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Indentureship a period of pride, prejudice
Barbados applied apprenticeship before total emancipation. This fashioned its education system and indentureship. Bashart Ali Dewan is believed to be the first Indian to arrive in Barbados in 1910, followed by Hafez Suleiman Kasooji, Moosa Patel, and Ebrahim Bulbulia.
In 1932, the first Gujrati Indians arrived in Barbados along with Jivatram Thani from Sindhi.
Indentureship remains a variegated fretwork of shades of servitude. Between 1841 and 1867, about 32,000 indentured Africans arrived in the British West Indies, with the greater number going to Jamaica and British Guiana and a “white cargo” of Irish was sent to the Caribbean after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.
This is central to the economic and political differences among T&T, Guyana, and Barbados. In 1902, some East Indians arrived in Trinidad from sumptuous St Pierre, the Paris of the Caribbean—a landscape painted by Paul Gauguin in 1887.
Arriving from Martinique in the aftermath of the Assumption Day eruption of Mount Pelée, they settled on the Champs Elysees Estate which once belonged to Rose de Charas, the mother of Roume de Laurent.
Poleska de Boissière, the landlady of Champs Elysées estate at the time of their arrival, arranged for the Martiniquan women to live on estate lands near Cotton Hill.
These Cazabon Madras ladies spoke French patois and had a merchantable knowledge of French gastronomy.
They were committed Catholics who fell in love with Tamil and Muslim men on Peru Estate known today as St James—the birthplace of Nobel Laureate Sir V S Naipaul.
Poleska recognising their industriousness encouraged more Tamils to settle creating new villages including Boissiere No 1 and No 2, Cocoa, Guava, Franchine, Dibe, and La Seiva.
Later, Barbadian immigrants arrived in the neighbourhood and their multi-coloured petite chattel houses were juxtaposed picturesquely against the white-washed tapia houses of the Tamils.
The Tamils celebrated the fire-pass ceremony and the Latthe ka Mela or Pole Festival after Janmashtami on the birthday of Lord Krishna in Boissiere Village at the foot of Cotton Hill as the weeping Hosay cortege of Muslim mourners processed on Peru Estate.
The Martiniquan Indians augmented their income by cutting grass and supplying it to nearby stables and by working in the Botanic Gardens.
The arrivals pluralised the culture, the economy, and the society. Pitifully, in 1884, the First North Staffordshire Regiment opened their weapons on a Muharram procession of Muslims killing and wounding worshipers.
The Chinese grocery, restaurant and laundry had become commonplace. Chinese first arrived in Trinidad in 1806. But the first main wave of immigrants came 47 years later from Guangdong and other cities along the Pearl River Delta.
Sir Solomon Hochoy, a Hakka Chinese, became the governor-general in 1962.
The forceful transportation of “undesirables” from Ireland to the West Indies commenced under Charles I and enlarged during the rule of Oliver Cromwell in the years 1649-58.
Penal transportation of Irish prisoners to the Caribbean, particularly Barbados, was at its height with the Cromwellian conquest and settlement of Ireland.
Thousands of Irish were sent to the Caribbean, or “Barbadosed”, against their will. They were a “white cargo” of indentured labourers sent to Antigua and Montserrat.
Seventy per cent of Montserrat’s population was Irish indentured labourers. The conditions of white servants in Barbados dazed English observers into making an analogy with British Slavery.
Cromwellian exiles in Barbados held a position that was flanked by temporary bondage and permanent enslavement.
Their singular saving grace was that they were not peddled as chattel. They were often subject to glaringly inhumane treatment and were not given the material or monetary compensation promised at the end of their chastisement.
Irish prisoners were brutalised by the planters who disdained them as illiterate Catholic savages. Father Antoine Biet, a French priest, visiting Barbados in 1654, recorded the conditions of white servitude.
Irish families were fragmented and indentured to different plantations as penance. After emancipation, many ex-slaves settled in free villages forming cooperatives to procure bankrupt or abandoned estates.
In Barbados, freeholders of less than two hectares each increased from 1,110 in 1844 to 3,537 in 1859.
In Trinidad, after return tickets to India proved imaginary, the indentured purchased adjoining lands to recreate villages from bleached memories, broken promises, and loneliness.
Indentureship was a period of pride and prejudice. The violent were victorious.
In original servitude we remain equal; regardless of colour or creed.
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