
societies see Mintz (1964); Simpson and Hammond (1960); M.G. Smith (1960); R.T. Smith
3. In the Caribbean literature, the term "East Indian" has been developed to distinguish persons
of Indian descent from the aboriginal Amerindians. Throughout the paper, I have used the
terms "Indian" and "East Indian" interchangeably as there are no persons of Amerindian
descent in Jamaica.
4. For a more detailed historical account of Indian indentureship in Jamaica, see Ehrlich (1969:
5. Other foods which the Indians claim as their own are dahl, roti, dahl poor, and powah. These
are, respectively, a mildly curried split pea puree, a fried bread made of flour and water similar
to a tortilla, the tortilla-like bread made with a pocket and filled with split peas and garlic, and
a flour and water pancake sweetened with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. The latter
dishes, however, are gradually disappearing from the culinary expertise of Indian housewives.
Many of the women expressed their inability to prepare dishes such as dahl poori or powah,
remarking that their mothers knew how to make them, but they had never learned. In another
generation, many of these Indian dishes will no longer be part of the village diet.
6. I should like to emphasize that while the Indians in Canelot have little knowledge of tradi-
tional Indian culture, it does not mean their valuation of it is negative. In an essay by Smith
and Jayawardena (1959), it is stated that the conflict between European and Indian value
systems caused Indians in the British Caribbean to view their traditional customs somewhat
disparagingly. According to the authors, this feeling reached its extreme in Jamaica: "This
attitude is very clear in Jamaica where the majority of Indians have come to despise things
Indian and made every attempt to become wholly Jamaican" (1959: 325). My fieldwork
experience in Jamaica does not bear out Smith and Jayawardena's assertion. The Indians in
Canelot certainly did not "despise things Indian". To the contrary, their attitude was essen-
tially one of shame for not knowing very much about their ancestral culture they wished
they were more knowledgeable about it. Perhaps a temporal element is involved in the
disparity of the two findings.
7. Speckman has noted that indentured Indians came to the West Indies with a built-in negative
bias towards the freed slave population "These views were mainly based on an aversion to
the black colour of their skins, an aversion which dates back to the Vedic time when 'black
skin' (krsna tyac) was used as a denigratory name in order to designate the dark-complexioned,
hostile population of the country ." (1965:36).
8. Women of both groups, when going to shop in the nearby towns or visit the doctor, do often
apply liberal amounts of white powder on their faces in the attempt to lighten their skins At
times, an almost ghost-like appearance is affected by the powdering.
9. In citing remarks elicited from villagers, I have taken the liberty of transposing them from the
Jamaican patois into standard English.
10. Similar stereotypical characteristics for the Negro and Indian have been reported elsewhere in
the Caribbean -eg., Freilich (1963: 21-39).
11. It might be noted that the capacity to accumulate wealth attributed to the Indian is viewed by
many of the Negro villagers as if it were a genetic trait of the group. However, through
association with the Indian, it is felt that the "saving-trait" may be acquired. In discussing
marriage, a Negro cane worker around twenty-five years old commented, "I would like to
marry a nice Indian girl. Then I know I would save money because she could teach me how to
12. For some of the more recent anthropological discussions on the problem of ethnic identifica-
tion see Barth (1969); Bennett (1975); Hackenberg (1967); Moerman (1965); Narroll (1964).
13. I think these remarks are significant vis-a-vis some of Nettleford's comments in the preface of
Minor Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica (1972:11): "Even now some readers will
object to the view that race-and-colour has been a major issue in Jamaican social life; and
others while conceding the existence of a problem will prefer to label it a class problem rather
than a race one."
14. This is basically the same position taken by Robert Murphy in his discussion of social change
and acculturation (1964: 848): "that membership in a group, incorporation within it, is
dependent upon a category of the excluded, a sense of otherness.. [which] is of import-
ance for the definition of the social unit and for delineation and maintenance of its
BARTH, Fredrik: Introduction. In Ethnic groups and boundaries: the social organiza-
tion of culture difference. Fredrik Barth, ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company,
BASCOM, William R.: Two forms of Afro-Cuban diviniation. In Acculturation in the
Americas. Sol Tax, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952.
Yoruba acculturation in Cuba. In Les Afro-Americaines. Memoires de
L'Institut Francais d'Afrique Noir, No. 27. Dakar, 1953.
BELL, Wendell: Jamaican leaders. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California
BENNETT, John W. (ed.): The new ethnicity: perspectives from ethnology. 1973
Proceedings of the American Ethnological Society. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Pub-
lishing Co., 1975.
COMITAS, Lambros (ed.): Caribbeana 1900-1965: a topical bibliography. Seattle:
University of Washington Press, 1968.
CUMPER, George E.: Labour demand and supply in the Jamaican sugar industry,
1830-1950. Social and Economic Studies 2: 37-86, 1954.
EHRLICH, Allen S.: East Indian cane workers in Jamaica, Ph.D. dissertation, Univer-
sity of Michigan. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1969.
History, ecology, and demography in the British Caribbean: an analysis of
East Indian ethnicity. South-western Journal of Anthropology 27: 166-180, 1971.
FREILICH, Morris: The natural experiment, ecology, and culture. Southwestern
Journal of Anthropology 19: 21-39, 1963.
HACKENBERG, R.: The parameters of an ethnic group: a method for studying the
total tribe. American Anthropologist 69: 478-492, 1967.
HEARNE, John: European heritage and Asian influence in Jamaica. In Public affairs in
Jamaica: our heritage, No. 1, pp. 7-34. Kingston: The University of the West Indies,
Department of Extra-Mural Studies, 1963.
HERSKOVITS, Melville J.: The Negro in the New World: the statement of a new
problem. American Anthropologist 32: 145-155, 1930.
Life in a Haitian valley. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1937.
HERSKOVITS, Melville J. and Frances: Trinidad village. New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
JAMAICAN GOVERNMENT: Five year independence plan, 1963-1968: a long term
development programme for Jamaica. Kingston: Government Printing, 1963.
KLASS, Morton: East Indians in Trinidad. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.
MINTZ, Sidney W.: Melville J. HERSKOVITS and Caribbean Studies: a retrospective
tribute. Caribbean Studies 4: 42-51, 1964.
MOERMAN, Michael: Ethnic identification in a complex civilization: who are the
Lue? American Anthropologist 67: 1215-1230, 1965.
MURPHY, Robert F.: Social change and acculturation. Transactions of the New York
Academy of Sciences (New Series) 26: 845-854, 1964.
NARROLL, Raoul: On ethnic unit classification. Current Anthropology 5:283-291,1964.
NETTLEFORD, Rex: Mirror mirror: identity, race and protest in Jamaica. Great Britain:
Collins-Sangster, 2nd impression, 1972.
NIEHOFF, Arthur and Juanita: East Indians in the West Indies. Milwaukee Public
Museum Publications in Anthropology, No. 6. Milwaukee: The Olsen Publishing Co.,
SIMPSON, George E.: Jamaican revivalistic cults. Social and Economic Studies 5:
The shango cult in Nigeria and in Trinidad. American Anthropologist 64:
SIMPSON, George E. and Peter B. HAMMOND: Discussion. In Caribbean studies: a
symposium. Vera Rubin, ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, second edition,
SMITH, Michael G.: The African heritage in the Caribbean. In Caribbean studies: a
symposium. Vera Rubin, ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, second edition,
SMITH, Raymond T.: The Negro family in British Guiana. London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul Ltd., 1956.
SMITH, Raymond T. and Chandra JAYAWARDENA; Hindu marriage customs in British
Guiana. Social and Economic Studies 7: 178-194, 1958.
Marriage and family amongst East Indians in British Guiana. Social and Econo-
mic Studies 8: 321-376, 1959.
SPECKMANN, Johan D.: Marriage and kinship among Indians in Surinam. Assen: Van
Gorcum and Co., 1965.
EAST INDIAN INDENTURE AND THE WORK OF THE
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AMONG THE INDIANS IN GRENADA
Although Grenada had been sighted by Columbus on his third voyage to the West
Indies, it was not until 1650 that the first permanent settlement was established on
this island by the French. Under the French, and later under the English, Grenada
became a prosperous slave colony, producing sugar, then cocoa and nutmegs. In 1833
the Emancipation Act freed the slaves who had worked these plantations, and at the
end of the apprenticeship period many ex-slaves migrated to Trinidad and Guiana. A
number also acquired land either as squatters or freeholders, and disassociated them-
selves from estate labour. The plantation owners now found it difficult to obtain
sufficient labour at a wage they were willing to pay. The Grenadian planters in search
of a solution to their labour problem, partook of the various immigration schemes'
formulated by the plantation owners in the Caribbean.
Partly by design and partly by chance, Grenada received over 4,000 Liberated and
Free Africans2 between 1836-1852. A few indentured labourers from Malta and
Madeira were brought to Grenada, but by 1854 news had reached of the industry of
the East Indian labour in Trinidad and British Guiana, and the Grenadian planters who
could afford this venture were eager to import East Indian labour for their plantations.
In 1855 a shipload of Indians was ordered for Grenada and St. Lucia, but the
Indian Government objected to certain provisions of the proposed labour ordinances
for the territories, and it was not until after modifications were made that emigration
was legalised for Grenada in 1856 and to St. Lucia in 1858. These Acts sanctioning
immigration to Grenada and St. Lucia are of interest to the historian for the Act (Act
XXI of 1855) contained the important new clause that emigration would be allowed
to proceed only if the laws made in the receiving colonies met with the approval of the
Government of India. This Principle was soon after incorporated into the whole
system of indenture emigration under Act XIX of 1856.
The first East Indian labour for Grenada arrived from Calcutta on May 1st. 1857 on
the ship MAIDSTONE. Out of 375 Indians embarked, 289 had survived the journey.3
In 1858 the FULWOOD was dispatched from Calcutta with a total of 402 men,
women and children,' but only 362 landed.s And in 1859 the JALAWAR was also
dispatched from Calcutta with 344 workers. Of these 299 survived the voyage.6 By
1861 a total of 944 East Indians had arrived in Grenada. In the period 1861-65, 1,357
more were indentured for this island. After this period the numbers fell off. The last
ship brought 172 workers to Grenada between 1881-85.
EAST INDIAN INDENTURED WORKERS INTRODUCED INTO
Source: Roberts and Byrne, p. 63.
In order to put the East Indian Immigration to Grenada in perspective, the totals of
immigrants entering the other British territories in the Caribbean are given:
EAST INDIAN INDENTURED WORKERS INTRODUCED INTO THE
BRITISH CARIBBEAN 1834-1918
British Guiana 238,909
St. Lucia 4,354
St. Vincent 2,472
St. Kitts 339
Source: Roberts and Byrne, p. 63.
Indian immigration engendered certain problems. One of the earliest problems dealt
with was the proportion of men to women recruited. On the one hand, a paucity of
women encouraged various sorts of immorality in the depots in India, on board ship,
and in the colony. On the other hand, many estate owners were none too keen on
employing women because they could not work as hard as the men. Besides these two
aspects of the problem, few women offered themselves for indenture anyway. In order
to ensure an equitable ratio of women to men, the ratio was set at one woman to three
men in 1857. An Act of 1860 fixed the proportion at 25 women for every 100 men.
This proportion was altered several times, always the aim being to try to compromise
between the, availability of suitable women for indenture, the willingness of the
planters to take women, and the dangers to the morals of the Indians if sufficient
women were not indentured. On the MAIDSTONE, 268 males and 68 females8 em-
barked. On the FULWOOD the proportion was somewhat better: 194 males to 124
females embarked,9 while on the JALAWAR 208 males and 81 females embarked.10
Another problem that beset emigration to the Caribbean was the high mortality
rate on board ship. The voyage to the Caribbean involved several climatic changes, and
lasted over three months. Although every effort was made to indenture only healthy
Indians and to preserve the health of the emigrants on board ship, it was not an
unusual occurrence for epidemics of cholera or other debilitating diseases of the
stomach and bowels to break out on the high seas." On the ships to Grenada the
mortality was no less high. On the MAIDSTONE there were 24 per cent deaths, 12 and
over 13 per cent deaths on the JALAWAR. 13 This compares with the 17 per cent
average for the Caribbean between 1856-1957.14 Because of these high death rates,
regulations for the medical care of immigrants on board ship were tightened even
further, and after 1873 the mortality rate on board ships bound for the Caribbean was
rarely over 3 per cent.15
Most of the Indians entering Grenada were from Calcutta, although a few Madras
labourers came too. But by the time Grenada began to import labour from India, the
Indians from Madras had already acquired a bad reputation. After 1850, Madrasis were
not normally acceptable in the British Colonies except when others proved unobtain-
able. Dr. G.R. Bonyun, employed on a Commission to investigate the condition of
immigrants in British Guiana found the Calcutta Indian much superior to that from
Of 3,668 from Calcutta, all but 265 were still at work upon the estates, whereas
of 3,985 from Madras, 1,249 had died or seceded from labour... Many of the
latter were squatters or beggars, or daily dying in colonial hospitals. Although
larger men in general appearance, they were generally inferior to the Calcutta
coolies; much given to vagabondage, extremely filthy in their persons and habits,
picking up the putrid bodies of animals from trenches, cooking them and eating
them mixed with curry. The Calcutta people... seemed generally of a higher
caste, stricter in religious observances regarding food, fonder of dress, and more
The Trinidad Agent-General for Emigration stated in 1859 that the
Madrassee is a confirmed drunkard, consequently prone to sickness when
fatigued, and slow to recover, while the Calcutta Coolie is generally at first, more
or less of an abstainer from alcohol, and becomes fairly seasoned to the climate,
before acquiring intemperate habits.17
A further report from St. Lucia in 1860 reported that
There has been considerable mortality among the Madrassee labourers,
owing to their unclean habits, their promiscuous modes of feeding, and general
neglect of themselves.18
The unfavourable stereotype of the Madrassee Indian was held by the Calcutta
Indians as well as by the Planters. The Indian whose ancestors came from Madras still
suffers under a negative stereotype in Trinidad. The common remark is that "Nigger
and Madrassee the same thing" The religion of the Madras Indian, which is different
from the type of Hinduism practised by the Indians from the more northerly regions
of India is regarded as unholy, evil and superstitious. The Kali Puja of the Madrassee is
regarded as barbarous.19
The indentured immigrant's contract for Grenada passed in 1855 obliged him to
work 9 hours a day for 6 days each week, and to reside on his employer's estate.
