President David Granger: Thank you for that energetic introduction Charrandas. Honourable Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo; Honourable Samuel Hinds former President and Prime Minister; Dr. George Norton, Minister of Social Cohesion; Mr. Ronald Bulkan, Minister of Communities; Mr. Dominic Gaskin, Minister of Business; Honourable Dawn Hastings, Minister within the Ministry of Communities -we have the whole Cabinet here- Honourable Annette Ferguson, Minister within the Ministry of Public Infrastructure; Honourable Jaipaul Sharma, Minister within the Ministry of Finance; Honourable Karen Cummings, Minister within the Ministry of Public Health and of course my dear friend from the National Assembly- Mr. Charrandas Persaud; Mr. David Armogan, Chairman of the East Berbice-Corentyne Region; Mr. Tashi Bhutia, First Secretary of the Indian High Commission; Mr. Chandra Sohan, President of the Berbice Indian Cultural Committee, executive members and members of the Berbice Indian Cultural Committee; beautiful people of East Berbice, particularly East Bank Berbice, and let me join Charrandas in congratulating the dancers on the high quality of entertainment we have gotten from them this morning; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen. [Applause.]
I am happy to be here and I deeply regret that I will have to leave sooner than I wanted to attend other engagements, but this is important to us all not only in Berbice, not only Indians, but to the entire nation. Arrival Day is a national celebration. All Guyanese should commemorate the chapter in our history when our peoples arrived in this country. This date, 5th May, this event, this commemoration at this place, Highbury, reminds us of the value that we all place on being together and at the same time being able to preserve our own identity.
Arrival Day is observed as a national holiday on the 5th May each year. Today is also designated officially as Indian Arrival Day so it is a double celebration, its National Arrival Day and Indian Arrival Day. My brothers and sisters, Arrival Day commemorates the transformation of this country by the people who came: the Africans, the Chinese, the Indians and Portuguese who came here and mingled with the Amerindians, the people who have lived here from time immemorial. Arrival Day signifies the transformation also of the demographic and the political economy of British Guiana as it was then.
Arrival Day commemorates the arduous voyage and the joyous arrival here at Highbury, it commemorates the search for the good life which started 179 years ago, it tells a story of settlement; it tells the story of struggle. Africans, Chinese, Indians and Portuguese worked in their different ways to build this nation. Arrival Day brought people from the continents: Africa, Asia and Europe together with the Indigenous people of this continent, South America; all contributed to the creation of the multi-racial, multi-religious state that we live in today. The people who ‘immigrated’ here mingled with those who inhabited here and together they spawned a cultural, economic and social phenomenon that we now recognise as the Guyanese nation.
Diversity is a precious asset. Diversity, however, must be prized and protected by ensuring that everyone can coexist in peace, that everyone could share mutual respect for the validity of each other’s culture. Arrival Day is a celebration of cohesion. It might have been an accident of history that our peoples were brought together in such a spectacular manner a hundred and seventy-nine years ago, but it was no accident that we have had to work to weld these peoples into a whole nation.
Social cohesion is not an accident; it is not an automatic condition of the fact that we came together 179 years ago. Social cohesion had to be hammered out on the anvil of struggle. It had to be forged in the fiery furnace of contestation for space. Heed was hardly paid by the colonisers to the manner in which these various peoples, from the continents of earth, uprooted from their familiar homelands and transplanted into a strange land would have to live together. The need to live in peace, however, was evident to our ancestors. They were mindful of the importance of fashioning a society in which we all could co-exist. Social cohesion had to be built, gradually and deliberately, family by family, community by community.
Social cohesion had to be built from the commencement of indentured immigration in 1835 when the Portuguese came. Social cohesion therefore was due, in no small measure, to the efforts of all to accept each other’s values, each other’s beliefs, and each other’s differences.
Arrival Day, therefore, reminds all of us that social cohesion cannot be taken for granted. It is a work in progress. It is concerned with addressing the most fundamental question of how diverse peoples can live together in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. Therefore, we should not hesitate to pay homage to each group that arrives. It is only by giving recognition and by paying respect to the people that differences will not be obscured, that ignorance will be eradicated and that real integration could be assured.
Indian Arrival Day, therefore, is observed rightly today 5th of May. Portuguese Arrival Day, equally, was observed two days ago on the 3rd of May. Chinese Arrival Day was observed earlier this year on the 12th of January. African Emancipation Day will be observed in August; on the 1st of August and Indigenous Heritage Month will be observed for all of September. In this way we will continue to work towards strengthening society by strengthening each individual strand in this beautiful tapestry of the Guyanese nation.
Indian arrival, therefore, is commemorated quite correctly right here at Highbury on the East Bank of the Berbice River as the main national ceremony. The Indian presence in this country is associated correctly with this community. It was here at Highbury, as you can see from the mural that the S.S. Whitby bringing 128 Indians landed on the 5th of May 1838, one hundred and seventy-nine years ago.
Indian arrival day is significant this year because the observance coincides with the centenary of the end of Indian indentured immigration. As you’ve heard from other speakers, Indians were brought here to work as indentured immigrants on the sugar plantations and almost 240,000 came to this country between 1838 and 1917.
