By Shabana B:
May 5, 1838: The first British ship of indenture sailed from Kolkata, India, across the seas and made its way to Guyana. The ship was filled with Indian indentured servants, most of whom were taken by deception, while others were hoping for a new life. Hardly either received what they were expecting.
Not a day goes by where the question of what being Indo-Caribbean means escapes me. It is something I’m always thinking about, and even become frustrated with myself for not having a straight answer. I feel the answers are written in the bones in my body that were forged by my foremothers who boarded those ships with uncertainty. I want so badly to know what they were thinking. How they were feeling. I wish I had words to describe how my ancestors live inside me but elude me at the same time.
I lament every day the vital information and pieces of self that my great-grandparents possessed but somehow became lost between generations and trauma. Forgotten in sweat that dripped down their backs as they labored under the hot Caribbean sun, producing the sweet crop they were not allowed to taste.
Today, I will celebrate them instead. I think about the pure bravery of my pregnant maternal great-great-grandmother, boarding a British ship with hundreds of strangers, having only the clothes on her back and her children. I inherited courage from her.
I think about her daughter, my great-grandmother, who filled her mother’s spot on the plantation when she was old enough. I imagine she must have felt obligated to put her mother’s hardened hands to rest after so many years. I inherited integrity from her.
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I think about my paternal great-grandmother and great-grandfather who traded in their fluent Bhojpuri that flowed like a river when they spoke, for the worker’s patois enforced by belts and the watchful eyes/ears of their white overseer. I inherited humility from them.
These are legacies of strength. They sit in my core, fill me up, and make my muscles ache all at once. I carry the weight of indenture on me. 178 years ago, Indo-Caribbeans did not exist. 178 years ago, someone decided for me, who I would be.
Shabana B is originally from Guyana (The West Indies) and lives in New York. Twitter: @indoguyaneseClick here for reuse options!
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