Indian Arrival Day
Indian Arrival Day, celebrated on 31st May, commemorates the arrival of the first Indian Indentured labourers from India to Trinidad, in May1845, on the ship Fatel Razack. While this momentous event has been celebrated among the Est Indian community in Trinidad and Tobago for many years, it was only in 1994 that it was made an official public holiday. It was called Arrival Day. In 1995 it was re-named Indian Arrival Day.
Indian Immigration to Trinidad spanned the period 1845-1917. During this period over 140,000 Indians were transported to the island. The journey was long and arduous and living conditions were deplorable. The Indians were subjected to abuse, poor food, and dangerous weather conditions. Nevertheless these adverse conditions enabled them to form a bond which overcame their differences of language, caste and regionalism.
After disembarking at Nelson Island, the arrivals were fed and rested for a couple weeks and then sent to the various estates that had requested them previously.
When the Fatel Razack sailed into the Gulf of Paria in 1845, it brought not only a new labour force, but also a new culture, because the Indians brought with them their food, dress, language, music, dance, religion and customs.
MUSIC AND DANCE
The most popular musical instruments were the drums, of which there were several types. There was the dholak, which provided the rhythm for most of the folk songs. It is a cylindrical, double-headed drum which is beaten on both sides. The larger side provides the bass and the smaller side the tenor. There was also the tassa drum which is made of clay covered with goat's skin. It is beaten with a pair of sticks. Usually several tassa drums are played together by a group of people. The tassa drums are used at weddings, Gathka dancing and Hosay celebrations.
The tabla, which was introduced into India by the Muslims of Persia was another type of drum which was an essential accompaniment to most musical performances. It consists of a pair of drums - one large and one medium sized - which is played with both hands on one end.
The Nagara drums have a leather face and a clay base. Like the tassa, they are beaten with a pair of sticks, and are played in Ahir dancing and at Biraha singing. In addition there was the bansoori, which is a bamboo flute with seven holes, and the harmonium, which resembles an organ, and has bellows which pump wind into the reed compartment.
Along with the music are various types of songs such as the hori, birhas, and ghazal for different occasions. There are also the various types of dances, which range from classical Indian dance to chutney.
Customs and Festivals
The Indians brought to Trinidad a wide range of festivals and religious observances. For the Indians - both Hindus and Muslims - these celebrations were important. They allowed the immigrants to hold on to the values and principles which had sustained them for centuries. They also served to make the harsh daily life more bearable. Events such as Divali, Eid-ul-Fitr, Phagwa and Hoosay have over the years become part of the cultural fabric of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Indians who came to the Caribbean initially came from various regions in Indian, each with its own language and customs. However, by the late 19th century there was less diversity in language as the majority of immigrants originated from Uttar Pradesh. The inhabitants of this region spoke Bhojpuri, a Hindi dialect, which became the shared and unifying language for Indians in Trinidad.
Family and community were very important to the immigrants.They brought the panchayat system which was a way of dealing with with inter-communal conflicts and family problems. They also continued their naming convention of family members. Below is a sample list of Hindu and Muslim names and their meanings.
Aruna - Dawn
Avinash - Endless, Boundless
Alia, Aalia - Exalted
Ali - Excellent
One ancient practice which has recently become a western phenomenon is the Mehndi (or Henna) which is the ancient art of body tattooing. Mehndi powder is made out of dried leaves from a shrub. Traditionally, mehndi is used to decorate the hands and feet of a new bride
The East Indians introduced new fashions and clothing such as the sari, choli, kurtah, orhni, salwar kameez, garara, dupatta, gangri, pagri, and dhoti. Jewellery included the nakphul, bera, churia, and baju band, to name a few.
The Shalwar/Kameez (Salwar Kameez) is a knee-length dress worn over tight fitting trousers and dupatta. This is the second most popular dress in most parts of Indian and was brought to the West Indies by the Indian immigrants. The dupatta is a long veil.
The gangri is a long, full skirt reaching down to the ankles. The choli is a short blouse worn with the sari, and the orhni is a veil which covers the upper part of the body. The kurtah is a long loose shirt, and the dhoti is a cotton loin cloth. Both garments are worn by men. The kurtah is also worn by women in combination with the garara.
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The indentured labourers who came to Trinidad brought with them their own East Indian cuisine, complete with traditional seasonings and ways of cooking. Most important of their spices were the curries. Foods such as roti, doubles, saheena, katchowrie, barah, anchar and pholourie have become part of the national cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago.
Types of Roti
Fruits and Vegetables
Goolgoolah (Ripe fig)
Baigan - Egg plant
Aloo - Potato
Damadol - Tomato
Dhal - Split Peas
Nariel - Coconut
Bhaat - Cooked Rice
Tarkaree - Cooked Vegetables
Ghee - Clarified Butter
Bandhaniya - Shadon Beni
Carili - Bitter Gourd
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East Indian Cooking Utensils
Flat wooden spoon
Cotton brush for oil
Long hollow pipe
Cauldron (big pot)
Grindstone (used with Lorha)
Hand-held stone grinder
The Fatel Razack brought not only a new labour force to assist in the economic development of Trinidad, but also a new people with a new culture. On 31st May each year, Indian Arrival Day commemorates this momentous occasion. The event is celebrated by staging a re-enactment of the arrival of the Fatel Razack at various beaches, as well as with music and dance ceremonies. Outstanding members of the community are also honoured for their contributions to society.
NCIC. Conference on "Challenge and Change: the Indian Diaspora in its Historical and Contemporary Contexts" Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Arrival of Indian Indentured Labourers in Trinidad. August 11-18, 1995.