Douglas: Where do they fit in?

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A girl sits in bar. An East Indian fella approaches her and says, “Dougs’ talk to mih nah”.

I’m sure that sounds like the start of a very bad joke, but in the reality it was the start of my Saturday night just a few weeks ago. When I realised he was talking to me, I resisted the attempt to find a mirror to stare at, because as far as I remember my features are prominently African – thick lips, which I love by the way, dark brown skin and artificially straight hair.

My heritage has more ethnic ingredients than a properly prepared pelau, but it’s never been apparent in my features. The long curly hair, light skinned complexion and light coloured eyes from my Caucasian-Portuguese grandpa went to my sisters.

Most of my friends have some kind of mix though. From Indo-Afro mixes to Chinese-Spanish-French-Creole-Afro-Indo mixes, living in Trinidad means I’ve seen it all and we all refer to these folks by the same term – dougla – even though it really is incorrect to do so.

A dougla is someone whose ancestry is half Indian and half African, more or less. However, in typical Trini style, we like to do we own thing. So the half Japanese girl down the street gets called dougla as well; that way no one gets left out.

The word itself comes from the Hindi word dogala (I personally think dougla sounds better), and it translates to the words ‘mix’, ‘many’ and ‘much’ on the positive side or on the negative side, ‘bastard’, ‘illegitimate’ and ‘son of a whore’ (I am not making this up, check Wikipedia if you don’t believe me).

 

“Douglas in T&T though, seem to have it nice.”

 

Douglas in T&T though, seem to have it nice; their mixed looks are usually enviable, as is their demand by the opposite sex. My best friend is a dougla or according to one popular website, “a racial hybrid”, and when my guy friends see her with me, they always ask me to set them up on the dougs’. They put an emphasis on the word, almost caressing it, putting her on an imaginary pedestal and adoring her because of her mixed-girl looks.

She, however, has never referred to herself as a dougla, and identifies mainly with the Afro-Trinidadian heritage, as do most douglas I know. I don’t blame her, especially after reading a speech where Dr. Elizabeth Sieussaran, a UWI lecturer, stated that douglas need to be ostracized from the Hindu community in an attempt to maintain traditions and values. I find a lecture on traditions hard to swallow coming from an Indian traditionalist named Elizabeth, but that’s just me.

Afro-Trinbagonians have definitely been more accepting of what Dr. Elizabeth termed, the dougla phenomenon. I’ll stop referring to Dr. Elizabeth’s speech at this point, as I’m increasingly tempted to call her views idiotic and the last time I called someone else’s views stupid, I was labelled as immature and close-minded.

I remember a few years ago someone said to me that the cure for racism in T&T was to douglarize the nation. They might have had a point. I mean really, could you imagine anything sillier than a racist dougla. They are already probably confused enough trying to fit in to one culture or the other, and yet I have met racist douglas.

 

“What could explain her disrespect of a culture that she was a part of?”

 

I was in Chaguanas once when I heard, what I assumed was an Indo-Trini woman calling another the dreaded word, dare I say it, coolie. I was disturbed for many reasons. Firstly, because the word coolie is as played out as bell-bottomed pants, secondly because these were adults and should know better, thirdly because I’m from the West and we like to believe we’re too cool for racism. Lastly, I’d never seen anything like it before. After taking a closer look (yes I was macoing) I realized that the first woman, the one with the dirty mouth was mixed. Still I was confused, after all that would mean one of her parents was of Indian descent, so what could explain her disrespect of a culture that she was a part of?

It brings back the lines in that old calypso “Split Me in Two” by The Mighty Dougla (Clatis Ali) that say:

“If they sending Indians to India,

And Africans back to Africa

Well somebody please just tell me

Where they sending poor me?

I am neither one nor the other

Six of one, half a dozen of the other

So if they sending all these people back home for true

They got to split me in two.”

Rightly saying that it was impossible to return to “the motherland” when one is a ‘mix-up’, The Mighty Dougla had a point, and that was in 1961, when he won the Calypso Monarch with this tune.

Who can a dougla identify with? Should they form their own little dougla ethnicity and separate themselves from the rest of us?

The dougla dilemma may be that in order to fit in, in a society like ours, they need to choose one or the other. Yet, standing on the outside looking in, I can’t see that a choice needs to be made. To me, whether Afro-Trini, Indo-Trini, Chinese-Trini, Syrian-Trini, and the list goes on (fus’ we cosmopolitan), it could take forever to list the variations of Trinis. To so-called identify yuhself, splitting would need to occur. Technically, we’re all ‘mixed’, despite what we look like, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a 100% Afro-Trinidadian or Indo-Trinidadian. Despite our differences, we are all Trini, and since most of us won’t make it back to ‘the motherland’ anyway, why fuss about race?

 

Kalifa Clyne is a writer who spends all of her time writing or thinking about writing.

4 Comments

  1. Brandon Singh

    May 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Let me tell all of you something! Those who want to talk about Douglas just imagine being one. None of you know wht poitions douglas have to be in! Us douglas are mixed with afro/ Indian decent and were free to prctice both sides traditions, customs, and beliefs. Douglas are something unique in TNT society and if you have something to say about consult me! Douglas bring two cultures together in the TNT culture. For your information and i am a dougla and i follow both sides equally, but maybe my indian side a little more. It’s not our fault that were this way! So stop with the racial comments!

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  3. chen

    April 28, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    It’s rather idiotic of elizabeth sieussaran to claim to be a “traditionalist” when she is no more than a descendant of Indentured indian labourers, that left their to ESCAPE the Very TRADITIONAL indian caste system amongst other things.These Indentured Labourers often CHANGED their names to escape their lowly place IN Traditional indian society, to what is commonly known as “brahmin” by Boat!
    If this sieusssaran feels soooo Indiyaan, then she and those who feel like this should RE-turn TO India where she and they can get a very traditional Indiyaan way of life and see just HOW descendants of INDENTURED indiyaans are STILL treated to THIS DAY IN India!! I knew of India indians whom I worked with abroad and they wanted ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with Trinidadian or Guyana indians, No Joke!!
    I bet she had NO racial issues with those biracials who were mixed with white and anything But African.

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