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 Back Matter

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Caribbean Quarterly
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    Back Matter
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Full Text





1 Abolishing the Return Passage Entitlement under Indenture: Guianese Planter
Pressure and Indian Government Response, 1838-1917
Basdeo Mangru

14 The Dynamics of Afro-Jamaican-East Indian Relations in Jamaica,1845-1945:
A Preliminary Analysis
Verene A. Shepherd

27 Indian Women and Indentureslip in Trinidad and Tobago, 1845-1917: Freedom
Rhoda Reddock

50 Indian Participation in Labour Politics in Trinidad, 1919-1939
Sahadeo Basdeo

66 Cultural Change and Adaptation as Reflected in the Meat-Eating Habits of the
Trinidad Indian Population
Molly Debysingh

78 Wet October
Amy Robertson
Author, Author
Robert Bowie

80 Notes on Contributors
Instructions to Authors
Books Received

Cover: The Sanskrit mautra "OM" can be written
several different ways. All have a resemblance to
the number 3.

OLUME 32, NOS. 3 & 4


Editorial Committee
The Hon. R. M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
G. M. Richards, Pro Vice-Chancellor, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Roy Augier, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill, Barbados
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor

All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
The Editor,
Caribbean Quarterly,
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.

We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects which they would
like to see discussed in Caribbean Quarterly. Articles and book reviews of relevance to the
Caribbean will be gratefully received. Authors should refer to the guidelines at the end of
this issue. Articles submitted are not returned. Contributors are asked not to send inter-
national postal coupons for this purpose.

Subscriptions (Annual)
Jamaica J$60.00
Eastern Caribbean J$90.00
United Kingdom UK.9.00
U.S.A., Canada and other countries US$22.00
Exchanges are conducted by the Gifts and Exchanges Section, Library, University
of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
Back Issues & Microfilm
Information for back volumes supplied on request. Caribbean Quarterly is available
in microfilm from Xerox University Microfilms and in book form from Kraus-Thomson
Reprint Ltd.
Abstracts, Index
This journal is abstracted by AES and indexed in HAPI.
Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or the Resident Tutor at the
University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this University.


If Caribbean history seen through the eyes of the majority is a new discipline, then the
history of the subjugated minorities is even newer. This issue or Caribbean Quarterly
gives occasion to scholars to present the fruits of their research into the historical and
contemporary conditions of one such minority: the East Indians. The very title we have
chosen to give it encapsulates the past in no uncertain terms, i.e. East Indian/West
Indians. The East Indian migrant to the West Indies suffered double jeopardy since he
long carried the burden of having a white minority rule him but also had to deal with the
pressing numbers of the majority, who, although without de jure power, had the de facto
ability to influence and circumscribe his life-style.

In his article, Abolishing the Return Passage Entitlement under Indenture: Guian-
ese Planter Pressure and Indian Government Response, 1838-1917, Basdeo Mangru
traces the history of planter parsimony in face of the large bill created by the wish of the
Indian emigrant to return to his motherland, the nostalgia for which had become, in the
words of Brinsley Samaroo, "a sick longing for the future shore". Various obstacles, not
excluding the sleight of hand played on ignorant and illiterate peasants, were placed in his
way to prevent him from leaving at the planters' cost.

Most studies, according to Verene Shepherd, "have tended to focus on the relations
between dominants and subordinates, ignoring, for the most part, the subject of subordi-
nate group relations .. as race relations studies show an overwhelming concern with
black-white relations ..."

Her article seeks to redress the imbalance and focuses on The Dynamics of Afro-
Jamaican-East Indian Relations in Jamaica, 1845-1945. Despite the fact that oppo-
sition to Indian immigration was grounded in the fear that it would depress wage rates
for blacks, it took on a moral tone especially among the churches, which viewed with
alarm "the number of heathen, and pagan foreigners with their religious superstitions,
idolatry and wickedness, .. Such public opposition to the importation of Indians,
combined with the negative terms used ... to describe them, influenced the way blacks
came to view Indians and encouraged the development of a hostile attitude towards
them". Matters were not improved with the view Indians took of the blacks whom they
considered "hopelessly polluted" and held in contempt because of their "darker skin".

Sahadeo Basdeo in his paper, Indian Participation in Labour Politics in Trinidad
1919-1939, examines the involvement of the Indian working class in the politics of
labour reform in Trinidad commencing two years after the abolition of indentureship in
1917 to the West Indies. It is, in addition, an examination of the contribution which
Indian workers made to the development of the trade union movement and the role
which Adrian Cola Rienzi played in the growth of this movement. It shows the trade

union movement as an integrative agent in bridging the gap between Indian and black
workers which led them after the 1937 strikes and riots to the formation of the trade
union movement which cut across racial lines.
In Cultural Change and Adaptation as Reflected in the Meat Eating Habits of the
Trinidad Indian Population, Molly Debysingh concludes that "the evidence is strong that
vegetarianism as the Hindu ideal of purity and non-violence has all but disappeared in the
Trinidad setting . although a religious or quasi-religious attitude is operating among
the Indian population in general with regard to the consumption of beef and pork".
However, she observes that as "a minority community within the Indian population,
Muslims, like their counterparts in India have more vigorously maintained traditional
religious taboos against pork consumption . ."

The contradictions operating within the indentureship system had a direct relation-
ship with the planters' desire to reproduce the labour force locally, to stabilize the male
labour force and to address the problems incurred in securing the "right kind of woman",
although women as a direct source of labour were seen as financial liabilities due to the
financial risks of child-bearing and child-rearing. These questions among others are
examined by Rhoda Reddock in her article, Indian Woman and Indentureship in Trinidad
and Tobago, 1845-1917: Freedom Denied.

Two poems conclude this double issue.


RESPONSE, 1838-1917



Ever since the indentured emigration system became state-controlled the Government of
India, besides supervising recruiting, depot maintenance and transportation arrangements,
maintained a particular interest in the contractual terms offered to intending emigrants
by the various recipient colonies. Aware that the majority of emigrants were illiterate and
liable to be deceived, it assumed the role of "protector of the weak and ignorant", obli-
gated to ensure that they were treated on a par with other races in the colonies, that
unacceptable immigration conditions were not imposed on them and that colo.lial legis-
lation provided sufficient protection against planter tyranny and neglect. It required in
particular that importing colonies guarantee a return passage at the termination of the
contract, for "Wherever Indian coolies may go, it is morally incumbent upon us to interest
ourselves in their welfare".1 Faced with escalating immigration expenses, the planting
interests became increasingly concerned with keeping operational costs down and maxi-
mizing profits. To them the liability for the return passage was a heavy and unnecessary
financial burden. To the Indian Government the entitlement was a necessary and indis-
pensable part of the contract. This article critically examines the persistent pressures
exerted by the planting interests to abolish the entitlement and the Indian Government's
response to such pressures.
When the first batch of Indian immigrants landed in British Guiana [Guyana] in
1838 under the 'Gladstone scheme' the principal stipulation in their contracts was a free
return passage at the termination of their engagement. Observing that the experiment was
of "a very novel kind",2 Lord Glenelg, the Colonial Secretary, insisted that the return
passage be provided by some definite means. This precaution became necessary, as it was
the first experiment in the export of Indian labour to the distant West Indies and it was
difficult to predict its outcome. When the system came under government supervision in
1845 private labour importation was abolished and immigrants were guaranteed repatria-
tion through public funds.
In their campaign for long indentures, Guianese planters were advocating either
five-year contracts or a contribution by immigrants towards the passage costs. The Col-
onial Office resisted the idea of a prolonged indenture but agreed that immigrants who
refused to enter a second contract should contribute towards the cost. On the initiative
of the pro-planter governor, Henry Barkly, the Court of Policy the Colony's legislative
body passed in 1850 several key ordinances which provided the framework for future
legislation on indentured immigration. Ordinances 21 and 24 which related specifically to

Indian immigration required labourers to contribute fifty cents a month in advance
towards the passage costs.
The provisions of the 1850 ordinances were criticized. John Scoble, the active and
vigilant Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, opposed the measures on the ground that
they would result in "a state of modified slavery".3 The criticisms of Lord Grey, the
Liberal Colonial Secretary, related specifically to the penalties imposed for breaches of
the law and for not being under contract. Grey was not opposed to a monthly tax deduct-
able from the immigrants' wages to pay for the return passage.4 By 1853 the attempt to
collect monthly contributions had met with limited success and was abandoned. The
Court of Policy consequently replaced the 1850 ordinances by Ordinance 3 of 1853
which provided for a five-year indenture for Indian labourers and a contribution of $45
or 9 towards the cost of the return passage. An immigrant who accepted a bounty of
$50 to re-indenture for another five-year term was considered a newly-imported labourer
and indentured accordingly.5
The Home Government promptly disallowed the ordinance. The Colonial Land and
Emigration Commissioners [CLECLI, the body which supervised the movement of popu-
lation within the British Empire, labelled the measures arbitrary and "wholly inconsistent
with good faith" since the majority of intending emigrants were unaware of the
re-indenture clause.6 The Duke of Newcastle, Grey's successor, condemned the secrecy
and haste with which the legislation was passed, and the "unprecedented length" of the
contract. He outlined a new scheme which, owing to its financial implications, was tanta-
mount to five years' continuous labour. The immigrant would enter a three-year contract
on arrival, followed by another of one or two years' duration but with the option of com-
muting it by a monetary payment. To be entitled to a free return passage, the immigrant
would serve a ten-year period of industrial residence or contribute S35 towards the cost.7
This new scheme, particularly the provision relating to return passage entitlement,
received a mixed reaction in India. Joseph A. Dorin on the Governor-General's council
emphasized, with apparent justification, that if immigrants were treated humanely and
their welfare protected, they would remain in the colonies voluntarily without any
"authoritative measures for protracted residences".8 Barnes Peacock saw no objection to
the measures contemplated. In accepting Peacock's views, the Government of India real-
ised that if prospective recruits refused to accept the new terms the importing colonies
would be forced to revert to the former practice. The onus of effecting the new scheme
was thrown on the recipient colonies. What the government required was that intending
emigrants be thoroughly acquainted with the new arrangements.9 Under this laissez
faire system, the notion was that once the emigrant understood his position he should
act on a rational calculation of his own economic interests.

Attitude of the Indian Authorities
The Indian Government's attitude was largely influenced by Thomas Caird, Emigra-
tion Agent at Calcutta for Mauritius and the West Indian Colonies. In January 1853
Caird visited the West Indies to observe working and living conditions under indenture. In
British Guiana he received a "hospitable reception" from the planting interests and
seemed "favourably impressed" with the treatment of indentured Indians.10 Caird did
not envisage any serious objections from intending emigrants to the new conditions.11

The Protector of Emigrants at Calcutta likewise doubted whether the proposed modifica-
tions would materially affect the emigration process as villagers who frequently arrived at
the depot in an emaciated and destitute condition were prepared to accept the terms
offered. But he emphasized that those who could return to India at their own expense
when their first contracts expired should not be denied the right.12
Similarly, the Indian authorities did not object to the stipulation requiring the emi-
grant to contribute $35 towards the passage costs. They preferred, instead, a ten-year
industrial residence and a free return passage to a five-year period under indenture,
another not under indenture and a contribution towards the passage. Intending emigrants
seemed to prefer this proposal and refused to embark under the scheme which required a
passage contribution.13 Faced with a possible cessation of emigration, the planting inter-
ests abandoned the passage contribution stipulation and required Indians to serve ten
years under contract to entitle them to a free return passage.
Shortly afterwards the planters urged the Colonial Office to sanction a policy
whereby an immigrant could commute his right to return home "upon such terms as may
be considered reasonable".14 This was in reality a fresh attempt to free them from the
heavy financial liability for the return passage. Their arguments centred mainly on the
huge expenses involved in repatriating labourers, an argument which persisted through-
out indenture and which became the dominant factor in their campaign.
Governor Philip Wodehouse, "an energetic officer with no disinclination to the old
planter system",15 and the Colonial Office both supported such a policy. Wodehouse
emphasized the commutation would enhance the economic position of immigrants and
save the colony considerable sums of money.16 The CLEC believed that commutation
would prove mutually beneficial if colonization was what the planters preferred.7 But
settlement or colonization was certainly not envisaged at the time for fear that immi-
grants would withdraw from plantation labour entirely.18 What the planters desired
most was to avoid the huge expenses which the return passage entitlement entailed.
The Indian authorities adopted a cautious approach. After all, Indians left the
Hughli on the clear understanding that they would be repatriated when their contracts
expired. Indeed, this was the principal inducement held out in India. Generally timid and
unenterprising, the majority of Indian labourers would have probably refused to emigrate
without the entitlement. The Indian Government contended that the immigrant should
not be deprived of the right unless adequate precautions were taken to ensure that he was
not coerced and that he understood the implications of commutation. Accordingly, it
proposed the appointment of a resident Protector of Immigrants in each colony import-
ing Indian labour to safeguard immigrants' interests. No contract for commuting the right
to a free return passage would be binding unless the implications were fully explained by
the Protector.19
These proposals encountered stiff opposition. The CLEC claimed that the appoint-
ment was unnecessary, that the functions contemplated could be performed by compe-
tent colonial officers under government supervision instead of an officer appointed by the
Indian Government but remunerated by the colony.2 The crux of the matter seemed to
be that an officer of such independent position could be over-zealous in performing his
duties, thus leading to conflicts. Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley objected on the grounds

that the duties envisaged were relatively light, that colonial administrators were on the
spot to protect immigrants and redress grievances and that no reports of maltreatment
were previously made to warrant such an appointment. Stanley was not prepared to
saddle the colonists with the heavy financial burden of maintaining an officer appointed
by, and responsible to, a foreign government. He seemed to fear the possible repercussion
in the colonies.

To place in a community officers who are not answerable to the
proper heads of that community, but only to distant Superiors,
quite unfamiliar with its circumstances, must be productive of
many inconveniences, but, more especially, cannot fail to
engender ill-will and jealousy between different classes of public

The Indian authorities were adamant. They had already appointed a Protector in
Mauritius to perform the same functions and were determined to exercise the right in the
distant West Indian colonies. They explained that the proposal should not be miscon-
strued as lack of confidence in the integrity of colonial governors. They had a moral
responsibility to ensure that the rights of their subjects were upheld in foreign lands.22
Noting the inflexible stand of the Indian authorities, Stanley decided to shelve the
plan, although he was convinced of its economic advantages.
The Indian Government's position was certainly in conformity with its policy of
ensuring that immigrants understood their position when opting for other terms. But a
stable employer/employee relationship was what the Colonial Office desired in order to
resuscitate the sugar industry. A Protector of strong character could maximize every
case of coercion and ill-treatment and discredit the whole immigration system. More
important, his activities could sow the seeds of discord in the immigrant camp and
impair the delicate labour relations in the larger territories with ample tracts of unculti-
vated lands. Stanley was not prepared to risk this possibility from officers answerable
only to "an extraneous authority".23
This initial lack of success did not daunt the planting interests. Within months
they advocated the withdrawal of the entitlement on the grounds that it hindered coloni-
zation, prevented emigrants from bringing their families, produced unsettled domestic
life and precluded them from investing their savings profitably in the colony.24 The Col-
onial Office contended that abolition could probably result in the cessation of immigra-
tion and refused the request.25 The issue remained dormant for fifteen years as Guianese
planters progressively tightened their control over the indentured worker through 'dra-
conic' laws and regulations which, inter alia, circumscribed their movements and made
them liable to heavy penal sanctions.

Question of Abolition
In January 1875, at a meeting with the Marquis of Salisbury, Secretary of State
for India at the India Office, the West India Committee, the planters' powerful lobby in
London, again raised the question of abolition. By this time, recruitment, depot main-
tenance and transportation costs had risen significantly.26 The planters' arguments were
couched in the same vein that the entitlement "unsettled" the immigrants and dis-

courage colonization, that it escalated immigration costs both through the liability for
the return passage and the loss of industrious, acclimatized labourers and the introduc-
tion at considerable expense of unskilled men to replace them, that those who returned
could afford the passage costs. They questioned the wisdom of repatriating labourers
when regular employment was guaranteed and when they could barely subsist in India
and faced starvation during famines. Their trump card was that Indians were better off
economically in the colonies, an argument which became increasingly difficult to
This in gist represented the planters' case. It was an old demand in a new garb, but
a very persistent one. The request was not granted. Salisbury contended that the entitle-
ment could not be withdrawn "without much diminishing the attraction of the system
. . and also without withdrawing what is perhaps the best safeguard for the kind and
considerate treatment of the Indian labourer".28 He was prepared to leave the question
entirely to the emigrant to stipulate for a return passage or opt for other terms. In a sepa-
rate minute Richard Temple, Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, advised that intending emi-
grants should contribute towards their own passage costs. Temple perceived the retention
of the entitlement as the only avenue of escape against oppression and disappointment in
the West Indies. Noting that emigrants returning with substantial savings served as an
excellent advertisement for emigration, Temple stressed that "The spectacle of a safe and
happy return is a sure and legitimate bait to others".29 The Government of Bengal doubt-
ed whether the immigrant was capable of giving "an intelligent consent" to any terms of
commutation and dubbed the proposal "premature". It emphasized that if life in distant
colonies were made sufficiently attractive immigrants would remain voluntarily.30
The concern of Indian authorities for the welfare of their subjects was understand-
able. For the majority, the withdrawal of the entitlement meant severing of links with the
mother country perhaps forever. Abolition could impede emigration, a movement which
held out several economic advantages. The planters had already experienced a threat-
ened cessation in the mid-1850s when emigrants refused to contribute towards the
passage cost. The Commissioner of Bhagalpur in Bihar warned that villagers were still
"timorous and fearful" of emigration and the discontinuation of such an important stipu-
lation could prevent embarkation. 3 The entitlement was also an effective insurance
against maltreatment by colonial employers as those whose expectations remained
unfulfilled could always opt to return home. Without it they could be exposed, like the
slaves, to tyranny and oppression from which there was no hope of escape.
The Government of India and the relevant provincial governments shared the view
that the abolition of the entitlement could obstruct emigration. The gist of the Indian
Government's response was that, given the choice between a free return passage or other
terms, the majority of intending emigrants would prefer the former. The exceptions
would comprise those who were fleeing from justice or emigrating for other related rea-
sons, in which case their presence in the colonies would be undesirable. The Indian
Government recalled the disastrous results of the abolition of return passages by Mauri-
tius where, it claimed, the "industrious and frugal" immigrants opted to return home at
their own expense leaving behind the "idle vagrant class".32 The government observed
that if colonial planters desired that emigration should lead to settlement and coloniza-
tion rather than to mere temporary labour engagements, the existing system of computa-

tion through the free grants of land, and not abolition of the return passage entitlement,
would adequately serve the purpose. Those who lost all attachment to their native land
and possessed the necessary skills would remain and prove valuable labourers. Others who
worked irregularly or saved nothing and were unable "to subdue nostalgia" would opt to
return home, to the benefit of the importing colonies.33

Land Grants Scheme
These arguments were convincing indeed. While tne entitlement was the ultimate
escape hatch reserved to the labourer, there was considerable apprehension that aboli-
tion could impede emigration. Reports reaching India of the comparative affluence of
immigrants in the colonies seemed to suggest that the system was remunerative.34 Its
continuation, therefore, was of mutual benefit to immigrants and colonial employers. At
the same time, the planters could still retain the available labour force without resorting
to such an extreme measure as abolition. The offer of suitable inducements in the shape
of free grants of land was the key. Stephen Walcott in the Colonial Office perhaps pin-
pointed the fundamental reason for the Indian Government's rejection ". . what it
yields to Demerara it cannot refuse to the French and other Foreign Colonies, as in yield-
ing it would lose all hold on them for the return of the Coolies".35
The claim that the passage entitlement impeded colonization seemed untenable.
Before the mid-1870s, Guianese planters had given little thought to settling time-expired
Indians [those who had completed their contracts] permanently on the land. They were
primarily concerned with securing continuous labour through re-indenture which enabled
them to exercise "an undue control over the labour market".36 Through this leverage
they could obtain a regular, disciplined labour force, fix wages arbitrarily and dispense
with the labour of unindentured workers who refused to submit to any reduction. Some
tiny settlements did emerge on the front lands of estates but these resulted mainly from
the initiative and foresight of individual planters. Noting the regular flow of returnees to
India, the 1870 enquiry commission concluded that "for the present, the great experi-
ment in colonization is merely in embryo".
It was the accumulated cost of return passages which spurred the planting interests
to take positive action to promote land settlement schemes. By 1880 the number of
Indian immigrants entitled to a free return passage had jumped from 30,000 in 1869 tc
60,000.3" Several factors explained this phenomenal increase. The cessation of
re-indenture in the mid-1870s induced many immigrants, who otherwise might have pro-
bably accepted a bounty to prolong their residence, to opt for the passage as soon as it
fell due. Some who claimed that they were being paid below the prevailing wage rate
became discontented and applied to return home. By 1880 the larger batches imported
a decade earlier had also become entitled to a free return passage.38
The most important reason was the dissatisfaction engendered by the provisions of
Immigration Ordinance 7 of 1873. Section 47 permitted a free return passage for the
children of immigrants under fifteen years of age, irrespective of whether they were born
in the colony or in India. In February 1879 Ilandum and thirty-four other immigrants
complained in a memorial that they were denied free passages for their children. They
wanted the withdrawal of the age limit as, they rightly claimed, there was no such stipula-
tion in the contract. A. Bennett, Chief Clerk in the Immigration Department, argued on

their behalf that the contract "clearly and distinctly" promised a free return passage for
the emigrant and his family and this was the main inducement held out in India.39
Indirectly Bennett was accusing the Guianese Government of repudiating the contract
made in India.
The memorial was rejected. Acting Governor George Young indicated that to be
eligible for a free return passage, an immigrant over fifteen years, must reside in the col-
ony for ten years and hold a 'Certificate of Exemption from Labour', a document regard-
ed as proof of completion of contract.40 But intending emigrants were ignorant of this
stipulation as it was absent from the contract. It would seem that the phrase "with fam-
ily" as appeared in the contract was misleading as emigrants interpreted it in a wider con-
text to embrace both adult children and grand-children born in the colony.41

The consequence of this decision was predictable. Instead of remaining in the col-
ony for extended periods, the immigrants "are now hurrying away to India" imme-
diately on the termination of the contract.42 Some claimed the entitlement because their
children were approaching the age limit; others feared that new legislation might be
passed, abolishing it altogether.

In a belated attempt to stem the anticipated exodus, the government purchased
Plantation Huis t' Dieren, a partially abandoned estate on the Essequibo Coast, to develop
into a land settlement scheme. In lieu of return passage, a time-expired Indian labourer
was offered two and one-quarter acres of land for cultivation and dwelling purposes. In
the midst of this experiment, Henry Irving, former Governor of Trinidad, arrived and
reversed the existing policy. Instead of free grants of land, Irving advised the offer of suit-
able inducements to encourage land purchase "in such localities, and in such quantities,
as may suit their tastes and requirements".43 Ordinance 9 of 1882 facilitated such pur-
chase by expediting the passing of transport [deed] at a small fee.44

Return passage re-examined
With the refusal of the Indian Government to withdraw the entitlement, the issue
subsided for over a decade. In late 1888 Alexander Gilzean, Financial Representative in
the Combined Court, the colony's financial body, requested the formation of a commit-
tee to re-examine the issue. The committee interviewed several prominent officials and
planters and concluded that the entitlement was "an indispensable part of the contract"
and that it was "neither necessary nor desirable" that the existing terms be altered.45
Considering the strong, persistent campaign waged by the planting interests to abolish
the entitlement, this conclusion seemed rather surprising. There were two main explana-
tions. First, by 1888 sugar prices appeared to be recovering from the crash of 1884
when prices fell by over 42 per cent mainly through competition from European beet
sugar. Secondly, the planters were expanding cultivation and feared that any major
amendments to the contract might create recruiting difficulties in India. They were aware
that Indians returning with small fortunes served to boost emigration and popularize the
But the decline in sugar prices in the 1890s once again made the entitlement a
dominant issue. This time, the planting interests waged a more vigorous campaign. They
urged the Colonial Office to take appropriate action to relieve them from such heavy fin-

ancial liability at a time when the sugar industry was experiencing a serious economic crisis.
Simultaneously they reiterated several of the main arguments advanced in the 1870s.46
Colonial Emigration Agents in India, too, highlighted the numerous problems repatriated
emigrants faced at home the deleterious effects of a sudden change in climate, lack of
nutritious food, poor medical facilities, the ravages of cholera and other related diseases.
Robert Mitchell, Emigration Agent for British Guiana, generalized profusely. He claimed
that the return to India was largely "a rude awakening", that the majority would prefer
settling permanently in the colony "after a limited experience of the very doubtful plea-
sures of home life in India".47 He alleged that friends and relatives with very remote
claims to kinship often fleeced repatriated Indians of their savings with the result that
they re-emigrated after a brief stay. While it might be true that some emigrants were
forced to spend substantial sums to feast their gurus [spiritual leaders], relatives and
friends, it is very difficult to substantiate the allegation that caste dinners and gifts had
exhausted their savings. Some probably utilized their savings to liquidate debts and
reclaim their lands. Others were probably re-emigrating with their families. Judging from
the experience of Mauritius which withdrew the entitlement in 1852, the Emigration
Agents did not envisage that abolition would pose serious recruiting problems.48

Though couched in exaggerated terms, the planters' case could not be ignored,
especially in view of the serious depression in the industry. The Government of India
again responded by consulting the relevant provincial governments and emigration offi-
cials. The Government of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh [modern Uttar Pra-
desh], the largest supplier of colonial recruits, advocated the continuation of the entitle-
ment as it was "the conclusive and most effective inducement" offered to intending
emigrants. Abolition would "materially diminish" whatever attractions the system offer-
ed.49 The Government of Bengal desired to promote colonial emigration to relieve heavi-
ly congested areas and wanted to avoid impediments in the recruiting system. It shared
the view of the Government of Madras that the withdrawal of the entitlement would
adversely affect recruiting operations.50 The Protector at Calcutta admitted that the
immigrant was socially and economically better off than in India generally. But he
warned of the adverse social impact abolition could have in the colonies. While the
thrifty, industrious immigrants would probably revisit India at their own expense, "the
idle and vagrant class and spendthrifts" might be compelled to remain and become
"a burden and a source of anxiety and ... of trouble'to the Colonies".51

From these unanimous views the Government of India concluded that the continu-
ation of the existing contractual terms would serve the colonial interests best. It was
prepared, nevertheless, to review the question following more precise and detailed inform-
ation of life in the colonies. Consequently Surgeon-Major D.W.D. Comins, Protector of
Emigrants at Calcutta, was deputed to visit the West Indies to observe working and living
conditions generally and make the abolition question a special subject of enquiry.52

