Jamaica celebrates Indian Arrival Day

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A report by Shastri Boodan for Trinidad’s Guardian.

The National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) is appealing for greater unity amongst Caribbean peoples. This call came from Surujdeo Mangaroo, the public relations officer of the NCIC. Mangaroo was speaking at Indian Arrival Day or Landing Day celebrations at Chedwin Park, Jamaica, on May 8.

Mangaroo said there was more in the common history of the people of the region to unite, rather than create avenues for growing divisiveness and tension. He said, “Let us seize the opportunity to unite and build one Caribbean. Jamaica and T&T, we are too close to fight or quarrel. This function is doing just that, it’s helping to bridge the gap.”

Mangaroo said Landing Day celebrations were getting bigger annually. He said cultural artistes from Jamaica, including vocalist Dr Winston Tolan, the chief organiser of Landing Day celebrations, are expected to perform at Divali Nagar celebrations this year.

T&T artistes stole the show at Chedwin Park. Vocalist and broadcaster with the TBC Radio Network Sangeet 106.1 FM Veejai Ramkisoon and his band, SRS International, did a mixture of film songs and popular Trini-style chutney music.

Ramkissoon was given a special award by the organisers of the celebrations and even went on to instruct Olivia “Babsy” Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, in the art of chutney dancing. The packed crowd at the free event were treated to dance items by Penal-based Indian dancer Brian Mangaroo, whose maiden performance on the island seemed to mesmerise the audience.

Patrons were also treated to performances by Melanie Boodwah, a vocalist from Miami with Guyanese roots, who played the harmonium.

History of Indians in Jamaica 
Over 36,000 Indians were taken to Jamaica as indentured workers between 1845 and 1917, following the end of slavery. The Maidstone was the first ship carrying workers from India and landed at Old Harbour Bay in 1845. It carried 200 men, 28 women under 30 years, and 33 children under 12 years, from various towns and villages in northern India. This continued until 1917,  when Indian indentureship ended in the region.

In Jamaica, the Indians worked in the areas of Portland, St Thomas, St Mary, Clarendon and Westmoreland for a shilling a day, and lived in barracks where several families had to share a single room. Approximately 81,500 Indians live in Jamaica today, maintaining their traditional culture.

Traditional Indian foods such as curry goat and roti have become part of Jamaica’s national cuisine. Descendants of the immigrant workers have influenced the fields of farming, medicine, politics and horse racing.

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