More than 70% stayed here to make this country their home. Those who stayed have made an indelible impact on this country’s colourful economic and social landscape. They brought with them a rich culture, their belief, their customs, their beautiful dancers that you just saw a few minutes ago, their dress, their festivals, their food, their music, their rituals, their speech and their traditions and Guyana is all the richer for this culture.
Indian cultural practices enabled them to overcome the adversities and abuses of the plantations. It fortified their resilience and their resistance to the oppressive nature of life on the plantation. Indian cultural values encouraged strong bonds of personal, familial, communal and social solidarity. They welded the Indian community closer together; the recreation of traditional Indian village life and relationships furnished a familiar setting thereby enhancing social integration.
Religious festivals such as Holi and Diwali re-established religious links with their Indian homeland. Indian interests enticed them to trade their return passages for plots of land which they used to supplement their income off the plantation. Their industry and their thrift enabled them to improve their livelihood. They contributed to the diversification of the rural economy by venturing into cattle rearing; cash crop farming, coconut cultivation, paddy growing, rice milling and fishing. Some of the best established fishing villages are right here in East Berbice-Corentyne. Indian village economies and settlements indeed have reshaped the economy of this country.
Guyanese descendants of the original inhabitants are more than mere ‘arrivants’; they are the heirs of a magnificent legacy. Guyana is an extremely beautiful, blissful and bountiful country, one that is in transition to becoming a ‘green’ state. The ‘green’ state is the natural product of a verdant and luxurious environment. Our biodiversity is the legacy, the patrimony which our ancestors bequeathed to us, to all Guyanese. Our ecosystem, our coastland, our hinterland, our highland, our islands in the Essequibo, the three largest of which; Leguan, Wakenaam and Hogg Island, are bigger than the British Virgin Islands.
Our wetlands here in Canje- the home of our national bird the Canje Pheasant; our grasslands, our lakes, our rivers, our rainforests, our waterfalls, these are all our birth right; these are all our inheritance; these are our heritage which our ancestors protected and preserved so that we could inherit them. We too must protect and preserve them for future generations.
Our ‘green’ state can flourish, our ‘green’ state can furnish us with the good life for generations to come only if we engender a spirit of cohesion, only if we create a community in which our diversity, our differences are respected and celebrated as we’re doing here today. The ‘green’ state must embody the cohesiveness that arises from our unique and shared path.
There is no other part of the world like Guyana, no other part of the world would be doing what we’re doing here today, celebrating our diversity and celebrating our uniqueness. It is this diversity which will lead to prosperity and into a common future for us all.
My brothers and sisters, Indian integration arose as an essential element in nation building; resilience in the face of adversity on the plantations, the relevance of culture amidst the new conditions and recognition of the need to develop respectful relations with the other races in our society contributed to the creation of the cohesive state that we enjoy today.
When other states are in turmoil, Guyana remains an oasis of harmony. Indians, as residents of a strange state, realised individually and collectively that they needed to share a common space and to live in harmony with their neighbours. Indians, in so doing, contributed immeasurably to creating a common culture, a culture of tolerance, a culture of mutual respect and a culture that laid the basis for strengthening our social cohesion.
My brothers and sisters, Indian society like any other society in any part of the world has differences, but social cohesion can overcome those differences and still needs to be strengthened in each social stratum; in each occupational sector and each geographical region. So the message that we share here today must be taken to other parts of the country, must be taken to other sections of society that cannot join us in Highbury.
The Indian presence teaches us that improved relations must be predicated on respect for each other, must be guided by a sense of shared responsibility for the common good. Arrival Day, therefore, reminds us all that we have been inspired by the past but at the same time our differences should instil in us the desire to choose a common path towards a shared future.
The shadows of the plantation under which all of our ancestors laboured, all of our ancestors survived are unforgettable, our ancestors toiled on the plantations in poverty, the poor, alas, are still with us but it is for this generation to overcome, to eradicate every form of extreme poverty. We don’t have to live like our forefathers lived and we don’t want to make sure that future generations will continue to live in poverty on the contrary, we want to ensure that they could enjoy the prosperity that our forefathers did not see.
On the plantations our forefathers were treated as unequal members of society. It is, therefore, for us today to eradicate the worst forms of inequality. It is for us today to build an inclusionary society, one that guarantees gender and geographical equality so that women must enjoy equal, not near equal, equal conditions to men and those living in Orealla and Arau, and Awarewaunau; must be able to enjoy the same conditions as those living in Port Mourant or Fort Wellington or Georgetown that is what a social cohesive society means.
My brothers and sisters, these are the lessons of Arrival Day and this is why we’ve assembled in our numbers and in our colours, and that is why our Guyanese monsoon season has given us a break, given us beautiful sunshine today so that we can celebrate together.
Arrival Day teaches us that we can build a more cohesive society by eliminating poverty and by eradicating inequality. Arrival Day is a day for coming together. All have contributed to nation building. All have embraced the common destiny, one in which our diversity and our differences are respected. Arrival Day is a time for moving forward not moving backwards. It is a signal for all Guyanese, a reminder of the need to work together towards greater social cohesion. A cohesive state is the most fitting homage and the best tribute that we can pay to the struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors.
I am happy to be here today and to extend best wishes to all Guyanese on the occasion of Arrival Day and especially to the Indian Guyanese community on the observance of Indian Arrival Day.
May God bless you all.