KAPIL'S JOURNEY

P. Capildeo July 2003.
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THE ESTATE


From Nelson Island the immigrant was sent to the estate to which he had been assigned. And on the day of arrival or soon after Kapil was sent to Woodford Lodge Estate, Chaguanas along with twelve others, to commence his five years of indenture*. Kapil's first view of Trinidad from the island would have been the dark green verdure of Trinidad's Northern Range; mountainous peaks dipping and rising towards the east; shrouded in mist in early morning and blazing bright green under the afternoon sun*. The view of bright green mountains would have been a stark contrast with the flat, brown dusty plains of Uttar Pradesh.
South of Port-of-Spain, a city cradled in the foothills and valleys of the Northern Range, the landscape begins to flatten out into the undulating land of the Caroni plain. Caroni today is still sugar cane country; covered by the waving tips of acres and acres of sugar cane plants. It was this part of Trinidad in which Woodford Lodge Estate and Chaguanas were located; and which would be Kapil's home in the new world.
Chaguanas around this time was described as "crab-land, from the innumerable holes in the surface, made by the land-crabs. Chaguanas has generally the reputation for being a dreary kill-joy sort of place, suggestive of muddy roads and legions of mosquitoes and sand-flies....A village is gradually springing up in this neighbourhood....shops and houses are rapidly appearing here and there."* Indeed, villages were sprouting, formed by Indians whose indentureship had expired, who purchased and rented land*.
Chaguanas was inhabited by the Amerindian natives of Trinidad before Columbus discovered it, and they gave it its exotic and strange-sounding name. By the time Kapil had arrived, Chaguanas had developed into a village with a railway, a Catholic church and a population of Indian settlers who had finished their indentureship. Woodford Lodge Estate was one of the estates west of Chaguanas and was over 1000 acres in size*.
It was only when beginning life on the estate that the vast majority of immigrants realised the trickery of the recruiter. Estate labour was hard and pay was low. Laws formulated by the government and the planters guaranteed "maximum production at minimum cost"*. The planters arranged for the indentureship of many more labourers than was necessary. The result was that during harvest time wages could be kept low as there was a surplus of labourers. Cane farming by nature is seasonal, and during the slow season when the crop was growing, there was a paucity of work for the Indian labourers. The result was underemployment, destitution, vagrancy and frustration. In 1894 when Kapil arrived, there were efforts to curtail the mass influx of immigrants and to halt the shrinking of wages paid by the planters*.
Unrest manifested the dissatisfaction of the indentured with the conditions of working life during this period. In addition to underemployment, the high incidence of accidents, corporal punishment and overwork led to polemics. Illness among the indentured was also not uncommon - reflecting the poor living and working conditions in which they were kept. Immigrants lived in barracks while on the estate. Barrack ranges contained several rooms which were 10' by 10' by 12', and the partitions between never reached the roof; cooking was done on the front steps of the house*. Guppy in 1888 describes barrack life: "A family has a single room in which to bring up their boys and girls....All noises and talking and smells pass through the open space from one end of the barrack to the other. There are few places for cooking, no latrines ....Comfort, privacy and decency are impossible under such conditions."*
Woodford Lodge Estate was not free from the unrest, and although the barracks here were more comfortable than most, the overseers on the estate were harsh and demanding. Task work was assigned to different immigrants.
At first Kapil was assigned to the shovelling gang on the estate. Kapil was unaccustomed to manual work and his inadequate diet only exacerbated his weakness. Kapil could only eat food prepared by himself or someone else of high caste otherwise such food would be considered polluted. So every day Kapil would put rice and dhal to boil on a pot only to return to find the food burnt or uncooked*. As a result, Kapil grew weaker and weaker. Once again, a sirdar , this time in charge of the shovelling gang noticed Kapil's plight. So he transferred Kapil to the weeding gang, reserved for weaker men, women and children. Unfortunately, Kapil was transferred once again for an unknown reason to the gang that cleaned the animal pens.
Kapil was now committed by contract and by immigrant laws to a life of rough physical labour that caused illness and even death of some of the immigrants due to the onerous demands placed on them. Kapil's desires for education and wealth were dashed to bits by the cruel reality of working in an animal pen, without companion or guide, in a country whose people he did not know, under a system of enforced labour. The threat of punishment including corporal punishment loomed over those unwilling to work. It was this threat rather than any sense of duty that kept an immigrant bound to a contract which took unfair advantage of him. Perhaps, Kapil at that time reflected the statement that under indentureship in Trinidad, "The Brahman's sceptre.... 'dwindled to the insignificance of a hoe handle".*

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P. Capildeo July 2003.
The author asserts the right of copyright. It is a term of viewing this website that the navigator will not reproduce in any manner or form information contained within. By navigating this website the navigator is deemed to have consented to this term. Reproduction of the verbal or pictorial content of this website from any source without permission from the author infringes copyright law and will be prosecuted.

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*51 De Verteuil, page 118.
*52 Columbus was also greeted by Trinidad's mountains. He discovered Trinidad when he saw the three peaks of Trinidad's southern range and so named the island Trinidad.
*53 J.H. Collens in A Guide to Trinidad describing the area in 1888, see Klass East Indians in Trinidad A Study of Cultural Persistence, page 29.
*54 Tikasingh,"The Establishment of the Indians in Trinidad" , page 178, cites two estates transformed into villages by Indians renting land in South Trinidad.
*55 De Verteuil, page 119.
*56 Weller, page 38.
*57 Protector of Immigrants Mitchell enacted s.66 of Immigration Ordinance 13/1870 to prevent the influx of unnecessary labour and ensure adequate employment for existing labourers on the estates.
*58 Brereton, page 25.
*59 Ramesar, page 54.
*60 De Verteuil, page 123.
*61 Kelvin Singh, Indians and the Larger Society, page 41 in "Calcutta to Caroni".