President’s Arrival Day message
May 5, 2007
HERE is the text of the message by President Bharrat Jagdeo for Arrival Day:
“Over the years, the month of May has been generally regarded and widely celebrated as Immigration Month in Guyana. This is so because it was in the month of May that the first batches of Portuguese (1835), East Indians (1838) and Liberated Africans (1841) arrived as indentured labourers in the then colony of British Guiana. As a result, substantial numbers of immigrants came from these sources. In addition, we were the recipients of Europeans, Chinese, and Barbadian immigrants.
But this immigration might not have seen the light of day, were it not for the numerous slave riots in Guyana, Jamaica, Barbados, and Antigua, which not only presented the ingredients for the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1834, but catalysed the concoction of the Indenture system. And so, the slave riots and the indenture system serve as a clear historical bond that has cemented alliances among all our groups throughout Guyana’s history.
During the immediate post-emancipation era of ‘crisis, experimentation and change’ immigration was seen as the answer to the much-feared labour problems of the plantocracy and the consequential threat to the survival of the sugar industry. Through the combined efforts of these immigration schemes, the Guyanese society was provided with over three hundred and forty thousand indentured labourers during the period 1834–1917.
The immigrants’ overall contribution to Guyana is phenomenal. They ensured the survival and expansion of the sugar industry in the nineteenth century in the face of tremendous odds. They aided the rise and development of villages, peasantry and economic diversification in general. Their cultural impact is pronounced and lasting, especially in areas of religion, festivals, folklore, dress, language, dancing, music and food. Descendants of indentured labourers continue to make immense strides in the social, economic, cultural, education, political and trade union fields. Indeed they are actively engaged in every facet of life in our Guyanese society of today.
We have a rich legacy of a plural, multi-cultural society, thanks to the supreme sacrifice of our fore-fathers of yesterday. It is time that we give sober reflection on the significance of immigration and indentureship. Let us show a greater sense of purpose and maturity and more mutual respect, tolerance, appreciation and understanding of each other as we commemorate Arrival Day. Remember, there is strength in diversity. At this juncture of our country’s history, let us give true meaning to our motto of “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”, where our commemoration enhances the true significance of multiculturalism and national unity.
A Happy Immigration Month to All!”