ARRIVAL Day is often associated with the arrival of East Indians to these shores on May 5, 1838, but it is really a celebration of all the ethnic groups who came, and over time, in one way or the other, contributed to Guyana’s development.
The Portuguese came in 1835 and the Chinese in 1853. Both of these ethnic groups have contributed tremendously to Guyana’s rich cultural tapestry and have given her some of the best in business and other spheres of national life. Notably, Guyana’s first President Arthur Chung was of Chinese descent, while industry captain and politician Peter D’Aguiar was of Portuguese origin. These are just two of many other prominent Guyanese of these two ethnic groups who have provided outstanding service to this country we call home.
Their foreparents came as indentured labourers, but persevered and today enjoy reputable standing in society. The Chinese today are owners of restaurants, supermarkets and are involved in the import/export business. The descendants of the Portuguese who came from Madeira on May 3, 1835, apart from being wealthy property owners and businesspersons, have also enjoyed a vibrant presence in the arts, sport and politics.
The East Indians, the other group which came in May, have also enjoyed a dominant presence in practically every aspect of national life. Quite naturally, being the largest and more dominant of the two other groups, greater attention has been paid to the East Indians who through sacrifice, thrift and industry, have been able to transform their lives.
East Indians are still largely involved in rice and sugar cultivation today, and are among the most wealthy and established business people in Guyana. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which is largely Indo-Guyanese based, has attained the seat of power more than once and has given Guyana several outstanding leaders, Dr Cheddi Jagan being foremost among them.
Arrival Day is therefore an occasion, not for one, but for all the groups that came to these shores to celebrate their cultures and contributions to making this land called Guyana, a better place. It is a time for all to unite and to celebrate the struggles of our foreparents, who laid down their lives for our freedoms — freedoms they never had. It is also a time that we take positive inspiration from our history. Oftentimes, we tend to hark back to the past to justify our actions or positions or beliefs we hold or want to perpetuate, but not often our history is used to unite and inspire us that we should be one people.
If this is done more often, Guyana will become more united as a nation with less animosity among our ethnic groups, especially Africans and East Indians. How many know, under the leadership of renowned trade unionist Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, East Indians and Africans were allies in the fight for better wages and an eight-hour working day. And in 1839, there was a significant test of national unity when ex-slaves testified in court that the Indian indentured labourers were treated precisely the same way as Africans under slavery. Africans also challenged the anti-education principles of the 1876 law that provided limited education to the Indians. They demanded that Indian languages be introduced in schools and the Court of Policy, comprising members of many ethnic groups, made Crown lands available to both Indians and Africans. So as we celebrate Arrival Day 2018, let us celebrate our common struggles for a better life and resolve to work together to solve the differences among ourselves. It is the duty of all, but more importantly our politicians to lead this process, as we prepare to celebrate 52 years as an Independent nation.