Afghan Muslims of Guyana and Suriname, Raymond Chickrie
Published in Khyber.ORG on Wednesday, November 3 2004 (http://www.khyber.org)
Publishing Date: Wednesday, November 3 2004
Guyana and Suriname are located on the northeast coast of South America and are twoof the three non-Hispanic enclaves that make up the Guianas. Suriname is also one ofthe most ethnically and culturally mixed countries in the world. In Paramaribo, thecapital of this Dutch speaking nation of about 450,000 people, architecture graphicallyreflects this synthesis of peoples. A beautiful Mughal style mosque shares the samestreet with an imposing nineteenth-century wooden synagogue; several Hindu templesand the Roman Catholic cathedral can be found in the capital as well. Suriname andGuyana are colourful mixtures of African and Asian influences.
Guyana and Suriname's rich cultural mosaic is the legacy of the Dutch and Britishplantation economy, which after the abolition of slavery brought many indenturedworkers from British India, Indonesia, and China (see Figure 1). They joined thedescendants of African slaves, a large Jewish community, a European and MiddleEastern business and professional elite and the remnants of the indigenous Arawak andCarib peoples. Dutch, Hindustani, Hakka, Mandarin, and Javanese are also spoken inSuriname. Islam, Hinduism and Christianity are part of the cultural mosaic. In GuyanaEnglish is the medium of exchange. Hindi and Urdu are used only for religiouspurposes by Hindus and Muslims (see Figure 2). In both countries the majority of theAsian immigrants settled in the fertile farming area near the coast, while the African-descendedCreoles tended to move into the cities. Some Surinamese who were formerslaves from West Africa escaped the Dutch sugar plantations into the jungle. Theserunaway slaves are called boschnegers.
Both Suriname and Guyana experienced political turmoil after independence fromHolland and England. Guyana had an Afro-dominated dictatorship, which marginalizedEast Indians, while in Suriname several coups rocked the country's peacefulhistory. Remarkably, this cosmopolitan mixture held together under Dutch rule, but asindependence approached, ethnically based political parties took shape, rallying supporterson racial lines. In Guyana racial tensions have spilled over into ethnic violenceseveral times, but in Suriname consoctional democracy has worked. The Dutch pulledout in 1975, promising continued aid, but many Surinamese who were fearful of whathappened in neighbouring Guyana to East Indians decided to accept the offer of Dutchcitizenship. Some 40,000 migrated to Holland in the months preceding independence.Today over 400,000 Surinamese live in Holland. In Guyana over half of its populationmigrated to the United States, Canada, England, Suriname and Trinidad.The dictatorship in Guyana ended in 1992 after the United States decided to supportthe democratic movement. With the end of the Cold War, the United States was nolonger afraid of the opposition People's Progressive Party as the leadership of the PPPwas accused of being communist sympathizers.
FIG. 1. Ethnic distribution.
FIG. 2. Religious distribution.
FIG. 3. Map of the Guianas.
Their fears were in part justi? ed, for Guyana and Suriname underwent a series ofpolitical and economic traumas in the 1980s. A coup in 1980 brought Colonel DesiBouterse to power, and when 15 opposition leaders were executed in 1982, theNetherlands imposed sanctions. Then, from 1986, a guerrilla war broke out betweenboschnegers and the Paramaribo-based military regime. Civilian rule was only solidlyre-established in 1991, and since then the country's fractious ethnic parties haveformed more or less unstable coalition governments. The former dictator, Bouterse,who has remained an influential presence, was indicted for cocaine smuggling by aDutch court in 1997; the Surinamese government refused to extradite him but in 1999he was sentenced in absentia to 16 years of imprisonment.
Guyana and Suriname remain dependent on a handful of commodities: bauxite,sugar, timber, rice and bananas. Suriname continues to rely on Dutch ? nancialsupport, which is decreasing and ever more conditional on democratic reforms. Abouthalf the population is estimated to live in poverty, and remittance payments fromrelatives in the Netherlands keep many families alive. This material poverty, deepeningover the last decade, contrasts ironically with the country's extraordinary wealth ofcultural diversity. Guyana, on the other hand, has been experiencing positive economicgrowth since the liberalization of the economy in the 1990s. Violence continues toplague Guyana in which people of South Asian decent are mostly the victims. Thepolice have also become victims of armed gangs. Suriname, however, has remainedrelatively safe and stable.
