Jamaica Indo-Caribbean Americans Indo-Canadians
India Jamaica
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Kingston, Montego Bay, Savanna-la-Mar, Spanish Town, Ocho Rios
Mostly Jamaican English or Jamaican Patois; Caribbean Hindustani (Prominently a mix of Bhojpuri and Awadhi) and Tamil (to lesser extent and spoken by the descendants of Jahajis); Sindhi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Kutchi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Standard Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) (spoken by more recent immigrants); other Indian languages
Christianity (majority), Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism (minorities)
Related ethnic groups
Indian people
Indian diaspora
Indo-Caribbean Americans
British Indo-Caribbean people

Indo-Jamaicans or Indian-Jamaicans, are the descendants of people who came from the Indian subcontinent to Jamaica and are the descendants of citizens or nationals of Jamaica. Indians form the third largest ethnic group in Jamaica after Africans and non-African Multiracials.[1] However, because most African-mixed Jamaicans self-report as 'black', the population of people with partial Indian ancestry is estimated to be much larger.[2][3] Along with the Chinese and Arabs, Indians represent the wider Asian community on the island, and have made a significant impact on its culture.


Due to deteriorating socioeconomic of conditions in British India, more than 36,000 Indians came to British Jamaica as indentured labourers under the Indian indenture system between 1845 and 1917, mostly from the Bhojpuri speaking area[4] and the Awadh region and other places of North India. A significant minority were from South India. Around two-thirds of the labourers who came remained on the island. The demand for their labour came after the end of slavery in 1830 and the failure to attract workers from Europe. Indian labourers, who had proved their worth in similar conditions in Mauritius, were sought by the British Jamaican government, in addition to workers coming from China. Indian workers were actually paid less than the former West African slaves. This, along with fundamental cultural and linguistic differences and a tendency to not mix with the local population, caused the Africans as well as the British to look down on them. Indians were harassed with the derogatory term, "coolie," referring to their worker status. They were initially placed at the bottom of the social ladder. Despite such hardships, many Indians in Jamaica have retained their culture and religions like Hinduism and Islam. Some Indians have married into the local population of Africans, Creoles, Chinese, Hispanics-Latinos, Arabs, and Europeans. Today the Indian population of Jamaica is either full-blooded Indians or mixed Indians, such as Douglas, Chindians, Asian Latin Americans, Luso-Indian, and Anglo-Indians.

The British Indian government encouraged indentured labour, and recruiting depots were established in Calcutta and Madras, although agents were paid significantly less per recruit than for a European worker. Most Indians who signed contracts did so in the hope of returning to India with the fruits of their labour rather than intending to migrate permanently. The Indian Government appointed a Protector of Immigrants in Jamaica, although this office tended to protect the interests of the employers rather than the workers. Although technically the workers had to appear before a magistrate and fully understand their terms and conditions, these were written in English and many workers, signing only with a thumb print, did not comprehend the nature of their service.

In the mid-20th century, smaller numbers of Indians from the Sindh, Gujarat, Kutch, and Punjab regions came to Jamaica not as labourers but as merchants conducting business alongside Chinese and Arab immigrants.[5]

Gypsies, an Indo-Aryan group were sent to Jamaica as slaves.[6]

Arrival in Jamaica

The first ship carrying workers from India, the "Maidstone", landed at Old Harbour Bay in 1845. It bore 200 men, 28 women under 30 years old and 33 children under 12 years old from various towns and villages in Northern India. The numbers arriving increased to 2,439 three years later, at which point the Indian Government halted the scheme to examine its working. The programme resumed in 1859 and continued until the outbreak of World War I, although by the 1870s stories of the hardships suffered by Indian indentured workers were causing disquiet on the subcontinent. Indian indentureship ended in 1917 to the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Kitts, St. Croix, Guadeloupe, Martinique, British Guiana (now Guyana), Dutch Guiana (now Suriname), French Guiana, and Belize).

The labourers were given one suit of clothing, agricultural tools and cooking pots on their arrival, divided into groups of 20 or 40 and sent, first by mule cart and in later years on overcrowded freight trains to the plantations in Portland, St. Thomas, St. Mary, Clarendon and Westmoreland. Here they would work for a shilling a day and live in rudimentary barracks, with several families having to share a single room. Two shillings and six pence were deducted from their meagre wages for the rice, flour, dried fish or goat, peas and seasoning which constituted their rations. Children received half rations but the plantation managers were warned to treat the children well, with quarterly medical checkups theoretically provided. The overwhelming majority of the immigrant labourers were Hindu but little provision was made for their faith and cultural practices. Non-Christian unions were not recognized until 1956 and many accepted Christianity and adopted English names. Higher caste Indians were prohibited from emigrating to the Caribbean so many did not give their family names as they embarked.

The conditions of the indenture varied from between one and five years, with the workers being released if they fell ill or bought themselves out of their contract. They were not allowed to leave the plantation without a permit, on pain of fines or even imprisonment. Many of the workers and their families suffered from yaws, hookworm, and malaria.


The original Indentured labourers arriving in Jamaica during the mid to late 19th century mostly did not have surnames back in India. Once arriving in Jamaica, in order to assimilate easier into Jamaican society, they often took Anglo/British originated family names due to those being the majority in the country. However, some families took the names of the villages they came from in India and also their one name was used as the surname for their children. It wasn't until the later merchants and businessmen immigrated in the early 20th century that more "Indian" sounding names became more common. Some Jamaican Indian surnames include Mangaroo, Babooram, Partab (Pratap), Bhoorasingh, Mykoo, Maragh, Singh, Bandoo, Kissoon, Rambaran, and Lala.

