Indo- Caribbean Thought and Feminism

Indo- Caribbean Thought
Indigenous Perspectives
Feminist Thought
The Asians who came to the Caribbean as contract labour mainly from China
and India in the 1800’s experienced the restrictions of colonialism and the
hardships within their contractual arrangements.
Indo- Caribbean thought was largely a response to these conditions and an
expressions of their culture within the Caribbean.
To date, Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname have the largest concentrations of
Indians in the region. Guyana and Trinidad have two major ethnic groups
(Indians and Africans); while Suriname has at least four ethnic groups
(Hindustanis or East Indians, the creoles or Africans, the Javanese or
Indonesians, and the Bush Negroes or Maroons)
Most whites who researched and analysed Indian communities in Guyana and
Trinidad centred their studies against the background of colonialism,
oppression and poverty (and how to reverse certain trends that emerged).
• Themes in Indo- Caribbean thought focused on:
Identity- which covers religion and rituals e.g. marriage
Indians have retained their religions of Islam and Hinduism. Although
they have accepted Western dress, religion still prescribes a code of
conduct, rituals, food preparations etc.
Customs and religion also reinforces endogamy (choosing prospective
wives or husbands for children from the clan)
However, the caste requirement of their culture had to be abandoned as
Hindus and Muslims begin to intermarriage and the “mixed” population in
Trinidad and Guyana begun to grow.
Citizenship- which covers such ideas as who is a genuine citizen (Africans or the
Asians) and also who has more rights to the national “cake”.
None of the groups felt upon independence, that they were equal as citizens
The Africans felt that their long history of settlement and suffering gave them a prior
claim as authentic citizens of the land.
Indians argue however, that they worked in building the agricultural sector and rescuing
the colony in the aftermath of emancipation.
This situation grew as Africans believed they should have been awarded land upon
emancipation as the Indians were.
This discourse led to increasing polarization between the two groups, who later both
sought to form political parties and governments where one ethnicity dominated. (Lead
to fraud claims: Forbes Burnham repeatedly returned to power even though Guyana has
a majority Indian population)
Indo- caribbean writers include:
V.S. Naipaul, Samuel Selvon and Ismith Khan (Indo- Trinidadian)
Clem Seecharan and David Dabydean (Indo- Guyanese)
Indigenous Perspectives
For many years Amerindian groups were portrayed by Europeans as childlike
(Arawaks) and vicious cannibals (Caribs).
Writings with an indigenous slant have rejected these ideas.
Beginning in the first half of the 19th century West Indian scholars sought to
reverse this perception. One critical objective of indigenous perspective was to
correct the view that the natives did not have a history. Several writings or
histories have sought to place indigenous groups on the historical map.
• Examples:
A history of the Guyanese Working People- Walter Rodney
The Black Jacobins- C.L.R. James
The Slaves Who Abolished Slavery- Richard Hart
Black Rebellion in Barbados- Hilary Beckles
The Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean have also sought to change the myth
started against them by the Europeans that they are extinct and that the small
surviving populations are not “pure” Amerindians
Another objective of the writings was that Amerindian and African
contributions must not be understood only in the capacity of labour, but for
their cultural contribution.
Issues of concern to Indigenous peoples especially in Dominica, Guyana and
Belize relate to:
1. Marginalization- social, economic and political
E.g. Guyana is often said to be divided between the Indians (Indo- Guyanese) and
the Africans (Afro- Guyanese), the Amerindians are usually forgotten. They
are seen as a separate group located deep in the interior of the island and are
referred to as just Amerindians.
Amerindians in the region live in poverty and isolation
Land Rights- Indigenous groups have been engaged in protracted
struggles with national governments to recognize and respect their
ancestral claims to land
• E.g. in Dominica Carib Chief has tried to oust non- carib men off their land
and this became a politically sensitive issue.
• In 1997, the Wai Wai and Makushi of Guyana were concerned that their
lands were being infiltrated by mining and timber companies. However,
their cries were ignored by the government.
Feminist Thought
The intellectual tradition of feminism is based on the desire for equality between men
and women in the workplace, politics, the family or in leadership positions. It is not
about rule by women.
Feminist writers argue that in almost every area of social life, men are able to exert
influence and control over others which result in an imbalance of power.
• There are several strand of feminism:
1. Liberal feminism- they hold the view that men and women are equal and should both
enjoy political, social and economic equality. They believe that legislation and
education can bring about gender equality
Radical feminism- stress that the oppression of women by men is the root cause of
inequality. Society is organized based on a male system of power that encourages
Marxist feminism- the view that by its nature, the system of capitalism oppresses
women. The economic, political, religious and education systems are all dominated by
the patriarchal system of beliefs.
The issues concerning women in the Caribbean were seriously brought to the
fore in the 1960’s and 1970’s and came out of the feminist movement in the
Throughout the Caribbean, women’s organisations have been created to
promote the cause of women such as:
The National Organization of Women (NOW)
Caribbean Women’s Association (CARIWA)
The volume of feminist writings has brought about some positive change in the
attitudes of society towards women. There is now growing acceptance of
women in managerial positions and politics.
Some Caribbean Feminists include:
Mary Seacole (Jamaica)
Amy Ashwood Garvey (Garvey’s wife)
Elma Francois (St. Vincent)

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