It is my contention that through alternative archival practices the living can listen more closely for the dead. What would they tell us about the violence of racial indenture in the Caribbean wherein Asian people were “installed” and contracted as laborers from British India and China during the nineteenth century? This question animates my research and a new publication of mine “’Guano in their destiny’: Race, Geology, and a Philosophy of Indenture” in Amerasia Journal, part of a special issue on Asian labor and capital in the Americas.
Many of the migrants who arrived from South China in the nineteenth and early twentieth century practiced Buddhism or Confucianism but soon converted their religious practices to Catholicism. This did not mean they abandoned their initial practices or completely shifted their cosmological understanding of deathworlds and lifeworlds. The two key areas under examination in my inquiry are (1) the concept of afterlife as a metaphysical haunting or affect and (2) the concrete materiality of deteriorating ruins and physical presences. I examine the traces of Chinese funerary practices in Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Jamaica, and Suriname. While the population of people of Chinese descent in each of these countries does not number more than one percent, remnants of Chinese culture have become integrated as part of the national heritage. Both the material and immaterial forms of mourning and Chinese ancestor worship animate my inquiry into what remains of Asian heritage in the Caribbean. An enmeshed approach that braids the strands of Dutch, Spanish, and English imperial practices informs my process of archival reading and unreading.