Indentured servants were brought to British Guiana from the port of Madras in the nineteenth century to fill labor shortages caused by Africans and Afro-descendants, who banded together to negotiate better rates for plantation work after their ‘emancipation’ from slavery in 1834. Between 1845 and 1846, four ships—Nester, John Wickliffe, Martin Luther, and Tony—travelled between the port of Madras in British India to Guiana. Out of a total of 571 humans logged on the pages of the ship logs, 355 were designated the caste category “Malabar,” 101 “Gentoo,” and 60 “Pariah.” These details, among others, reveal an untold story of peoples doubly trafficked: first within colonial India and then rounded-up and shipped to British Guiana. Invisible in the scholarship on the Caribbean, these peoples’ existences were flattened and obscured by the colonially generated category of ‘Madrassi’ and its ethno-racial implications. By placing oral narratives and archival fragments in conversation with archival records, the paper provides insights into the support for Mother Goddess, Kali Mai, worship among many mixed ethno-racial communities in Guyana. In this way, the talk also provides another layer to the discussion of the colonial politics of race-making and Obeah in the Caribbean—historically vilified as “African occult” spirituality.
Vikram Tamboli is a historian of Latin America and the Caribbean, focusing on the plantation and hinterland spaces of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil. Thematically his work bridges Atlantic and Indian Ocean geographies, and his interests include questions of political radicalism, violence, rumor, spirituality, medicine, and the relationship between African, South Asian, and Amerindian forms of racial formation. He is the author of “Hustling Fuel, Striking Gold” a featured essay in NACLA Report on the Americas, and “Black Water Politics” forthcoming in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography. In addition to completing his first book-length monograph on the history of trafficking in the Guyanese-Venezuelan borderlands, he is also the creator and director of the Healing and Harming Garden Project at the Mildred E Mathias Botanical Garden and Herbarium at UCLA.