Unauthorised absence from work or misconduct was a criminal offence carrying
penalties of a fine or imprisonment with or without hard labour. Immigrants found
more than two miles from their estates on week days without a pass were liable to
arrest without warrant. On the other hand, Government Officials were charged with
the regular inspection of the indentured immigrants on the estates, the enforcement of
the immigration laws, and the investigation of complaints.20 The American journalist
Sewell writing in 1859 detailed some of the responsibilities of the estate owner to the
Every estate must have clean and good-sized lodging-houses for immigrants, with
separate apartments for every man and wife. There must be a medical practi-
tioner on each estate,21 whose duty it is to attend the coolie free of charge, and
see that he is provided when sick with proper nourishment. Wages are paid in
cash every month, and the employer is not permitted to deduct anything from
the sum due without the full and free consent of the coolie.22
In addition to their wages, the Indians in Grenada were also allowed provision
grounds of at least one acre.23 On many estates, task work was substituted for the
9-hour day, apparently to the mutual satisfaction of both planter and worker.
Kortwright, Governor of Grenada wrote glowingly of the conditions of the In-
denture System in Grenada.
There are several advantages this island possesses which appear trifling, but
which nevertheless tend to the comfort of the labourer, accessibility of markets
for the purchase or sale of provisions, the low price of ground provisions, and
the abundance of running water, a free use of which I believe the Coolies
consider of great importance.24
Again in October, 1857, Kortwright wrote:
I am ... under the impression that with the advantages possessed by the Indian
labourer in Grenada, among which I do not reckon as the least the proverbial
healthiness of the island, in consequence of which very few days are lost to the
labourer by sickness, he will at the termination of his contract of service have
saved more money than in some of the larger colonies. Ground provisions, such
as yams, sweet potatoes, etc. are easily produced, and it is found that the Cooly
soon acquires a taste for this description of food. An arrangement has been made
with the employers by which the labourers are supplied with the articles of
consumption to which they are accustomed at cost price.25
However glowing were these reports, there were abuses of the system from time to
time. Each colony had an Immigration Department, headed by a Superintendent or
Agent General, which exercised constant vigilance over the working of the system in
the territory. The general standard of supervision in British Guiana and Trinidad was
generally high, but in the smaller islands, supervision was not as rigid. It has been
pointed out that in the smaller colonies the Superintendents, or Protectors, were often
mere clerks charged with the duties of receiving the immigrants on arrival and distri-
buting them to their estates. In Grenada and St. Lucia the Protectors seem to have
been of this kind. They received a salary of Fifty Pounds per annum, and dispensed
anything but "efficient protection" for the Indians in their new environment. 26
Laurence also writes
There was a good deal of passive neglect and from time to time a scandalous
incident. li such cases, the authorities usually acted with vigour once they
became aware of the situation, but the system of inspection was not always
adequate, and the lethargic officials sometimes failed to uncover cases of neglect,
especially in the smaller islands or remote districts where travel was difficult. 27
There was cause for the condition of Indian immigrants in Grenada to be brought
to public notice in 1867. The health of those located on Mount Alexander estate
particularly, but also on other estates, was very bad, and the mortality, particularly on
Mount Alexander, excessive. Ultimately, the surviving immigrants on Mount Alexander
Estate were removed, some placed on other estates, and others deported to British
Guiana and indentured there.28 Lack of proper supervision was also largely respon-
sible for the scandalous conditions reported in 1878. Immigrants arrived in Grenada on
March 19, 1878 in the HERMIONE and were allotted to the estates requiring them.
An unusually unhealthy season followed their arrival, malarial fever, diarrhoea,
and dysentry being prevalent to an alarming extent; and as some of these
immigrants had been located on unhealthy places, in buildings that were a
disgrace to the owners, and as, through the laxity of the officer charged with
their care, their employers did little to assist them with medical comforts and
relief when attacked with illness, their condition became pitiable. The vigorous
measures taken by the local government soon, however, brought them relief, and
by the end of the year their state was quite satisfactory.29
However, Nath reaches the conclusion that the Indians in St. Lucia and Grenada
were fairly well treated.
In fairness to the two colonies . there is no evidence that the immigrants were
not well treated in either of them, but it cannot be claimed that this was in any
way due to the presence of a Protector.30
In any case, the health of Indian immigrants in the Caribbean was generally unsatis-
factory. Most suffered from Malaria and Hookworm, and the resulting debility from
these diseases. The immigrants took about 18 months to acclimatize but mortality
among all groups was high, varying between two to four per cent of the indentured
population each year.31
As far as the behaviour of the Indians is concerned, there were several cases of
breach of contract in Grenada, and from time to time acts of violence among the
indentured workers. The Governor's report for 1863 states:
Convictions from the Provost Marshall shows an increase of 64 prisoners over
that of the previous year. The increase has been for minor offences adjudicated
by the magistrates, the greater portion of which have been for breach of con-
tract. One coolie was convicted of murder and executed.32
The East Indian immigration to Grenada was too small to make much difference in
the population or economy. It has already been mentioned that African and Indian
immigration did provide labour which helped to restore estates that had been pre-
viously abandoned. In times of depression, however, their usefulness as members of
the agricultural labour force was limited. Laurence explains:
The smaller islands employed a labour force so small in absolute numbers as to
leave very little margin for fluctuations in the prosperity of the sugar industry,
so that the short term depression was likely to cause unemployment among
indentured labourers. In such circumstances in 1866 some Indians were moved
from Grenada to British Guiana, and the case for indentured labour in the
smaller islands could not thereafter be very strong, though the local planters did
not easily accept this. As their sugar industry declined, their case grew steadily
Indentured immigration came to an end for Grenada in 1885, with the last Indians
opting for a return passage, being repatriated between 1891-1895.34 The strongest
proof that conditions in Grenada had not been so bad is the fact that the majority of
Indians remained behind, receiving land instead of the return passage. Some Indians
from Grenada subsequently moved to nearby Trinidad and Guiana. The following
table shows the repatriation of immigrants from Grenada 1866-1895. Throughout the
Caribbean, between one quarter and one third of the immigrants returned to India.
EAST INDIAN INDENTURED WORKERS KNOWN TO HAVE RETURNED
FROM GRENADA TO INDIA 1866-1895
Source: Roberts and Byrne Table 9 p. 66.
Many Indians in Grenada began to engage in the production of cocoa and nutmegs,
profiting from the experience some had gained during indenture, as some had been
employed on cocoa and nutmeg estates instead of on sugar lands. Bell observes circa
... some fifteen hundred Coolie immigrants imported as indentured labourers,
and who, having served their indenture, have preferred to remain in the island to
take bounty, rather than take advantage of the free passage back to India, to
which they are entitled after 10 years service. Nearly all these Coolies now
possess houses and plots of land, and are generally ten times as well off as their
fellows in India.35
The Indian gained the reputation of being "respectful, thoughtful looking, in-
dustrious and careful of his means." 36 It was the last mentioned trait which was often
laughed and joked about by the rest of the population. Bell writes:
I once watched a coolie buying a pair of boots. The lot was marked eight
shillings a pair. "All same price?" asked the coolie, "Yes". "Big boot eight
shilling, little boot eight shilling. Me take big boot." 37
On account of his religion, the Indian was also scorned by the creole:
It is amusing to see the disdain and superiority the blacks affect in their dealings
with the coolie immigrants from Calcutta and Madras. Most of them are Hindoos
or Mohammedans, and as such are very much looked down upon by their black
fellow labourers. Sambo's distinction between the human being and the animal
creation is that one is a Christian and the other a beast, so poor coolie, until he is
baptised, is only considered to belong to the latter category.38
Possibly due to the denigration of his religion, isolation from India, and the prosely-
tizing of the Christian Churches, the Indians soon began to adopt Christianity. Fre-
quently, the plantation owners became their "god-fathers", and the Indian would
forsake his Indian name and adopt that of his godparent. In Grenada today there are
Indians bearing the distinctive "titles" of several families of the old elite.39
The Indians also began to share in the folk beliefs of the Creoles. Bell relates his
visit to a grotto of Mama l'eau: 40
From the queer looking odds and ends disposed about the place, I made sure
that I was in a temple dedicated to some mysterious rites and ceremonies, and,
in fact, my guide informed me that frequently Africans, old Creoles, and some-
times coolies, came here to pray and dance.41
The creolisation of the Indian also appeared in other areas of culture. Indians
adopted. Creole dress and speech patterns. Up until 1920 Patois was commonly spoken
in Grenada, and the Indian was often tri-lingual in Hindi, Patois and English. Caste
distinctions also disappeared. 42 Devas 43 states that no low caste Indians came to
Grenada, and the temptation for the Indians to retain even a semblance of caste
distinction was much less than in a place such as Trinidad, where there was a fairly
wide representation of the Caste groupings.
One of the factors which led to the early abandonment of some elements of Indian
culture by East Indians in Grenada was the work of the Presbyterian missionaries
among the East Indians in the rural areas of Grenada. It was one of the dreams of that
famous missionary, K.J. Grant, that training schools for teachers and preachers would
be erected in Trinidad to produce men to labour in the surrounding islands -
Grenada, St. Lucia and Jamaica". Actually, Grenada was the first to apply for men
to help run missions for the East Indians.
In 1862 Professor Stephenson had written with respect to Grenada that:
By the industry of these benighted beings, (the coolies) it is that the capital of
our settlers is turned to profitable account, and the general property of our
colonies advances; nor surely is it to be thought of that the souls of the masters
should be cared for, while the toiling servants are left to the darkness and
deathshade The committees are anxious to assist in the organisation and
support of Coolie Schools wherever they are needed, under the supervision of
our ministers and missionaries. 45
Then the Rev. James Muir was appointed to Grenada in 1884. He had visited
Trinidad, and had witnessed the work of the Canadian Mission among the East Indians
in that territory.
On return to his station in Grenada, he "resolved to do something for the twelve or
fifteen hundred East Indians settled in Grenada." 46 At his instigation, Grant, Lal
Behari (The first Trinidad East Indian ordained as minister in the Canadian Mission
Presbyterian Church) and two helpers visited Grenada in 1884 and inaugurated the
Mission at a public meeting at St. George's. The missions in Grenada continued to
receive aid in the form of money and personnel from Trinidad, and eventually native
Grenadians were sent to be trained in the Trinidad college.
Mr. Muir had desired to build schools for the East Indian Children, and also hold
services in the buildings for the young and old. He hoped to establish twelve centres in
the areas where the Indian population were settled, but Muir was transferred in 1888
without seeing all of his plans fulfilled. By 1908 there were only three centres a
Chapel at Gouyave, a chapel-school at Samaritan, and one at Bellair. These, however,
were reported to be vigorous missions. Rev. Muir was succeeded by Rev. Charles
Stephen, who continued the work Muir had begun. But the church was beset with
money problems, which hindered its expansion.
EAST INDIANS IN GRENADA RELIGION 1960
Religion No. of East Indians Total Population
Anglican 1,829 21,926
Jehovah Witness 4 380
Methodist 137 3,538
Pentecostal 52 842
Scottish Presbyterian 47 79
Canadian Mission 840 1,405
Roman Catholic 552 55,913
Seventh Day Adventist 188 2,688
Other Christian 95 1,713
Hindu 8 13
Muslim 6 17
Other Non Christian 5
Not Stated 10 156
Total 3,768 88,677
Source: 1960 Census
Soon, the Presbyterian church was faced with another problem concerning
membership. Around 1908 Hindi began to disappear in Grenada. It was not that the
old people forsook their ancestral language, but that the younger people preferred
English as their means of communication. Reverend Scott, a minister from Scotland,
saw this phenomenon in terms of the problem it presented to the Church in Grenada.