Settlement and repatriation

Although most of the workers originally planned to return to India, the planters lobbied the Government to allow them to stay and defray their settlement costs, largely to save on the costs of returning them to the Indian subcontinent. Money and land were used as incentives, with time expired Indians offered 10 or 12 acres (49,000 m2) of Crown land. Often the land was mountainous and infertile so many chose to take the cash in hand and by 1877 close to £32,000 had been spent by the Jamaican authorities.

The monetary grants were suspended in 1879, with the land grants being halted from 1897 to 1903 and abandoned in 1906 as there was little difference in the costs of repatriating a worker (£15 per person) and offering land grants of £12 per head.

After 1899 male immigrants seeking repatriation were obliged to pay up to one-half of their passage and female immigrants up to one-third. Immigrants were further required to pay for blankets and warm clothing.

Problems in returning

The lack of ships available to repatriate the workers was another factor in many of them staying on. Ships refused to sail if not full, and at other times were oversubscribed, leading to some time expired workers being left behind. During World War I German submarine warfare and a lack of ships further cut the numbers able to return. The Indian Government did not encourage the return of workers as many were destitute, ill or had lost touch with their own culture.

The final group of Indian indentured immigrants arrived in Jamaica in 1914 and the last repatriates left in 1929 with legal repatriation ending in 1930. After 70 years of indentured labour, over half of the Indians who arrived in Jamaica between 1845 and 1916 remained and the Indian community on the island developed and strengthened. Many Indians left Jamaica in the late 19th century to work on the Panama railroad and canal, and as ex-indentured workers for the sugar estates of Belize.

The Indian workers tended their own gardens after the work on the plantations was done to supplement their diet. They introduced tamarind to the island, in addition to cannabis and the chillum pipe. Hindu festivals such as Diwali were celebrated although many became Christians over time. Gradually workers left the plantations for Kingston and took jobs that better utilized their existing and newly learned skills. The Indian community adopted English as their first language and became jewellers, fishermen, barbers, and shopkeepers.

Impact on Jamaican culture and economy

As of 2003, approximately 70,000 Indians lived in Jamaica.[7] Despite their small relative numbers, Indians have made an outsized impact on their adopted island nation, adding several significant contributions to Jamaican culture. They maintain their own cultural organizations that work for the benefit of the Indian community, while being assimilated into the wider Jamaican community. The influence of the caste system has largely atrophied and arranged marriages are no longer common.

Indian jewellery, in the form of intricately wrought gold bangles, are common in Jamaica, with their manufacture and sale going back to the 1860s. During the first half of the 20th century, Indians such as the Jadusinghs owned several jewellery shops in Kingston specializing in pure 18-kt gold.

Traditional Indian foods such as curry goat, eggplant, bitter gourd, okra, roti, dal, pilaf (cook-up rice) and chutney have become part of the national cuisine. Indians were the first group to grow rice in Jamaica, establishing the island's first successful rice mill in the 1890s. Further, they dominated the island's vegetable production until the late 1940s. Indians introduced several trees and plants to the island, including coolie plum, mango, betel leaves, betel nut, jackfruit and tamarind.

Alongside Hinduism and Sufi Islam, ganja was introduced to Jamaica from India, and smoking it is a spiritual tradition that Rastafarians have adopted as a central tenet of their way of life.[8]

In the past, every plantation in each parish celebrated Hosay. Today it has been rebranded an Indian carnival and is most well known in Clarendon, where it is celebrated each August. Diwali, a Hindu festival linked with the reaping of grain, the return of Prince Rama after 14 years in exile, and the victory of good over evil, is celebrated late October to early November on the darkest night of the year. Houses are cleaned and brightly lit and everyone is in high spirits.

Some Indians were able to buy generous properties as part of government land settlement schemes during the 1960s. Descendants of the immigrant workers have become highly successful in business and professional pursuits, and have influenced the fields of farming, medicine, politics and even horse-racing. Surnames such as Chatani, Chulani, Tewani, Mahtani, Daswani, Vaswani and Chandiram have become synonymous with manufacturing, wholesale, retail and in-bond businesses, which employ thousands of workers.[9]

In 1995, the Government of Jamaica proclaimed May 10 Indian Heritage Day in recognition of the Indians’ contribution to the social and economic development of the country. The arrival of the Indians more than 170 years ago is commemorated in stamps.

On March 1, 1998 the National Council for Indian Culture in Jamaica was formed. It is the umbrella organization of Indian associations with the mission to preserve and promote Indian culture.[10]

Notable Jamaicans of Indian descent

See also


  1. ^ "University of the West Indies". Archived from the original on 13 May 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  2. ^ "5 Reasons Many Jamaicans Don't Understand Racism". Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  3. ^ "Out of Many One People, We Are A Race Apart". Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  4. ^ ??. Missing or empty |title= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ "Jamaica. The Caribbean. Plantations, slavery, European rule. Maritime Heritage Project. Sea Captains, Ships, Merchants, Merchandise, World Migration". Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Out Of Many Cultures The People Who Came - The Arrival Of The Indians". Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  8. ^ McFadden, David. ""The world is catching up now": Acceptance growing for Rastafarians". The Cannabist. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  9. ^ "Out Of Many Cultures The People Who Came The Arrival Of The Indians". Jamaica Gleaner. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Real Museum of Jamaican History". Retrieved 2017-08-29.