Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 December 2020
The standard association of kala pani (black waters) passage with annihilation has supported the long-held view that, throughout the indenture system in the Caribbean, South Asian migrant labourers focused their cultural energies on returning to the ancestral motherland once their contracts ended. This conclusion falls short of explaining instances of reinvention and resistance seen from the earliest years of the system in the mid-eighteenth century, which demonstrate the indenture’s compulsion to grapple with the birth of a new consciousness in which atavistic connotations of identity are deterritorialized and shifted beyond their meaning in Bharat-mata, as the motherland was then known. Early writings by Munshi Rahman Khan (Dutch Suriname), Lal Bihari Sharma (Guyana), and Joseph Ruhomon (Guyana) examine indenture from the perspective of the migrants and challenge traditional representations of this labour group as largely passive, illiterate, and wretched under the colonial pejorative ‘coolie’. Their works underscore the profound importance cultural reinvention played for the migrants in their determination of belonging and becoming in the Caribbean.
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