Dr Abigail Ward, Nottingham Trent University

 

This project explores the representation of Indian indentured labourers in the British Caribbean in contemporary Caribbean literature. Indentured labourers were brought from India, then one of Britain’s colonies, from 1838 to compensate for the substantial loss of African labour in the period following the emancipation of African slaves in the British Caribbean. These labourers were normally contracted to work for five years, and were promised a return journey home (though most migrants were required to work longer than the contracted period of time, and the majority remained in the Caribbean). Aside from Edward Jenkins’s novel ‘Lutchmee and Dilloo’ (1877), it was not until the twentieth century that novels on Indian indenture in the Caribbean began to be published, beginning with A. R. F. Webber’s novel ‘Those that be in Bondage’ (1917).

This project explores literary representations of Indian indenture in the former British colonies of Trinidad and Guyana by a range of Indian-Caribbean writers. The primary writers under focus in this monograph (A.R.F. Webber, Harold Sonny Ladoo, David Dabydeen, Mohammed Sharlow, Ismith Khan, Jan Lo Shinebourne, Cyril Dabydeen, Ramabai Espinet and Peggy Mohan) form a dynamic collective, as all return imaginatively to the past of Indian indenture. This part of Britain’s colonial past has been overlooked in most literary and historical works, yet the legacies of Indian indenture continue to haunt the Caribbean today. Therefore, this book examines representations of Indian indenture, but also considers the legacies of this past (both immediate and long term), including the problems of translation, such as ongoing racial anxieties and the alienation of the Indian-Caribbean figure, and issues of diaspora, identity and belonging.\n\nIndian indentured workers played a crucial part in the Caribbean’s economic, cultural and social life during this period of indenture, and the legacy of this role is evident in the region’s continuing rich ethnic and cultural diversity and outstanding Indian-Caribbean creative output.

This will be the first book-length study of literary representations of Indian indenture in the Caribbean. The monograph comprises five chapters; chapter one (‘Introduction’) explores the historical and literary contexts for my work; the second chapter (‘Representations of Indenture’) examines work by A. R. F. Webber, Harold Sonny Ladoo and David Dabydeen, focusing on the connection between madness and Indian indenture. The third chapter (‘Legacies of Indenture’) explores texts by Ismith Khan, Jan Lo Shinebourne and Cyril Dabydeen, thinking about the various legacies of Indian indenture, such as the continued alienation of the Indian-Caribbean migrants, racial anxieties between African- and Indian-Caribbean workers, and the complexity of ‘home’ for diasporic subjects. The fourth chapter (‘Ghosts of Indenture’ looks at novels by Ramabai Espinet and Peggy Mohan, and considers the role of women in Indian indenture in the Caribbean, and also the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century ‘hauntings’ of this past. The final chapter (‘Conclusion’) considers the implications of the preceding chapters and seeks to think about how literary representations of Indian indenture may offer new and exciting ways of remembering and memorialising Indian indentured labourers. I shall return to some of the questions raised at the start of the book; thinking, for example, about why contemporary authors feel compelled to return to the past of Indian indenture, and the divergence and convergence of their approaches to this history.

 

Dr Abigail Ward

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