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.