I think perhaps more than I breathe. My mind works on issues, solutions, problems as quickly as child geniuses used to solve the ‘Rubik’s Cube’. So, I was thinking, what if I am not privy to the whole story behind the dysfunction of the women in my family. My matriarchal lineage, because as I look at my cousins, examine the behavior of my aunt’s, the animosity displayed clearly to each other without reservations or explanations, I realized there had to be more to this story.
So as a great archaeologist such well as Indiana Jones would do I began to look for clues. Context clues led me to a few hypotheses about the life that my ancestors had in Guyana that may have shaped their sadness and desperation. Oh wait, damn, yes I had judged them and thought they were OUT of their minds. What the hell could have possibly happened to justify the madness running rampant amongst the women in my mother’s family?
Then the pieces of the puzzle started coming together, long before I had hard facts. Watching and observing teaches us the most poignant of lessons. Their dynamic in relationships was telling, self-doubts, guilt, subservient passive aggressive behaviors, low self-esteem, jealousy and dissent. I too carried that legacy of shame and guilt until I took a step back to discover why
This is what I unearthed. In 1838, indentureship was the profitable way to ensure that the crops were tended too by the seemingly docile Indian peasants that were encouraged and sold a dream, to go to Guyana to work the crops for a contract of a specific amount of years and were promised passage there and back. That was not always the case, more times than not they would have to extend their contracts, and not be able to return to India, to their wives and in some cases children. To appease the workers, the overseers contracted and brought over Indian women. They were not thrilled about coming, but their parents wanting better for their daughters than the meager existence in Calcutta, sent them off, hopefully not realizing what would happen to their young women in Guyana. There was a shortage of ‘Coolie’ Gyals in Guyana, they were VERY young. They started marrying them off at 11 years of age, to 40-50 year old intolerant men, who would chomp at the bit wondering who was staring at this pretty wife and assuming she was carrying on affairs with the overseers or the Afro-Guyanese. Of course the Indian men couldn’t retaliate against the plantation owners or the overseers, so who reaped the brunt of his own discontent?? Yes, the little 11 year old, the young women who had NO idea which way to go. There was no escape. The ‘master’s, overseers, Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese all had their way with the Coolie Gyals <term used for Indo-Guyanese girls and women> Coolie being a quasi-derogatory term for indentured servants.
The level of abuse aimed at the “Coolie Gyals” was intense and horrific. I didn’t know. I had always watched my ‘elders’ with a mixture of frustration, sadness and anger. I never understood what made them act hateful, spiteful, sometimes jealous of each other, and uber depressed. In retrospect, I get it, I understand why my older aunt who passed away four days after my partner in crime/aunt died, was so bitter and honestly mean. Aunt Anna was born in 1909 in the midst of the matriarchal massacre that was occurring on this tiny coastal country, they were so far away from “home” with no-one to protect them. The women truly felt that they did not deserve ‘rights’. How sad, how terribly soul wounding, it makes so much sense now in retrospect after a half of life observing their dysfunctional behavior that the majority of them didn’t even realize was dysfunctional. Eleven year olds sold to fifty year old men for marriage, raped, tortured, molested, beat, dismembered, accused, slandered and ashamed!
My grandmother May Veronica Tiwari, was married when she was twelve and had my uncle when she was thirteen… he was a thirteen pound baby. I cannot even imagine the level of pain and torment on her young body. My ‘grandfather’ was a much older longshoreman, who after getting my grandmother pregnant, would leave and sometimes come back, eventually he moved to America, leaving her and all of their offspring, including my mother there in Guyana to fend for themselves. She eventually sent my mom and her closest brother, my Uncle Romeo to NYC to live with a father they never had known. Imagine the horror of flying across an ocean with a kind stranger just to be handed off to ANOTHER stranger?
After intensely researching the period in Guyana from 1838 to 1917, I came to realize that it is absolutely inconceivable to me, that women were treated in this insidious manner. Raped by Afro-Guyanese, by the overseer’s and then back home where instead of concern and solace found in the arms of their husbands or fathers, they were repeatedly beat for ‘BEING’, yes, for just BEING. It must have been the poor coolie gyal’s fault for existing. What a world to be born, brought or BOUGHT into. I am sitting here writing this, feeling the weight that was their constant mantle of oppression. I sit here grateful to have experienced every single thing that I did, to empower me so, that I would excavate the truth, give a voice to the light. I’m so sorry you were treated so badly, I am so sorry. Sorry they hurt you, I know that it was all meant to be, and I know I will never know the exact reasons till I enjoy hugging THE REAL YOU when I come “home”. I am honored to be from this line of AMAZING women who preserved through the HARSHEST of circumstances. They were oppressed and degraded in every possible and still SURVIVED, supporting their children in a strange country.
I get it now, all the dots connect. I understand, and I am sorry for assuming, I am grateful to be blessed with this knowledge and mission. I WILL never take this existence for granted again. NEVER… I will RISE forever, thank you for gifting me with your tenacity and unwavering dedication to survival. I am STOMPING on those restraints; we are ‘breaking chains’ forever. Love is DIVINE, my ancestors, and love put ME here, ripe full of the lessons that have run down our lineage, I will be brave and strong, holding the very tangible, invisible (on this plane of existence) hands linked with mine around in a circle. Here is to my mom and all of her sisters, nearest to my heart of course was/ is Darshini Tiwari, my grandmother May Veronia Persaud Tiwari, my great-grandmother Marie Rajubir, my grandmother’s cousin Anna Naidoo, and the slews of other women in my family and in yours. We, by shining our light are breaking chains, the chains of oppression and depression. We can free them, I know I have to start with me and here I am, standing in the light, not afraid to OWN my choices and repercussions, paying forward the light near and far! I WILL be the change, family, thank you!! Your life is NOT wasted on me!