There was need for a minister who could preach in Hindi to the older folks, but who
could also teach the younger ones
who knowing English, are now apt to attach themselves to other Churches, and
so their strength is lost to the mission.47
There is no measure of the number of East Indians who were won away from
Presbyterianism by other churches or whether other churches made their converts
directly from Hinduism. The 1960 census showed that of the total 3,767 East Indians
in Grenada, almost a half 48 are of the Anglican faith. A total of 887 belong to the
Scottish Presbyterian and the Canadian Mission Presbyterian. The next most numerous
group were the Catholics, accounting for 552 members of the East Indian population in
Through early schooling with the Presbyterian Church Schools in Grenada, and by
their industry and thrift, many East Indians reached positions of distinction in Grena-
dian Society within a generation after their arrival. By 1946 there were East Indians
who were estate owners, dentists, druggists, teachers, magistrate's clerks, auctioneers,
district board members, Justices of the Peace and so on. Today East Indians are
numbered in all the professions, and in all walks of life.
BEVERLEY A. STEELE
1. With the exception of the scheme that brought Chinese workers to the Caribbean.
2. See Steele, Beverley A. "Grenada: The Land, People and Culture" Caribbean QuarterlyVoL 20,
No. 1 1974, for a discussion on African Migration to Grenada.
3. British Parliamentary Papers 18th General Report of the Emigration Commission. Appendix
17, p. 97. These reports will be henceforth referred to as Emigration Reports.
4. Ibid., p. 97.
5. 21st. Emigration Report. Appendix 21, p. 82.
6. 20th Emigration Report. Appendix 26, p. 112.
7. In his Population of Jamaica (op. cit.) Roberts gives a much higher total of 5,900.
8. 18th Emigration Report. Appendix 17, p. 97.
9. 18th Emigration Report. Appendix 17, p. 97.
10. 20th Emigration Report. Appendix 26, p. 112.
11. See Judith Weller The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad Institute of Caribbean Studies,
University of Puerto Rico 1968, Chapter II.
12. 18th Emigration Report Appendix 17, p. 97.
13. 20th Emigration Report Appendix 26, p. 112.
14. Laurence, p. 50.
16. Quoted from I.M. Cumpston, Indians Overseas in British Territories 1834-1854 London.
Oxford University Press, 1953. p. 119.
17. From British Parliamentary Papers 1859. Quoted in Weller, p. 13.
18. British Parliamentary Papers. Report on Emigration. Sessions 1860, p. 49.
19. This information is based on research the author was undertaking in Trinidad during 1972.
20. "An Act to alter the Law of Contracts with regards to Immigrants, and for the Encouragement
of immigration, and for general Regulation of Immigrants." British Parliamentary Papers
Sessions 1856-58 Emigration VoL 15 Appendix 62 pp. 145-170.
21. Due to the small size of the estates in Grenada, arrangements were made whereby the Indians
were treated at the public hospitals, and the estate did not provide a hospital of its own. This
arrangement obtained elsewhere in the Caribbean. See Laurence, p. 50.
22. Sewell, p. 89.
23. Letter from Kortwright to the Governor-in-Chief of the West Indies. 7th August, 1857. In
Appendix to 18th Emigration Report, p. 250.
24. Ibid. Letter dated 22nd October, 1857.
25. Ibid. Letter dated 22nd October 1857.
26. Dwarka Nath, A History of the Indians in British Guiana. Thomas Nelson & Sons. London.
27. Laurence, p. 53.
28. The Grenada Handbook p. 47.
29. Ibid, p. 50.
30. Nath, p. 114.
31. See Laurence, p. 51.
32. Reports made for the year 1863 to the Secretary of State from the Governors of the British
Colonies. Transmitted with the Blue Books 1863. Part I. H.M.S.O. 1865, p. 43.
33. Laurence, p. 67.
34. An interesting note is that in 1889 3 Indians re-indenturing themselves in India for Trinidad
had already served indentures in Grenada. A total of 73 re-emigrating Indians for the years
1885-1894 had also served indentures in St. Vincent, and 21 in St. Lucia. See Weller p. 165
35. Bell, p. 128.
36. Scott, David. To the West Indies and Back. One Hundred Days: circa 1908. Printed Mother-
well, Scotland, p. 80.
37. Bell, p. 156.
38. Ibid p. 43.
39. Undoubtedly -Indian women were also taken as mistresses of the men of the planter families,
the children of such unions bearing the "titles" of their wealthy fathers.
40. Mama l'eau. This is a water spirit, still believed in by Grenadians of a certain social strata. Bell
spells the spirit's name MAMADJO.
41. Bell, p. 39.
42. However, Colin Clarke in his article "Caste among Hindus in a Town in Trinidad: San
Fernando" in Caste in Overseas Indian Communities edited Barton Schwartz, California, 1967,
p. 117, notes that the Grenadian Indians in Trinidad claimed caste but "The caste of East
Indians from Grenada is treated with suspicion; their background is obscure, and a remarkably
high number of them claim to be Brahmin or Kshatriya."
43. Devas, Raymund P. History of the Island of Grenada 1964
44. East Meets West in Trinidad Mission Council of Trinidad. United Church of Canada. Toronto,
Ontario p. 38.
45. Scott, David "To the West Indies and Back: One Hundred Days. Circa 1908, pp. 78-79.
46. Grant, Kenneth James "My Missionary Memories" Imperial Publishing Company Ltd. Halifax,
N.S. Circa 1923 p. 161.
47. Scott, p. 80.
THE HINDU SACRAMENTS (RITES DE PASSAGE)
IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Every religion of the world has its sacraments to 'refine body' and to bring about a
regeneration.' The word 'sacrament' is derived from the Latin word 'Sacramentum'
originally meaning 'any bodily or sensible thing, or an action, or a form of words
solemnly endowed with a meaning and purpose which in itself it has not.' 2 The rites
de passage are called samskaras in Sanskrit. They touch the life of a Hindu from
conception to death and even beyond. The ceremonies connected with them have a
religious authority as well as a social role, creating a sense of stability in the society.3
Indeed, the significance of the rites connected with initiation, wedding and death,
cannot be over-estimated4 in the religious and social life of the Indians.
Every sacrament is a ritual connected with some phase of the life of a Hindu, who is
supposed to be safeguarded against any danger. Some of the sacraments are very old,
probably legacies of pre-Aryan India. In ancient times there were about three hundred
samskaras. Eventually the number came down to forty and then to eighteen. The
Vedas, the Sutra (aphorism) literature, the epics and the puranas mention many
The smriti (remembered) literature of ancient India mentioned sixteen main
samkaras. Garbhidhan (Nisheka or Chaturthikarma or homa) was a special ceremony
for conception in which sacred hymns were chanted. This impregnation ceremony
ensured the birth of a child, especially of a son. Then came Pumsavana mentioned in
the Grihyasutras (aphorisms for the householder). It was celebrated in the third month
of pregnancy: a sacrifical fire was lit with a burning stick from the domestic hearth
and the wife sat on the grass spread to the west of the fire. The husband stood behind
her and touched her with the chanting of special hymns. An amulet was also fastened
on one of the arms of the wife. s
The Pumsavan rite had religious, symbolic and medical aspects. Auspicious mo-
ments were sometimes found with the help of astrologers for this rite.
The third samskara was simantonnayana the parting of the hair of the pregnant
women between the fourth and the eighth month of pregnancy, indicating the
nearness of the delivery. The Yajurveda it simanta. In some ancient Hindu works a
separate rite of Vishnubali is mentioned in which a fire sacrifice (homa) was to be
Indeed, these Hindu rites of passage recognize sex and fertility as the sources of life.
Hinduism has no rite of entry into its fold, and it has no ceremony of baptism or rite
of admission. The very birth of a child in a particular family indicates its status in the
caste on the basis of previous deeds (Karma).
According to some ancient Hindu law-givers these three samskaras are those of a
woman rather than of a child and some of them think that simanta should be per-
formed at the first conception only.6
The fourth main samskara is Jatakarma mentioned in the sutras and smritis. It
includes all the rites connected with childbirth. Next comes Namakarana or the
naming ceremony of a child between the tenth or twelfth day after birth. It is men-
tioned in all smritis. It is to be done on an auspicious day and moment. The names
should suggest the varna (order) to which the child belongs.
Nishkramana or Upanishkramana is mentioned by the famous lowbooks (Smritis)
of Manu and Yajnavalkya. The kaushika sutra calls it Nimayana. Other sources call it
Adityadarshana. It is the 'first outing' of the baby, usually in the fourth month, when
he sees the sun. The conch-shells are sounded and hymns chanted. A few ancient
Hindu authorities refer to the glimpse of the moon (chandra) which the child should
Annaprashan (solid food eating) is another important samskara. Manu, the ancient
Hindu law-giver, prescribes the sixth month from birth for this, but some other author-
ities prescribe the sixth or eighth month for a boy and the fifth or seventh month for a
girl. Markandeyapurana prescribes a plate of gold with ornaments for offering the food
mixed with honey and ghee (clarified butter) to the child in front of the images of
gods. The father of the child has to perform this ceremony.
Churakarma or (churakarana) means the first cutting of the hair of the child's head.
Chura (chuda) means the lock of hair kept for the first time after birth at the back of
head as a pigtail (churki or shikhi) while the remaining part is shaved or trimmed. This
ceremony is sometimes called chaula. It may be performed in the first or third or fifth
year after birth.
The Upanayana or Yojnopavita seems to be of Indo-Iranian origin. It is an initiation
ceremony through which a boy is taken to studentship. This rite primarily means
gayatri-upadesh or the imparting of the sacred Gayatri mantra of the Rig-veda. Some
ancient Hindu authorities say that a Brahman boy should be initiated at the age of
eight from birth or conception, a kshatriya in the eleventh and a Vaishya at the age of
twelve to twenty-four years. The fourth caste of Shudras is not to perform this rite.
Since the boy enters a life of Brahmachari (celibate) special dresses (deerskin, cloth,
etc.) are prescribed for him and he is to carry a danda lathii or staff), mekhala (girdle)
and to perform the special prayer (samdhyavandana) with the chanting of gayatri
mantra every day. He is also to wear a cotton sacred thread (Janeu) in the three or six
strands running from the left shoulder across the body to the right hip.7
Some Hindu authorities mention samskaras like the Keshanta or Godana (shaving of
many parts of body like head, arm-pits and chin), Samavartana (returning from the
teacher's house on finishing studies), etc.
Vivaha (marriage), however, is one of the most important sacraments. It literally
means 'taking the girl away in a special way or for a special purpose'. It is also called
parinaya (going around i.e. around the sacrifical fire) and panigrahana (taking the hand
of the girl). Ancient Hindu lawgivers like Manu think that a matrimonial alliance with
a family which does not perform the samskaras should be avoided, the girl should be a
virgin and younger than the bridegroom and they must belong to the same caste. In
fact, caste endogamy is even now maintained in India. Also, the bride and the groom
must not belong to the same gotra (sept or clan) and pravara (branch) within the caste
and the girl must not be a blood relation (sapinda) to seven degrees on the father's side
and five degrees on the mother's side. The last injunction applies even to a Shudra, the
fourth order. The marriage of a girl before puberty is proscribed by some law-givers.
There are eight forms of marriage prescribed by some ancient Hindu authorities.
But the most acceptable marriage in the Hindu society has been the one arranged by
the parents after due consideration of family background, accomplishments, etc. The
essential wedding rites are panigrahana, homa, going round the fire and the saptapadi
(seven steps). In the preliminaries there are engagement, cleaning, soil-digging and
other rites and in the subsequent rites may be mentioned the seeing of the polar star.
Most of the rites symbolise the fact that the Hindu marriage is not a contract but a
permanent union of two souls which cannot be separated by temporary setbacks. For
example, in the ashmirohana (mounting on a stone) ceremony the husband helps the
wife touch or walk on a stone, symbolising firmness and strength in conjugal fidelity;
the dhruva darshan (looking at the pole star) indicates that the wife will xbe as firm as
the pole star in the midst of trials and tribulations.8 The Laja-Homa (Lavi ceremony)
or offerings of fried grains mixed with some leaves into the sacrificial fire by the bride
with the help of her mother or brother indicates that like the grains and leaves the
marriage will be fruitful and prosperous. The ceremony of the bride sitting on a red
bull's hide also symbolises virility.
These ancient samskaras underwent far-reaching changes, first because of regional
non-Aryan customs, and secondly due to the pressure of Muslim and later Christian
influences in the Indian sub-continent. During the past one century there has been an
inroad of industrial civilisation also.
A vast majority of Indian indentured immigrants into Trinidad during the nine-
teenth and early twentieth centuries believed in the ritualistic aspect of Hinduism and
their priests helped them in the continuation of the major sacraments. The ante-natal
rites, however, were given up. Even the Brahmans of the Sanatan Dharma, the major
Hindu sect, and the performing sect of the Arya pratinidhi Sabha do not observe
ante-natal rites, even though they mention the sixteen (sorah) or samskaras.
Birth is considered polluting. The midwife (dai), usually a chamar woman, helps the
delivery which takes place usually at the home of the expectant woman's parents. As
soon as the baby is born the family priest is consulted. The horoscope is cast after
noting the exact date and time of birth and consulting the patra (panchanga or al-
manac). The first letter for a name is suggested by the pundit and the father selects a
name out of a list of names beginning with that letter. The rashi or pundit name is
kept secret from outside the family. The popular name has nothing to do with the
planetary position: this calling name is publicly used.9 The secret name is sought to be
protected from evil influences of witches, obeahman, etc. In many Indian homes
English names are preferred as pet or nicknames and the father's name becomes the
surname. This is different from what exists in North India where the Brahmans,
Kshatriyas and Vaishyas even some shudras have family surnames. In Hindu homes
names are usually the names of gods and goddesses. Thus names like Vishnu (Bisoon),
Shiva (Shew), Ganesh, Rama, Shyama, Bhola and Mahadeo are preferred.
On the evening of the sixth day the mother and the baby are given a purificatory
bath to get cleaned by the midwife who is given some presents. She bathes the child in
a thariya (thali or brass plate). The priest is not required for this ceremony. But the
barber is needed at some places to shave the head of the baby. The neighbours,
relations and friends, all women are invited. The mother wears new clothes and sits
down with the baby, also in a new dress, in her lap. The face of the baby is covered, a
deeya is lit and put out five or seven times. Then the eyes of the baby are uncovered.
The father now formally sees the baby.
Unlike the chhathi (sixth day ceremony) of India the Indian women in Trinidad do
not worship the Shasthi Ma. Some refer to the Sauri Mai, presiding goddess over
childbirth. Many worship the Diha (Di) or the Goddess of the earth where their houses
stands, others refer to the Ista devata (personal god), Durga, Bhawani and other forms
of Shakti (Energy). Some offering of food specially prepared for this occasion as well
as incense (gogool), supari (nuts), pana leaf (betel), ghee (clarified butter), sindur
(vermillion) etc., are offered to the goddess. The mother takes five mouthfuls of prasad
and then the invited guests are fed. The mother is specially given the halwa (mixture)
of dried ginger and gur (molasses). Meat is also cooked.
Soohar, Ulara, nachari and other auspicious and happy songs are sung by women to
the accompaniment of dholak (drum), majeera etc., sometimes until the next
morning.10 The Sohar songs usually refer to the birth of the Hindu god Rama: 'Rama
Lehala Autar Anganama pahu there' (Rama has incarnated) or 'Rama Ke Mathawa
Bahut Nik Lage' (The face or head of Rama looks very beautiful).
The midwife massages the mother for twelve days and then the barahi ceremony is
performed for complete purification. Now the mother and the baby are considered
clean after the second big bathing. Men are invited to this ceremony.1 The baby's
popular name is announced and the rashi nama is whispered in his ear by the pundit.
In some wealthy families, especially among the followers of the Arya Samaj, a fire
sacrifice (hawan) is done. The guests are offered food and drink in some affluent
Thus among the post-natal rites the chhathi and Barahi, are important, though these
have changed to some extent. In Bengal, 12 Gujarat 13 and other states of India the
worship of Goddess Shasthi is the main part of the chhathi (shasthi) puja.
In North India the worship of chhathi (shasthi or 'Mother Sixth) is performed by
the family with great enthusiasm. The floor of the birth-chamber is washed and
coloured in red, a low wooden stool (peerha) is placed near the bedstead, covered with
a piece of silk cloth of red or green colour, seven leaves of the peepal (pipar) tree are
put on the stool and on each side of the leaves a small heap of wheat or rice is placed
with a small copper coin and an areca-nut.14 The sohar song is sung and the oldest
lady of the extended family worships the Shasthi mata by putting some turmeric and
lime powder in water, sprinkling it over the stool and throwing some grain on it. She
also takes away symbolically all the troubles of the baby on herself by waving her arms
towards it with a circular motion, and then cracking her knuckles against her temples.
On the infant's eyelids and forehead is put some kajar (black eye unguent made at
home). In some Brahman and Kshatriya homes a pen, paper and ink are put near the
child with the belief that the child's future would be written by the god of fate
(Vidhata) on its forehead. The child's cheeks are also touched with warm hands and it
is called galsedi (warming of the cheeks).
Among the Indians of Trinidad as in North India, the religious aspect of the birth
rites has disappeared. What remains is eating drinking, singing 1 and dancing. The
father formally sees the baby.
The Annaprasan, or the first feeding of the child with solid food is performed only
in a few Hindu homes with Kheer (sweet rice) being offered to the child by the priest
or the parents or some other close relation.
As mentioned earlier, the hair-cutting ceremony (churakarma) and naming
(namakaran) samskaras (sacraments) are combined with the celebrations of the sixth
and twelfth day after birth in some homes in Trinidad; Some Hindus of the Sanatan
dharma as well as the Aryapratinidhi Sabha celebrate the hair-cutting ceremony in the
first, third or fifth years of the child. But the karnavedha (boring of the ear) of the
child is no longer done except in some Gujarati business houses. Some arrange the
hair-cutting ceremony on an auspicious day suggested by the priests, others do it on
the first Good Friday after the birth of the son, near the Roman Catholic church in
Siparia in South Trinidad for such Hindus, whose forefathers performed this ceremony
in a temple in Haridwar, Allahabad or Baidyanath Dham (Deoghar) in North India,
think that the 'Virgin of Siparia' is some Hindu goddess 'Sipari Ma'. Yet others get the
first haircut on the occasion of Shiva-ratri (the Great night of Lord Shiva) between six
months to three years' age of the child and the hair is thrown in a pond or river or the
sea. The father or the mother offers prayers for the welfare of the child. As in India,
the extent of this ceremony depends on the economic means as well as on the higher
or lower caste status of the family.
The Upanayan or Yojnopavita or janeo (sacred thread) Samskar has lost its tradi-
tional meaning in Trinidad. A few high caste families Brahman, Kshatriya (chhatri)
and Gosain combine it with the wedding ceremony. Very few men, except priests,
wear the sacred thread for long, for they believe they cannot combine their non-
vegetarian and drinking habits with their sacred thread.16 On ceremonial occasions,
however, especially when performing rituals, they put on the sacred thread. Except the
pundits, however, perhaps very few in Trinidad know how to make the six sacred
threads, how to put knots at the top according to his ancestral pravar or his gotra
(clan) and to purify the whole thing with the gayatri mantra:
'Om bhurdhuvah svah, tatsaviturvarenyam, vargodevasya dhee mahi dhiyo yonah
pracho dayat' and the Janeo mantra:
'Om, yajyopavitam paramam pavitram, prajapateryatsahajam
Purastat ayukhyamagriyam pratimunch shuvbhram yajnopavitam valmastuteyah'.
As in India, many westernized young men find it irksome to carry the sacred thread
on their shoulder. Those lower caste Hindus who might have purchased a sacred thread
from the priests in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, for the sake of
social prestige may feel surprised at their sons and grandsons now discarding the sacred
The sacred Gayatri mantra is whispered into the ear of the boy by the Acharya-guru
or the officiating priest in the sacred thread ceremony. The boy's head is shaved with
razor for the first time and a churki (shikha, i.e. pigtail at the back of head) is left. The
boy wears a yellow or deerskin robe and asks for bhiksha or bhikh (alms) from his
relatives. Five Brahmans act as Brahma in the sacrifice.
In India the third varna (order) of Vaishyas also perform this ceremony, but in
Trinidad this is not so. Many high caste Brahman boys in Trinidad are however not
supposed to get married without this confirmation or initiation ceremony even now.
The officiating priest utters this mantra and the boy repeats it.
"Navavesh tantubhiryuktam trigunam daivatamayam
Upavitam maya dattam grihan parmeshwarah."
In many cases the boy simply goes to the pundit to receive the sacred thread.
The next samskara in Trinidad, brought from the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh
in North India, is the gurumukh similar to the Christening rite. It is necessary before
marriage. The family priest gives the sacred and secret mantra, usually only one
syllable, which the chela (disciple) is supposed to repeat a few times every day, but he
must not divulge it to others. The chela is to go to the guru (teacher) for all spiritual
guidance. Even the girls of some high caste families get this mantra so that they are
entitled to marry and participate in rituals and family cooking. The guru is called a
godfather. This is indeed a case of acculturation.
The gurumukh ceremony must take place before marriage. In some cases it takes
place the night before wedding and both the prospective bride and groom take the
mantra from the same priest.17
Unlike the birth, puberty and death ceremonies, marriage is not 'an inevitable
physiological state' 18 An Indian family cannot postpone the wedding of a daughter
for too long. Unlike other rites of passage, the marriage needs two sets of kindred and
a bit of bargaining or negotiation. Whereas the Muslim marriage is a contract and four
wives are allowed to a man, a Hindu marriage is a sacrament and it also means a family
However, an Indian marriage involves a change of status in the bride and groom not
only as individuals but also in the extended family and community at large. It makes
the end of the first stage (ashram) of life Brahmacharya and the beginning of the
second, i.e. grihastha or householder.
An Indian marriage also symbolises participation in Indian culture. 19 The import-
ance of the wedding feast both among the Hindus and Muslims is indeed great. The
degree of splendour on this occasion determines the prestige of the family.
The choice of the child's spouse is still a prerogative of the parents and caste
endogamy is sometimes considered. The boy or the girl, however, can veto the parents'
decision. Among the Indian christians the boy or the girl has to initiate action and
dating or courtship is allowed for the better understanding between the boy and the
Marriage is no longer arranged strictly at puberty. But the parents in rural areas get
worried for the marriage of their daughter by the time she is fifteen.
There was a time when the aqua (match maker) used to arrange matches. Now the
family priest sometimes plays that role. In North India barbers and aqua ghataks
(match-makers) play this role.
'Love matches' with the parents' approval are slowly increasing. Gotra exogamy has
never been considered in Trinidad. Muslim marriage before 1930s and Hindu marriage
before 1946 was not recognized by the Trinidad law. But now the marriage conducted
by a Hindu priest (pundit) or a Muslim maulavi (kazi) is as good as a marriage in a
Christian church. The Hindu marriage or bamboo marriage is no longer looked down
Hinduism has given to marriage the sanctity of an inviolable sacrament. Iri ancient
India the law-giver Manu mentioned eight forms of marriage Brahma, Daiva, Arsha,
Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa and Paishacha, the last two being regarded
unlawful. The first four were regarded as good, though the difference between high
caste and affluent families on the one hand and the low and poor on the other was
recognized. Until the passing of the Hindu marriage Act of 1955 polygamy was per-
mitted in India. Among the higher castes widow remarriage is now permitted by law
but it is not yet widely practised. Among the lower castes, however, divorce and
widow remarriage have already been common.
Among the Hindus in Trinidad there are two types of marriages. One according to
the traditional Indian custom which is a bigger affair, the other according to Arya
Samaj rites which is shorter. Among the higher castes the sacramental character of the
Hindu marriage is particularly evident. As soon as the marriage negotiation concludes,
the day of the wedding is fixed and invitation cards are issued. The lagna (lagan) or
muhurta, i.e. auspicious moment for marriage, is no longer fixed according to plane-
tary conjunctions by the pundit with the help of his patra or panchang as almanac.
Gone are the days when night weddings on some auspicious day were held. Now it is a
Sunday wedding for all, allowing all working men to attend.
First a shorter ceremony of chheka (reservation of the bridegroom) 20 takes place.
The family priest and the father of the girl go to the house of the prospective
bridegroom to hand over a small sum of money. By accepting the token amount the
groom's party binds itself to marry the girl. Prayers are offered to the elephant-faced
God Ganesh to remove all difficulties.
Then the ceremony of tilak (betrothal or giving the dowry)21 takes place. The girl's
father takes presents consisting of money, clothing, tharias or thalis or brass water
plates and lotas (brass water pots). The bride's brother gives flower, coconut, sweets,
etc. to the bridegroom. A religious ceremony also takes place in some cases and meals
are served. Women sing traditional songs, sometimes cracking jokes on the bride-
groom's party. In many cases, however, the tilak ceremony is combined with the
actual wedding ceremony.22
The main wedding ceremony is performed at the bride's place and relations and
friends help in the construction of the manro (nuptial tent) the 'nuptial pole' is
planted, benches are arranged for guests and a big chulha (hearth) is made for cooking
A couple of days before marriage: the matkora (clay digging) ceremony takes place
in the homes of both the bride and bridegroom or only at the bride's place.
First the drum (dhol or tassa) which would be used on the occasion is blessed by
the bride's mother with sindur (vermillion), oil, flowers, etc., and then a song like 'Are
kekre duaria mandar baje la bajata sohavan ho' (in whose place the drumming is being
done) is sung by women.
For the digging of the dirt the assembled women go singing to the accompaniment
of dholak (small drum): 'Abaru se tikale duhar baba than ho'. They go to the bank of
a river or creek or pond or the nearest stand-pipe in the way through which the
groom's party would come. Five clods of earth are dug up and carried to the house in
the sari or orhani (head cover) of the mother.
This traditional ceremony brought from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in North India is
not done by the followers of the Arya Samaj.
The ceremony of erection of the nuptial pole is also important. The priest digs a
hole in the yard in which the bride's father puts betel leaves, flowers and some money
and then a tall bamboo is placed in it. A piece of wood marked with notches (haris
which represents a part of a plough) is tied to it. With the nuptial pole in the centre, a
square (chauk) is marked out with rice flour and some whole rice coloured in different
hues are placed in the geometric designs. On it is placed a kalsa (a water jug). Some
household articles like stone are also placed there. The women sing
'Dhao to navava are dhavo to bariya ho
Dhayi Ayodhya Ke jaiva ho.
