(Jamaica Gleaner) CHEDWIN PARK, St Catherine:In 1845, on May 12, the first set of East Indian indentured labourers landed at Old Harbour Bay, St Catherine, to fill the labour gaps left by enslaved Africans, after Emancipation in 1838. That event is forever etched in the minds of their descendants, who have been observing it with an Indian Arrival Day festival for several years now.
On Sunday, May 6, hundreds of these descendants of all shades and traits turned up at Chedwin Park, St Catherine, to continue the tradition, but in the early afternoon the rains came in torrents, literally flooding the well-known cricket grounds. Fortunately, there was much grass; however, in areas where it was sparse, there was muck, muck, muck, all around.
Yet, the celebrants stayed. Dr Winston Tolan, the event’s coordinator, in speaking with Rural Express about the state of the grounds, said, “A lot of people look forward to this event every year. We have been promoting it for the last two, three months, and despite the weather, I am sure we are getting even a bigger crowd later, now that the rain has eased up.” And by late afternoon people were still arriving.
This year, the annual Roti Festival, held in St Andrew, was combined with the Arrival Day festivities because, according to Dr Tolan, “Everybody passing through difficult economic times, and to try and get sponsors for both events, we decided to combine them, for sponsorship is important.” An assessment of the combination idea will be done subsequently.
Also in attendance were delegations of well-wishers, cultural ambassadors, entertainers, and journalists from Trinidad and Tobago, Florida, and the United Kingdom. “One thing I like about Jamaica is the warmth and hospitality of the people, and like they say in Jamaica, from many come one people … and despite the inclement weather, to see so many people, that says a lot about the organisation, about the interest people have in seeing the cultural groups,” Surujdeo Mangaroo, from southern Trinidad, and president of the Indio-Cultural Union of the Caribbean and the Americas, told Rural Express. He has been bringing performers to Jamaica for the last 12 years.
On sale were traditional Indian food, clothes and costume jewellery, among other items, while live entertainment was provided by singers and dancers, including Susan ‘Thrill Indian’ Murphy of Gimme-Mi-Bit, Clarendon, and Shenade Ganase of Trinidad and Tobago. However, it was the Chutney King, Rakesh Yankaran of Trinidad, from the well-known Yankaran family, who was the top-billing artiste. Regarded as ‘the undisputed champion of chutney singing’, and ‘Chutney King of the World’, he has been singing for over 30 years, and has travelled the world over.
Presentations were made to three organisations —Prema Satsangh of Jamaica, Sanatan Dharma Mandir, the Indian Cultural Society of Jamaica— for the promotion of Indian culture in Jamaica. Dr Tolan, the senior casualty officer at the Mandeville Hospital, Power 106 radio host, and self-described Indian cultural exponent, was also honoured for his contribution to the preservation and promotion of Indian culture. He is already a recipient of Jamaica’s Order of Distinction, in 2009, for medicine and the advancement of Indian culture in Jamaica.
Dr Tolan said this year’s Arrival Day celebration is significant in light of Jamaica’s 50th year of Independence. “For many of us, we retain our cultural practices in the sense of music and maybe food kinds, but we are Jamaicans first and foremost. Jamaica is where we all belong,” Tolan, the vice-president of the Indo-Cultural Union of the Caribbean and the Americas, said.