From June 7 to August 27, the Hague Municipal Archives, in collaboration with the Sarnámi House in The Hague, will present the impressive exhibition The Calcutta Letters. The opening will be done by Alderman of Mobility and Culture, Robert van Asten and Chairman of the Sarnámi House Amar Soekhlal.
The colonial archives of Suriname contain valuable records. These records provide a fascinating insight into the lives of Hindus from India, who were brought to Suriname after the abolition of slavery. They worked on the Dutch plantations on the basis of forced contracts.
Descendants of these Hindostans, united in the Netherlands in the Sarnámi House in The Hague, have made efforts to open up a new source of information: the Calcutta Letters.
Get to know an unknown part of the colonial history of the Netherlands and Suriname.
Surinamese Hindostans are descendants of people from India who were brought to the colony during the Dutch colonial administration in Suriname. They had to replace enslaved Africans on the plantations. The first ship arrived on June 5, 1873.
What are the Calcutta Letters?
The Calcutta Letters is the entirety of correspondence from the period 1873 – 1946, between the colonial authorities in Suriname and authorities in India, Guyana and Trinidad. Hindostans were sent from India to Suriname and the Caribbean as forced contract workers. The Calcutta Letters is the latest source of colonial archival information on Hindostans to be unlocked. Previously, Hindu immigration records and the 1921 census containing data on Hindostans have been unlocked and published.
What kind of letters are in the archive
There are three types of personal information in the Calcutta Letters. Correspondence between officials discussing personal information about Hindostans, correspondence between Hindostans and authorities about their personal circumstances, and there is correspondence between family and third parties (business relationships). The last kind should be recorded in personal archives, but have ended up in the Calcutta Letters archive because they were not properly delivered.
Correspondence topics Calcutta Letters
The correspondence between officials about Hindostans is mainly about reports about the ups and downs of Hindostans: money transfers, divorce issues, matrimonial matters, assistance in finding relatives in Suriname and India, handling inheritance business transactions etc. Correspondence the other way around, between Hindostans and civil servants, is more personal because the Hindostan himself is speaking and the above subjects are dealt with from his or her perspective.
Flight to freedom
As during slavery, the forced contract workers fled from the plantation. The flight to freedom during slavery was to the interior of Suriname. During the period of forced contract labor, the flight was to neighboring Guyana. In the district of Nickerie, which borders Guyana, the flight to freedom was common. An 1897 letter from the Agent General (AG) of Guyana to his colleague in Suriname recounts how four “Koelies” – that is how the Hindu forced contract workers were called by the colonizer – fled across the river to Guyana on a bamboo raft from the district of Nickerie in western Suriname.
Exhibition The Calcutta Letters
The exhibition The Calcutta Letters can be found in the Atrium of the City Hall at the entrance to the reading room of The Hague Municipal Archives in the poster wall. Exhibition curation: Sarnámi House Foundation.
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