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Callaloo 27.2 (2004) 542-560

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Kali, Gangamai, and Dougla Consciousness in Moses Nagamootoo's Hendree's Cure

Moses Nagamootoo's novel, Hendree's Cure, chronicles the life of the Madrasi community of Indians who inhabited the Corentyne village of Whim in the 1950s and 60s. Constituting a minority within an Indo-Caribbean Hindu majority in pre-independence Guyana, Madrasi Indians were relegated to the very fringes of cultural and religious marginality by Hindu high mindedness and colonial racism. Confined to limited paradigms of representation in terms of demography and cultural alterity, Madrasis were thereby subjected to the dual hegemony of racialized and ethnic difference that reinforced their minority status whereby, "of the 239,000 Indian immigrants to British Guiana, less than five percent were considered Madrasis . . . The number of immigrants who came to British Guiana during the period of indenture from the Tamil or Telegu areas was relatively small."1 Inscribed within colonial paradigms of difference due to the north-south divide in India itself, Madrasis were reduced to an ethnic sub-caste even before the 'kala pani' voyage on the treacherous waters of the Atlantic.2 The predominance of North Indian Hindu Aryan culture over its non-Aryan southern counterpart had a leveling impact on early Madrasi-Tamilian life in India as well as the Caribbean diaspora as a result of cultural chauvinism and imperialist control, creating a situation that characterized the Madrasi immigrants as "the least desirable immigrants of all"(6). Discriminatory practices based on skin coloring and the inherent Aryan belief in the primitiveness and cultural inferiority of non-Aryan social systems depicted Madrasis as cultural anomalies who were less Indian and therefore, less Hindu than the fair-skinned northerners from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, thereby justifying their marginalization within the larger Indo-Caribbean community in British Guiana.

While recreating certain aspects of early Madrasi village life based on semi-autobiographical fragments of memory, the author's intentionality focuses on the ways in which the Madrasi community finds its spiritual and cultural connections with the local Afro-Guyanese population of Whim rather than with the other Indian immigrants due to a certain commonality of experience shared by blacks and Madrasis based on social ostracism and cultural denigration. As the novel indicates: "Some of the Madrasis were as dark as their African neighbors, with curly or kinky hair. Of all the Indians in Guyana, they were probably the most open to interculturation with their African neighbours . . . The early Madrasis had three things in common with the Africans: they ate pork, loved elaborate ceremonies with loud drumming and held no great antipathy towards Christianity. The first and last of these predispositions were [End Page 542] certainly not shared by the majority of Indian migrants from the Central Provinces and the North" (7). Selective categories of acceptable Hinduness imposed by the Indo-Guyanese majority included a vegetarian diet and cultural closemindedness. Normative patterns of acceptability/unacceptability situated Madrasis as undesirable outcasts in the same way that racial prejudice against blacks stereotyped Afro-Guyanese as barbarians and cultural heathens. Blacks and Madrasis found common cause in the universal language of exclusion by transforming the village of Whim into an experimental model of peaceful coexistence through the process of cultural syncretism that laid the foundation for a particular "dougla space" as the site of a metaphoric dialogue between an Indian and African poetics of life.

The term "dougla" refers to the offspring of an Indian and African sexual union. Characterized as outcasts and ethnic bastards, douglas have been excluded from the national imagination due to their "natural" refusal to conform to racial, social and ethnic absolutes. Located within a space of marginal representation, douglas have threatened dominant race and class interests through their interstitial visibility that has problematized dominant discourses on race and Caribbean citizenship. This paper contends that the creation of a symbolic dougla space through cultural fusion has politicized the thematics of liminal subjectivity through a cultural claiming of space by working-class Indians and Africans. This reclaiming gives new agency to disenfranchised constituencies...