OPINION: My Guyanese Identity – By Vidur dindayal

My Guyanese Identity – By Vidur dindayal

In my early teens, in Guyana, I was growing up in a village with Indian and Black people and few Chinese as well.

I saw myself as an Indian. I was Hindu. We lived like Indians did, eating Indian food and liking Indian music and dance. We saw mostly Indian films. This is how we lived as a community of Indians.

In the larger community I and my family lived well with everybody. My parents had non-Indian friends from their school days. Their contemporaries – nurses in our local hospital, the school Head and teachers, employees at the Sugar factory, were Black people. I grew up respecting them as part of my larger family. My best friends at school were Indian Black and Chinese. They are to this day.     

Some of the elders and their children, regardless of race or religion, in their wide-ranging achievements, including in music, have been my role models. They have inspired me in my life.

However, life in our Indian community was different for us in a few ways, compared to the other people.

The people running the country and in high positions were not like me, Indian. They were in the main non-Indian and were like the white people. They were Western in everything they did. A few Indians who held high positions were also like them.

I used to wonder when a child whether I could remain Indian and lived the way we did in our community and hold high positions in the country, like the other people. I knew of no one like that.

Generally, people in high positions were not Hindu like me or Muslim. The top people were mainly Christian. In Georgetown or in New Amsterdam the town near to my village, I cannot think of any Hindu or Muslim in any top positions in the Government service or in public life.

Indeed, in education, it was common that teaching jobs were not open to anyone unless they were Christian. In our national sport of Cricket, as I remember, in my primary school days, there was no Indian in the British Guiana team.

I felt when young that to play my full part and get to the top in Guyana, I could not see myself as an Indian and like the things I do as an Indian. All of that did not belong, somehow.

I saw the light. The questions that troubled me an Indian growing up in Guyana, were answered in no time at all, when I went to India to study in the mid-50s.

The answer was simple. The Indian population was diverse, yet they all saw themselves as Indian, whether they were Gujratis, Panjabis, Bengalis or whatever.  I found my identity. I am Indian, I belonged to Guyana. I can be myself, Indian with religion and culture etc. etc. and be full-fledged Guyanese. ‘Guyanese’ is my nationality. The word Indian refers to my ethnicity. I am no less Guyanese that any other person who like me, grew up in Guyana whether they were Black or White, Chinese or Amerindian.

My Guyanese identity was defined by the fact that I was born and brought up in Guyana. I belonged to one of the six races that populate Guyana, which make it a multi-ethnic/cultural society. Over time certain common elements distinguish us from non-Guyanese. One is our Language- English, another is dress -Western; another is certain foods common to Guyanese; another is culture -generally socially friendly and easy going, good mixers across ethnic and religious divides.

The foregoing is my personal view as to my Guyanese identity.

This may not be other people’s concept as to what makes a true Guyanese.  We Guyanese are a rich mix of races, cultures, backgrounds, and heritage.  This variety accounts for our different perspectives,  but the bottom line is we are Guyanese by birth or naturalisation.

Reflecting on the different ways we may assess how much of a Guyanese we are is of interest as it helps me to understand the differences. In my childhood years, the term ‘Guyanese’ was not common. I had no strong sense of being a part of a nation, except on occasions when our country/colony was playing cricket with other West Indian Islands, or when our countrymen as part of the West Indies team were playing against England or India or Australia.

That was in the colonial days. Our country was then a small part of the great British Empire which ruled India and many parts of Africa. The idea of Guyana as an independent nation and Guyanese nationality slowly got into my vocabulary in the early 50s. Freedom movements in Guyana followed Indian independence and the strong wind of change for independence which swept over Africa.

Guyanese society in my childhood days was like, I believed everywhere else, hierarchical. The top drawer included British rulers and those close to them. The rest of society followed, and socially, as I saw it, the closer you were to the rulers, in values, culture, lifestyle and religion, the higher you were in the pecking order. Our Black fellow countrymates whose ancestry go back several generations in Guyana enjoyed this status by and large.

The majority of Indians who were Hindu or Muslim and whose lifestyle did not necessarily mirror that of the rulers, were not, with a couple of exceptions, among the powers that be. However, the way I saw them was like my parents, and their family and friends – Indians getting on with making a living. They lived well with everyone else who were not Indian, doing their part for their village community where they lived and the country Guyana. That was the community to which I belonged.

That Indian community, in the old colonial days got on with life and paid their dues to the colonial rulers. They generally identified with India, religiously and culturally and with India’s struggle for independence. When India became independent and Pakistan came into being, they celebrated. That was the time of British Guiana.

In those years of great hope for change from British rule, putting together the blocks of nationhood for Guyanese demanded a great deal from the political leadership. As colonial rule was coming to an end, the disparities in society between rich and poor, between ethnicities, religion  and culture, and different aspirations between those who ruled in colonial days and the ruled were great challenges that faced the leadership. Their job was to build a cohesive society of one nation and one people.

