On May 6, St. Lucia celebrated Indian Arrival Day.
Indians came to the Caribbean as indentured laborers throughout the nineteenth century to work in colonial territories such as Guyana (1838), Jamaica (1845), Trinidad (1845), Martinique (1853), French Guiana (1854) Guadeloupe (1854), Grenada (1857), St. Lucia (1859 ), St. Vincent (1861), St. Kitts (1861), St. Croix (1863), Suriname (1873), and Nevis (1874).
Saint Lucia has a sizeable population who are descendants of these indentured laborers that were brought to save the cultivation and processing of sugar cane. Claiming an “unreliable” local labor force, St. Lucian planters first imported Indian workers in 1859. The Palmyra brought the first of thirteen shiploads on May 6, 1859. As Richard B. Cheddie emphasizes, “the last ship to bring Indian laborers from Calcutta 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.”
In the next forty years 4,427 Indians were brought to the island. Of these, only 2,075 were repatriated to India as promised by the indentureship agreement. In some case, after their indenture terms expired, Indian families traveled to Trinidad and Guyana, where there were larger Indian populations. By 1895 there were only 721 indentured Indians in St. Lucia, as reported by St. Lucia’s Protector of Immigrants. Unlike Guyana, Trinidad, and Suriname, where Indian populations are large, in St. Lucia, like Martinique, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Jamaica, among other islands, the numbers are much smaller, thus forming an ethnic minority. In St. Lucia, Indians constitute about 3% of the population. However St. Lucia and many of the aforementioned countries have dedicated commemorative days to acknowledge the arrival and important contributions of their Indo-Caribbean populations. In St. Lucia it is on May 6. Other dates are May 5 (Guyana), May 10 (Jamaica), May 30 (Trinidad), June 1 (St. Vincent), and June 5 (Suriname).
Photo of Justin Jaraiwoo and his wife, St. Lucia in the 1950s, courtesy of Richard Cheddie, from Jean-Samuel Sahai´s site, http://www.cqojus.com/being_different_siw_pa_kon_lezot/