St. Lucia, a tiny island nation of 176,000 people in the eastern Caribbean, held its first Indian Arrival Day programme to commemorate the arrival of the first group of Indian indentured workers over a century and a half ago.
It was the first time that a function had been held to celebrate the arrival of Indians in St Lucia. The function included a presentation depicting events associated with Indian life and a lecture on the Indian immigrants in St Lucia.
Leonard Surage, one of the founders of the newly-formed association - The Indian Diaspora of St. Lucia - described the event as its 'inaugural Arrival Day activity'. It was held at the Folk Research Centre, an NGO mandated for promotion and research in St Lucian culture. The commemorative function was attended by historians and people of Indian ancestry, with many women wearing Indian attire, and a large number of young people, he added.
'Many St. Lucians of Indian descent know very little of their origins and roots. The few who do were quickly passing on. The Indian Diaspora association was formed by a group of people to keep the Indian heritage and culture alive,' Surage said in an email interview to IANS. The organisation has held three meetings in recent months, bringing together groups of St. Lucian Indians.
The Indian association is considering plans to ask the St. Lucian government to notify May 6 as Indian Arrival Day. Other island governments in the Caribbean such as Trinidad and Tobago, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica hold annual celebrations to mark Indian Arrival Day.
The first group of 318 Indians arrived in St. Lucia on the Palmyra on May 6, 1859. They were workers who had been indentured to work on the St. Lucian sugar estates for five years. Over the next three decades, 4,354 Indian indentured workers arrived on the island.
The Volga was the last ship to bring Indian indentured workers to St. Lucia, with 156 Indians. Just as the Volga reached within sight St. Lucia's capital Castries, it capsized and sank off Vigie Point outside Castries Harbour on December 10, 1893.
'The remains of the last ship that made it to St. Lucian shores, the Volga, are in a watery grave, it is believed, in the Vigie Peninsula. Verbal accounts have it that the boat also contained bags of rice which were washed ashore, hence the name of the cove is 'tou deewee' which is French Creole for 'rice hole', Surage explained. The Indian diaspora of St. Lucia had planned to organise a boat trip to the site of the sinking as part of the commemoration functions. But the boat ride was called off due to the inclement weather.
St. Lucia was named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse by the French and became a British colony in 1814. Indian indentured workers were brought to the colony after slavery was abolished in the British colonies. Under the indenture contract, Indian workers were assigned to sugarcane estates and worked under hard conditions.
Just about half the Indian workers chose to stay back in St. Lucia after their indenture period was over; the rest returned to India or re-indentured and went to some other colony. Those who stayed back built their homes in St Lucia and their descendants took to a variety of occupations and professions. Many of them are now trying to revive the old connections with their Indian heritage.
(14-05-2013-Shubha Singh writes on the Indian diaspora. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)