Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has again acknowledged the historical journey and subsequent contributions of Vincentians of Indian descent to the development of the Caribbean and of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in particular.
He was speaking on June, 4, at the annual re-enactment ceremony of the arrival of Indians to these shores to work as indentured labourers.
The Prime Minister praised their enduring qualities of discipline, hard work, and thriftiness among the Indian community, stating “They have shared those qualities with other minorities throughout the world, and the Indian family structure, like the African family structure, is one of solidarity and community but slavery subverted at every turn, the family structure of the African people”.
Gonsalves who has been calling for reparations to be paid by the former colonizers of the Caribbean said the Indian descendants have retained several aspects of their culture including the use of curry and bright colours.
“It is an interesting study to be made,” he observed pointing to the bright coloured homes of many of these descendants.
“Because those things, no matter how much you have had a creolisation … these are things which are still alive in people.”
The adoption of Indian cuisine by Caribbean people is another example of the contribution of the Indian community to Caribbean culture, civilization and development the Prime Minister said noting that, “curry goat is now a Caribbean dish. The Indian community has borrowed, adapted, adopted, and so to have influenced our Caribbean civilization and are a part of it”, he said.
Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Godwin Friday, emphasized the importance of Indian Arrival Day as an occasion to celebrate and preserve the heritage and significant contributions of individuals of East Indian descent in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. He mentioned the original arrivals who ventured ashore onto unfamiliar territory, “coming such a distance, from such a far off place, never knowing if they are ever going to go back, and stepping ashore onto something uncertain, and wondering ‘how am I going to survive in this place’”.
Friday said “This is a day for us to honour the contributions of East Indians to the community and rich tapestry of Vincentian life and culture. The day also offers us a day to reflect on the importance of not just our history but of going forward, of the importance of embracing diversity, in our present day St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He pointed out that diversity differences is not a problem to be solved as some people seem to think. “It is rather a source of strength for us because it enables us to draw on various experiences, the strengths of various cultures.”
The re-enactment of the arrival of East Indians to St. Vincent and the Grenadines took place at Indian Bay on Sunday, June 4. The event is organized annually by the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Indian Heritage Foundation. Indian Arrival Day has been commemorated since 2007 following the passage of appropriate legislation on June 1.
President of the Foundation Junior Bacchus, emphasized the importance of remembering the circumstances that led the first group of East Indians arriving in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Speaking at Sunday’s event Bacchus traced the events following the abolition of slavery which led to a demand for workers to continue labouring on the estates.
As a result the plantation owners requested from the governments of the colonizing countries to get workers, and with India being a colony of England at the time, workers were being brought to
the West Indies. Before the East Indians, Portuguese workers were used but they did not meet the required numbers to make up the labour force.
“Indentureship started even before the Indians came,” Bacchus told the gathering. The Indians followed the Portuguese, “and the first ship, the Travaucoreâ landed in the area of Edinboro with approximately 258 people who left India but arrived with 260 at that time, on the first of June 1861.”
Following their arrival, the Indians were distributed among the various estates in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Eight more ships arrived between the period 1861 – 1880, with a total of 2,274 Indians. Soon thereafter, the practise of indentureship was abolished and many Indians requested to return to India.
Through dialogue with the administrator at the time, 1,141 Indian workers returned to India, but some went to live and work in other Caribbean islands.
Others remained, “and those of us are descendents of those who remained here on the various estates”, Bacchus said.