A Telugu family overseas: the story of the Ungatas

In the colonial era when people migrated to seek a better life overseas, it was often the men who travelled ahead, hoping to bring over their families once they had saved some money.   Soldiers, sailors, artisans and merchants arriving in Mauritius from Europe frequently came as single men and married women they met on the island. It was not until many years after the first and second waves of Chinese traders settled on Mauritius that large scale female settlement occurred.  While this was also true for many Indian immigrants, family settlement took place fairly rapidly due to incentives offered by planters and the colonial state who believed that assisting spouses and children to migrate would create a settled community.

The practice of photographing indentured arrivals from the 1860s onwards, enables us to gather pictorial evidence of many first generation families.

Sunassy and Lachmiah Teluga

The Telugus were highly regarded by Mauritian employers precisely because of their willingness to bring their families to the plantation and settle on the island permanently.    The Ungatas (pictured) was a particularly large Teleugu family.   Sunassy came to the island on the Reigate from Madras in 1874.  He was 40 years old and arrived with his wife, aged 35 and their six children.  The eldest was Lachmiah aged 19,  two sisters, Gurriah and Yenkamah, pictured below were aged 8 and 6 at the time of their arrival. The photographs were taken at a later date. The family were all of the Yathe caste and they hailed from Thandapa in Vizagapatham.  

Following migration, the single children had to look for marriage partners in Mauritius.  Where possible they made contact with other families of the same ethnic group and betrothed their children to them.  One child Ungata Lachmiah was betrothed to Andeamah, who had arrived in Mauritius with her Telegu parents, Applamah Gooriah and Chiniah Gengooloo, in 1864.   Lachmiah remained in Riviere du Rempart until the time of his death in 1903 as did his sisters Gurriah and Yenkamah who died in 1916 and 1917 respectively.