JOURNEY TO THE CARIBBEAN
The Hakka dialect originates from the southern most Kwangsi and northeast KwangTung provinces of China. It is spoken by at least 20,000,000 Chinese who have a rather scattered pattern of distribution.
The Hakka began migrating to different areas of China as early as the 4th Century and eventually to other parts of the world, always in search of a better life, but always maintaining their culture.
The Hakka are a unique ethnic branch of "Han" Chinese whose beginnings can be traced from the Yellow River area. It is believed they are the earliest "Han" settlers in China.
The term Hakka, literally translated into "guest family," was used by the natives of southern China to distinguish the Hakka from themselves.
And the name stuck because of their migrant tendencies. The Hakka were always moving to different areas in China, and very often they weren’t welcome.
The Hakka have undertaken four major migrations. The first occurred in the fourth century in the Eastern Jin period when they moved south across the Yangzi river. Again they migrated during the 10th Century and 17th Century, and after the failure of the Taiping uprising, about 1867.
These occurred for various reasons, including the invasion of China by other nationalities, civil war, population growth, and the lack of a fixed land base. Eventually, the Hakka ventured out of China, in search of a better life.
Across the board there has been tremendous success by the Hakka people.
A number of written sources claim that there are certain inherent characteristics that have made the Hakka people successful. The Hakka are risk-takers, persevering, strong and open-minded.
Hakka women, in particular, are respected because of their outstanding efforts during migration periods.
Women were treated with equal respect in the homes. They had to take care of the home, the family, and the fields, since the men were constantly preparing to defend any military invasion. As a result, it was not unusual for Hakka women to own land. Also, Hakka women never bound their feet, even under social pressure during the Qing dynasty.
The Hakka who migrated to the Caribbean are also worthy of being described as strong, independent, risk-takers.
The largest and most important labour migrations to the West Indies were from India and China. The chance to work abroad and amass a fortune was enticing. Most did not intend to stay away, and often times they were misled about the type of work which they would find.
The voyage usually began in Hong Kong, sailing through Egypt and the Mediterranean before arriving in the Caribbean. For two months salted eggs, vegetables, turnips, rice, cooking oil, vinegar and livestock were their main diet.
There were three major voyages made to Jamaica between 1845 and 1884, according to The Chinese in Jamaica. Nearly 5000 Chinese arrived in Jamaica during this time.
In British Guiana (Guyana) the first party to arrive was in 1853. But the problem of insufficient women to accompany the men posed a problem. Immigration from China was renewed on a larger scale between 1859 and 1866. The Chinese immigration ranks as one of the greatest formative influences in the making of Guyana.
The Hakka ventured to Trinidad for much of the same reasons as the other West Indian islands. Early in the 19th Century attempts were made to attract ‘white’ settlement into Trinidad. But as the pattern follows, most Chinese did not stay very long. When the slaves from British colonies were freed in 1834 new workers were brought in to replace them from China, India and Portugal during 1845-1917.
The Hakka seized the opportunity to venture into a new land, ignorant of the language, the customs and the culture. Yet they persevered, despite difficulties in cultivating the land, saving money and securing businesses.
And they succeeded. By the 1950’s the Chinese were triumphant in whatever land they now called home.
Successful Hakka who have established a high profile around the world, include Deng Xiaoping, ailing leader of China, the late Fu Man Fu, head of the Tiger Balm Empire and President of the Tsung Tsin Association of Hong Kong, past Governor General of Trinidad, Sir Soloman Hochoy and Guyana’s Hon. Arthur Chong.
There have also been many less acclaimed, but no less important successes, too numerous to mention. The hard working and relentless struggles of the Hakka people have instilled a strength to inspire and live on in all of us.
Their story is an interesting saga of courage, hard work and painful adaptation to climate and customs.