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Seventy-five percent of the Chinese coolies in Cuba died before fulfilling their contracts.

Another explanation is that the Hindustani word qulī originated from the Gujarati aboriginal tribe or caste known as Kuli, and the word was picked up by the Portuguese who then used it in South India, hence the Tamil word kuli.

The word coolie (also spelled koelie, kuli, cooli, cooly and quli); (Hindi: कुली, Tamil: கூலி, Telugu: కూలీ, Chinese: 苦力) meaning a labourer, has a variety of other implications and is sometimes regarded as offensive or a pejorative, depending upon the historical and geographical context.

It is similar, in many respects, to the Spanish term peon, although both terms are used in some countries, with slightly differing implications.

Although there are reports of ships for Asian coolies carrying women and children, the great majority of them were men.

Regulations were put in place as early as 1837 by the British authorities in India to safeguard these principles of voluntary, contractual work and safe and sanitary transportation, although in practice this rarely occurred (especially during examples such as the Pacific Passage or the Guano Pits of Peru).

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