May 2020 marks 175 years of the arrival of the first Indians in Jamaica. Little did anyone know that a group of 261 Indians, landing at Old Harbour Bay in 1845, would inextricably link the fates of the people of these two countries for all times to come.
Between 1845 and 1921, over 36,000 Indians were brought to Jamaica. Upon their arrival, the Indians were dispersed to the plantations in Portland, St Thomas, St Mary, Clarendon, and Westmoreland. When their indentureships were over, they could have settled in any part of the island or choose to go back to India. But more than two-thirds remained, making Jamaica their home.
Indians survived by building bonds with other communities on the island and learning their religious and cultural practices. Interracial marriages between Indian and African communities were not uncommon, which also led to closer cultural and economic integration. Many left the plantations and started working as fishermen, barbers, and shopkeepers. Skilled metalsmiths and jewellery workers created distinctive brass, silver, and gold ornaments. Peculiar Indian music, dance, and traditional dress were also incorporated into the Jamaican culture.