Excerpts from Volume 1 Number 1

Literature and the Person of Indian Origin

Kenneth Ramchand

In the mid-nineteen forties, people of Indian origin in Trinidad had waged an island-wide campaign against a proposal that the right to vote should be withheld from all those who were not literate in English. For all practical purposes this meant most of the people of Indian origin some of whom were highly literate in Indian languages. The proposal came not from the Colonial Office but from local interests who must have felt challenged by this increasingly visible and integral part of the population.

In 1981, just thirty-five years after that ignoble episode, Vidia Naipaul, a man of Indian origin was expected to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  In that year he was on the front cover of Newsweek and of Time which dubbed him ‘Master of the Novel’. Among those who knew, he was being celebrated as the greatest living writer of English prose.


In Sir Vidia’s Shadow, Out of Historical Darkness

Clem Seecharan

It is now over five years since ‘Tiger in the Stars’ was published. It is not encumbered by theory; it is not driven by ‘abstract interest’, but it does generalize. It is a book about the achievement of Indians in colonial Guyana, a very difficult environment: for me, a very personal history, very ‘human’, with elements of the ‘overarching’ approach. But I am certain Sir Vidia would not waste time on ‘this rubbish kind of writing’, on a place where ‘nothing was created’: to speak of achievement there is ‘bogus’. Yet I am able to see what drives his writing: revulsion against the certainties of ‘believers’ and the death of reason. Although we may arrive at different conclusions about the people we seek to comprehend, I think where Naipaul and I do connect is ‘racial’ and intellectual.



Alim A. Hosein

In both of the novels which I will examine--Rooplal Monar’s Janjhat and Oonya Kempadoo’s Buxton Spice--the definition of sexual identity is wrapped up in a struggle for independence and self-definition. This is taken at the personal level of the protagonists, but it is made much wider to reflect the national political struggle and the struggle for identity. Discovery of personal sexual identity is central to both novels, and in both, is set against the backdrop of social and political uneasiness.

Both novels are set in the midst of change.


The Depiction of Indian Female Experience in the contemporary novel
of the Anglophone Caribbean:

Jan Shinebourne’s The Last English Plantation

Ameena Gafoor

The condition of Indian survival on the British West Indian plantations and the process of adjustment and accommodation continue to be the subject of lively interest to the historian, the sociologist, and the cultural anthropologist. However, some of the most insightful narratives about Indian Caribbean experience have come to us through novelistic efforts where the nature of existence and the quest for identity and belonging are reinterpreted and explored convincingly.  Until very recently, such literary recreations have been achieved chiefly through the eyes of male authors.

Jan Shinebourne’s novel, The Last English Plantation, is the first attempt in the contemporary novel of the Anglophone Caribbean to reconstruct Indian female experience from an Indian female perspective; it is also the first novel to give the Indian female character a central place in the scheme of things. This essay attempts to trace the evolution of the Indian Guianese woman through the processes of acculturation, and her social and spiritual progress as an analogy to the evolution of the postcolonial society depicted in Shinebourne’s work. 

The work is set in British Guiana in the politically turbulent 1950s, a decade before the colony is granted its Independence in 1966.


Indian Indentured Women in the Caribbean: Ethnicity, Class & Gender

Verene A Sheperd

This article problematizes the issue of the intersection of class, race/ethnicity, and gender in the experiences of Indian women who formed part of the pool of migrant labourers on Caribbean plantations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. From a class and ethnic perspective, the indentureship experience united male and female Indians; but it was also deeply differentiated by gender ideology, reflected in the sex-typing of jobs and the gender discriminatory wage scale. Within this context, it would not be inaccurate to characterize the female experience of migration and indentureship as one of ultra-exploitability. The racism of colonial society and the elite attitude to working class people further served to complicate such experiences. Of course, exploitation generated an opposing struggle against migration and indentureship.



The 1862 “Mutiny” Aboard the Guyana-bound Clasmerden

Brinsley Samaroo

The Indian Revolt of 1857 had far-reaching consequences not only for India but equally for all areas of the Diaspora to which the girmityas (agreement-signers) went: the Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, the Seychelles and Natal.  One indication of the effect of the Revolt was a marked increase in the outflow of immigrants leaving Calcutta after 1857.There was, equally, a significant increase in the tonnage of vessels used to transport these immigrants.  During the pre-1857 years smaller ships could be used.  The Fath-al-Razak, which brought the first shipload of 127 persons to Trinidad in 1845, weighed 392 tons, the Jumna (365 tons), or the Hughli (513 tons) found frequent use in the transoceanic body trade.  Up to the 1850s the Ganges (840 tons) was considered large.  From the 1860s, however. as more and more boats-full of Indians crowded the docks at Garden Reach, Calcutta . . . .


Governor Henry Turner Irving and his Role on Immigration, 1882-1887:

Consolidation and Confrontation

  Tota Mangar

With the abolition of slavery and, moreso, the termination of the apprenticeship system, the powerful plantocracy in the then colony of British Guiana realized that a grave labour shortage would inevitably mean complete disaster to themselves and the sugar industry in general. Their fear, uncertainty and uneasiness during this critical period of 'crisis and change' were hastened by the large-scale exodus of ex-slaves from the sugar plantations especially after 1838. This situation was not surprising as several decades of the despicable system of slavery had resulted in the plantation being viewed as the symbol of dehumanization, degradation and demoralization as far as the victims were concerned. They quite naturally wanted to rid themselves of planter class social, cultural and political domination and at the same time they desired to assert their economic independence.

With great enthusiasm and in the face of tremendous odds they started the village movement and peasantry. Immigrant labour was quickly seen as the answer to the much-feared labour problem.