On Arrival Day...
President stresses equal importance of diverse groups
May 7, 2004
THOUSANDS of Guyanese reflected Wednesday on the period when 239,919 immigrants, the first 128 of whom stepped onto the wharf at Plantation Highbury, East Bank Berbice, arrived in British Guiana.
Among the celebrants was guest of honour President Bharrat Jagdeo, himself a descendant of the immigrant group who journeyed here.
The occasion was the 166th anniversary of the coming of East Indians to this country, on a national holiday approved by Parliament to mark the arrival of various ethnic groups under different circumstances.
The function took place at the Highbury monument site, with the theme 'From India to Guyana'.
The programme, organised by the East Berbice East Indian Immigration Commemoration Committee, captured the rich undying culture which came with those who arrived first and carefully preserved it from generation to generation.
Even though the historical overview painted a sad picture of betrayal, struggle, injustice, the atmosphere was one of accomplishment as the throngs celebrated rather than grieved.
Some people travelled from as far as Georgetown to make the pilgrimage to the location 12 miles from New Amsterdam, also in Berbice, on bicycles and in cars, buses and trucks.
An arch, erected in memory of the indentured labourers, stood firmly in front of the stage which had the inscription: 'Plantation Highbury, Arrival of 128 East Indians 1838 - 2004'.
Many dancers, singers, models and actors rendered a variety of performances on a stage draped in the colours of the Guyana and India national flags.
President Jagdeo, who was accompanied by Minister of Housing and Water, Mr Shaik Baksh, said descendants of the Indian immigrants have every right to be proud that they were at Highbury where the first batch of Indians landed.
The Head of State mentioned the cultural values brought by their foreparents and added: "Within each of you is part of that 5000-year civilisation that you brought from India and you must be extremely proud of that."
He said the values emphasise virtues such as tolerance, hard work and respect for knowledge in a civilisation characterised by some of the finest arts and sciences.
"You each brought that and it is your contribution to this nation," Mr Jagdeo observed, lauding the pioneering spirit of the immigrants.
"Whether they were fooled through the lure of a wonderful life here or they came voluntarily, they all had the same pioneering spirit, "he contended.
Recalling his recent State Visit to India, President Jagdeo reported that he was privileged to see from where his grandfather came, "a village stuck in time where nothing has changed."
He said that experience afforded him a picture of what life was like and how hard it must have been for a 17-year-old to leave home, family, friends and culture and strike out to another part of the world in search of a fortune, unsure of what will confront him.
"The story of my grandfather is not unique, because each of your foreparents had to face the same conditions and, despite those uncertainties, they stuck it out here and their descendants today are making such a huge contribution to the development of this country," Mr Jagdeo acknowledged.
President Jagdeo said one of the characteristics he admired in their foreparents was the ability to overcome hardship, flogging, unjust imprisonment, atrocious living conditions and discrimination, through all of which they persevered.
He encouraged the descendants to learn from those lessons, pointing out that today, when confronted with minor difficulties, "sometimes we want to give up, we are worried and become negative."
"That is not the spirit of the foreparents we are so proud of," he urged.
Mr Jagdeo said 50 years ago, when conditions were hard, the Indian immigrants were treated by the colonial masters as strangers and second class citizens in this land.
Many, including former President Cheddi Jagan, succeeded in the face of overwhelming difficulties, his successor asserted.
Noting that East Indian immigrants could cherish freedom while their foreparents were bound to the estates, President Jagdeo called on the present generation to understand that their rich inherited culture demands the respect and tolerance of other people.
"We will not be true to that culture if we are intolerant or disrespectful to the contribution of other groups. We must recognise those equally," he said, declaring that, although he is proud of his ancestry, he remains loyal to this country and there is no conflict of loyalty.
Speaking about developments in the 'Ancient County' of Berbice, President Jagdeo listed:
* The new New Amsterdam Hospital, being built through a Japanese grant at a cost of approximately US$13.2M, that will be the most modern hospital in the country;
* The G$100M GUYSUCO expansion project at Skeldon that will secure the future of the sugar industry and produce 20 megawatts of electricity from bagasse;
* The award of a US$22M contract for paving the road from Mahaica to Rosignol;
* The repavement and widening, by year end, of the road from New Amsterdam to Crabwood Creek at a cost of US$35M;
* Completion, last Thursday, of a feasibility study on the bridge across Berbice River and the anticipated contract award for its construction before year end and
* The almost immediate allocation of funds by Central Government for the resurfacing of the Highbury road.
On leaving Highbury, President Jagdeo stopped at Mount Sinai where he announced another G$10M allocation for road rehabilitation.
His stay in Berbice ended with attendance of the International Mela and Fun Day at Albion Sports Complex, where crowds overspilled the ground, as well.
President Jagdeo, in brief remarks there, said when he sees the display of such enthusiasm he is invigorated to continue his work.
He challenged the gathering to use the lessons of their ancestors and make better life for themselves and not forget that this country has diverse groups which are equally important.
Mr Jagdeo also thanked the international artistes for participating.