Diwali: One of a Few Surviving Original Traditions in the Caribbean
By: Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth | Trademark Attorney
Diwali in the Caribbean
Diwali is a widely celebrated Hindu holiday that honors the goddess Lakshmi. This “Festival of Lights” falls between mid-October and mid-November, depending on the year. The sacred holiday dates back to ancient India. Hundreds of years of practice engraved it in its people.
The Diwali holiday has also transcended into a cultural celebration in the Caribbean. Non-Hindus often join in the feasts and festivities with the Hindus.
Some may see this as a blessing.
Africans and Indians faced severe hardship in the Caribbean with the slavery and indentured servitude systems. They were taken from their homeland and forced into hard labor and inhumane living conditions. The distress quickly eliminated many African and Indian cultural traditions. They simply could not maintain practices as they were struggling to survive. Colonization would rob future generations of their ancestors’ practices.
Africans in the Caribbean
For reference, from 1662-1834 between 3-4 million Africans were enslaved on plantations in the Caribbean. Enslaved African women were initially outnumbered by 2:1, and victimized with cruel overseers, hard labour, and imposed physical restrictions. “Women's inability to maintain the pace of work required by plantation managers during pregnancy, their need for recovery time after childbirth, and the needs of their young children to be fed, cleaned, loved, and integrated spiritually and socially into the human community, all brought them into conflict with the demands of the owners and managers of the plantations on which they worked.” (Diana Paton, Newcastle University). The inverse occurred when slavery ended and owners wanted women to bear children to sustain the system. Contemporary reports indicate that birth rates actually declined in the Caribbean around abolition, and it was likely caused by poor nutrition and strenuous conditions.
Indians in the Caribbean
Following abolition, Britain imported hundreds of thousands of Indian indentured workers to harvest sugar in the Caribbean. The poverty rate during the British’s colonization of India contributed to Indians seeking employment under the indentured servitude system. Some Indians accepted the job offer to work overseas for 5 years and then return home to India. Others were deceived and thought that they were only going to work in another part of India. The highly uneven ratio of Indian men to Indian women created a power vacuum whereby women were so prized that the men resorted to violence to try to have one for their own. The British overlooked the fact that their purposeful disproportionate importation contributed to the violence against women. From 1834 to 1917, Britain transported approximately 2 million Indians to 19 colonies around the world.
Hope for Caribbean Traditions
The continued hardships and displacement of the Indians and Africans, to the workers in the Caribbean, and to the recent generations who left for northern countries explain the lack of surviving traditions. There were either no opportunities or rare opportunities to maintain the same while traveling across the Atlantic, working in the fields, or relocating to a foreign area.
Fortunately, there are a few surviving traditions and religious practices remaining from Africa and India. It is a testament to see that these enduring celebrations have expanded from one religion into important cultural celebrations. Younger generations are more likely to be able to preserve these remaining traditions without the imminent threat of relocation for better opportunities.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a trial-winning trademark and business attorney. She primarily helps new and small businesses with trademarks and contracts. She writes articles on the importance of trademarks, trademark law updates, and also West Indian history (with an emphasis on India, Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States).
MDGR Law, P.A.
PO Box 101794 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33310-1794