Celebrating 180th Anniversary of Indian Arrivals Day in Guyana 

Celebrating 180th Anniversary of Indian Arrivals Day in Guyana 

By Vidur Dindayal

 It is truly wonderful that we are celebrating Indian Arrivals Day. We say thanksgiving prayers to our forbears who suffered and toiled to make a good life for themselves and for us who follow them. We thank them for clearing the path and building a home for us to live and prosper in Guyana, in the new world, far away from mother India.

180 years ago our ancestors first set foot in Guyana. The first batch, 249 in all, sailed from India in the SS Whitby on 13 January 1838 and arrived in Guyana on 5 May 1838 after a voyage of 112 days. The first landings were 164 passengers at Highbury, East Bank Berbice. The SS Hesperus with 165 on board sailed from Calcutta on 29 January 1838 and arrived in Guyana on the night of 5 May 1838.      


Kolkata Memorial. India     Highbury Memorial. Guyana          Indian Monument Garden.Guyana    Highbury Centre. Guyana

 For scholars on the significance of numbers that was 18 decades ago- the mystic number 18, a multiple of number 9 a mystic number. Interesting. All multiples of 9 added together become number 9 or multiples of 9.

 Celebrating our ancestors and our heritage is a significant freedom we enjoy in the world of today. Now in every corner of our world, people uphold the basic human values of equality, and reject discrimination. Today we can give full expression to our inheritance from our forbears, of our culture, in every aspect, from life style, to how we relate to one another, to dress, food, music and the arts. All of these are the stuff of life, without these, life can be meaningless.

We Indo Guyanese have contributed enormously to the make-up of the Guyanese society – socially, culturally, economically, professionally and politically. It is good to celebrate our Indian heritage and Indianness in our own country. It is a vital part of the rich tapestry of Guyanese heritage and culture. It is also exciting to see Guyanese celebrating the heritage and cultures of all its constituent ethnic groups which make up our country, British, Portuguese, African, Chinese, Amerindian and other groups. This makes Guyana special. Guyana is at the vanguard of epoch making social change the world over, where no one heritage and culture dominates, where inclusivity of each and every one is valued and celebrated.

It was not so in the old colonial days. Indifference to the heritage of non British was the way of life, be it Indian, African, Chinese, Portuguese or Amerindian. It was not public policy to encourage interest in their respective heritages, certainly not to teach about their history and culture, in any positive way. British Eurocentric was the only show in town.

The world has changed beyond recognition in the past 70 years. In British Guiana, in the colonial days, when I was a boy, Indian and Indianness, were regarded by the mainstream as backward and being westernised was proper, modern, and forward looking. Today Indian and Indianness are respected and valued.

 Perhaps the change started when India became independent. This set off a chain of independence celebrations in other British colonies, including British Guiana. From being a servile people under colonial rule, independence brought with it the right to choose our way, and most certainly rejection of social and cultural inequality.

The wind of change was strong in Guyana, although still a colony. Indo Guyanese of all faiths, with few exceptions, openly identified with India and Indianness. In New Amsterdam, a prominent Indo Guyanese businessman, former Mayor and established among the elite in society, led the celebratory parade on India Independence day, singing ‘Dur hatto, Hindustan hamara hai.’ Similarly In Georgetown, at a reception held to receive the Indian High Commissioner to the West Indies, top Indo Guyanese ladies attired themselves in sarees.

 One of the ways I would celebrate Indian Arrivals day, would be a pilgrimage to the Kolkata, Highbury and other memorials and honour my ancestors. Our heartfelt thanks to Brother Ashook Ramsaran who has performed more than a sacred service in conceiving the noble idea and in spearheading the building of these memorials. The elegant and beautiful Kolkata Memorial on the banks of the Hugli River at a place called Demerara Kidderpore Depot was formally dedicated on January 11, 2011. Highbury Memorial, East Bank Berbice, Guyana, commemorates the first arrival of Indians in Guyana on May 5, 1938 – in fact, the first indentured Indian labourers in the Western Hemisphere. There is also a similar memorial at Monument Gardens in Georgetown.

 Celebrating Indian Arrivals day for me is one of thanksgiving prayers. In my prayers, I picture our ancestors as very special beings who quietly and with great dignity transformed their life and circumstances from abject servitude, to masters of their destiny; who bequeathed to us a better life of comfort, and freedom to enjoy all the bounties that life offers. In my heart I forever humbly bow to their hallowed presence as I receive their divine blessings.

Among the many wonderful jewels that we inherit from our ancestors are how highly we value family and community. These two facets of our culture have greatly insulated the Indian diaspora from the ravages of social ills which plague society today. I refer to aspects of crime, poor social care and poor health care, loneliness and other problems, which can be a great deal worse, but for the togetherness, support structure, hope and caring which being a part of a family and sense of responsibility which all in a family deeply feel – one for all and all for one.

 Relaxed, easy going and adaptable is another gift we have inherited from our ancestors. The hard reality of living in a strange world, had sharpened their senses to take from the new society what was good and reject what was no good. This they could do firmly anchored in the core values of their culture. They rejected the caste system, and attitudes which slowed progress. With arm twisting they embraced education of their children, despite resistance from some quarters to educating their girl children. They adapted well, made adjustments, in dress, even in religious practices to be more open and accessible.

One unique social asset, typical of Indo Guyanese in common with all Guyanese irrespective of ethnicity is, we are good mixers, we fit in easily and make good wherever we are. I know this from my own experience, and that of my parents, relations and friends. My parents had retired to an ashram in India in the evening of their life. Whenever I visited them, I saw people young and old also visit them for nothing more than a simple chat. I worked out it was because they were Guyanese. Some of their visitors remarked on that fact in their compliments.

 Music is the food of the spirit and the soul, and I celebrate the music handed down by my ancestors. From chowtal, taan singing, popular music by the greats in old Guyana –Teelack, Bharat, Ballu, seeing experts playing the sarangi, film music, bhajans, to geet, semi classical, sitar playing, the list is endless. I grew up liking the old Indian semi-classical singers – KC Dey – Pankaj Mallick, Jagmohan, KL Saigal etc. Curiously, through their music, and musical accompaniment on the piano, and violin, I acquired a taste for European music -the well known waltzes, arias, ballet music, chamber music and other melodies.

My Indo Guyanese musical heritage has opened the door for me to enjoy music, whatever the origin. Indeed as a Foreign Student in Delhi in 1958, we organised an ‘International Festival of Music and Dance’ with students from all over the world as entertainers; from the Indian contingent, from Philippines, Malaysia, Kenya, Russian Cossack dance, American Square dance, to Caribbean calypso. It would be nice to see, if it does not already exist, an annual Guyana Music Festival inclusive of the various music styles of our people, Indian, European, African, Chinese, Amerindian etc.

 I feel truly blessed with my Indo Guyanese heritage and culture. I can drink from a bottomless well primed with every type of nectar the world offers to treat the senses, and to bring indescribable joy to the innermost recesses of my soul. This heritage I celebrate, thanks to my divine ancestors from India.

 18 April 2018

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  • malcolm cliffe  On 04/25/2018 at 8:54 am

    One typo with the arrival date should be corrected.

  • Richard bacchus  On 05/28/2018 at 10:04 am

    Thank you!

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