In Suriname, there are a large number of Muslims, and they constitute 20% of the totalpopulation of 425,000 of the country. Three distinct Muslim communities live inSuriname. The Javanese from the Indonesian Archipelago have been living in thecountry for more than 50 years. Indo-Pakistanis came as indentured labour over 100years ago. Besides, there is a growing Afro-Surinamese community here. In Guyanathe Muslim community is close to 12%, and is made up primarily of South Asians anda growing Afro minority. In both countries the South Asians are Sunni Muslims of theHanafi School (mazhab) of fiqh.
The Africans were the first Muslims in this region. Today with the diligent efforts ofscholars and researchers, the role of Muslims as an indigenous people in this part of theworld is receiving serious attention. Thanks to the efforts of scholars such as ShaykhAbdullah Hakim Quick of Toronto, Dr Sulayman Nyang of Howard University, AdibRashad of Washington, DC, and Abdullah Bilal Omowale of Trinidad, the history ofthe African Muslims of the Western hemisphere is now coming to light. One sourcepoints out that:
Until recent years, the presence of Muslims in the Western Hemisphereduring the pre-Columbian and antebellum periods was known only to themost disciplined of researchers and historians. Intellectual dishonesty andlethargy and Euro-centric conceptions of history were the primary culpritsbehind this conspiracy of silence that virtually erased Islam from the pages ofWestern formative history.
The impact of Islam on the lands of the Caribbean may have begun with WestAfrican Mandinka seafarers and adventurers landing on the tropical isles wellover a century before Columbus 'accidentally discovered' the New Worldislands. The Islamic practices of the 'black' Carib Indians and the appearanceof Indian women with face veils chronicled in the diaries of Columbus screamloudly that the Moors (read Muslims), so dreaded by the Spanish, had left anindelible mark before the Christianization of the West.
The transatlantic slave trade brought millions ofMuslims into the Caribbean, and somecame to Suriname. 'The "Bush Negros" in Surinam, led by Arabi and Zam-Zam,defeated the Dutch on many occasions and were ? nally given a treaty and their ownterritory (near French Guyana) which they control until today.' Apart from Muslimsof South Asian descent, Muslims from Java brought by the Dutch settled in Suriname.Suriname is isolated from the Caribbean because of its geography and colonial legacy.The Javanese are an integral part of Surinamese society. There is also a handful ofimmigrants from the Middle East settled mainly from Syria, Lebanon and Palestine inSuriname. All ethnic groups in Suriname have maintained their space.
Islam was reintroduced to Suriname in 1873 when the ship Lalla Rookh arrived with37 Hindustani Muslims. The 37 were from Bareilly, Gorakhpur, Mirzapur, Lucknow,Allahbad, Jansi, Jaunpur, Azamgargh, Gaya, Faizabad, Sewree, and Benares (Varanasi)in India. From 1873 to 1916 Muslims from the Indian provinces of Uttar Pradesh,Punjab, the Northwest Frontier and Bihar continued arriving in Suriname. Thesemainly Urdu speaking Muslims were from the Sunni Hanafi mazhab, and they celebratedthe Eids as well as Muhurram and Milad-un-Nabi. The strong influence of theShia' and the Sunni's of North India could be felt in Suriname. Urdu is the functional language of the Hindustani Muslims of Suriname to this day and the community hasresisted 'arabization'. The Ahmadhiyya movement has penetrated Suriname's Muslimcommunity. They have built some of the finest mosques reflecting Mughal architecture.On the other hand, the Sunnis have built one of the largest mosques in the region usinga combination of arabesque and Mughal architecture. They also support one of thefinest Islamic learning centres in the region for children and future imams.
The Javanese Muslims from Indonesia began arriving in Suriname in the 1890s. TheSurinam-Javanese community are kejawen, following the syncretic practices and beliefsof Java. In this community the keblat (qibla) expresses a unique diasporic experienceand identity. From the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) villagers were recruited fromJava as contract workers for the plantations in another Dutch colonial land, Surinam.Most of them were kejawen Muslims. Kejawen Islam, which was dominant in Javanesevillages, is a syncretic Islam that incorporated old Javanese beliefs, including Hindu-Buddhist elements.
