Guyana marks 175th anniversary of Indian Arrival Day

Port of Spain, May 6 (IANS) Guyana marked the 175th anniversary of Indian Arrival Day Sunday by unveiling a monument at the very location where the first batch of indentured Indian labourers alighted from a ship in 1838.

The monument at Plantation Highbury up in the East Bank corridor of this South American nation has been built specifically to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the Indian labourers to work in the country’s sugarcane plantations, local media reported.

Indians were brought in as indentured labourers by the British from 1838 to the early years of the 20th century to the then country of British Guyana.

At the Highbury Commemoration Compound event, organised by the Berbice Indian Cultural Committee, the unveiling was followed by a rich cultural programme of skits, songs and dances, among others.

Speaking on the occasion, David Armogan, chairman of East Berbice-Corentyne region — or Region 6 — of Guyana, said Guyanese Indians, like Guyanese of other ethnicities, have achieved a lot, especially in medicine, business, nursing, and politics and called upon Guyanese to continue to remember their traditions and culture.

According to Frank Anthony, Guyana’s minister for culture, youth and sports, after the first batch of Indians brought on the ship, the Hesperus, set foot on Guyanese soil, the conditions they worked in were “horrendous”.

“And while some people said that we cannot equate it with what happened during slavery, historian Hugh Tinker, author of a book about slavery, spoke about the horrors of indentureship,” the Kaiteur News quoted him as saying.

Speaking about the significance of the day, Moses Nagamootoo of the People’s Progressive Party was quoted as saying: “We share the belief that our fore-parents and ancestors – East Indians, as well as Chinese, Portuguese, Africans, Europeans – all made the sacrifice for us to become Guyanese and for us to have a national identity of our own.”

Guest speaker Carl Singh, chancellor of the judiciary, too spoke about the living conditions of those times and linked the historical perspective to the present day.

“The pain and suffering of the ancestors of our African brothers and sisters must never be forgotten,” the report quoted him as saying.

“The emancipation of African slaves resulted in the disruption of available labour and this labour was demanded with uncaring, brutal exactitude. The planters have devised the legal scheme, calculated to lock the Indian immigrants within the plantation,” he said.

Today, there are over 400,000 ethnic Indians in Guyana.

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