I AM A COOLIE – by Naraine Datt

I AM A COOLIE  – By Naraine Datt (aka Norman Datt)

(Part 1/3)

My great grandfather came

Across the Kalla Pani

On the SS Hesperus

Riding the coffee-tinted Atlantic

That makes me a Coolie

I have no qualms about that

It’s time we rethink this word[i]

It all started with our forefathers

Toilers for the bakrah

After the Slave emancipation    

They came they plant

But never reap for themselves

The world got all the sweetness

My great grand mother

With tired wear eyes from smoke

After blowing through the pookni

To keep the chulha-fire going

Cooking the sadha roti and aloo choka

I hear her bangles tinkling

As she grinds the gara masala

To make her unforgettable curries

I can’t forget the smell

As my nostrils quiver

With the hot oil, garlic, onions, pepper

And geera to chunke the dhal

The my mouth waters for the chokas

Bigan, aloo and coconut Oh Gawd!

You can kill me right now

Our food is so delicious

How can coolie be a bad word

It’s a beautiful word

It conjures up poignancy, tears

Defeats and achievements

There is no Guyana without collies

There would’ve never been a Cheddi

If there was no coolie

No maxidally, Laulica, Buccaroo

No Baldeo, Ackloo or Gobindei

Pooran or Harry

No Lallabagee or Alice

Who declared,

“Its better to sit down and starve

Than to work and starve”

Remember the other coolies

41 year old Kowsilla

Hard working mother of  four

Was mowed down by a tractor

Who got killed when they resisted

All they want was justice

This was denied

But met with the whip and bullets

If there were no coolie

The real martyrs of Guyana

For leaving wretched India

The soil is mixed with our forbears

With their blood sweat and tears

They were maltreated for a long time

Because poverty was their crime

They came with stamina

Courage, dare, industry

Thrifty nation-building folk

Our COOLIE ancestors

Although they were knocked down

By the bakrah, sardhars or crown

But they were never knocked out

They’re much alive without a doubt

We must pay homage to for starters

Coolies our fallen pioneer martyrs

With their myriads of legacies

And I proudly declare


[i][i]Peter Rohomon  declared the word coolie was used in a uncomplimentary connotation  since before 1950


(Part 11)

As stated before when

I went into the coolie den

There wouldn’t have been any Guyana

Without any coolies from Mother India

Our dharma is the best in the world

Made us and as others blood curled

Very proud Coolies in that clime

Our forefathers had a rough time

From Brahmins to Musahar

Chatris and Madrassies so far

They came bare without luggage

They left all their bias baggage

When they boarded the ships

But they made lasting kinships

Yes they have become jahajis[1]

Thank the Lord they did this

They’ve passed on their robust genes

And have developed unique cuisines

Good broughtupsy and etiquette

Maybe it was ordained as kismet

Some call it discipline or broad leather

Knock heads, bramble licks Oh brother!

Also known as cut rass

Which you get in class

We did not need anyone to teach us about the truth

Respect for other people’s property and being couth

We went to school to learn

Listen to our teachers

Not to yap on the phone

Or to moan and groan

Not to Play video games

Focus and have aims

Not to disrupt classes

Like confound asses

From birth we were keen

About personal hygiene

Our parents took much care

Let us use clean underwear

Wash your face and at a very early age

Brushing  teeth even if its with blacksage

Wash your hands before you eat

And after you touch the toilet seat

Take your shoes off on entering

Never wear them to bed when sleeping

Cover your mouth

When you cough

It was a way of life

And talk about being thrift

You never ever spend

What you don’t have

If you can’t buy it for cash

Then wait until you can

We build our houses

Then we built our homes

Sometimes we make do

Living with parents

We never owe the banks

Later on we say thanks

To our coolie parents

And so we’re never caught

In any financial quagmire

We’ve become the best

Having the coolies

Spending their last cent

To educate their children

We’ve built villages and cities

Which stand out from the rest

We became linguists

Learning English, Hindi

Urdhu and Patwa

We still sing our old time songs

Play the harmonium and dhantal

Dance when the tassa drums call

Belt out our chatneys

At social gatherings

And live our life to suit us

As others making fuss

We belong to various faiths

Hindus, Muslims, Christians

We celebrate all holidays

We pray for Eid

Get ready for Christmas

And can’t wait for Phagwah

The Hindu temple

Sits near the Mosque

Overlooking the Church

The coolies around the world

Can show other nations

How to live in peace

[1] These pioneers who came from Mother India
Are the East Indians today with a proud dharma

That’s still practiced with vigor and zest

For they had the stamina to come West

THE JAHAJIS  by Naraine Datt


(Part 111)


After much personal contention

Coolie foods get special mention

For our foods are very unique

From good spices they reek

Lashing us with tails and sticks

We brought and kept the basics

Hanging on to it in our clutch

But then we gave it our touch[1]

We each have become a specialist

We learnt to survive and to adjust

In our curries and sweetmeat

With us no one can compete

How appetizing it is

And to us it’s a bliss

To the many others and to all

Smelling our chukayed  dhal

Imagining soft hot paratha

Breaking a piece of sadha

Let it swirl in your soorwah

And you would bruk iron

To get to that juicy sigan

Whenever however you can

In your orid dhal or your curry

As you water-leh-leh so hurry

Mixed it in with some green mango

You hungry? Even if its miles to go

Don’t start me with the fish curry

Even if its cuirass or banga mary

Betta yet bhaya

If its gailbaka

Lord! if you make it hassar

If it is the curry with catahar

My mouth waters long long drip

But I still do not ever want to skip

My forever delicious metagee

Cassavas, yams, and lil bahajee

With a few hassar smiling on top

We were not stingy with our tastes

We absorbed the other cultures

From the Chinese we got their chowmein

And mixed low mein Oh my Gem Baheen

From the Portuguese we got souce ooh!

From the blacks we got their foo foo

And mixed it with fish curry

Give me some more pickney

And walla! It is so very appetizing

Not forgetting the black pudding

There I go again now I can’t stop

So other non coolies you listen up

This is what we coolies are proud of

Our customs and culture are pure love

Which we have nurtured

Since our forefathers had landed

And have been stupidly branded

Indentured immigrants

Treated like mendicants

With callused corned hands

Fulfilling their demands

With black mud in our toenails

And have lived to tell the tales.

The end,

Thanks but if you want the whole poem (220 lines email me ndatt@rogers.com

[1] We made and use our own SARJAM

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  • Lorik  On 07/17/2013 at 1:18 pm

    Coolie was the word used to brand all us of despite the different occupations our forebears held in India. Why you would want to latch onto a concept which denigrated your ancestors and threw them all into one box instead of seeing their human qualities?

  • Thinker  On 07/17/2013 at 7:47 pm

    For the South Africans under apartheid there was the “white-non white” dichotomy. The poet now adds for Guyana a “coolie-non-coolie” one. Let Science speak: “We are all Africans”.

  • gobin  On 09/24/2013 at 7:30 pm

    The Gladstone Coolies, with one fell swoop of a pen a new method of Slavery called Indentureship was created.

    What is wrong with the word coolie? It means worker probably derived from the word Kohli from the Kohli caste in India. There are many Kohlis scattered around the world due to indentureship.

    A good book to read is “The Coolies his rights and his wrongs” by Edward Jenkins. Address the issue of indentureship in Guyana. Book was written sometime in the late 1800s.


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