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A chocolate bar and my ancestors

Vikki Shelley Ali

ASAG Guest Writer

Vikki Ali, a Canadian with Trinidadian roots, works within the refugee space in Canada, and has a special interest in Caribbean literature, and particularly how colonial experiences have shaped post-colonial culture.

The Indian indentureship system transported labourers to European colonies such as Trinidad to work on sugar plantations after the abolition of slavery. They settled, introducing a new dimension to the cultural and social fabric of the land with their language and customs. A significant number of workers went into cocoa cultivation. Some of the world’s finest cocoa is grown in Trinidad, due to a unique combination of geography, climate and phenomenal research brought by the Europeans.

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Abraham Ali, cocoa estate worker holding a gun which was used in hunting unwanted animals on the plantations. He is standing in front of a typical style house.

One memory at nine years old involved being bitten while playing in the overgrown savannah grass and being carried over two miles to the doctor on a hammock made with a cocoa bag and a bamboo stick passing between it, that a labourer cut from a patch. Two men carried him on their shoulders and when they grew tired, another two helped.

The terrain was hilly and the journey back was the same, but he said the men were joyful to see he was recovering from what was a coral snake bite.

He wrote about families being separated upon arrival to Trinidad, and “jahajis” could not be maintained, as only the wealthy could afford transportation by mule.

Cocoa plantation life defined families, mine included. Gran Couva is where my father was born and to this day, cocoa conjures reminiscent stories.

Memories like these reverberate through generations of East Indian families.

It is the story of hardship, fortitude and stoicism.

As I enjoy this chocolate bar, it symbolises how far the journey has come.

I’m grateful that my ancestors courageously came to Trinidad 175 years ago and made a stamp on our history.

Their legacies are still alive for me to appreciate and stand upon.

Their enduring struggles and sacrifices contributed to the abundant life we live today.

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Artisan Trinidadian chocolates made with cocoa beans sourced from the oldest cocoa plantations on the island.

These indulgent delights are the closest I’ll get to Trinidad and Tobago during these quarantine times. Ortinola and Gran Couva Estate chocolates are a sweet snapshot of a local treat. The estates in Gran Couva hold a place in my family history.
 
It’s where my great-grandparents, who set sail from India, continued their life’s work on the cocoa plantations, him a cocoa bagger while she gathered cocoa pods in heaps in a basket on her side. It was on these estates that my grandfather’s brother earned 10 cents a day, “a boy’s pay for a man’s work”.

Eventually, the family switched estates and incrementally received 25 cents for a days labour. It was on these estates, living in barracks with his family, that my grandfather lost his own father, eldest sister at age 22 and his dear mother, whom, he said, “toiled and suffered as a widow to care for her children.”

But it was here that he had his formative years with little schooling, before being sent to work on the estates, after his mother’s failing health and weakening strength jeopardised their accommodation in the barracks.

To supplement their meagre earnings they would go out at nights to the cocoa fields to kill rats that destroyed the cocoa pods. Their weapons were guns, cartridges and kerosene and payment was six cents a tail.

He was later promoted to the head estate as manager, book keeper and overseer. In his autobiography, my grandfather shared vivid stories about life on the estates in Gran Couva.