The Dougla Defect

Dougla Defect?  Indian speaks to a Dougla woman about her Dougla baby Indian: The baby getting nice now.  Now he complexion comin’ lil clear. (Rochelle Etwaroo photo and testimony)
Dougla Defect?
Indian speaks to a Dougla woman about her Dougla baby
Indian: The baby getting nice now.
Now he complexion comin’ lil clear.
(Rochelle Etwaroo photo and testimony)

For Rochelle Etwaroo: the hybrid of two great people and a seed of hope.

The Dougla Defect is evidence of Guyana’s ongoing Black and Indian war. It is a source of shame to both the Black and Indian man who insists on remaining entrenched in fear. They have both condemned the hybrid of themselves to that cold, cruel no man’s land that separates them.

It is not the Black man or the Indian man who has suffered the most painful wounds in this war. It is the hybrid who suffers; the Dougla boy, the Dougla girl, whose only crime has been birth. The war has stolen home and identity from the Dougla and replaced it with hurt and displacement. How can a nation be so cruel to its children?

I met a Dougla girl and her pain during my second year at the University of Guyana. She came to Turkeyen Campus from Tain Campus, Berbice. Even now, I remember seeing her for the first time. The word that comes most easily to mind is “exotic”. Her delicate features, smooth brown skin and wild, thick, long hair made her beautiful to me. She did not agree. For her this was the source of her pain, the reason she did not belong anywhere.

Dougla Defect? Fowl Walking… A big man hustles a lil girl Big Man: “Gurl, you nice you know!  You can make me a nice dougla fowl wife some day.” She thinks to herself:”Why did he just refer to me as a fowl? I look like a fowl?…”
Dougla Defect?
Fowl
Walking…
A big man hustles a lil girl
Big Man: “Gurl, you nice you know!
You can make me a nice dougla fowl wife some day.”
She thinks to herself:”Why did he just refer to me as a fowl? I look like a fowl?…”
(Rochelle Etwaroo photo and testimony)

During our second semester together she started a photography project for an art class. Without really thinking about it, I helped her dub it “Dougla Defect?” But it was not until I read the testimonies which were to accompany the photos that I really understood my friend’s pain.

As we edited her project, I saw her for the first time. In my pain at least I felt that I belonged somewhere. In her pain, she was not allowed to belong anywhere. How could she belong when the halves of her were at war? When she was attacked by both sides? It is one thing to be condemned to a particular side because of your skin colour, but it is an entirely different thing to be a refugee in your own country because you do not truly belong to any side.

The suffering of my friend, the hybrid, the Dougla, the biracial Guyanese, is directly connected to the racial politics that has destroyed our nation’s psyche. My friend, my sister, my nation’s child is a causality of the political legacy that Guyana enjoys. She is both witness to and victim of the hate, anger and bitterness that exists on each side of the divide.

But even the no man’s land in which she dwells has fertile soil. She and those like her are seeds of hope. They are testimony to the fact that every now and then the Black and Indian souls are capable of seeing each other. And when they do see and they venture into the void that separates them the result is a merging of two great people; of hope for Guyana.

Dougla Defect? No, it is not a defect at all. It is only two people attacking the Dougla, reducing the Dougla’s self worth because they see what they fear most in this hybrid, they see each other. There have been days when I have wished to be a hybrid of the Black and Indian so that I could reprimand both sides without being accused of prejudice. But even without such a harsh blessing, I can still tell them that by hating and hurting the Dougla they only hate and hurt themselves.

Dougla Defect? University of Guyana, 2013 Dougla walks into a room full of colleagues  Black says to her: …: “GET OUT! Walk straight out. We aint want no dougla people in hay”          “Guh long outside”. Dougla smiled and sat quietly Terrified… Embarrassed… Hurt   (Rochelle Etwaroo photo and testimony)
Dougla Defect?
University of Guyana, 2013
Dougla walks into a room full of colleagues
Black says to her:
…: “GET OUT! Walk straight out. We aint want no dougla people in hay”
“Guh long outside”.
Dougla smiled and sat quietly
Terrified… Embarrassed… Hurt
(Rochelle Etwaroo photo and testimony)

11 thoughts on “The Dougla Defect

  1. Insightful, and real! Anyone…and I know plenty…of mixed race, faces the same identity crisis, when in fact it is to be cherished. I have, on many occasions, secretly wished if all Guyanese would only intermarry between the various ethnic groups, and produce mixed offspring. In a few generations, there would only be mixed race people…only Guyanese race, with little to identify with anywhere else but Guyana!

  2. I wish the same, Mark. A totally mixed-race Guyana would take many generations.

    As a person of mixed race, I understand the plight and pain of the Dougla. Growing up in Guyana, I had friends of all races but never felt a sense of belonging to any of the racial groups. In time, I learned to appreciate the blessing of being of mixed race.

    Another insightful article, Sara. Thank you.

  3. I could totally relate to this, my dad is Indian, my mom is Amerindian/black and throughout my school life I had challenges from both sides of the isle, my mom grew my 4 sisters and I mostly along my dad’s culture, but we know we didn’t exactly fit in there. We was somewhat comfy with mix black folks but as I hit high school I didn’t exactly fit in with Afro-Guyanese but I was raised to be polite and respectful so I had Afro-Guyanese friends, I was comfy with mostly Indians peers. My boyfriend then husband was Indian so my boys look predominantly Indian. That said I remembered I was always made to choose a side if I’m to have friends but now I’m in my 40’s I know how to balance it out. I’m divorced I’m more into mix black guys.
    Life for my boys remains a challenge but they identify mostly with mix folks of all Guyana’s ethnicities, so its changing and its generational too 🙂
    My advice to mix girls, we are very much a people like everyone else love yourself just as you are and then people will love you for who you are.
    Keep writing Ms. Sara!

