restricted access 10. Trinidad and Guyana: Indians in the Americas

From: Creole Clay

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251 10 Trinidad and Guyana Indians in the Americas This is how we do life. —Sookdeo Deonarine, potter, Trinidad The first and the last ceramic traditions of the Anglophone Caribbean can be found in Guyana and Trinidad, and by a profoundly ironic historical process both traditions are maintained by potters who are called Indians. In the dense rainforests and sweeping savannahs of Guyana, the only English-speaking country in South America, nine tribes of indigenous Amerindians together make up about 9 percent of the Guyanese population. Examples of continuous heritage production exist among the widely scattered Indian villages and settlements in the interior of the country, while along the coast Amerindian pottery traditions disrupted by European colonization have been revived and celebrated in recent decades. In both Guyana and Trinidad about half the population in each country is descended from indentured agricultural workers who came halfway around the globe from Britishheld India to the Anglophone Caribbean following the emancipation of African and Creole slaves. The regional designations of American Indian, Amerindian, and East Indian evolved in the nineteenth century to address the semantic conflict between the misnamed Indians of the Americas and the newly arrived Indians of Asia, leading inevitably to the tongue-in-cheek twentieth-century description of “East Indian West Indian” to refer to Indo-Caribbean people. Largely Hindu, these new immigrants brought with them established spiritual and visual traditions that continue to play a strong cultural role in the southern Caribbean today. In terms of ceramic heritage, while it is highly likely that pottery was once made in AfroCaribbean communities in Guyana and Trinidad, it is the legacies of Amerindian Figure 10.1. Potter Sookdeo Deonarine and his wife Zanaisha and daughter Asha (picturedlefttorightintheirretail showroom), who, along with son Suresh, run S&S Pottery in Rio Claro,Trinidad. Deonarine is the direct descendant of a potter who came toTrinidad from India as an indentured laborer in 1898. 252 Creole Clay and East Indian traditions that dominate ceramics in these two countries today. While consistent efforts have been made in recent years to collect oral histories among the pottery communities, very little formal documentation exists. I am greatly indebted to the willingness of the potters to share their family histories and demonstrate their working methods. Colonial Clay in Trinidad Extensive sugar cultivation in Spanish-held Trinidad was established in the late eighteenth century by French Creole planters who came to the lightly settled colony with their slaves, and was aggressively pursued under British rule in the early nineteenth century following England’s capture of the island. As a result of this rapid agricultural expansion, by the time of emancipation (1834–38) there were more than twenty-five thousand African and Creole slaves in the country. Industrial potteries definitely existed on the sugar estates; documentation of slave occupations in the British West Indies lists thirteen slave potters on plantations in Trinidad in 1813.1 Physical evidence of domestic pottery in Trinidad is rare, but what there is reflects the mobile nature of the society during the colonial period. On display in the National Museum of Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain is what appears to be a St. Lucian clay coalpot, warped, broken, and repaired but still Map 8.Trinidad andTobago. Created byWilliam L. Nelson. Trinidad and Guyana: Indians in the Americas 253 recognizable. While the form is less well-crafted than those made today in Saint Lucia the overall size and shape is quite similar, and it has three ventilation holes pushed into the front of the bowl, a feature not found in other coalpots made in the Caribbean. This area of the museum is dedicated to the Creole culture that evolved in Trinidad following the 1776 Cedula of Population, in which the Spanish governor invited French Catholic planters from across the region to move with their slaves to lightly populated Trinidad. Large grants of land and exemption from taxes and import duties were offered to the immigrants, and a second such act in 1783 included further incentives of Spanish citizenship and material support for settlement. The result was rapid and impressive growth for the colony both in population and in agricultural expansion. Among those Catholic planters who came to Trinidad were a large number from Saint Lucia, seeking escape from the depleted soils of the cotton and sugar estates, and the frequent military conflicts between the French and the British.2 Unfortunately, the respite did not last long, for Trinidad was captured by the British in 1797 and...


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