Indian Identity in Guyana and Trinidad
How Indian descendants maintained their culture and grew their influence in the Caribbean
Winner of the 2019 Gordon K. & Sybil Lewis Book Award
In 1833, the abolition of slavery in the British Empire led to the import of exploited South Asian indentured workers in the Caribbean under extreme oppression. Dave Ramsaran and Linden F. Lewis concentrate on the Indian descendants' processes of mixing, assimilating, and adapting while trying desperately to hold on to that which marks a group of people as distinct.
In some ways, the lived experience of the Indian community in Guyana and Trinidad represents a cultural contradiction of belonging and non-belonging. In other parts of the Caribbean, people of Indian descent seem so absorbed by the more dominant African culture and through intermarriage that Indo-Caribbean heritage seems less central.
In this collaboration based on focus groups, in-depth interviews, and observation, sociologists Ramsaran and Lewis lay out a context within which to develop a broader view of Indians in Guyana and Trinidad, a numerical majority in both countries. They address issues of race and ethnicity but move beyond these familiar aspects to track such factors as ritual, gender, family, and daily life. Ramsaran and Lewis gauge not only an unrelenting process of assimilative creolization on these descendants of India, but also the resilience of this culture in the face of modernization and globalization.
A relevant and up-to-date depiction of the way in which the eternal ambivalence of cultural flux and persistence shapes the lived experience of still understudied Caribbean communities.- Hans de Kruijf, Utrecht University, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Sociologists Lewis and Ramsaran employ ethnography, economics, history, and gender studies to explore the culturally adaptive strategies used by persons of southeast Asian Indian descent in the Caribbean. The authors consider, for example, the ways intergroup conflict initiated by European colonizers on their African slaves and Indian indentured laborers plays out even in today’s racial dynamics. Globalization’s effects are also examined—in particular, the process of creolization. The authors contend that creolization in Trinidad and Guyana is more or less a derivative of experiences of the aforementioned European colonizers and their African slaves: this predominating experience thus places Caribbean Indians in a conundrum as they grapple with how their own identity fits into this experience and how they are to maintain it. A sizable portion of this very readable book deals with such questions, using some fine ethnographic work. There are some other nuggets of discussion that persons not normally attracted to interethnic studies could find interesting, such as a global treatment of the varying types of masculinity, including the predatory version practiced by twenty-first-century oligarchs.- W. J. Nelson, emeritus professor, Shaw University, CHOICE, February 2019, Vol. 56 No. 6
Ramsaran and Lewis have the courage to confront difficult political truths and dispel convenient mythologies that for too long sustained a one-dimensional view of Indian populations in Trinidad and Guyana. In Caribbean Masala, they unsettle dominant notions of what constitutes ethnic or racial boundaries, producing a new blend of identity that might be constituted as Asian Caribbeanness.- Patricia Mohammed, professor of gender and cultural studies, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad