Reflections on Cheddi Jagan’s Autobiography: THE WEST ON TRIAL (Published by Michael Joseph).
“The plantation was indeed a world of its own, or rather it was two worlds: the world of whites and the world of non-whites”.
If the plantation lies at the core of West Indian history then the life of Cheddi Jagan is central to an understanding of the West Indian people, for more perhaps than any other modern West Indian politician, he is the product of the sugar estate.
Jagan is more than this; but unless one understands the twin backgrounds of immigrant Indian life and the plantation, the later accretions city, Marxism, political office seem out of focus.
“Both of my grandmothers came as indentured immigrants. They were ‘bound’ by five-year contracts to different sugar plantations, or ‘estates’ as they were called, in the county of Berbice, the most eastern of the three counties which make up British Guiana. Women were required to work during the first three years but for the rest of the period, during which they were required to reside on the plantations, they were under no legal obligation to work. My grandmothers, however, like all of the other women who came to British Guiana during the 79 years of Indian indentured immigration, from 1838 to 1917, had no choice”.
“My parents were Hindus and deeply religious, my mother even more so than my father. In the early days my mother used to attend the Hindu Temple at Port Mourant and take part in many of the festivals and functions that are part of Hinduism. Hinduism is, of course, not such a formalised religion as many others. One could say it is a way of life. If you are born of Hindu parentage, you do not have to take part in institutional practices to maintain your status as a Hindu . . . . . . “
“The plantation appeared to me as the hub of life. Everything revolved around sugar, and the sugar planters seemed to own the world . . . . Even the small pieces of land rented to some of the workers for family food production belonged to them. They owned the mansions occupied by the senior staff, and the cottages occupied by dispensers, chemists, engineers, bookkeepers and drivers. They owned the logies (ranges) and huts where the labourers lived, the hospitals and every other important building . . . . Even the churches and schools came within their patronage and control”