Festival of the GIRMITIYAS Arrival Day

Girmitya 1in 

By Ariti Jankie

HOUSTON: Unique in India’s diaspora is the history of its 3.5 million people transported during the period 1833 to 1920 to European controlled colonies, to provide labor, following the abolition of slavery. The Gitmit or Indenture-ship system started a new chapter with added color to its ancient culture that has since flourished all over the world.

In countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Fiji, Mauritius, Jamaica and others, Indian Arrival Day marks the arrival of the first ship carrying Indian laborers. It is celebrated with remembrances geared to preserve the moral values, cultural traditions and religious observation passed on in an oral tradition and held closely over time.

In Houston, the Indo-Caribbean and Pacific residents have come together to celebrate the triumph of their ancestors in surviving the hardships to carve success in succeeding generations.

The 2nd Indian Arrival Day celebration takes place on May 24 at the Sanatan Dharam Mandir, 12918 Players Street, Houston 77045. The festival begins at 7.00 am when Pundit Sase plants a bamboo in the mandir yard and offers a lota of jal. The simple ceremony goes back to the arrival of the first Indians who planted a stick on the river bank to symbolize a place of worship and offered salutations to the Sun-God Surujnarayana. It was the beginning of Hinduism while Muslims made the call of Ajaan nearby and also on the riverbank.

Members of two mandir groups, the Sanatan Dharam Mandir comprising a largely Guyanese membership and a branch (377) of the Trinidad-based Sanatan Dharam Maha Sabha lead a short walk to honor the memory of ancestors who were forced to travel on foot. Also, moving to Houston 30-40 years ago many of the participants also walked long distances each day before they could afford vehicles. The “JAHAJEE WALk” takes them beneath a tree where they sit in a circle to reminisce. A breakfast of sada roti with damadol (tomato) and bigan chokha would be served. Chokha originated among the girmitiyas who had no options but to roast whatever vegetable they could find to mix with salt and pepper and serve with roti.

The beneath-the-tree experience also includes folk songs, tassa drumming and dancing.

Worship follows inside the mandir until 11.00 am. A formal program will begin. Awards will be given to those who have performed above and beyond their call of duty and for long years of service to the community. A photographic exhibition will be on display and a lunch of dhal, bhaat and bhaji with coconut chutney and salad will be served.

The feature address will be delivered by Guyanese-born, Houston based attorney Basisht Sharma. The office of the Indian Consulate has also been invited to address the gathering.