The month of May marks the 168th year of arrival of Indian indentured immigrants (and Hindu presence) to Jamaica to supply cheap labour to sugar estates. On May 10th 1845, the first group of East Indians landed at Old Harbour Bay in St Catherine with 261 passengers on board. The passengers were immigrants from India who had come to the colony of Jamaica via the S.S. Blundell to work in the sugarcane plantations after the abolition of African slavery. The Indian immigrants spent over 100 days on sea during this dangerous and life changing journey. The immigrants were contracted to work in the sugarcane, rice and banana estates in Westmoreland, Clarendon, St Catherine and St Thomas.
In many ways, they brought India to the Jamaica, indeed it was not without its difficulties due to the cultural differences and no doubt this led to their retention of aspects of their cultural heritage. They continued with their traditions of Hinduism and Islam. One major challenge encountered by immigrants in Jamaica was the legality of Hindu and Muslim marriages. Non-Christian unions went unrecognized in Jamaica until 1956.
Descendants of these Indian immigrants, commemorated the arrival of their ancestors who had crossed three oceans to travel halfway around the world to reach the Caribbean. The commemoration takes the form of music, dances and the annual Roti festival which was held on May 12, 2013 in Chedwin Park Old Harbour.
The Government of Jamaica in 1995 proclaimed the Indian Arrival Day May 10 as the Indian Heritage Day in recognition of the Indians’ contribution to the social and economic development of the country. Unfortunately this most auspicious occasion is no long included on the government’s calendar of activities. Historians emphasise the common experience of Africans and Indians under colonial rule, and the links between indentureship and slavery Both Indian Arrival Day and Emancipation Day demonstrate the historical similarities and experience of our people, I therefore beech the Culture Minister Lisa Hanna to reaffirm the 1995 proclamation to protect and preserve our small but rich diversity,
Indian Arrival Day celebrations should serve as an opportunity, not to segregate ethnicity and religion, but more importantly, to allow Jamaicans to experience and participate in our small but rich and historic diversity. The lack of public edification and interest in protecting and preserving all aspects of our culture have been developed over time as politicians made explicit or implicit effort to isolate the understanding and documenting of minority cultures.