Top image: Boatload of Barbadian laborers arriving in Port of Cristobalcourtesy of: www.canalmuseum.comMiddle: Newly arrived Indian coolies in West Indies around 1900Bottom: Political Cartoon of Uncle Sam dealing with the “coolie” situation in the U.S.courtesy: www.wikipedia.com
As the River Chagres bid the people of this hemisphere to come see the Eden the Almighty had created, so did the Ganges in far away Asia, and the Yellow River take over the environment, forcing its peoples to congregate on its banks. Thus, people came from all over the continent of Asia, homeless and thirsty for the life force embodied in the rivers, the rivers that fed and nurtured them to health.
And so it was with our Black Caribbean ancestors and other people who, hungry and thirsty for another way of life, flocked to the rich banks of a watershed like the Isthmus of Panama.
It was the Blacks from the neighboring British Antilles, however, the same hardy individuals who had scoured the Caribbean Basin by small boats for decades- even before the pirates and corsairs arrived on the isthmus- who knew about the different parts of the Central American and the South American coastline, thus arriving as a seasoned group of pioneers already versed in the rudiments of survival in this difficult terrain.
They, the Blacks, came to these shores before Americans and mingled with the people and the local slaves acting as freedmen. But, those who came in droves in the later part of the 19th century were trying to escape centuries of laboring for cruel slave masters who attempted to keep them in bondage in the questionable program of “gradual” emancipation called the apprenticeship system. Nevertheless, once they arrived many were able to survive the rigors and circumstances of a whole gamut of unexpected situations.
There was little competition for employment in an atmosphere where local Blacks were relatively few in numbers and outwardly shirked the rigorous laboring conditions. For, “Why should they work under such conditions when the land provided abundantly?” they reasoned. Even the preferred Europeans– Irish, Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, and the Chinamen from Asia- died or quit the works in desperation, for it became, for all laborers, a trying of their resilience. Although thousands of men from diverse corners of the world came to the isthmus, few would last in those demanding environs.
Few scribes amongst the Blacks of the West Indies, however, would be inspired by their God to record their deeds (or misdeeds). The Book of Chronicles, one of the books of the Holy Bible translated and patterned after the English language of their former slave masters, which contained the recordings of the Jewish prophets, would avail them little at the hands of their new, cruel slave masters, who professed to be followers of the Christian teachings.
It is also not surprising that some of the Panamanian authorities on the subject of the later decades of the 20th century, in attempting to explain how they, the foreign Blacks, came to be such an influential force in their culture, said that “they formed communities separated from the larger society.” Heavily influenced by racist assumptions, these same historians, in their majority of Latin American ancestry, never admittedly described any one of these Asian groups of immigrants as “a nucleus community separated by race, language religion and culture,” despite the fact that those people of Asian ancestry had come from very distant lands and from completely diverse cultures and religions.
The West Indians had always been near and here, neighbors and fellow Christians, from places in the Caribbean Basin that only required hours or, perhaps, only as much as two days traversing since they were as near as a few hundred nautical miles away.
This story continues.