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The lost art of leepay

Trinidad Express / AS THE country remembers the 100th anniversary of the the end of Indian Indentureship, here is a tradition from India that at least one family still maintains.

Sunildath Ramlakhan and his relatives still practice the the art of leepaying.

To leepay is to use a mixture of cow dung (gobar), dirt and water which will be spread across part of a house.

This was something the immigrant Indian did at their mud and thatch homes. The only difference was the forefathers would paste the entire house with gobar which acted as a barrier.

When the Express visited Ramlakhan’s residence in Quinam Road, Penal, we were treated to how the materials were prepared and used to leepay.  

Sunildath Ramlakhan display her fingers after mixing cow dung (gobar) during the leepaying process.   -Photo: DEXTER PHILIP  Despite the strong and fresh scent of cow manure, Ramlakhan’s sister-in-law Roshini Ragoonanan demonstrated what the process was about.

In separate old buckets were the gobar and dirt mixture and water in another.

She removed the old grass and broke up the gobar and dirt until it had a fine consistency.

She said the manure was procured by visiting several areas where people were rearing cattle. Only freshly dropped cow dung would be used to make the paste.

Ragoonanan spoke of the medical benefits of using the mixture can have once its spread.

“Children don’t get sick when they are walking on it. The ground is always cool,” she said.

Next, Ragoonanan knelt down on the floor and using an old cloth, she dipped it into the mixture. She would then, transfer the paste to the floor and from one area to another in a sweeping motion she would spread the mixture.

She said that starting from one area was called a “block”. Each block would follow the other until the entire floor is pasted smooth without any lines or errors shown in the work.

Sunildath Ramlakhan display a mixture of cow dung (gobar) and mud, before applying it to the floor to start the leepaying process. -Photo: DEXTER PHILIP  As she began to work on the floor, little Suveer Ramroop, a relative of the family ran inside the house to get away from the smell.

Despite the old house being surrounded by thriving signs of community progress with newer buildings, growing businesses and paved roads, Ragoonanan said that in her family, only this generation continues this tradition as a means of connecting with their ancestors in India.

However, this meant more to the family.

The act of leepaying is something that shows the struggles of their family and brings them back to understand and appreciate their forefathers.

It may be seen as “dirt work” but the family’s message of reminding people that not everything was concrete and tile, and that goobar was used to leepay a house, truly gives meaning to the words, “down to earth.”

However, only their generation would be doing this.

Ramlakhan explained that the younger generation in his family does not have an interest in continuing the tradition, which he said was sad but something that he will continue to do for as long as he can.

He said: “I want to continue doing this because it makes me appreciate my ancestors. It is a humbling experience. The children today don’t want to do it but that’s alright. My path and my desire to do this brings comfort to me.” 

Only the living room area was covered with the gobar whereas the rest of the house was being renovated.

The family said they would continue to keep just this area “leepayed”.

The process has to be repeated several times throughout the year.

Sunildath Ramlakhan sifts through mud and removes debris, before adding cow dung (gobar) to start the leepaying process. -Photo: DEXTER PHILIP  

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