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I believe it is right and proper that I commend President Irfaan Ally for his unqualified apology for an aspect of his Indian Arrival Day greetings, where he said Africans came to Guyana for betterment.
This was a bold, good and gracious step which we hope is an augury for a wholesome Guyana. It will be a sort of prelude of things to come as we seek to make the idea of one Guyana a reality.
Speaking with a group of young adults earlier, some teenager said they were told that there is a similarity between slavery and indentureship. This untruth and absurdity is the bedrock of our problem in Guyana. Face the reality that the Africans in Guyana began life here with a millstone of monumental proportions around their necks.
Unless we accept the differences as the result of our history, we will continue to be like yard fowls, fighting among ourselves, fighting for the top rung of the ladder while the real enemy and the architect of our worries is ignored and worst of all, many of our citizens will be unaware of this deep-seated legacy. Slavery and Indentureship were crafted by a greedy, heartless imperialist system.
First, Mr. Ali the likes of Lincoln Lewis of the TUC and others who brought this serious error to notice should be tasked with crafting programmes to instruct young and old, particularly in our educational institutions about the whole story, which allowed our presence in Guyana.
I’m of the firm belief that if this history is accurately and professionally presented, it will be a vital process of education, which will lead to genuine and a lasting liberation of all of our people, and so bequeath to our children and their children, a country where the slogan of being One People of One Nation and with One Destiny is not a slogan but a reality.
It is crystal clear that the disastrous divide and rule policy of imperialism is alive and well today. Slavery was the most-cruel and heinous crime committed on people of African descent in recent history. Slaves were not only dehumanized, and in most cases, treated like disposable wear and lower animals, but worst the Trans-Atlantic journey completely severed the roots and like nature, when you cut off the roots of a plant, its growth is stultified.
This letter, even as I compliment President Ally, is intended to direct our attention to the philosophy and the people at the Epic-Centre of our difficulties in Guyana. This talk of equating slavery with indentureship is a bane not a benefit, and certainly not helpful. The disposal of this inaccuracy must be the starting point, if we are to march gloriously into a bright future.
In Guyana, I give one example of the deep wounds inflicted on our workers in particular the Manumitted Africans. As a result of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, which claimed many millions of lives, our plantations lost over twelve thousand workers to the Flu. The Estates management faced the crisis of a badly depleted workforce. In 1917, the British Parliament brought an end to the importation of East Indian Immigrants. To satisfy the urgent demands for labour, two teams, one headed by an African descendant Alfred Athiel Thorne and the other by Dr. Jung Bahadur Singh, were asked to get governments in Africa and India respectively to help with recruitment of workers to fill vacancies on the plantations
This initiative was met by a strong objection from the white plantocracy, who claimed that African workers were indolent and were demanding too high wages and their preference was therefore for workers from India who presented neither of the above alleged proclivities. Dear Editor and readers, Africans and Indians, are victims of this old, well-worked imperialist tactic.
The rest of course is history.
The Africans were not indolent when they dug several miles of canals, trenches and dams, when they were slaughtered as in 1823 and had their heads cut off and planted on poles as a lesson to others to be of so-call ‘good’ behaviour.
By the time, our Indian brothers arrived to replace African labour, thanks to the work of Emancipators, William Wilberforce, Fowell Buxton and John Newton, conditions on the sugar estates and other plantations were improved. We must educate by sharing knowledge, if all of us are to be liberated and share peacefully this country and its substantial bounty.
I hope that nothing I’m writing here will be interpreted by detractors as being either racist or bias. We are being told and believe that the” truth shall set us free.” Our Indian brothers came and were able to retain their religious and cultural practices; Africans were not.
That is why today, except in a few isolated cases of mixed marriages and unions, when you hear the name Persaud, Singh or Ramlakhan, you know you are talking to an Indo-Guyanese.
When you hear the names, Chin, Sue Ping and Fung, you are looking for a Chinese-Guyanese. When you hear the names, Da Silva, Nasciemento, De Fretias, you are talking about a Portuguese/Madeira Guyanese. When you hear the names, John, Green or Lewis, who are we talking about? I have researched and cannot find either of those names in a West African village, so even the labels, an important means of identity was denied African descendants in Guyana.
Even our drums were destroyed as the captive slaves were huddled and bundled into the cargo hole of the slave ships. The slave traders could not afford to spare a space for their treasured cargo of human beings. Many jumped overboard when they realized they were no longer free farmers, fishermen and herdsmen.
The Chinese, Portuguese and Indian immigrants did not have that problem. When the Indians came on contract, they were provided money, if after a certain time they wished to return to India and indeed, some did. In mid May 1947, Mr. Chaman Lall, a senior Member of the Indian National Congress and Lecturer met with a large group of Indians at De Kinderen and urged them not to think of repatriation to India, but to enter civic and political life of British Guiana. Indians obviously took this advice and by diligence, sacrifice, hard work and the practice of deferred gratification, have done very well in every area of human endeavor in Guyana and without reservation, they must be complimented.
As we seek to educate to liberate, every story has more than one side. Professor Ali A. Mazrui, in his lecture to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Emancipation posed this teaser when he said “The Martyr in the religious ideological sphere suffers victimisation for his or her beliefs. The martyr in the racial sphere suffers victimisation for his or her identity. Christians in ancient Rome were pure belief-martyrs. Africans during the slave trade were pure identity-martyrs. The Jews in Hitler’s Germany were a combination of the two, since being a Jew is in part a religious thing and partly an ethnic phenomenon.”
But Blacks have neither sacralized their suffering into a sacred doctrine nor exploited it as a political fund. Let us share knowledge and information so we can truly educate to liberate.