1101-391 Language and Identity.

Hadassah Boodhoo

English Composition I

Dr. Carrie Hall

October 31, 2018

Coolie: The Untold Story


It was said that it originated when people from East and West Asia seek refuge to get better opportunities in the Caribbean, mainly in Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. The heavy footsteps and looks of hope washed on shore, which took its toll when they finally arrived to their destination. Never in their minds they would go through the hardships of discrimination, and be nicknamed a word that deeply ingrained in their brains for generations. A word that is mistaken for a positive connotation to its derogative meaning. (Honestly I thought it was a positive word…until my mother told me) In the Caribbean context, Coolie is the word that is mistaken for Dougla a word used to describe a person who is of African and Indian descent. Coolie on the other hand can be referred to someone who is a full blooded Indian. However, anyone can be called “Coolie” regardless of what race you are.

It was no fucking joke when it came to people using this word to discriminate others. When East Indians arrived in the islands, they were ready to settle down and be aware of the new opportunities coming for them. Slavery was officially abolished in the 19th century, the British decided to bring Indians to replace slave labor. Despite, being used as cheap laborers with a contract, they were satisfied with some of the benefits that was given to them. Interestingly, they were actually treated better than slaves. They were able to get land, and be paid with wages. They can work for a certain amount of years and when it’s done, they could either go back to their country or stay and own a piece of land. However, there was a stench of excessive pride and entitlement that filled them. When in reality they’re no better than the enslaved. For centuries slaves were never given the opportunities like the Indians. It’s like choosing one over the other, the Brits knew what they were doing.(They’re not low) It give up a whiff of discrimination between two races. African vs. Indian. When you look at it that way. You’d think it was nothing too serious, but trust me it was. And that’s when coolie came about. Well, it was actually created when the Brits decided to call the Indians that word, however, later on the context of it has changed and became a racial slur. Coolie like any other regular derogatory term has its strong and impact meaning. In the Caribbean, it’s the equivalent of the word nigger, and we all pretty much know the meaning of the word, right?( I hope so..) Moreover, it was classified that this was an act of superiority. When the Indians thought they were the shit, it all stems back when the caste system in India was used. It was all about light skin vs. dark skin. When Blacks were considered ‘’free’’ they use the term coolie as a way to degrade an Indian.


“ Eh coolie gyul!” “Wha yuh want bwoi”


Bahadur, an author who wrote, Coolie Woman, discussed about how Indian women like her grandmother were faced with an issue that made them voiceless. With an unequal ratio between men and women who came to the Caribbean, women were faced with abuse, rape and even murder. Interestingly, it sparked my interest as to how it deeply affected women. Coolie refers to a person who carries loads on their head. Just think about it for a moment, you might think that it’s a joke or why does it even matter to be called a coolie–the answer is simple: you’re reminded about the history behind it. When someone says nigger, automatically, heads start turning and the feeling of anger consumes them because it’s disrespectful. When you call a person coolie, it’s another way of calling that person a load carrier, when their ancestors went through the hardships of labor. Bahadur said that her grandmother was one of the thousands of Indians who traveled to the Caribbean. It starts with her being a 27 year old pregnant woman, who is all on her own. There are women like her who went through the struggles of being a coolie in the Caribbean.




Amin, Aisiri. “Beyond the Coolie Identity in the Caribbean.” Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American, 16 Oct. 2017, littleindia.com/beyond-coolie-identity-caribbean/.


Gandhi, Lakshmi. “A History Of Indentured Labor Gives ‘Coolie’ Its Sting.” NPR, NPR, 25 Nov. 2013,www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/11/25/247166284/a-history-of-indentured-labor-gives-coolie-its-sting.

Bahadur, Gaiutra. “Gaiutra Bahadur: ‘How Could I Write about Women Whose Existence Is Barely Acknowledged?’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 June 2016, www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/14/gaiutra-bahadurindentured-female-labourers-coolie-woman.

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