GUADELOUPE'S INDIAN ARRIVAL MONUMENT
INAUGURATED IN GUADELOUPE, FRENCH WEST INDIES
In Guadeloupe in the French West Indies, 2004 brought a whole year of commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first indentured Indian workers in 1854 to a close with the inauguration of a First Day monument in the business capital, Pointe-�-Pitre, near the sea-side spot where the indentured Indians alighted between 1854 and 1889.
The plaque on the monument carries an eloquent and very pedagogical text, which is necessary considering that almost no mention of the history of the Indians and their contributions have been made so far in the French school text books.
The plaque reads:
"On December 24, 1854, the sailing ship "Aurelie", after a dreadful three-month passage, disembarked on this spot 314 East Indians, requested by the Colony to cope with the loss of labour resulting from the abolition of slavery in 1848.
Thus began a long period of transplantation that brought 42,326 East Indians to Guadeloupe, of which 24,891 were to perish, particularly because of the ill-treatment they received, and 9,460 returned to India.
In memory and homage to the contribution of those from India who founded the multicultural Guadeloupe of yesterday and today, the Regional Council, the General Council, the City of Pointe-a-Pitre, in accord with the Bharat-�-Gua Federation, have erected this First Day monument, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Indians in Guadeloupe."
The more than 600-kilogram bronze monument by Indrajeet Sahadev, an Indian-born sculptor residing in France, is a combination of symbolic representations of the long Kalapani journey, a boat with Lord Ganesha's figure at the prow, masts with Lord Siva's trident and damaru engraved in gold obliquely sectioned at the top to form a golden OM.
The art piece stands on a circular lotus mandala base, the whole monument resting on a marble yantra. On the four sides of the rectangular base block are figures of a conch, a golden sun with the date 1854 in the middle, and sugar cane shoots - the bitter reason that brought the Indians to the island. The auspicious Indian symbol for water also turns out to be the letter G, representing the Universal Master, the initial of Lord Ganesha, and that of Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe was called Kalaoukera, meaning "island of beautiful waters" by the original, now decimated, Amerindian inhabitants.
As Dr. Henry Bangou, Mayor of Pointe-�-Pitre and a renowned historian, and all the official speakers said, the contributions of the Indians to the evolution of Guadeloupe and its population is incalculable. Today Indians in Guadeloupe are to be found in all sectors of society, from agriculture to politics. Their painful integration, in spite of all the hardships and persecutions, is considered today a success. This is due to their non-violent attitudes and determination in the work place, since the time of the sugarcane fields.
Their integration was achieved at great expense - the almost total loss of their original languages from South and North India, replaced by French and Creole, the forced abandonment of their religion to Catholicism, and the transformation of their customs and culture to becoming Europeanized. However, in the crucible of change, they have managed to do much more than just influence the local cuisine, costume and folklore.
Many cultural associations, under the federative banner of Bharat-�-Gua ("From India to Guadeloupe") are reawakening the Indian awareness. Rituals clandestinely kept across time are being revived, scholars are researching and documenting the past. Interestingly enough, people of all cultural heritage, Indian or mixed ethnic backgrounds, are attracted and are participating in these activities. People of all origins also took part in the year long commemoration events.
Originally scheduled for December 23rd, 2004, the inauguration of the monument took place on January 23rd, 2005, due to an earthquake in Guadeloupe in December 2004. After the official discourses and the unveiling of the monument at the sound of the "tapu" (a flat Indian tambourine drum), flower petals were thrown by Guadeloupeans of mixed ancestral heritage, onto the nearby sea.
This homage was accompanied by moving prayers that the offering may reach ancient ancestors, across the sea of time.
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See Photographs accompanying the French version of this text.