Guyana’s 48th Independence Anniversary in Toronto
By Ann Harper *
Eversince May 26th 1966 it has been the tradition for Guyanese at home and abroad alike to observe annually Independence Day as a holiday and it is marked by a ‘Flag Raising Ceremony’.
It was 48 years ago when the Duke of Kent, Sir Richard Luyt Guyana’s 1st Governor General on the behalf of the Queen of England; presented to the late Prime Minister Forbes Burnham in the House of Assembly special papers containing ‘a matter of great urgency’ .
One can only imagine what It must have been like, and the profound sense of achievement and great pride that Forbes Burnham felt as he opened that envelope at midnight on the on 25th May 1966, and announced that British Guiana was no more and a new country ‘Guyana’ a fully democratic state was founded on the rule of law. The Union Jack, Union Kingdom’s flag was lowered and The Golden Arrowhead Guyanese flag was raised for the very first time. Guyanese were jubilant to be free from the yoke of colonialism. Afterwards they celebrated with triumphant parades through the streets for a full 24 hours.
In keeping with this tradition on May 26th 2014 representatives from The Government of Guyana hosted a fete in Toronto. We meet for the 48th Independence Anniversary ‘Flag raising Ceremony’ at 1200n at Toronto City Hall; it was followed by a reception where we were treated to delicious Guyanese entries and a healthy dose of tales and laughter, as we reminisced about our homeland.
For me, being at the 48th Anniversary Celebration gave me a sense of enormous exhilaration. The crowd was more or less all Guyanese with the exceptions of The Cuban and Jamaican dignitaries. This was the first time that I have attended the Flag - raising and I did not quite know what to expect. I recognized no one and only began to feel at ease when we sang the National Anthem and as I listened to the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Clive Gulliver, who very eloquently delivered his lines in the Guyanese vernacular, therefore taking my thoughts and mind back to 1966. I remembered thinking then ‘now I have something else besides my birthday to celebrate on May 26th.’ I was only 15 years at the time. I immigrated to Canada 4 years later.
When you live abroad, you realize there will always be a part of you that is still close to home but lies dormant until something like the Anniversary Celebration and The Golden Arrowhead Guyanese flag was raised. It breadth live and colour back in my thoughts for the country where I was born. It was a beautiful and thrilling feeling. Afterwards as I walked home, I thought of my life as a child in Guyana and my life here in Canada and I came to this conclusion best expressed in the following quotation:
There are two births; the one when light
First strikes the new awaken'd sense;
The other when two souls unite,
And we must count our life from thence
To Chloe, By William Cartwright 1611 - 1643
History of Indians, amongst people of other countries, in Guyana
East Indians went to Guyana as indentured labourers after the abolition of slavery.
Between 1838 and 1917, about 238,909 East Indians were indoctrinated into life on the sugar plantations of British Guiana. Unlike the African people (who went to Guyana as slaves) their contract enabled them to preserve their languages, religions and other cultural practices, therefore retaining their original customs. Their status as indentured labourers also allowed them to live in residential segregation on the sugar plantations, where they were able to wear their National clothes (Women - Sari and Men – Dhoti,) eat their own food with spices which they brought from India.
Difficult times spanned, many decades of tremendous hardships for the all of the peoples of British Guiana, The Africans (after emancipation of slavery) The Aboriginal Indians (Carib and Arawak) Chinese, Portuguese and East Indians. However, The East Indians being the largest population, over many decades of tremendous hardships gained strength in having preserved their rights to Marriages, religious practices, which in turn aided and fortified them during times of indentured, post-indentured and post- independence.
Their achievements and successes are greatly reflected in politics, most notable Dr. Cheddi Jagan as President 1992 – 1997, currently Donald Romatar is President. In the civic services many a renown families i.e. The Luckoo boys all of them Queen’s Counsel (Q. C’s) and shared a deep interest in horses,– Sir Lloyd, Sir Edward (EV served as High Commissioner to India) and Lionel (served as High Commissioner to United Kingdom. http://www.genealogymagazine.com/luckhoo.html.
East Indians, like all the nationals, continue to thrive in every aspect of the fabric of Guyanese development especially in business and commerce, in science, art and education, and in culinary skills. Today Guyana’s national dish is curry chicken and roti, to which we are all immensely proud.
*Ann Harper was born in Guyana, South America, immigrated to Canada in the ‘70s. She has travelled extensively and gained a wealth of knowledge that lends to her life’s experience and ability to adapt to different cultures across Continents. Her most recent residency was in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She is a warm and compassionate person and deeply committed to helping others and actively serve with provincial, national and international volunteer organizations i.e. Canadian Red Cross, United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) United Nations Volunteers (UNV) etc.