A Comparative Analysis of Two Failed Indenture Experiences in Post-Emancipation Caribbean: British Guiana (1838-1843) and Danish St. Croix (1863-1868)

Article excerpt


From a reading of the contributions on Caribbean indentured historiography, one is struck by two fundamental factors. The first is that we have come a long way in the study of the Caribbean Indian indentured experience. Over the past forty years, historians have covered virtually every aspect of indenture - recruitment, immigration, transportation, plantation experience, resistance, repatriation, remittances, accommodation, settlement, cultural identity - in the Caribbean colonies - British Guiana, Trinidad, Jamaica, Suriname, French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Belize, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Nevis, St. Croix - that received indentured Indians (see Hassankhan 2011; Mahase 2008; Roopnarine 2007; Metha 2004; Ramdin 2000, Seecharan 1999; Hoefte 1998; Kale 1998; Laurence 1995; Look Lai 1993; Shepherd 1994; Dabydeen & Samaroo 1987; Haraksingh 1987; Mangru 1987; Moutoussamy 1989; Emmer 1986; Nath 1975; Tinker 1974; Weiler 1968). Of course, analysis of some aspects of indenture still remains to be carried out. The second is the lack of any comparative regional study. Except for Asian Caribbean historian Walton Look Lai's comparative ethnic study on indentured Indians and Chinese and a few other studies on the overall Caribbean Indian indentured experience (see Northrup 1995; Dabydeen and Samaroo 1987; Tinker 1974), there appears to be no comparative study of Indian indentureship in the former British colonies with that of the Dutch, French, or former Danish islands. What has emerged instead from Caribbean Indian indentured studies is an insular focus on former western European Caribbean colonies. For example, Brinsley Samaroo, Radica Mahase, Keith Laurence, Kusha Haraksingh, Judith Weiler, Clem Seecharan, Lomarsh Roopnarine, Basdeo Mangru, Madhavi Kale, Verene Shepherd, Dwarka Nath and Ron Ramdin have studied Indian indentured experience primarily in the former British Caribbean while Maurits Hassankhan, Rosemarjn Hoefte, Peiter Emmer and Ernest Moutoussamy have studied Indian indenture in Suriname and in the French Caribbean respectively. Except for Kumar Sircar (1971) and Lomarsh Roopnarine's (2009, 2010) studies, Indian indenture in the Danish West Indies has not received any meaningful attention. The overall insular or regional Indocentric approach and attention is largely a result of the legacy of colonialism and language differences (Creole included) instituted by the various western imperial regimes in the Caribbean region before and during indenture. Except for rare cases, western European governments (British, French, Dutch and Danish) recorded indenture in their own national language. Unfortunately, since colonial times, there has been little effort to address language insularity in the Caribbean. The end result is that while language barriers permeate almost every academic area and stage in the Caribbean, including the study of Indian indenture, there have been in the past decades a surge of studies on comparative historical analysis around the world (see Mahoney 2004). The application of a comparative historical analysis is important to the study of Indian Caribbean indenture for two broad reasons. First, it can provide a more rounded view of indenture and perhaps erase the current notion that the entire indenture system was essentially a uniform experience. Second, it also can help to reconnect, resuscitate and restore events and images of the overall Caribbean indentured diasporic experience, which has been suppressed and subdued by insularity. To this day, descendants of indentured Indians have little knowledge of each other in the Caribbean despite an array of studies, conferences, and religious community connections.

The following article analyzes two failed indenture experiences in the early post-emancipation Caribbean: British Guiana (1838-1843) and Danish St. Croix (1863-1868). Both failed experiments lasted for five years and were the first indentured experiments in both colonies, twentyfive years apart, after slave emancipation. …