Lalla Rookh- Marking the Indian Arrival in Suriname

Ship Lalla Rookh Image: Pinterest

By Shubhi Mangla

On 5th June 1873, a ship named Lalla Rookh meaning Red Cheeks reached Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname and a history of Indian migration emerged in the small Dutch colony. A country popular for its sugarcane industry and high reserves of Alumina and Bauxite, is incomplete without its Indian diaspora who first arrived as indentured workers. The workers were basically contract labourers who had to work for 5 years and then they were supposed to be sent back as per the contract. When the contract ended, about one-third of the immigrants returned to India whereas approximately 23,000 of Indians stayed back when the government offered them settlement rights on state plantations and a bonus of 100 guilders. Since then, the people of Indian origin in Suriname have maintained their culture and structured themselves in the Surinamese society.

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Lalla Rookh- The Ship

Lalla Rookh arrived in Paramaribo after a three-month voyage from Calcutta becoming the first ship to transport Indian emigrants from the Colonial India to the Dutch colony, Suriname. All the workers were collected at the main depot in Calcutta (Capital of Bengal) as the Dutch Government had appointed an emigration agent in Calcutta.

According to a research by Prof. Dr. Chan E.S Choenni, “Having left Calcutta port on 26 February 1873 with 410 indentured immigrants on board, it took the sailing ship Lalla Rookh over three months to cross the Kala Pani (black water). Finally, on 4 June 1873, she arrived in Suriname with 399 British Indians left, as 11 had died on the way. Due to health reasons, the immigrants did not disembark immediately, but one day later, on 5 June”. When the ship arrived, there were 279 men, 32 boys, 70 women and 18 girls under

Many Indians believed that the ship was built by India for the sole purpose of transporting them to Suriname but did not understand that at India was under British rule and couldn’t operate such vessels. The ship was instead owned by an Irishman and was built in Liverpool. After that trip to Suriname in 1873, the ship is known to be either renamed or sold.

Today a statue ‘Baba and Mai’ stands at the place where the ship arrived to commemorate the Indian Arrival day on 5th June every year.

Shubhi Mangla is an intern at Newsgram and a student of Journalism and Mass Communication in New Delhi. Twitter @ shubhi_mangla