..... Sone ke harisa kahan paivo navava ho,
Are Amawa Ke harisa leyi jao ho'
(The reference is to the haris for the chauk as well as to Ayodhya, the capital of Rama
of the Ramayana, the Hindu epic, and the barber, the assistant of the priest)
The followers of the Arya Samaj place an altar for a fire sacrifice instead and
perform a havan with pitch pine, ghee (clarified butter), etc.
Next the ceremony of Kalsa Varan (symbolic wedding of the pot) takes place. The
sister of the bride fills it with water and a small deeya (oil lamp) is lit on the top of the
pot. The parents of the bride pray to God.23
Then comes the ceremony of hardi or uthawe hardi or turmeric bath in the homes
of the boy as well as the girl. While the bride or groom is being brought to the chauk
the women sing "chauke par baith ke beta tu purkha se araj kareho .... baba mukh
bhar deva na ashis. .."
(They ask for the blessings of the forefathers). The priest helps the bride in worshipping
near the nuptial pole and then he soaks some grass blades in the mixture of oil and
hardi or haldi, called saffron in Trinidad, and touches the feet, knees, shoulders and
head of the bride symbolically. This is repeated by the women assembled. This is
called chumaon in Northern India.
Then the kangan bandhan takes place: A strip of yellow cloth is bound round the
left wrist of the bride. It contains rice coloured yellow, a flower, yellow mustard
(saraso) and a mango leaf (am pallava) without a vein. The whole thing is secured in
the small strip with a knot at the top. This kangan (bracelet) is supposed to protect the
bride against evil influences.
At the bridegroom's house also a similar ceremony is performed. Besides the hardi
anointing, the mother formally blesses the boy with water and camphor fire (arti)
before he leaves for the bride's home. Since the mother is sorry to send the son to the
prospective in-laws, one of the songs says 'are naina main gholal ansu ho' (her eyes are
full of tears).
The evening before the wedding, the women fry paddy to make lawa to be used in
the wedding to symbolise good fortune.
The ceremony of Imlighontai is celebrated at both houses and in some areas only at
the girl's place. Though imli means tamarind and ghontai means crushing or mixing,
actually the mango leaf is used. The bride and her mother chew parts of the leaf and
the bridegroom and his mother does the same at their place.
The barat or marriage procession usually goes by car, but a song says "ghora charhu
he dulha' (0 bridegroom, ride the horse, reminding of the good old days'. The boy
usually wears the traditional Jora-jama Nehru coat, pants and pagri (turban). Maur
or mauri,24 the marriage head gear, is now seldom seen. Among the friends and
relations the brother or nephew acts as sahabala (sibala or saibala) or the best man.
Some distance away from the bride's home the bride's party receives the bride-
groom's party. This is called milap or samadhi-milan (meeting of both sides' fathers).
At the entrance of the bride's place the ceremony of dwar puja (welcome at door)
is performed. In the past the barat party used to be taken to a convenient resting
house (janabasa), but now this is seldom done.
The groom then leaves his party and goes to the marao where the prospective
mother-in-law and other females welcome him with water, flour, rice being passed
round his head. This is called parchhan for which special songs are sung.
Then the priest and the bride's brother take something to indicate agya
(permission) to be married in that family. In some parts of Northern India nuts and
betels are taken for this purpose.
These ceremonies are totally ignored in the Arya Samaj marriage.
In the past the bride's nails used to be cut, washed and coloured on the manro. This
was called nahachho nahan. But now this has almost disappeared.
The father of the bridegroom now brings his gifts for the bride to the manro,
usually garments, ornaments, some money and sometimes a coloured cord (tag-pat) to
be hung around the bride's neck by the bridegroom's eldest brother (baraka) who was
henceforth to avoid all contact with his younger brother's wife.
The father of the bride washes the feet or toe of the bridegroom and puts a tilak
(mark) on his forehead, showing his humility and modesty. This is called pao-puja
(worship of the feet). In some places it is called argha (arghya) or ceremonial offer of
water. Some money and utensils are also offered. In some higher castes the traditional
madhuparka (honey and yoghurt) is offered to the bridegroom.
The officiating priest now reads Sanskrit hymns from ancient books for the
Kanyadan ceremony. Some of the hymns are from the Vedas, about three thousand
years old. The bride first sits on the right hand side of the bridegroom, covered with a
sari or veil. The father formally offers the bride to the bridegroom. This is called
In the sankalpa (promise) the bridegroom repeats the priest's words "I will marry
this girl to follow the path of dharma (righteousness) and to beget children."
Saptapdi25 is the most important item: the bridegroom and the bride take seven
steps, in the first four turns, the bride leading, and in the rest three the groom. Here
one can see the difference in precedence from what one can see in a Hindu wedding in
India. The ends of their garments are tied together (ganthabandhan).
The panigrahana or acceptance of clasping hand of the bride by the bridegroom
with certain mantras (hymns) is also important. The bridegroom pledges that now
their hearts will be one (twadiyam hridayam mam, madiyam hridayam tava).
After some prayers to some deities the shilarohan or ascending the slab by the bride
The Laja-homa or Lawa or Bhanwar involves the offering of fried paddy handed
over by the bride's brother in the fire. The sacred hymns are also chanted.
The Sindurdana (putting of red vermillion by the bridegroom on the parting of the
hair of the bride under a big white sheet) is also a very important ceremony. The
blessings or ashirbad of the elders is taken by the couple and then they retire to the
kohbar or a specially decorated room.
In the khichari ceremony the bridegroom first receives some money and presents
and then eats some khichari (boiled rice with split peas). In some parts of India they
have Khir (rice pudding). Muh-dekhai or fee for seeing the bride (dulanin) is still
practised and the yellow knots (kangan) are formally discarded.
The Chaturthi karma after four days of wedding for the consummation of the
marriage and the gazing at the pole star by the bride are not done in Trinidad. So also
has disappeared the ceremony of guana or second marriage when the bride formally
goes to her husband's place a few months or years after marriage. Now gauna is
combined with the marriage. In place of family weddings now temple weddings are
preferred in some areas. However, the community feast is still arranged.
In the Muslim marriage the maulavi (kazi) 26 makes the bridegroom recite the
articles of belief (kalimas). In the nikah (wedding) the physical presence of the bride is
not always required. The bride asks the bridegroom a bride price (mahar). The wed-
ding usually takes place at the bride's house, but sometimes in the mosque. The
Muslim marriage is a contract which can be broken on certain grounds.
In their social aspect, the Muslim marriages are similar to those of the Hindus, the
eating, singing and music as well as visiting by the guests being to the same extent.
The ceremonies connected with death in the Indian community in Trinidad have
undergone many changes. First, cremation was not permitted among Hindus before
1930s. Secondly, the system of 'wake' has been adopted from the Africans. Even
though there is a talk of having a proper crematorium in this island, at the moment
many younger Hindus do not like the idea of burning the dead.
Since the Hindus believe that the soul is immortal, death is taken as a changing of
old dress for the new. A dying person is given tulsi (basil) leaf and water in his mouth.
The system of go-dan (giving away cow) at this juncture is not followed in Trinidad.
After death the body is covered with a white sheet and a lighted deeya (wick) is put
near the head. This light is kept burning for ten days. Sometimes the holy Ramayana
and Garur Purana are read by the priest. An arti is performed five times before the
corpse is carried to the cemetery. Slabs with the names inscribed are put on the cemetery
of well-to-do people.
In case of cremation the dead body is washed and placed on a pyre and it is usually
lit by the eldest son. A little camphor is burned at the grave and a couple of jhandis
(flags) are erected. The ashes of some prominent Hindus are sent to India to be
immersed in the holy waters of the Ganges.
On the tenth day a cleaning ceremony takes place in some families and the close
relations of the dead shave off their hair; in most cases, however, a hair-cut suffices.
The shraddha (from shraddha or reverence to the dead) ceremony is not as elabo-
rate an affair among the Hindus in Trinidad as among their counterparts in India. The
Maha Patra (Pater) 27 or Kantaha (special priest) takes the family to a river side where
the ceremony is performed and the pinda (balls of rice powder, honey and milk as well
as water) offered to the dead soul. The priest is given clothes, money etc. A commu-
nity feast (bhandara) is arranged. On the thirteenth day the first shraddha ceremony
ends, but in pitri paksha (pitar pakh, a fortnight in August-September) the departed
souls are offered water again with certain mantras (hymns) and the death anniversaries
(ekodista) become an annual affair. A dead body among the Muslims is washed and
dressed. The imam says prayers, wake is kept on the first night, and the next afternoon
the body is first taken to the mosque and then to the cemetery. Three or four days later
a prayer meeting is held and forty days after burial a special ceremony called kitab in
which the imam 28 reads from the Holy Qoran and the guests are fed. This ends the
The life-cycle rituals among the Indians of Trinidad and Tobago seem to have been
greatly affected by the 'secularization process'.29 The religious rituals have been
shortened, while the social aspects are emphasised more and more. The attainment of
puberty by the girls is no longer marked by any ritual. The wedding ceremony is
combined with the Janeo (sacred thread) ceremony. Even in funeral ritual and the
shraddha the rituals have been shortened. The solemnity of the past has yielded place
to noise, drinking, etc. Even the wedding rituals are very often condensed. Very few
guests care to see the actual saptapadi (seven steps) and kanyadan (gift of the virgin);
their main interest is in the secular aspects like eating, drinking, music and sometimes
dancing. In the urban areas the expression 'wedding reception' is more frequently
heard than 'bhandara'. Many brides and grooms with modem education find the
circumbulation of fire by the couple, which gives the name parinaya to the wedding,
irksome and go in for a shorter 'civil marriage' or an exchange of garlands in a mandir
(temple). The Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, like its parent body in India, 30 accepts in prin-
ciple that a non-Brahman with adequate training can act as a priest, and they avoid the
ritualistic aspects of wedding and post-funeral rites. Even the traditional wedding songs
are replaced by bhajans or devotional songs. But for common folks wedding means
procession, feast, drumming (tasaa) and folk dances.
The numerous ceremonies described in the ancient Grihya Sutras 3 cannot possibly
be performed by any priest in a westernized society. And yet one can see the minute
directions being given by the priest regarding the naming ceremony. However, the
churakarana (ceremony of tonsure), upanayan and samavartan (return of the boy after
Vedic studies) are just names even to many priests. Also the antyesti (funeral rites)
are only the abridged versions of those prescribed in ancient Hindu books. On the
whole, however, it can be said that some aspects of the main sacraments have been
retained by the Indians in Trinidad.
1. Das, Bhagavan, Essential Unity of All Religions, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1960, p.
2. Quoted from Encyclopaedia Britanica, ibid.
3. Bliss, Kathleen, The future of Religion, Watts, London, 1969, p. 93.
4. Reik, Theodore, Ritual, four psychoanalytic Studies, Grove Press, New York, First Ever-
green edition, 1962, p. 91.
5. Walker, Benjamin, The Hindu World, vol. II, p. 239.
6. Bhattacharya, Bhabatosh, 'Studies in Dharmasastra', Indian Studies, Past and Present, Cal-
cutta, vol. V. no. 4, July-September 1964, p. 289.
7. Zimmer, Heinrich, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization (ed Campbell, J.),
New York, 4th print, 1963. As explained in the Jabal Upanishad, the 'sacred thread' is
'the outward and visible symbol of the Sutratman, Thread-spirit, on which all the individ-
ual existences in the Universe are strung like gems, and by which all are inseparably
linked to their source.'
8. Bhattacharya, op. cit. p. 307.
9. Niehoff, A. and J. East Indians in the West Indies, Milwaukee, 1960, p. 129.
10. Klass, Morton, East Indians in Trinidad: a study of Cultural Persistence, New York -
London, 1961, p. 119.
11. Niehoff, op. cit. p. 129.
12. Raychaudhuri, T. Bengal Under Akbar and Jahangir: an introductory study of Social history,
Munshiramm Manoharlal, Delhi, 2nd impression, 1969, p. 212.
13. Stevenson, S. The Rites of Twice Born, Delhi, end edn. 1971, p. 10.
15. Niehoff, op. cit. p. 129.
16. Ibid. p. 131. Also corroborated by some local people.
17. Ibid. Also see Klass, op. cit. 148.
18. Benedict, Burton, Indians in a plural society, H.M.S. Office, London, 1961, p. 114.
19. Speckmann, J.D. Marriage and Kinship among the Indians in Surinam, Assen, Van Gorcum,
20. Klass, op. cit. p. 123. Also Speckmann, op. cit p. 137.
21. Klass, op. cit. p. 123; Ruhoman, P. Centenary History of the East Indians in British Guiana,
1838-1938, Georgetown, 1946, p. 112; Also Benedict, op. cit. p. 95.
22. Klass, op. cit. p. 123.
23. Based on personal observation.
24. Based on interviews.
25. The Gazetter of India, vol 1. Govt of India, Nasik, 1965, p. 548. Also see Sehgal, S.R. Hindu
Marriage and its immortal Traditions, Navyug publications, New Delhi, 1969, p. 7.