During his brief sojourn in British Guiana Comins received, not surprisingly, a warm
reception from the planters and officials who "vied with each other" in providing "assist-
ance, information and hospitality".53 Concurrently Governor Charles Bruce prepared a
detailed memorandum ostensibly for the Indian Government's consumption which seem-
ed to buttress the planters' case. Bruce adumbrated the various socio-economic advant-

ages of settling permanently in British Guiana comparatively high wages, favourable
facilities for land purchase, adequate medical care, relatively small rate of mortality,
absence of such disasters as floods, famines and epidemics, opportunities to pursue occu-
pations independent of plantation agriculture and for social mobility through property
acquisition. Noting that Indians comprised one-third of the population, he dismissed as
untenable the once forceful argument that Indians would be engulfed in a population
foreign in language, race and creed.54
Comins produced a comprehensive report which focused considerable attention
on the seemingly improved economic position of Indians and their prospects for the
future. But his detailed statistical data must be carefully analysed as they were supplied
either by officials or estate managers. Comins accepted the planters' position that the
uncertainty whether to opt for a return passage or not had an unsettling influence. He
was generally in favour of encouraging Indians to return on moderately easy terms and
recommended that except for dependents, paupers and invalids, all intending male emi-
grants should contribute thirty-five rupees and females twenty-five towards the passage
costs. Repatriated emigrants who re-engaged for the colonies would not be eligible for a
free return passage.55 The Governments of Bengal and Madras and the Acting Protector
at Calcutta preferred that the contribution should comprise a fixed proportion instead of
a fixed sum.56 The Government of India accordingly set the proportion at one-quarter
for men and one-sixth for women.57
The continued depression in the sugar industry coincided with the appointment of
Joseph Chamberlain as Secretary of State for the Colonies. He was particularly worried
about the liability for the return passage which the British Government would have to
assume if the industry collapsed. The report of British Guiana's Immigration Agent-
General for 1896/97 alluded to the possibility of abandoned estates, high unemployment
and proprietors reduced to "a state of comparative poverty".58 Simultaneously, Mitchell
drew attention to the increasing costs of despatching and repatriating emigrants.59 The
Colonial Office correspondingly exerted pressure on the Government of India to waive
the right in future contracts. The Government of India refused, but consented that in
future, male emigrants should contribute one-half and females one-third of their own
passage costs.60
In the following year pressure was again exerted on the Indian Government to
abolish the entitlement. Chamberlain was alarmed at the report of the West India Royal
Commission, appointed to investigate the state of the sugar industry in the West Indies in
the late 1890s, which referred to the possible extinction of the industry and the conse-
quent heavy liability for repatriating indentured workers thrown out of employment.61
Emphasizing that the collapse of the industry would effectively stop emigration,
Chamberlain again called on the Indian Government to dispense with the passage liabil-
The request was again denied. The Bengal Administration contended that the
threatened collapse of sugar "affords no ground for depriving Indian coolies of the privi-
lege of assisted return passages".63 To waive the right would reduce considerably the
incentives to emigration. Noting this strong statement, the Government of India empha-
sized that the entitlement was the "most effective guarantee" against oppression. It

considered the "liberal concession" granted in 1898 to be "final" and the utmost it was
prepared to concede.64 The Protector's memorandum disclosing increasing numbers
returning with moderate savings, many with nothing at all, buttressed the government's
position.65 Any further concession would place the highly valued privilege of returning to
India "beyond the reach" of a considerable number of emigrants.
But planter pressure continued as they mounted in October 1902 yet another
petition for abolition.66 This time the response of Lord Curzon's administration was
decisive. As Viceroy of India, Curzon was to reassert the doctrine that the Government of
India was in India and administered for the benefit of India. In the interest of India,
Curzon was not prepared to see Indians settle permanently in the recipient colonies,
invest their savings and raise children to supply the local demand for labour. He pre-
ferred rather that Indians return with their savings thereby creating employment oppor-
tunities in the colonies for their fellow villagers.67 This forthright declaration effectively
obliterated whatever hopes existed for additional concession. The Lord Sanderson Com-
mission of 1910 agreed with the contention that the entitlement was "the most efficient
guarantee" against maltreatment and recommended no alteration to the existing terms of
contract.68 The McNeill Chiman Lal deputation of 1914 which considered the general
question of abolition of indentured emigration, merely referred to the decreasing
numbers claiming the entitlement and the "satisfactory" repatriation arrangements.69
When indenture terminated in 1917, the entitlement still constituted an integral part of
the contract.
For fifty years, following the discontinuation of the return passage entitlement by
the Mauritius Government, the Guianese planting interests and their representatives in
England had conducted a progressively mounting campaign to free them from such a
heavy liability. Their rather repetitive arguments were geared to impress the Indian Gov-
ernment that abolition would be mutually beneficial to both the industry and the immi-
grants. While this persistent argument was difficult to refute, the Government of India
realized only too well that the withdrawal of the entitlement would impede emigration, as
the generally conservative and cautious Indians would be reluctant to embark if the
entitlement were discontinued. While the Government of India desired to protect the
interests of its subjects, pressure from the planting interests and the serious depression
in the sugar industry compelled it to make some concessions to alleviate the problems.
After all, the collapse of sugar would effectively stop emigration. But at no time was the
Indian Government prepared to waive the right altogether. The entitlement was consider-
ed the binding link to India, the only escape hatch to freedom and the most effective
insurance against planter tyranny. Ironically, in 1938 the roles were completely reversed
for it was the planters who were now taking the initiative to repatriate those Indians claim-
ing the entitlement amid increasing Indian Government pressure for its abolition.

Government of India to the Secretary of State for India, No. 19, 27 August 1881. India Emi-
gration Proceedings, August 1881, No. 45 (hereafter I.E.P. followed by date and number of the
P.P. 1837-38, LII, (180), p. 24.
P.P. 1851, XXXIX, (624), Scoble to Lord Grey, 22 March 1850.

4. Ibid. Grey to Governor H. Barkly, No. 290, 16 January 1851, pp. 453-54.

5. Ordinance 3 of 1853, articles 31-33.

6. C.O. 318/203. F. Rogers to H. Merivale, 30 September 1853.

7. C.O. 112/32. Duke of Newcastle to Governor W. Walker, No. 175, 16 January 1854.

8. P.P. 1859, XVI, (2452). Minute of J. Dorin, pp. 6-7.

9. Ibid. See Minutes of B. Peacock and Lord Dalhousie, p. 6.

10. C.O. 111/293. Barkly to J. Pakington, No. 5, 14 January 1853.

11. P.P. 1859, XVI, (2452). Caird to Government of Bengal, No. 11, 6 August 1853, pp. 7-8.

12. Ibid. Protector (of Emigrants) to Government of Bengal, 5 August 1853, p. 7.

13. Revenue, Judicial and Legislative Proceedings of the Government of India, vol. 84. Protector to
Government of Bengal, No. 1, 22 September 1855 (hereafter L/P&J)1 followed by volume).

14. L/P&J/1/85. Enclosure in Governor P. Wodehouse to H. Labouchere, No. 153, 6 December
15. C.O. 111/309. Minute of Merivale, 22 March 1856.

16. L/P&J/1/85. Wodehouse to Labouchere, No. 153, 6 December 1853.

17. Ibid. Report of CLEC, 14 February 1857.

18. The Royal Gazette, Thurs. 24 February 1854.

19. L/P&J/1/88. Govt. of India to Court of Directors of the East India Company, No. 113, 28
September 1857.

20. L/P&J/1/87. CLEC TO Merivale, 15 February 1858.

21. Ibid. Colonial Office to India Board of Control, 14 April 1858.

22. Ibid. Court of Directors to India Board, 29 April 1858.

23. Ibid. Colonial Office to India Board, 14 May 1858.

24. C.O. 111/321. Planters' Memorial to Colonial Secretary, 27 September 185b.

25. C.O. 112/35. E. Bulwer-Lytton to Wodehouse, No. 111, 19 March 1859.

26. C.O. 386/93. Resolutions of the Combined Court, 25 July 1874.

27. West India Committee, Reports 1872-1877, p. 24.

28. Marquis of Salisbury to Government of India, No. 39, 24 March 1875. Bengal Emigration Pro-
ceedings (hereafter B.E'P.), November 1875. File 61, 10.

29. Minute of R. Temple, 14 September 1875. B.E.P. November 1875, File 61, 18.

30. Government of Bengal to Government of India, No. 2916, 28 April 1875. B.E.P. November
1875, File 61, 19.
31. Commissioner of Bhagaplur to Government of Bengal, No. 903, 18 August 1975. B.E.P. Nov-
ember, 1875, File 61, 15.

32. Government of India to Salisbury, No. 15, 3 May 1877. I.E.P. September 1879, File 17.

33. Ibid.

34. Protector, Report for 1877-78.

35. C.O. 384/114. Minute of S. Walcott, S5 May 1877.

36. C.O. 111/398. Government E. Rushworth of Earl of Kimberley, No. 149, 26 September 1873.

37. C.O. 384/128. Government C. Kortright to Kimberley, No. 235, 4 November 1880.

38. Minutes of the Court of Policy, January March 1881.

39. C.O. 384/128. A. Bennett to M. Hicks-Beach, 11 May 1880.

40. Ibid. Enclosure in Kortright to Hicks-Beach, No. 16, 22 January 1880.

41. Protector to Government of Bengal, no. 1502, 16 December 1879. B.E.P. January 1880,
File 5, 3.

42. C.O. 384/128. Enclosure in Kortright to Kimberley, No. 171, 6 August 1880.

43. Minutes of the Court of Policy, Tuesday, 30 May 1882.

44. Ordinance 9 of 1882.

45. D.W.D. Comins, Note on Emigration from India to British Guiana (Calcutta, 1893), p 41.

46. See West India Committee to Lord Knutsford, 30 April, 1890. I.E.P. August 1890, 8.

47. R. Mitchell to Protector, No. 1948, 8 October 1890. I.E.P. March 1891 13.

48. See I.E.P., March 1891, 11.

49. Government of the North West Provinces and Oudh to Government of India, No. 1883, 15
November 1890. I.E.P. March, 1891, 12.

50. Government of Bengal to Government of India, No. 62, 7 February 1891. I.E.P. March 1891,

51. Protector to Government of Bengal, No. 5099, 9 September 1890. I.E.P. March 1891, 13.

52. Government of India to Secretary of State for India, No. 7, 14, January, 1891, I.E.P. May
1891, 10.

53. Comins to Colonial Office, 6 October 1891. I.E.P. January, 1892, 9.

54. Governor C. Bruce to Colonial Secretary, No. 349, 6 October, 1891. I.E.P. January 1892,
55. Comins to Government of Bengal, 28 December, 1892. I.E.P. July 1893, 2.

56. Acting Protector to Government of Bengal, No. 421, 18 February, 1893. I.E.P. July 1893. 1.

57. Government of India to Secretary of State for India, No. 53, 15 August, 1893. I.E.P. August

58. Immigration Agent-General, Report for. 1896-97.

59. Mitchell to Colonial Office, No. 115, 25 August 1897. I.E.P. April 1898, 2.

60. Government of India to Government of Bengal, No. 1363, 28 June, 1898. I.E.P. June 1898, 13.

61. P.P. 1898, L. (C. 8655), p. 27.

62. Colonial Office to India Office, No. 667, 7 January 1899. I.E.P. April 1899, File 23.

63. Government of Bengal to Government of India, No. 1021, 13 March 1899. I.E.P. April 1899,

64. Government of India to Secretary of State for India, No. 26, 30 March 1899. I.E.P. April
1899. I.E.P. April 1899, 25.


65. Of 776 emigrants who returned from Trinidad on the Forth, 360 brought no savings and 117
less than 10 each.

66. West India Committee to India Office, 7 October 1902. I.E.P. February, 1903, 5.

67. Government of India to Secretary of State for India, No. 5, 12 February 1903. I.E.P. Febru-
ary, 1903, 6.

68. P.P. 1910, XXVII, (C. 5192), p. 106.

69. See 'Report to the Government of India on the Conditions of Indian Immigrants in the Four
British Colonies and Surinam', 1914, Pt. 1, p. 75.




The subject of race relations in multi-racial and bi-racial societies has for long engaged
the attention of historians and sociologists. Most of the studies which have emerged,
however, have tended to focus on the relations between dominants and subordinates,
ignoring, for the most part, the subject of subordinate group relations. In the case of
Jamaica, race relations studies show an overwhelming concern with black-white rela-
tions,1 with only a few dealing in any detail with the interaction of other race groups in a
situation of multiple ethnic contact.2

The present paper represents a contribution to the field of subordinate group rela-
tions. It is specifically located within the context of Indian-black relations in a plural
colonial society in which there had evolved a racist social system which affected race
relations at the group and individual levels.
It has been argued that the nature of race relations depends on the degree to which
social structures are embedded in a colonial past and, further, that it is the characteris-
tics of social structures that determine and define relations between groups defined as
racially distinct.3 Following Kinloch's formulation of the colonial model, Headley in his
structural analysis of the evolution of black-white relations in Jamaica noted that in a
colonial setting,

"race relations" involve a particular elite which
defines certain physical differences as socially signi-
ficant (e.g. the importance of "whiteness" over
"blackness"). This negative social definition is trans-
lated into political policy through the subordination
and exploitation of certain groups defined as "races."
In this manner, a racist social system is developed on
an ongoing basis by a colonial elite -i.e., an external
group that migrates to another society, conquers the
local population and imports other race groups for
economic-labour purposes, and develops a racist econ-
omic and social structure to ensure its superordinate
position .4

Such a racist social system, though developed under slavery, continued into the
post-Emancipation period and was supported by racist ideologies which promoted the

notion of white superiority. These ideologies provided the dominant elite with the moral
and intellectual justification for the exploitation of non-white groups.5 Jamaica's social
structure, in fact-, reflected this notion; in this structure, the white social section was
placed at the apex of the social triangle, followed by varying shades of browns with the
blacks placed at the base. Class position in this society invariably coincided with skin
The temporary depletion of an adequate labour force after the emancipation of
slaves in the British empire had led planters to fear that their estates would experience
further decline. To prevent this decline, mass surplus labour from other countries, such as
India, was moved to the Caribbean to form what the planters hoped would be a "reli-
able" labour force. It was into such a racist colonial regime that approximately 37,000
East Indians were imported into Jamaica between 1845 and 1916.7
The original intention of Indian immigration was to provide transient labourers for
the estates.8 Despite its original intention, however, Indian immigration developed into
permanent settler migration with close to 62 per cent of the imported Indians remaining
in Jamaica at the expiration of their indentured contract.9 Both the immigration and
settlement of Indians in Jamaica were significant for the pattern of Indian-black relations
which evolved subsequently. The planters in Jamaica had hoped that the presence of
indentured Indian immigrants would create competition for estate jobs, thereby depress-
ing wage rates and forcing black labourers back to the estates in "reliable" numbers. For
this reason, opposition to Indian immigration by the local and foreign anti-slavery groups,
particularly between 1834 and 1860, was widespread.10 One of the foremost opponents
in Jamaica was the Baptist Union which not only expressed the concern of its members for
the possible economic impact of Indian immigration on the blacks, but opposed immigra-
tion on what it called "moral grounds". According to the Baptists,
the immigration of a number of heathen and pagan
foreigners with their religious superstitions, idola-
tory [sic] and wickedness, will act most injuriously
on the morals of the [black] inhabitants of the island
and hinder very much the efforts that are now in
operation for their moral and religious improve-
Such public opposition to the importation of Indians, combined with the negative
terms used by the Baptists to describe them, influenced the way blacks came to view
Indians and encouraged the development of a hostile attitude towards them even before
the arrival of the first batch in 1845. This hostility increased after their arrival, particu-
larly as they brought with them the characteristic Northern Indian contempt for darker-
skinned people, coming as they did from a country with an entrenched caste system.
According to Brereton, by the guidelines of caste, Indians decided that the blacks were
"hopelessly polluted", and so assumed a superior attitude to them.12 A similar view was
expressed by van den Berghe who, in his analysis of Indian-black relations in East Africa,
observed that the Indians themselves were caught in the racist dynamics of colonial
society, for they assumed cultural superiority over Africans. Their intense pride in their
cultural heritage, according to him, ". . led them to . accept as axiomatic, their
ethnocentric belief in their cultural superiority over Africans".la Phenotypical character-

istics, such as hair texture, were also used by Indians to claim superiority over blacks.14
Such attitudes encouraged stereotyping and laid the foundations for mutual prejudice
and antipathy between the two races. As in other colonies, the mutual contempt held by
blacks and Indians for each other reinforced an existing network of prejudice surround-
ing race and colour in the Jamaican society.15

In analysing the pattern of Indian-black relations in Jamaica between 1845 and
1945, therefore, the major concerns are the ways in which racial prejudice and economic
competition affected or determined such relations, and the degree to which these factors
caused Indian-black relations to be characterized by conflict. This article takes the view
that it was the extent of contact and the degree of economic competition which deter-
mined the absence or presence, and the degree, of conflict; and that the intensity of racial
prejudice also bore some relationship to the degree of economic competition. According
to van den Berghe's typology of competitive race relations, economic competition deter-
mines race relations in capitalist societies where equal subordinates compete for scarce
resources or previously subordinated groups threaten the economic and political position
of the elite or the indigenous population. Such competition can be either real or simply
feared, and usually manifests itself in racial prejudice, expressed in such ways as aggres-
sion and avoidance behaviour.16 The dynamic nature of Indian-black relations and the
absence of comparative race relations studies based on countries like Jamaica, in which
Indians were both numerically and economically insignificant, make it difficult to for-
mulate a single-factor race relations theory to fit the Jamaican case. Indeed, studies done
on Indian-black relations are generally concerned either with situations in which Indians
formed middlemen minorities17, or in which as previously subordinated groups they
eventually challenged the economic and numerical superiority of other race groups.18
Nevertheless, a preliminary analysis has been attempted.

For the purpose of this preliminary analysis, the years 1845-1945 will be divided
into two broad historical periods. The first, from 1845, when Indian immigration began,
to roughly 1930, when legal repatriation was discontinued, covers the period of Indian
indentureship and settlement. This period was characterized first by a basic suspicion and
fear of the Indians as potential competitors, which gradually lessened as this fear did not
become a reality. In this period, there were no frequent and large scale violent confronta-
tions, but racial prejudice had a negative effect on Indian-black relations.

In the second period, from 1930 on, Indian-black relations deteriorated and became
more conflict-ridden as the economic depression forced both groups to compete for
scarce resources and led to a relationship increasingly marked by hostility.

The Absence of Violence
The absence of large scale race riots involving Indians and blacks in Jamaica in the
nineteenth century influenced the tone of official reports which referred to their rela-
tions as amicable. Surgeon-Major D.W.D. Comins, a visiting Indian official, for example,
concluded after his tour of Jamaica in the early 1890s that ". . as a rule, coolies and
negroes get on well together and live amicably on the estates".19 Indeed, apart from the
case of open conflict which occurred on Danks estate in Vere in 1845, the documented
sources do not indicate any violence between Indians and blacks in Jamaica.

The reports indicate that this incident on Danks estate was triggered off because an
Indian labourer accused a black labourer working in the millyard of deliberately allow-
ing a horse to step on his foot. The Indian, irritated by the incident, retaliated by hitting
the black worker. A fracas followed, as Indian and black workers immediately joined in
the fight on the sides of their respective countrymen. Several workers were wounded in
this fight. The headman, who subsequently came to investigate the source of the quarrel,
found his path blocked by blacks who were attempting to hide the black labourer ori-
ginally involved. Indentured Indians consequently surrounded this hiding place, calling
for "justice!" The case had to be referred to the Court of Assizes for settlement.20
Unfortunately, no documented evidence of the nature of this settlement has been found.

Such violent confrontations were not the norm, however, and where they occurred,
they were set off by petty quarrels and involved only a few workers on a particular estate.
The relative infrequency of violent confrontation may be explained by two factors: the
lack of real economic competition during this period, and the geographical separation of
the races.

The fear that the importation of Indian indentured labourers would create competi-
tion for jobs and that the overstocked labour market which would develop would serve
to depress existing wage rates, failed to materialize in the nineteenth century because the
volume of Indian immigration was comparatively small and, further, was not as sustained
as in Trinidad and Guyana. In Trinidad, for example, Indian immigration continued even
when the sugar market was depressed.21 In Jamaica this was not the case. Furthermore,
the great political opposition to Indian immigration being financed out of the public
purse, and planter preference for black labourers limited Indian immigration to times
when black labourers could not be obtained in adequate numbers. !n his evidence before
the Sanderson committee on Indian immigration in 1909, Governor Olivier expressed
such planter preference. He stated that ". . Jamaican planters exhibit a preference for
Creole labourers. When they can be obtained, employers will not employ one more coolie
labourer than is necessary."22 Consequently, Jamaica received only 7 per cent of the
approximately 543,914 Indians imported into the Caribbean between 1838 and 1917.za
Afro-Jamaicans were, therefore, not displaced from this "favoured" position by the
importation of Indians. Far from fearing their importation in the nineteenth century,
therefore, blacks came to expect and welcome Indians, particularly as they represented
potential consumers for their provision crops. Sohal records that when the blacks were
told on one occasion that "lots of coolies are coming," they jokingly replied, ". . make
them come now massa, they will buy our provisions fro' we."24

During the period of indentureship, moreover, Indians were primarily located on
the estates while the blacks had evinced a preference for their free villages. This separa-
tion limited inter-racial contact. Even where they worked on the same estates, Indians
and blacks were usually separated into different gangs under their respective headmen,
though it was not unusual for black headmen to be placed in charge of Indian gangs -
a circumstance that caused great resentment on the part of the Indians. One is forced to
agree with Gillion's conclusion, in his analysis of a comparable social situation Fijian-
Indian relations in the period of indentureship that such separation precluded con-

State of inter-group relations
The absence of open conflict is not, however, a true indication of the state of inter-
group relations and certainly does not necessarily imply amicability. This is borne out by
the existence of hostility between Indians and blacks, a hostility based on certain fea-
tures of the indentureship system and reflected in greater stereotyping.
First of all, the fact that East Indians were prepared to accept contract labour on
the estates in conditions little removed from slavery led the blacks to view them with the
greatest contempt, deriding them as slave coolies.26 Furthermore, the existence of such
contracts guaranteed jobs to indentured Indians in times of crisis in the sugar industry,
while blacks, and at times free Indians, had to seek alternative employment. Indentured
Indians received other advantages under the indentureship system such as free medical
care which represented a potential source of Indian-black conflict, though there is not
sufficient empirical evidence to support this.
In Jamaica, as in other receiving countries, the result of indentureship and exposure
to some aspects of Indian religion and culture also led to the development of a whole
range of stereotypes about them. Brereton's observations on these stereotypes in Trinidad
are equally applicable to Jamaica. According to her,
. Indians were considered to be deceitful, prone to
perjury and fond of litigation. Their thrift was con-
sidered to be almost a vice and their traditional dress
was subject to ridicule. They were said to be too
mean to dress properly too uncivilized to dress
themselves in a christian fashion.27

The Indian manner of speech was also a subject for ridicule not only by blacks, but by
other members of the host society. The Presbyterian missionaries, for example, described
the result of the Indian attempt to speak the English language as 'bad' English, ".. the
badness of which is a different badness from that spoken by Jamaicans of the same
class". 28
Although Indians and blacks often worked, and in a few cases even resided, on the
same estates, they tended to avoid social interaction after working hours. The separation
of their dwelling quarters facilitated this. Such behaviour has been described by Blalock
as one of the subtle forms of manifestations of racial prejudice in situations involving
potential intimacy.29 Comins' report on sexual relations gives an indication that limited
social interaction took place among Indians and blacks on the estates. According to
Comins, Indian-black relations"... [do] not go so far as sexual intercourse."30 The male-
dominated nature of Indian immigration is said to have made this tendency difficult to
maintain; yet it does not explain why, when sexual relationships did develop between
Indians and blacks on the estates in the early period of immigration, they were more
usual between Indian women and black men than between Indian men and black women.
Comins reported in 1893 that ". . in very rare cases coolie women cohabit with negroes,
but I have never seen any case of a man being married or living in concubinage with a
negro woman".31
While both Indians and blacks frowned on the development of such intimate rela-
tions, other levels of interaction on the estate seem to have been tolerated. During the

period of indentureship, for example, blacks were active participants in the Muslim
Hussay festival.32
Whereas spatial separation on the estates helped to facilitate Indian ethnic exclu-
sivism, increased contact with blacks as the Indians settled off the estates militated
against such behaviour. Such settlement increasingly took place after the 1880s as the
Indian community was gradually transformed from one of transient strangers to that of
permanent citizens. Unlike in Trinidad, Guyana, Fiji and Mauritius, exclusive Indian
enclaves failed to develop in Jamaica. Rather, as Indians in Jamaica gradually moved off
the estates, they were forced to disperse among blacks in existing villages.33 Only those
villages which were in proximity to estates on which Indian labourers worked in large
numbers developed the reputation of "coolie towns",34 and allowed a certain degree of
racial separation. Though there is no empirical evidence that such increasing contact led
to greater overt conflict, there is evidence that, on the group level, racial prejudice and
stereotyping intensified. On the individual level, however, cross-cultural transmission took
place as Indians and blacks in the same districts bridged the cultural gap. This did not,
however, result in complete integration or assimilation which, according to sociologists
(like Park) who hold to the cyclical theory of race relations, is the final stage in a
"natural" cycle of competition, conflict, accommodation and assimilation.35

Resistance to integrative agents
In this period also, Indians resisted integrative agents such as education and reli-
.gion. Their avoidance of creole schools was based primarily on the prejudices they held
against the blacks. This is borne out by the Indians refusal initially to send their children
to schools attended by black children.36 Their main reason is summed up in the Protector
of Immigrants' Report of 1909. According to Charles Doorly, the Protector,
East Indians will not allow their children to attend the
native school owing to deep-rooted prejudice which they
entertain against Negroes, and their objection to any
intercourse with them . They use the word 'Kafari',
meaning 'infidel' to describe Negroes.37

Between 1879 and 1910, Indians consistently agitated for separate Indian schools.
These were allowed for a brief period in the first quarter of the twentieth century but
were soon disallowed by the government which increasingly urged the Indians to become
part of the Jamaican society.38
Indians also generally avoided Christian churches, though the relentless prosely-
tizing effort of the Euro-Christian missionaries who visited the estates caused a consider-
able number to be converted to Christianity by 1943.39
In the second period, 1930-1945, there was a general deterioration in race rela-
tions in Jamaica. In the riots of 1938, for example, the property and persons of Jews,
"Syrians" and Chinese ethnic minorities whose members constituted an integral Dart of
the middle stratum and of the distributive sector were attacked. 40 Indian-black hostility
also increased. As with the hostility among other racial groups, there was a direct causal
relationship between economic competition and such Indian-black hostility which was evi-
dent. Unlike the anti-Chinese feeling attributed by some to Creole jealousy of the corn

mercial success of the Chinese community,41 anti-Indian feeling was based on their
potential threat to employment in a situation of scarce jobs among primarily agricultural
labourers, for the fortunes of these workers were tied to the fluctuating fortunes of the
two main agricultural industries in the island sugar and banana. Moreover, both indus-
tries experienced retrenchment in the 1930s. The result, according to Ken Post, was that
as many as three people competed for each available job at peak periods.42 In such a
situation, wages could be kept at an average low ranging from 9d. to Is. 7d. as there was a
large army of reserve labourers just ". breathing down the necks of those lucky enough
to have jobs".43
The level of unemployment was further increased as a result of the return of
migrants. From the 1880s, blacks haa been leaving the island at a considerable rate for
Cuba and Central America to seek better jobs. Fifty thousand are estimated to have emi-
grated between 1891 and 1916, for example.44 Indeed, the Jamaican labouring popula-
tion had become an active labour reserve between 1850 and 1920 as developments in
Jamaica after emancipation had gradually brought that island into the category of a peri-
pheral supplier of surplus labour.45 Suddenly, the slowing down of global capital accumu-
lation reduced the need for labour supplies everywhere. By the mid-1930s, for example,
Panama, Cuba and Costa Rica had all passed state legislation which effectively closed their
boundaries to further labour migration from Jamaica and other West Indian islands. Hav-
ing served as a regional pool of reserve labour, these workers were also subject to being
denied further employment. They were then forced to face the prospect of becoming part
of the labour reserve of their own national territory.46
The cessation of state-regulated repatriation of time-expired Indians in 1930
further served to increase the number of jobless agricultural labourers in Jamaica. The
labour front was, therefore, a volatile one as the stage was set for increasing inter-racial
confrontation and discrimination. In the case of the blacks, particularly those who had
returned to the island with new agricultural skills, the age-old planter preference for their
services guaranteed some of them jobs. Unemployment was consequently greater among
East Indians who often lost their jobs to blacks. While acknowledging that both racial
groups suffered from the wave of unemployment in Jamaica in the 1930s, a visiting
Indian official, J. D. Tyson, reported that,