Little is known about the Afghan Muslims of Guyana and Suriname. In fact, some maybe amazed to learn that Afghans made their way to Guyana and Suriname among theIndian Muslims from 1838 to 1916. When Indian indentured labourers began arrivingin Guyana and Suriname in 1838, India was already conquered and assimilated byPersians, Central Asian Turks, Arabs, Afghans, Greeks, Hazaris and Baluchis, amongother Muslim clans who settled in India's large cities. The dominant minority, theMuslims, settled in large cities such as Ahmadabad, Allahabad, Delhi, Karachi, Lahore,Bihar, Ghazipur, Lucknow, and Hyderabad. These exotic people found great economicopportunities in India and they were encouraged to migrate to the Metropolis by theMughal Emperors. In India in 1857 many Afghan Pathans rose up against the Britishand many were executed, jailed or sent overseas. Many of these 'trouble makers' weresent to Guyana and Suriname.
There was always a strong Afghan presence in Bareilly, Muradabad and Badayun inIndia. These districts had strong Afghan townships, where over 9000 Afghans settled.It was with the immigration of Daud Khan, an Afghan slave (who originally hails fromRoh in Afghanistan), to the region that the Afghan Rohillas had come into prominence.His adopted son Ali Muhammad Khan succeeded in carving out an estate for himselfin the district with his headquarter at Aonla. He was ultimately made the lawfulgovernor of Kateher by the Mughal emperor, and the region was henceforth called 'theland of the Ruhelas'. Eventually after the end of the Mughal Empire many Pathansmigrated from Rohilkhand. Bareilly as a ruined city became crowded with unemployed,restless Rohilla Pathans. Many urban cities in Uttar Pradesh were experiencing economicstagnation and poverty. Naturally, this led to heavy migration overseas.
The slightest weakening of the central authority provoked acts of de? ance from theKatehriya Rajputs. Thus the Mughals initiated the policy of allotting lands for Afghansettlements in Katiher. Afghan settlements continued to be encouraged throughout thereign of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707) and even after his death. TheseAfghans, known as the Rohilla Afghans, caused the area to be known as Rohilkhand.The Mughal policy of encouraging Afghan settlements for keeping the Katehriyas incheck worked only as long as the central government was strong. After Aurangzeb'sdeath, the Afghans, having themselves become local potentates, began to seize andoccupy neighbouring villages.
Immigration records indicate that the majority of Muslims who migrated to Guyanaand Suriname came from the urban centres of Uttar Pradesh: Agra, Ahllahbad,Bahraich, Fyzabad, Gonda, Gorakhpur, Ghazipur, Mirzapur, Lucknow, Muradabad,Bareilly, Rampur, and Sultanpur. Small batches also came from Karachi in Sindh;Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi in the Punjab; Hyderabad in the Deccan; Srinagar inKashmir; and Peshawar and Mardan in the Northwest Frontier (Afghan areas).Immigration certi? cates reveal major details of Muslim migrants. Their place of originsuch as district and village was recorded. Their physical features such as colour andheight were recorded as well. Their Immigration Certi? cate indicated their caste/religion as well. Under caste Muslims are identi? ed as Musulman, Mosulman,Musalman, Sheik Musulman, Mahomedaan, Syed, Sheik, Jolaba, Mughal, Pathan,Pattian, and Musulman (Pathan). Religion and caste identi? ed many Muslims. Fromlooking at their district of origin one can tell of their ethnicity, whether they wereSindhis, Biharis, Gujarati, Punjabi, Pathans or Kashmiri. Their physical pro? le on theImmigration Certi? cate also helps in recognizing their ethnicity. There are enormousspelling mistakes on the Immigration Certi? cates. Musulman, the Urdu word forMuslim, is spelled in many different ways and sometimes Muslims were referred to asMahomedaan. Peshawar is spelled Peshaur and Nowsherra is Nachera, among manyothers.
