The indisputable Indian influence on America

Dr Kumar Mahabir

Ricardo Bharath Hernandez is the Chief of the Santa Rosa First Peoples in Trinidad and Tobago. His Hindi middle name is both symbolic and real.

The English translation for ‘Bharath’ is ‘India,’ from where some of Ricardo’s ancestors came 17,000 years ago. After all, Christopher Columbus had not really made a mistake in calling the natives “Indians” when he came to the Caribbean in 1492.

Indeed, the indigenous people – whom Columbus described as having brown skin and straight, black hair – were actually descendants of ancient East Indians in the Americas.

Second migrants wave

Bhuruth is also the name of the first indentured immigrant from India to set foot in Trinidad from the ship Fatel Rozack which landed on May 30, 1845. Bhuruth represents the second wave of migrants to arrive in the Americas from India, and Ricardo Bharath represents the first band of migrants from India.

The first migrants from India made the long journey from Siberia in Asia to Alaska in North America across the relatively narrow (88 kilometres) and shallow land bridge (Bering Straits) about 17,000 years ago. This fact can be framed in the anthropological theories of cultural diffusion, cultural globalisation and transnational migration.

These theories were first proposed by anthropologists Edward Tylor in 1865 and Leo Frobenius in 1897/98.

East Indian blood

Indeed, Bharath and Kristo Adonis, as well as many members of his Amer-Indian tribe, are related religiously, culturally, phenotypically and genetically to East Indians in India and Trinidad. Shaman [medicine man] Kristo said in a 1998 interview: “I have East Indian blood in me.” His claim is supported scientifically by Dr Jada Benn Torres (of the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana in the USA) and her geneticist-colleagues.

They analysed mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomes in 12 unrelated individuals of the First Peoples Community in Arima in Trinidad. Torres and her colleagues detected haplotypes relating to South Asian and other ancestries.

The Amerindians in the Caribbean were primarily agricultural workers who used Trinidad as a transit point to travel and trade from island to island in their canoes. They consisted of many tribes who lived in places such as Caroni, Chaguanas, Oropouche, Ortoire, Biche and Penal where East Indians are now the majority population.

Trinidad is also the oldest inhabited island in the Caribbean. Archaeological records indicate that the human skeleton found in Banwari Trace in Penal has been carbon-dated to 5200 B.C. – the oldest pre-Columbian site in the chain of islands.

Hindu culture in America

There are numerous research articles, papers, chapters and books by East Indians and non-East Indians on the influence of Hinduism and India on the First Peoples of the New World. For example, the book Hindu America (1941) by Chaman Lal illustrates the imprints of Hindu culture on the Americas. Lal and Gordon Ekholm also systematically compared the Maya, Aztec, Inca and North American indigenous civilisations with India and the Hindu-Buddhist oriented countries of South-East Asia.

In his monumental work India and World Civilization (1969), Asian scholar D P Singhal catalogued the cultural similarities and showed the comparisons of plants between the two geographical areas.  Drawing from a wide range of sources, Singhal demonstrated how coconuts and sweet potatoes were originally distributed from Asia. Cotton, cotton fabric and a cotton string recovered from excavation sites at Mohenjo-daro and Indus Valley indicate that cotton was cultivated and used in craft in ancient India.

Robert Heine-Geidern (1966: 292), an Austrian ethnologist, historian and archaeologist, wrote: “… any scholar familiar with the ancient civilisations of the Old World, when studying those of Mesoamerica, will necessarily be struck by the fact that their cosmological ideas, the system of lucky and unlucky days, the divination from the calendar, the institutions of the state, the hierarchy of offices, kingship, the royal courts and ceremonials, the insignia of royalty and rank (parasol, fan, litter), the schools, the administration of justice, the markets, all correspond to a very large extent to those of Asia.”

Influential correspondence

The correspondences between the ancient cultures of Middle America and Hinduism are too striking and numerous to be ignored. The contemporary annual Amerindian smoke ceremony in Arima with its ritual use of flowers, water, conch-shell, etc. is similar to the Hindu hawan-pooja [sacrificial fire ceremony]. However, almost all Western anthropologists have overlooked these similarities, or have made mere passing references to them. In his book Mexico, for example, Michael D Coe described the Old Fire God as an avatar of Ometeotl, and the Aztec cosmic ages as kalpas (1992: 158,159).

Amerindians and East Indians (especially Hindus and Muslims) share/d many threads in common. One is that their traditional culture and religion have been treated and described by Christians as “devilish” and “uncivilised.” Another connection is their legendary resistance to conversion to Christianity.

Dr Kumar Mahabir is a Cultural Anthropologist Assistant Professor at the University of Trinidad and Tobago and Chairman, Indo-Caribbean Cultural Centre Co Ltd.

Photo Caption:

  1. Ritual use of flowers, water, conch-shell
  2. The ‘Smoke’ Ceremony
  3. American Indians- striking similarities

(Pictures supplied by Dr Kumar Mahabir)

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