As the end of their five-year contracts loomed, indentured Indians carefully hoarded their hard-won savings, some having finally switched to the more profitable free-market labour system to the delight of authorities.
Defying District Magistrates and serving imprisonment with hard labour for “unlawful absences,” the first group of indentured Indians would challenge colonial authorities while adapting to a new life in British Guiana.
A traditional unrefined sweetener long made in Indian villages by boiling down fresh sugar cane juice, jaggery is an old concoction that carries a rich caramel flavour and a beautiful golden to dark brown colour.
Cast out of the Manager’s residence a few months after testifying against the abuse of Indian immigrant workers, the courageous former house servant Narrain would chose to finally walk away from his indentured contract.
Paid just five rupees monthly, enterprising indentured Indians at Plantation Highbury still managed to accumulate significant savings by the end of 1840, through thrift, extra work, and early livestock investments.
The indentured immigrants caught up in the secret transfer and subsequent sale of John Gladstone’s Vreed-en-Hoop plantation were allowed little choice but to stay on for the two remaining years of their 1838 contracts.
Thorny legal issues unexpectedly emerged in British Guiana (BG) over the uncertain status of John Gladstone’s East Indian indentured labourers when the influential politician and wealthy merchant secretly transferred his Vreed-en-Hoop sugar estate to his sons in 1839 and they quietly sold it a year later.
Faced with negative press and publicity over the ill-treatment of Indian indentured labourers on his Vreed-en-Hoop plantation, the rich and powerful British merchant behind the importation scheme quickly and quietly transferred the profitable estate to his sons.
An astute plantation cook deemed “a mere brute” soon changed into a stylish man “in European dress with a countenance beaming with intelligence and hope,” as the young Rajput who was “most enthusiastic” to become the first East Indian Christian missionary in British Guiana managed to avoid further estate work as an indentured immigrant.
An unusual syncretic Indian deity that combines aspects of different major faiths, the dark-coloured Lord Jagannath is still periodically and ceremoniously renewed as a sacred, simple wooden carving, brilliantly painted with a round face and huge symmetrical eyes.
With no other person able to speak the different languages of the Indian indentured immigrants on a notorious Demerara estate, the last remaining of two abusive interpreters was quickly pardoned by the Governor.
The group of strong, young friends in their 20s, had all signed up for their foreign adventure when the wily recruiters passed through the farming village in Bancoorah District, West Bengal promising steady jobs and good money.
Trouble started aboard the “Hesperus” sailing ship from the time the ruthless 25 year-olds Henry Jacobs and his friend Charles James Wiltshire were appointed the only two interpreters for the mixed group of 167 pioneering Indians bound for British Guiana (B.G).
It was still stuffy when the 22 men stealthily set off for the swift-moving river, slinking among the shadows in single file and silence late one Monday night, as they sought to spot snatches of the water through the bushes in the sickly light of a slivered moon.
The salt air, sea winds and ever-stronger spring tides sweep in from the swirling Atlantic sliding through the thick bushes and around the tall coconut trees that have taken over the long perished plantations.
Paid at least “a guinea” or about 21 shillings for each Indian indentured immigrant delivered alive to the destination colonies in the West Indies, seasoned medical doctors appointed as surgeons-superintendents wielded significant power aboard commercial “coolie-carrying” ships.
Borne upon the ocean’s foam Far from native land and home. Midnight curtain, dense with wrath.
“Bye and bye make very long journey, Cross Kalla-panee I shall go…” excerpt “Bengalee Baboo” satirical song, 19th century.
The sharp scent of freshly ground spices, the cooking of traditional foods and the dull drone of drums like the dholak and the tabla would have helped make the tough ship-rolling-journey more bearable for the Indian indentured immigrants during the “Sheila’s” maiden trip to the West Indies.
“Away, away, what nectar spray she flings about her bow. What diamonds flash in every splash that drips upon my brow.
“Sweet Evelina, dear Evelina, My love for thee shall never, never die. Dear Evelina, sweet Evelina, My love for thee shall never, never die.
“Oh, naughty, naughty Clara, how could you serve me so? I’ll go to Demerara, if you tell me to go.
Leading chutney artiste, the young Terry Gajraj shot to fame with a restless reworking of old lines in his “Guyana Baboo” hit composed during an astonishing creative outpouring with friends one noisy, nostalgic night in a tiny Bronx, New York apartment in 1992, far from the fertile Fyrish fields and modest mandir of his buoyant Berbice boyhood.
The early afternoon of Monday January 14, 1991 started like any routine assignment for us covering Parliament but by the end of the dramatic day, we would witness historic scenes of acerbic anger, unprecedented disorder and ugly uproar.
Out of the corner of my vision, I notice the faded maroon Camry with bits of rust and sanded unpainted gray patches suddenly pulling off the main street to park at the curb just in front of me.
Rustling leaves hang to the ground creating a lovely, lit space. We were relaxing at home under the graceful green canopy in a cool clump of giant neem trees with the sea wind sweeping hair, birdsong overhead and the dogs lolling at our bare feet.
I have a slender ring with a glowing nugget of Guyana gold, accented with pale side slips of grooved platinum, a poignant parting girlhood gift from my older sister as she tearfully left our Georgetown home permanently, decades ago, for a new life in the Netherlands.
Facing an uncertain future, batches of battered Guyanese who have lost nearly everything in the recent hurricanes finally flew back home this week with few bags and their weather weary children.
Until Monday night, the humble cottage at Lot 243 South Road, Georgetown was a house of love, laughter and long life.
Nearly three years ago, a bright-eyed dog was curiously sniffing her way through a routine examination of a small Westwind business jet that had landed early that evening for a quick refuelling stop at Luiz Munoz Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico.
In our home, stands a prized life-size panel of fine Belizean mahogany carved with an imposing figure of Hunaphu, one of the handsome hero twins of the Classic Maya creation myth, soundlessly striding with the axe that he furiously wields to help his brother Xbalanque defeat the lords of the underworld in a series of intense battles.
As the faint remnants of long lived Irma finally weakened into light scattered showers across the distant American valleys of Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee, shell-shocked survivors slowly started to take stock following the latest deadly hurricane.
As I write this column, the huge Hurricane Irma is directly hurtling towards our former Leeward Islands’ lovely home of Antigua and Barbuda, threatening to trash the small islands and test its’ big-hearted people like never before.
A best-selling book by the British writer Michael Brooks, “13 Things That Don’t Make Sense,” looks at the most intriguing scientific mysteries of our time, ranging from cold fusion and the ultimate fate of the universe, to the continuing quest for understanding dark matter and dark energy.
It was late one cold night when I climbed into bed, shivering in the darkness and tucked my hand, as usual under the soft pillow.
The old jest goes that you can always tell someone is a true Guyanese by their frugal request to the vendor “to pass a single” from the tray or for the bigger order of two cigarettes instead of purchasing the whole pack, like the rest of the world with money to burn.
American stand-up comedian, Jeff Ross is known as the “Roastmaster General” for his withering witticisms and cutting one-liners, delivered during high-profile celebrity appearances on Comedy Central.
The English humorist and writer, Sir A.P. Herbert is well-loved for his realistic series of satirical judgments and absurd legal accounts first set out in “Misleading Cases in the Common Law” which on several occasions were mistakenly reported by several newspapers as entirely factual.
Singing schoolteacher Seadley Joseph so loved books, he became known as the Penguin after the flightless bird symbol of the famous publishing house, winning Trinidad’s coveted Calypso Monarch title with a blistering piece of social commentary, “We Living in Jail.” His 1984 lyrics declared, “Everybody talking ‘bout freedom, but is like everybody blind, If you think we living in freedom, the freedom only in your mind.