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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 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 racial hybrids, despite its origin as a word used to describe inter-caste mixing. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh it is considered highly offensive, as it denotes that one is of mixed caste or a half-breed.
The Genealogy of the Dougla subject
The dougla, specifically half-African and half-Indian descent, arose as a result of Colonial social conditions during the period of Indian indentureship Plantation Economy. 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. However, the dougla was not particularly welcomed by the Indian community.
Socio-religious practice played its part. 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 Trinidad and Tobago's shores, as well as those of Guyana and elsewhere throughout 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 prospective 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.
These three forms of cultural logic determined the perception of the dougla within the Indo-Trinidadian community and, to a certain extent, how the dougla would be perceived within the outer community as a whole. Such a consideration also formed, to a large extent the way which douglas were and still are perceived to an extent.
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 in other Caribbean Islands
The biggest population of Dougla peoples, second (and if not on par), with those in Trinidad and Tobago are those in the South American nation of Guyana. Having a significant Indian population, almost making up half of the Guyanese population, along with the nation's Afro-Guyanese peoples, Douglas contribute to about 15% of the country's demographics, and increasing. Along with the majority of people of Afro-Guyanese or Indo-Guyanese having both ethnicities in their family ancestry.
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.
The island Jamaica also features this prominent miscegenation between its indo and african citizen however these racial hybrids are referred to as coolie, whether fully blooded or half.
As in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, St. Lucia, Grenada and the other 'smaller islands' of the Caribbean, citizens of mixed Afro-Indian blood in the French West Indies, and the numerous ones with white ancestry too, now tend to be well considered, as having the favourable attributes of their multiple origins. In Guadeloupe especially, and progressively in Martinique, their number is constantly increasing due to cross-breeding.
Contrarily to places where Afro-Indians feel uncomfortable, 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. Sure enough, non-Indian candidates take part in events like Miss Sari Pageant, and the Colombo (Creole Curry) is definitely considered by all Guadeloupeans and Martinicans their 'national' dish. Indians and part-Indian citizens also play a significant role in politics, trade-union activity, art, education, agriculture...
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. Interestingly, the negritude champion writer Aimé Césaire, who had Indian blood too, was keen on interacting with Indians both from Martinique and Tamil-Nadu.
- Mendes, John (1976). Cote ce Cote la. Trinidad & Tobago Dictionary. John Menzies, Arima, Trinidad. 200 pages.
- "Indian presence and contribution in the Caribbean"
- "150 years of Indian arrival commemorated in Guadeloupe by all citizens"