26. Cf. Benedict, op. cit. p. 100.
27. Klass, op. cit. p. 130. Also Niehoff, op. cit, p. 133.
28. Niehoff, op. cit. p. 141.
29. Srinivas, M.N. Social Change in Modern India, Bombay, Allied publishers, 1966, p. 125.
30. Oman, J.C. Cults, Customs and Superstitions of India, London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908, p. 177.
31. Macdonell, A.A. A History of Sanskrit Literature Delhi, 2nd edn. 1961, p. 254.
THE HINDU FESTIVAL OF DIVALI IN THE CARIBBEAN
Divali or Deepavali is the great autumn festival of lights in India which was brought
by the Hindu immigrants to the Caribbean in the nineteenth century. The Hindu word
Deep or diya means a wick dipped in wax or oil, and vali is a ring or wreath. Thus
Divali means a 'wreath of light' 1 It may also be called the feast of lamps. In some
dialects of Hindi it is called Diya-Diwari or Diwari amavas, terms which have been used
The significance of light has always been great in all ancient religions: ancient
Chinese and Iraqis had their festival of lights, ancient Egyptians celebrated a festival of
lights before the fourth century B.C. in honour of Minerva; the famous writer Homer
refers to the festival of lamps; Candle mass is observed on 2 February in Europe; the
Jews have their feast of dedication on 21 or 22 December; the Festival of Halloween is
celebrated on 31 October on the eve of All Saints' Day of 1 November with lights and
fires; and the followers of Islam celebrate Shab-i-barat with lights.
In the ancient scriptures of the Hindus great importance is attached to the shining
or bright phenomenon of nature. One of the chief objects of worship in the Rig-veda is
'deva' derived from the Sanskrit root 'diva' similar to the Latin 'deus' which is con-
nected with brightness and radiance. Thus 'devah' would mean 'the shining ones'
(gods). Indra, the most powerful god of Rig-veda, like Zeus (in Greek) and Thor (of
the German pantheon), bore the vajra (thunder-bolt) and rode the bright host of
Maruts in the sky. The sama Veda says 'Indra is the light, the light is Indra'. Besides,
many gods were associated with the sun: Mitra, similar to Mithras in the Graeco-Ro-
man pantheon has some solar characteristics; Surya (Suruj) drove a flaming chariot in
the sky like the Greek Helios (the Sama Veda says, 'Surya is the light, the Light is
Surya'). Savitra was invoked through the famous Gayatri mantra (hymn); Pushan
drove across the sky; even Vishnu had some solar characteristics. The Ashvins or
Nasatyas, representing the blending of light and darkness in the twilight, Surya, the
daughter of Sun, and Usha, the dawn, bringing in light, also had bright aspects.
Agni, the fire-god, similar to Latin Ignis, was the key-figure in the fire-sacrifice,
hidden in fire sticks with which the sacrificial fire would be kindled. It was also a
mystic source of light and life. The Sama Veda says 'Agni is the Light, the Light is
Agni'. The Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, in the Rig-veda implied a sort of super-
There are many allegorical references in the Vedic literature to the inner meaning of
light signifying divine glory. The earth was supposed to reflect the divine light. True
knowledge (Jnana) for the salvation of the soul was equivalent to Haqiqat or Aqayad
of Islam and Gnosis or illumination of Christianity.4 For knowledgeable people
physical light has always been a reminder of the transcendent light. They never rest
satisfied with material enlightenment; they always hanker for spiritual enlightment.
The Vedic rishis (seers) spoke of the all-pervading light lodged within their spirit.
The Upanishads also frequently mention the significance of light. The Brihad-
aranyaka Upanishad refers to the symbolism of the sacrifice: "Dawn is the head of the
sacrificial horse, the sun its eye, the wind its breath, fire its mouth when the sun
rises it is the horse's fore-quarters, when it sets it is its hind-quarters. When the horse
shakes it lightens." In the same Upanishad the great philosopher Yajnavalkya tells King
Janaka of Mithila (north Bihar in India) that the Self serves man, as his light: "The
self, indeed, is his light, for with the self, indeed, as the light, one sits, moves about,
does one's work and returns".s This self, he further explains, is 'the light within the
heart'. This Upanishad also says
Asato ma sadgamaya
Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
Mrita ma amrita gamaya
(From appearance lead me to reality;
From darkness lead me to light;
From death lead me to Immortality).
The Mundaka Upanishad says that the Brahman is pure 'the light of lights' and 'His
shining illumines all this world.
The mystics the world over talk of 'inner illumination' Lord Krishna says in the
Shrimadbhagvadgita that the Ultimate Reality has an extraordinary light. Sri
Ramakrishna, the great mystic saint of nineteenth century India says that in the fifth
stage of samadhi (God realization) a yogi feels as if he is sitting beside a lamp; 'he can
see the light and can enjoy the light but he cannot touch the wick' 7 However, at the
last stage he unites with the Supreme Reality.
Shankaracharya says in the Atma-Bodha that the Atman, the sun of knowledge,
arises in the firmament of the heart, destroys the darkness and illumines all and also
itself. Brahman, he explains, is 'the light of which luminous orbs like the sun and the
moon are illumined, but which cannot be illumined by their light, and by which
everything is illumined' Also, the three basic elements constituting The prakriti of the
Hindu philosophy of Samkhya the satva, rajas and tamas correspond very closely to
the electron, proton and neutron of modern nuclear physics. The satva guna is taken
to be the quality of illumination.
The Kundalini-Shakti (energy) of the Tantra Yoga when activated, leads to the
union of "moon" and "sun" 9 This Shakti manifesting as a 'fire-serpent' is the Cos-
mic-Energy. The Inner Fire is developed in the 'Transformation centre' of the Navel
All great religions of the world describe the Ultimate principle in a similar way:
Nur-i-Qahir (super Light of Consciousness) or Nur-i-Qahir (primal over-powering light)
of Islam; Param Jyotih (final light) of Hinduism; Ensof (Infinite light by which and in
which all Universe is illumined) of the Jews.
The glimmering lights that shine out in lines on the occasion of the festival of divali
has a dual significance: (a) as the outward sign of jubilation and welcome, com-
memorating the home-coming of Shri Ramachandra to Ayodhya and his coronation
after fourteen years of trial and tribulation about three thousand years ago; (b) as a
means of driving away the powers of darkness and evil sneaking around scenes of
grandeur." The latter belief can be found in the writing of Plutarch and in the Hamlet
To make the festival of lights more meaningful the day is dedicated to the light of
goodness overcoming the darkness of ignorance and evil, to inner purity and noble
character. It is a day of prayer and expression of love to all. It is a day of peace and
happiness. The myriad lights of Divali are 'the sparks of faith and hope rekindled in
the heart of man when by Divine intervention evil is overthrown once more,' and the
annual event reminds us 'that the recurrent disposal of tamasik gloom by Divine Grace
is necessary and possible in the world and in our own hearts.'12
There are many legends on the origin of the festival of divali. The most popular
among the Hindus of the Caribbean is the home coming of Rama, the hero of the
Ramayana and an incarnation of God Vishnu. Since Ayodhya was cleansed and
illumined to welcome Rama, his wife, Sita, his brother Lakshman, and their supporters
after an exile of fourteen years, the Hindus consider it necessary to remove all the filth
from their surroundings. Al the litter and rubbish are thrown out and burnt and then
the houses are illuminated. It also becomes an occasion of family get-togethers.
Another legend popular in India is the victory of Krishna, another incarnation of
Vishnu, the preserver of the Universe, over a demon named Narakasura.12a The
Vishnupurana says that Narak, the son of Bhuma Devi of Dharmarupadesha (in Assam
in North-east India) was a terror to men and gods. Krishna first killed Narak's chief
lieutenant Mura and was therefore called Murari. Then he slew Narak and paved the
way for an era of peace and happiness. This happy episode is commemorated in the
festival of divali. Narakasur may be said to represent lethargy, sexual morbidities and
other evils of the society and Lord Krishna might have removed these evils. General
cleaning and lighting are therefore the keynotes of the festival.
Narak, the symbol of lethargy and filth, is not yet totally eradicated. In the tropical
and sub-tropical climates he raises his head every year after the rainy season and
therefore the Hindus clean the houses and surroundings for proper illumination to kill
this demon every year.
Yet another legend is taken from Mahabharata. A king of ancient India, Raja Nal, in
a fit of passion, got the dice made of his own thigh-bone and in the game of dice lost
everything. Even now in many parts of India shells and cowries are used in the
gambling done on the divali night. 13 Some people also believe that on the divali night
Lord Shiva played some form of gambling with his wife Parvati.
In some parts of India the most popular legend is that of the demon King Bali who
was a great philanthropist and liberal minded person. Lord Vishnu was so much
impressed by his good administration and humanistic approach that the festival of
divali was begun to perpetuate his memory. Cleaning of the houses and illuminating
the dark spots are considered essential on this occasion.14 The Lord of Death,
Yamaraj, and the souls of departed fathers and forefathers are also sought to be
propitiated. It is believed that the spirits of the dead re-visit their homes which are
cleaned and illuminated to receive them.
Every Hindu home is whitewashed, decorated, replastered and marked with a
swastika in chalk and coloured powder. All the metal vessels and ornaments are
polished and rearranged.
In other parts of the Hindu world the story of a King, who was told by his
astrologer that he would die on the new moon of the month of Katik
(October-November) is current. The Kal or Lord of death was supposed to come at
midnight in the form of a snake. On the recommendation of the astrologer, the houses,
roads and paths of the kingdom were kept clean, a general illumination was arranged,
lamps were placed at the king's door as well as at the four corners of his bed and rice
and sweetmeats were spread everywhere. When the door-lamp went out, the Reni
(queen) sang in praise of the snake. The snake being pleased requested the queen to
ask for a boon. When she asked that her husband should remain alive, the snake
managed to get a long life for the king.'5
In ancient India the festival of divali was a three day festival, celebrated on a grand
scale in the towns and on a lesser scale in the rural areas: the first day was devoted to
ritual purification, bathing and making offerings to the god of death; the second was a
time for dance and merriment; and the third for buying and selling cattle in fairs as
well as for wishing well to each other.16 In medieval India a Muslim ruler like Akbar
(1556-1605 A.D.) participated in the Hindu festival of Divali. So did Sirajuddaula, the
Nawab of Bengal (1756-7 A.D.). On the Western coast of India the prosperous Muslim
community of the Bohras celebrate it as their new year day.
In the course of time divali became a five day festival. The first day, the thirteenth
day of the Hindu month of Kartik or Katik is extremely auspicious; it is a day of
wealth-worship and therefore it is called Dhan-trayodashi (Dhan-terasa). New utensils
are bought. It is considered auspicious for a child to start his schooling, and the newly
wed girls come to their husbands' home on this day.17 All outstanding dues of tailors,
washermen, goldsmiths and others are cleared. Some rich people take out their gold
and silver coins, wash them and worship them. In some areas Dhanvantari, the
legendary doctor, is worshipped.
The next day is called the Rupa-chaturdashi or the Fourteenth Day of Kartik and is
dedicated to beauty. From early morning extra pains are taken over toilet and by the
evening new clothes are put on and exchange of visits and sweets made between
friends, neighbours and relations. 18 This day is also called the Narak-chaturdashi,
commemorating the victory of Krishna over the demon Narak.
The fifteenth day of Kartik is the darkest, the amlwas, when the goddess Maha
Lakshmi, the benevolent form of Shakti, and the goddess of prosperity and happiness,
is worshipped. The Aryan deity Lakshmi or Shree was an Indian counterpart of the
Latin Ceres in the ancient Hindu scriptures, connected with the harvest or corn as well
as with beauty, pleasure, wealth, victory and general well-being. She is also compared
with Aphrodite 19 for she appeared in her full beauty at the churning of the primeval
ocean (Kshira-sagar) by the gods and demons. She was welcomed by a heavenly choir
and the celestial elephants poured sacred water on her. The sea of milk presented her
with a wealth of unfolding flowers, especially lotus (Kamal) which she carries in her
hand, and the gods adorned her with ornaments. She is also known as Padma and
In the Vedas Lakshmi is connected with something auspicious. One of the early
legends refers to her as a daughter of Prajapati and as the wife of Aditya. Another
legend mentions her as a daughter of Bhrigu. In most other legends, however, she is
described as the consort of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the world.
Lakshmi, the Hindus believe, is very difficult to propitiate as she is chanchala
(fickle-minded). Therefore special pujas are organised in her honour on the divali day.
The devotee takes a purificatory bath with the following sanskrit mantra:
Gange cha yamune chaiva
Narmade Sindhu Kaveri
Jalesmin Sannidhim Kuru
(O waters of the sacred rivers of India, the Ganges, Jamuna, Godavari, Saraswati20
Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri! purify this water).
They also purify their body inside and outside, with the following:
Om, apavitrah pavitrowa
Yahasmaret Pundari Kakshan
Next the blessing of the elephant-faced god Ganesh is invoked (Shree Ganeshay
namah), the personal god or goddes (Ishta devata) is worshipped and then the
Kuldevata (family deity), gramadevata (presiding deity of the village), and other gods
and goddesses are worshipped.
