February 21 was declared International Mother Language Day by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999 to encourage multilingualism and advocate diversity of cultures and languages. This particular date is significant as it commemorates the struggles of the Bengali people to have linguistic recognition in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) that culminated in the death of several student activists on February 21, 1952 (UNESCO 2014). Many years later, the spirit of the struggle lives on and the right to speak and communicate in one’s mother language is now celebrated worldwide.
This pai sikka token, found at the Loretto Site (AgGs-326) in Niagara Falls, with inscriptions in three languages, is an example of linguistic and cultural diversity from a long gone era.
The token’s script on the obverse is in Urdu (Persian script) stating the name of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II (1728-1806) and the second line reads “sanat julus 37” which refers to the 37th year of his reign in Islamic years. The reverse gives the denomination “One Pai Sikka” in Bengali (top 2 lines), Urdu (3rd line; Persian script), and Hindi (lines 4-5; devanagari script) (Pridmore 1975).
The pai sikka is a token of the Bengal Presidency, which was a colony in British India (primarily present-day Bangladesh, India and Pakistan) governed by the East India Company by permission of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. Although this coin does exhibit a date, it does not reflect the actual minting date of the coin; the East India Company continued to issue this dated coin (and also one dated “19”) for several years. It is assumed that this token was minted in Kolkata, although it bears no marks to support this conclusion (Bruce 2007; de Clermont and Wheeler 1986; Pridmore 1975). The pai sikka was found in a context of the site associated with the Ontario House, a nineteenth century hotel in Niagara Falls.
Based on historical research and associated artifacts from the same context, it is most likely that the token was deposited on the site by a member of the first battalion of the British 67th Regiment of Foot. Prior to serving in Canada, the battalion is known to have served in British India for 21 years (Fibis 2013; Forces War Records 2013). It is likely, then, that the coin served as a souvenir of British Indian service for one of the men in the 67th Regiment.
The discovery of the pai sikka token is significant as artifacts from the Indian Sub-continent are rare in Ontario’s archaeological record. While settlers from many European nations are well represented, the Canadian history of those from the Indian sub-continent is often very recent. The presence of the pai sikka token, however, provides a different perspective, and hints at Ontario’s cultural diversity centuries ago.
So the question begs to be asked, what will archaeology reveal about your past?