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|Migration Histories > Caribbean > Settling|
According to the planters in Britain's tropical territories, there was a 'crisis' of labour in the colonies in the post-Emancipation period, after 1834. The problem originated at the time of the abolition of the African Slave Trade, in 1807. Britain, faced the problem of how to acquire a continuous supply of cheap and easily controlled labour for its slave-less colonial plantations.
One of the problems the planters encountered was the reluctance of the freed Africans and their descendants to work on the plantations. 'How could sugar be produced without slaves?' remained the nagging question. By 1838, plans were already underway to exploit the labour resources of India by means of indentureship. Observers, such as the Anti-slavery Society feared that this form of labour control would be abused, coming as it did so soon after emancipation. African free labour was also imported into the West Indies after 1838.
Thus in the wake of the African slaves there followed a traffic involving 'Coolie ships' from India, which carried Indian indentured labourers to replace African slaves on the Caribbean plantations. From the time the first shipment of indentured Indians arrived in Guyana in 1838 until 1917, more than half a million Indians were transported to the Caribbean. During the early years of this emigration, the long and hazardous voyages were undertaken in relatively small ships, and the mortality rate was high, reaching its peak in the 1850s.
From the outset, the Anti-slavery Society, missionaries, politicians and indentured Indians themselves mounted relentless campaigns to regulate the indentureship system which was in effect, a new form of slavery. In Trinidad, for example, where the first batch of Indians had arrived in 1845, there was provision made under the system of indentureship on a number of key issues, for example, labour and wages, leave and desertion, free wage-labour and indentured labour, grievance procedure, relations between employers and labourers, and free labour. Even though the system was closely monitored and in spite of reforms, the deplorable social and economic conditions of Indians subject to the indentureship system led to a number of official inquiries and reports detailing the Indians' problems such as this 1914 report on the condition of Indian immigrants in Jamaica and those in Trinidad.
As bonded labourers, these poorly paid Indians were caught in a cycle of poverty and indebtedness to their employers and often, like their predecessors the African slaves, they were engaged in continuous resistance against their oppressors. Perhaps surprisingly, the experience of indentureship strengthened the resolve of the majority of Indians (approximately two-thirds) to remain in the Caribbean and make their homes there. Through schools and churches set up by the pioneering Canadian missionaries John Morton and Kenneth Grant, the vast majority of indentured Indians were educated and many were converted from Islam and Hinduism to Christianity both during indentureship and after its abolition in 1917. Read about the reaction of the local Muslim community to the introduction of divorce law into Trinidad in 1931.
Creators: Dr. Ron Ramdin
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