. to this is added in the case of the East Indians, a
growing competition . in fields hitherto regarded as
their own, from West Indian labour returning from Cuba
and elsewhere, with some training and experience in
estate work.47

He observed that ". . headmen on the estates are mainly drawn from other races
and tend to favour their own people in the distribution of piecework, especially when
there is not enough to go around".48 Tyson further complained that on many estates -
both sugar and banana ". . East Indians are getting not more than two days' work a
week, out of crop season: many complained to me that they were not getting so
Tyson was supported by the East Indian Progressive Society (hereafter EIPS) which
explained that before and immediately after the abolition of indentureship the labour

market had not been a keen one and, consequently, there had been no great difficulty
among East Indians seeking estate jobs.50 East Indians who migrated to the urban sector
of the plantation economy had similarly experienced very few conflicts with blacks in
the city. This was in spite of the fear which had been expressed by the Protector of Immi-
grants, who constantly opposed the migration of rural Indians to the city. His opposition
was based on two factors. In the first place, he deplored the loss of potential estate
workers created by such migration and, secondly, he feared that Indians might compete
with blacks in the city for jobs they considered their prerequisite.51 The latter fear did
not materialize, however, as the main income-generating activity of Indians in Kingston
and St. Andrew became market gardening. The economic crisis of the 1930s, neverthe-
less, changed this relatively conflict-free relationship between Indians and blacks in the
city, as will be later demonstrated.
In the actual riots of 1938-1939 in Jamaica, Indians and blacks in Jamaica also
came into direct conflict. During the months of May and June, Jamaica was the scene of
island-wide demonstrations involving strikes, looting, damage to property and person and
loss of life. During this period, according to St Pierre, "both employed and unemployed
came out in protest against the precarious economic position of the mass of Jamaicans
and engaged in pitched confrontations with the forces of law and order".52 Despite the
depressed economic condition of Indians, however, they generally stayed aloof from the
riots and demonstrations in rural and urban Jamaica.5a Except for St Mary, where
Indians are reported to have joined in hunger marches,54 neither oral history nor docu-
mented sources have revealed other cases of Indian participation. This non-participation in
the urban areas led to physical attacks on Indians by blacks. Such attacks occurred, for
example, on the Kingston wharves, where the few East Indians employed there allegedly
tried to break the strike.55
The poor Afro-Jamaican-East Indian relations did not end with the riots but con-
tinued even afterwards. One significant area in which tensions surfaced was in the matter
of unionization. Trade unions proliferated after the 1930s disturbances but Indian labour-
ers who attempted to join such unions were met with hostility from the rank and file
black members, who saw them as rivals for scarce economic benefits.56
In the rural parishes, particularly in the towns, conflicts also developed over the
allocation of jobs under the relief employment scheme which was set up after the riots to
reduce the level of unemployment. In the rural areas the scheme was administered by the
Parochial Boards, and in Kingston by the Labour Bureau. Indians complained, however,
that the discrimination against agricultural labourers applied to those living in the towns
of each parish and applying for such jobs. Sumdath Maharaj of Port Antonio in Portland
complained, for example, that of 520 who were given relief work in Prospect, only two
were Indians even though Portland had a large Indian population, a significant portion of
which was unemployed.57 Tyson endorsed these statements, claiming that ". .. in the
course of some 700 miles' touring in the island, I saw scarcely an Indian in the very large
number of gangs engaged on road repairs".58
Similar complaints were made in the urban areas of Jamaica. It is true that, former-
ly, Indians and blacks in Kingston engaged in different occupations in the city and sel-
dom came into conflict over economic matters. However, several developments among

the Indian population in Kingston and St Andrew in the 1930s and 1940s had increased
the economic hardships of the Indians and thrown them into the ranks of the unemploy-
ed in the city. They therefore had to apply for relief work in the same way that Afro-
Jamaicans did.
These developments were, in the first place, the increase in the rent rates for
market garden plots, which forced many Indians out of production. Secondly, the general
slum clearance undertaken by the government on the recommendation of the Moyne
Commission after 1938 caused East Indian vegetable plots to be destroyed in the process.
Though compensation was offered in some cases, this was said to have been inadequate.
Indeed, where slum clearance had taken place in order to construct roads, no compensa-
tion was paid. Thirdly, the ban on the house-to-house sale of vegetables by the Kingston
and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) Law Chapter II, Section 31 of 1931, deprived
Indian market gardeners of their primary income-generating activity. These developments
caused urban Indians to swell the ranks of the urban unemployed and forced them to
apply for poor relief and relief employment.69
These were not obtained without some difficulty, however, for to be eligible for
jobs under the government relief work scheme, persons seeking such jobs in Kingston, for
example, were required to register in person at the Kingston Employment Bureau where
they would obtain tickets and be given jobs wherever and whenever these became avail-
able.60 Whenever Indians joined the queues in order to register and obtain their tickets,
however, it was alleged that they were frequently 'elbowed' out of such queues by
blacks.61 Those who managed to remain in the lines to have their names registered claim-
ed that they were not always issued with tickets as ticket distributors tended to favour
blacks. Indians charged that ". . even ex-criminals and people of desperate character are
given relief work over the heads of honest, hardworking East Indians".62
Such acts of aggression against Indians on the part of blacks in the twentieth cen-
tury may be explained by Blalock's theory that aggression serves the purpose of reduc-
ing competition with the minority or of handicapping potential competitors. His general
thesis is that in times of crisis minorities are especially likely to be selected as targets for
Another explanation, however, might be found in certain actions of the Indians in
this period which aroused the anger of blacks. One such action was their formation of
communal associations in keeping with their expressed intention of maintaining, as much
as possible, ethnic exclusivism in Jamaica. This sentiment was expressed in the evidence
of a member of the East Indian National Union (EINU) before the Moyne Commission of
1938. According to Raout, ". . Indians have their own customs and culture. They do
not like to mix. They are against adopting western principles of socialism.. ."64 Coy, the
EINU's solicitor, added in his evidence that ". . the majority of Indians regard them-
selves as a separate community. . (Only) a very minor proportion .. feel that they are
Jamaicans".66 In addition, the Indians, through their communal associations, namely the
EIPS, EINU and East Indian Association of Jamaica (EIAJ), lobbied for special economic
benefits such as special consideration for land and poor relief benefits. Their rationale was
that the Jamaican government was responsible for their economic plight and should com-
pensate them in some way.

The blacks, who indeed regarded East Indians (whether or not they had been born
in Jamaica) as aliens, resented the Indians for the special considerations they claimed.
Indeed, between 1940 and 1950, the "alien debate" took place in Jamaica. People com-
peted with each other in order to give what would be considered to be the 'correct'
definition of a "true Jamaican". From the numerous letters to the editors of the major
newspapers of that time it became clear that not all subscribed to the view that being
born in Jamaica made a person a Jamaican. Thus the society was divided into aliens and
Jamaicans.66 The general feeling was that aliens should neither dominate, nor benefit
from, Jamaica's economic resources, particularly since even as settlers, their adaptation to
the Jamaican environment did not extend to a complete assimilation or identification
with Creole society.
In conclusion, the failure of the Indian presence in Jamaica to have the expected
result of depressing wages by creating a reservoir of cheap surplus labour defused a poten-
tially volatile situation among the labouring population in the nineteenth century and in
the first quarter of the twentieth century. Economic problems in Jamaica in the post-
World War I years, however, created massive unemployment among both black and Indian
labourers and brought them into confrontation where previously a certain degree of sepa-
ration and the lack of economic competition had tended to preclude violent conflict.
Indians, increasingly regarded by Afro-Jamaicans as aliens who were not entitled to any
benefits in the island, were often passed over in the allocation of jobs. One is forced to
conclude, therefore, that the single most important variable which determined the pre-
sence or absence of conflict between Indians and blacks was the economic variable. As
long as Indians did not threaten the economic (and therefore, social) status of Afro-
Jamaicans, conflicts were low-level, except where triggered off by petty incidents or
group stereotypes. Where both groups competed in the same job market, conflicts increas-


1. See, for example, G. Knox, 'Race relations in Jamaica', Ph.D. Diss., Univ. of Florida, 1962;
R. Nettleford, Identity, race and protest in Jamaica, London, 1970; B. Headley, 'Toward a
cyclical theory of race relations in Jamaica', Journal of Black Studies, 15 (1984), 207-22;
L. Broom, 'The Social differentiation of Jamaica', P. van den Berghe, ed., Inter-group relations:
Sociological perspectives, New York: London, 1972, and F. Henriques, Family and colour in
Jamaica, London, 1968.
2. These exceptions include H. Johnson, 'The anti-Chinese riots of 1918 in Jamaica', Immigrants
and Minorities, 2 (1983), 50-63, and A. S. Erlich, 'Race and ethnic identity in rural Jamaica:
The East Indian case', Caribbean Quarterly, 22 (1976), 19-27.
3. See Headley, p. 212.
4. Ibid, p. 210. See also, G.Kinloch, The Dynamics of race relations, New York, 1974, p. 6.
5. For detailed discussion of such ideologies, see G. K. Lewis, Main currents in Caribbean thought:
The historical evolution of Caribbean society in its ideological aspects 1492-1900, Kingston:
Port-of-Spain, 1984, pp. 307-320; Headley, p. 214; Sandra Wallman, 'The boundaries of race',
Man, 13 (1978); Erika Vora, 'The evolution of race', Journal of Black Studies, 12 (1981) and
P. van den Berghe, Race and racism; A comparative perspective, New York: London: Sydney,


6. M. G. Smith, The plural society in the British West Indies, Los Angeles: London, 1965, pp.
92-115; D. Lowenthal, West Indian Societies, London, 1972, pp. 81-82 and Knox, pp. 23-24
and 271-272.

7. V. Shepherd, 'Separation vs integration: The experiences of the Indian group in the Creole
Society of Jamaica, 1879-1945', M.Phil. Diss., U.W.I., 1985, p. 53.

8. For detailed discussion of Indian immigration see Shepherd, 'Separation vs integration . ., and
H. S. Sohal, 'The East Indian indentureship system in Jamaica, 1845-1917'. Ph.D. Diss., Univ.
of Waterloo, 1979.

9. V. Shepherd, 'Transients to Citizens', Jamaica Journal, 18 (1985), 17-26.

10. C.O. 318/173, Anti-slavery Correspondence, 1847, and P. Curtin, Two Jamaicas, New York,
1970, p. 135.

11. Gt. Britain Parliament. Papers relating to the West Indian colonies and Mauritius, Encl. signed
by J. E. Henderson, Darling to Stanley, 29 March 1858.

12. B. Brereton, Race Relations in colonial Trinidad, 1870-1900. Cambridge, 1979, pp. 188-189,
and Knox, p. 120.

13. P. van den Berghe, Race and ethnicity: Essays in comparative sociology. New York: London,
1976, p.294.

14. Erlich, p. 21.

15. Brereton, p. 89.

16. For detailed information on this typology of race relations, see van den Berghe, Race and
ethnicity. ., pp. 20-41.

17. East Africa is a good example of such countries. See van den Berghe, Race and ethnicity ...,
pp. 276-303.

18. Such countries include Trinidad and Guyana. See Brereton, Race relations in colonial Trinidad
.., J. Landia, 'Racial attitudes of Africans and Indians in Guyana', Social and Economic
Studies (hereafter S.E.S.), 22 (1973), 427-439; W. Rodney, A history of the Guyanese work-
ing people, 1881-1905, Kingston: Port-of-Spain; London, 1981. C. Jayawardena, 'Culture and
ethnicity in Guyana and Fiji', Man 15 (N.S.), 430-450, and R. T. Smith, 'Some social charac-
teristics of Indian immigrants to British Guiana', Population Studies, 13 (1959).

19. India Office Records (hereafter I.O.R.) V: (30) 1991, No. 4, Comins note on emigration from
India, 1893, Sec. 49, p. 26.

20. Falmouth Post, 20 May, 1845.

21. Brereton, p. 190.

22. Sanderson Committee Report. Evidence of Gov. Sydney Olivier, 1 July 1909. It should be
noted that the importation of Indians was greatest during the years of black emigration to Cuba
and Central America where they went to seek better paid jobs.

23. G. W. Roberts and J. Byrne, 'Summary statistics on indenture and associated migration affect-
ing the West Indies, 1834-1918', Population Studies 20 (1966), 129.

24. Sohal, p. 38.

25. K. L. Gillion, The Fiji Indians: Challenge to European dominance, 1920-1946, Canberra,
1977,p. 14.

26. F. Henriques, Family and Colour in Jamaica, London, 1968, p. 48 and Knox, p. 226.

27. Brereton, pp. 186-189, and Erlich, pp. 21-24.

28. The Presbyterian, (Jamaica), 27 (1935) and V. Shepherd, "The Presbyterian Mission to the East
Indians in Jamaica, 1894-1936; A note on cultural integration in a multi-racial society", Paper
presented at a Symposium on the cultural heritage of Jamaica, U.W.I., Mona, 10-14 October,

29. H. M. Blalock, Jnr., Toward a theory of minority group relations, New York: London: Sydney,
1967, p. 51.

30. Comins' Report, p. 26 See also V. Shephard, "The emigration of East Indian women to Jamaica
and their experiences in the plantation society, 1845-1945: A working paper", Social History
Workshop, U.W.I., Mona, 8-9 November, 1985.

31. Comins, p. 26. This numerical disparity was a matter of concern throughout the period of
Indian immigration and led to the stipulation by law of a minimum ratio of 40 females to every
100 males. This ratio was not always maintained, however, C.O. 571/3, Immigration corres-

32. Shepherd, 'Separation vs Integration. .', p. 229.

33. A. Erlich, 'History, ecology and demography in the British Caribbean', South-Western Journal
of Anthropology, 27 (1971), 169-178.

34. Personal interview with Jattan, Westmoreland, December 1982, and Baburam, Portland, August

35. R. E. Park, Introduction to the Science of Siciology, Chicago, 1924, p. 150, referred to by E. F.
Frazier, 'Sociological theory and race relations', van den Berghe, ed., Inter-group relations, p.

36. Shepherd, 'Separation vs Integration . .', p. 165.

37. Central Government File (hereafter C.G.F.), 1B/9/28, Jamaica Archives. Doorly to the Colonial
Secretary, 31 December 1909.

38. See V. Shepherd, "The education of East Indian children in Jamaica, 1879-1949", Postgraduate
Seminar Paper, U.W.I., Mona, 1983.

39. Shepherd, "The Presbyterian Mission ., p. 15. The Census of 1943 indicated that 80 per cent
of the East Indians in Jamaica were Christians.

40. Johnson, 'The anti-Chinese riots ..', and Knox, p. 233.

41. Sir Leslie Probyn, Governor of Jamaica in 1919, made this observation in a despatch to the Sec-
retary of State, in that year. See Johnson, p. 53.

42. Ken Post, Arise Ye Starvelings, The Hague; 1938, p. 119.

43. Ibid.

44. C.O. 571/5, Gov. Manning to the Secretary of State for the colonies, 3 January 1916.

45. See Elizabeth Petras, 'Black Labour and White Capital: The Formation of Jamaica as a Global
Labour Reserve, 1830-1930', Ph.D. Diss., State Univ. of New York, 1981, pp. 362-422.

46. Jbid., pp. 421-422

47. J. D. Tyson, Robert on the Conditions of Indians in Jamaica, British Guiana and Trinidad,
Simla, 1939, p. 33.

48. Ibid.
49. Ibid.

50. C.G.F. 1B/9/111/31, Report of a meeting between the E.I.P.S. and F. A. Stockdale, Gov't.
Comptroller, 11 October 1941.

51. Protector of Immigrants Report, 1914-1915.

52. M. St. Pierre, 'The 1938 Jamaica disturbances: A Portrait of mass reaction against colonialism',
Social and Economic Studies 27 (1978), 171.

53. I.O.R. L/P & J/8/108/17, C. C. Wooly to Malcolm McDonald, June, 1938.

54. Personal interview with Jaghai, St. Mary, 14 December 1982.

55. Daily Gleaner, 2 December 1938, the E.I.N.U. before the Moyne Commission.

56. C.G.F. IB/9/108/29A. James Hassan to the Protector of Immigrants, 7 August 1941.

57. C.G.F. 1B/9/88, 'Interviews and Statements'.

58. Tyson, p. 33.

59. See V. Shepherd, "Depression in the 'Tin Roof Towns' ". Paper presented at the Third Confer-
ence on East Indians in the Caribbean, St. Augustine, Trinidad, 28 August 4 September

60. C.G.F. 1B/9/156, The Labour Advisor to the Protector of Immigrants, 15 February 1941.

61. C.G.F. IB/9/111/29, P. Arms' Report of a meeting between Stockdale and the Protector of
Immigrants, 20 February 1941.

62. C.G.F. IB/9/156, Fred Payne, Managing Director, Kingston Employment Bureau, to the Pro-
tector of Immigrants, 24 January 1941.

63. Blalock, p. 49.

64. Daily Gleaner, 1 December 1938.

65. Ibid.

66. See for example, Jamaica Times, 3 February 1950. Letter from the Organizer-General of the
Afro-West Indian League.




When Indian Indentureship to Trinidad began in 1845, what later became known as
the 'Indian Women Problem' had already reared its head.The initial phase of migration to
the Caribbean of Indians destined for indentured labour on the plantations began as early
as 1838 when migrants to the then British Guiana were among the 6,000 men and 100 or
so women who were shipped to Mauritius, Australia and British Guiana between 1834
and 1839.1 The initial phase of indentured Indian emigration followed fast on the heels
of the abolition of slavery. This was an attempt (and eventually a successful one) by the
plantocracy to reduce labour costs as well as to re-establish some degree of labour control
on the plantation.
The first prohibition of indentured Indian migration which took place in 1839 was
fuelled by the activities of the re-organized Anti-Slavery Society against this 'new system
of slavery'. One of their major objections had been the small numbers of women among
the migrants during this initial phase] In November 1844 therefore when the government
of India lifted its ban on indentured Indian emigration to the Caribbean one of the condi-
tions was that at least 12 per cent of the emigrants be female.2 The inclusion of quotas
for women was mainly for public consumption.a On 30 May,1845 when the Fatel Rozack
brought the first 227 Indian immigrant labourers to Trinidad, 206 were men and 21
women.4 In addition to the factors in the receiving countries which favoured migration,
there were also developments in British India where:

To natural hazards and traditional fragmentation of
family holdings to an excessive degree, were added
changes in production following the training of Bri-
tish rule 6

which encourage migration.
In the eighteenth century Inaia had supplied cotton goods on a large scale to
Europe, but now she was losing her position as a manufacturing country and had been
transformed into a consumer of British goods. The textile industries were the first to col-
lapse before competition. Weavers and other workers were left without employment and
had no alternative but to fall back on the land. The land, however, did not welcome
them. According to J.C. Jha, British land policy in India had sought to create and per-
petuate a class of large landowners to the detriment of the small peasant proprietors
through, for example, the permanent settlement of Bengal in 1793.

This settlement destroyed the land tenure rights of small holders while increasing
the powers of landlords or zamindars over the tenants or ryots.6 This situation was further
aggravated by the recurrent famines in north India during the 19th century which
affected peasants and rural artisans whose conditions were worsened by the annexation of
Oudh to the British Empire in 1856.7
Within India itself one of the apparent effects of this combination of destructive
colonial policy with natural hazards was the migration of those affected to the towns
from surrounding areas. For these landless unemployed, facing the increasing competition
for survival in the towns, emigration to the British colonies was one alternative.
The system of indentureship was organized through two Emigration Agents in Cal-
cutta and Madras. They were responsible for the recruiting, safe-keeping and transporta-
tion of immigrants from India to the Colonies. In each recruiting territory there was an
Agent-general of immigration later known as the Protector of the Immigrants. They and
their staff were responsible for the receiving and assigning of immigrants to estates, look-
ing after their well-being health, food, working conditions and the prosecution of
estate owners who failed to provide adequately in any of these areas.

In spite of the experience of Caribbean slavery where women engaged in plantation
labour manifested a higher survival rate than their male counterparts,8 the planters
adopted the notion of women as unproductive and generated policies from this idea.
The relations of production between planters and their female indentured labourers must,
however, not be seen only in ideological terms but also as resulting from the planters'
initial unwillingness to finance the cost of reproducing a second generation of workers in
the Caribbean. This fact went a long way in creating the possibilities for Indian women's
independence in the Caribbean.

Recruitment Policy and the Reproduction of the Labour Force.
From its inception, Indian indentureship in Trinidad, as in all receiving territories,
was characterized by a numerical disparity between the sexes: far fewer women were
recruited and a number of reasons could be used to explain this. In India, since the 19th
century to the present, unlike in most other countries of the world, the ratio of women
to men in the population is much lower. In 1911, the ratio of women to men in the
United Provinces was 915 to 1,000 9 while in the Punjab and Delhi, at this time,
the ratio was only 817 women to every 1,000 men.10 Recruiting therefore took place in
a situation of an already existing unequal sex ratio.
Throughout the indentureship period, the approach towards the recruitment of
women varied over time in relation to the desire of the plantocracy and the exigencies
of the recruiting situation as mediated through the policies of the colonial authorities.
Some of these have already been identified and include the relative necessity to repro-
duce the labour force locally, the need to stabilize the male labour force and the prob-
lems incurred in securing the 'right kind of woman'.
During the early period therefore, as noted by Ramnarine,11 while the planters were
interested in immigration as a source of direct labour, _omen as a source of labour were
seen as financial liabilities due to the financial risks of child-bearing and child-rearing.

%'Thus, in the early period, little encouragement was given to family migration or for
women to migrate. In addition, the supposed 'natural weakness' of women was assumed
to be another discouraging factor and, in a search for 'able-bodied' labour, few women
were recruitedJ During the initial phase therefore between 1845 and 1848 no legal restric-
tions on the proportion of males to females existed. At least two authors, Weller and
Cumpston, stated that encouragement was given to men to bring their wives and fami-
lies.12 However, this could not have been very successful. In 1857, the ratio was set at
one woman to three men (1:3) and in 1859 it was changed to one to two (1:2). In 1860,
due to difficulties in recruiting the 'right type of women' this was reduced to one to four
(1:4) by Act XLVI of 1860. According to Weller,13 the Protector of the Emigrants in
Calcutta had the discretionary power to alter this standard.
The main areas of recruitment were the markets, railway stations, bazaars and
temples. The main towns in the north were 'nakas' between Delhi and Benares and includ-
ed Allahabad, Fyzabad and Agra. Muttra (Mathura) was apparently a main area for the
recruitment of women.14 From time to time although statements were made against the
recruitment of women from these areas because of their 'low moral character' similar
reservations were never made about men recruited from these same areas; The emigration-
agents were at pains to explain to the planters and the Colonial Office the difficulties of
obtaining the 'better class of women' and pointed out that these, if recruited, would be
totally unsuited to estate work.
Certain magistrates carried out thorough investigations of single women's back-
grounds before they would allow them to migrate. This was usually done through the
police and could take from one to three months.15 The women's statements were not
accepted. An obvious disqualification was, of course, the manifestation of pregnancy by
single women during the waiting period. nown prostitutes or those who were described
as 'coarse low caste females' were also disqualified. But in periods of great shortage these
controls could not be maintained and this contradictory situation was never adequately
resolved. In 1913, Mr A. Maisden, the Trinidad Government Emigration Agent writing
from Calcutta to the Under Secretary of State in the Colonial Office, had this to say:

. it is in the recruiting of women that more than
half our difficulties in emigration consist, and which
causes recruiters to get such a bad name, and fall
into disfavour with magistrates. In one district
where the recruitment of women had come to a full
stop for several months a new Magistrate was appoint-
ed who refused to register any woman for the col-
onies unless the recruiter who presented the woman
at the Court for registration gave some evidence that
he had been to the woman's village and obtained the
sanction of her husband for her to go abroad. The
recruiter replied "if I do this I shall get my throat
cut as the husband will be sure to attribute the cause
of the woman's leaving her home to my influence, no
matter how little truth there may be in the allega-

By the mid-19th century, much concern was being voiced over the 'kind of women'
who were being recruited. Many of the alterations in the official recruitment ratios were
made with this in mind. Throughout the period, contradictions continued between the
planters' short-term preference for adult male migration and their long-term need for a
self-reproducing, cheap and stable labour force. Among the male Indian workers, their
desire for docile, secluded and controllable women as befitted their aspirations for
higher caste status, conflicted with the planters' need for women as labourers and the
non-availability of women of 'the right kind' for migration to the colonies. The effect
of this latter contradiction was manifested in the increasing violence among Indian men
over women and towards women in all recruiting territories during the latter half of the
19th century.17 In July 1868, therefore, the proportion was again increased, this time to
1:2, but the Government of Bengal complained that this would lead to the recruitment of
'a low caste of women' mainly 'prostitutes'. The figure was altered once more by the
Government of India to 1:3 but finally it was fixed by the Colonial Office at 2:5.18
This did not persist and, according to Weller, in 1878-79 the proportion was once
again reduced to 1:4 on the plea that females migrating prior to 31 October that year had
had a high mortality rate.19 The recruiters used this opportunity to turn back family
, groups and individual women and to send single men.' Contrary to common belief, the
majority of Indian women came to the Caribbean not as wives or daughters, but as indi-
vidual women.AAs late as 1915 the commissioners, McNeil and Lal, described the compo-
sition of women indentured labourers thus.

S [_fhe women who came out consist as to one-third
of married women who accompany their husbands,
the remainder being mostly widows and women who
have run away from their husbands or been put away
by them.jA small percentage are ordinary prostitutes.
Of the women who emigrate otherwise than with
their husbands and parents the great majority are not,
as they are frequently represented to be shamelessly
immoral. They are women who have got into trouble
and apparently emigrate to escape from a life of
promiscuous prostitution which seems to be the alter-
native to emigration . What appears to be true as
regards a substantial number is that they ran away
from home alone or accompanied by some one by
whom they were abandoned, that they drifted into
one of the large recruiting centres and after a time,
were picked up by the recruiter.20

Following on this observation, it is interesting to note the types of women who did
migrate. LOf the two-thirds who were not wives of migrating husbands, the majority as
mentioned earlier were widows.jln India then as now, in many cases the position of
widows was particularly abhorrent. In particular, Brahmin widows and those of other
twice-born castes who, in spite of certain possible escapes suffered the stigma of impurity,
were forbidden to remarry and were forced to live miserable lives in the homes of their

in-laws. In particular, the case of child widows was especially difficult and was an issue
eventually taken up by the nationalist movement.21 As a result of this(Brahmin widows
comprised a large proportion of those migrating.?-!
The remaining number usually comprised women who had left their husbands or
been deserted by them for whom prostitution or destitution was the only remaining
alternative in India. A smaller number included unmarried women who were pregnant or
already practising prostitutes seeking a new life. Thus, it can be seen that the decision to
emigrate, in itself, was a sign of the independent character of these women and the deci-
sion to emigrate alone was a sign of their strength. According to David Dodd writing on
British Guiana -

many of the women who did come to the colony
tended to be already more independent and self-
seeking than those whose fathers, husbands and bro-
thers decided that they should not go .. .22

This contrasts greatly with the commonly-held image of the docile, meek Indian
woman arriving five steps behind her husband. Within India itself, the usefulness of this
image for certain categories of women was recognized by the colonial authorities.

