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Cultural commingling in the 19th century
The problem in reconstructing cross-cultural relationships in 19th century Trinidad is that no social anthropologist lived then. We are given speculations, superficial generalisations, dubious sources, and conclusions vitiated by the absence of empirical data and analysis.
Relying on this sort of “evidence,” we end up with a fragmented and fictitious picture of Trinidad. The danger is that speculation and invalid conclusions are accepted uncritically by later students, who then make further assumptions to validate their own speculative work. They become part of our history.
When two different cultural groups are thrown together they must necessarily learn to adapt to each other to some extent. Such adaptation is likely where co-operation is essential to the attainment of a common objective. It does not follow that this co-operation would necessarily generate deep friendships, especially between Hindus and non-Hindus. It would also be interesting to know the caste of those Hindus who entered sexual unions with African women and the duration of such relationships.
The probability of such a union would seem to depend on the availability of Indian females, the strength of attachment to traditional Hindu values, and the stereotypical sexual attractiveness of black females. But such sexual unions and the number of offspring tell nothing about the acceptance of cultural values. In fact, even in contemporary Trinidad, the Hindu community has shown no willingness to accept the offspring of such relationships.
A distinction must be made between conservative Hindus and those with a weak or no identification with Hinduism or those who had converted to another faith. It is unlikely that conservative Hindus would have been enthusiastic about “mixing” with non-Hindus. Such mixing would most likely have taken place only when unavoidable, and mostly by those on the periphery of the Hindu community.
There is today a greater number of lapsed, atheistic, agnostic, Christian, or Muslim ex-Hindus. I suggest it is increasing democratisation with its pervasive ethical values, extensive laws, and multiple communication networks, as well as increasing industrialisation with its promise of economic rewards, which has set the stage for greater cross-cultural interaction.
Democracy was not a feature of 19th century Trinidad. Moreover, the pragmatic willingness of Hindus to engage in cross-cultural interaction in the interest of economic progress may simply imply tolerance—not necessarily cultural acceptance. Tolerance has its limits, and may simply conceal a hidden agenda. However, tolerance on both sides is better than open hostility.
Dr Dylan Kerrigan relies a great deal on speculative observations, probabilistic statements, and dubious sources to strengthen his argument for some degree of cross-cultural interaction in the 19th century. Regrettably, simply quoting dubious sources or superficial statements does not validate their conclusion. Opportunities for “mixing” tell us nothing about the nature of this interaction. The difficulty is that there was no social anthropologist to describe and analyse any interpersonal or cross-cultural relationships.
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