Indian Arrival Day is celebrated each year on May 30 in Trinidad and Tobago. The date is a public holiday with offices, schools and many business closed to celebrate the arrival of contracted Indian workers on the Fath Al Razack in 1945.
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As early as 1845, Indian’s began immigrating to Trinidad with as many as 150,000 Indians arriving on the island between 1845 and 1917. The first, the Fath Al Razack, held 225 passengers who had come to the island to work on the sugarcane plantations after slavery of Africans was abolished. They had been at sea for 103 days and those on board were contracted to work for five to ten years.
Many were abused, lived in substandard quarters, suffered from harsh weather and had insufficient food during their voyage to the island. Once they arrived, however, many found success as contracted workers. All were promised free return passage, yet up to 75 percent of them did not return to India. Along with them came Indian culture, tradition, dress, food and a unique religion that was integrated into the way of life on the island. Many of the festivals brought to Trinidad and Tobago by the Indians are Divali, Phagwa, Hoosay and Eid-ul-Fitr.
Approximately half of the people on Trinidad and Tobago are descendants of the Indian immigrants and the holiday was created to recognise their culture and diversity.
Until 1995, the holiday was known simply as Arrival Day. It was that year that the government changed the name of the holiday to Indian Arrival Day.
Celebrations and Traditions
One tradition that is carried out each Indian Arrival Day is the performance of a play that reenacts life on board the Fath Al Razack. The reenactment takes place on at various beaches and there are replicas of the Fath Al Razak, a ship that holds the same sentimental value as the Mayflower in the United States. The government also holds an awards ceremony on Indian Arrival Day, presenting awards to citizens who have contributed to their community as well as the entire country. The recognition of the contract worker’s contribution to Trinidad and Tobago is also celebrated with prayers, speeches, songs, music and dances throughout communities on the island.
Citizens are encouraged to collect and display photographs or artifacts that relate to the arrival of the Indians on the island. The Caribbean Museum at Waterloo has exhibits on this day specifically related to the arrival of the contract workers.