In 1882-83, Tinker noted that two reports were forwarded to the Indian govern-
ment on this question. The first was by Sir Alfred Lyall, Lieutenant/General of the North
Western provinces, and Major D. J. Pitcher.23 They believed that:

A very large proportion of the women who now
emigrate are persons who have been turned out of
the home, or have lost their friends by famine or
pestilence; some were Hindu girls who have been
forced to become Muslims in some inter-communal
quarrel; many were widows; therefore women might
benefit more by emigration.24

The other report was written by G. A. Grierson, a scholar of ethnographic and linguistic
studies. It was forwarded by the secretary of the Bengal government to the Indian govern-
ment in March, 1883.25
'Grierson also saw emigration as a necessary outlet for women in trouble. He assert-
ed that the best sort of female recruit was drawn from those abandoned and unfaithful
wives who could make a fresh start by getting out of the home environment (the only
alternative for them was prostitution). Many magistrates refused to register an absconding
wife; but said Grierson, women have rights too, and if an alienated wife was determined
to go, no officer has the right to stop her'.
According to Tinker, 'It was a radical suggestion within the conservatism of Indian
society and Anglo-Indian officialdom'. These two reports, however, did have some effect
and once more the ratio of two to five (2:5) was advanced. It is interesting to note that the
social reality of life in India did not always conform to the ideology of 'conservatism'
which was and is often propounded: women were 'deserted' or abandoned or had

children outside of marriage. It is possible that the government of India saw this as an
opportunity to rid itself of some of the aberrations.
Reports vary as to the actual nature of the recruitment process. It is possible that
differences can be explained chronologically. But it is also possible that in any one
period different methods were used, depending on the character of the recruiters. The
main question usually discussed in relation to this is the extent to which people had come
of their own free will and the extent to which they had been forced to come. If one
attempted to use the two approaches mentioned above, it is possible to suggest that at
all times both were used. Tinker points out that a clear correlation can be seen between
increases in migration and years of economic difficulty. For example, he states:

Thus in 1860-61, there was famine in the North-
Western Provinces and a high departure rate from
Calcutta (17,899 in 1860 and 22,600 in 1861). The
year 1865-66 produced famine in Orissa and Bihar
and a high emigration (19,963) while from 1873-75
there was acute scarcity in Bihar, Oudh and the
North-Western Provinces.. 26

While this general rule with regard to migration could largely be accepted, the
recruitment of women presented special problems. After the initial period when no spe-
cific sex proportions were laid down, the effects in the colonies were such as to make the
recruitment of women an issue throughout the period of immigration. The independence
of character of the first female recruits left much to be desired as far as the planters and
Indian men were concerned. To a large extent both groups desired women who could
facilitate a certain degree of 'stability' in estate life, who could accept a subordinate
position and also work diligently in the fields. The following letter gives an example of this

April 26, 1851.

No. 40,
My Lord,

I have the Honour to report the arrival of the "Eliza Stewart" with 173 Coolies on

The number is small, but the appearances and condition of the people are highly

There is but a small proportion of women (eleven) which is to be regretted.

I am happy to say that a great number of Coolies who have completed their five
years have declared themselves ready to accept the bounty.

If a cargo entirely of women could be sent over, I have little doubt that the greater
number of the Coolies would remain here permanently.

I have the honour to be My Lord
Your Lordship's Most Obedient
Humble Servant

The Right Honourable
Earl Grey
(CO 295/173)

There was clearly a need for some women as a means of keeping experienced male
workers in the country and as available labour themselves on the estates. Later in the cen-
tury, the need for women became increasingly apparent, but the old contradiction of the
'kind of women' continued to rear its head. In 1891, the sex ratio for the entire Indian
population in Trinidad was 637 women to 1,000 men.27

In 1893 therefore surgeon-major D.W. D. Comins recommended the reduction in
the period of indentureship for women from five to two years as a means of encouraging
the migration of women.28 In making this recommendation, which was eventually
accepted, Comins was pandering to the prevailing ideology within the Indian and Trinidad
ruling classes, which accepted the definition of women as 'housewives' and of seclusion as
a sign of high caste status. The hypocrisy of this ideology, however, and the way in which
it was/is used to mask women's productive contribution to the society and economy were
clear in his addendum to this recommendation. He assured the planters that, after the
two-year indentureship period, he was certain that the husbands would not allow their
wives to 'sit idle' if plentiful and good wages were available.29 By the early 20th century,
the recruitment of women became a much more serious issue as complaints were being
made to the Government of India and increasing opposition was emerging against the
'slavery of Indian men and the prostitution of Indian women'. It is interesting to note the
way in which the exploitation of women was characterized, not in terms of their work as
labourers, but in terms of their morals. In other words, while the realization of men's
life-potential was seen in terms of their labour and work, for women who were also
workers, it was seen in terms of the necessity to control their sexuality. In this period,
therefore, in an effort to:

(i) ensure a self-reproducing labouring population
in the face of the threats to end emigration;
(ii) supply an adequate number of women to sta-
bilize the male population, and
(iii) to assuage complaints that women were placed
beyond the control of their menfolk and lead-
ing an independent life, family migration was
reluctantly supported.

In response to the demands for an increased number of women migrants, in the
early 20th century new rates of commission were established which offered a much
higher commission for women than for men. At the same time, however, attempts were
made to place more stringent controls on the type of women recruited.
In 1915, for example, Mr C. W. Doorly, emigration agent in Madras, informed the
Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies of recent changes in rates of commission for
recruitment. The new rates were

Original Rates Men Women
1-10 35 45
11-20 45 60
21 and over 55 70
Alterations beginning
1 -10 35 55
11-20 40 70
21 and over 45 80

He gave as reasons for these alterations the difficulties he was having in filling the requir-
ed quota of women. He said,

the continued scramble for women does undoubtedly
lead recruiters to take a certain number of persons
who are not desirable emigrants. As an instance, I
may mention by occasion of my last shipment to
British Guiana. I was very short of women and yet in
a week prior to the embarkation I had to reject nearly
20 women as undesirables.30

In 1916 and 1917, the period immediately preceding the abolition of the system
of indentureship, great debate ensued within colonial circles in India on this question. In
August 1916, W. M. Hailey, Chief Commissioner of Delhi, argued that "if a high propor-
tion is insisted on, the females will always tend to comprise a proportion of prostitutes
and women who were seeking to escape their husbands or their families. ."31 This view
was shared by many others who, after years of experience, distrusted the establishment of
proportions as a means of dealing with this 'problem'. In December 1916, in a pamphlet
'Labour in Fiji', Mr Andrews advised that a bonus be given to men migrating to encour-
age 'the taking out of female children by married persons' rather than recruit a number of
'unattached women'. On this same issue, E. L. Hammond, Secretary to the Government
of India, argued that married emigrants should be encouraged to take their families with
them to the colonies; that greater facilities be given to unmarried immigrants to find
wives among the free population and married immigrants whose families had been left
behind be given part of the costs of bringing them over.32 In December that same year,
Sir Wilmot G. Golvin, chief commissioner of Ajmer-Merwara, also rejected the fixing of
sex proportions and instead recommended the giving of 'large bonuses in the case of Fiji
and Trinidad for married couples taking out daughters of age between 10 and 14 and bon-
uses of less amount in similar cases emigrating to Jamaica and British Guiana'.33

In 1917 the debate continued, but the emigration agent took on a more defensive
posture. Mr Doorly, emigration agent for Madras, argued that:
It must be borne in mind that genuine field labourers
such as the planters require can be obtained only
from the lowest castes i.e. from the non-moral class
of the population. A more moral type is found higher
in the social scale, but such women would be useless
in the fields. ..
He continued:
In my view, the class of women recruited during the
recent years is not an undesirable class for the men
who accompany them and who are drawn from the
same social stratum as themselves. .34

To prove that family migration was accepted out of the needs of planters, Doorly
in another confidential letter noted that, while he had always favoured family recruit-
ment, the Colonies always objected to receiving dependents. 'Now'. however, he admit-
ted, 'we must look to families for our chief source of supply and in order to get them we
must take a fair number of old and broken down . dependents . .'.35 Unfortunately
it was too late to have much effect on the existing system. Many of these recommenda-
tions were incorporated into new proposals made initially in 1917 for the replacement of
the system of indentureship by one of assisted migration. By 1917, however, in response
to the great public outcry in India, the system was abolished.
For a number of reasons, the majority of Indian women who came to the Carib-
bean were not the docile, subordinate wives which the traditional understanding of
Caribbean history would have us believe. In spite of the many cases of kidnapping,
enticement and false information, it is clear that a large proportion of women did make
a conscious decision to seek a new life elsewhere.36 Unfortunately, their intentions did
not fit in with those of the planters or the Indian men in the Colonies and already at this
recruitment stage attempts were made to control the situation.

Women's Labour in Plantation and Peasant Production
Much less consistent data exist on the exact nature and character of estate work
than exist on recruiting. There is general agreement .that it was hard and inhuman but
exact details of changes over the entire period are hard to come by. Most ot the data
easily available are relevant to the latter period when changes had been made after vari-
ous commissions had reported, and not for the earlier period. Most of the information on
estate labour is derived from these reports -

1. Surgeon-Major D. W. Comins, Note on Emigration from
India to Trinidad, 1893.
2. Report on Emigration from India to the Crown Colonies
and Protectorates (Part I) and Minutes on Evidence and
Papers laid before the Committee (Part II), 1910. (The
Sanderson Report).

3. James MacNeil and Chaimman Lal, Report to the Govern-
ment of India on the Conditions of Indian Immigrants in
the Four British Colonies and Surinam (Part I) Trinidad and
British Guiana, 1915.

Unfortunately, many historians writing on indenture have ignored this fact and taken this
information of the latter eighteen (18) years of indentureship to be relevant for the
entire seventy-two year period.

Plantation work in general meant work on sugar estates but it also included work
on cocoa and coconut estates. As would be expected, tasks differed. On sugar estates, the
degree of work varied with the season of the year. During the production season, work
continued up to 15 hours a day and all indentured labourers men, women and children
- were involved. Most work was allocated according to 'tasks' a kind of piecerate system
- and the 1875 Ordinance specified five tasks a week to an immigrant. The main occupa-
tions on the estates as outlined by D. W. Comins for Woodbrook Estate37 were:

Planting Cane
Banking chiefly by contract
and free Coolies
Forking, flat
Forking, burying trash
Forking, furrows
Manuring (pen)
Manuring (Foreign), (small
Cane cutters, chiefly free
Cane carriers at mill
Mill workers
Fuel carriers

35$ per day
25t per 450 holes
25$ per day

$6/2 per acre
404 for 6,000 to 7,000 ft.
404 for 4,000 ft.
10; per 100 holes

104 to 15 per day
254 for 20 to 55 rods
25$ to 30t per day
254 to 30t per day
30$ per day
354 per day

While in general wages were low for all indentured labourers, for women it was even
lower. Comins noted that 'women, boys and weakly men are given permanently some
sum less than 25 cents per task because it has been decided that they are unable to do a
full task. .,' (my emphasis). McNeill and Lal found that women normally earned 'about
one-half to two-thirds the wages of male immigrants'.39 Even in periods of high season
when, for example, at Palmiste Estate in 1891, men got 50, 60 and 70 cents for a task,
all women received a flat rate of 25 cents a day on task-work.40 In addition to the pay-
ment of low wages, Comins found on some estates the practice of carrying forward
'an ever accumulating debt' for rations supplied to women during pregnancy. This result-
ed in them earning no wages for months or years.41

Some writers found, however, that in spite of wage differentials, some women could
earn a gross salary almost equal to that of the men by doing more tasks and/or working
extra hours. For example, McNeill and Lal found that

The best woman workers earn almost as much as the
average man.. 42

Unfortunately, the wage differentials in most instances served their traditional
purpose of making the Indian woman dependent on men in spite of the fact that they
were full-time workers. This practice, although universally in existence, was contrary to the
terms of agreement made in India which stated that adults over 10 years should be paid as
adults with no differentiation made for women, weakly men, boys or girls.43
The appendix to the Sanderson Report gives a breakdown of wages on various
estates. Ross Shiels44 noted that the statistics given in this report are often incomplete
and inadequate, but are nevertheless used for an illustrative rather than an accurate ana-
lytical purpose, helpful in the absence of comparable data.45

Brechin Castle Estate Ist April, 1907 31st March. 1908

1. Average Wage per Day Actually Worked

Number of Average Actual Total Wages Average Wage
Immigrants Days Worked per Earned per Day per
Head Head

Males 461 195.44 $22,830.44 25.33 cts

Females 181 94.02 3,512.85 20.64 cts

2. Average Wage Earned per Legal Working Day

Number of Average Actual Total Wages Average Wage
Immigrants Days Worked per per Day per
Head EarneHead

Males 461 280 $22,830.44 17.68 cts
Females 181 3,512.85 6.93 cts

3. Average Wage Earned per Day at 365 Days per Annum

Number of Average Actual Total Wages Average Wage
Immigrants Days Worked per Earned per Day per
Head Head

Males 461 365 $22,830.44 13.56
Females 181 3,512.85 5.31

A further factor differentiating female indentured labour, especially during the
latter period, was the length of indenture. As the pressure to encourage large numbers of
'respectable' females to emigrate grew, a number of actions were taken to facilitate this.
In the mid-1890s therefore the indentureship period for women was limited to three
years.46 While a few 'well-off Indian men could afford to keep their wives at home, the
large majority of women did continue to work on the estates. This change was used as a
bait to encourage men to migrate with their wives, during this latter period when family
migration was encouraged. In 1892 when Comins recommended the reduction of the
indentureship period of women to two years, he assured the planters that he was certain
that the husbands would not allow their wives to 'sit idle' if plentiful and good wages
were available,47 although he noted in his 'Diary' that 'The women are so well off that
many of them do not work'.48 Another source, however, states that in 1891 when the sex
distribution for the entire Indian population was 637 females to 1,000 males, there were
14,131 female agricultural labourers to 26,771 male.49 This view is also supported by
Shiels who stated that not only did the majority of women continue working after the
three-year period but they worked harder during the next two.50

During the late 19th century, the Trinidad sugar industry faced one of its perennial
economic crises. Among the measures taken to control the falling rate of profit was the
introduction of cane farming in conjunction with the reduction of wages. The system of
cane farming, like most peasant proprietorship, was based on the existence of at least the
basic nuclear family where the wife would work 'at home' in cane production and sub-
sistence food production but could provide additional labour on estates when needed
during harvests. Men on the other hand continued to work on the estates but could con-
tribute to their private production during their spare time. This system served a number
of purposes for the planter by providing a ready reservoir of cheap labour; providing an
alternative source of sugar cane, thus removing dependence on wage-labour (in the light
of numerous strikes during this period); and subsidising wages by allowing workers to
produce a certain proportion of their own food (Johnson, 1971).51

Between 1869 and 1879, therefore, 19,055 acres of Crown Land were given to
Indian immigrants in lieu of return passage and between 1885 and 1900 a further 37,256
acres of Crown Land was sold to Indians.52 This system allowed many men to fulfil their
desire for a 'secluded' wife who did not labour for a wage on the estates. This withdrawal
of women from plantations to peasant production also fitted in with the overall colonial
policy of defining all women first as 'housewives' as this was the period when Indian men
were being supported by the Colonial State in the reconstruction of their family system
in the colonies. Thus, the yard-stick eventually used to determine whether suitable condi-
tions existed on an estate was in terms of men's labour. The Sanderson Report said:

It is provided in the Ordinance (#70) that when by
the returns of the Protector is that 30 per cent of
the adult males indentured to any estate during the
year earn a wage averaging less than 6d. per diem for
the whole 365 days, it shall not be lawful for the
Protector to entertain any application for fresh immi-

grants on behalf of that plantation . (my emphasis).M

In spite of a relatively sizable working female population on the estate their
wages were of no consequence in determining conditions on the estate. This criterion was
uncritically accepted by the Trinidad Workingmen's Association (TWA) in their fight
against immigration.

With few exceptions, Indian women, like their African counterparts before them,
came to the Caribbean as workers and not as dependents or, as the planters wished to por-
tray them, 'for other purposes'. During the initial stages, the planters were unwilling to
cover the costs of the local reproduction of their labour force which large numbers of
female workers apparently implied. At later periods, however, the ideology of woman as
'unproductive labour' facilitated their exploitation as cheap labour at half the cost of
male labour; through their availability as part-time labour during harvests and eventually
as a means of reproducing the cheap labour force when indentured migration was

Social and Domestic Organization
As alluded to earlier, one of the main factors affecting the position of Indian
women in Trinidad and Tobago was the low proportion of women in relation to men.
That this was considered a major problem by the State, the Church and the men is
apparent from the records. The following table gives an idea of the sex ratio between
1871 and 1911.

Sex Ratios (Male per 1,000 females) Among Estimated
Net Immigrants to Trinidad, 1871-1911

Sex Ratio
East Indian Other

1871-1881 2,143 1,101
1881-1891 2,117 1,246
1891-1901 1,748 1,147
1901-1911 3,037 744
Source: Jack Harewood: The Population of Trinidad and Tobago,
CICRED Series, 1975.

The records, as would be expected, express the views of the dominant groups.
Nowhere, except in quotations, is the voice of women heard.54 Even the oppressed
Indian men through their illustrious letter writer Mohammed Orfy were able to have their
views made public. The way in which the women perceived their situation, therefore, has
to be judged from their actions and analysed without colonial and religious moralism. As
to how women were perceived by these various institutions the following quotations give
us some idea.

The Presbyterian Church
'There were no zenanas in Trinidad.55 Our women immigrants are not recruited
from the class that in India are shut up in zenanas. In Trinidad they find themselves of

added importance through the small proportion of their sex. They have great freedom of
intercourse and much evil example around them. Sad to say they often show themselves
to be as degraded as they are ignorant. On the other hand many are beautiful and lov-
able, faithful to their husbands and devoted to their children. This however is by no
means the rule.'56

'S.E.M. (Sarah Morton) The loose notions and prevailing practices in respect of
marriage here are quite shocking to the new-comer. I said to an East Indian woman whom
I knew to be a widow of a Brahman, "You have no relations in Trinidad, I believe".
"No Madame", she replied, "only myself and two children; when the last (Immigrant)
ship came in I took a papa. I will keep him so long as he treats me well. If he does not
treat me well, I shall send him off at once; that's the right way is it not?" This will be to
some a new view on woman's rights.'57

The Colonial State
'The proportion of Indian females in the colony is so much smaller than that of
males that it is impossible for every man to have a wife of his own even if he wished to
have one. This evil is also increased by the fact that in some cases Indians, such as shop-
keepers, landholders etcetera who are in comfortable circumstances have more than one
wife and though they may be married to one, keep another as a concubine. .'

'Predisposition to immorality among women emigrants. The Government of India
in paragraph 7 of its despatch observes that it is inevitable under existing conditions that
among female immigrants there should be "a large proportion of persons who are pros-
titutes, social outcasts or who have been unhappy in their domestic relations". These
persons besides being prone to immoral conduct themselves must by their example exer-
cise a corrupting influence on the respectable women who are compelled under pre-
sent conditions to live in barracks with them.. .'59

The Men
another most disgraceful concern, which is most prevalent and a perforating
plague, is the high percentage of immoral lives led by the female section of our commun-
ity. They are enticed, seduced and frightened into becoming concubines, and paramours
to satisfy the greed and lust of the male section of quite a different race to theirs.

. they have absolutely no knowledge whatever of the value of being in virgin-
hood and become, most shameless and a perfect menace to the Indian gentry.'60

'Is it permissible for a male member of the Christian faith to keep a hindoo or
muslim female as his paramour or concubine? Is this not an act of sacrilege and a dis-
graceful scandal according to the Christian faith to entice and encourage Indian females
to lead immoral lives? It is a burning shame, and a grave cancer of a disgraceful and scan-
dalous nature, which is predominantly amongst the females of India. This tends to prove
most detrimental to the welfare in general to our community. Is it plausible that as those
females desire to live as paramours with males of a different race to hers. Fathers nor
husbands, nor brothers, who are their lawful protectors have power over them and are

not in the least heard when such matters are brought before the authorities; all the
consolation these lawful protectors derive are, so long as the girls are pleased, no one has
power to interfere.' 61

What is evident from these quotations is that many Indian women, probably for ,
the first time in their lives, got an opportunity to exercise a degree of control over their
social and sexual lives which they had never had beforeDAs pointed out in an earlier sec-
tion, the majority of women who did migrate were already independent women who
were seeking a new life. These were hardly the type of women who would fall back into
the oppressive life patterns from which they had fled. This situation in relation to the
women differed greatly from the desires of the men. To them migration was an attempt
at improving their economic and if possible their caste status. The practice known as
'sanskritization', common in other areas of high Hindu migration, was not absent here.
Maria Mies in her book Indian Women and Patriarchy shows clearly the increased restric-
tions on the social, sexual and economic freedom of women the higher up the caste and/
or economic ladder. In fact a restricted wife was/is a sign of high caste. That this was/is
the position, at least of Mohammed Orfy (although apparently muslim), is clear by the use
of the words 'Indian gentry' to describe the indentured or ex-indentured labourers in
Trinidad and Tobago. These words obviously express an aspiration on their part to re-
create themselves as an Indian gentry in Trinidad.

Many writers on this subject have chosen either to ignore the situation of Indian
women in this period or to accept the judgments based on colonial and religious moral-
ism. Tyran Ramnarine, for example, writing on British Guiana, noted that 'This Ordinance
(16 of 1894) apparently brought no improvement in the class of women recruited. .'
(my emphasis), while J. A. Weller noted that the 'paucity of women created various sorts
of immorality in the depot, on shipboard and in the colony'.62 These authors accepted
uncritically these definitions of morality as well as the class prejudices of the colonial
authorities. It is, however, in relation to the registration of non-Christian marriages that
most of the discussion has taken place.

In discussing the question of marriages, one first has to come to terms with'the phe-
nomenon of 'depot marriages'. According to Tinker, in spite of the strict segregation of
the sexes, relationships did develop between them. It is interesting that while still on the
Indian sub-continent, people were willing to disregard caste, religion and custom, and get
married.One can suggest that among the poorer agricultural classes/castes from which the
majority of the immigrants were drawn, restrictions on marriages were less strict. Or the
explanations could be seen on a more subjective level as Tinker.

The advantage to the man is obvious: he had someone
to cook for him and to attend to him in a society
where females were very scarce. But there was also
advantage to the woman in securing a protector in a
savage new environment, and in establishing some
sort of recognized position in a social order, which
held no place for an adult single woman.63

S 'These marriages were, however, the exception rather than the rule,'for Ramnarine
notes that among the 4,000 adults who travelled to Guiana in 1892, 421 marriages took
place on board ships.64 These marriages, despite their legality, had no claim on stability
after the arrival of the ships. Indian women apparently preferred to leave their 'depot hus-
bands' for men who had lived longer on the colony and could offer them a better stand-
ard of living.,So great was this problem that by 1882 the immigration authorities in
Trinidad and Tobago were considering the possibility of registering these marriages 12
months after the immigrants' arrival in the country.

In relation to the legal registration of marriages which had taken place in the
country other problems arose. These arose from the fact that the majority of Indians saw
no necessity to register their marriages at a government's registration office when an elab-
orate wedding ritual had already taken place. In India itself there was no need for
registration. The discussion on this subject has occurred extensively.65 Much of the
discussion (not necessarily in these texts) has centred around the obvious failure of the
Colonial government to automatically accept Hindu and Muslim marriages as being
legally constituted. Most writers quite rightly condemned this as the means through
which thousands of Indians were robbed of their land and other inheritances by being
declared 'illegitimate' as well as being debarred from attending secondary schools. With
the exception of Professor J. C. Jha, few have sought to explain why, in spite of the
immeasurable economic and social loss incurred by this practice, the majority of the
Indian population, up until the 1930s, refused the relatively easy solution of registering
their marriages. The following may serve as an explanation.

In 1893, Sarah Morton noted a case where a father had sold his daughter nine
times for money and goods and on each occasion had refused to deliver her.66 Similar
instances were noted by other authors. Tinker noted that this was common in all receiv-
ing countries. He states:

Because females remained in scarce supply the par-
ents reversed the usual Indian custom of providing a
dowry for their daughter when she became a bride
and often instead demanded a bride-price. .67

Among the labouring classes (and tribals) from among whom the majority of
migrants came, bride-price and not dowry was the norm. In their new situation, however,
girl children did gain an increased value due to the shortage of women. Weller noted that
'female infant children were considered a valuable addition to a family and were reared
with great care'.68 This improvement in the 'marketability' of girl children by their
fathers did not really represent an improvement in their position per se. Rather, child
marriage from as early as ten years became the rule.
The advantage of this new situation, however, was that women could now, on their
own accord, leave one husband for another or have parallel relationships with more than
one man, Sarah Morton noted with dismay many such cases, including one where the
mother left her child with its father when leaving to go to live with another man. Of
course, reports vary as to the degree to which women left one man for another or were
enticed or seduced away from one man to another. Proponents of the former position

viewed this action as immoral, while proponents of the latter viewed the woman as hap-
less, childlike victims of adult, worldly men. In either case, the independent intelligence
or decision-making capacity of the woman was not considered.! he independence of the
Indian woman was seen therefore as a source of shame by the Indian mai.' In addition,
the inability to have one woman upon whom he could exercise all the power and author-
ity denied in a colonial situation only added fuel to the fire.

It was for this reason therefore that around 1880, according to Weller, 274 Indian
men in the presence of the Presbyterian Reverends Morton, Grant and Christie petitioned
the government for the right to prosecute an unfaithful spouse and her partner in guilt in
the magistrates court, the complaint court or the supreme court with damages of 10,
25 or more or imprisonment. The wife was to be imprisoned if she did not return to her
husband. In other words, the men sought less to punish the women than to possess and
control them-.These recommendations were accepted and promulgated as th Indian
Immigrant Marriage and Divorce Ordinance, No. 6 of 1861, which was later incorporated
into the Immigration Ordinance of 1889.69
The law was one means through which the Indian men sought to re-establish
control over their women in a situation which denied them any other source of power. In
addition to this, another weapon more easily available to them was used. A weapon used
by men internationally to maintain control over women violence and in the specific
case of the sugar plantation, the cutlass (machete).{One Guyanese clergyman, Archdeacon
Josa, sympathetically put it this way:
Is it any wonder then that the Hindu who, according
to his own religion, is so far superior to the woman,
when he finds that his wife has proved unfaithful
takes his 'cutlass' and makes mincemeat of such a
thing? He considers woman a mere chattel, we feel
for the man. We could almost wish that capital pun-
ishment were abolished for such as he until he
learns to understand that woman is his equal his
helpmate his wife.70

The murder of women was a phenomenon common to all areas of high Indian
migration. Trinidad and Tobago was by no means at the head of the list. According to
Donald Wood, between 1859 and 1863 twenty-seven (27) murders were committed by
Indians and in each case it involved the wife or mistress of the murderer.71 In British
Guiana between 1885 and 1890. 40 murders of women occurred of which 33 were of
wives killed by husbands or reputed husbands.72 But not only did the men kill women;
to a lesser extent they killed other men and/or committed suicide. To some extent, these
actions had the effect of stereotyping Indian men but this violence had the much more
lasting and important effect of placing Indian women once more firmly under the control
of the men through the reconstruction, albeit in a different setting, of the Indian
patriarchal family system.

