Shortly after the influx of Indian Indentured Coolies as a source of cheap, reliable labour, Trinidad’s Colonial Government under Lord Harris (1846-53) realized that the new arrivals had by necessity, to be fed on foods that they were accustomed to in India otherwise they would suffer malnourishment . Thus, large quantities of Indian food began arriving in the colony. Paddy rice ( Trinidad was already familiar with creole hill rice or red rice thanks to the industry of the ex-American black soldiers of the 1816 Company Villages) , split peas (dhall) , ghee, curry spices, all originally imported exclusively for the Indians, began to find their way into shops and soon formed a foundational part of the national cuisine. For newly arrived indentureds, the estate commissariat was supposed to supply them with food rations and clothing for the first year of their five-year contract. This edict was often ignored, and some unscrupulous planters even deducted the cost of the rations from the pittance paid to the Indians. Strictly speaking, the ration allowance was as followed:
For every male over 18 years of age per month: 45lbs. of rice, 9lbs. dhall, ¼ gallon ghee or coconut oil, 1 ½ lbs. salt, 6 lbs saltfish, 2lbs onions and chillies .
Annual endownments: 1 small iron cooking pot, 2 cotton shirts , 2 dock trousers, , 1 woolen cap, 1 felt hat , 1 woolen cloth jacket, 2 woolen blankets.
Women and children received half the rations of men. A woman’s clothing allowance was also allotted , comprising cotton slips, woolen skirts, handkerchiefs, and blankets.
Most estates allowed the Indians provision grounds to supplement the rations, but the mighty Woodford Lodge did not as they squeezed every stalk of cane from its lands. At the depot for incoming Indians (up to 1917) at Nelson Island, provisions for the transients ( who were detained several days for medical inspection before assignment to estates) consisted of rice, pumpkin, live mutton, and chapattis .
This ad by F.J Scott, Auctioneers of 1912 gives a detailed list of stores at the Government Warehouse at South Quay which were to be sold by bid. In addition to the ubiquitous, rice, dhall , spices and ghee, coconut oil, sago, arrowroot and tamarind appear. These were most likely intended to be sold to merchants trading in Indian population centres rather than to the estates which would have served out as basic a ration as possible to reduce costs.
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