A brief introduction to the history and culture of the KwaZulu-Natal Indian Community

A brief introduction to the history and culture of the KwaZulu-Natal Indian Community

Passage from India

Each year, when festivities marking the November 1860 arrival of the first migrants from the vast subcontinent culminate on Durban's attraction-packed beachfront in an extravaganza of sacred music and dance, exquisite traditional dress and aromatic gourmet delights, our province of KwaZulu-Natal is inspired to pause and reflect.


British colonial authorities of the day viewed these indentured plantation-hands and the 'support system' of small-time merchants as little more than pragmatic solutions to a labour problem - paying scant regard to the ancient culture being introducing to our shores. For the Truro, and other sailing vessels to follow in her wake, carried in their cramped cabins representatives of one of the world's great civilisations, the expression of awesome empires that existed far earlier than anything comparable in Europe. This consciousness, arisen south of the Himalaya range, contained the seeds of profound surprises for the era's ruling figures.


The wealth of Gandhi sites throughout the province bear witness to the 'apprenticeship' of the future Mahatma - Great Soul - whose policy of passive resistance - satyagraha - to British dominance would literally change the world map and rally South African Indians in our Liberation Struggle against institutionalised racial discrimination and its attendant injustices.



In a lighter vein, it's also highly unlikely that the reigning local monarch of 1860 - King Mpande - envisioned a future where young saffron-robed Zulu men and women would be among 'Hare Krishna' chanting devotees at the spectacular, annual Festival of the Chariots through the streets of Durban!


And today, two intrinsic aspects of India's ancient spiritual wealth are joining equally unique dimensions of our province's natural beauty and indigenous culture to offer the rare and uplifting experiences attracting visitors from right round the globe. First is the combination of all-natural, health-enhancing Ayurvedic therapies and the pristine, tranquil surroundings of our two World Heritage Sites and innumerable other oases of serenity. Divined in meditation eons ago, Ayurveda - the Science of Life - has since time immemorial been renowned for its stress-relieving and rejuvenating properties. What better way to revive vitality and restore youthful good looks than a course of Ayurvedic treatments followed by a blissful bout of total relaxation within our sublime collection of mountainous Berg, sun-drenched Beach, endless Bush and wide-open Battlefields! Armed with a new zest for life, you'll be ready for our Buzz - and the talking point in entertainment circles world-wide is undoubtedly the highly innovative and adventurous fusion of classical Indian dance and traditional Zulu forms - from timeless rural routines to 'gum-boot stomps' devised on the gold mines in days of yore.


Add to these delights cool marbled mosques, temples emblazoned with multicoloured imagery and the entire spectrum of tantalising Indian cuisine, and our Zulu Kingdom presents you with the opportunity to be immersed in high culture emanating from the proverbial mists of time...


KwaZulu-Natal was by no means the first recipient of indentured Indian labour. Dramatic changes surrounding England s 'slave-driven' colonies precipitated this particular development. When human rights activists finally compelled the British Parliament to pass the Act of Abolition in 1833, this successful emancipation of all slaves within the British Empire created a potentially ruinous labour vacuum from the Indian Ocean to the South Pacific, but among the resources-rich Caribbean islands in particular.

Jamaica was an illustrative case-in-point. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494, the island's indigenous Arawak Indians were obliterated by these Spanish conquerors, who ruled until 1655's military defeat at the hands of the British.

Vast sums of money were then invested by plantation owners who produced raw materials for the Anglo-European markets - the manual labour performed by victims of the iniquitous slave-trade from West Africa beginning in 1680. Abolition a century and a half later saw the emancipated men, women and children literally head for the hills, vowing never to rekindle any association with the cause of their bondage.

Colonial entrepreneurs stared bankruptcy in the face, and London responded to their pleas by introducing indentured labour from India. The abolitionists denounced this policy as 'merely a compromise between slavery and free-market demands', but on this occasion failed to sway public opinion - largely because the labourers in question now entered a 'voluntary contract of service'.

Learning From Our Neighbours

The passage of indentured Indians to our Zulu Kingdom is inextricably linked to the experience of two islands relatively close to our warm ocean shores Mauritius and Reunion. As with the Caribbean states, these foreign-controlled destinations, too, were early recipients of the British East India Company s supply of labour from the subcontinent. They further provided answers to a pair of questions that deeply vexed our Colonial pioneers of the day. First of these was the choice of money-spinning crops for burgeoning First World consumer markets. Cotton, coffee, tea and sugar were most in demand, but from the outset of agricultural activities to the north of Port Natal-Durban during the mid-1830s all except the latter were highly problematic at sea-level conditions. Sugar cane flourished, but initial seeding stocks were not disease-resistant enough for secure long-term planning. A shortage of suitable labour was the second cause for consternation. The culture of Britain s new Zulu subjects deemed field-hand work as women s domain, and as these womenfolk were the wives and daughters of the village there was, not too surprisingly, great resistance to the notion of them being drafted into service of the white settlers. The on-the-job performance of those Zulu men willing to till, plant and harvest were matched against the slavery levels to which the Empire was accustomed and also not surprisingly found wanting. Add to these factors the earliest forms of influx control over the Zulus, and it s patently obvious how the pioneer farmers found themselves in something of a quandary.




Detailed Overview ....From Hallowed Ground