Jahaji Bundle

When our great-great-great grandparents started leaving India six to four generations ago, impoverished though most were, they brought with them things that would sustain them and help shape their new worlds. Wrapped in pieces of cloth tied together like improvised sacks, sometimes slung on walking sticks, they brought seeds and grafts of plants from the Indian subcontinent, copies of the Quran and the Ramayan, and even musical instruments such as the dholak and dandtal. The flowers, fruit and herbs our ancestors carried––neem, tulsi, mango, peepal, banyan, turmeric, coriander, cumin, kareila, seim, sapodilla, paan, rice, chameli––changed the physical landscape of the Caribbean.

The sacks and all they contained were known as “jahaji bundles.” Jahaji, or shipmate, is a term used to describe people who made the journey from India to the plantation colonies together on the same ship, but it is used more broadly now to connect all descendants of indenture. On some islands, such as St. Croix, the phrase “jahaji” bundle has been transformed in the kinetic speech of the everyday into “Georgie bundle.” Translating loosely to “all your worldly possessions,” it is sometimes invoked when telling someone off, as in “Take your Georgie bundle and go!” More positively, it is a symbol of endurance, of migrants beginning again with almost nothing in new landscapes and changing those landscapes as well as themselves.

It is this legacy, of tenacity and reinvention tied tensely and tightly together, that I called on in framing my collection of oral histories, documents, photographs and ephemera testifying to the things we carried from Guyana to the United States a century after leaving India indentured.

Gaiutra Bahadur, author of Coolie Woman: the Odyssey of Indenture, is an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University-Newark in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media. Her Archival Creators Fellowship project focuses on documenting within Guyanese communities descended from Indian indentured laborers. The Archival Creators Fellowship Program is made possible with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Read Gaiutra's writing about her fellowship project in TIDES:
• The Things We Carried
• The Storytellers in the Mandir
• Notes Toward a Prehistory
No Homeland Here

You can also listen to the oral history interviews Gaiutra conducted for her project and browse the archival materials she collected.

For their work and their guidance, Gaiutra is deeply grateful to her advisory board members William Depoo at DRUM, Annetta Seecharan at CHHAYA CDC, Pritha, Chitra and Karna Singh at the Rakjumari Cultural Center, Aminta Kilawan at Sadhana and the members of the collective of Ro(u)ted by Our Stories: Arita Balaram, Sasha Balkaran, Lissa Deonarain, Kimmi Ramnine, Tarika Sankar, Dharani Persaud, Simone Devi Jhingoor, Shivana Jorawar, and Yasmin Toney.