That violence was necessary for such a reconstruction is apparent. The continu-
ous letters of Mohammed Orfy to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Indian

government and numerous other authorities bear testimony to this. In addition, the
inclusion of clauses in the immigration ordinances prohibiting the harbouringg of an immi-
grant's wife', and the continuous court cases resulting from breaches against this law, are
all evidence of the struggle which ensued. The Indian woman did not 'naturally' give up
,her new found freedom as some writers would have us believe, but was forced to do so
and kept in that position through similar means. This is not to deny, however, that the
equalisation in the proportion between the sexes over a period of time would have had
the effect of changing the relationship between the sexes.
The dissolution of caste endogamy was another important effect of this situation.
Although the majority of migrants came from the lower agricultural castes, it is known
that members of higher castes including Brahmins and Kshatriyas (mainly Rajputs) also
came.73 Indeed, Donald Wood goes so far as to suggest that between 1845 and 1870
Brahmins comprised the second largest caste represented among the immigrants.74
Wood notes that Brahmins falsified their castes in order to be allowed to migrate as
they could be rejected by the officials as unsuitable labourers.75 In addition it was
known that a large number of the widows who migrated were from the higher castes
where widow remarriage was totally forbidden. On the whole, most of the five main
factors governing Hindu marriage endogamy, exogamy, prohibited kin, virgin marriage
and hypergamy were irreparably broken down. In the case of the last mentioned,
hypergamy, Brahmin widows formed relationships with and/or married men of lower
castes and the opposite occurred to a much greater degree. Comins noted in 1893 that
Thousands of men have been for years past living
with women who are not of the same caste with the
result that their children would in India be looked on
as outcasts; I refer here of course to the Hindu part
of the population .76

Attempts to re-establish strict caste endogamy had much less success as it was obviously
in the interests of only a minority in the Hindu community.
Similarly, among Muslims (as among Hindus), the practice of polygamy was virtually
impossible. Comins noted in 1890 that among the 282 marriages declared on arrival, there
were six cases in which two women were entered as the wives of one man.77 He did not
state the religions involved. Polygamy is in theory permissible for all Hindus but, in
practice, rare. In a situation such as existed in the migrant colonies, more often than not
the opposite situation of consecutive relationships occurred.

It was through the Church that the Christian community was able to establish its
greatest influence over Indian women. This was through the Canadian Presbyterian Indian
Education system. This mission began work in 1862 under Reverend John and Sarah
Morton and they worked specifically among the Indians. The views of Sarah E. Morton
on Indian womanhood have already been expressed in this paper; her efforts to change it
call for an analysis of the Mission's education programme.
By 1890, Comins noted, there were 49 East Indian schools with 1,958 boys and
926 girls, with an average attendance of 1,876 pupils.78 He also noted that while educa-

tion of boys comprised industrial training and land cultivation that for girls comprised
'Needlework and cutting-out underclothing. .'79 This finding did not diverge greatly
from the stated aims of Mission Education as outlined by John Morton, which was '. . to
teach the largest number the three R's, a knowledge of the way of life and duty, and to
the girls sewing'.80 Comins found that very few children of indentured labourers attend-
ed school. One can only suggest that they were too busy working on the estates. On visit-
ing Tunapuna Presbyterian School on 11 June 1891, he found 12 Indian girls present
and was informed by the mistress, Miss Blackadder, that the girls were 'merely sent here
to be taken care of to save their mothers trouble, and not for any educational advantages
they might receive'.81

Post-primary education of girls usually meant an extension of housewife-oriented
training. In 1890 a 'Home for Christian girls' was opened with the express purpose of
developing girls who 'would naturally be qualified above all others to be wives of our
helpers' (my emphasis) or Biblewomen for the Church.82
This imposition of Western European middle-class housewife ideology taught in all
'Indian schools', when combined with a strengthened Indian patriarchal family system
re-established partly through violence, served to create the prototype of the submissive,
subordinate, docile Indian housewife who many would have us believe followed her hus-
band from India. On the contrary, the women of the agricultural castes were not then or
now housewives. The prerogative of a zenana or secluded housewife was not that of the
majority of Indian men who migrated during the indentureship period. But it was their
aspiration and in this they were supported by the Colonial Church and State.

The position of women in the colonies was one of the main 'whipping horses' of
the Indian nationalists against migration. It reflected the colonials' acceptance of Vic-
torian ideology on immorality and 'women's place'. As noted before, the campaign was
seen as one against 'the slavery of men and the prostitution of women'. The reports on
the 'immorality' of women in the colonies were seen as inflicting a blot on the image of
India which should be removed. Because of this emphasis on women, the campaign made
much use of women's organizations associated with the nationalist movement. Meetings
held throughout India, mainly among middle and upper-class 'ladies', passed resolutions
calling for the abolition of this system. Telegrams of protest were received from the
superintendent of the Widows Home in Cawnpore; the Ladies Branch of the Home Rule
League and from public meetings of'ladies' of Ahmedabad, Allahabad, Godhra, Surat and
Amraoti, dated January-February, 1917.83 Fiji appeared to be the focal point of dis-
cussion, but. it is possible that 'Fiji' became a generic concept for all colonial territories of
migration. At a public meeting of women of Ahmedabad, the women resolved to
approach the wife of the Governor-General of India, Lady Chelmsford, to intercede with
her husband on this matter. In this the governor's wife was appealed to as a woman who
could identify with conditions of women overseas. The resolution read in part as follows:

. the system of indentured labour under which
Indian women are taken to Fiji compels them to lead
a bad and immoral life and subjects them to indig-

nities and outrages. Children born in such immoral
conditions are brought up in degradation. This shock-
ing state of things requires that the system of inden-
tured labour should be stopped immediately. We
humbly beseech Her Excellency to hear this cry of
defenceless women and children of India and to
champion their causes. We are confident that as a
woman and a mother, Her Excellency will appreciate
the deep feelings of Indian women on this subject,
and we pray that Her Excellency may be graciously
pleased to lay before His Excellency the Viceroy this
supplication of women and children of India .84

So great was public agitation in India that even the proposal for the system of
assisted emigration had to be shelved. In the latter years, attempts were made to address
these complaints, such as the implementation of the law giving the governor the discre-
tionary power to transfer estate employees (presumably Europeans) found guilty of
'immorality with an East Indian woman'. This and other actions aimed at protecting the
'chastity of Indian women' by the Government however came too late for the abolition-
ists and virtually all migration of labourers from India was abolished in 1917.

1. L. M. Cumpston, Indians Overseas in British Territories, Oxford Historical Series, Oxford Uni-
versity Press, London, 1953. p. 21.

2. J. C. Jha, "Indian Indentured Migration 1835-1917", n.d. (mimeographed).

3. See Cumpston, p. 69.
4. M., Kirpalani, Rameshwar Sinanan, S. M. & L. J. Seukeran, Indian Centenary Review: One
Hundred Years of Progress 1845-1945, Trinidad, B.W.I. Guardian Commercial Printery for
Centenary Review Committee, 1945.
5. See Cumpston, 1953.
6. See Jha.
7. See Jha.
8. Rhoda Reddock, "Women and Slavery in the Caribbean: A Feminist Perspective" in Latin
American Perspectives, Issue 44 Vol. 12, No. 1, 1985.
9. E.A.H. Blunt, The Caste System of Northern India: With Special References to the United Pro-
vinces of Agra and Oudh, S. Chand & Co. New Delhi, 1969. p. 67.
10. C.O. 571/5: 11985.
11 Tyran Ranmnarine, "Indian Women and the Struggle to Create Stable Marital Relations on the
Sugar Estates of Guiana During the Period of Indenture, 1839-1917". Paper presented at the
12th Conference of Caribbean Historians, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, 1980.
12. Judith A. Weller, The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad, Institute of Caribbean Studies, Uni-
versity of Puerto Rico, Caribbean Monograph Series, No. 4. 1968.

13. Ibid., p.4.

14. High, Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas 1830-1920,
published for the Institute of Race Relations by Oxford University Press, 1974. p. 123.

15. Ibid. p. 131.

16. C.O. 571/1 No. 33014, 1913, p. 8.

17. Arthur & Juanita Niehoff, East Indians in the West Indies, Milwaukee, Public Museum Pub-
lications in Anthropology No. 6. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1960., David Dodd, "The Wellsprings
of Violence: Some Historical Notes on East Indian Criminality in Guyana", in Caribbean Issues,
Vol. II No. 3 December 1976, and Ramnarine.

18. Bridget Brereton, "The Experience of Indentureship 1845-1917" In Calcutta to Caroni,
John La Guerre (ed), Longmans Caribbean 1974, p. 75; Weller, P. 4.

19. See Weller.

20. Sir Henry Cotton, "Indian Indentured Labour in our Colonies" in the Indian Emigrant, July,
1915. p. 372.

21. Maria Mies, Women and Patriarchy, Concept Publishing Company. 1980, p. 49.

22. See Dodd, p. 9.

23. See Tinker, pp. 266-7.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid., p. 119.

27. H. H. Clarke, "Introductory Note to the Census of East Indian Population." Government of
Trinidad and Tobago, 1891, Appendix in Comis A not on Immigration from India to Trini-
dad, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta, 1892.

28. See Comins Diary 1893, p. 49.

29. Ibid., p. 49.

30. C.O. 571/3, 54685. p. 3.

31. C.O. 571/5,27270.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. C.O. 571/5, 27680.

35. C.O. 571/5, 27681.

36. See Tinker, p. 124.

37. Surgeon-Major D.W.D. Comins Diary, 1893, p. 3.

38. Comins Diary.

39. James Mac Neill, & Chaimman Lal, Report to the Government of India on the Conditions of
Indian Immigrants in Four British Colonies and Surinam. Part I: Trinidad and British Guyana,
London, 1915, H.M.S.O. Cmd. 7744.

40. Comins Diary, p. 36.

41. Comins Diary, p. 15.

42. See Mac Neill and Lal, pp. 20 -21.

43. Comins Diary, 1893. p. 9.

t4. Ross Sheils, "Indentured Immigration into Trinidad 1891-1916" unpublished thesis, Univers
ity of Oxford, 1969.

45. Sanderson et al, Report on Emigration from India to the Crown Colonies and Protectorates
(Part II) and Minutes of Evidence and Papers laid before the Committee (Part II) Cmd. 5192,
5193,5194, 1910, pp. 139-40.

46. Tikasingh, Gerad, "The Establishment of Indians in Trinidad, 1870-1900," unpublished Ph.D.
thesis, Department of History, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, 1973., p. 112.

47. See Comins Diary 1893, p. 49.

48. Ibid, p. 4.

49. See Clarke.

50. See Shiels, p. 162.

51. Howard Johnson, "Immigration and the Sugar Industry in Trinidad during the last quarter of
the 19th Century" in Journal of Caribbean History, Vol. 5, 1971

52. See Brereton, 1979, pp. 179-181.

53. See Sanderson et al, p. 66.

54. Interviews with ex-indenture labourers have been carried out by Peggy Ramesar.

55. Zenanas 'part of house for the seclusion of women of high caste families in India and Iran ,
Pocket Oxford Dictionary, 1982, 1054.

56. Sarah E. Morton, John Morton of Trinidad, Westminster Company, Toronto, 1916. p. 185.

57. lbid, p. 342.

58. Note by the Protector of Immigrants to Surgeon-Major D.W.D. Comins, 1893, pp. 30-31.

59. A note on the System of Assisted Emigrants to the Colonies, 1916, CO 571/5: 27270.

60. Mohammed Orfy on behalf of destitute Indian men of Trinidad, CO 571/4 W.I. 22518 (1916).

61. Petition of Indentured Labourers in Trinidad, 1916.

62. See Weller, 1968, p. 3.

63. See Tinker, 1974, p. 140.
64. See Ramnarine, 1980, pp. 3-4.
65. See Jha, J.C. "The Background of the Legalisation of Non-Christian Marriage in Trinidad &
Tobago." Paper presented in the conference on East Indians in the Caribbean: A Symposium on
Contemporary Economic ana Political Issues, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine
1975: Marianne Ramesar, Indian Immigration into Trinidad 1897-1917, unpublisned Master's
Thesis, Department of History, University of the West Indies, Mona, 1973 and also Weller,
66. See Morton, p. 342.
67. Tinker, p. 203.
68. See Weller, pp. 71-72.

69. Ibid., p. 69

70. See Dodd, pp. 11.

71. Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition: The Years after Slavery, Oxford University Press, 1968.
p. 154.

72. See Ramnarine, p. 2.

73. See Weller, 1968, Appendix: Table 7.

74. See Wood, p. 143.

75. Ibid.

76. Comins Diary, p. 31.

77. Ibid., p. 30.

78. Ibid., p. 33.

79. Ibid., p. 35.

80. Morton 1916, p. 225.

81. Comins Diary, p. 15.

82. Morton, p. 347.

83. CO 571/5, 27270.

84. Ibid.

This article was previously published in Economic and Political Weekly, Review of Women's
Studies, New Delhi, 26 October 1985.




One of the unintended consequences of the Great War was the termination of East Indian
immigration to Trinidad and shortly thereafter the abolition of indentureship. This grand
imperial undertaking which had introduced some 144,000 Indian immigrants to Trinidad
by 1917 had drastically altered the balance of ethnic forces in the Colony.1 Though
many East Indians had not fully established themselves in the mainstream of Trinidadian
life when the Treaty of Versailles was signed, there were others who, like members of the
black sector of the society, were affected by the influences and forces unleashed by the
war: the struggle for human rights; the campaign against colonialism; the manifestation of
democratic ideas and ideals; the rise of socialism and trade unionism and the struggle for
self-government. It is in this context that the East Indian population in the aftermath of
the Great War were to seek rights and privileges denied them under the rigidity of the
indentureship system.
The struggle for such rights and privileges which had begun in the nineteenth cen-
tury and had taken the form of isolated strikes, revolts and revengeful acts against estate
officials, was now to continue.2 But this time, the struggle for social justice was to be
more assertive than in the past, largely because of the new relationship between master
and ex-indentured worker. Indeed, with the end of World War I, East Indians in Trinidad
began to participate more fully and actively in the colonial campaign for social, economic
and political reform, and within a few years were to join with other groups in the society
in a collective struggle for such advancement.

It is against this background that this paper is being written. It will attempt to
examine indian working-class involvement in the politics of labour reform during the
period 1919 to 1939. More specifically, it will attempt: to examine the nature and extent
of Indian involvement in labour politics during this period; to assess the contribution
which Indians made to the development of the trade union movement; and finally to
probe the extent to which Indian working-class leadership, as represented by Adrian Cola
Rienzi after 1935, contributed to the building of working-class solidarity in Trinidad,
thereby throwing a bridge across the ethnic divide between Indian and black workers.

Indian participation in labour politics in Trinidad can be traced to the time of
indenture. The withholding of labour through strike action, open revolt and arson were
all tried in the nineteenth century in attempts to win economic and social demands.a
But, whatever methods of protest were taken, they were invariably put down with the
utmost severity. As Professor Hugh Tinker has reminded us, "even when the coolies were

granted some of their demands (usually through the intervention of the Immigration
Department), their ringleaders were always singled out for punishment".4 The absence of
effective labour organization among Indians had helped to precipitate this state of affairs.
But then, this was the deliberate policy of the indentureship system:
Any effective protest depended upon the presence of
Indians with some experience in the use of force:
or alternatively upon the chance of a homogeneous
group of people with the same background being
together upon one estate. If the workers on one
estate protested, others might hear and follow the
example. But the effectiveness of the isolation which
the system enforced was apparent in the absence of
combined activities.5

It was only after the end of indenture that Indian estate workers in Trinidad began to
organize in a small way, both on and off the plantations.

Genesis of the TWA
The opportunity for Indians to participate in labour politics presented itself once
again in 1919. Like other colonial workers in Trinidad, the Indian labourer was influ-
enced by post-war economic conditions, newspaper coverage of the Russian Revolution
and the contact made with ex-soldiers of the British West Indies Regiment upon demobi-
lisation.6 These influences helped to put many in the category of workers whom David. A.
Headley, president of the Trinidad Workingmen's Association (TWA) in 1921, described
as "a different class of workers from that .. encountered twenty or more years ago". As
Headley pointed out:
The workingman of today is not prepared to allow
himself to be lured into satisfaction with whatever
the generous overlord who seeks to exploit his labour
may generously dole out to him in the form of wages
or under the guise of philanthropy . Capital must
realise that it has an entirely new situation to face,
that the momentous issues into which it has been
plunged, through the new thought of the new ideas in
this new era, must be sought out . in the broader
principles of give and take and on the higher and loft-
ier plane of conciliation and compromise.7

It is amidst these influences that many Indians gravitated towards the TWA in an
attempt to win labour and economic demands. The decision taken by some Indians to
join the Association in 1919 was quite understandable. East Indian indenture had only
recently ended. It was therefore premature to expect Indian working-class unity parti-
cularly when it is remembered that one of the major accomplishments of the indenture
system was its success in dividing Indians on the plantations for so many years.8 Second-
ly, many Indians did not consider it worthwhile to seek labour and industrial demands
separately from other groups especially when such demands were similar and were being

sought from common colonial masters. Most important, in 1919, the TWA had demon-
strated quite convincingly that it was able to win demands for colonial workers. This was
clearly evidenced by the industrial settlement arrived at between the Trinidad Lake
Asphalt Company and the Association which had represented the asphalt stevedores.9
It is therefore not surprising that in the strike-torn year of 1919, when Indian workers
had downed tools at the Waterworks and Sewage Department of the Port-of-Spain City
Council, the Trinidad Rice Mills Limited,10 the Port-of-Spain Harbour,11 and sugar
plantations in Montserrat, Couva, Cunupia, Esperanza and Chaguanas where one Indian
worker was killed,12 they became attracted to the TWA. Indeed the Association, a pre-
dominantly black working-class organization in 1919, slowly began to attract Indian
political support as the decade of the 1920s progressed. For though such groups as the
East Indian National Association (EINA), the East Indian National Congress (EINC) and
the Young East Indian Party were in existence in 1921, they were no more than middle-
class Indian organizations concerned primarily with political and constitutional problems
as they affected the position of Indians in Trinidad."a In post-war conditions therefore
some Indian workers, who recognized the value of co-operative organized effort as a
means of obtaining industrial and social reform, gradually joined the Association.

The rise of Cipriani
Though Indians had taken the initiative in joining the Association, the executive of
the TWA strategically responded in 1924 to increase its Indian membership by unani-
mously supporting the election of Captain A. A. Cipriani as President of the Association.
It was felt that Cipriani's leadership would help to combat any apparent cleavage between
Indians and blacks, and consequently assist in the development of a united working class
movement in Trinidad.14 As Ryan has noted, in a situation which demanded a neutral
ethnic type, Cipriani, as a white man became a positive asset. This was particularly
important since, for colonials,

whiteness was still a highly valued attribute ... To be
white, was to be blessed, to have gift of grace. The
masses, especially the urban blacks, were flattered by
Cipriani's championship of their cause. They likewise
believed that as an interceding agent he would be
more useful than one of their own someone not
so blessed.15

Under Cipriani's leadership, the Association crystallized its labour manifesto and advo-
cated the need for a trade union law, workmen's compensation, old age pension,
minimum wage law, eight-hour working day and the abolition of child labour. The TWA
took this manifesto to Indian workers in the agricultural belt where it readily obtained
support, so much so that TWA branches were soon formed in places like Chaguanas,
Couva, Princes Town and San Fernando.16 Moreover, it was the agricultural belt consist-
ing predominantly of Indians that gave the Association its first Indian vice-president and
legislator, Sarran Teelucksingh in 1925, and, three years later, its second Indian legislator
and executive official, Timothy Roodal.7 Though both men typified the rising Indian
middle-class in Trinidad, they nevertheless became the principal spokesmen for the cause
of the Indian working class both in the legislative council and the TWA.

Issues relating to the Indian working class were always considered important in
TWA decision-making circles. Throughout the second half of the 1920s Cipriani,
Teelucksingh and Roodal were to air their views consistently on the need to improve
labour and working conditions on the sugar estates and the urgent need to introduce
labour legislative reform in specific areas. The practice of child labour on the sugar
plantations in central Trinidad was one such area. In 1926 the prevalence of this prac-
tice was made public to F. 0. Roberts, a British trade unionist who had visited such areas
in Trinidad as Chaguanas, Couva and California to address TWA branches in the sugar
belt.18 During his visit Roberts noted both the extent of the Indian working-class
presence in labour politics in Trinidad as well as the validity of what Cipriani was later to
describe as the exploitation of children who were being "sweated, overworked and under-
paid"19 on the sugar estates in what was commonly known as the "para grass gang". As
Roberts noted:
At the meetings which I . addressed at . Couva
and Chaguanas I was struck with the intense enthus-
iasm displayed by the great crowds which attended.
In these districts some startling things were recount-
ed to me with regard to child labour and the fact that
many children are not receiving the benefit of educa-

Labour issues of this kind received foremost attention from the TWA and helped to
increase its Indian support.21 In addition, in 1929 C. F. Andrews, Gandhi's friend and
emissary to Trinidad and Guyana, was so impressed by the work of the Association in the
field of labour politics that he made a public plea for the unity of East Indian and black
workers under the umbrella of the TWA in order to ensure legislative gains in labour

Through its Indian vice-president Roodal, the TWA took the cause of the Indian
working class to London in 1930. There, he along with Cipriani addressed the Third
British Commonwealth Labour Conference23 on general colonial questions pertaining to
Trinidad. Among the topics raised was the need for the Imperial Government to reassess
its economic policy towards the West Indian sugar industry; the need to institute trade
unionism, minimum wage and old age pension laws; and the immediate inclusion in the
Workmen's Compensation Act of 1926 of agricultural workers and domestic servants.24
Cipriani pleaded for special consideration for the agricultural worker in the sugar indus-
The case for sugar is at present our most serious .
problem, and one that I feel sure, is not thoroughly
understood or fully appreciated. The fact that 90
per cent of the labouring classes in the colonies
are either directly or indirectly dependent on the
sugar industry for their existence is that which
makes it loom large in the industrial, economical,
and political life of the colonies to which we

While Roodal endorsed the Captain's view, he directed his comments specifically to the
position of East Indian workers in Trinidad. Indians, he remarked, "were existing under
conditions of low wages and poverty, and assistance for the sugar industry was essential
for their welfare".26
The position which Roodal and the TWA had taken in London undeniably helped
to increase the Association's Indian membership in Trinidad. This increase was also
stimulated by an external development. By 1930 there was a growing political awareness
among the Indian population in Trinidad influenced largely by the struggle being waged
in India by the Congress Party against British rule. Strong support for the Indian
independence movement came from the EINA, the EINC and leading Indian profession-
als in the Colony. In January 1930, the Indian population held a large meeting in Port-of-
Spain to give moral and political support to the All India National Congress.27 This meet-
ing was addressed by such prominent Indians as Roodal, Adrian Cole Rienzi, A. L.
Jamadar, E. Ramcharan, J. S. Dayanand Maharaj and Pundit Krishna Banerji, B. A., and
resolutions were passed pledging support to the Congress Party in its "Nation-wide Non-
Co-operation and boycott movement", and condemning the British Labour Government
for failing to give immediate independence to India.28 It was during this period of Indian
participation in political affairs that Cipriani and the TWA were to receive added Indian
First evidence of this in the 1930s was at a TWA rally in Port-of-Spain where the
Captain and Roodal delivered accounts of their activities in London. A "large number of
East Indians", who hitherto had played only a limited role in colonial labour politics, had
"travelled from the country districts to join their West Indian brothers in what they con-
sidered the common cause the betterment of their social conditions".29 Among them
were their religious leaders as well as C. B. Mathura,30 President of the Young Indian
Party in Trinidad, member of the TWA and later editor of The East Indian Weekly.

Indian support for the TWA, however, began to wane by 1934. Like black workers
in the rapidly developing oil and asphalt industries, Indian workers soon felt the full
impact of the Great Depression: growing unemployment, spiralling prices and low wages.31
Indian workers were not prepared to tolerate Cipriani's constitutional labour politics if
ready solutions to their serious plight were not found. As the depression mounted, the
entire agricultural sector on which the bulk of the Indian population relied for a liveli-
hood was brought to a state of near collapse. Workers in other areas of the economy were
also affected, particularly the cccoa sector where the advantages of increased production
and good world prices experienced earlier in the century had now disappeared.32 By
1934 it was clear that Cipriani's constitutional politics could not win demands for workers.
Consequently, they were prepared to take to the streets to dramatize their plight.
As the 1930s began, the Indian plantation labourer endured considerable suffering.
By mid-decade the price of sugar had fallen to the lowest level ever recorded. The wages
of sugar workers, which had experienced a slight increase, dropped drastically by 1934.
By contrast, "the prices of foodgrains and other necessities had increased considerably so
that sugar workers were reduced to a condition of poverty and even starvation".33 In
this situation social tension increased and by 1934 strikes and riots erupted in Trini-

Labour Disturbances
The East Indian labour disturbances of 1934, were the first major industrial conflict
to occur in Trinidad in the 1930s.34 It involved some 15,000 estate workers who went
on strike on all the sugar plantations in the counties of St George and Caroni to protest
against unemployment, excessive task work, harsh working conditions, low wages, mal-
treatment of labourers, and management's payment practices.35 The strikes engaged the
attention of the society throughout July during which time important developments and
dimensions to the industrial conflict had taken place. Indian agricultural workers had
attacked estate offices, had set fire to the homes and offices of estate managers, beaten
policemen, looted dry goods stores at Charlie Village, Chaguanas, San Juan, Todd's Road
and Freeport, disrupted communications by cutting telephone wires, beaten drivers and
overseers on the Brechin Castle, Spring, Rivulet and Caroni estates and destroyed estate
machinery.36 Such actions had become necessary when all other means had failed to soli-
cit management's sympathetic attention to the dire needs and problems of the estate
workers. When the disturbances ended, hundreds of arrests were made, heavy fines were
imposed and hundreds of East Indian sugar workers were imprisoned.37 In fact, the
number imprisoned at Chaguanas reached such proportions that "it was impossible to
keep them in the station cells". They had to be transferred to the Royal Gaol.38

The 1934 disturbances made it clear that the Indian working class had now become
a major force to be reckoned with; that they were at last shaking free from the grip of the
plantocracy. Through the co-ordination of activities and unity of purpose which workers
from the different sugar plantations displayed during the strike39 it was apparent that
they had come a long way from the days of indenture. For the first time in Trinidad,
signs of the potential capacity for solidarity of the Indian estate worker became evident.
This was made possible by the removal of the isolation which the indenture system had
enforced. Workers from different estates made use of the opportunity to meet and dis-
cuss common problems; they found it easier to co-operate and organise; it became easier
for news of grievances to spread; and hence the opportunity for a more determined, reso-
lute and effective opposition to traditional management labour policies. It took only
seventeen years after the termination of indenture for Indians to convincingly demons-
trate that they had already developed a labour and socio-political awareness of their own.

But just as important, the 193A disturbances reflected the frustration of the Indian
working class with the TWA's constitutional approach to labour politics. For Cipriani and
Roodal, who on a number of occasions attempted to pacify the workers, now found
their advice repudiated.40 Though the Indian working class still held both men in consid-
erable esteem, the workers' attitude reflected the changing mood of the time. It reflect-
ed the gradual emergence of a new perception among Indians of the socio-economic rela-
tionship in society between those who were considered "the hewers of wood and drawers
of water" and the estate management elite. Such an analysis transcended racial considera-
tions. Though the cultural, ethnic and political divide was still a predominant feature in
the society, economic conditions precipitated by the depression had helped by the mid-
1930s to stimulate the remarkable emergence of working-class consciousness which suc-
ceeded in throwing a bridge across the ethnic divide.

