- Caribbean region
- Hindus first entered the Americas from India as settlers in the Caribbean region in the 1840s, in what are now known as Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad/Tobago. Most were poor lower-caste workers from the states of Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Western Bihar who were hired as indentured laborers to work on the British and Dutch sugar plantations. After their contracts of indenture ended, most of these workers remained. The British and the Dutch treated their workers dif-ferently. The Dutch tended to keep a hands-off policy toward their Hindu workers, with the result that Hindus in Suriname tended to main-tain Hindi as their primary language. The British attempted to convert Hindus to Christianity and to change their culture. The result is that Hindus in Trinidad, Tobago, and Guyana speak primarily English rather than Hindi. In Trinidad a form of language known as Plantation Hindi developed, as expressed in oral histories. Missionaries from the ARYA SAMAJ countered the Christian mis-sionaries in the 1940s. In Suriname a small num-ber of immigrants from Java in INDONESIA, also introduced as indentured servants, converted to Hinduism. Today, approximately 27 percent of the population of Suriname, 34 percent of Guyana, and 24 percent of Trinidad and Tobago are Hin-dus. Smaller populations of Hindus live on the islands of Jamaica, Grenada, St. Lucia, Martinique, and Guadalupe. All are descendants of indentured servants and have faced evangelization by Chris-tian missionaries.Hinduism in the Caribbean is primarily Vaish-navite and centers around devotion to the monkey warrior HANUMAN. Other deities such as SHIVA, DURGA, KALI, and GANESHA are also recognized. The primary sacred texts recognized by the laity are not the VEDAS or the UPANISHADS, but the RAMAYANA and the BHAGAVAD GITA. Most homes have a small shrine or prayer house that serves as a site for offerings, devotion, chanting of BHAJANS, and meditation. Because of the schedule of plantation work, the Hindu communities have adopted Sundays as the weekly time for PUJA. Once a year the communities gather for the Ramayana Yajna and DIVALI. Arranged marriages have become the norm among some communities and serve to join Hindus around tra-ditional culture. Apart from recognition of BRAHMIN families and endogamy norms, caste observance has largely disappeared from the region.Further reading: Crispin Bates, ed., Community, Empire, and Migration: South Asians in Diaspora (New York: Palgrave, 2001); Anil Mahabir, “Diaspora of Hindus in South America,” Hinduism Today (January/Febru-ary, 2001), p. 18. Steven Vertovec, The Hindu Diaspora: Comparative Patterns (London: Routledge, 2000).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.