TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Indian Arrival Day

Indian Arrival Day is a commemoration of the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India to Trinidad, and touches on both the challenges people faced, and as a celebration of Indian culture and history. The British Empire turned to Indian indentured labour as a replacement to slavery (workers were paid, though only a pittance, and worked in similar conditions as people did under slavery, but did get land grants after their term was up), and it was not limited to Trinidad. Similar holidays are held around the Caribbean, in South Africa, and Fiji.

It’s a bittersweet holiday, as it’s both a celebration of a culture that not just survived hardship and dislocation, but thrived. However, it’s also a holiday that commemorates those who did not make it through the suffering, and that many labourers were pressured into leaving India through force, trickery, or desperation. I recommend reading Arthur Dash’s editorial “An immigration storyfor more context.

There are also those in the Indo-Caribbean community that are against celebrating Indian Arrival Day, seeing it as a deeply colonial holiday. It’s also criticized as fuelling racial divides, particularly with the historical legacies of British colonialism – the post-indentureship land grants gave the Indian community a significant financial leg up over the Afro-Caribbean community, and there were often outright attempts by the British to divide the Indian and African communities as a way to keep control. Guyanese writer Rajiv Mohabir’s article “Why I Will Never Celebrate Indian Arrival Dayis a good read on this view, and those historical legacies definitely shone through in Green Days by the River.

Another interesting element is that the Indo-Carribean community both developed their own identity, and kept a lot deep connections with India, including religion and music. This video below from Shawn at Hindu Lifestyle has a great look at West Indian Hinduism and identity, as well as the extra layer of identity that comes from being an Indo-Trinidadian raised in Canada.

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