POINT AND COUNTERPOINT: East Indians – an ethnic group on the verge of extinction in Belize

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Posted: Sunday October 10, 2021. 2:29 PM CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Dorian Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: It’s really nice to write again. And I would like to especially thank Mr. Hugh O’Brien of Breaking Belize News (BBN) for the weekly publication of the POINT AND COUNTERPOINT column over the past few weeks. The purpose of this column is to try to engage the entire Belizean population in a critical discourse on the issues that affect us and our development, especially in this time of tight economy, the threat to earnings. pasts we have made in education, our battles with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the continuing trend of stagnating our cultural dynamism and ethnic development. As this last long weekend was our Heroes Day weekend where we normally celebrate the Mayans in the Ruta Maya canoe race and our Western heritage in the person of Baron Bliss, I decided to focus on the Indians of Eastern Belize, one of our ethnic groups. groups that literally seem on the verge of extinction. We do not yet have a single East Indian on our list of national heroes, even though our first Belizean Chief Justice, Doug Singh, was an East Indian Belizean. To me, this is particularly puzzling in light of the fact that Briceno’s new government, in its Plan Belize Manifesto in Education, has indicated that it plans to “expand the teaching of African and Mayan history programs … to all levels. [of the formal education system]. “

The ancestors of the Asian Indians make up about 3% of the population of Belize. Even though Belize is the most culturally diverse country in Central America and considers itself both Caribbean and Central American, it has the smallest population (400,000) of any non-island sovereign state in the Americas.

Our historians tell us that this partly reflects the history of Belize as a British colony that developed into an area dominated by the Spanish. The 2010 population census showed that the majority of the population is of mixed ethnicity, either English Creole or Spanish mixed race. Other groups, however, include the indigenous Maya and Garifuna, Europeans (English, Dutch, Germans and Spaniards), Arabs, Chinese and East Indians, the latter still referred to locally by this centuries-old pejorative label. of “Coolie”.

The Indians of East Belize are the descendants of indentured laborers who began arriving in the country after 1838 to fill the labor shortage caused by the abolition of slavery. They first came to Belize from India, via Jamaica, to work in the mahogany camps and in the sugar cane plantations, and over the years were joined by other immigrants from the East Indies. , including the Hindu merchants who came in the second half of the twentieth century. . East Indians are spread over a large area in many villages and towns, mainly in the districts of Corozal, Stann Creek, Toledo and Belize, and some researchers say they are “relatively well integrated with the Belizean population” (Minority Rights Group International, 2013, p.2) and by others as having been “almost completely mixed up [or assimilated] in terms of marriage and culture (Belmopan City On-line, 2013). But very little is known about the intricacies of this process of mixing or acculturing Indian culture with the other “cultures” of the place, Belize, to which these people immigrated.

In a study that Dr Carmen Lopez and I did a few years ago, we tried to explore the attitudes of the people of the East Indies of Belize towards India and some of its cultural traditions, i.e. – tell their knowledge, feelings and behavior towards Mother India and “Indian” things – her social reality, their sense of being dislodged from this reality and the extent to which efforts are made to network with groups of people. reference in Mother India. In this sequential mixed-methods study, we first surveyed a representative sample of the East Indian population in Belize using an attitude survey instrument we developed, followed by interviews with an elite of sixty East Indians residing in the Districts of Belize, Corozal and Toledo to provide a fuller insight, richer description of their attitudes towards Mother India and “Indian” things as described above and solicited via the survey.

The results have been devastating. Research analysis suggested that East Belize Indians have very little indigenous intimate knowledge of Indian culture; do not feel, significantly, to be dislodged from a homeland which has long been a very advanced civilization of great traders, magnificent cities, advanced in science, technology and mathematics, and now on the path to becoming a ” superpower ‘.

But more importantly, the East Indians of Belize have not, nor in the past, made any serious effort to network with reference groups in mother India. I have to say that a few in the south led my Ms. Palacio, and in the north, led by people like Ms. Sylvia Perez and Ms. Lydia from Calcutta, Corozal have been active in trying to keep the culture alive. Ms. Lydia, for example, has established the country’s only East India museum at her home in Calcutta, and Sylvia Perez, Ms. Palacio and others are actively promoting the East Indian version of NICH in the country. Although people like Mrs. Marie Lewis of Faber’s Road fight to keep elements of East Indian culture alive, she is frustrated and becomes even more suspicious when she sees more and more East Indians being “Creolized” in the region.

A young Indian woman we interviewed said that she “would never marry an East Indian man because all they seem to want to do is smoke weed, fish, hunt iguanas, catch crab and drink rum “and she added daddy dat!

One of the implications of these findings is whether the Belizean community should persist in categorizing the East Indians of Belize as “relatively well integrated into Belizean society”, or as “completely mixed in terms of marriage and culture ”vis-à-vis as being almost completely assimilated to one or the other of the two main ethnic groups – Creole or mestizo – which now constitute the two main evolving ethnic groups in the multicultural society of modern Belize. If the latter is the decision then what logically follows is for us to remove this ethnic group. [East Indian] as an ethnic category in our census data collection forms. This would be urgent as the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB) is about to embark on data collection for the 2020 census. Otherwise, we, including the government, need to start doing a lot more to help revive the ethnic identity of the Indians of eastern Belize. The “Manifesto for Belize to Work” could start by modifying education policy point 9 to read “Expanding the teaching of African, Indian and Mayan history curricula and civic education at all levels” .

Please feel free to question the opinions expressed here and launch this critical discourse on these issues that affect us in Belize.

Dr Doran Sarrow is currently working at Galen University as the Dean of the Department of Education. I have a long history of involvement in life education, having been a professor at the University of Life. Dr. sarrow is a distinguished professional who is well respected both locally and internationally. I am a member of the editorial staff and a reviewer of several reputable and authoritative international experts. Apart from education, he is also passionate about sports.

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