Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Impact of Slavery in the Caribbean:
A Case Study of Trinidad
Posted: November 25, 2002
An analysis by
Dr. Kwame Nantambu

This article focuses on the impact of Afrikan slavery and the Indian Indentured system in Trinidad.

"Afrikan Arrival Day" in the Caribbean is 1517 when there was an "order permitting the transport of 4,000 Negroes (Afrikans) annually from Africa for sale in the New World". (Burns, 1965, p. 123).

"Indian Arrival Day" in Trinidad is 3 May 1845, when "the fatal Rozack, a Muslim-owned vessel, landed 225 Indians at Nelson Island" off the coast of Trinidad. (Johnson, 1999, p. 10).

However, here is where the similarity between the treatment of the Afrikan and Indian by Britian ends.

For whereas the Afrikans were brought violently and involuntarily from Afrika to Trinidad as slaves and "infidels", the same is not true for the Indians who came voluntarily from India.

Indian laborers brought into the British Caribbean were given the unique status of "indentured immigrants" to labor under contract for a fixed period of time. The plantocracy hoped that at the end of the indentured period, the immigrants would settle in their respective colonies to which they were indentured. It was also hoped that they would raise families and provide an ongoing source of labor for the plantations.

"From the beginning, planters saw the indentured Indian laborer as competition for the ex-slave laborers and so helped to keep wages down. Ex-slaves (Afrikans) were paid less than indentured laborers were. If the ex-slaves demanded the same equal pay as the indentured laborers (Indians), they would not be entertained. They could not strike; there were no trade unions." (Zacharias and McAfee, 1999, pp. 61-66).

The stark reality is that "the Africans were billed as boring, so lazy that they did not deserve to be paid for their labor." (Ibid, p.63).

This Euro-British "cruel and unusual" treatment was compounded by the fact that:

1. "Indian migrants were offered land at the end of the indenture and assistance in bringing their families to the colony to which they were assigned".

2. The Indian migrant was promised higher wages in Trinidad. "In India, laborers were paid between 1-11/2 to 2 - 21/2 pence a day. In Trinidad, they could earn 2 shillings a day".

3. "Criminals escaping from police and afraid of returning to the villages as well as loafers, could go to the colonies." (Ibid p.62).

The reality is that the indentured Indian was placed in a position of privilege while the enslaved Afrikan was put in multi-faceted disenfranchised position.

Euro-British Afrikan slavery system is permanent; Indian Indentured system was temporary.

Impact of Slavery and Indentured System

Today, the East Indian population is in the majority in Trinidad. However, "none of them knows about, understands, is even sympathetic to the suffering of the Afrikan or is interested in the Afrikan experience on the slave plantations." (Ibid, p.63).

The East Indian in Trinidad does not see or view himself as a full-blown slave. They refer to their voluntary experience which "came with tremendous advantages which, allowed them their own family life and their own togetherness, to be protected by the conditions under which they were hired."(Ibid).

On the other hand, "the Afrikan slave never, never had anything like this. He came out of a situation, in which all that the indentured people had, under the law of protection had been denied him." (Ibid). The Afrikan lost both his name and his family institution.

The fact of the matter is that the British-imposed system of apprenticeship was callously designed to cement the Afrikan in a permanent state or status of powerlessness. But more viciously, the Afrikan was denied any sense of his true history, identity and culture. In fact, all these experiences were demeaned, denigrated, devalued and destroyed.

It is this psychological legacy of slavery and indenture that permeates, fashions and condones the antagonistic and sometimes violent interaction between the Afrikan and Indian in Trinidad today.

Hence, it need occasion no great surprise that Afrikans in Trinidad are sometimes referred to as "Nigger" while the Indians' derogatory social label is "Coolie". These two ethnic groups do not see themselves as being enslaved and oppressed by the same Euro-British colonial, slave-master.

The legacy of the Euro-British plantation ploy of Divide and Rule (Conquer) is alive and kicking in Trinidad to the extent that now that a Prime Minister of Afrikan descent is in power, a former Prime Minister of Indian decent has publicly warned his fellow Indian -Trinidadian citizens that: "we must never give up our struggle for unity, inclusion for fair play and justice and for the removal of all forms of discrimination, alienation and marginalisation." (Dass, 2002, p.7).

The Euro-British placed the Afrikan in "no-man's land" where he still remains today. This is the most detrimental and mental effect of European slavery.

On the other hand, the East Indian was legally allowed to retain his history, identity and culture. All these three experiences remain intact, even today. The Euro-British imposed system of indenture was a concerted, planned effort to cement the East Indian in a permanent state or status of power in Trinidad.

This is the on-going apocalyptic intifadah the British government created as a result of Afrikan slavery and Indian indenture systems.

The Indian in Trinidad today has a certain inner sense of "superiority" from this Euro-British system. And it is this sentiment that has precipitated the birth of the poisonous triplets of political racism, racial division and Indian ethnic supremacy in Trinidad.

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").


Dr. Nantambu is an Associate Professor, Dept. of Pan-African Studies, Kent State University, U.S.A.

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