Rise of Youth Leadership
The mid-1930s also witnessed the emergence of young Indians who were not pre-
pared to tolerate the advocacy of Indian working-class interests by middle-class Indian
professionals or businessmen. Mitra G. Sinanan was one such example. A law student in
London in the early 1930s, Sinanan was annoyed at the composition of the Commission
of Enquiry appointed to investigate the disturbances of 1934.41 He single-handedly
protested its middle-class composition to the Colonial Office by denouncing the choice of
Seereram Maharaj and S. Teelucksingh as representatives of Indian interests.42 The
nature of his concern was well minuted by S. M. Campbell of the West Indian Department
in the Colonial Office.
A young Trinidad East Indian, Mr M. G. Sinanan ..
Barrister at Law Middle Temple called yesterday
at the library and asked to see Council Paper 109 in
(T) and was given facilities: he later asked . to see
all sorts of people including Sir John Maffey with
whom he seemed to claim some acquaintance or "had
met". He saw Mr J. B. Williams, Mr Rootham and
later myself as he had seemed dissatisfied on the evi-
dence point. . I gather that Mr Sinanan, who is very
frank about being anti-Trinidad Government and a
great democrat, was very cross over persons purport-
ing to represent labour being parties to the findings of
the Commission and he seemed to think that East
Indians in particular were very badly served in the
Commission's findings . He also complained of
inadequate representation of Indian (working class)
interests in Trinidad and hinted that the Indian repre-
sented in the Legislative Council were not representa-
tives at all.43

On the last point, Sinanan unquestionably had in mind Sarran Teelucksingh, a wealthy
cinema owner and elected member for Caroni and Timothy Roodal, an Indian oil
magnate and elected member for St Patrick.
But whereas Sinanan raised Indian working-class issues outside the official ranks of
the TWA and in the metropolitan centre of the British Empire, it was Adrian Cola Rienzi,
now based in Trinidad and a member of the TWA, who was able through his class analysis
of society to bring Indian and black workers together. Indeed, capitalising upon the influ-
ence which Butler had exerted in bridging the racial barriers in the oil belt, it was Rienzi,
the young Indian radical and intellectual, who became the new 'tribune of the people'
during and immediately after the labour disturbances in 1937. It was Rienzi who was able
to capture the imagination of the Indian and black worker and engender in them a sense
of working-class pride. Most important, it was Rienzi who was able to wrest from the
British Government the labour legislative demands which Cipriani, Roodal and Butler had
toiled so assiduously to achieve in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Rienzi (1906-1972) was born of Indian peasant parentage in South Trinidad as
Krishna Deonarine and, after an incomplete secondary education at Naparima College,

he worked as a solicitor's clerk in San Fernando for eight years.44 During this time he
developed an interest in politics and in 1924, at the age of 18, he became both President
of the San Fernando branch of the TWA and the Association's chief organizer for South
Trinidad.46 In 1925 his left-wing political leanings first became apparent when he initiat-
ed correspondence with S. Saklatvala, Communist Member of Parliament for Battersea in
the United Kingdom, as a consequence of which he swung more to the left.46 This
became public in 1927 when, as President of the San Fernando branch of the TWA, he
despatched a congratulatory cable to the Soviet Union on its tenth anniversary of "suc-
cessful government" and in it he pledged the support of Trinidad workers in the
"struggle for world socialism".47 Unfortunately for him, the cable was intercepted by the
Superintendent of the West India and Panama Telegraph Company and passed on to the
Governor of Trinidad.48 It was this cable which henceforth brought him under the close
surveillance of the colonial government and subsequently the Colonial Office.49 Between
1927 and 1930 he was closely associated with the short-lived Indian National Party,50
and was an active member of the Trinidad EINC for which he sought affiliation with the
British Labour Party.51
Advised by Saklatvala, Rienzi left Trinidad for Trinity College, Dublin, in the latter
part of 193052 to study jurisprudence, but shortly thereafter was forced to leave for
London because he had become an ardent sympathiser of the Sinn Fein Movement and
"went around lecturing for the IRA".53 Arriving in London in 1931, he entered Middle
Temple where he graduated in 1934,54 and during his stay there came under the direct
personal influence of Saklatvala, whom he met for the first time. Here he also became
associated with a number of radical causes in the United Kingdom, particularly the
struggle for Indian independence. As Calder-Marshall has noted, Rienzi's association with
Saklatvala was the high point in the former's intellectual life and it was in Saklatvala's
company that the young Rienzi found not only "his ideas clarified" but also "his move-
ments watched by the police".55 On Rienzi's return to Trinidad in July 1934, he wrote
to Cipriani of his willingness to work again with the TWA, and the Captain reluctantly
accepted his offer. Cipriani was now highly suspicious of the left-wing leanings which
Rienzi had developed in England and, as one work has recently pointed out, the Captain
did a great deal to discourage some of Rienzi's initiatives.56 It is not surprising, there-
fore, that co-operation between both men in the Trinidad Labour Party (which had now
replaced the TWA) broke down. In 1935 Rienzi withdrew from the Party after the Cap-
tain accused him of being "a communist as well as a threat to his leadership".57 Rienzi
subsequently founded, first, the Citizens Welfare League, and in late 1935, the Trinidad
Citizens League (TCL). 58 It was in the latter organisation, however, that Rienzi was to
begin his climb to working-class leadership in the 1930s, for he understood only too well
that by 1935
the TWA was clearly a spent force. Under the domin-
ation of Cipriani, its strategy of "constitutional agita-
tion" and reliance on the British Labour Party to
promote its causes in Britain had not produced any
major positive result. No constitutional (or labour
legislative) advance had been made in the decade
under Cipriani's leadership, and the economic condi-

tion of the working classes had deteriorated steadily,
provoking hunger marches and other forms of mass
protest both in the rural and urban areas. Cipriani
was aware that industrial unrest was imminent, but
he could offer no solution to the working classes
other than advise restraint and continued constitu-
tional agitation.59

The Emergence of Butler
It was in the TCL that Rienzi came into contact with such working-class radicals
as T. U. B. Butler and J. F. Rojas and soon channelled the energy of the Indian and black
working-classes away from Cipriani's leadership. By mid-1936 the TCL, a southern-
based organisation confining its activities to San Fernando and the oil belt, had become
the main political rival of the TLP, and this, despite the fact that the League was not a
political party. As Rienzi, its chairman, stated:

The Trinidad Citizens League has not been formed
for the purpose of rivalling any political organisation,
neither has it been formed for the purpose of
advocating anything along purely party lines. In Trini-
dad what had been for a long time a crying need was
some platform upon which persons of various shades
of political opinion could join together without com-
promising particular creeds with a view to advocating
for those things which would better Trinidad by
opposing those things which were detrimental to the
interests of the colony.60

It was because of the TCL ineffectiveness as a political party that Butler left the League
and by September 1936 formed his own British Empire Workers and Citizens Home Rule
Party (BEW and CHRP).61 Indeed, it was the Butler Party which by October 1936 had
become the major opposition to the TLP and which, shortly afterwards, won the confi-
dence not only of oil workers but of those in other occupations as well.
Rienzi was not long to remain in the background. The consequences of the labour
unrest in 1937 made it necessary for the young radical to play his role. On 19 June,
1937, when the famous oil fields labour riots erupted in Fyzabad, Butler found it expedi-
ent to escape into hiding, leaving his followers without any sense of direction. More
important, the fact that a general strike had engulfed the Colony within two days after
the Fyzabad riots made it critical for someone of recognized stature to take over the leader-
ship of the workers. Through strike action workers in all sectors of the economy had
brought the country to a standstill. East Indian workers in the sugar plantations and
cocoa estates downed tools; so had government employees in the Public Works Depart-
ment and the Trinidad Government Railways, domestic servants, coconut labourers,
store clerks, waterfront workers, lightermen and, most important, all workers employed
in the oilfields.62 "At its height, seventeen categories of workers in seventy-two areas of
Trinidad had gone on strike,"63 and Trinidad was in the throes of a general strike "which
assumed a proportion previously unknown in the history of labour agitation" in the Col-

ony.64 As the Port-of-Spain Gazette noted, "the nearest approach of its kind" was the
Stevedores Strike of 1919 and the "Labour (Estates) Disturbances of July 1934".65
It was important for leadership to emerge in order to co-ordinate labour activities
and to articulate labour demands.
Butler had no doubt as to his choice for leadership in his absence. Away from pub-
lic contact, he managed to communicate with Rienzi soliciting the latter's legal services in
defence against criminal charges laid by the police in connection with incidents arising
out of the Fyzabad disturbances and delegating to him the responsibility of negotiating a
settlement for oil workers.66
It was in this context that Rienzi arose to take up the work left unfinished by
Butler. As Butler's "accredited emissary",67 because of his non-racial attitude which
stemmed from his class analysis of society, and because of his competence as a lawyer,
Rienzi was heartily received by the predominantly black oil workers and, more predict-
ably, by the predominantly Indian sugar workers. But equally important were Rienzi's
characteristics, so well described by Dr Vincent Toothill in 1939:
On top of the tide of the new political era is Adrian
Rienzi. Rienzi has all on his side youth, education,
culture, ability and a very considerable personality.
Rienzi is an Indian, but has lost the narrow outlook
of . race and has a big enough brain to see that no
one race will be all-powerful in Trinidad, in fact he
stands for the breaking down of racial and national
It is indeed remarkable that Rienzi, in the midst of the June disturbances, had emerged
as the first Indian leader in the history of the Colony to win the overwhelming support of
East Indian workers from the sugar industry. In the context of Trinidad's labour history,
this was a significant achievement.
The progress of events in June, 1937, had made it clear to Rienzi that it was
important to minimize the ineffectiveness of the bargaining power of the working class,
particularly when their demands were not always uniform or coherent and when some
groups were willing to accept certain agreements which others had rejected.69 The need
for institutionalized trade union solidarity had become important. Even Colonial Office
and Trinidad government officials had now come to recognize this fact.70 It is in this
context that the 1937 strikes spurred on the development of many of Trinidad's best
known trade unions and undoubtedly the single most important figure in the story of
their origin is the East Indian, Adrian Cola Rienzi.71 He was founder and president of
the Oilfield Workers' Trade Union (registered 15 September 1937), the All Trinidad
Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union (registered 24 November 1937), and was
instrumental in the formation of the Federated Workers Trade Union.72 The work
which Rienzi had initiated in Trinidad had begun to influence the other British Caribbean
territories. For as the Grenada West Indian was quick to point out:
Trinidad is without doubt best suited for initiating
the movement, and eyes everywhere will be turned
towards that colony, and the hope cherished that

those men who have undertaken the serious respon-
sibility will go about their task with caution and cour-
age and lay foundations which will support a solid
and imposing structure.73

Multi-racial Unions
The outstanding feature of the trade unions formed in 1937, as it is true today, was
the fact that their membership was drawn from different races. In June 1937, for the first
time, there was a united stand of working people against the poor wages and conditions
of the international oil companies and sugar estates. Such solidarity continued as the
1930s closed. Working class demonstrations came out overwhelmingly in support of
Rienzi in the Legislative Council in 1938. It was the first time in the history of Trinidad
that a trade union leader was elected to the Colonial Legislature. In January 1938 he had
organised a massive demonstration in San Fernando at which the presence of 8,000
oil workers, 5,000 sugar-workers and 2,000 cane farmers was claimed.74 Again, in June
1939, an estimated crowd of 25,000 strong was reported to have commemorated the
revolt of two years before:
Men and women and children of the Afro and Indo
West-Indian races, mixed together as never before,
reminding one of the Afro-Indian unity which was
born as a result of the struggles and sacrifices of these
two down-trodden races during the General Strike
in June 1937.75
Even The People, a pro-African paper which was inclined to an unsympathetic view of the
predominantly Indian sugar workers, came out in 1937 in support of Rienzi's leadership
and Afro-Indian solidarity.76 Similarly, the Senatar Dharam Board of Control, the offi-
cial Hindu religious body, supported the general view when testifying to the Moyne Com-
We wish to emphasize that no racial prejudice or rival-
ry exists in Trinidad between the masses of the East
and West Indians who live and labour in reasonable

Such a questionable statement no doubt reflected the mood of the society in 1937-1938.
Rienzi's climb to prominence coincided with the period when the British Govern-
ment had been forced by the colonial disturbances in the Caribbean and Africa to pro-
mote labour organizations and labour reform as a matter of urgent colonial policy. What
the Colonial Office had misgivings about was the capability of local labour leadership to
assist in implementing reform measures. This problem did not arise in Trinidad where,
unlike the oil and sugar magnates in the Colony, the Imperial Government, the British
Labour Party and the British Trades Union Congress shared considerable faith in Rienzi's
temperament and ability to proceed constitutionally with instituting change. An official
in the Colonial Office summed up the situation well:
Leaseholds .. wants the Governor to refuse to recog-
nise the union which is being formed by Rienzi: (a)

because they don't believe that the workers are cap-
able of trade union organisation; (b) because Rienzi
is a bad hat. The answer seems to be that (a) you
don't know until you've tried and it is the Governor's
policy, which on general grounds the S of S must
strongly support, to encourage the formation of trade
unions: (b) the only people who are capable of doing
this are the very people who have been known as
"red" in the past, and you've got to put up with them
and hope they'll get paler. Further it is clear that the
Governor is finding Rienzi useful as a negotiator.78
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, who supported
the formation of trade unions in Trinidad minuted that:
I see nothing in Rienzi's records to make us suppose
he is an unsuitable person as a T.U. leader. Anyone
who makes a nuisance of (himself) is called a com-
munist nowadays and one cannot start a T.U. move-
men in a place like this without being a nuisance to
Further support for Rienzi came from Sir John Shuckburg, Permanent Under-Secretary
at the Colonial Office. The latter considered Rienzi one of the "many persons of Indian
origin of high standing in these colonies . who ... has built up from nothing the two
Trade Unions in the oil and sugar industries".80 Top British Labour officials like Walter
Citrine, Arthur Creech-Jones, Stafford Cripps, Arthur Prigh, Dudley Collard and John
Jagger also had nothing but laudatory comments to make about Rienzi's contribution to
trade union development.
Against this background of support it is not surprising that Rienzi was able with his
small core of men, including John Rojas, E. R. Blades, MacDonald Moses and Ralph
Mentor to form the Trinidad and Tobago Trades Union Council;81 was influential in the
formation of The British Guiana and West Indies Labour Congress;82 and as a member of
the Legislative Council participated in drafting and refining such legislation as the Trade
Disputes (Arbitration and Enquiry) Law, the Recruiting of Workers Ordinance, the
Masters and Servants Law, and the revision of the 1932 Trade Union Ordinance permit-
ting the inclusion of the rights of peaceful picketing and immunity against action in
tort.83 Most important, he was able to negotiate successful industrial agreements for oil
and sugar workers. By mid-1938 Rienzi had already established his place in Trinidadian
labour history.
The period 1919 to 1939 therefore saw the slow but steady rise of Indians in the
politics of labour reform in Trinidad. From the strikes of 1919 through the Labour Estate
Disturbances of 1934 to the riots of 1937 East Indian workers had developed a steadily
growing labour-political consciousness which reached its height in the formation of the
first legal working-class combination in 1937 with a predominance of Indians the All
Trinidad Sugar Estates and Factory Workers Trade Union. This was indeed testimony to
the progress which the Indian working class had made since the end of indenture.

Equally important during this period was the fact that the Indian and black work-
ing classes were able to appreciate the identical nature of their labour legislative demands.
And for this reason it became avowedly wise and politic to co-operate in their attempt to
win progressive labour demands. It is indeed noteworthy that whereas Indians, to a large
extent, advocated political and constitutional reform within the fold of ethnic-based
organizations such as the EINA and the EINC during this period, they sought labour
demands together with black workers first within the fold of the TWA and later the trade
union movement. It was this inter-racial co-operation, working-class unity and solidarity
and the direction provided by the leadership of Cipriani, Butler and later Rienzi that was
responsible for the progress of the Indian and black working classes after 1937.


1. Of this number some 25 per cent had returned to India at the end of their contract.
2. See for example J.C. Jha, "East Indian Pressure Groups in Trinidad 1897-1921", Unpublished
Paper presented at Conference of Caribbean Historians, U.W.I., St. Augustine, April 1973 ,
p. 3; Donald Wood, Trinidad in Transition, London: Oxford University Press, 1968 p. 116;
D. W. Comins, Note on Emigration from India to Trinidad, Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Press,
1893 p. 42; Judith Ann Wellar, The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad, Rio Piedras: Uni-
versity of Puerto Rico, 1968 p. 49.
3. Ibid
4. Hugh Tinker, A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas 1830-1920,
London: Oxford University Press, 1974 p. 227.

5. Ibid., p. 226
6. Sahadeo Basdeo, "Labour Organisation and Labour Reform in Trinidad, 1919 to 1939",
Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada pp. 22-
7. David A. Headley, Labour and Life, Labour Series. No. 1, Port-of-Spain: The Trinidad Work-
ingmen's Association, 1921 pp. 4-5.

8. Tinker, A New System of Slavery, pp. 222-26; It is important to note that the exploitative
nature of the system was entrenched through the adoption by planters of the shrewd policy of
'divide and rule' in the selection of plantation officials from among the Indians. In appointing
drivers for instance, Creole blacks were placed over Indians, "Madrasees over men from Upper
India" and high-caste Indians under the supervision of a low-caste driver. Also, Indians from
one common area in India were not put to work on the same estate or on adjacent estates for
fear of combined protest.
9. Trinidad Guardian, 27 May 1919.
10. Trinidad Guardian, 18 March 1919.
11. Trinidad Guardian, 12 March 1919.
12. Trinidad Guardian, 10 December 1919. An Indian estate labourer was killed on the Woodford
Lodge Estate and a white plantation official was arrested for murder. See C.O. 295/526, Chan-
cellor to Milner, 27 January 1970.
13. Jha, "East Indian Pressure groups in Trinidad", pp. 13-14; Trinidad Guardian, 28 July 1922.
14. Basdeo, "Labour Organisation and Labour Reform". pp. 77-78.

15. Selwyn Ryan, Race and Nationalism in Trinidad and Tobago: A Study of Decolonisation in a
Multi-Racial Society, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972 p. 38.

16. C.O. 295/546, Wilson to Devonshire, 22 January 1923.

17. By 1928 both Teelucksingh and Roodal became vice-presidents of the TWA.

18. Trinidad Guardian, 7 January 1926.

19. Trinidad Guardian, 9 & 10 April 1926.

20. Trinidad Guardian, 9 January 1926.

21. See Trinidad Guardian, 9 April 1926 and Labour Leader, 25 July 1925 for official position of
TWA on the issue of child labour.

22. Trinidad Guardian, 9 & 21 August 1929.

23. The Third British Labour Commonwealth Conference like the two previous ones was held
under the auspices of the British Labour Movement (the Labour Party and the TUC) and
was attended by delegates representing labour parties and labour organizations from many
British colonies and dominions.

24. Memorandum of Trinidad Workingmen's Association dated 27 May 1930, in Report of The
Third British Commonwealth Labour Conference held at Westminster Hall, House of Commons,
London, between July 21 and July 25, 1930, London: The Trades Union Congress and Labour
Party, 1930 .

25. Port-of-Spain Gazette, 7 September 1930.

26. Report of Third British Labour Commonwealth Conference, 1930: Meeting of Fourth Session
Held on 24 July, 1930, p. 24.

27. Labour Leader, 4 January 1930.

28. Ibid.

29. Port-of-Spain Gazette, 4 November 1930.

30. L. S. Smith, Trinidad Who, What, Why, Port-of-Spain: Lloyd Sydney Smith, 1950 p. 289:
Chandra Bahadoor Mathura, born Chaguanas, 1896. Educated Chaguanas C.M.I. Began political
activities in 1911 holding many positions in the East Indian National Congress of which he was
Secretary in 1922. Founded Young Indian Party in 1921, and as Secretary, presented memor-
andum to Major Wood's Reform Commission. He edited and published the East Indian Weekly
for 7 years. He visited West Indian colonies on political missions including British Guiana
1935 -1937. He joined the Trinidad Labour Party and represented labour in Jamaica in 1947
at the Caribbean Labour Congress, and Montego Bay Conference. He was a member of the Port-
of-Spain City Council and an executive member of the Trinidad Labour Party.

31. Hugh Tinker, Separate and Unequal: India and the Indians in the British Commonwealth
1920-1950, London; C. Hurst 1976 pp. 162-63.

32. Malcolm Cross, "Colonialism and Ethnicity: a Theory and Comparative Case Study", Ethnic
and Racial Studies, January, 1978 p. 46.

33. Tinker, Separate and Unequal, p. 163.

34. For a detailed account of the 1934 disturbances, see Sahadeo Basdeo, "The 1934 East Indian
Labour disturbances in Trinidad. A Case Study in Colonial Labour Relations", Paper read at
Conference on East Indians in the Caribbean: A Symposium on Contemporary Economic and
Political Issues held at UWI, St. Augustine, 25-28 June 1975 .


35. C.O. 295/585, Report of the Labour Disturbances Commission, 1934, p. 10; See also Port-of-
Spain Gazette, 21-24 July 1934, C.O. 295/585, Telegram, Grier to Cunliffe-Lister, 27 July

36. Port-of-Spain Gazette, 18, 24-25, 27 July 1934. See also C.O. 295/585, Report of the Labour
Disturbances Commission, 1934, p. 8.

37. C.O. 295/585, Grier to Cunliffe-Lister, 28 July 1934. Enclosure. Inspector General of Constab-
ulary to Colonial Secretary, 27 July 1934.

38. Port-of-Spain Gazette, 25 July 1934.

39. Basdeo, "The 1934 East Indian Labour Disturbances in Trinidad," p. 21.

40. Ibid., p. 38

41. C.O. 295/585, Minute by S. M. Campbell, dated 12 December 1934.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. Six of these years were served at the office of Cyril Hobson. See A. Calder-Marshall, Glory
Dead, London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1939 pp. 225-30.

45. C.O. 295/563, Secret, Byatt to Amery, 21 December 1927.

46. Calder-Marshall, Glory Dead, pp. 229-30.

47. C.O. 295/563, Secret, Byatt to Amery, 21 December 1927.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid. The Governor wrote to the Colonial Office describing Rienzi as "of dishonest character
and has shown signs of markedly seditious views. On one or two occasions he has addressed
letters to the press of a violently anti-British character . though Deonarine has, so far, given
no actual ground for action against him, his violent opinions make it desirable to keep a watch
on his activities."

50. C.O. 295/565, Confidential, Byatt to Amery, 21 August 1928.

51. C.O. 295/563, Secret, Byatt to Amery, 21 December 1927.

52. There is evidence that Rienzi was in Trinidad in the early part of 1930. See Labour Leader,
4 January 1930, when he attended a meeting of prominent East Indians to support the cause
of Indian Independence.

53. Calder-Marshall, Glory Dead, p. 230.

54. Middle Temple Admissions Register, Vol. III, p. 933.

55. Calder-Marshall, Glory Dead, pp. 229-30.

56. Surjit Mansingh, "Background to Failure of the West Indies Federation: An inquiry into British
Rule in the Caribbean, 1920-1947," Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, The American Uni-
versity, New York, 1972 p. 168.

57. Ryan, Race and Nationalism in Trinidad and Tobago, p. 41.

58. Calder-Marshall, Glory Dead, p. 222.

59. Kelvin Singh, "Adrian Cola Rienzi and the Labour Movement in Trinidad (1925-1944),"
Paper read at Eleventh Conference of Caribbean Historians, University of the Netherland Anti-
lies, Curacao, April 1979, p. 9.

60. Port-of-Spain Gazette, 21 December 1935.

61. See Butler's evidence before the Forster Commission in Port-of-Spain Gazette, 7 October

62. Ibid.

63. W. Richard Jacobs, "The Politics of Protest in Trinidad The Strikes and Disturbances of
1937", (Unpublished Paper read at 5th Conference of Caribbean Historians held at U.W.I.,
St. Augustine, April 1973), p. 26.

64. Editorial, Port-of-Spain Gazette, 22 June 1937.

65. Ibid.

66. Port-of-Spain Gazette, 27 June 1937. See also Basdeo, "Labour Organisation and Labour
Reform", pp. 276-77.

67. C.O. 295/599, Fletcher to Ormsby-Gore, 5 July 1937; See also Trinidad Guardian, 27 June
1937; Trinidad and Tobago Labour Disturbances 1937: Report of the Commission, London:
H.M.S.O., 1938 p. 67.

68. Vincent Toothill, Doctor's Office, London: Blackie and Son Ltd., 1939 pp. 285-86.

69. Jacobs, "The Politics of Protest in Trinidad The Strikes and Disturbances of 1937", pp. 31-

70. C.O. 295/599, Fletcher to Ormsby-Gore, 28 June 1937; See also Basdeo, "Labour Organisation
and Labour Reform", pp. 280-81.

71. Singh, "Adrian Cola Rienzi and the Labour Movement in Trinidad", pp. 11-22.

72. Calder-Marshall, Glory Dead, pp. 233-35; It is important to note that both the sugar and oil
workers unions were formed in July but did not get registered until later.

73. Editorial, West Indian, 9 November 1937, in Port-of-Spain Gazette, 18 November 1937.

74. The People, 22 January 1938.

75. The People, 24 June 1939.

76. See for example The People, 28 July 1934; 10 March 1937, 30 October 1937.

77. C.O. 950/777, Memorandum of the Sanatan Dharam Board of Control to thlie Moyne Commis-

78. C.O. 295/601 Minute by Beckett, dated 31 July 1937.

79. C.O. 295/599, Minute by the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, dated 3 August 1937.

80. C.O. 318/433, Shuckburgh to Stewart, 2 September 1938.

81. Basdeo, "Labour Organisation and Labour Reform", p. 333.

82. Ibid., pp. 323-24.

83. Ibid., p. 317.




East Indians, the descendants of immigrants from India, form an important element in
the population of the Caribbean and, like most other inhabitants of the region, owe their
presence there to the cultivation of sugar cane. Indian immigration to the West Indies
began in 1845, following the Emancipation Act and continued until 1917 when the
importation of indentured labour was legally abolished. Today, significant concentrations
of Indians exist in Guyana (52 per cent). Trinidad (40 per cent) and significant minor-
ities reside in Suriname, French Guiana, Martinique and Guadeloupe.

A cultural situation of this nature invites varied types of research and analysis,
especially since the social and cultural life of the Indian community still reflects, to some
extent, the origins from which they came. Social scientists in general and anthropologists
in particular have employed the community study method to discover how the
immigrant community has been transformed in the new environment.1 Less common in
the literature are systematic studies of the type presented here in which the distribution of
a single culture trait, such as the practice of vegetarianism or the avoidance of meat is
analyzed for the purpose of identifying the extent of change and adaptation.
This paper focuses on the extent to which traditional Hindu and Muslim attitudes
expressed in meat avoidance and vegetarianism have been maintained by the Trinidad
Indian community after a century or more of acculturation to a West Indian mode. More
specifically, the dietary habits of the Trinidad Indian community are examined in the
context of traditional Hindu and Muslim beliefs, namely: (1) vegetarianism as an expres-
sion of the Hindu ideal of non-violence (ahimsa); (2) beef avoidance as an expression of
the Hindu belief in the sanctity of the cow; (3) the Hindu concept of pollution as applied
to pork, chicken, eggs and fish; and (4) Muslim avoidance of pork.

