Indian-origin South Africans commemorate 159 year anniversary of Indentured labourer

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#SOUTHAFRICA: The Indian community of South Africa have observed rituals this weekend celebrating their ancestral heritage this month.

This year has marked 159 year anniversary of the arrival of indentured Indian labourer to South Africa who during the colonial era, were recruited by the government to work in the sugar plantations of Natal.

Yesterday, members of the Durban community honored their ancestral heritage at the Shri Marieamman Temple where a commemorative statue was the centre of observance of the Indentured labourer arrival 159 years ago on this day, 16 November 1860.

The diverse Indian population in South Africa is concentrated in Kwa-Zulu Natal’s largest city, Ethekwini better known as Durban. This province in South Africa has the most substantial Indian population in sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa as a whole also has a substantial Indian population, with over 1 million people of Indian origin.

Indian influence over the years has contributed to the multi-cultural diversity of South Africa in many ways. For example, the local culinary landscape has been infused with a diverse array of Oriental flavour – most notably in the Durban and surrounds. Popular dishes include curry, and an intrinsic Durban dish called ‘bunny chow‘, which is half a loaf of bread, hollowed out and filled with curry.

South African Indians retain a sense of cultural and social connection to India, and a concept of primary local and secondary ancestral identity is prevalent among people of Indian-origin.

The journey in hope for a better life in South Africa

In search of a better life because of the caste system in India which left many in crippling debt and poverty, many Indians boarded the Truro ship that left Madras and anchored in Port Natal. They touched land on November 16, 1860.

Visuals by Rachel Vadi of Newsbreak Lotus FM

Workers received food and board, and a small monthly stipend in return for their labour. These workers were also promised crown land and citizenship after five years of service.

ALSO READ: The Natal Mercury article ‘The Coolies Here’ full-text

The labourers soon discovered that their new working conditions were far from fair as many were made to toil from sunrise to sunset, six days a week and in 1891. The original promise of land and citizenship from the government was revoked and only 51 Indians actually received crown land from the colony.  By 1888, Indians were required to carry passes; and could not own land, live or vote outside designated areas.

Want to trace your ancestral links?

The Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre is able to assist people wishing to seek their ancestral information. Archived ship records are available and individuals should bring copies of their parents’ or grandparents’ unabridged birth certificates that list indenture numbers. Those numbers are also listed on documents marked “Pass to Indians”.

Without reference to such documents, accessing the correct details on the ship records may prove difficult.

Trace your Indenture roots at University of KZN

The Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre is situated in the basement of the University Library opposite the Main Hall and diagonally opposite the Senate Chamber.

Enquiries may be directed to Thiru Munsamy or Siya Narie on 031 260 7350/1.

  1. Use this link to find passenger Indians: South African Indians Who’s Who:
  2. List of employers to whom Indentured Indians were assigned:
  3. List of passengers who arrived on the SS Truro from India to South Africa on November 16, 1860:
  4. Guidelines for tracing one’s roots:

Shri Mariammen Temple in Durban celebrated the arrival of the 1860 indentured labourers from India with a special event. Here’s some photos from the event in 2017.

ALSO READ: The Natal Mercury article ‘The Coolies Here’ full-text

Source inputs: Newsbreak Lotus

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