Lets get one thing clear before I continue, britain did not end the Slave Trade. Enslaved African’s fought for their own freedom, organising revolts and uprisings against the slave masters over hundreds of years of oppression. A small section of the british society including the Quakers and Evangelical english Protestants saw that slavery was immoral and campaigned against it across the UK. But the general british establishment did not agree to the freeing of enslaved Africans until the government agreed that they would be compensated for their loss of (human) property.
The Slave Trade Act of 1807 was introduced to prevent the sale and transportation enslaved people from the coast of Africa. Despite this, African people were still enslaved and working on plantations across the british empire for almost thirty years after. Slave labour continued to be extremely lucrative on the sugar plantations of the Caribbean so there was not much motivation by abolitionists to stop the use of slave labour completely. It wasnt until The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 that made the ownership and purchase of enslaved Africans illegal across the british empire.
This is where the hidden history of Indian Indentured Labourers begins. Indian Arrival Day is celebrated in many ex-british colonies who had an influx of Indian labour imported to work the plantations after the enslaved African people were free causing a labour shortage across industries.
Greedy John Gladstone owned many sugar plantations in Guyana (where my mum was born) and he was the dad of prime minister William Gladstone. John Gladstone received the largest total of compensation from the loss of his human property, and was the first person to write correspondence to the East India Company requesting large numbers of Indian labourers to be brought to Guyana.
On May 5th we celebrate the day the first Indian Indentured labourers arrived on Guyana’s shores, The Whitby and the Hesperus transported 369 people from Kolkata, India to Demerara, Guyana. Our history is often forgotten in the story of european colonialism as it doesnt fit with britains moralistic view of itself which it created during the Victorian times.
Our Indian ancestors had no opportunity in their homeland because of the caste system and how much britain decimated its resources through the East India Company for hundreds of years. Some were tricked, some where kidnapped, others just had no other choice but to embark on a scary unknown journey across the globe on colonisers ships for a chance in life. The indentureship system contracted men into 5 years of hard labour on sugar plantations, still run by racist overseers who abused their powers.
Thankfully many of our traditions and cultures were not violently taken from us like the enslaved African people who were transported far from home, but christian missionaries and the colonial machine still worked hard to demonise many of our cultural practices and encouraged assimilation through colonial education. Fundamentally europeans saw us all as people to be civilised and labour, to be worked to death for their own massive profit.
I have a lot of interpersonal trauma with my family, who disconnect me to my Guyanese culture, but I am grateful for my ancestors strength, bravery and survival which has lead me to a freedom of emotions that they never had. I hope to be as strong and resilient as many of our ancestors whose stories will never be known.