Heartland album: Andrea de Silva & Alva Viarruel explore the landscape of Indo-Trinidadian culture

For generations, the plains of Caroni in central Trinidad were the agricultual heart of the island. The busy town of Chaguanas and its vendor-lined streets now dominate the area, but across the surrounding countryside still sprawl small farms and villages. Photographer Andrea de Silva and writer Alva Viarruel explore this landscape of Indo-Trinidadian culture

Roopnarine Birbal, known to his friends as “Sarge,” cuts sugarcane on lands his family owns. . . . Photo by Andrea De SilvaA vegetable vendor plies his trade outside the market on the crowded Chaguanas Main Road. . . . Photo by Andrea De SilvaChunks of wood burn to ash on a pyre at the cremation site in Waterloo. . . . Photo by Andrea De SilvaA replica of the ship Fath-al-Razak, which brought indentured labourers from India. . . . Photo by Andrea De SilvaSamdayei Sonny, a former cane-cutter. . . . Photo by Andrea De SilvaThe wife and children of the late Winston Nanan sits in one of the boats used to carry people on tours of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. . . . Photo by Andrea De SilvaPhoto by Andrea De SilvaChaguanas area mapThe ornate façade of the Dattatreya Yoga Centre in Carapichaima, central Trinidad. Photo by Andrea De Silva

Roopnarine Birbal, known to his friends as “Sarge,” cuts sugarcane on lands his family owns at San Pedro Poole. Despite the end of industrial sugar production in Trinidad, the Birbals still grow cane which they juice and sell

A vegetable vendor plies his trade outside the market on the crowded Chaguanas Main Road, where buyers crowd the sidewalks and spill onto the streets of the bustling Borough known for its bargains

Chunks of wood burn to ash on a pyre at the cremation site in Waterloo, with the famous Temple in the Sea in the background. Cane-cutter Siewdass Sadhu, to fulfill a sacred pledge, built his first Hindu temple on land, but the structure was demolished and Sadhu imprisoned for two weeks in 1948, when he was found guilty of trespassing on private property. He decided then to rebuild the temple in the Gulf of Paria, the logic being that no man owned the sea. Over twenty years, and working singlehanded, he constructed a spit off the shoreline, finally completing the new temple in 1968. He died two years later.

Sadhu’s temple was falling apart when Randolph Rampersad sought help to rebuild it in 1995. Rampersad’s father Ramyad had died in 1994, and was cremated on the shore in Waterloo, next to the temple. Months later, Rampersad returned to mourn the death of his mother Rajwant. In those moments of grief, he looked to the temple and thought it would be a good memorial to his parents, and to Sadhu, to repair the then-dilapidated structure in time for the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Indian immigrants in Trinidad.

“There is a great ambience to that shoreline.” Rampersad says, “and my idea was to create a place where one could meditate and find peace. It is open to everyone, and all are welcome to come freely to sit and meditate”

A replica of the ship Fath-al-Razak, which brought indentured labourers from India to the shores of Trinidad, under construction on the grounds of the Indian Caribbean Museum of Trinidad and Tobago in Waterloo. The museum, located in a former school building, also preserves household and religious artefacts, and a replica of a thatched-roof house with walls made of dung and clay, similar to those which housed earlier generations of Indo-Trinidadians

Samdayei Sonny, a former cane-cutter, was raised by her mother, who worked in the sugarcane fields of Caroni Limited, after her father died when she was two years old. Sonny still does gardening near her home in Princes Town — not to earn a living, but “to occupy myself and pass the time,” she says

The wife and children of the late Winston Nanan sit in one of the boats used to carry people on tours of the Caroni Bird Sanctuary. At front is Nanan’s widow Milly, flanked by her daughters Lisa and Laura Nanan-Babwah. At back are sons Victor, Dexter, and Allister Nanan.

A self-taught ornithologist and conservationist, Winston Nanan spent countless hours traversing the Caroni River and its tributaries to observe, photograph, and document the birds and wildlife of the swamp, which his father introduced him to at the age of twelve. In the early days, the swamp tour used a flat-bottomed boat which Nanan pushed along with a pole, before he was able to buy an outboard engine to motor his way through the murky waters. The highlight of the journey is the spectacle of flaming red Scarlet Ibis heading home to nest on an island in the river, in the hour before sunset.

In 2015, after Nanan’s death, the bird sanctuary he had explored and cherished for sixty-two years was renamed in his memory

 

Time of arrival

First celebrated as a public holiday in 1995, Trinidad and Tobago’s Indian Arrival Day on 30 May commemorates the start of indentured immigration from the Subcontinent in 1845. Now the culmination of a month of activities celebrating Indo-Trinidadian heritage, the holiday is marked with cultural performances, religious ceremonies, and a parade, among other events.

 

Caribbean Airlines operates numerous daily flights to and from its hub at Piarco International Airport in Trinidad, connecting to destinations across the Caribbean and North and South America