The main puja (worship) is, however, of the goddess Maha Lakshmi. She is first
asked to take her seat (aasanam prati grihyatam), then her image is bathed (snanam
kuru), chandan (sandal wood paste) is offered to her (Shrikhand-chandanam
pratigrihyataam), flowers or garlands are offered (malyadini pushpani cha
pratigrihyataam), incense is offered to her (dhupoyam pratigrihyataam), deep or deeya
is offered (deepam grihaan), as also prasad (naivedyam pratigrihyataam). Soon after
these humble offerings, the goddess's mouth is washed (punarichamaniyam) and then
each devotee according to his capacity takes part in the bhajan (devotional singing).
Those who prefer sanskrit hymns would sing in her praise with folded hands:
Om Siddhi, Buddhi Praday Devi
Bhukti, Mukti Pradayani
Mantra Murti Sada Devi
Maha Lakshmi Namostutay
(0 Mother Divine, you are the giver of success and intelligence, the giver of
earthly pleasures as well as the salvation of the soul; the sacred mantras con-
stitute your form. I bow to thee.)
Others with all humility sing 'Shree Lakshmi Ramanaa' or 'Anadhana Ki Maharani, jai
Lakshmi (Lachhami) Rani' or'Jai Lakshmi Maataa', or'Hay Jag janani hitkari,' or 'Shree
Jai Kakshmi Sukhklri'.
Some general songs are also sung among Trinidad Hindus, for example, 'Mai ghee ka
diya jalaun', 'Aaj Andheray main hain ham insan', 'Ma teri mamta Kitni pyaree'
'Twameva Miti cha pita tvameva', 'Artee Shree Ramayan jee kee', 'Om Jai Jagadish
Hare', 'Mujhe apane sharan me lelo Ram' and so on.
The last item is the visarjan a request to the goddess to return with apologies for
any error of a letter (akshar) or part of a hymn or matra and pad.
In many parts of India, especially in North Bihar, Bengal and Gujarat, the main
Divali night is called Kali Ratri dedicated to the Goddess Kali2oa the consort of Shiva.
Those who believe in the efficacy of tantric rites try to propitiate the ghosts and
spirits. The ojha (obeahman) and dayin or diyan (witches) practise certain left-handed
(b-amamarga) rites in shmashan (crematorium or burning grounds). Many Hindus there-
fore try to propitiate the monkey-faced god Hanuman to counteract the evil spirits.
Special Kajal or Kajar (black unguent) is made for the protection of the eyes. In
Trinidad the earlier parts of the rites have almost disappeared. Even so, the Kajar is
made in many Hindu homes on this night to be used for the whole year.
The general part of the illumination on this day is almost the same in Trinidad as in
the rural areas of North India. The priests have a busy time, some start their work
from the early morning. The pious Hindus bathe early and worship the sungod with
arghya (offering of water), women are busy preparing Indian delicacies, the children
collect crackers and sparklers and both family and community celebrations are
In the early days of indenture (1845-1917) in Trinidad Divali was not so important an
Indian festival as Madrasi firewalking and Muharram, but by the late nineteenth century
a few centres like the Tunapuna Shivala (Shiva temple on the Eastern Main road)
started organising community celebrations. The Port of Spain Gazette reported in
1897 that 'in many parts of the island, at Tunapuna especially', the Hindus celebrated
their 'Feast' of Divali, and 'all the houses and places of business of prominent Hindoos
were illuminated with tiny tapers and chirag (little earthenware bowls filled with
coconut oil and having cotton wicks lighted), plantain and banana trees were used in
the decorations, lights being suspended from the leaves'.21 Arches were also erected to
which lights were fixed. The Hindu temple of Tunapuna was skilfully decorated and
Also in the early days properly baked deeyas were not available in Trinidad, for
Kumhars (potters) had not started working on their chaks on a big scale. Naturally
therefore some Indians used coconut kernels, others ordinary or white clay, some
baking the clay deeyas in the sun! Eventually one Lutchman of Chase Village in
Central Trinidad is said to have begun producing properly baked deeyas on a large
commercial scale, and today hundreds of thousands of such deeyas are produced and
sold in different parts of Trinidad.
For the last five years Divali has been a national festival in Trinidad, officially
recognized as a national holiday. Grand village fairs are organised with bazaars, games,
etc. Even Divali queen and sari competitions are organised. 'Divali Funkorama' with
music and dance can also be seen. In the predominantly Hindu areas, especially in
temples, however, one can see community Lakshmi pujas followed by ceremonial
lighting of thousands of deeyas by the leading lights in Marabella, San Fernando's
Skinner Park, Aranguez savanna, Gurepe recreation park, Tacarigua community centre,
with Indian orchestras and cultural groups in attendance.
In India and Nepal, the Hindu festival of Divali continues for two more days. On
the fourth day the Hindu new year begins, the cows and bulls are given special herbal
mixture (pakheba) and coloured prints on their body. This is called the Govardhan
(Godhan) puja when cattle races, shows and competitions are organised. In some parts
of North India the Hindu women make a small hut of mud with the images of Gauri
and Ganesh, place some parched grain and invoke blessings for their friends and
relations. 22 The cowherds who are given presents, wish prosperity for their masters. In
the Panjab and parts of Uttar Pradesh the women make a heap (replica of a hill named
Govardhan) of cowdung and the horns of bullocks are dyed. It is also called the day of
Annakuta when special sweets are made. This festival has almost disappeared from
On the fifth or the final day of the Divali festivities Yama, the God of death, is
propitiated. Since ancient times the river Yamuna is said to have entertained her
brother Yama on this day,23 in Hindu homes today sisters invite their brothers and
wish them a long life. This is also an important day for the Kayastha (scribe) caste who
worship the clerk of Yama, Chitragupta. 23a These aspects of the festival
bhratri-dwitiya (bhai-duj) and dawat-puja or chitragupta puja are not celebrated in
Trinidad. So has disappeared the custom of ulka-pati on the main Divali night when
the departed souls who have gone astray are shown the right path with lights and
bonfires. The central theme of the festival, however, remains light and universal de-
light, fellow-feeling and goodwill for all (sarve bhavantu sukhinah sarve santu
As Mahatma Gandhi wrote in 1891, the Divali festival presents 'a beautiful contrast'
to the Holi (Phagwa) festivities: 24 it is cleaner and more charming. All the sorrows and
worries are forgotten on this occasion and there is an atmosphere of happiness, joy,
merriment, colour and light. It is also an occasion of great fun when the people gather
near the community centres where thousands of deeyas are glittering on bamboo
scaffoldings. One can see the difference between the rich and the poor from the
number of deeyas as well as the quality of decorations, but the sense of joy and the
spirit of friendliness can be seen everywhere.
In India the Jains celebrate the Divali as the death anniversary (nirvanadivas) of
Mahavir, the real founder of their religion, and the members of the reforming Hindu
sect of the Arya Samaj as the death anniversary (Rishi Nirvan Utsava) of their founder
Swami Dayananda. In Trinidad, there are no Jains, but the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha
organises the Utsava as a remembrance day along with a bazaar and community lunch.
Many Divali greeting cards are issued, the annual buying sprees are repeated, houses are
cleaned, new curtains hung up, non-vegetarian food and alcohol are avoided in many
homes, newspapers, radio and television have special features on Divali and thousands
of people move about on the streets to see the illumination and fireworks. Young and
old in some areas cut, split and transport bamboos, prepare the stage and the bamboo
scaffoldings in geometric designs, place plantain and banana plants, arrange deeyas,
wicks and fuel and re-enact the scene of universal joy with music and merriment which
might have been seen in ancient Ayodhya (Ajodhia) in the district of Faizabad in Uttar
Pradesh (India) on the solemn occasion of Shree Ramachandra's homecoming. The
twinkling and glimmering deeyas represent the unfailing faith in universal love and
brotherhood. Every year this festival reminds the Indians that good ultimately
triumphs ever evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.
1. Pandey, B.N. (ed.) A Book of India, Collins, London, 1965, p. 255: In an extract from
Niblett, L.H. India in Fable, Verse and Story it is suggested that vali might be derived from
the western root valere in French, suggesting 'value'.
2. Stevenson, Sinclair, The Rites of Twice Born, 2nd edition, Oriental Books Reprint
Corporation, New Delhi, 1971, p. 335.
3. Port of Spain Gazette, 27 October 1897.
4. Das, Bhagavan, Essential Unity of All Religions, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1960, p.
5. Radhakrishnan, S. The Principal Upanishads, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, third
impression, 1969, p. 256; "It is the light different from one's body and organs and illumines
them though it is itself not illumined by anything else."
6. Ibid. p. 685.
7. Sri Surath, Scientific Yoga for the Man of Today, Thompson Press Ltd., Faridabad, 1971, p.
8. Catalina F.V. A study of self Concept of Samkhya-Yoga philosophy, Munshiram Manoharlal,
Delhi, 1968, p. 127.
9. Douglas, Nik, Tantra Yoga, Munshiram Monaharlal, New Delhi, 1971, p. 56.
10. Ibid. p. 61.
11. Pandey, op. cit. p. 254.
12. The Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay, 20 October 1968.
12a. Dube, S.C. Indian Village, Bombay, 1967, p. 96.
13. Pandey, op. cit. p. 255.
14. Sharma, S.C. Bharat Ke Tyohar (in Hindi) Atmaram and Sons, Delhi, 1963, p. 128.
15. Crooke, W. The Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India, 3rd reprint, Munshiram
Manoharlal, Delhi, 1968, VoL II, p. 295.
16. Edwards, M. Everyday life in Early India, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1969, pp. 68-69.
17. Stevenson, op. cit. p. 335.
18. Ibid. pp. 336-37.
19. Oliver, J.E. The Cult of Mother Goddess, London, 1959, p. 108.
20. Now extinct in the desert of Rajasthan.
20a. Stevenson, op. cit. pp. 336-37. Also see Bhattacharya, H. The Cultural Heritage of India, voL
IV. Calcutta, 2nd. edition, 1958, p. 485. Also see Walker, Benjamin, The Hindu World voL 1,
London, 1968, p. 517.
21. Port of Spain Gazette, 27 October 1897.
22. Crooke, op. cit. p. 296.
23. Tod. James, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, London, 1950, reprint, p. 475.
23a. Walker, B. op. cit. p. 353.
24. The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 1, Ahmedabad, p. 42.
EXTRACTS FROM THE FAR JOURNEY
The seeker who dreams in this circle of time
Is the dreamer of caterpillars
Changing into prophets into saints
Riding the blood-trail of slaves;
The butterfly-traveller is the seeker
Between the dream and the soliloquizing eye
Beaming the flower's flight
To the nectar of the queen-bee's throne.
The ghost of a hymn
Sacred and profane
Rustles the cobweb-dust
In an old dungeon
As a swoop of moths unveil
A rusty iron vault
Half-opened by the skeletons of time;
After all these centuries
A candle still bums in a vial of blood
Suggesting an ancestral companion
Stimulating the tired wick;
When on a stormy night
Sweeping winds rent the cracks and crevices
Invocating an ancient sermon
Caught in the psyche of faraway-bells
Sounding a holy metaphor as the brother and sister
Of the lost king in the forest of the dispossessed.
The sea repeats ancestral names
Returning to the land,
Its funeral lashings sweep roads
In a shining vision of the slave's heart;
Across the echoing plains
Each tribal step strolls sweetly
In its own cunning;
To re-trace these steps again
In thunder, lightning and rain of cane
Flowering rocks, sculptured like temples
To re-trace these steps again
Through the coral dooryard, and beyond the steeples
Where the fabled demon swears all in sorrow.
From the sea, the slain voices un-rooting
Return in a tide of drums
Singing new vowels of blood in every name
Of cane as Cain;
Blood creeps over and under blood-tracks of drumming
In the name of home
In the name of the savage wounds drumming
In the name of the suffering cane, dried out in the sun
In the name of whipped heroes vomiting continents
In a virile womb;
The scattered tongues stretch the boundaries
Of life outside the circle of the unforgiven.
To re-trace these tracks again
Not for the whips cracking the belly of the drum
Not for the sacrifice of lovers sperming seeds into stone
Not for the world squeezed into the shadow of its eye
Not for the creaking, crying forest of imagined gold
Not to the thunder heard as master of the fold
Not for the journey on salt water
Journey washing away on water
Journey dying on water
Water flushing through sail
When the mocking sea chanted in sly voice
Mimicking a slave's dying wail.
the intellect issues its cool venom
halts the hot flux in a frieze
amputating from the thrashing welter
the choice dried segments for its uses
ice-edged, it slits the liver of reality,
gives us fibres, slivers,
cracked scales to see thru
with the same sanity, it calculates
dimensions of a star or scaffold
its split sophisticated reasoning
hiding heat and human motive
its ice-eye sees no mysteries
so action dries into statistics
so intuition cools, contracted, softened
creation ages, ashes, falls
to a machine
a man on his belly
crawls among the levers
to snap the coiled mainspring
the intellect hisses, issuing its cool venom.
this morning owned by no one
wind rocked the wading cattle
stirring a surf of egrets
then rippled to an altered calm
one yellow poui
shed its reflection, soft splinters
on the slow green shimmering
sun was a great flower, spindling
pollen; buzzing white light that trembled
till it hummed a fine heat
this morning came, vivid as sliced oranges
and the unmanned, unmanoeuvred world-scape
broke open suddenly
workers waiting at the terminus
the engines of the clock in Moffat's office
power their lives
power the slow machination of the bus uphill
waiting at the terminus
hired hands of the clock reach out
to strangle me for profit.
