This year marks the 175th anniversary of the first arrivals of Indian indentured labourers to Trinidad, and the 100th anniversary of the end of the Indian Indentureship System.
The indentureship system saw the mass movement of contracted labourers (or girmitiyas) from India to European colonies, including Trinidad (a former British colony), to work on sugar and other plantations, following the abolition of slavery.
A recorded number of 147,592 Indian labourers came to Trinidad from 1845 to 1917 to work on the sugar plantations. They came mainly from the North-Western, Oudah, Bihar and Bengal Provinces of northern India with a few also coming from Madras. Many worked for the duration of their contract of five years or more, and the majority opted to make Trinidad their home. Some returned to India.
Evidence of the arrival of the Indian labourers can be gleaned from the General Registers of Indian Indentured Labourers available at the National Archives of Trinidad and Tobago as part of the Indian Indentureship Collection. These records are official records, generated in compliance with several laws and regulations concerning immigration. They document the arrival of each labourer and the estate to which he/she was assigned. The registers include information on the name of the ship on which they arrived, the arrival date, personal details such as their name, unique registration number, father’s name, age, and sex, as well as the name of the estate to which they were assigned.
The General Registers, along with other Indian Indentureship records, are listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World International Register as records of international significance in documenting the mass movement of labour which was initiated and managed by the machinery of colonialism, and which led to the development of a large Indian Diaspora. The registers are also a valuable record of the legacy of the girmitiyas and an indispensable genealogical resource for their descendants.
Notwithstanding their contribution to the development of the sugar industry, the girmitiyas brought their rich cultural and religious traditions, adding to the development and diversity of Trinidad and Tobago.
RESOURCES ON INDIAN INDENTURESHIP
List of General Registers of Indian Indentured Labourers
General Register A showing the first arrivals on the Futtle Rozark
General Register R showing the Ganges ship arrivals – the last ship to arrive with Indian Indentured Labourers
Nelson Island and Indian Indentureship in Trinidad - an exhibition