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Tuesday, 19 May 2015 07:40

‘Everything curry’ as Indo-Jamaicans celebrate 170 years Featured

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Danielle Buddha performs at Indian Arrival Day and Roti Festival at Chedwin Park on May 10, 2015. Danielle Buddha performs at Indian Arrival Day and Roti Festival at Chedwin Park on May 10, 2015. Aaron Fogah/FogahStyles Photography

‘Everything curry’ is a popular phrase used by Jamaicans, which means all is okay. But except for dwindling sponsorship it was all good as hundreds of Indo-Jamaicans gathered at Chedwin Park to celebrate Indian Arrival Day and Roti Festival on May 10.

One hundred and seventy years ago – May 10, 1845 – the SS Blundell landed at Old Harbour Bay with 200 men, 28 women and 33 children aboard. They were the first set of Indians to arrive in Jamaica as indentured workers following the abolition of slavery. Thousands more would make the trip to Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean but May 10, which incidentally usually coincides with Mother’s Day, is etched in the hearts and minds of most Jamaican-Indians.

And in celebrating that historic moment, the Indian Arrival Day came into being along with other Indian festivals as a way of showcasing their culture which has been widely embraced by Jamaicans.

Doreen Brown-Smith is one such Jamaican, who simply just love Indian cuisine and admires the culture. Surprisingly her husband isn’t Indian either she told Old Harbour News before bursting with laughter, but has been attending the event for the last three years.

“I just love Indian food,” she said. “And I always look forward to this time of the year.”

The annual event brings together Indians from all over the island and also from overseas.

Today, a tiny percentage of the Jamaican population are Indians and they have managed to maintain their culture, although the language is slowly fading somewhat, said Vishu Tolan, chairman of the National Council of Indian Culture in Jamaica.

“We brought with us the agriculture, some food, some music, etcetera. After 170 years we still have the food, we still have the culture; we have lost the language a bit and by hosting Roti Festival we are still showing Jamaica what the culinary arts and Indian culture is.

“Old Harbour is significant and there’s a monument there in remembrance of Indian Arrival Day.

“It is unfortunate that we haven’t been able to gather enough funding to allow the rest of the world to see that Jamaica is a part of the Indian Diaspora. When you consider that we are less than two per cent of the Jamaica population, being able to maintain some traditional culture for 170 years is in itself quite an achievement,” said Tolan, who is also chairman of the event.

Jamaica, Tolan informed us, is ranked high in terms of maintaining the Indian culture.

“Trinidad never thought that something like this could happen in Jamaica. As a matter of fact, Jamaica is the first Caribbean country to have a Roti Festival. Most of the Caribbean artistes look forward to coming to Jamaica to perform. They never knew that we have this form of culture and acceptance,” he said. Trinidad’s Vijay Ramkisoon was the guest artiste, but there were many performances from other Indian acts from Jamaica such as Danielle Buddha, Danny Murphy and a few from overseas.

Roti Festival has been around for a decade now, while Indian Arrival Day has been celebrated in Jamaica since 1995, said Tolan, a noted sport administrator and Director at the Jamaica Olympic Association. A lack of corporate support has created a coming together of the two events.

Support, though, from some of the most respected influential figures like Indian High Commissioner to Jamaica Pratap Singh and renowned businessman Lachu Ramchandani continue.

The event resonates with every descendant like Sonia Fletcher, a second generation Indian, who has returned to Jamaica after decades of living in the United States.

Fletcher said she left Jamaica at age 17, and 41 years later she returns to celebrate her heritage.

“This event reminds me of the Jamaican Motto that says ‘out of many we are one people’. It identifies with me. Today all you can see is just oneness,” she said beaming pride.

“I did my own research and I am proud of my foreparents because when you read the history and learn of their rough passage to get here it is because of them why I am here today,” she added.

Each year the challenge of raising funds gets harder, with Wisynco through its Bigga brand its main support. Despite the challenge, however, the organizers are yet to lose hope.

“For us maintaining this day keeps Jamaicans knowledgeable. It’s a global celebration across the Caribbean. And we will keep it going once I’m alive,” said Vishu’s brother Dr Winston Tolan, cultural officer of the National Council of Indian Culture.

“We have maintained an outreach programme to the different sectors,” added Vishu. “What is Jamaica without curry goat and curry chicken? Roti, which was frowned upon, is considered an exotic dish now. We are now seeing Indian Bollywood soap operas on Jamaican television. It gives you the understanding that Jamaica has embraced the Indian culture.”


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