Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Perspectives on The First Crossing by Theophilus Richmond

A lecture by a rather earnest researcher in Indo-Caribbean migration was given last night at Moray House on some aspects of 'The First crossing' - the published newly-discovered diary of the ship's surgeon  He picked a couple aspects which slipped me while I read the book back in 2008 when it was launched--- will publish my then bookclub review --
The first was highlighting the presence of a Black person on board the Hesperus ( the first ship bring the 'indentured[slavery in a new form] Indians to the West Indies). He felt it was significant as it represented the first sighting/contact between the two major races in Guyana.  Also that the coloured people mentioned are on the margins and is it significant about who is allowed to speak for whom.  The Black 'Cabin boy' is mentioned in a fleeting sentence where he is abused for using the ship's surgeon's knife to clean a teapot - this in between the said surgeon waxing lyrical about the beauty of the Sea and Sky. I was amused that no parallels/similarities were drawn between the almost exact contempt for the native Indians in their Homeland while noticing Beauty in inanimate things. In fact, Mr Tumbridge was so delicate he demurred from mentioning the N word as the audience was predominantly Afro-Guyanese - shame most of the audience seemed not to have read the book - and avoided reading the description of African women.
The second major aspect that I had missed myself when I read the book was that relation between  Indentureship and the Opium Trade. Apparently Patna in Bihar in Northern India was the hub of the Production of the Opium that the British forced on the Chinese back in the day to make them become Addicts thus creating a demand for a product the Chinese would actually WANT to buy from the British so they could pay for the silks,tea and other goods THEY wanted from China-- mmm don't you just love the history of commerce? Mr Tumbridge thought the scale was so large he speculated whether that would have represented a 'push' factor for some of the migrants.
So here's my Review of the book back in 2008 complete with ranting tangents!

I thought this a good read from several points of view.

Like Vidya, I was appalled how 'Coolie' lives meant so little compared
to -we could be pc-correct and say European- but really - White lives,
and nowhere more than when the first Cholera victim on board gets
unceremoniously dumped overboard while there is a respectful ceremony
for the English (presumabably)sailor who succumbs (Makes me think of
the reporting of the current Iraq war- we only get to hear about the
American soldiers who die not the Iraqis!). Luckily that was near the
end but I did observe how he didn't 'notice' the native people except
for them to provide amusement and make disparaging remarks about
their 'absurd ceremonies'. It was fascinating for me to see how he
could visit India and still be totally immersed in English society-
appreciating the hospitality and not even noticing/caring about the
conditions of the Local people.

I liked his wry humour and his observations of places and am glad this
diary has been discovered and published and am amused by the irony that
it is more likely to be read by the descendants of the very same people
he doesn't notice than by the English! What a difference a couple of
centuries make!!

The Introduction was long but informative and I liked how it shows
clearly the way people were thought of as commodities and that even the
Indian Government, who ought to have been concerned for their citizens,
couldn't be bothered with  (relatively)small numbers of people. I wish every Indo-Guyanese would read this and understand that Guyana deserves their loyalty and not harken back to stupid Indian prejudices not relevalent to today - I am thinking of the last ridiculous Naya Zamana performance where all the dancers were not typical of Guyanese colouring - all being unusually fair (for Guyana)-like that was some ideal of beauty?
I always find it interesting to 'know' the story here in Guyana and
then read the newspapers to find out how much they have misreported and
misrepresentated the said story, but I was disppointed that in the
intro Mr Dabydeen, in mentioning the rise of political consciousness of
the immigrant Indians mentioned Cheddi Jagan as rising to political
power in 1992!! It was indeed the appalling conditions that made him
ditch a 'safe' career in dentistry to venture into politics in the 1940's.

No comments:

Post a Comment