Interviews: Michael A. Henry | Artwork: Amanda Williams

‘We deh yah, still’ is a Jamaican patwah (Jamaican creole) phrase that means "we are still here" or “we are doing okay”. It’s often used as a response to the patwah phrase for ‘how are you doing?’. Jamaican patwah is spoken by a majority of Jamaicans as their native tongue, in addition to English, regardless of their ethnic background. Jamaican patwah is derived from an amalgamation of West African languages and English. This is one of the embodiments of the Jamaican motto “Out of Many, One People”. This exhibit will highlight that Indo-Jamaicans “are still here”.

Following the 1833 abolition of slavery in the British Empire, a new system of indentureship was introduced which brought bonded laborers from India to nineteen British overseas territories in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean to fill the labor shortage created by the departure of former slaves from the plantations. Recruitment began in 1834, and ended on March 20, 1917 with an estimated two million indentured laborers during this period. In Jamaica, from 1845-1917 for 72 years, 37,027 Indians were indentured resulting in the creation of a small yet vibrant Indo-Jamaican society that has woven into the larger Jamaican society. Reinforcing the Jamaican motto “Out of Many, One People”.

The Indo-Jamaican community, given its small population has historically been marginalized in the mainstream narrative of the South Asian diaspora regarding Indo-Caribbean’s. From an academic perspective, the majority of Indo-Caribbean scholarly research over multiple generations has focused on Guyana and Trinidad and delves deeply into multiple facets of their identity. However, there is very limited work focused on the Indo-Jamaican community. The descendants of indentured laborers in Jamaica have a large creolization rate given intermarriage and the cultural practice of shedding Indian names for Anglican/Christian names unlike other South Asian diaspora communities that have been able to retain their identity through surnames, religious, musical, and dance practices. These unique factors have created a distinctive Indo-Jamaican culture compared to other South Asian diasporic communities.

This exhibit will highlight oral histories with Indo-Jamaicans who are descendants of indentured laborers who have migrated to the United States with connections to the South Florida region. The intent is to document, preserve, & showcase the ways in which Indo-Jamaicans have retained their ancestral culture, traditions, and way of life although being twice removed from South Asia, a minority in the melting pot of the United States, with distinctively different cultural practices than the larger Indo-Caribbean South Asian diaspora.

Oral histories were conducted with 6 people ranging in ages from 29 – 86 covering a broad range of topics including first days in the U.S., the educational system and the role in which education played in shaping their life, religious/spiritual practices across the spectrum of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, folk dance styles such as Nachaniya, community gatherings centered around food and music, sports including tennis, horse racing, and the Kentucky Derby, as well as sexuality and LGBTQ acceptance. These stories represent a small segment of a diverse community. The hope is that by voicing our stories other Indo-Jamaicans will feel inspired to share their stories as well and build a grassroots movement, by the community, to preserve its history for future generations. If you are interested in sharing your story as an Indo-Jamaican please contact IJS@saada.org.

This project is dedicated to my ancestors, the original indentures of the Moonasingh & Paul families, that crossed the Kālā Pānī from India to Jamaica in the British West Indies and now their kin spread across the global south diaspora.

Henry W. Jaghai, O.D. J.P.

“At my farm I built a lovely stage and every year we have Indian shows there. Phagwah, Indian celebrations of Arrival Day, we always have it and everybody enjoys themselves. I bring down artists from Trinidad and Guyana to take part in it. And I also used the opportunity to put out 8 LPs - Indian Folk Songs of the Caribbean and they are all on Youtube now.”

Artwork: Indian Folk Songs of the Caribbean LP Record

Rajiv Maragh

Q: “Throughout your career how many races have you won?”

A: “I’m 40 wins away from 2,000. In horse racing terms, I've had a very prolific career - you know being well recognized because of being in the Kentucky Derby… It's just pretty wild to see where it's taken me from where I was coming from. From a little kid in Kingston having ambition to be a top flight jockey one day.”

Artwork: Rajiv Maragh during the Kentucky Derby

Kamala C. Kiem

“Growing up in Jamaica, I never identified as queer in Jamaica. I didn't understand that concept. Because, you know, at that time, the thought of being gay was like, unthinkable. You just couldn't think it - so I never had any concept or framework or any images of that being a possibility. I just remember wanting to be emotionally close to some females that were in my life. Until I got to Miami, and I went to Florida International University and there were more queer people there. And then I started exploring my sexuality and my queer identity there.”

Artwork: Kamala C. Kiem playing tennis at FIU

Andrea Macko

“My dad used to sing Chowtal songs. And that is unfortunately dying out. We did bring it to our temple with the East Indians and they loved it. Some of them know of it in their villages and they even said that they’ve never seen that in such a long time. That those are old from their grandfather times.”

Artwork: Andrea Macko entering Miami Lakshmi Narayan Mandir

Savitri S. Tolan

“Growing up as a Jamaican - majority is Christian and Catholic. So it was really something for my parents to continue to be Hindu in that sense. When you think about the fact that there aren't many mandirs, there aren't many opportunities in Jamaica, to me it's pretty amazing that they kept that. We perform our poojas, we do our prayers, we fast on the holidays. I think that it played a very important role culture wise, even though it is religion, in keeping, a part of that alive.”

Artwork: Savitri Tolan dance group performing

Ghanesh Maragh

“Nachaniya dance comes from the parts of India where we came from, it originates in Uttar Pradesh in northern India. It is Bhojpuri style, that’s the type of songs Jamaicans sing. It's a traditional dress that only the men wore. I grew up seeing it, it's very unique, and I liked it so I adopted it and took the dress from my granduncle, Pandit Rama Maragh. You normally perform the dance live with the musicians at gatherings or religious functions.”

Artwork: Ghanesh Maragh performing Indo-Jamaican Nachaniya dance

Michael A. Henry (he/him) is a Jamaican-American financial services professional with a B.A. in International Business & Management from Dickinson College and a Masters of Business Administration from Pepperdine University with a focus on Socially, Environmentally, and Ethically Responsible Business Strategy. Michael is passionate about diversity & inclusion, representation for underrepresented groups, public history, and transnational migration – having studied transnational migration from Mexico to Pennsylvania while at Dickinson College. As a native New Yorker, of Indo-Jamaican heritage, Michael recently relocated to South Florida. He is also passionate about his rich Indo-Jamaican heritage which often goes unmentioned in narratives about the Indo-Caribbean diaspora. Michael’s project will collect migration stories and archival images of items such as food recipes, family photos, musical traditions, and religious affiliations to document the representations of identity, culture, and experiences of Indo-Jamaicans in South Florida. This project hopes to broaden the discourse around the South Asian American diaspora to provide representation for minority subgroups.

The Archival Creators Fellowship Program is made possible with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Read Michael's writings about his fellowship project in TIDES:
• Uncovering Indo-Jamaican Stories