In recognition of the history of the Indians who first arrived on May 10, 1845, Jamaica has declared May 10 as “Indian Heritage Day.” People from the Indian sub-continent were first introduced to Jamaica as indentured laborers to work on sugar sugarcane plantations, banana estates, and livestock holdings following the abolition of slavery. From 1845, when the first group arrived on the S.S. Blundell, and 1917, a total of over 36,000 came to Jamaica. A plaque in commemoration of the first landing was mounted in Old Harbour in 1983.
Most indentured workers were allocated to estates in Clarendon, St. Mary, Portland, St. Thomas, St. Catherine and Westmoreland. The terms of the indentured work provided for their return to India on completion of five years’ service; however, around one-third returned to India. Some had not received the benefits they were promised and were unable to pay for return passages; others decided to stay and seek better opportunities or had formed alliances they were unwilling to break.
The Indians brought with them their traditions, beliefs, and cultural practices— language, cuisine, religion, music, dance, craftsmanship (many were jewelers), family systems, dress, discipline, and a reputation for hard work. Because of the difficulties the group faced due to the cultural differences which led to a certain degree of isolation, many aspects of their cultural heritage survived throughout the years. Among other obstacles, marriages performed under Hindu and or Moslem rites were not considered legal and children from these marriages, considered “bastards,” could not inherit their parents’ property. Although many continued to struggle on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale as agricultural workers, other Indian laborers eventually became landowners and businessmen, acquiring greater social mobility and becoming fully integrated into the Jamaican social fabric.
The photo above is from a performance at the 2008 Jamaican Heritage Expo.
For full article by Beryl Williams-Singh, see http://www.indocaribbeanheritage.com/content/view/43/64/
Photo of Jamaican Heritage Expo performance from http://www.jnht.com/news/2008/11/thousands_turned_out_for_herit.php