The Afghan Pathan clan was among the Muslim migrants. Immigration Certi? catesclearly indicate this under the category of 'caste' Pathans, 'Musulman Pathan' Pattanor Pattian. The fact that there were Pathan settlements in northern India explains thismigration. Immigration Certificates further substantiate this. Pathans migrated fromPeshawar, Nowsherra, and Mardan in the Northwest Frontier as well as from Kashmir.Some Pathans also came from Dholpur, Rajasthan. From Uttar Pradesh they migratedfrom Agra, Bareilly, Lucknow, Rohtak, Janhora, Jaunpur, Gonda, Shahjahanpur,Barabanki, and Delhi, among other cities in this province. The Pathans also migratedfrom Multan, Rawalpindi and Lahore in the Punjab. Again the spelling of districts,towns and villages varies. With considerable knowledge, the writer was able to recognizethese places. A few name places remain an enigma and are unrecognizable inreading the Immigration Certi? cates.
Pathans were always respected by the Mughals and were heavily patronized by MughalEmperors in order to pacify them. The Afghans also acted as the buffer zone in theNorthwest Frontier; they kept invaders out of Mughal India. And in the nineteenth andtwentieth centuries they kept the Russians at bay. Without the support of the Pathansthe Mughal Empire would not have lasted for as long as it did.
The Pathan, or Puktun, are a race of warriors who live primarily in Afghanistan andPakistan. They consist of about 60 tribes, each with its own territory. Although theirorigin is unclear, their legends say that they are the descendants of Afghana, grandsonof King Saul. However, most scholars believe that they probably arose from ancientAryans intermingling with subsequent invaders.
The people of Afghanistan form a mosaic of ethnic and linguistic groups. Pashto(Pashtu) and Dari, a dialect of Persian (Farsi), are Indo-European languages; they arethe of? cial languages of the country. More than half of the population speaks Pashto,the language of the Pashtuns, while about half of the population speaks Dari, thelanguage of the Tajiks, Hazaras, Chahar Aimaks, and Kizilbash peoples. The otherIndo-European languages, spoken by smaller groups, include Western Dardic (Nuris-tani or Ka? ri), Baluchi, and a number of Indic and Pamiri languages spoken principallyin isolated valleys in the northeast. Turkic languages, a subfamily of the Altaiclanguages, are spoken by the Uzbek and Turkmen peoples, the most recent settlers,who are related to peoples from the steppes of Central Asia. The Turkic languages areclosely related; within Afghanistan they include Uzbek, Turkmen, and Kyrgyz, the lastspoken by a small group in the extreme northeast.
The Afghans who came to Guyana and Suriname were mostly Pathans and a fewwere Hazaris. The Pathans come from Afghanistan and the wild west of Pakistan: theNorthwest Frontier Province that borders Afghanistan. In his text, Warrior Race, ImranKhan writes, 'physically the Pathan has more in common with the people of CentralAsia than with those of the subcontinent. The ? ne, aquiline features, high cheek-bonesand light skin reflect the Pathan's origins in Afghanistan and Turkey'.
Pathans from various areas such as the Mahsuds from South Waziristan and theWaziri tribe from North Waziristan, differ in complexion, hair and eye colour. Some aretaller and fairer while some have green and blue eyes. 'Many of the tribal elders dyetheir grey beards red with henna', a practice that some elder Afghans kept in Guyana.Pathans are very competitive and determined; they show no fear. They are honest,digni? ed, and uncompromising in their promises. Money does not impress a Pathan. 'Itis the Pathan's sense of honour that makes him conduct himself with such dignity, anda fiercely independent spirit that makes even the poorest tribesman walk like a king.'
To understand the Afghans, one has to look carefully at their culture in context oftheir geographical landscape. Why are they so rebellious and dif? cult to conquer?Originating from Afghanistan, the Pathans are one of the greatest warrior races onearth; they have never been conquered. For centuries the Pathans have 'existed byraiding, robbing and kidnapping'. But one has to understand the physical terrain ofthe Pathans. 'In the mountainous terrain, hardly anything grows, and whatever isproduced is insuf? cient to sustain the population of the area.' Sometimes it is difficultto sustain the family without raiding and kidnapping from the afluent lowlands to feedthe family. 'It is not the nature of such a proud race of people to resort to begging.'Consequently, robbing and kidnapping became a means of survival.
