The East Indian indenture system was introduced in the Caribbean to offset the labour challenges created on plantations after Emancipation. The contractual arrangement outlined that after indentured immigrants had worked for a period of five years, they were given the option of a parcel of land and the freedom to live and work in that country or return to their home land. During the period of their indentureship, labourers received a standard wage while working on a plantation.
From 1845 to the 1920’s over 35,000 Indian indentured labourers arrived in Jamaica to work on sugar plantations, banana estates, and livestock holdings. The first group came from Northern India and landed at Old Harbour Bay in St. Catherine. They received clothing, agricultural supplies and cooking utensils, among other items, and were divided into groups and taken to various plantations across Jamaica. Conditions on the plantations were very stressful for the East Indians, who worked harder to prove themselves to the plantation masters who had grown accustomed to coerced African labour.
Many would suffer from illness and other unavoidable maladies. When their contract of indentured labour ended in 1917, it was estimated that more than 1,000 East Indians returned to India, while others remained, having not received their benefits as promised and were unable to pay for return passages back home. A number of them decided to stay in Jamaica, having received their parcel of land and continued to farm.
The arrival of East Indians in Jamaica has also had an impact on our cultural and religious identity. Their traditions and religious practices have become of the Jamaican cultural reality.
The East Indian community has maintained their religious customs and today they continue to celebrate many of their customs including the observation of the Hosay and other festivals. Today, there are over 40,000 East Indians residing in Jamaica and their number is significantly escalating with many of their offspring being of mixed descent. The East Indians are one of many groups who came to Jamaica and who made significant contributions to the development of Jamaican society and economy through various businesses that provide employment for hundreds of persons across Jamaica.
Ehrlich, Allen S. Race and Ethnic Identity in Rural Jamaica: The East Indian Case
Caribbean Quarterly Vol. 22.1 (March 1976): 19-26.
Parboosingh, Ivan K. “An Indo-Jamaican Beginning: A Fragment of Autobiography.” Jamaica
Journal Vol. 18.2 (May-July 1985): 2-10.
Senior, Olive. The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. Kingston: Twin Guinep Publishers
Shepherd, Verene. “Transients to Citizens: The Development of a Settled East Indian
Community.” Jamaica Journal Vol. 18.3 (August-October 1985): 17-26.