Let us remember our Indian intendured labourer ancestors, most of them were of Tamil heritage, who came in Reunion Island to work on sugar cane fields. From the path they had taken and they still have been taking through us: their descendants…
A short story of the Indian indentured labourers of Reunion Island
The Indian indentured labourers were poor people, forced to leave their motherland by a British India already overpopulated in the 19th Century. Throughout the conventions between the two French-British empires, these latter were sent in the French colonies, so as to work on the land of the colonists for a meager wage. Baited by the 5-years labour contract and the marvellous things told by the recruiters, these Indians thus embarked for a dangerous trek of 1 month through the Indian Ocean.
When they finally landed in Reunion Island, they were gathered at the Lazarets in groups of forty, before getting their ‘Indian number’. Our ancestors were then sent to agricultural exploitation of their employer, in reality their master, where they were treated almost as slaves.
The indentured had indeed the right to go back to India, and some of them did it, but those who stayed in Reunion Island endured a thousand sufferings. That’s why as descendants of these latter, we need to make a tribute for them, so as nobody will forget their disillusions and their sacrifice for our actual happiness.
A prayer for their remembrance
The homage/tribute to the ancestors were given to them on the 10th September 2017 under the form of a prayer: the ceremony of Pitru Paksha (cult of the ancestors); the sending of flower petals and the immerson of 21 balls of rice in the Indian Ocean, on the same spot they once landed to write a new story in their life: the Lazarets of the Grande-Chaloupe.
The old restored walls of the colonial buildings resonated at the calls of the Swami of God Shiva. The priests prayed for the peace of our ancestors’ souls and we also participated in this prayer…
21 generations passed since their arrival on Reunion Island, but during this blessed day, we felt that these 21 generations praying together formed one entity…
The past and the future has met together at the Grande-Chaloupe
After the prayer, we made a symbolical walk of the way back to our Mother India. We stood up, we, descendants of the indentured workers, and took the path leading to the Indian Ocean. Perhaps the souls of the 21 previous generations were with us… Who knows?
In any case, on the way we saw: The Lazarets where they landed, we crossed the path they cleared, walked on the tar they applied, passed underneath the two bridges they built; the first was made of iron for the train, the second one of concrete, for the Route Du Littoral. Underneath the Route of Littoral that was vibrating with our Hindu drums, we saw the piles of the Nouvelle Route du Littoral appearing little by little that we were also building, at this moment, for the future development of the island.
Arrived on the shore of the Indian Ocean, we all gazed towards the horizon, in the direction of India and we saw that there were no more ships, no more boats, no more people, only the prayers of the Swamis doing their job. Immersing into the Indian Ocean, for our ancestors, the offerings that they deserved but never gained at that time. The office was finished. We thus went back to our past; our Lazarets where we gathered on the altar of the little adjoined cemetary and we all thanked each other.
End of the ceremony of the remembrance of the Indian indentured workers
The symbols, the tributes and the ceremonies will never make us understand the suffering of those people who passed between the walls of the Lazarets of the Grande-Chaloupe: Indian indentured workers, African slaves, Chinese coolies, etc. But still, we need to remember their sacrifice that they all did in the past, so that we, their descendants, are more happy than themselves.
Let’s incarnate respect for our ancestors by a monument!
In order to demonstrate our attachement to our ancestors and embody this bond which already exists between Reunion and India, the President of our association ‘Tamij Sangam’ has proposed to create a ‘Door of La Reunion’ on the forecourt of the Nouvelle Route du Littoral. This door will represent the symbol of fraternity between Indians from here and from there, but also for all the composants of the settlement of the island, the symbol of their respective origins. To set up this project, we have requested the assistance of the Region, of the Departement and of the city of La Possession. That’s why we wish to address them our sincere thanks, especially Gertrude CARPANIN (elected) and also Gilles HUBERT (deputy of the city of La Possession) for their precious help.
Written by Patrice Bima
translated by Helena Lauret