The Pathans are the majority in Afghanistan. The British in 1893 created the DurandLine separating Afghanistan from India and 'slicing right through the Pathan's territory'. The southern part of Afghanistan is predominantly Pathan. Due to tribalrivalries many Pathan tribes settled along the banks of the Indus, the Waziristan, andthe Vale of Swat, Peshawar and between the Sutlej and Beas rivers. 'There were Pathansettlements in Northern India in Hoshiarpur, Pathankot, near Lucknow, Rohailkandand many other areas.' This explains the presence of Afghans among the Indians whowent to Guyana as well. Some Pathan tribes are the Yusufzai, Afridi, Niazis, Lodhis,Ghoris, Burkis, Waziri, Mahsud, Marwats and Khattaks.
Pathans believe that they are all descended from a common ancestor, Qais. He is saidto have met the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet gave Qais the name, Pthun, andQais was to take Islam back to his home. One of Qais's sons was named Afghana, whohad four sons. Every Pathan traces its descent from one of these four sons.
The ? rst of these four Pathan branches is the Sarbani; this includes the largest Pathantribe, the Yusufzai, which settled in Swat, as well as the Tarkalani, Mohmands andMuhammadzai. The second grouping is the Bitani. The Niazis, Ghilzais, Lodhis, Suris,Marwats, Lohanis, and Nuhranis belong to this group. The third branch is the Karlani,which includes some of the wildest tribes, such as the Mahsud, Waziri, Afridi, Orakzai,Dawar and Bangash. The fourth branch is still being researched by the author thoughsome say there are only three branches in all.
Pathan is a corrupted version for Pukhtun. This word means 'backbone, hospitality,bravery and honour'. The culture of the Pathan is based on the latter principles. 'Whichis enshrined in a code of honour known as Puktunwali, or the way of the Pathans.'According to Imran Khan, a Pathan is recognized by other Pathans not so much byfacial characteristics as by his adherence to 'Pukhtunwali'. If he does not follow thecode, he is not a Pathan. The wilder tribes adhere to the code more strictly.
Pushtunwali is followed religiously, and it includes the following practices: melmastia(hospitality and protection to every guest); nanawati (the right of a fugitive to seekrefuge, and acceptance of his bona ? de offer of peace); badal (the right of blood feudsor revenge); tureh (bravery); sabat (steadfastness); imamdari (righteousness); 'isteqamat(persistence); ghayrat (defence of property and honour); and mamus (defence of one'swomen).
Pukhtunwali is closely linked to the spirit of Islamic justice and rejection of unfairness.It is not a coincidence that Pathans rose up against British injustice on the sugarplantations of Guyana. Khan writes, 'The criterion by which a man is judged is not theamount of money he has but how honourable he and his family are'. A Pathan will goat length to maintain his honour. 'Any slight to his honour has to be avenged ... there isno question of turning the other check.' Revenge is taken only on male members ofa family.
The majority of Pathans are Sunni Muslims. Islam came to them as a great liberatingand unifying force. For this reason, their underlying faith and steadfast devotion toIslam remain very strong. Pathans are staunch believers and would go at length todefend Islam. They practise Islam according to the Qur'an without deviation. It is nowonder that we see the Afghan play a prominent role in the history of Guyana andSuriname. The building of the Queenstown Masjid was initiated by the Afghans inGuyana, while a leading Afghan immigrant, Munshi Rehman Khan, nurtured hiscommunity.
An Afghan with a typical Afghan name, Gool (Gul) Mohammad Khan, who was anindentured labourer, took the initiative to build the Queenstown Jama Masjid. The ? rstimaam of the Masjid was reported to have been Gool Mohammad Khan. GoolMohammad Khan, after serving his indenturedship, returned to India. It is alsoreported that another Muslim bearing the name Jilani was the ? rst imaam. 'The Jamaatcomprised Muslims from India and Afghanistan; the latter apparently arrived in thiscountry via India.'
Gool Mohammad Khan persuaded another Afghan, Goolam-uddin, to purchase theplot of land for the building of the Masjid. Mr Goolam-uddin lived on the property ofthe Masjid and was the caretaker of the property. This Afghan was reputed to have a'dominant personality and kept a full beard coloured reddish brown with henna'. Likemost Afghans, Goolam-uddin also had a stern and 'forceful nature'. Thus, disputesrose among the Afghan and Indian Muslims and 'eventually around 1923-1924 theIndian members decided to leave the Masjid...' However, the Afghan control of theMasjid lasted for only a few years because of their small number and reemigration toIndia.