Bibliography of Literature from Guyana. Comp. by Robert McDowell. Arlington,
Texas: Sable Publ. Corp., 1975. 117 pp. Price $10.00
In countries where the publishing trade has never flourished, where serious writers
must often seek outlets for their creative energies overseas, and where legislation,
designed to bring together such items as are published, has never been diligently
enforced, bibliographical control becomes exceedingly difficult and well nigh im-
The American scholar, Robert McDowell is to be commended for searching out and
painstakingly listing well over 2,000 items in his Bibliography of Literature from
Guyana. Of particular interest are those illusive short pieces which have appeared so
far only in newspapers and magazines, or heard over local radio stations. Guyanese
scholars will find this work useful. But how much more valuable it could have been
had the compiler included indexes by title and genre, without which this important
contribution can at best be only of limited usefulness. Location symbols would have
greatly assisted those wishing to consult specific items.
Twentieth century technology contributed to the explosion of knowledge and at
the same time aggravated the problems of bibliographical control. In an effort to keep
pace with mounting numbers of publications, libraries have recognized the need to
unite their resources. In 1971, the International Standardization of Bibliographical
Description (ISBD) was formulated to reduce duplication of effort and, hopefully, to
ensure that the bibliographical description for an item shall be the same irrespective of
where that data originated. Bibliographers have an obligation to keep in touch with
such new developments. It would have been most desirable had entries in this biblio-
graphy conformed to international standards or even to basic citation practice.
While the effort is to be applauded, users should however be cautious. A sample
check of a number of items in another printed bibliography indicates some omissions
from journals such as Social and Economic Studies and Timehri. The Bibliography of
Literature from Guyana is a worthwhile effort. It could well from the nucleus from
which a more comprehensive national work could evolve.
PORT ROYAL HISTORICAL PORTRAIT OF A JAMAICAN TOWN
Port Royal, Jamaica Michael Pawson and David Buisseret Clarendon Press: Oxford
University Press, 1975, 204 pp. Price U.K. 8.00.
Few people who make the journey to the once thriving port at the end of the long
spit which encloses Kingston Harbour would disagree with the authors Michael Pawson
and David Buisseret when they say, "Port Royal is today a singularly unspectacular
little town." (XIV) Any visitor who is aware of the town's historic importance is
likely to be disappointed in what he finds, or rather, does not find there. True, the
seventeenth and eighteenth century brick fortress of Fort Charles survives, but in
terms of sheer size and magnificence this cannot bear comparison with the massive and
complex fortifications which can be seen elsewhere in the Caribbean, at San Juan and
Cartagena for example. Many of these places also possess a wealth of fine ecclesiastical
and domestic architecture which Port Royal does not boast. Apart from Fort Charles,
St. Peter's Church, a modest eighteenth century building, and the early nineteenth
century Naval Hospital now housing a museum, are the only substantial remains of old
Port Royal which are likely to interest the visitor.
Mr. Pawson and Professor Buisseret draw the reader's attention to these and to the
few other fragmentary remains of the old town which can still be seen, but in terms of
historic buildings and monuments Port Royal does not provide much grist for the
Nevertheless, much has been written about Port Royal. It has probably received
more attention than many historic towns, including the former Jamaican capital,
Spanish Town, which are better endowed with fine old buildings and other survivals of
The attraction of Port Royal can be largely attributed to the fascination of a
colourful and unsavoury past. The town's association with the activities of notorious
buccaneers, its dramatic destruction by the earthquake of 1692, and the appeal of a
city sunk beneath the sea, supposedly in divine retribution for extreme wickedness,
combine to make the story of Port Royal a tempting one for the writer of popular
history and archaeology. Peter Biggs' Buccaneer Harbour. The Fabulous History of
Port Royal, Jamaica (1970) is one book which capitalizes on this aspect of the town's
history, while Robert Marx's Pirate Port, the Story of the Sunken City of Port Royal
(1967) dwells largely on the author's experiences as a marine archaeologist on the site.
For the general reader and the ordinary interested visitor, Clinton V. Black's
authoritative and modestly priced paperback book, Port Royal, a history and guide
(1970) is probably the best buy, but those with specialist interest in West Indian
history or the development of colonial towns will welcome the latest work on Port
Port Royal, Jamaica was written as a collaborative work by an accountant, Michael
Pawson, who became interested in Port Royal largely through his activities as skin
diver, and David Buisseret, a professional historian with special interest in Jamaican
history. Professor Buisseret who is an authority on the fortifications of Jamaica,
teaches in the Department of History at the Mona campus of the University of the
West Indies, and it is here that he met Mr. Pawson who was a part time student reading
for the B.A. degree.
The book which resulted from their collaboration is much more thorough and
comprehensive than any previous work on the subject. It is a scholarly study which
draws upon extensive documentary evidence from a large number of collections in
Jamaica, England and the U.S.A., and makes use of the findings of archaeological
investigations on the site. The authors point out that, contrary to general belief, the
history of seventeenth century Port Royal is better documented than that of most
English towns of comparable size for that period. (X)
The extraordinary and dramatic aspects of Port Royal's history are not ignored, but
the book is mainly concerned with tracing the evolution of the settlement from its
foundation in 1655 to the present, and describing the life of the town at different
periods in the past. The exploits of the buccaneers, and of Sir Henry Morgan in
particular, are given due weight, especially in relation to the strategic and commercial
development of seventeenth century Port Royal, but the authors do not dwell ex-
cessively on this aspect of the town's history.
They are careful to present a well balanced picture and give proper attention to the
lawful and peaceful activities of the town's maritime and commercial community.
While reference is made to the debauchery which gave old Port Royal its reputation as
"the wickedest city on earth", the more usual harmless leisure pursuits of the ordinary
citizens are fully described. Indeed the authors doubt whether Port Royal was any
more vice-ridden than sea-ports in England or elsewhere.
The image of seventeenth century Port Royal conveyed by the book is very much
that of an English sea-port town, both in its physical appearance and in its daily life.
"There was very little evidence of 'creolization' during the first four decades after
1655; food, clothes, buildings and recreations all obstinately followed English norms,
however unsuitable these might be." (119) Hence the busy streets with brick-built
houses, shops, taverns and churches, the regular markets and the latest London
fashions worn by the prosperous citizens created an environment in which Samuel
Pepys himself might have felt at home.
The authors succeed in vividly portraying the life and appearance of old Port Royal
by sketching the main features and then describing some of them at great length. For
example, having described the development, general appearance and layout of the
seventeenth century town, the authors in Chapter VII give detailed accounts of some
of the streets and even individual buildings and their furnishings. Similarly, the
account of the trade and shipping of the port is illustrated by fascinating and
illuminating details of the voyages and cargoes of selected ships.
Although Port Royal's history extends over a period of nearly three and a quarter
centuries, the bulk of this study is devoted to the first four decades of its existence. Of
the twelve chapters in the book, the first eight take the reader up to the 1692
earthquake. Chapter IX deals with the earthquake and the other disasters and com-
mercial decline which occurred during the next thirty years while 'Port Royal as a
Naval Station 1692-1905', 'Archaeological investigations at Port Royal' and 'Port
Royal today' occupy the last three chapters.
This is a reasonable balance, however, for the importance of Port Royal declined at
the end of the seventeenth century. Indeed, the authors suggest that Port Royal had
started to decline even before the series of disasters which brought the town's brief
period of prosperity to an end. By the sixteen-eighties, the system was
beginning to reveal certain inherent contradictions and hostilities which even without
the earthquake would have led to a slowing down in the process of growth at Port
At the core of the problem was the hostility between the merchant and the planter.
The latter wished to bypass the middlemen of Port Royal, and as plantations
developed in various parts of Jamaica rival ports grew up around the island to export
the produce and to import the goods required from abroad. This trend was recognized
by the Port Rcyal merchants some of whom transferred their operations from Jamaica
to the metropolis while others became planters themselves. "Port Royal thus in a sense
committed suicide," (79) and the earthquake of 1692, the fire of 1703 and the
hurricane of 1722 may have only served to deliver the coups de grace to a dying
The authors, however, should have stressed that even with the continuation of land
reclamation and the spread of the town along the narrow neck of land to the east, the
limitations and extreme vulnerability of the site would have made the demise of Port
Royal as a major port and commercial centre almost inevitable. In a region prone to
earthquakes and hurricanes, any substantial settlement on so fragile a foundation and
in such an exposed position is living on borrowed time. No large town could continue
to prosper on a site which changed its size and position as often as this one at the end
of the Palisadoes spit has done.
It is, therefore, surprising that nowhere in the book is an attempt made to explain
fully why the English selected the Port Royal site for development as their main port
and centre of commerce. This topic could well have been included in Chapter 1, 'The
geography of Port Royal'. Geography, after all, is mainly concerned with location and
seeks to explain why phenomena on the earth's surface occur where they do.
The Spanish, who had been in Jamaica for nearly a hundred and fifty years when
the English came, did not settle on the cay that was later to become the site of one of
the most important towns in the Caribbean. Even the magnificent harbour which
became the focus of Jamaica's economic and naval activity under the English had been
relatively neglected under Spanish rule. Old Harbour Bay, not Kingston Harbour was
where the Spaniards chose to locate the main port for their capital city, Villa de la
Vega now Spanish Town. These are matters which the book leaves unexplained.
It is unfortunate that in the first chapter the authors confine their geographical
introduction to a simplified account of the geomorphology of the Palisadoes spit with
particular reference to the 1692 earthquake. The locational aspects of Port Royal are
scarcely considered. The writers do give some attention to the site, the physical charac-
teristics of the place on which the town is built. Regrettably, there is no discussion of
the town's situation, that is the relationship of the site to the other parts of the area or
The Geography chapter contains no reference to the original vegetation of the area
although elsewhere in the book the authors refer to the scrubby plants of the
Palisadoes spit and the cays and say that this has probably changed very little since the
Spaniards or even the Arawaks (148, 151). This is a statement which requires substan-
tiation, however. Not only has the area been subjected to grazing, coconut cultivation
and other uses since the late seventeenth century, but many new plants and animals
have been introduced to Jamaica since the English invasion, and the ecology of the
Palisadoes is unlikely to have been totally unaffected.
Not surprisingly, the book throws very little light on the history of the Black
people who were brought from Africa to Jamaica as slaves and now comprise over
ninety per cent of the island's population. Many of these came through Port Royal in
the early years, but the records do not provide a very complete picture and we have no
written account of Port Royal as seen by an African slave. The authors make use of
contemporary accounts of English indentured servants who were brought to work in
Jamaica as punishment, and try to infer from these the conditions of the African slaves
and the way in which they were disposed of in Port Royal.
Elsewhere in the book occasional reference is made to some of Port Royal's African
population, notably during the period when the town was a British naval station and
Black nurses such as Dolly Johnson were tending the sick sailors. It is interesting to
read that while the social gap between the African population and the resident whites
was always very wide, the relationship between the sailors and the Black people of
Port Royal was at this period amicable. The English sailor, who was often pressed into
service against his will and subjected to great brutality may well have felt that he had
much in common with the African slave.
Port Royal, Jamaica is generally well illustrated throughout with clearly produced
maps and diagrams and some well chosen plates grouped together at the end of the
book. The Chapter on 'Port Royal Today' would have been improved by the inclusion
of a fairly detailed street map showing places of interest instead of the small scale
street-less Map 12, and the aerial photograph of Port Royal (Plate 2) would have been
more useful had it been at a larger scale. The Duperly print of Port Royal in 1855
(Plate 29) is incorrectly given the date 1885 in the text (142), presumably a typo-
A notable feature of the book is the large amount of space devoted to the
Appendices. Excellent use is made of these in the text. There is also a two page
Introduction on the sources and very full use is made of footnotes. Some readers may
share the reviewer's disappointment at the absence of a bibliography. This is a pity, for
not all of the available relevant material on Port Royal is mentioned in the book.
Others may feel that, in a study which is otherwise meticulously thorough and well
documented such an omission is not very serious.
The authors do not claim that theirs is the last word on the subject for, as they
point out (XV, 147), some documentary evidence remains to be sifted and much
archaeological work is yet to be done. Nevertheless, their excellent book is almost
certain to remain for very many years the standard work on the history of Port Royal.
Meanwhile Mr. Pawson and Professor Buisseret might profitably turn their attention to
Jamaica's former capital, Spanish Town, which has a much longer history as a major
urban settlement and a finer architectural heritage than Port Royal can boast.
BRIAN J. HUDSON
Mundus Artium: A Journal of International Literature and the Arts Volume VIII No.
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Salute to Afro-Cuba edited by Neville Dawes, published by the Institute of Jamaica,
1975 Price: J$0.50.
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