I was told by someone close to Mahatma Gandhi that one of his great attributes of leadership was that he could get people of widely differing views to work together. He noted the strength of each individual and steered that towards achieving a common goal. He used diversity to unite people. Unity in diversity is a powerful force because the best qualities of each one is deployed to make an invincible team like the winning West Indies cricket team of yesteryear.

As a member of the Guyanese nation, I feel its strength as a nation is that it is inclusive of all the different races, religions and cultures of its six peoples. The unique attributes of Guyanese of awareness of multi-culture sensitivities, have propelled them to leading roles in the developed world. We move easily in international settings; we  get along well with people across a wide spectrum of ethnicity and culture. We strengthen understanding.

In my DNA, as Guyanese, the components include: Indian, Hindu, member of the large Guyana family of six peoples, multi-cultural, with values of equality deeply embedded. By fate which brought our six peoples together we Guyanese are uniquely blessed.  I feel I am that Guyanese.

Vidur dindayal

19 August 2020

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Comments

  • detow  On August 26, 2020 at 10:47 am

    A well written and well meaning piece but I notice with interest that your best friends at school were Indians, Chinese and Blacks. I know that Indians originated in India, and that Chinese originated in China but I am at a loss trying to determine where the Blacks came from, and if my memory is right then the third category of your friends would have originated from Africa and should, in my mind, be referred to as AFRICANS not blacks as there are many people in this world who are as black as Africans but are properly referred to according to their ethnicity.

  • brandli62  On August 26, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    I like the closing statement of your vivid account:

    “I feel I am that Guyanese.”

    It’s good to read that you have made the transition from identifying yourself as Indian to Guyanese, the country where you were born and raised.

  • CSD Maraj  On August 26, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    In response to Mr Detow ‘s comment in regards to Mr Vidur article I agree with him that folks must be addressed appropriately but we must remember we are living in a world where each individual thinks and perceive things differently.
    A few years ago I wrote an article complementing Guyana for having the six races living in harmony.
    I addressed the different races as Indo: Guyanese as Indo: Guyanese ,Chinese as Chinese and Afro: Guyanese as Afro: Guyanese not realising that I have offended some folks who blasted me calling me names which I will not mention..
    My point is when are we going to be politically correct and stop nit picking.
    It is impossible to say something without offending some one.
    So my brothers and sisters lets learn to agree to disagree and be the mature adult as we all are.

  • wally n  On August 26, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    With all that is going on,”political confusion” this might be the time for a new and improved “UNITED FORCE” for Guyanese not stuck in party quicksand, sensible enough to LISTEN OBSERVE INVESTIGATE before spouting off, and accepting it is not race, it is culture, constantly evolving and changing.
    Or maybe it might be too late to stem the tide of poisonous party politics.

  • Jo  On August 27, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    Thank you Mr. Dindayal. You speak for us “Guyanese” who’ve grown up in British Guiana and which for many of us was a paradise, for human relationships..despite the economic and class system we knew. Thank you for all who strive to honor Africans everywhere by respectful terminology, freed from the dreadful American color-coded language. I’m proud of being a Mixed Race Guyanese with all our ethnicities in my DNA..a product of a country of people of diverse origin who were at peace with each other for the most part, then.

  • Colin Trotman  On August 28, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    I enjoyed your article, but I have to question your sincerity. I’m not sure why Guyanese people of Indian decent feel the need to call themselves Indo Guyanese. I do not hear fellow Guyanese addressing themselves as Chinese Guyanese or Afro Guyanese. I would like to believe that if you are Guyanese then you are Guyanese. I currently live in Canada, when ask my heritage I proudly reply Guyanese. Here in Canada we are fighting to be inclusive and respected, and treated equally. How can I expect to be treated equally here in Canada, when in my OWN Country we are divided.

    • Jo  On August 30, 2020 at 9:49 am

      Re Indo/G: The Indians, last to be “brought” into BG to work on the plantations, had a deeper retention of their original culture, economic and social..not least of all, not being Christianized…as Mr. Dindayal outlines. He not only identifies as Guyanese. He’s compiled an excellent set of biographies of Guyanese who have made their mark abroad. I too like you know I’m Guyanese to the core. But I also will claim my Mixed Race ancestry which was the family cradle that held me. The Chinese very much retained a sense of Chinese group idientity. I was shocked to attend the funeral of a close Chinese friend of my parents to find myself one of very few “others” in a church packed with members of the Chinese Guyanese community. Guyanese they were but still very much connected as a Chinese diaspora. It’s more than heartening to find a positive reclaiming of our African heritage, especially with Africa throwing off its dependency status in many countries. So let’s put it all in a Guyanese melting pot and enjoy the metagee..”nuf ground provisions” but a great meal when put together. It’s the politicians that divide us and we are the only ones to say “Enough! I will not live like this.”

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