Address of His Excellency Brigadier David Granger, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana at the Unveiling Ceremony of the Indian Arrival Monument, Palmyra, East Berbice-Corentyne. May 5, 2019

A cohesive community…an inclusive destiny

Ladies and Gentlemen, friends, Arrival Day is a national celebration. It commemorates the combination and culmination of events which led to the creation of this nation; the very creation of this nation. It is the face of the population and the foundation of society.

Portuguese Arrival Day was observed two days ago on 3rd May to mark the arrival of the first indentured immigrants from the Madeira Islands in 1835 three years before the Indians. Chinese Arrival Day was observed on 12th January to mark the arrival of the first Chinese migrants in 1853. Indian Arrival Day is observed on 5th May to mark the arrival of the first Indian migrants in 1838.

Arrival Day is a national holiday. This national holiday coincides with the observance of Indian Arrival Day. The inauguration of the Indian Immigration Monument in the East Berbice – Corentyne Region and the observance of these arrivals are three reasons for jubilation.

Arrival Day celebrates the contributions of all of our peoples – Amerindians, Africans, Asians and Europeans. Our nation was established on the foundation of their sacrifices and achievements.

Arrival Day recognizes the nation’s diversity.  It signifies the creation of a conglomeration of cultures. The nation is multicultural, and always will be and each culture enriches national integration despite differences in origin.

Multiculturalism has overcome historic challenges.  All ethnic groups, particularly after the emancipation of the enslaved Africans in 1838, were brought together in a common geographic space. Little attention was paid by those who brought us together, to how these various groups with different cultures would coexist cohesively. It is the challenge of the present generation to overcome those differences and to continue to construct a cohesive country.

The nation cannot develop to its full capacity unless it harnesses the potential of the entire population. Conditions have to be created to ensure that our peoples could live together in harmony. It is for this reason that we are pursuing the realisation of a cohesive state in which all of our people will be recognised and respected. A cohesive state is vital to ensuring a sustainable, safe and secure environment, one in which present and future generations can be happy. It is essential to protecting the legacy of past generations.

This Region, the East Berbice-Corentyne Region is an especially favourable location for these celebrations. Its population is cosmopolitan with large African, Amerindian and East Indian communities along with persons of Chinese and European descent. It is reflective of the country’s main ethnic groups – descendants of people from the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe.

The Region is the location where Indian indentured immigrants first set foot on Guyanese soil – at Plantation Highbury. It was in this Region many immigrants, after the end of their contracts of indenture, chose to live alongside other ethnic groups.

Indian indentured immigration to British Guiana was not a unique imperial invention. It was part of two waves of labour exports in the 19th century and in the first three decades of the 20th century, a project initiated by the British Empire.

Indian indentured immigrants, numbering almost 1.3 million, were contracted to work on plantations in the British, Dutch and French colonies of British Guiana, French Guiana, Fiji, Grenada, Guadeloupe,  Jamaica, Kenya, Martinique,  Mauritius, South Africa, St. Kitts,  St. Lucia, St. Vincent, the Seychelles, South Africa, Suriname,  Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda between 1838 and 1917.

The second wave, principally to the Southeast Asian countries of Malaya, Myanmar, Singapore and Sri Lanka, involved more than 6 million Indians who were sent out under the ‘kangani’ and ‘maistry’ recruitment systems as labourers.

Mother India lost many of its sons and daughters to migration but Mother India could be proud of in its far-flung diaspora who left the shores of their motherland as indentured immigrants, citizens of free states. India, the immigrants’ descendants and the colonies which received them all benefitted from migration, integration and, in some cases, miscegenation.

Indentured immigration expanded the colonies’ labour supply, diversified their economies and enriched their cultures. It allowed immigrants to improve their well-being and to provide opportunities for their offspring. Remittances was sent from indentured labour to aid the local Indian economy.

Indian indentured immigrants landed first in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region one hundred and eighty-one years ago on 5th May 1838. They came in search of a good life but the initial trickle turned into a torrent.

Almost 240,000 indentured immigrants arrived in British Guiana in the ensuing eight decades until the system was abolished in 1917. More than seven out of every ten of these immigrants opted to stay and make this country their home.

The abolition of Indian indentured immigration intensified migrants’ efforts to integrate more fully into our multi-ethnic society.  Indians already shared a common space with other ethnic groups with whom they had sought and enjoyed respectful relations.

Harmonious relations were aided by the religious and cultural conventions and practices of tolerance among our ethnic groups. I have never heard of a religious riot in Guyana and I don’t think there ever will be one. These conventions allowed Indians and non-Indians to mingle, to mix and to make the most of this country’s economic opportunities.

India’s continuing and current concern for its diaspora is reflected in its decision to support the construction of this magnificent memorial, the Indian Immigration Monument.  Indian Arrival Day is commemorated today with the unveiling of this grand monument dedicated to the memory of Indian indentured immigrants whose exertions contributed to building this nation of Guyana. We are richer for their arrival and for their remaining here.

Guyana applauds and thanks the Government of India for its contribution and collaboration on this project and for the donation of these splendid sculptures. This Indian Immigration Monument symbolises the ties of blood and history between Guyana and India. This monument site is a shrine to Indian immigration and to the migrants’ adoption and adaptation to their new homeland.

Monuments represent the experiences of peoples and nations. They are witnesses to history and reflections to the people’s culture. They exalt the values which societies hold dear. They preserve our heritage and inspire future generations. This Monument not only casts an eye backwards to our past and but can also help to advance towards a common future, a future for all of our peoples.

This Monument is a concrete reminder of the journeys of arrival and the continuing journey towards a society characterised by human dignity and material progress. The protection and preservation of the family, as the monument depicts, is central to that continuing journey.