Mazar Khan arrived in British Guiana in 1883 to work as an indentured labourer. Hewas sent to Plantation Caledonian on the Essequibo Coast. His descendants werenostalgic for the past and in 1998 journeyed to Northern India to retrace his roots. Thisexpedition took them to the village of Somdutt in Meerut. This information was ofcourse taken from his Immigration Certi? cate. After consultation at a mosque inSomdutt, they were taken to meet the oldest person in the village. With translation andthe help of a few members of the mosque the 'old man' was reached. With greatamazement they learnt that this old man, Hurma Khan, who in 1998 was 110 years old,is the son of Chand Khan, who was the brother of Sujati Hassan Khan, father of MazarKhan. In other words, Hurma Khan is the ? rst cousin of Mazar Khan.
It was then learnt that Mazar Khan was a 'freedom ? ghter' during the 1880s mutinyagainst the British. Meerut holds a special place in Indian history as the place where themutiny started. In an attempt to retaliate, the British rounded up the 'trouble makers'and sent them to 'kalla-paanie', or black waters. The Khans have been known inhistory for their tenacity to resist tyranny and to ? ght for izzat, jaan aur maal (honour,life and property) and wherever they went they upheld these values not only forthemselves but also for all others. While in the Guyanas, they advocated for Indians,Hindus, Pathans or Muslims. Mazar Khan's resistance had led to his exile from India.
At age 24, Rehman M. Khan (1874-1972), a young Pathan, arrived in Suriname in1898 on the steamship Avon. In his autobiography he discusses his Pathan roots. Hecame from Hammirpur, a district in Uttar Pradesh, under strange circumstances. Hewas an educated Pathan Muslim and found employment as a munshi (teacher) in agovernment middle school at Maudha, a tehsil headquarters (revenue sub-division) ofthe Hamirpur district. 'But after six months of teachership he somehow or other gotfed-up and gave it up.' After a long contemplation of three months at the depot inCalcutta he sailed for Suriname arriving there on 13 April 1898. In Suriname he wasassigned to Plantation Alliance and became known as Munshi Rehman M. Khan.
This young Khan knew the Qur'an as well as the Ramayana very well. He soonbecame popular in his plantation and among the surrounding Indians of the otherplantations as a Ramayan specialist. He started propagating the Ramayana ideology andtaught Hindi to the children of the Indian community. He was also attached as aninterpreter and sardar (head of the labour force) in a plantation. He wrote many booksbut only two of his small books were published in India in the 1950s. According to theinterpreter of some of his literary works, Mohan K. Gautham, there are manymanuscripts available which he wrote in Suriname dealing with the Muslim problemsin Suriname, the language issues and his own biography in four volumes. Coming froma middle class Pathan family, Khan was very educated. His knowledge of Urdu andHindi helped his literary prose. He was also a poet and could compose poetry instandard Hindi 'with a favour of Braj'.
Rehman Khan trained Muslims and Hindu priests as well as interpreters. At the endof his ? ve-year contract, he left Plantation Alliance and moved to Dijkveld near the cityof Paramaribo along the Suriname River. He used his knowledge to educate the Hinduand Muslim community and to reconstruct the 'Indian identity'. Khan kept in touchwith India constantly and was always craving for news from his homeland. Hecontinued his correspondence with family and friends in India and remitted money tohis parents. He was always eager to know the latest situation in India and for thispurpose he not only kept correspondence with friends, but also with many publishingconcerns, such as the Venkateshwar Press in Bombay. From his autobiography we seehow attached he was to Suriname since he decided to remain in the colony after he wasa free man. He bought a piece of land and sold vegetables and dairy products. Khan gotmarried and had children. He was rewarded for all his efforts and ? nally the Queen ofthe Netherlands honoured him with the highest order for his literary and socialactivities.
