Original Research - Special Collection: Social Memory Studies

The Indian diaspora, cultural heritage and cultural transformation in the Colony of Natal (1895–1960) during the period of indenture

Kogielam K. Archary
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 3 | a7712 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i3.7712 | © 2022 Kogielam K. Archary | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 May 2022 | Published: 19 December 2022

About the author(s)

Kogielam K. Archary, College of Human Sciences, Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


The article chronicles diasporic cultural heritage in Natal during the period of indenture in an Indian community in colonial South Africa. Using the qualitative ethnographic research methodology the focus is on the period 1895–1960. This methodology was chosen as it is a qualitative method where observation and/or interaction has taken place in real-life environments. In this article, the Indian cultural heritage as experienced by Mrs Takurine Mahesh Singh who arrived in Port Natal in 1895 is chronicled through the reflective memories of her South African-born eldest grandson, Mr J.S. Singh (b.1930). Further to this, her life in South Africa is explored as she lived in different worlds through various political systems and this life experience extended to include a cultural transformation. During 1960, the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the indentured Indians to the Colony of Natal was commemorated. Hence, this study considers the period 1895–1960. Moving across continents, the indentured Indians arrived in the Colony to work on the sugar plantations. Cultural heritage may be viewed as a sense of one’s subjective self-perception based on one’s language, ancestry, values, rituals, traditions and religion. During the political era of colonisation and indenture, the Indian nationals became displaced. This displacement created an intrinsic emotional threat. This emotional threat compromised their cultural heritage and consequently led to other forms of cultural transformation. During the oral history interviews, it emerged that the Indian nationals and their descendants in South Africa did not experience abject deculturalisation as they were able to practise aspects of their cultural heritage without the complete loss of their identity. This is one of the findings of the article. The findings indicate that complete deculturalisation did not take place even though cultural transformations resulted in the Indian diaspora in Natal.

Contribution: With a unique focus on aspects of cultural heritage in the Indian diaspora, this article contributes to the knowledge of the social memory historiography with a spotlight on descendants of Indian indentured labourers in South Africa. The overarching contribution of this article focusses on the cultural transformation during the period under review.


Colony of Natal; cultural heritage; cultural transformation; indenture; Indian diaspora; South African Indians.


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