Vegetarianism and meat avoidances in India
An understanding of the meat avoidances and vegetarian practices of Indians in
India is an important prerequisite to identifying adaptations in the food habits of the
Trinidad Indians.
In India, two principles operate with regard to meat eating.2 One is the Orthodox
Hindu, Jain and Buddhist belief in non-violence toward all animal life. The other is the
concept of pollution, according to which domestic animals such as the chicken and not-
ably the pig are regarded as unclean because of their scavenging habits. Underlying these

principles is the Hindu notion of purity, that "all things in the universe, including all
human activities, are ranked in terms of what might be called nearness to God, or near-
ness to divine purity and order".3 Occupations that involve killing are ranked low on the
purity-pollution scale, conversely, vegetarians are assigned a high rank because they live
without causing life to be taken. Vegetarianism is most strongly espoused by members
of orthodox high castes, but even among Hindu castes that do eat the flesh of sheep,
goats and fish, many people avoid chickens and pigs. M.N. Srinivas has written of this
hierarchy of food attitudes:

Brahmins are usually vegetarian, abstaining even from
eggs. The Shudra castes eat eggs and meat. Pork is
inferior to mutton and pork eaters to mutton eaters
Beef eaters are the lowest of all.4

But there are variations from these traditional relationships between caste status and
dietary practices. For example, the taboo against raising and eating poultry appears to be
strongest in North India where the presence of Brahmins has resulted in the "sanskritiza-
tion"5 of low castes, many of whom refrain from keeping and eating chickens.6 In South
India, by contrast, where Brahmins are numerically fewer and less influential, even middle
castes are known to eat chicken. Urbanization and westernization have also had a pro-
found impact on traditional dietary practices and it is not unusual to find in the largest
urban centres, the foci of westernization, that only a fraction of caste Hindus are vege-
Among Muslims, meat avoidance is confined almost entirely to pork and, in areas
where Muslims are numerous or influential, this has served to reinforce the Hindu avoid-
ance of pork. Among Christian Indians, the majority of whom are converts from the
socially depressed castes and classes, non-vegetarianism is widespread, although Christians
are known to have given up beef and pork in response to orthodox Hindu influences.

Characteristics of the Trinidad Indian population
The recruitment of labour from India occurred under the indenture system which
included a five-year contract after which the immigrant could reindenture himself or
move out on his own. After ten years he could return to India if he provided a half of
the passage money, one-third if the immigrant was female. At the beginning there was a
high percentage returning to India, but after a law was passed, granting crown land to the
immigrant instead of the return passage, the majority chose to settle in Trinidad.
The source regions for the immigrants were generally the provinces of north-central
India, a Hindi-speaking area, although smaller numbers came from the Tamil-speaking
area of South India. Estimates of the religious composition of the immigrant population
indicate that Hindus accounted for the largest group with 87.8 per cent and Muslims
12.1 per cent.8 A negligible portion of the immigrants were Christians. Of the Hindu
population, about 55 per cent were from the lowest castes, the remainder from middle
and high castes.
Perhaps more than any other Hindu institution, caste organization was profoundly
affected by migration to Trinidad. Conditions experienced during the journey from India
and on the plantations made it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain traditional ranking

with regard to rituals related to concepts of purity and pollution, and practices such as
caste endogamy, food preparation and residential segregation. On the plantations. Euro-
pean managers paid little attention to caste ranking, as Lowenthal writes:

Field and factory work and enforced barrack resid-
ence were incompatible with rituals of caste, distance
in food preparations and ablutions; estate labor
requirements vitiated caste occupational roles. Cre-
ole planters largely ignored caste hierarchy in allocat-
ing authority and sometimes even reversed ascribed
rank; managers and overseers tended to regard low
caste Hindus as better workers than the more
assertive Brahmans.9

But although caste "has dissolved as a functional form", according to Lowenthal, "it
survives as an aspect of prejudice, a matter of style, an ingredient of personality".10
Today, about 70 per cent of the Indian population still practice Hinduism, 15 per cent
are followers of Islam and approximately 15 per cent are Christian, representing early
converts to Christianity and their descendants. Christianity in fact had a strong impact on
the Indian community as a whole during the early period of settlement. In the Indian
areas many primary and secondary schools were run by the Canadian Mission Presby-
terian Church, and Christians as well as Hindus and Muslims were strongly influenced by
Christian teaching. As a group, the Christian population was better educated and had a
higher socio-economic status than the Hindu population, and were also more westernized.

It is interesting to note, however, that by the turn of the century, as the socio-
economic status of Hindus and Muslims began to improve and they became better organ-
ized, the rate of conversions showed a marked decline. Moreover, the period prior to and
following the Partition and Independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 witnessed a
cultural revival in which traditional Hindu and Muslim values such as marriage, family,
kinship, ritual, dance and music were seen as relevant and desirable.

The Indian population today is generally concentrated in the sugar cane lands on
the western side of the island where the best agricultural lands are to be found. There has
been an increasing rural to urban migration and a shift from agriculture to service, tech-
nical and professional employment, but over 70 per cent of the Indians still live in rural

Meat avoidances among the Trinidad Indian population
Studies on East Indian communities in the West Indies refer only in general terms
to their dietary habits. Lowenthal, for example, comments:

Cuisine is the most ubiquitous and in some ways
the most consequential Indian cultural survival.
Indians throughout the Caribbean cling to traditional
dietary habits.11

Considering food taboos in the context of caste membership, Niehoff observes of the
Indians in the Oropuche Lagoon area of Trinidad:

Food taboos . particularly those concerned with
pork and beef, still remain among the Hindus of the
area. . Pork is not considered a proper food for any
other than the lowest castes. . The repugnance
toward the idea of eating beef is deeply rooted in the
Hindu personality, even those who have adopted
new religious beliefs.12

Niehoff observes, however, that attitudes to chickens and eggs have changed perhaps
more than any other meat and "almost all rural families of the lagoon area and probably
in most parts of the island keep a flock of scrawny chickens".13 But in the Oropuche
Lagoon area he found that, as in India, goat meat was the most popular meat among
These two studies represent the extent of the work done on food habits of the
Trinidad Indian population. While Niehoffs study provides the most valuable insights,
this work was concluded over twenty years ago and his subjective findings are limited to
the area of the Oropuche Lagoon. In the following analysis, data systematically collected
from a sample of the Indian population in South Trinidad provide the basis for identify-
ing the nature and extent of meat avoidances currently prevalent in the Indian commun-
The area chosen for study includes the counties of Victoria, St Patrick and
Caroni (Map). Statistical data were obtained from 14-year-old high school students select-
ed from seven schools14 located in the heart of the sugar cane area where a large Indian
population is concentrated. This sample population was chosen because school co-opera-
tion allowed for a systematic and thorough administering of questionnaires which could
not logistically be accomplished with adults who were also generally less willing to res-
pond to questions involving their religious beliefs. In Trinidad, 14-year-olds are still
dependents who live and eat at home and their responses with regard to food preferences
would generally reflect their families' habits.
Time constraints did not allow for an all-island survey, but the sample population
provided a representative cross-section of religious groups. In each school, six classes were
surveyed.16 A total of 850 Indian students completed the questionnaire by means of
which biographical data were obtained as well as information on the respondents' reli-
gion and caste, vegetarian and non-vegetarian habits and, more specifically, avoidances of
beef, pork, chicken, mutton, fish and eggs. Four choices were provided for respondents to
explain these avoidances: religious beliefs, personal preference (did not like the taste),
unavailability (hard to get) and cost (too expensive).
In addition to the statistical data collected through questionnaires, information
was acquired through personal interviews with members of the Indian community includ-
ing religious leaders of the Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities, teachers, village
residents and housewives of all social classes.

The accompanying map shows the religious composition of the population
surveyed. In all but two of the schools Hindus were in the majority and Christians




m ] Muslim
0 5 10







generally outnumbered Muslims in all but two schools where their proportions were
approximately the same.

The strength of vegetarianism among the Trinidad Indian population can be assess-
ed from Table I:


Religion Total No. No. of Vegetarians Percentage

Hindus 519 11 2.1
Christians 211 3 1.4
Muslims 111 0 0
TOTAL 841 14 1.6

Of the 841 Indians in the sample, only 14 or 1.6 per cent declared themselves to be
vegetarian, most of these belonging to the Hindu religion. While this figure seems excep-
tionally low and may suggest an unusually pronounced change from the Indian model,
further breakdown of the data by religious affiliation provides additional insights. Meat
avoidances among the Hindu population are shown on Table II:



Total Hindu Male Hindu Female Hindu
Meat No. % No. % No. %

Beef 357 68.8 146 62.7 202 74.3
Pork 145 27.9 47 20.2 95 34.9
Mutton 164 31.6 56 24.0 103 37.9
Chicken 6 1.2 2 0.9 4 1.5
Fish 8 1.5 2 0.9 6 2.2
Egg 6 1.2 1 0.4 5 1.8

Of a total of 519 Hindus surveyed, 68.8 per cent did not eat beef, with a higher
percentage of female avoidance (74.3%) than male. Avoidance of pork and mutton were
moderately high, 27.9 per cent and 31.6 per cent respectively, again with a female avoid-
ance higher than male. With chicken, fish and eggs there appears to be a widespread
acceptance by the Hindu population with an avoidance of one per cent for the male popu-
lation and slightly higher for the female.

Four criteria were identified in the questionnaire as explanatory factors for meat
avoidances (Table Ill):



Meat Religion Dislike Unavailability Cost Total
No. % No. % No. % No. % No.
Bcef 308 62.2 163 32.9 8 1.6 16 3.2 495
Pork 130 41.4 169 53.8 4 1.3 11 3.5 314
Mutton 70 27.0 156 60.2 16 6.2 17 6.6 259
Chicken 23 46.9 19 38.8 2 4.1 5 10.2 49
Fish 23 29.9 37 48.1 8 10.4 9 11.7 77
Eggs 29 36.7 38 48.1 2 2.5 9 11.5 79

These were as follows: (1) High cost; (2) Unavailability ("hard to get"); (3) Dislike
("don't like the taste of it") and (4) Religious beliefs. Among the Hindu population
"religion" was most often cited as the reason for beef avoidance and "dislike" was sec-
ond. For pork, dislike was the major factor with religion much less important. Unavail-
ability and cost seemed to be minor considerations for beef and pork as well as for
mutton, chicken, fish and eggs.

Only 21 of the Hindu respondents attempted to identify caste affiliation. Of these,
four identified themselves as low caste (Chamar), three high caste (Brahman and Maharaj)
and one middle caste (Koiri). The remaining thirteen respondents identified themselves
as one or other of the Hindu sects known in Trinidad, namely, Sanatan Dharma, Arya
Pratinidhi Sabha, Kabir Panth and Shivanarinepanth.

The Indian Christian population numbered 211 out of a total sample population of
841. Among this group, vegetarianism was virtually non-existent with three out of 211
identifying themselves as vegetarian (Table I). Avoidance of all kinds of meat was consist-
ently lower than that of the Hindu population, but with beef, pork and mutton being the
least acceptable as they were to the Hindus (Table IV). Chicken, fish and eggs were
acceptable to almost all the Indian Christians surveyed. The sex differential was also com-
parable to that of the Hindus, with female avoidance of beef and mutton being greater
than that of male avoidance.



Meat Total Christian Male Christian Female Christian
No. % No. % No. %
Beef 51 24.2 18 19.1 32 28.1
Pork 52 24.6 23 24.5 29 25.4
Mutton 39 18.5 13 12.8 25 21.9
Chicken 2 0.9 0 0 2 1.8
Fish 2 0.9 2 2.1 0 0
Eggs 2 0.9 0 0 2 1.8

In citing reasons for meat avoidances, dislike was given by over 60 per cent for pork,
beef and mutton. Religion was the second reason given and unavailability and cost were
unimportant (Table V).


Meat Religion Dislike Unavailability Cost Total
No. 7 No. '% No. % No. % No.

Beef 29 26.6 68 62.4 4 3.7 8 7.3 109
Pork 38 30.2 76 60.3 1 0.8 11 8.7 126
Mutton 14 15.7 62 69.7 8 9.0 5 5.6 89
Chicken 2 8.3 14 4.2 3 12.5 5 20.8 24
Fish 2 5.4 29 78.4 1 2.7 5 13.5 37
Eggs 2 6.1 24 72.7 2 6.1 5 15.2 33

Of the Muslim population, 91.9 per cent (102 out of 111) abstained from eating
pork and percentages for male and female were approximately the same (Table VI).



Meat Total Muslim Male Muslim Female Muslim
No. % No. % No. %
Beef 9 8.1 6 11.5 3 5.3
Pork 102 91.9 49 94.2 53 93.0
Mutton 22 19.8 15 28.8 6 10.5
Chicken 2 1.8 2 3.8 0 0
Fish 4 3.6 3 5.8 1 1.8
Eggs 2 1.8 2 3.8 0 0

Most Muslims cited religious reasons for their avoidance of pork; for beef, mutton,
fish and eggs, dislike was the reason most often given (Table VII):



Meat Religion Dislike Unavailability Cost Total
No. % No. % No. % No. % No.
Beef 4 23.5 9 52.9 2 11.8 2 11.8 17
Pork 90 75.6 28 23.5 1 0.8 0 0 119
Mutton 3 11.1 20 74.1 1 3.7 3 11.1 27
Chicken 1 25.0 1 25.0 1 25.0 1 25.0 4
Fish 1 7.7 11 84.6 0 0 1 7.7 13
Eggs 0 0 7 77.8 0 0 2 22.2 9

The evidence is strong that vegetarianism as the Hindu ideal of purity and non-
violence has all but disappeared in the Trinidad setting. The evidence seems to indicate

that a religious or quasi-religious attitude is operating among the Indian population in
general with regard to the consumption of beef and pork. So deep-seated are these
attitudes that they have been handed down from one generation to the next and many
Indians, regardless of religion, have an extreme distaste for beef and pork. Unlike in India,
however, the hierarchical role of caste in meat avoidances has almost entirely disappeared.
_Jt is interesting that in Trinidad the Hindu concept of pollution does not extend
to the chicken which, in India, is ranked only slightly higher than pork, for the same rea-
son that it is a scavenger and therefore unclear. The data in fact show that in Trinidad
chicken is the most widely consumed meat. A partial explanation would seem to lie in the
fact that chickens can be integrated into the small-scale subsistence farming system that
characterizes peasant agriculture in Trinidad. Very little space is needed, the chicken
subsists on scavenging and no extra care is required to provide a supplement to the fam-
ily diet and occasionally to the family income. Chicken therefore became the meat most
readily accepted by the Indian population in general. Similar explanations may apply to
the consumption of fish and eggs. In the rice growing areas of Trinidad, fish are double-
cropped with rice in the flooded paddies and provide a cheap and available supplement
to the diet.'Northern India from which the majority of immigrants came is not a fish-
eating area, but there is no strong objection to fish in general, since even some Brahmans
are fish eaters, notably the Bengali Brahmans.16
A significant outcome of the study was the response to mutton and goat meat. In
India, the most widely accepted meat is the flesh of sheep and goats, which is consumed
by all meat-eating castes including middle and high castes. It was therefore to be expected
that for Trinidad Indians this source of food would be readily accepted and Niehoffs
study of twenty years ago confirms that this was indeed the case. However, this analysis
shows that mutton and goat meat rank third on the scale of avoidances by the Indian
population after beef and pork accounting for approximately one-third of the sample
population. The majority of these responses gave "dislike" as the major factor.
A possible explanation for the apparent change since the Niehoff study was carried
out would seem to lie in the urbanization trends characteristic of the 1970s and 1980s.
Increasingly, the rural population is turning toward more urban-related employment, at
the expense of traditional agricultural occupations. What is therefore reflected in the stu-
dents' responses is a reaction to an unavailable and therefore relatively unfamiliar food.
While in the urban centres poultry shops have become flourishing enterprises, and pro-
vide a comparatively cheap and readily available source of high quality food, goat meat
and mutton are by comparison unavailable and expensive. Most housewives interviewed
did in fact explain that the cost of goat meat was too high to make it a normal part of the
As a minority community within the Indian population, Muslims, like their counter-
parts in India, have more vigorously maintained traditional religious taboos against
pork consumption and interviews with the Muslim community revealed that only a small
number of "westernized" Muslims ate pork. Other forms of meat were, however, widely
consumed by the Muslim community and the same is true for the Christian population,
who are the most westernized group among the Indian population.
In summary, the analysis shows that, during a century or more of Indian settlement
in Trinidad, substantial changes have occurred in dietary habits reflecting an overall inte-

gration into a Trinidad cultural milieu and environment. At the same time, the persist-
ence of certain meat avoidances, especially with regard to beef and pork, remains a strong
indicator of the cultural distinctiveness of the Indian population.

The fieldwork for this study was carried out in the Spring of 1980 during a sabbatical leave which was
supported by California State University, Long Beach.


1. See Morton Klass, East Indians in Trinidad: A Study of Cultural Persistence, New York, Col-
umbia University Press, 1961; Arthur and Juanita Niehoff, East Indians in the West Indies,
Milwaukee Public Museum, Publications in Anthropology, Vol. 6, 1960; Barton M. Schwartz,
Caste in Overseas Indian Communities, San Francisco, Chandler Publishing Co., 1967.

2. Frederick Simoons, Eat Not This Flesh, University of Wisconsin Press, 1961, pp. 9-10.

3. Alan R. Beals, Gopalptr: A South Indian Village, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
1962,p. 35.
4. M. N. Srinivas, Religion and Society Among the Coorgs, Asia Publishing House, Bombay, 1965,
pp. 27-28.

5. According to Srinivas, "sanskritization" is the process by which low castes and tribals, and even
Christians and Muslims, seek greater social acceptance by adopting certain practices of the high
Hindu castes.

6. Molly Debysingh, "The Cultural Geography of Poultry Keeping in India", in David E. Sopher
(ed.), An Exploration of India: Geographical Perspectives on Society and Culture, 1980, p. 128.

7. Ibid., p. 106.

8. M. Debysing, "Indian Settlement in Fiji, Mauritius, Natal and the West Indies", Unpublished
M. A. Thesis, Syracuse University, 1967.

9. David Lowenthal, West Indian Societies, Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 148.

10. Ibid., p. 150

11. Ibid. p. 154.

12. Niehoff, op. cit.

13. Ibid., p. 94.

14. Permission for carrying out this survey was obtained from the Ministry of Education, Port-of-
Spain and questionnaires were administered by the teaching staff of the secondary schools
under the author's supervision.

15. Questionnaires were administered to all students including Negroes and other ethnic groups, but
only the responses from Indian students were used in this study.

16. Srinivas, op. cit., pp. 27-28.




Tabaquite 0


Princes Town


Penal *


\ (




/ \

-" ~

- 1
.- -.-- -

r -



!.i- 11ii





In the story
Sambo danced
Mambo made butter
It was the wolf that died.
But this is no story

October wet
But not with rain
For the naked shame of Ethiopia's starvation
would flee before that wetness
But wet
With the blood of the brothers
Bold young men
Espousing your cause
Pressing salvation
Maurice, Machele, Dele Giwa
You may know more

Unwilling divestors of power
Create new breeds
Call them what you will
You may know more

Fragments of our mother
Earnest eyed youth swopping beads for bullets;
Old fathers fat with corruption

So Sambo died
Mambo cried
Making the earth more wet
The wolves are still howling.


Author, Author

the landscape lies
lifelessly vacant
all greenery all
life put on hold

obviously this will
not be the final



0. R. Dathorne, Dele's Child, Three Continents Press, Washington, D.C. 1986, pp. 158
The search for identity, for roots, for ancestry, the dichotomy of the Caribbean cultural
heritage, the obsession with the past, with Africa all of these as they impact on and
affect 'the present are common and recurring elements found in much of the creative lit-
erature authored by Caribbean writers. 0. R. Dathorne's most recent work Dele's Child
(1986) is an excellent example of a work that attempts to incorporate most if not all of
these literary concerns with questionable success.

Dathorne himself is no novice to these literary themes, being among the early lit-
erary progenitors to create a work in which his protagonist is so obsessed with his ident-
ity, his past, his African heritage that he actually makes the physical journey to Africa
in a desperate attempt to "discover" his identity. Dathorne's Adam Questus in his early
work The Scholar Man (1964) never really finds what he is looking for, although the
author unconvincingly attempts to tell the reader as the work ends that he does. General-
ly speaking, this early work on most levels does not succeed.

Interestingly, the other early works that portray a Caribbean person in Africa in
search of his/her identity Denis Williams' Other Leopards (1963), Oliver Jackman's
Saw The House in Half (1974), and even the more recent Heremakhonon (1976) by
Maryse Conde all end in failure, indicating that this is indeed a vain quest. The excep-
tion, I think, is Edward Brathwaite's long poem Masks (1968) which forms the second
work of his trilogy The Arrivants (1970). In this work the unnamed protagonist's sojourn
in Africa, though it is not an unequivocal homecoming, is not entirely a waste since some
sort of connection is actually established between him and his ancestral homeland. This
contact is effected because, early on, the protagonist realizes that there can be no essential
merging with the material and physical Africa after three centuries of absence, but that
any coming together has to be on a spiritual, a mystical level. The homecoming that he
achieves then is a spiritual one. In this sense the work succeeds.

All of which is not to suggest that Dele's Child is in any way simply a rehash of
The Scholar Man. First, in Dele's Child, the author does not make use of forward-moving,
chronological narrative, but rather moves back and forth in time and space, encompassing
the scope of past, present, future, traditional Africa, as well as the New World. Nor is
there any one individual around whom the narrative centres. Stephan (later Grandman),
from whose point of view much of the narrative is told, shares centre stage with Prime
Minister lanty, Dr Pietro, as well as the ubiquitous and unfathomable Dele and her
father-less yet much-fathered son, Sunday.

Ironically the work, on one level, appears to be disjointed and fragmented, symbol-
izing, perhaps, the fragmentary history of the Caribbean. However, paradoxically, it is out
of this same tradition of division and fragmentation, out of this tradition of violence and
hatred, out of this existence of poverty, pain and privation all of which the author
suggests had their genesis in the untimely meeting of Africa and Europe, with the attend-
ant horrors of the long journey of the Middle Passage, as well as the centuries of African
enslavement in the New World the author seems to be insisting must emerge the inevit-

able unity, oneness, and order which will make the disfranchised African whole again. In
the words of the refrain which recurs throughout the work:
Every neighbor is my brother, is my sister.
Hear oh Hear
Every brother, every sister is my neighbor
Hear oh hear. (p. 7)

Much of what is fleshed out in great detail in the body of the novel is briefly flashed out
in the Prelude of the work. In this section the reader is allowed brief glimpses of early
Africa, followed by the abrupt and jarring confrontation of two disparate worlds, accom-
panied by the physical and symbolic rape associated with the Middle Passage and, most
important, a prevision of the future of the displaced, dispossessed African as he journeys
downward into a new beginning of darkness and despair. Interwoven through these stark,
dramatic scenes is the incessant reminder that the past and the future are inextricably and
eternally linked:

I feel in me the beginning of promises. I am the ancestor now,
Grandfather knew. Out of my sperm will come a new breed.
I will people another village and tell them of the old ways, I will
have children of all coniplexions and varieties and these children
I will hold close to me. for are they too not my neighbors? They
will speak a host of tongues and live in villages to which a person
may not walk unless he learns to tread the water as I do now.
They will sow but they will not reap, they will be cursed for
many generations, but when they seek out my spirit I will come
back and, like this day, the third day of my setting out, I will
tell them of the new ways of life in this new world they seek.
(p. 9)
The foregoing serves as the point of reference from which the work takes shape.
This insistence on the necessity of the coming together always of the past, the present,
and the future forms the nucleus of the action of the novel. It is through this unrelenting
focus on the fusion, the oneness of the past, the present, and the future that Dathorne
tries to imbue hope and continuity in the destinies of contemporary New World people.
It is as if he is asserting that the present and the future descendants of "grandfather"
and all the "grandfathers" who made the crossing on the Middle Passage will survive
because there is a past, flawed though it might have been, to which they can turn and
from which they can draw strength and sustenance. It is their ability to learn from the
traditions, from the values, and from the mistakes of the past that ensures their survival
in the future.
If, however, the message that Dathorne sets out to convey in Dele's Child is fairly
obvious, the literary structural format that he uses to achieve this purpose is unnecessarily
opaque. Indeed, the author's determination to probe all aspects of existence in the Black
diaspora as he shifts incessantly the time and place of the work as well as its point of
view, is what leads to much of the imbroglio. And unlike Aime Cesaire's Return to My
Native Land (1939) (which one sometimes feels that Dathorne's work attempts to
imitate) or even Brathwaite's Masks in which this kind of structural convolution seems

appropriate, in Dele's Child this same literary construction seems sometimes gratuitous.
In addition, physical and symbolic rape, with its attendant sexual overtones, although a
real and significant element of the Black diaspora as it is of the novel, sometimes emerges
as distracting, contrived, and unnecessarily vulgar. A good example of this occurs midway
in the work in an exchange between Dele and Stephan, one of her three lovers:
One end-month she say, "I don't want anything." And he look at
her strangely, saying nothing first, then later, "Girl is how you
acting like Johnbull woman. Those kind of titi don't want any-
thing from a man. Nothing." She had felt pleased. "You put
your totole in those white women tot?" she had asked unbeliev-
ably. He had laughed. Only later she knew why when he told her
of another girl named Dele in his own country. (pp. 84-85).
Again, in keeping with the thrust of the theme of unity, of the subjugation of the
good of the individual to that of the welfare of the group, the three principal male char-
acters, Stephan, lanty, and Pietro (one-time friends while they were in school together in
America and who now find themselves together in an African country called Iota), are
made to share centre stage with Dele. Dele, the primordial woman, the eternal Eve, serves
as the magnet, the common denominator that brings the three men together. Conse-
quently, the life and fate of each is played out against the backdrop of his involvement
and obsession with Dele. Dele's child, Sunday, as a result, belongs irrefutably to her and
simultaneously to none of her lovers. But essentially the paternity of Sunday is moot;
it becomes irrelevant in light of the recurring reminder "Every neighbor is my brother
is my sister, hear oh hear!" Separate identity and individualism which the three princi-
pals seem to be seeking with such single-minded ardour, then, ironically become unim-
portant. The common heritage of humankind is what ultimately comes to represent the
true meaning of existence. "Because we are all living one human life, the thing that is
you and me is only a variation." (p. 15).
In the beginning, it seems that it is Dele, the Everywoman, who can be generous
with her sexual favours and at the same time withhold and keep her soul and self intact,
who seems to have the self-assurance, knowledge, and understanding that her male
counterparts are seeking. Thus, when Pietro having shared Dele's bed for a period of two
months tells her possessively: "Well, Dele. . at least I think that you belong to me"
she has a ready and cryptic response,
. Nobody belongs to anybody. That much my religion tells
me. Martyrs do not belong to their causes, people do not belong
to their bodies, and it takes a hell of a lot stupidity to think that
you belong to a place, a color, a name, just because it looks like
that to you . Only the priests can know, because they are the
only ones who kept the head count. (p. 50).
Eventually, with characteristic irreverence, she announces her pregnancy to Pietro thus,
"I've been pregnant since last month . For lanty, Stephen or Pietro" p. 51. Dele her-
self always lacking pretension does not tolerate it in anyone else. With her penchant for
cutting through layers of superficialities and getting to the heart of the matter, she dis-
misses Sir lanty's attempts to impress her with his political savvy in characteristic and

inimitable Dele style: "Yes I know you. I know you for the selfish person you always
were. Fourteen years ago I lived with you and you were foolish then. Now your selfish-
ness is only bigger. Instead of just me, you want all Iota." (p. 87)
Of the three, it is Dele's relationship with the protean-type Afro-American engineer
(Stephan turned Black nationalist Grandman) that appears to be most sincere and most
complex. Dele's relationship with Stephan which starts long before he becomes the
martyred and disillusioned political activist is suffused with all kinds of complex and
puzzling overtones. However, although this relationship has more depth than the others,
Dele still cannot guarantee that her child can call him father. Whatever loyalty Dele is
capable of giving to one man she gives to Stephan. Stephan during his ten years of isola-
tion as a political prisoner is literally and symbolically stripped of his identity before
being hailed as Grandman at the end of the revolution. But even he, in his attempt to give
meaning to his existence, in an attempt to lay claim to his immortality, is impelled, as it
were, to explain himself, his past, his aspirations to Dele. He seeks her out for her bless-
ing, her benediction, her acceptance, but learns that even for him Dele holds no answers,
no assurances, for "she knew that Stephan could never be her husband. . For they had
come out of the same womb from the primordial crime of the strange man who had
raped her ancestor, of the incest between her grandmother and the planter, her mother
and that same man, all had been passed down. She too had been a victim of this incest for
had she not slept with her own brother?" (pp. 114-115)
But the essential question remains who is Dele's child? Who is this Christ-like
child whose mother bears him in shame, sorrow and faith? This child who is the son as well
as the father of all men? This child who is silent witness to his mother's rape, her pain, her
shame? This man-child who has never ever really experienced childhood? This question
like all other basic questions of the human experience is never explicitly answered. As the
work draws to a close, though, there is an extended surreal dramatic dialogue between
Dele and Stephan/Grandman in which the author attempts to answer these questions.
In this section of the work, Dathorne employs poetic and dramatic structural lit-
erary devices to delve into the past for explanations and old truths. Dele's child, Sunday,
is a silent witness to this exchange between his mother and her erstwhile lover. But quest-
ions are easier asked than answered. For as the dialogue between Stephan/Grandman and
Dele concludes, Dele is heard asking of her son:

Why? Why? Why? She then goes on, "You have no father. I had
husbands. Three Stephan, the beautiful boy, who was later
Grandman. Then lanty, and after him Pietro." "It doesn't
matter," the boy replied. "Husbands are for loving. Children for
life." He was surprised at what he'had said. (pp. 145-146)

The reader is surprised also. But the point has been reiterated and is well taken that
nothing is granted us but the uncertainty of our existence and the only certainty death.
In the penultimate section of the book, as the revolution ends, the author zeroes
in on the horrors of the revolution this revolution that serves to symbolize the vanity
of all revolutions, of all wars and confrontations. At this point, the author again resorts to
surrealistic devices as the principals of the novel in some remote state between life and

death look to the past and to the future to make their studied pronouncements about
their feeble but passionate efforts to come to terms with their world and right the wrongs
therein. The discussion here reverberates with overtones of existentialism as each one of
the speakers seems to agree on the chaos and meaninglessness of contemporary existence:
Then we came to yesterday and the defeat. It is easy to under-
stand, for living had become an endeavour of the impossible and
men receded to narcissism. No more marriages took place, and
after a time, we did not even consent to breathing. Contracep-
tives and airfresheners were necessary. Genesis had ended. You
have to know that for us, life was a mistake and the cruel defi-
nition of it was that sorrow employed life as a joy-stick. We
surrendered to the robbery and the fiction. p. 156

Finally, then, Dele's Child employs both Christian mythology and ritual. For as
traditional Africa symbolizes the Biblical Eden, the Paradise lost, so does the Black man's
forced departure from Africa reflect the Biblical fall of man and his exile from Eden.
Further, the ritual of the journey motif first, the crossing of the Middle Passage fol-
lowed by the exiled African's sojourn in the New World, tragically highlighted by his quest
for identity and meaning parallels the life of the Christian as he makes his uncertain
journey through life. Actually. there is no Utopia, no Paradise to be regained, but it is in
the act of seeking, in the act of looking back for values to reinforce and validate the pre-
sent and the future that man finds the ability to continue. Redemption and salvation
come with this knowledge. Consequently, though one is tempted to censure Dathorne for
language which is often pretentious, plot-devices which are sometimes gratuitous, contriv-
ed and repetitious, Dele's Child succeeds so far as it uncovers and underscores these old
but essential truths.

