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Dougla (or dugla) is a word used by people of the West Indies, especially in Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. It is used to describe Caribbean people who are a product of African and Indian descent. It is a non-hereditary means of naming people; that is, dougla progeny would usually be categorized as another race based on the progeny's appearance, even in the case of dougla-dougla unions.
Origins and etymology
The word originated from doogala (दुगला), which is a Bhojpuri and Hindi word that has many meanings such as many, a mix, or much. It literally means "two necks" in Bhojpuri and is highly insulting in the Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Purvanchal regions of North India. Some of the connotations of the word such as bastard, illegitimate and son of a whore are secondary and limited to sections of North India where the term may have originated. The term itself has a puzzling connotation, for it has very limited use within the subcontinent for the purpose that it gained in the West Indies. In other words, there is no recorded use of the word other than that which the definition describes, and yet, there is little or no record of such a defined use anywhere on the continent. Originally, the use of the word in the West Indies was only used for Afro-Indo mixed-race, despite its origin as a word used to describe inter-caste mixing.
There are sporadic records of Indo-Euro miscegenation, both forced and unforced, before any ethnic mixing of the African and Indian variety. Indian women were a minority among the earlier migrants. Many did not take the voyage across the Atlantic for several reasons, among them the fear of exploitation and the assumption that they were unfit for labor. The first douglas were likely the result of interactions between Indian men and African women.
Socio-religious practice played a part as Religious practices are paramount to the Hindu religion and preservation of the religion and culture was of extreme importance to the indentured laborers. Association with those outside the community who engaged in Adharmic practices was considered to compromise the purity of the race, religion and culture, seen as necessary for survival in the foreign land.
The second reason was socio-economic. The arrival of Indians to the British Caribbean was not meant to be permanent. For most of the Indian immigrants, the aim was to gain material wealth under contract, then return to their respective homelands. The dougla represented the postponement and deferral of that goal if not rendering it completely impossible, being a living symbol of departure from cultural custom jatis.
The third reason was racism. Trinidad, as well as other territories in the Caribbean, had a dynamic of power based on the colour of one's skin. This reinforced the rules by which Indo society functioned in excluding the dougla. Other Indo-based types of miscegenation (Indo-Chinese, Indo-Carib) tended to identify as one of the older, unmixed ethnic strains on the island: Afro, Indo or Euro or passing as one of them.
Douglas in Trinidad culture
"If they sending Indians to India
And Africans back to Africa
Well somebody please just tell me
Where they sending poor me?
I am neither one nor the other
Six of one, half a dozen of the other
So if they sending all these people back home for true
They got to split me in two"
Dougla throughout the Caribbean
The biggest population of Dougla peoples, second (and if not on par), with those in Trinidad and Tobago are those in Guyana. Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese make up half of the Guyanese population, and Douglas number 15% of the country's demographics.
In the French West Indies (Guadeloupe, Martinique), mixed Afro-Indian people used to be called Batazendien or Chapé-Coolie, those who have escaped the disagreeable Indian condition by becoming hybrid. This alludes to the persecution of Indians by the Africans in post-slavery times, which pushed many Indians to confront their fate by marrying Africans so that their Indian look might dissolve through progeny.
In the French West Indies they are now treated in a more positive way by other categories of the population and no longer face the cruel existential dilemma of post-slavery times. The uncommon phenomenon of mutual acceptance and cultural exchange now attained, called by some 'the Guadeloupe Model', has widely contributed to the rare harmony of the multiracial French West Indian communities.
- Mendes, John (1976). Cote ce Cote la. Trinidad & Tobago Dictionary. John Menzies, Arima, Trinidad. 200 pages.