How you can trace your In­dian roots

Post - - 1860: Celebrating Our Rich History - ARUSHAN NAIDOO

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.

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