May 05 has been officially designated as “Arrival Day” which brings into focus the arrival of Immigrants to Guyana. Importantly, the day affords us the opportunity to reflect also on British colonialism, the slave system and the indentureship policy that followed it.
May 05 is generally associated with East Indian immigration and their indentureship to the then British Guiana beginning in May 1838. Our history acknowledges that other immigrants were brought to this land – the Madeiran Portuguese in May 1835, the Chinese in 1853, as well as a few other ethnicities during that phase of colonialism. We gather from the research done of this period that the colonialists brought also labourers from Malta, Ireland, Germany and England. These Indentured labourers as with the system of slavery, were brought to do the back-breaking work on the sugar plantations.
As indentured labourers they were forced to live in atrocious conditions, often symbolized by the cramped derelict ranges to collective living which we know as logies. An inhumane relationship existed between them and the plantocracy.
Some accounts put those who came under the indentureship system from India to be 240,000 between 1838 and 1917, quite significant for that time.
These labourers, like the slaves, were linked essentially to sugar. Their history in intertwined with the history of sugar. Today, descendants from those times are still linked to the industry with many, even in this 21st Century, still facing harsh conditions and threats to their livelihoods as presently indicated by developments regarding Wales and LBI Estates.
The immigrants were all mere producers of wealth for the plantocracy of the British Empire in the process of which they endured heart-rending suffering and exploitation. In time, off-spring of the immigrants and indentured labourers moved into the professions, commerce and trade and agriculture. They made a major contribution in the struggles for freedom, in the struggles for democracy and in the various tasks to build Guyana which became their home and in which they have lived now for more than one hundred and seventy years. Their religions, cultural expressions and values add to our diversity and spiritual richness.
Our people, all of them, should take pride in seeing Guyana today as an independent country and who are being, in spite of the many challenges, motivated by a deep interest in our all-round development to ensure dignity, decent living standards, and a sound foundation – economic and social primarily – for the generation that follows us.
On this “Arrival Day”, we remember our forefathers and the pains they withstood as they reached out for a better life. Several generations separate us from them. Since then many changes have occurred that impact our life today. Still though the journey towards steady improvements in our lives, to consolidate our nationhood, to forge unity and to build a just and prosperous country continues.
In our observation of this 5th May, let us do so confident that our aspirations will be realized.
GAWU joins with all Guyanese to celebrate, once again, Arrival Day.