‘The cultural traditions of Indo- Trinbagonians are not only unique and preserved but have been cross-pollinated by generations of migrants’
SOME use the term “East Indian” or “Indian” whilst others simply say “Indo-Trinidadian” or “Indo-Trinbagonian” to describe the descendants of those persons from India who were brought to the Caribbean during the indentureship era.
Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago should be proud to know that T&T is the first country to commemorate the arrival of Indians (in 1845) as a national holiday. But what does Indian Arrival Day mean, especially as we celebrate 60 years of Independence on August 31, 2022.
Their contributions are varied and extensive. For instance, the Indo-Trinidadian farmer is the backbone of market gardening, cultivating fresh fruits and vegetables, and tending poultry, sheep and goats.
Indians have been successful in small and medium business enterprises, commerce, local government, village councils, voluntary and religious organisations. Within the sphere of politics, they have also excelled. As members of Parliament, senators and government ministers from 1956 to present, they have served with distinction.
Indians in T&T have risen politically, socially and economically in all professions – Medicine, Politics, Business, Law, Media, Education, Sports and Science. They have contributed to independent, rational, logical and progressive thinking which has led to peaceful co-existence and harmony in our country.
What does Indian Arrival Day mean in a multicultural society such as Trinidad and Tobago?
‘We do not have to give up our culture to enjoy cultures of all other races, one should not dispense with our ancestral roots.’
There must be strength in diversity and no division must be encouraged even by the media, politicians and calypsonians and we must celebrate our achievements as East Indians in the context of the values we bring to the national community and the assets we are creating to support national development.
At the ground level in different villages and towns, all the various ethnicities live together in harmony.
Yet, when it comes to politics there seems to be a marked division and distinct polarisation- even to the point of enmity. Is this racial and ethnic division being fostered by our politicians? They occasionally keep us divided with their rhetoric and plant seeds of mistrust and fear in our minds.
Some Indo-Trinidadians speak of our Motherland and feel an affinity with India. And, unfortunately, others have questioned this loyalty and wondered if this affinity undermined loyalty and means these Indo-Trinidadians are not true Trinis! Has this link to the Caribbean compromised our ancestral ties? It is sad though that many East Indians feel that the words of their country’s National Anthem- “Here every creed and race find an equal place” do not ring true. Some face religious discrimination and racism.
The cultural traditions of Indo- Trinbagonians are not only unique and preserved but have been cross-pollinated by generations of migrants. Some such as Mungal Patasar has blended Indian and Afro music to create Pantar. There is also the genre known as Chutney Soca. We do not have to give up our culture to enjoy cultures of all other races, one should not dispense with our ancestral roots. We have to be aware of our history and roots.
There is a need for knowledge and openness in our approach to everything. We must show confidence and pride in our achievements yet include all our people in T&T. Others must be helped to appreciate who we are and what we do and not feel threatened. East Indians have made a valuable, significant and visible contribution- the younger generation must know where they came from and where they are going.
Being Indo-Trinidadian does not mean simply voting a particular political party, wearing ethnic clothing, eating special foods, listening to particular radio stations or music, attending a chutney concert, special cultural programmes or belonging to exclusive organisations.
Some adopt the narrow view of superiority or inferiority because of ethnic prejudices. Doing this attacks cohesion as a nation. We must be united- all different ethnicities and religions, in a common goal even though we appreciate our uniqueness.
The East Indians’ tassa, dhantal, chowtal and sitar must blend with the steelpan, drums, pianos and violins to sing and celebrate. Even though Indian Arrival Day celebrations should embrace all- some Indians feel excluded. All celebrations need to incorporate Indians who are Muslims and also Christians such as the Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, and those from Evangelical churches. Their ancestors also came from India and Pakistan. Let us not forget to include the Douglas and those Mixed persons with Indian ancestry. We can all progress in this society and accept the contributions of all in a society built on meritocracy, equity, justice, democracy and freedom.
Dr Jereome Teelucksingh is
attached to the Department of History at the University of the West Ind ies at St Augustine. He has published books, chapters and journal articles on the Caribbean diaspora, masculinity, culture, politics, ethnicity and religion. Also, he has produced a documentary – Brown Lives Matter and presented papers at academic conferences.
Click to read other articles by Dr Jerome Tellucksingh below: