How you can trace your Indian roots
THERE are so many heart-warming stories about Indian South Africans who have gone to great lengths to trace their indentured roots.
Chartered accountant, Kanthan Pillay, of Reservoir Hills, puffs with pride as he recounts how his eldest daughter, Sivani, recently paid for the air tickets for a father-daughter trip to their ancestral village of Salem in Tamil Nadu.
Pillay researched that his forebear departed his prosperous coconut plantation in 1904: “My grandfather, Mutha, left his wife and only child to travel the Indian Ocean in search for new possibilities and adventure. Taking on a second wife was an accepted practice for the indentured labourers and my grandfather soon married and started a family with my grandmother, Mariamma.”
Qualified psychologist and teacher of 30 years, Krishnan Moodley, of Pietermaritzburg, has great joy in telling of the details of his lineage.
He found out his maternal grandmother, Kali Klyappan, left her village of Madilagam Amsam on the Malabar coast at the age of 17.
She boarded the SS Umzinto and arrived on the coast of colonial Natal in December of 1904.
The slight, 1.5 metre teenager was drafted into the hard labour of indenture by the Dundee Coal Company Estates.
Radio producer, presenter, author and special needs educator, Mala Lutchmanan, of Chatsworth, is one of a select few, who continues to keep in touch with her relatives in India.
“My family originate from a beautiful village in the Porur district of Tamil Nadu. My grandfather, Chinnappa Aryan, had a quarrel with his father and escaped Tamil Nadu with the help of some of the other villagers to South Africa to live his life under indenture,” said Lutchmanan. Her cousins are primarily rice farmers.
“Fortunately for us, my father was still in touch with his uncle and cousins in India, writing to them often. As a result, I kept in touch with my relatives, writing letters to them in Tamil and waited with bated breath to receive letters in turn.”
Physician, Dr Leanne Pillay, formally of oThongathi (Tongaat) and now a resident in Canada, has successfully tracked down both sides of her father’s family to Arakkonam in India.
“On one side, my great grandparents, Ragava and Chinnamah Pillay, left their motherland at the age of 18.
“Ragava was employed by Huletts to work at the Tongaat sugar mill as a boiler sirdar. He married Chinnamah and settled in Gandhi’s Hill in the Maidstone Barracks.”
On the other side, a tale of romance brewed as Kista and Angammah Pillay arrived in colonial Natal at the age 18.
They settled in central oThongathi and were married there later.
Retired teacher Bob Singh turned into an amateur historian tracing his roots for the purposes of a Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) card, which several members of his family has acquired.
In the government Gazette of India, dated January 9, 2015, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, GK Dwivedi, announced that all holders of PIO cards would be deemed to be Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders. This affords people of Indian origin the opportunity to purchase land, access education institutions and enter India without a visa requirement.
OCI cardholders are, however, unable to vote in Indian elections.
The task of tracing ones roots, whether out of curiosity or for OCI applications can be quite complex.
One of the first steps is to study the indenture ship records. The best resource for this is the Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre (GLDC) at the University of KwaZulu- Natal ( Westville campus).
The centre will host an “Open House” on Saturday, November 25, where people wishing to trace their indenture origins can consult its staff.
The general public are also invited to the special Saturday opening to consult or view other items in the Special Collections at Westville.
These include documents on the South African freedom Struggle.
The university’s head of Special Collections, Dr Praversh Sukram, said: “This year marks the centenary of the end of British labour policy of indenture. There has been considerable interest among people wanting to study the ship records to find out where their forebears originate in India.
“Since weekdays may be difficult to access the centre, we have decided to open on this special Saturday session from 10am to 2pm.”
People wishing to consult the ship records should bring copies of their parents’ or grandparents’ unabridged birth certificates that list indenture numbers in one of the columns.
Those numbers are also listed on documents marked “Pass to Indians”.
Without reference to such documents, accessing the correct details on the ship records may prove difficult.
The Gandhi- Luthuli Documentation Centre is situated in the basement of the university library opposite the main hall and diagonally opposite the Senate Chamber.
Limited parking may be available in the vicinity of the Senate Chamber.
The public parking is available opposite the Main Administration Building.
For enquiries, call Thiru Munsamy or Siya Narie at 031 260 7350/1. One can be sure that there will be many more stories to tell as information is ferreted out of the historical records.
Dr Leanne Pillay’s indentured great grandparents, Kista and Angammah Pillay, came from Arakkonam in India.
ABOVE: An example of a Pass to Indians showing indenture numbers that will assist in tracking ship records.
LEFT: An unidentified sirdar poses in a photographic studio. As enforcers or managers acting on behalf of plantation owners, they were frequently disliked by indentured labourers.