Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Documenting the life of estate workers in literature

In 1934 CEJ Ramcharitar Lalla published a poem called The Weeding Gang which remained for a long time the definitive poem about East Indian workers and indentured labourers in Guyanese literature.  It was the most progressive poem at that time about those estate workers in spite of its own limitations, because for a long time poems either avoided the subject or were written in imitative English styles and language.  Even Ramcharitar-Lalla himself was not entirely free of those influences at a time when most Caribbean poets were. The Weeding Gang describes in very musical terms that group of women employed on the sugar plantations whose occupation was weeding and stands out because it attempted to engage not India or Europe, but Guyana’s working people at the grassroots.

The next major work of that era was a novel by Edgar Mittelholzer, completed some time around 1938 but not published until 1941 because that is when it was accepted by a publisher whose editorial terms Mittelholzer was willing to accept. (Mittelholzer is fabled for the large number of rejection slips he received in trying to get his work published.)  That novel is Corentyne Thunder about the family of a miserly cow-minder on the Upper Corentyne with all the details of rural Indian village life in British Guiana.

Full report here Stabroek News

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