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THE FATEL RAZACK

Wednesday, May 28 2003


THE jury is still out as to whether May 30 should be simply called Arrival Day or Indian Arrival Day. The argument which has been advanced, that by inserting Indian in the name of the holiday may be encouraging the emphasising of ethnic division, may be valid. On the other hand, it may simply be a way of a substantial part of the population expressing pride in the strides made since the arrival on May 30, 1845 of the Fatel Razack with 213 souls from Calcutta, India.

Indentureship, which was introduced to Trinidad when the Fatel Razack dropped anchor 158 years ago with its 213 passengers, had been almost as cruel as the slave system, abolished some seven years earlier. The fundamental difference was that indentureds were allowed to retain their religion, were paid a stipend, and had the choice, at the end of their contracted service, of either returning home or being given land in lieu of repatriation. The slaves were not permitted to practise their religion, were made to work free of charge, and when they were finally set free received neither money nor land as recompense for their long and brutally sad years of forced labour. Instead, it was their slave masters who had received compensation!

The Indian indentureds were flogged, in much the same way that the slaves had been, and many who sought to escape their troubling bondage were, apart from physical punishment by whipping, placed in chains. In addition, although the volume of human cargo of all too many of the ‘indentured’ vessels, had been nothing compared with the over packed slave ships, the conditions were not ideal and many an Indian died on the journey. Many persons have sought to romanticise the process employed for the recruiting of new indentures, and have spoken of jobs being offered and accepted. But all too many Indians were tricked into accepting conditions of work, while yet others were shanghaied. On several occasions the Indian Government would intervene to stop the ‘recruitment’ of their nationals as indentured servants in other lands. The first protest had been over the treatment of Indian indentureds in then British Guiana, the first place in the Region to introduce it, and later it would be of a more general nature. Finally in 1917, the shipment of the human cargoes was stopped following on the adoption of a resolution moved in the Indian Legislature the previous year!

Descendants of the Indian indentures have contributed, as have descendants of African slaves and other indentures, to the social, cultural, political and economic development of Trinidad and Tobago. One person of Indian descent, became Head of State, former President Noor Hassanali, while two persons of Indian and African descent have become Prime Ministers, Dr Eric Williams, and Basdeo Panday. Several have served as Leaders of the Opposition,  Bhadase Sagan Maraj, Dr Rudranath Capildeo, Vernon Jamadar. Nationals of Indian descent have distinguished themselves in the field of Literature       — Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul and Samuel Selvon; Medical Science — Dr Lennox Pawan; Sports — Mannie Dookhie, Mannie Ramjohn, Nyron Asgarali, Darren Ganga, Dinanath Ramnarine; Agriculture — Sir Harold Robinson; Culture — Kamaluddin Mohammed and his brothers, Sham and Moean; the dancer who surged to national attention in 1977 as Baby Susan; Drupatee Ramgoonai, Shakuntala Devi; Painting — Isaiah Boodhoo; Radio — Sam Ghany; Musical Compositions — Sundar Popo, and the list seems endless.

In 1948, while in my late teens, I had participated in quiz shows on Radio Trinidad jointly hosted by Sam Ghany, Doug Hatton and Hal Morrow and won bottles of champagne and whisky, which I had taken, unopened, to my parents home in San Fernando. Some of the shows, I recall, were held at the de Luxe Cinema, Port- of -Spain.  But I have strayed. Indians and their descendants have added to the cultural mosaic of the country, and their festivals — for example Hosay, Divali and Phagwa — are joined in by persons of other ethnic groups and religions. This, in much the same way that tens of thousands of Hindus and Muslims celebrate Christmas and Carnival, buying toys for their children and decorating their homes at Christmas, as well as playing mas in Carnival bands. A study of the names of the 213 persons, who came over by the Fatel Razack, reveals that relatively few Trinidadians of Indian descent appear to have surnames matching those of the first indentureds. Of interest, is that the surnames which are still around today include Ramnath, Ramsaran, Bhola, Gopaul and Teeluckdharry. Some of their bearers today have at some time or the other been in politics, or are still in the political world.

What must have been an initial problem of indentureship is that of the 213 Indians, who were passengers on the Fatel Razack, only 21 were adult females, while 171 were adult males, some in their middle to late thirties, for example Sonatun, 36, Emambocus, also 36, and Nemchand, Rughoo and Soomar,  all of whom were 38 at time of arrival here. There were 21 children, 15 boys and six girls. Many of the names, although they may not be readily familiar today, yet trip easily over the tongue — Sunbir, Sooniah Tackoordayal, Tulokee, Auheeluck, Abeeluck, Ruchpoor, Choin, Dossy and Aublokheeya.  Very few appear to have been Muslims. Whenever there is a discussion about persons who made tremendous contributions to the development of Indian culture in this country, invariably there is mention of the Mohammeds and Pat Mathura.

Moean Mohammed’s Indian Variety Show, introduced on TTT in 1962, the year the television was born, and his long running Mastana Bahar, which has been  featured on television since 1970, when it was co-hosted with his late brother, Sham Mohammed, have contributed to the development of a wider appeal for Indian music and songs. But he was involved in the building of Indian culture long before that. Those, who made the voyage of discovery on board the Fatel Razack, would have longed to hear the music offered today. Moean had launched another voyage of discovery, this time around, cultural, to instil a pride in the people of Indian descent in the melodious beauty of Indian music, and to cross- fertilise the nation’s multi-ethnic cultural soil. Today he lies almost forgotten, as Sundar Popo once was. The Fatel Razack must be turning in its watery grave.

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