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The President`s Arrival Day Message has caused quite a stir in almost every quarter. There are those who have challenged what he said: “every group that came did so for improvement, did so to have improved living conditions, did so so that successive generations will be better off.” There are those who saw it as an opportunity to attack the messengers in the person of the President or those who dared to be critical of what he said.
The myriad of differing and hostile responses to the President`s remarks highlights the need for the History of the peoples of Guyana to be agreed, recorded and proselytised. Village Voice News is concerned that the President, who should be speaking for all and who purports to speak for all, is at fundamental variance with and about many for whom he should be speaking and for whom he purports to speak.
Arrival Day could hardly be considered a celebratory occasion. It commemorates the significance of the arrivals of some of the peoples (Africans, Portuguese, Chinese and Indians) of Guyana as enslaved and indentured; and their contributions to the place we now call Guyana, even as they struggled for their liberation from the Plantation System and colonial domination. History records that Africans were shackled and brought against their will, as chattel. Portuguese, Chinese and Indians chose to come, albeit Indians arguably were duped to come as indentured workers. African resistance to coming is well documented, as much as the agreement of others to come is recorded. In the face of those irrefutable historical facts, the President tells the Nation that ‘we all came for the betterment of ourselves and generations to come’.
Village Voice News refuses to attribute this statement to the lack of knowledge on the part of the President and/or his speech writers. However, we do recognise that the limited attention paid to Guyanese History and the coming and contributions of the various ethnic groups to Guyana`s evolution may well result in many being gullible to the misinformation disseminated by opinion leaders.
We also recognise that there are those who have sought erroneously to equate the regime of indentureship to that of enslavement. Those are the ones who would contend that all Guyanese came for betterment. The enslaved Africans did not come for betterment. They knew not where they were coming. They did not volunteer to come. They were shackled and forcibly brought. Many sought to escape on their way here. Many preferred to die rather than come. The number of rebellions they staged after being brought spoke volumes about their fight to change the terms of their forced presence here.
The Indentured Indians were not enslaved. They came with an understanding of being able to return home after service, if they wished. They were allowed to practice their religion and enjoyed liberties that the enslaved were considered not entitled to and did not enjoy. They left Mother India ostensibly for betterment. Many never returned to India when the opportunity arose and there were even those among them who sought to reintroduce Indian immigration after indentureship was discontinued. None of the aforementioned suggest that indentureship was a bed of roses. It was not, but those who came did not suffer the same magnitude of dehumanisation and unspeakable pain that the Africans suffered. They came with purpose and stayed for a purpose, hence the President may be right in saying they ‘came for betterment’. But in no way can he say that of the enslaved Africans. It therefore begs the question of his purpose for such a pronouncement. Was he agreeing with Ravi Dev that Arrival Day should be Indian Arrival Day and spoke to and about that segment of the society?
Certainly he cannot be hoping to achieve his stated aspiration of One Guyana on the false premise about the coming of the enslaved African, which he articulated. That premise negates the need for recognition and justice for the historically disadvantaged and is a recipe for them to remain at the bottom of the ladder as Dr. Jagan once proffered as the status of African Guyanese.
All Guyanese, from our years of inter-ethnic struggle, should come to realise that mutual respect and equitable treatment are the pillars upon which a united Guyana can be built. The President is challenged to recognise that reality less he goes down in history as being the proverbial politician.
The President`s apparent introspection and subsequent clarification does not resolve the problematic that we are faced with as a Nation. The issues articulated in this Editorial are still alive and pertinent. There is need for a Truth and Reconciliation process, as a strategy, to provide for the sanitisation of our understanding of our past; and the groundwork for a cohesive approach to our future, as a nation.