Indentured Labor

Coolitude: Theoretical underpinnings

The term Coolitude is derived from “coolie,” a word originating in Tamil that means “laborer” with the implication that the labor provided is physical in nature. The British started taking Indians into their colonies in 1838, a trade that lasted until 1917, created to provide labor needed in sugar plantations after slavery was abolished. Its roots are in labor and works to reclaim an identity that acknowledges histories of labor and the British labor trade in the colonies. This type of movement that faces Asia from spaces where overseas Indians live counters common wisdom that holds that fictions of “race” create identity.


kuli nam dharaya

Natalwa me ai ke

bhajan karo bhaya

hath me cambu

kandh me kudari

pardesita ghare jai


They’ve given you the name “coolie”

A century after the end of Indian indenture

An introduction to the scope of this project

Indentured Laborers 1897, Trinidad

This year marks a century since the system that displaced over three million South Asians ended. From 1838–1917, the British, after slavery was abolished, transported 341,600 indentured laborers from India to British Guiana. Worldwide they displaced 3.5 million Indians who they recruited to work sugar plantations in the Caribbean, South Africa, Réunion, Ile de Maurice, Fiji, and South America.

Some of the migrants, the girmitiyas, the kantrákis, the coolies, chose to sail across the seas into a life of new adventure.

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