  4. Never Knew this was a problem for Dougla people. I grew up in Linden and we loved every race. In fact as a boy i saw no race. My first crush as one an indian girl name BiBi – i was in primary school all i know was that she was sweet. As i grew i always admire dougla ppl . The dougla guys in my school always had the adds on us. I am very sorry to hear this we are so cruel to our own ppl.

  5. Maybe this is an issue in certain communities in Guyana (Berbice county, perhaps?) and more so within the 2 dominant ethnicities.
    My mom is Portuguese and Dad is Dutch and Black and living in Guyana before being migrating as a kid, I never experienced such identity crisis.
    I think in the Caribbean its looked at in a more favorable light than anywhere else in the world. In the US, Europe, Asia, Australia it has been somewhat of an issue for kids of mixed raced parents for decades but now it’s being celebrated and looked as a beautiful thing, which it indeed is.
    Guyana and Trinidad has a very high concentration of mixed race within its total population, and the world on a whole is meeting and mixing more, so in that aspect things are changing.
    It’s sad that your friend had to grow up experiencing that from ignorant folks, but she should celebrate her beautiful mixed heritage for it is indeed a beautiful thing to be a “hybrid”

  6. Dougla Female…all through primary and high school from 1980 to 1990, i have always struggle with who i am and where do i fit in… my mom’s black family have accepted me as another family member, but i never felt comfortable around them, however my dad’s Indian family never accepted me and i was consider an out caste…my father’s family have always refer to me as the black child…i was never invited to their homes or any family events….my black friends in school accepted me and they are like my family i always wanted. while growing up as a child i always knew i was different and had a difficult time trying to determine which side of the fence i belong to…the dougla defect was never discuss openly or was it acknowledge as an issue in Guyana, it was always a silent topic. Maybe a whisper here and there. in schools i notice the dougla kids were always picked on by the Indian teacher and sometimes this affected your marks at the end of the school year. i never had any good experiences growing up as a dougla child in Guyana in the early 80’s to late 90’s.

  7. Interesting and saddening to read what the experience of many of your mixed-race citizens is like. I grew up with my white mother’s family in the U.S. but my mom said my father told her his family ‘was from the caribbean.’ They had a relationship but split up before I was born and she moved across the country; I never met him. Looong story. Anyway, all she knew was that he was black, but I look very Indian and no one has ever guessed that I’m part black — people always assume that I’m Indian, even though I have very curly hair. My guess is that my father’s family is from T & T or Guyana, and I’m learning all I can about those cultures. I want to go visit these countries and try to get a feel for the world that those ancestors of mine lived in.

    Thank you so much for dedicating yourself to chronicling your country and its culture as it is in this moment.

  8. My father is Indo-Guyanese and my mother is mixed Afro-Guyanese (her maternal grandfather was Indo and maternal grandmother was Afro and Indigenous). I look black, and have always been treated like a criminal. I was raised as a servant/slave. To this day (almost 40) my parents either avoid me or talk down to me. My mother is always angry with me. My lighter sister and brother are “spoiled” – it’s not like they are great parents to them either, but they freely call them and spend money on them and never raise their voices to them. Even living on my own I am still ordered to take care of my siblings and other family members, and to give my money and things to them, or let people stay with me for free. They make comments about my skin, hair, and clothes constantly. When I want to wear indian clothes they make fun of me. If I get a tan they look at me in disgust. I spent my life settling for less, going through abusive relationships, and even ended up as a stripper and doing adult films. It took a lot of years, prayer, and counseling to forgive myself for being born. Now I am working on rebuilding my self-esteem and letting go of shame. I read about all sides of my ancestry so that I can embrace my culture without begging for family acceptance. It hurts, but I force myself not to chase them and call or visit, since they do not call or visit me. I miss having a family, but I realize I do not miss these cruel people. I just miss belonging to a family and the music and food and clothes. Around them I could dress in a cultural way cause their presence gave me context. On my own I look like an African-American trying to look Indian. I’m giving myself permission to be Guyanese, and everything that means, with or without approval. It is a slow process. I still wish I had Guyanese friends as a substitute family. What Guyanese would ever forget my past? The only ones I have known have been my family and I have been condemned since birth. I watch bollywood and nollywood movies and live vicariously through them. My comfort now is freedom from phone calls that make me cry, saving money from trying to dress up and attend parties where no one wants me, enjoying the love (finally) of a really good-hearted man, and starting a new career now that I can be proud of. It makes me sad to think when the time comes there will be no big wedding. I am grateful though because look how many people are so abused and/or commit suicide and there is no hope. Every moment I have on this Earth means there is hope. Life can be better than imagined. I used to be very angry but I feel more at peace now. One day I would like to help other people embrace their mixed heritage even if their families reject them. Either through a blog, or volunteer work, I am not sure…I just know I don’t want anyone to suffer the way I have.

    1. Thank you very much for sharing your own experience and I am so sorry that you have had to feel so much pain. I am happy that you are moving on with your life and finding some happiness now. I’ll be in touch with you soon.

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