Ken Boodhoo (ed.): Eric Williams, The Man and the Leader, University Press of America.
New York 1986. 141 pp.

The appearance of this well-organised volume of essays five years after the death of DI)
Eric Williams is another indication that the evaluation of this extraordinary man and his
long regime in Trinidad and Tobago has begun in earnest. Scholars. West Indians included.
appeared reluctant to assess Williams as politician in book length manuscripts while he
was alive and in office. An outstanding exception was Selwyn Ryan's Race and Nation-
alism in Trinidad and Tobago, published in 1972. To date Eric Williams, The Man and
the Leader is the best of the books since 1981. The nine essays cover various aspects of
Dr Williams' career in a systematic manner, moving chronologically from youth to adult-
hood, and from domestic politics to Caribbean politics and to politics in the wider world.
The essays. as might be expected, are uneven in quality, the two weakest being those by
Vera Rubin (too uncritically ecstatic) and Cuthbert Joseph (too brief and superficial).
Paul Sutton's contribution is hardly a "personal" appreciation; certainly not in the sense
that Erica Williams-Connel's contribution is personal. Sutton is as sympathetic to Dr

Williams as Ramesh Deosaran is unfriendly. Selwyn Ryan is openly critical and Boodhoo
more guardedly critical. On the whole, though, this is not a book dominated by a radical
critique of Williams. In fact the book reaffirms, with minor reservations, Williams' great-
ness as scholar, nationalist leader and international statesman.
The stated objectives of the book are to "unravel the enigma that was Eric Williams"
and to analyse his contribution to Trinidad and Caribbean society. Students of Williams
will undoubtedly find that the essays in pursuit of the second objective cover fairly well-
known ground. The essay by Ryan which argues that Williams' power was limited by
resistant interest groups has a freshness about it: it runs contrary to the popular percep-
tion of Williams as a majestically authoritarian figure. The traditional image of Williams
as the dispenser of a tremendously paralysing power over political colleagues and senior
civil servants has not been disturbed by Ryan. Where the book bids fair to add to our
knowledge of Eric Williams is in those sections which attempt to come to grips with
Williams "the Man". The popular perception of him as a disciplined, hard worker, a soli-
tary figure has been confirmed. Perhaps someday Williams, a lapsed Roman Catholic, will
be recognized as the possessor of what has been called elsewhere the Puritan work ethic.
There is a new branch of biography called psychobiography which has produced
interesting though not usually solid results. It appears as if Eric Williams might become
the first Caribbean leader to be subjected to this kind of analysis. Parts of a few essays
seem to be groping towards a psychological interpretation of Williams, and of course the
submission of Deosaran is entirely devoted to this attempt. However, the references to
Williams' childhood by Boodhoo have failed to unearth any early experiences which
shaped his adult life: the death of Williams' second wife in 1953, according to Erica, his
daughter, was a turning point in his life. Williams is supposed to have turned away from
the "human and emotional dimensions of life" to the ascetic singleminded pursuit of pol-
itical power. Deosaran went to the furthest in the search for the "emotional matrices" of
Williams' power, or rather his drive for power. Using a suggestion of Dr Mahabir,
Deosaran has applied to Williams Harold Lasswell's theory that the power-seeker seeks
power as a compensation against deprivation. This is interesting and even plausible in
parts, but as Deosaran himself admits it is an "inferential" and "exploratory" exercise.
To use this theory to explain 25 years of power seeking seems extraordinary, and to
extend it further to explain Williams' ambivalence appears dubious.


Setha Low, Culture, Politics and Medicine in Costa Rica. Redgrave Publishing Company,
New York, 1985.

This book is a sample of Costa Rican health care as viewed by an American anthropolo-
gist working in San Jose (the capital) between 1972 and 1974. After an introduction
there are five chapters, Costa Rican Health Culture, the Urban Patient, Family Health
Care, Medical Institutions and Doctor-Patient Interactions, Health Policy Implications
plus an Appendix setting out the research methods used.

The author perpetuates a few of the standard myths of Costa Rica while writing
from a United States perspective and exhibits a degree of mystification of Costa Rican
medicine. This confusion is partly because the Medical System changed in 1973 mid-
way through the field-work and again in 1984 just prior to the publication of the book.
It is also partly because of the places the author chose to survey. Rather than health cen-
tres, the author used hospital outpatient departments (which function in a way that Cas-
ualty Departments of West Indian hospitals do for ambulant patients) as examples of
"primary medical care" and a hospital psychiatric clinic and psychosomatic clinic as
examples of secondary care. The health system in Costa Rica seems to be very similar to
that in many countries in the world including the rest of the Caribbean. Primary level
health care is provided in doctors' offices, health centres and hospital clinics. There are
doctors who are paid privately or by the government. Then there are secondary and ter-
tiary level hospitals together with pharmacies, governmental and private. Alternatively
there are folk healers with herbal baths and remedies. Patients at all levels frequently
switch from one system to the next and back again.
As in most health care systems which are funded by Governments through taxation
and, in Costa Rica, gambling as well, most patients pay little or nothing when they are
sick. However, even in the Government system, there is a private option for inpatient
treatment although fewer than 10% go privately in the Government Hospitals. Problems
of doctor-patient interaction are standard with doctors complaining about their patients
and patients about their doctors. In Costa Rica, there is an unusually strong religious
aspect, particularly the invocation of saintly intervention. A particularly popular saint is
Dr Moreno Caflas, a murdered surgeon. This unusual aspect was highlighted in the book.
There is a heavy emphasis on family; for example, sometimes the family not the patient
makes the clinical decision especially if the patient is young or female.
Unfortunately some of the data presented are selected. It is noted that the Costa
Rican budget for health is greater than for defence, but mention of the absence of a Costa
Rican army is omitted. Data are absent, for example, the diagnosis in 50.3% of 457
patients in Table I Patients' Diagnosis of Complaints. The patients' opinions are given
without criticism and "brainache" caused by lack of nutrition e.g. shortage of vitamins or
healthy food is taken as a real "disease"! The semi-medical terms used make it difficult
if not impossible to know if complaints are organic or not and thus whether the treat-
ment supplied is adequate. The author's apparent naivetCeand lack of medical knowl-
edge are obvious throughout the book.
In Chapter 3, Family Health Care, nine anecdotal case histories are supplied in
detail to illustrate the importance of the family in Costa Rican society. Unfortunately
none of the patients' ages is given. Of the 9 patients, 4 are married, 1 divorced and 4
unmarried. Of the 4 unmarrieds, 3 women had illegitimate children and 2 of 3 children of
a married respondent also had illegitimate children. Hardly shining examples of "the
strength of the family in Costa Rica!
The language used throughout the book does nothing to clarify the subject. A
typical sentence is "The . reduction in patient health care choices may affect negatively
the patients' sense of having received proper health care". Why not "The patients were
dissatisfied with fewer choices in health care"?

In the final chapter, the results of the survey are used to provide pointed: for the
best system for Costa Rican medicine in the future. Unfortunately, no mention is made
of many standard medical and financial ways of assessing health systems. It is unusual and
in my opinion undesirable for the efficacy and efficiency of a health care system to be
assessed only by patients or by patients and a medical anthropologist; these novel methods
are not compared with the standard. A claim for adopting medical anthropology is
unjustified. The absence of a rural assessment of health care systems, the absence of an
assessment of secondary and tertiary care for people with physical disease and a rigorous
analysis of the effect of private medicine in Costa Rica leave this assessment incom-
plete. As a historical document this book is of some interest but its interest will likely
be confined to medical anthropologists. Its findings form no satisfactory base upon which
to assist to plan the Costa Rican health service for the future.


Melvin B. Rahming, The Evolution of the West Indian's Image in the Afro-American
Novel. Millwood, N.Y.: Associated Faculty Press, Inc., 1986. 160 pages.

The Associated Faculty Press, Inc. is an outlet for faculty scholars to self-subsidize the
publication of their books and monographs. This route has tended to raise questions
about the merit of the work, and about whether other, more usual avenues were tried
(and, if so, what determined their non-publication of the manuscript). One thinks, first,
about the resistance which has historically been offered to "black" titles by mainstream
publishers, but also acknowledges the relative widening of opportunities both mainstream
and alternative in recent years a widening which would seem to be receptive to good
cross-cultural and diasporic work. In this case, we do not know publication history, but
we can assess the strengths and weaknesses of this study of the West Indian's image in the
Afro-American novel. The author, Dr Melvin B. Rahming, is a native of Nassau, Bahamas
who is at present teaching Afro-American and Caribbean literature at Morehouse College,
Atlanta, Georgia.
Diaspora studies in all fields are timely, but can be especially exciting in literature,
which has often picked up cultural heartbeats before they were discerned by other social-
scientific seismographs. As Rahming notes in an observation which extends beyond his
study, it means something very significant that Afro-American novels such as Toni
Morrison's Tar Baby (1981) and Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow (1983) encom-
pass the Caribbean. Historically speaking, West Indian characters have appeared in both
major and minor roles, not only in the novel, but also in other genres. They range from
the grocer's helper in Rudolph Fisher's well-known short story from the 1920s, "The
City of Refuge", to contemporary Audre Lorde's powerful autobiographical portraits of
her mother. Because of this wide reference, one wishes that Rahming's analytical scope
were broader. This would have given him more data and may, in fact, have modified some
of his conclusions.

What Rahming does in this book is consider the delineation of West Indian
characters in eleven Afro-American novels: Martin Delany's Blake: or the Huts of
America (1859), W.E.B. Dubois's Dark Princess (1928), Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
(1952), Edmund Austin's The Black Challenge (1958), Paule Marshall's Brown Girl,
Brownstones (1959) and The Chosen Place, The Timeless People (1969), James Baldwin's
Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone (1968), Clarence Farmer's Soul on Fire (1969),
Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (1970), John Oliver Killen's The Cotillion (1971), and
John A. William's Mothersill and the Foxes (1975).
Chronological coverage is good, although the quality of the works is quite uneven
and Rahming's treatment of each one varies in depth and cogency. His overall conclu-
sion is that, one or two writers excepted, the delineation of the West Indian is false,
stereotypical, limited, and negative in his words, "often virulent stereotypes of violent
revolutionaries or would-be princes made impotent by too much pride in and nostalgia
for a no longer existent and vaguely remembered West Indian or African kingdom .
acutely exaggerated delineations of one-dimensional figures" (p. xi). And to further prove
his point, he contrasts these Afro-American fictional images with the images of self pro-
jected in selected novels by black West Indians from V. S. Reid and George Lamming
through Claude McKay, Roger Mais, John Hearne, Orlando Patterson and others.
Chapter 1 is devoted to "Martin Delany's Blake and the Historical Background".
The pure black West Indian hero of this serialized early work is seen "not only as an Afro-
American artist's tribute to the collective consciousness of the Afro-Caribbeans but also
as a political statement that the black people in America and in the Caribbean share a
common essence and a common destiny" which is more African than anything else.
Rahming likes Henry Blake and he approves of Delany's shrewd analysis which uncovers
the devious motivations underlying the United States' struggle to control the then-
Spanish colony of Cuba, where Blake was born. Here in Rahming's study and elsewhere,
one senses quite strongly that he is as concerned with the socio-historical milieu moti-
vating these novels as he is with their specifically literary contexts and merits.
With Chapter 2, Rahming advances his riskiest contention that is, that "the
pejorative West Indian images [he uncovers] are . vessels into which the authors may be
pouring their fears for the potential psychological situation of the Afro-American" (p.
22). Viewed thus. DuBois's and Ellison's fanatical revolutionaries, Perigua and Ras,
embody the Afro-American's dread of self-hate, destruction, impotence, and disintegra-
tion. In Dark Princess. Perigua is a temporary obstacle to the hero's unification of the
dark races of the world; but he kills himself while dynamiting a trainload of Ku Klux
Klan members. Undoubtedly, DuBois's well-known opposition to Marcus Garvey influ-
enced his negative portrayal of Perigua. Similarly, Garvey (whom Rahming generally over-
emphasizes) hovers over Ras, despite Ellison's denials. It is also easy to see that, in both
cases, the authors subvert their characters' revolutionary and humanitarian potential.
However, their doing so need not originate from a twisted psychology, but could have
resulted just as easily from their philosophical opposition to extreme violence as an
effective means to redress racial ills.
The second half of this chapter takes up Baldwin's portrayal of the estranged
Barbadian, Mr Proudhammer, as a "social and spiritual coward". Rahming recognizes

the contempt which Leo the hero has for his ineffectual father and identifies it with
Baldwin himself. But, here again, he attributes the picture to Baldwin's objectification of
his warring "Americanness" and "Negroness" without any reference at all to his notori-
ously tortured relationship with his father, which coloured all of his fictional father-son
portraits. Williams's cameo of the sexually-decadent Holdenfields in Mothersill and the
Foxes is likewise explained in terms of psychological projection ("fear of the negative
possibilities of his own nature") when simpler reasons (gratuitous sexual titillation of the
reader, enhancing the "macho" image of the hero) might suffice. The final figure treated
is Toni Morrison's Elihue Whitcombe, called Soaphead Church, the perverted spiritualist
who "gives" Pecola her longed-for blue eyes. Rahming discusses him here because he is
"negative", but grants him a reality which is not stereotypical because of Morrison's
accurate probing of his "psycho-sexual make-up, his anglophile education and his West
Indian legacy of hybrid self-consciousness" (p. 56).

Reading these texts as a literary (rather than social or psychological) critic,
Rahming provides some good moments:
. Ras is last seen astride a black horse in the middle of a tower-
ing inferno, a spear protruding through his jaws, thereby ending
the potent flow of words which ironically contrasts the impo-
tence of his life. (p. 21)
. Baldwin, whose novel suggests that for people like Mr
Proudhammer the train of personal and social integrity has long
been gone. (p. 51)

I would have welcomed more such commentary and wondered whether greater attention
to the texts themselves may have inspired more valuable insights.
Although it raises questions, Rahming's third chapter, "A Comparison of the West
Indian and Afro-American Psychologies", is perhaps the soundest and most interesting in
the book. Rahming notes that within the conflicted United States context, the Afro-
American search for survival and a cultural identity based on race has fostered racial
aggressiveness and novelistic protest. On the other hand, he sees the West Indian legacy
as a state of racial complacency where protest is usually socio-political, not racial, and
where the "impulse toward a unified multi-racial society has historically discouraged
racial self-assertion" (p. 77). This consciousness underlies the emphasis on a sense of com-
munity which characterizes Caribbean literature, a sense which he finds lacking in major
Afro-American novelists. Here, it is worth pointing out that the black American com-
munity as community assumes greater prominence in the work of women authors such
as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Toni Cade Bambara, a fact which might have
given Rahming something further to think about.

Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin and V. S. Reid's New Day provide the major
evidence in this section. The latter novel is further used to illustrate a "collective affinity
to the spirit of place", to prove that "the Jamaican personality, even that of the revolu-
tionary, finds its identity in its combined relationship to its history and geography"
(p. 91). However, what is ignored throughout this discussion of what "race" means to the
West Indian are questions of colour and caste, which are just as endemic and crucial. The

absence of these considerations requires explaining, just as he tries to clarify why John
Hearne treats multi-racial romantic triangles without touching their racial dimensions in
The Faces of Love and The Land of Living. (To a non-Caribbean reader, this racial
"oblivion" seems very strange indeed.) Perhaps Rahming could have taken up caste
issues when he notes that Hearne in Land of Living, Orlando Patterson in The Children of
Sisyphus, and Sylvia Wynter in The Hills of Hebron approach specifically racial identity
only through mystic, Rastafarian consciousnesses/characters, an observation which is
quite relevant and provocative.

Along the way, Rahming's discussion of "the restless physical and psychological"
journeys which characterize much Afro-American fiction and his explication of New
Day's lyric sense of the land make good reading. Ultimately, one comes from this chapter
realizing that an Afro-American writer who could know/feel/capture the West Indian
soul as it flourishes on its home soil would be rarely gifted (and who would expect such
to be the norm? a standard which Rahming's contrast implicitly sets up). Throughout
his study, he also does not consider another very important fact that is, that West
Indian character/behaviour out of the islands, especially in the usually United States
settings of the black American novel, may be and probably is something rather
different from its island manifestations (unless, perhaps, one limits the picture to those
arenas and occasions where life at home is replicated under closed and closeknit condi-
tions). Further, are there not real differences between West Indians from various coun-
tries, and do these emerge in the fiction as, for example, Jamaicans being (stereo)
typed for violence and Barbadians for pride?

The final chapter of The Evolution of the West Indian's Image in the Afro-
American Novel assesses the salutary impact of the Black Power and Black Aesthetic
movements of the 1960s-1970s which, according to Rahming, encouraged Afro-
American writers "to show a more amiable attitude, an interest in the specificities of
their history and culture, and a desire for ideological unity with members of the dias-
pora", including their West Indian brothers and sisters. The stereotypes give way to
"more versatile images reflecting the tensions of West Indian life and the nature of
West Indian consciousness" (p. 99).

Unfortunately, the first novel which Rahming chooses to probe, Clarence Farmer's
Soul on Fire, is such a poor work that it really cannot bear the analytical weight which
is placed upon it. The second novel considered, The Cotillion, does feature an intimate
blend of Afro-American and West Indian characters, but the change from racial com-
placency to consciousness experienced by Daphne Lovejoy (which Rahming empha-
sizes as positive evidence) is seriously undercut by Killens' heavily satirical mode. Even
Rahming himself wonders "if Killens has not sidestepped the whole issue of the West
Indian personality by caricaturing the stereotype" (p. 109).

The bulk of this chapter provides a very thoughtful, sometimes engaging, dis-
cussion of Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones and The Chosen Place, The Time-
less People (marred only by Rahming's repeated mis-identification of the black American
Mrs Thompson from the first novel as a West Indian). In the process, he compares
Marshall's work with Roger Mais' The Hills Were Joyful Together (1953), Orlando

Patterson's An Absence of Ruins (1967), and Claude McKay's three novels, Home to
Harlem (1928), Banjo (1929) and Banana Bottom (1933) a procedure which muddles
chronology, but allows him to draw some insightful parallels: between Mais' impov-
erished yard and Marshall's brownstone community, between the psychic malaise of
Patterson's Blackman and Marshall's Clive, between the internationality of theme and
pattern in McKay's work and Marshall's own. Rahming concludes that Marshall, an
anomaly in his scheme, perceives the West Indian essentially as the West Indian does a
judgement which comes as no surprise since she herself is, at the least, as much Carib-
bean as American by virtue of her Barbadian parentage and bi-cultural life.
Ultimately, even after concluding Melvin B. Rahming's study, I am not quite sure I
can definitively explain the representational and symbolic uses to which Afro-American
novelists have put West Indian characters. Some delineations are clearly understood (for
example, DuBois' projection of his mistrust of Garvey and Garveyism), but does the
Garvey complex-psychological model uncover Ras' deepest roots, or might it finally be of
little consequence that John Williams' Holdenfields are West Indian? And the questions
increase as works beyond this investigation are considered. Yet Rahming starts us
thinking in an important direction which broadens into even larger fields of inquiry. As
he writes in his final paragraph:
But what about the West Indian attempt to depict the Afro-
American personality? Does the West Indian novel reveal a
corresponding concern with the Afro-American personality at
home or abroad? How do the Afro-Americans and West Indians
perceive Africans? And how are they, in turn, perceived by Afri-
cans? As the asking of these questions suggests, this study has
focused upon a small part of a larger intracultural complex. Each
aspect of the subject should make an absorbing and revealing
study. (p. 143)


Revista Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales
Puerto Rico -

Puerto Rico: $15.00 Estados Unidos, Caribe y Centro America: $22.00
Europa y Sur America: $25.00
Envie su cheque a: Directora Revista Homines. Depto. de Ciencias Sociales
Universidad Interamericana. Apailado 1293. Hiato Rey. Puerto Rico 00919

Caribbean Quarterly


Basdeo Mangru

Verene Shepherd

Rhoda Reddock

Sahadeo Basdeo

Molly Debysingh

Amy Robertson

Robert Bowie

Leota S. Lawrence

Carl Campbell

Gloria T. Hull

Shaughan Terry

- is Lecturer II in the Department.of History, University of
- is pursuing her doctorate in History at Lucy Cavendish
College, University of Cambridge.
- is Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Economic
Studies, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.
- is lecturer in Caribbean History, in the Department of His-
tory, University of the West Indies, St Augustine.
- is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography, at
California State University at Long Beach, California.
- is the Chief Documentalist at the Faculty of Education.
University of the West Indies, Mona.
- has been widely published in numerous journals and works
out of Maryland, U.S.A.
- is faculty member of the Department of English, Howard
University, where she teaches Caribbean and Afro-
American Literature.
is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, University
of the West Indies, Mona.
is Professor of English at the University of Delaware and
was visiting Fulbright Professor at the University of the
West Indies, Mona.
- is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medicine, Univers-
ity of the West Indies, Mona.


We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommend subjects which they would
like to see discussed in Caribbean Quarterly. Articles of Caribbean relevancy will be
gratefully received.

Manuscripts should be typed on one side only, double-spaced, leaving ample margin
for editorial purposes. Two copies thoroughly revised with no corrections should be sent.
As a general principle, articles should not exceed 7,500 words. Authors are advised to
keep an exact copy of the version submitted. Manuscripts should be presented with only
the title and author's name and address on a cover page. The title without the author's
name should be repeated on page 1 of the article. With their articles, contributors should
include information on themselves, of their positions and affiliations at the time of
writing. An abstract should also accompany the article.

Sub-titles (or cross-heads) should be used to divide the text in such a way that they
indicate to the reader the structure of the article. Sub-titles should be typed in initial
upper- and lower-case letter

Footnotes should be kept to a minimum, but where they are included contributors
are requested to comply with the system used in Caribbean Quarterly. Footnotes are to
be numbered consecutively by means of superior figures from 1 onwards (not renumber-
ing on every page). Footnoes should appear at the end of the article instead of on the
page on which they occur. Authors should provide, in a first reference to a given publi-
cation, the full name of the author, the complete main title of the work, place and date
of publication and the relevant page numbers. Subsequent references to the same work
can be given in a shortened form.

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Book Reviews
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and date of publication, also the number of pages and prices if possible. Book reviews
(except review articles) should not exceed 2,500 words.

Contributions to Caribbean Quarterly (or publications for review) should be
addressed to the Department of Extra Mural Studies, University of the West Indies,
P.O. Box 42, Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica, W.I.

All material submitted for publication are read by our panel of editorial advisors
prior to selection and editorial approval.

A Quarterly Journal of Opinion on Africa and the Caribbean

TRANSAFRICA FORUM is a quarterly journal of opinion on
matters pertaining to Africa and the Caribbean. The journal
presents an independent review of differing perspectives on
political, economic and cultural issues affecting black com-
munities globally. The intent of the journal is to provide an
expanded analytical framework which can be useful to a broad
audience with a continuing commitment to African and Carib-
bean advancement.

"TRANSAFRICA FORUM publications produce news and
information which have been often exclusive, provocative,
and very helpful in our deliberations. "
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Journal of West Iidial Literature

The departments of English of the University of the West Indies announce the
forthcoming publication of the JOURNAL OF WEST INDIAN LITERATURE, a twice
yearly journal dedicated to the criticism and review of West Indian Literature. The first
issue will be published in October, 1986 and the second in April, 1987.
The editors will consider for publication scholarly articles dealing with any aspect
of the literature of the English-speaking Caribbean, and also articles which compare
Caribbean literature in English with that in any other language. The Editors may also,
from time to time announce special issues on individual authors or on topics such as Com-
parative Literature of the Caribbean.
Articles submitted should be in English, typed and double-spaced. Notes, also
double-spaced, should be gathered at the end. Manuscripts should conform to the MLA
stylesheet and, if coming from outside the region, should be accompanied by interna-
tional reply coupons.
Submissions, books for review, enquiries and subscriptions should be sent to:
The Editor
Journal of West Indian Literature
Department of English
University of the West Indies
P.O. Box 64, Bridgetown,

Annual ..... U.S. 15.00 NAME
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(Please tick the appropriate box)
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"Innovative, stimulating, provocative
--Neill Macauley, University o'

Eadweard Muybridge in Guatemala, 1875
The Photographer as Social Recorder
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Guatemala in 1875....Burns' sensitive and perceptive commentary, makes a
genuine and most beautiful contribution to understanding nineteenth-
century Latin America." --Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., Tulane University
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