The Indian Arrival Monument recalls the Indian indentured experience. It celebrates the migrants’ resistance, resilience and resourcefulness.  It attests to the immigrants’ sacrifices, struggle and the pursuit of a good life.

Indians have made indelible contributions to the nation’s cultural, economic, political and social development. These contributions have ensured the community’s progress and has advanced the nation’s development.

Indians, as others before them, were confronted by the abuse, cruelty and domination of plantation life and they resisted, sometimes by riots and strikes.

Our coastland is littered with memorials to the martyrs of plantation riots – at Devonshire Castle, Enmore and Rose Hall and other sites yet unmarked at Leonora, Non-Pariel, Nooten Zuil, Ruimveldt and elsewhere – where Indian labourers were killed. We must not forget their sacrifice.

Indians protested and were punished but they persevered. They explored avenues of economic enterprise off the plantations after their indentures ended, as did the Africans, Portuguese and Chinese before them. Resistance culminated, eventually, in the decision to abolish indentured immigration in 1917.

Indian contributions to the economy are unquestionable. Indians who began arriving even before the abolition of African enslavement in 1838 became, eventually, the main source of labour in the sugar and rice industries. They have helped to sustain these pillars of our economy for more than 180 years.

Indian resourcefulness contributed, also, to the diversification of the rural economy through the development of cattle-rearing, cash crop and coconut cultivation, paddy-growing, rice-milling and fishing.

Village economies and settlements – and their skills as bakers, boatmen, charcoal-burners, chemists, fishermen, goldsmiths, hucksters, milk and sweetmeat vendors, shopkeepers and tailors, skills they brought from India – helped to reshape the Guyanese rural, economic and social landscape.

Indians, to a significant degree, became a considerable commercial and landowning class after they quit the plantations. Some, through thrift and industry, became part of a thriving business élite.

Some opened new areas of production along the banks of rivers and creeks and in the islands of the Essequibo.  Many acquired land and established villages and communities. Their economic enterprise expanded the economy and generated a demand for education and skills.

The descendants of Indian immigrants distinguished themselves in every field of human endeavour.  Many excelled in academia, agriculture, accounting, the arts, business, diplomacy, education, engineering, law enforcement, legal services, medicine, military service, politics, the public service, sport and trade unionism.

Indians who have enriched every sector of society ― academics, Clem Seecharan and Rupert Roopnaraine; attorneys, Edward Alfred Luckhoo and Stanley Hardyal;  businessmen, Sattaur Gafoor and Lyla Kissoon; diplomats, Sir Sridath Ramphal and Sir Lionel Luckhoo;  doctors, Balwant Singh and Deborah Persaud;  trade unionists Ayube Edun and Joseph Latchmansingh; public servants, Eshwar Persaud and Lloyd Searwar; religious leaders Reepu Daman Persaud, Faizal Ferouz and Benedict Singh, cultural champions, Rajkumarie Singh and Lakshmi Kallicharran and sportsmen Rohan Kanhai and Shivnarine Chanderpaul ― all of whom are excellent examples of Guyanese of Indian descent who attained eminence in professional and public life.

Indians are integral to our multicultural state. They, together with other ethnic groups, have generated the cultural, economic and social diversity we recognise today as the Guyanese nation. They have contributed to a common culture of tolerance and mutual respect which has laid the basis, today, for the creation of a more cohesive and inclusive state.

Indians are integral to our inclusive future and always will be. Development will be retarded unless every citizen feels a sense of belonging and enjoys equality of opportunity.

An inclusive future involves increased integration. It is predicated on respectful relations among all of our people.  Guyana’s future must be one in which our children and grandchildren could live in a cohesive state, one in which they could enjoy a good life which our forefathers sought.

Cultural retention played a pivotal role in Indian resilience and in facilitating their integration in their new homeland. Indians, finding themselves in a strange land, recreated familiar situations in their new homeland. They celebrated festivals and created villages patterned after the rural villages from which they came.

They shared a strong sense solidarity by retaining their dance, dress, faith, festivals, food, language, music and social traditions. Mandirs, masjids and churches were erected to reinforce their religious beliefs, to retain rituals and to strengthen communal ties.

Guyanese share the rich cultural heritage of its immigrants – their food, song, festivals, music, religious, customs and traditions have been preserved, protected and enjoyed.

Guyanese share in an expanding economy with enhanced opportunities, in education and in employment. They belong to a country in which their communities are being enhanced, their children are encouraged to achieve their full potential, in which their communities are being enhanced and their properties are protected. The economic sectors in which they work are being enhanced, consolidated and strengthened.

Indian resilience was strengthened by continuous contact with Mother India which was always dear to the Indian indentured immigrants despite the nearly 15,000 km which separate their motherland from their adopted homeland. Despite the passage of decades of time, Indian indentured immigrants maintained a keen interest in developments taking place in India and Pakistan, especially after Independence and partition in 1947.

India, after independence, set out on a policy of maintaining and improving ties with its diaspora. It continued to dispatch religious leaders and envoys to strengthen relations with its diaspora.

The challenges faced by Indian families mirrored those of other disadvantaged ethnic groups in our country’s history. Each group, however, was able to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and odds and to make their respective contributions to the development of Guyana.

Guyanese, today, are heirs of this precious legacy of all of our African, Amerindian, Asian and European fore-parents. The strands of the national tapestry are stronger because of these contributions.

We must preserve this precious multicultural heritage by working together to secure a common future where all are recognised and respected and where everyone could enjoy this country’s bounty.

Arrival Day and Indian Arrival Day both commit us to continue to work together for the good life for all. Happy Arrival Day and may God bless you all. Ω