From his autobiography, one gets the story of his life and how he went to Suriname.He narrates how he was recruited for Suriname. Khan went to the parade grounds ofKanpur and was met by two men who were ? nely dressed. 'Thinking them to besympathetic gentlemen, I greeted them. Because they were wearing clean and ? nedresses, they were looking nice.' After discovering that Khan was educated, theyoffered him a job with a great salary that he could not resist. He was offered a job asa 'saradara' (headman) with a salary of '12 annas'. A job as a supervisor making a lotof money was an offer that he could not resist.
Khan was informed about the nature of his job, which was to supervise labourers ona sugar plantation. 'There you will have to supervise the labourers and you will have totravel on the government's boat on the expenses of the government.' He was told thatthe plantation was in Sriram Tapu (Suriname) and that the ship from Calcutta takesthree months to reach there. Quickly, the men convinced him to get registered in thegovernment of? ce. The fact that this was going to be a government job and that he wasgoing to register with the government further convinced Khan. He was brought to theCalcutta Depot where he saw the labourers he would supervise. The young Pathan wasalso promised other perks like free food and expenses. 'You will not have any sort ofproblem. Enjoy your drink and food happily, live comfortably and carry on thegovernment work honestly, this is the only way of getting your own promotion.' Khanwas now convinced. 'Hearing such tempting words I became very happy. I just forgotmy own self, got separated from my own family and fell into the trap of my luck.' Helived in the depot and thought of changing his mind several times, and at one point hefelt like a 'trapped bird'. Little did he know that he could have said 'no' to theMagistrate. But that was not meant to be '[b]ecause the Great Allah had removed mysubsistence from India and transported it into Suriname. And He had banished meforever from Hindustan. It was sad and very sad'.
Khan kept close contact with friends and family in India. He was the only son of hisparents and they nagged him constantly to return to India. A letter he received from hisfamily on 1 January 1908 begged him to return to India. His parents were very ill andhis mother had become very old and blind. They wrote to him, 'The money, which youwant to send to us, it is the opinion of all people here that with the same money pleasecome for one time (to India) and meet us. Everyone wants to see you'. But Surinamewas now home and he had to nurture the Indian community there. He was a very piousMuslim like the Pathans and at the same time reached out to the entire community. Hewas a Muslim at home but also a staunch Indian, proud of his Indian background andthe Indian community. According to Gautam, Hindus and Muslims to him were linkedby one motherland, Hindustan. Gautam quotes Khan: 'Dui jati bharata se aye, HinduMusalmana Kahalaye, Rahi priti donom maim bhari, jaise dui bandhu eka mehatari' ('Twocommunities came from India, They were called as Hindus and Muslims; Betweenthem existed an intense love. As they were two brothers from the same mother').
The Rose Hall sugar worker strike of 1913 saw Afghans and Muslims resistant toindenturedship. This is nothing new; the Pathans had resisted the British in India andsome were sent to Guyana and Suriname, where they continued this resistance. SomeMuslims who challenged the British bore the last name Khan, a typical Pathan(Afghan) name. Moula Bux, Jahangir Khan and Dildar Khan ? t the pro? le of thePathan. Three other Muslims were also involved; Chotey Khan, Aladi, and Amirbaksh.According to Mangru in his text, Indenture and Abolition, 'Moula Bux was nicknamed"munshiji" (scribe or writer) and was formerly an of? ce worker in a jute factory inIndia'. Dildar Khan according to Mangru was recruited in Kanpur, India.
It would seem from the tenacity of these Khans who were involved in the Rose Halluprising that they ? t the pro? le of the ? rebrand Pathans. Pathans never let tyranny togo unpunished. It is part of their 'code of honour' to root out injustice and defend theweak from exploitation. And this is exactly what the Pathans did in Guyana.
