View all articles by Richard Cheddie
The Indo-St. Lucians are a lost people
Saint Lucia has a sizeable population who are descendants of indentured laborers from India that were brought to save the cultivation and processing of sugar cane.
The Palmyra brought the first, of thirteen, shiploads on May 6, 1859. A point of note: the last ship to bring Indian laborers to St. Lucia was the Volga, which sank off the coast of Vigie Point, near Castries on the night of Dec 10, 1893. It was carrying 156 Indians for St. Lucia and 487 for Jamaica.
All souls were saved; and those for Jamaica were taken there on the Jumna on Dec 22nd. So not only were the Volgaâ's Indians jahaji's, but they shared a strong bond, forged through the same tragic experience.In the beginning it was not a problem for the Indians to practice their culture. In the early records of St. Lucia it was not uncommon to see the first laborers dressed in traditional clothing, practicing ceremonies such as Diwali and Hosay. When the churches started their conversion scheme, they established schools which if the Indians wanted their children to gain an education they were required to adopt Christianity.
At first many refused, but some took them up on it, since it was one way to other jobs than working on the plantations. The other thing they did was to restrict the types of clothing that the laborers could wear, even going as far as having them changed into more "appropriateî clothing aboard the ship before being disembarkation and allotment to estates.
When an individual was converted to Christianity he/she was given a European name (some of the plantation owners were French so they Indians received French names on those estates) and highly discouraged from using their original Indian name.
They then worked on further breaking the castes by telling them as a Christian it was their duty to marry another Christian and not a Hindu. It was very effective when the women were converted since the ratio of Indian women to men brought over during indentureship was sometimes 1 to 20 and later on roughly 1 in 5. The next stage of the indoctrination was to teach that their cultural practices were inferior and since they are outside the Christian doctrine, the practices were not recognized. So a couple married in the Hindu custom had no rights are far as the laws were concerned. Even the historical stories of the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and the Vedas were frowned upon and their telling was discouraged.
The panchayat system of settling disputes that was a mainstay of the Indian village life was then replaced by having to use the English judicial system. Over time all these helped to erode the culture of the Indians in St. Lucia. They started to believe the lies that they were told. What was even worse they started to teach the lies to their children. [These lies being that Indian way of life and their culture was inferior - something to be shunned and be ashamed of.
Children were led to believe that the familial system of respect for their elders and their cultures were antiquated and had no place in the modern world.]
What might have confused them
further was that the various denominations used to tell those that
became baptized in one church had to be rebaptized in another church
because the teachings of the other was not right, and the Indian might
have been given another name.
I have cousin that in late 1990's wanted to give her daughter an Indian name and the Priest in the Catholic Church initially refused to perform the baptism because one of the names was associated with one of the Hindu goddesses. He told her that she would have to choose another name. So this continues today.
In the late 50ís and the 70's many of the younger Indians at the time started to turn their back on their culture despite the urging of their parents to the contrary. It did not help matters any when many of the older males in the families had started to go find work in other islands leaving their spouses to raise the families at home and things deteriorated even further.
Schools in St. Lucia do not spend much time teaching about the Indians and their contribution to the islands history and economy, so the younger generation is not learning it at home, not learning it in the churches, and are not learning about it in the schools.
There are no virtually no celebrations of various Hindu/Muslim holidays in St. Lucia.
There are hardly any historical documents on the islands that a person can read to find out about the past.
I can think of only a handful of articles that even mention that there are Indians in St. Lucia much less go into any depth about what they have contributed.
Most articles only say that Indians influenced the cuisine of the island.
I do not blame the authors of those articles. It's because they have no source information from which to draw any conclusion data.
The Indo-St. Lucians are a lost people without any firm connection to their past.
Imagine that the last shipload to arrive was only 112 years ago. There are still St. Lucians alive today whose parents came from India. There are a few that still speak some Hindi ( Oudh/ Bhojpuri dialects), some that still sings the old songs, and some that still have knowledge to pass on.
This is why the generation that
once turned their back on their culture and later became educated
enough to realize its importance to one's self, can help teach the
younger ones of this importance, not to convert them back to Hinduism
or Islam, but to let them know who they are.
"To make people get more united, you need to be proud of yourself first. And to be proud of yourself you need to know who you are, where you come from, what your roots is. If you know your own history then you know who you are. " - Piyapas Bhirombhakdi - Lady in waiting to Queen Sirikit of Thailand
Personally, I cannot continue to live a lie once my eyes have been opened to the truth, no matter how unpopular the move to throw off the bondage of that lie may be.
In my visits to Africa, the
Middle East, Europe, and North America I have seen much of the strength
of many people who have held on to their culture, some for thousands of
years, despite what conquerors have tried to do to strip them of their
There is nothing wrong with being one people out of many. But I believe that one's culture should be studied and passed on.