Monday January 22, 2018
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May 5 is Happy Indian Arrival Day for Guyana

Celebrating 178 years of Indo-Caribbean alliance

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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.

Shabana B

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.

Related article:Indo-Guyanese and their legacy

Guyana: Indo-guyanese and their legacy

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: @indoguyanese

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  • Akanksha Sharma

    Happy Indian arrival day to Guyana 😀

  • Pashchiema Bhatia

    The ancestors of Indo-Guyanese had really struggled alot in their initial days

  • Pragya Jha

    Guyana is a small country in the Northern part of Latin America, it has a significant presence of people of Indian origin.2016 witnesses 178 years of the arrival of East Indians to Guyana.

  • Sharon Singh

    It’s great to know their are others who feel the way I do, I can’t forget to mention that the British took a lot away ….God Bless Guyana

  • Akanksha Sharma

    Happy Indian arrival day to Guyana 😀

  • Pashchiema Bhatia

    The ancestors of Indo-Guyanese had really struggled alot in their initial days

  • Pragya Jha

    Guyana is a small country in the Northern part of Latin America, it has a significant presence of people of Indian origin.2016 witnesses 178 years of the arrival of East Indians to Guyana.

  • Sharon Singh

    It’s great to know their are others who feel the way I do, I can’t forget to mention that the British took a lot away ….God Bless Guyana

Next Story

Is Chutney out of place in Carnival?

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music

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Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. Wikimedia Commons
Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. Wikimedia Commons
  • Chutney soca music is a crossover style of music incorporating Soca elements
  • The satire on Prime Minister Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.
  • It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on February 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country

By Dr Kumar Mahabir

When people get angry, they tend to speak their mind. Their emotions explode in words that they have been suppressing for some time. Psychologist Dr Jeffrey Huntsinger proved this theory after conducting experiments at Loyala University in Chicago in the USA in 2012.

Chutney Soca promoter George Singh really spoke his mind when he became upset on learning that his 2018 show was not funded by the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB), an agency of the Afro-dominated Government in multi-ethnic Trinidad and Tobago  (T&T).

At a news conference which he convened, Singh said that “the decision by the Government not to support chutney soca was an insult to the art form” (Express 05/02/17).

George Singh is a Chutney Soca promoter. Wikimedia Commons
George Singh is a Chutney Soca promoter. Wikimedia Commons

Singh raged: “The Government, over the last three years, has consistently reduced funding to Chutney Soca Monarch and various members of the present administration have stated directly to me that chutney soca brings no value to Carnival” (emphasis added).

At the same news conference, Singh said that the Government had approved a budget of TT $146 million to the National Carnival Commission (NCC).

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“I think this administration is hell-bent on seeing that it [chutney soca] has no place in Carnival. It is a slap in the face to Indo-Caribbean entertainment,” he said.

Singh’s outburst was a public exposé of what the Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) community had always known i.e. Indian culture (e.g. chutney, pichakaree ) is given marginal or no space in “national” and regional shows (e.g. CARIFESTA).

Sing’s rant is more revealing since he has admitted that he has “family ties” to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (Express 27/12/17).

Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. Wikimedia Commons
Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. Wikimedia Commons

In all his anger, Singh was careful not to confirm what almost every Trinidadian suspected i.e. that Government initially denied him funding because he was allowing Massive to perform his hot chutney hit “Rowlee Mudda Count.”

The satire on Prime Minister Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.

I have always contended that chutney concerts, competitions, tents and fêtes must be recognised as part of Carnival and must be a given an equitable share of culture funds, media space and stage presence.

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My argument is contained in detail in a chapter entitled “Chutney Music in Carnival:

Re-defining National Identity in Trinidad and Tobago” in the book Caribbean Dynamics:

Re-configuring Caribbean Culture (2015). The book is edited by Drs Beatrice Boufoy-Bastick Savrina Chinien and published by Ian Randle in Jamaica.

In the chapter, I discussed how Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preservation of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. To this day, the major players and champions of calypso, soca, extempo, steelpan and masquerade, whether in Jouvert (“Jour Ouvert”) or Dimanche Gras, remain participants of African descent.

The emergence of chutney music and artists in 1995 – when Basdeo Panday was elected as the first Indian Prime Minister of T&T – was historic. In 1996, the rendition of Sonny Mann’s runaway hit “Lotay La” by DJs in soca parties, and by steel bands as their Road Mach tune during Carnival signalled the advent of chutney into the national urbanized festival/centre.

Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles. Wikimedia Commons
Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles. Wikimedia Commons

In the following years, Indians continued to change the ontology of “the national festival” to the extent that Carnival has to be re-defined to include Chutney Monarch, Chutney Brass, Chutney Soca, Chutney Calypso, Chutney Glow and Chutney Mardi Gras.

For the first time this year, a new chutney show is being introduced to the Carnival calendar. It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on February 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country. The event is being hosted by Randy Glasgow Productions.

Also Read: Race as a tool to keep people Divided: Will Science break the Shackles?

Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles, but the genre is also used as an alternative to the Afro-Creole music formats. There have been two institutionalised chutney calypso theatres: “D” Massive Gosine Roving Calypso/Chutney Tent and the National Chutney Calypso Touring Tent.  Now in its eighth year is the National Carnival Schools Intellectual Chutney Soca Monarch Competition held at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain.

These chutney competitions cum fêtes allow Indians to gain a sense of inclusion in this grand “national” festival, although on the periphery of the capital city. These cultural incursions also allow Indians to actively participate in Carnival without losing their (sense of) ethnic identity.

Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books
Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books

In 1998, cultural critic Burton Sankeralli wrote: “Indians are claiming Carnival space as Indians…. [and] … The flagship of this Indocentric presence and contestation for space is chutney …” With the re-creation of chutney, Indian artists are refusing to be subjected to silence and invisibility on mainstream radio, television, newspaper and the stage.

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. The subversive spirit of calypso and Carnival is perhaps being re-incarnated in chutney.

(Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books)