The Pathans are meat lovers. Many were meat handlers in Guyana and some ownedbusinesses in Georgetown. There was always a mince mill in the home of the Pathansto grind meat to make kebabs. They substituted the tandoor oven for the local ? residein Guyana to cook their kebabs. The famous ? rni (rice pudding) for dessert was servedon all auspicious occasions. Some Muslims call it sirni and cook it differently from thePathans. The diet of the Pathan Afghan Guyanese was quite different from that of theIndian Muslims but eventually the authentic cuisine of the Afghans died as the fewremaining Afghans interbred with non-AfghanMuslims. Never can I forget Begum BibiHannifa Khan Hussein from my town. She had strong Afghan roots. Her family'sphysical features, culture and diet stood out amongst their Muslim brethren in thecommunity. She always had an entourage of people cooking at her home. Lavish meatdishes and Afghan bread were prepared. Meat was always ground for kofta kebab.During her lifetime she hardly set foot on the grounds of the plantation that herhusband Ishaq Hussein managed for Amin and Ahmad Sankar. From a distance, whilemaintaining the tradition of purdah, she gave orders to the men with her resoundingvoice.
The clothing of the Afghan Guyanese Muslims was quite different from that of theMuslim Indian. While the Muslim Indian men wore the Indian Shirt and Pajama, theAfghan wore the baggy shalwar (pants) and kameez (shirt). The Afghan prefers loosebaggy wear; both males and females wore baggy modest clothing. Indian Muslims worebrighter colour clothing, while Afghan Muslims wore subtle colours. Pathans also worethe pagri or the head wrap.
Due to the fact that scholars have not explored deeply the history of Muslims inSuriname and Guyana, not much is known about this subject and much less about theAfghans Muslims. While we know that Afghan Pathans speak Pashto, there is noevidence of Pashto or Persian written literature in neither Guyana nor Suriname. Butthere can be no doubt that Pashto was spoken by some of these Pathans, especiallythose who migrated directly from the NWFP. And who knows, such literature may stillexist today among local Afghan families.
Today a well-known Indian Muslim community is of Pathan heritage. The Pathansarrived in India from Afghanistan. They normally have their surname as Khan.Regardless of how far the Pathans travel, 'Puktunwali' is kept. The Pathans in India stillhave an image of being brave, honest and righteous. Many Indians who adopted Islamadopted the surname Khan and they claim that they are Pathans, which is not alwaystrue, but a considerable amount of them live in northern India. Guyanese are veryfamiliar with some Indian celebrities of Pathan nomenclature: Feroz Khan, ShahrukhKhan, Amjad Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Aamir Khan, and Salman Khan, among manyothers, and not all of them are Pathans.
Like some of the Khans of India, not all the Khans of Guyana are Pathans. Manylater converts to Islam adopted this noble title as their surname. The true Khans of thePathan race are obvious because of their physical traits and phenotype. In trying toresearch this subject, a number of Guyanese Muslims have discussed with the authortheir Pathan heritage. Their recollections are vague but not farfetched. However, thereare Pathans not bearing the last name Khan who made it to the shores of Guyana andSuriname as well. One family traced their great grandfather to the Pakistan/Afghanborder. In fact, this family still had artefacts and clothing belonging to their greatgrandfather, and by using his Pathan shalwar kameez, they were able to trace the villagefrom where he migrated. Many others with Pathan features spoke of their Pathanheritage but had limited facts to enrich their history. This has frustrated many of themwho yearn to hold on to this heritage.
The Pathans have played an important role in the history of their region and in thecountries of their adoption. From their community came Muslim rulers, administrators,and soldiers. While many of them have moved out of the highlands in search ofan easier life in the plains and across oceans, their mountainous homeland continues tobe their citadel of strength and freedom. Many races came to Hindustan and settled.The Afghan Pathan clan quickly became Indian and assimilated. With the coming ofthe British to India and the need for labourers in British and Dutch Colonies, manyPathans opted for better lives or to seek fast cash in the former colonies of British andDutch Guiana in South America. These Pathans have introduced their indomitablespirit into these lands. The story of Mazar Khan, Rehman Mohammad Khan and theleaders of the Rose Hall uprising in Guyana are just a few examples of Pathan braveryand commitment to justice, honesty and integrity of the community that they live in.The building of the Queenstown Jama Masjid in Guyana and Munshi Rehman M.Khan's role in the preservation of Islam among his native Hindustanis again illustratesthe religious zeal of the Pathans. From Afghanistan they came to India, and from Indiathey graced the landscape of Guyana and Suriname with 'Pushtunwali' - the way of thePathans.
Afghan Muslims of Guyana and Suriname, Raymond Chickrie
Published in Khyber.ORG on Wednesday, November 3 2004 (http://www.khyber.org)