U a coolie? asked one of the persons commenting on this blog, and it is a question I have been considering for some time, since I was called a stupid coolie fool in High School.
Growing up in Guyana, I am conscious of two things.. since my ancestors (or most of them) came from Inda and my family and I are Hindu, then we could fit into a nice 'East Indian' box.
All of that went out the window though when I went to Birmingham , UK to study and I realised that I was completely out of sync with the 'Asian' population - could not speak the language, did not have the hangups, and did not feel the need to party or to take time out from the boxed identities.. which ended up with me being Vice President of the African and Caribbean Students Society. I was called Paki a few times there, even as a lot of people told me I sounded ' black'.
In 2002 at the height of the mayhem against "Indian" people, there was a lot of assertion about coolie and Indian identity. Interestingly one organisation's last venture into locking the coolie identity (sari, raga's , morality, public decency, decorum, hard work) was when they bought a boxer named "Coolie Bully' from Trinidad to celebrate Arrival Day (or Indian Arrival Day depending who you talking to).
When I told a friend I was going to gaff on this blog about this coolie thing, he said "Not you too, falling trap to the binary race thing that holding Guyana back" . This binary race thing he meant was coolie and black.. but I want to think of the binary as "coolie" and "not coolie" if I could. Two articles appeared in Stabroek News recently about Identity, one by Dave Martins talking about what he terms Guyanity and then Nalini Mohabir wrote about being "Familiar and yet foreign" .
Coolie I heard in Jamaica too, said to people who we would consider 'black' in Guyana or even 'dougla' maybe. Indian is the more respectable thing it seems.
Coolie men drink rum and beat their wives, coolie people are sheep and backward, probably poor, dont know to eat with knife and fork, and eat with their fingers. India coolie we use to refer to those who recently came from India and who do not mix with the coolie. I get referred to as one of the business people.. people start speaking slowly so I could understand and then turn up their noses since I appear miserly, and even though I try to lapse into creolese, they look at me with suspicion.
Indian people apparently are family oriented, decent, law abiding, successful, have moral values and are probably Hindu (it is funny how some people mix up Hindu and Muslim). Indian people wear Indian wear to functions - a relative actually suggests on his wedding website that people attending the wedding wear Indian wear (and I laughed when I read of the cinema in India banning people in lungis) I cannot go since I dont have any Indian wear apart from the tee shirts, jeans , short pants and so on which I think some Indian men wear in India.
Coolie people have the art of eating dhal , rice and curry with their fingers and also , you should not get the food above the second knuckles. I dont do too badly with eating with my hands. Problem is , a doctor said you eat more food when you eat with your hands .. think shovel. Is back to fork now with my dhal and rice.
Family is a big thing with coolie people, no matter what happens and what the story, always have family. Oppressive, supportive, mad, is no secret that most coolie violence seems to happen within families .
Coolie people have a way to dance.. curling, an art of moving hands, shoulders, waist, knees, ankles in smooth rythmn and waves. i am still perfecting the art of curling.. and the older the filmi music, the better..
Coolie people apparently do not have sex outside of marriage, and those who do.. well, we pretend to ignore these fallacies, even if they wear Indian wear and are prominent in the society.
Coolie people cuss up Government, but they apparently vote PPP uniformly and they say Jagdeo is a good man but he have fools around him , and they say this quietly to other people they perceive as coolie.
Indian people have money, coolie people are poor and coolie poverty is often hidden and ignored. This thing about wealth is something else, I sat on a plane next to an India coolie once who talked to me about spirituality and how Guyana has no soul, and then proceeded to talk about how much money he making.. and he could make.
So coolie is about stereotypes, from time to time I apparently fit into the stereotype, and then I do not when I might hold views on domestic violence and sit down in church concerts to hear choirs sing or stay far from rum shops. Familiar yet Foreign as Nalini wrote. I have been asked if I am Christian now and then, or if I lived outside for a long time, so sometimes I find myself trying to fit into coolie stereotypes if only to show that coolies do exist and are part of Guyana.
I dont plan on wearing Indian wear though, whatever that is.