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Re-Imagining the Guyanas

 | 
Lawrence Aje
, 
Thomas Lacroix
, 
Judith Misrahi-Barak

Mapping and Charting the 3 Guyanas

Cultural Resistance: East Indian Migrants and the Formation of Ethnic Identities in British Guiana

Ateeka Khan

Texte intégral

  • 1 Guyana was referred to as ‘British Guiana’ under the rule of England from 1831–1966. This paper th (...)
  • 2 See Tinker, Hugh. A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 18301920. London (...)
  • 3 Colonial Office Correspondence, In National Archives Colonial Office Collection: CO 111/763-3. The (...)
  • 4 Mohamed, Patricia ‘Gender Relations,’ The Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions, Patrick Taylor and F (...)

1In British Guiana, European colonialists introduced African, Chinese, South Asian, and Portuguese migrants to the existing indigenous population from the seventeenth century.1 The Indian indentureship period, which lasted from 1834-1917, saw the arrival of approximately 139,000 East Indians into the colony through a post-slavery system of contractual labour that Hugh Tinker famously described as ‘a new system of slavery.’2 The East Indian population was recorded as 142,000 in 1939.3 Approximately 13-17% were Muslim, over 80% Hindu, and a small Christian population. Muslim East Indians formed 17.9% or 29, of the total Indian population of 163,434 in 1949.4 Although South Asian migrants had internal differences in terms of caste, religion, and class, an overarching East Indian identity developed. Ethnicity, which refers to a particular population group linked together to a cultural heritage, tied East Indian Muslims and Hindus in British Guiana to a common South Asian history. The geographical isolation of South Asian migrants on sugar and rice plantations, with only a small percentage returning to their homelands, compounded the formation of this ethnic identity.

  • 5 Bryan, Patrick E. The Jamaican People, 1880-1902: Race, Class, and Social Control. 1991. Kingston: (...)

2The East Indian identity in British Guiana expanded and became infinitely more complicated as nationalism became a much more public and global process in the twentieth century. Information highlighting Indian nationalism appeared in Guyanese newspapers at the same time that calls for Guyanese independence became particularly vocal in the 1940s and 1950s. Pan-Africanism also spread in the early twentieth century and led to fluid, complex identities of black pride, an attachment to a local homeland, a diasporic identity originating in Africa, and often a religious identity. Patrick Bryan discusses the layers of this identity using the example of ‘Henderson’s black medical practitioner’ who described himself as ‘an Imperialist, a Protectionist [who] believed in God, and Jamaica and the Negro race.’5 In British Guiana, Afro- and Indo-Guyanese identities became a matrix of national loyalties, attachment to a previous homeland, race, and varying degrees of religious and cultural affiliations. These two competing identities, one ethnic (and arguably racial as well) and one racial, had much in common and laid the basis for a racialized move towards nationalism in the later twentieth century.

  • 6 This paper uses newspaper records, oral records, and archival materials from The National Archives (...)

3It was not only the geographical isolation along plantation zones and the spread of Indian nationalism that engendered an East Indian identity, but also differences of caste, religion, and class became secondary to coping with the harsh indentureship conditions, economic exploitation, and lack of political representation. The resulting cultural and religious organizations of the 1920s and 1930s created hybrid social spaces where counter-colonial, nationalist sentiments bred, and playing an essential role in the development and shape of nationalism in British Guiana and the consequent fractious process of decolonization. This paper particularly explores an understudied aspect of this ethnic identity—the place of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, in the constitution of South Asian Guyanese identity. The paper will consider religious and ethnic groups and their roles in laying the groundwork for an ethnically fractionalized and racially divided lead up to colonial independence.6

  • 7 Moore, Brian. Cultural Power, Resistance and Pluralism: Colonial Guyana 18381900. Toronto: McGill- (...)
  • 8 See, for example, the story of the Buxton Hindu Temple, which was built by Baboo Tanneysingh in 18 (...)

4While various forms of Christianity continued to be the dominant and politically recognized religion in the late nineteenth century, by 1893, there were 33 temples and 29 mosques in British Guiana. These numbers, particularly the high ratio of mosques to the proportionally lower number of Muslim East Indian migrants, raises questions about the degree of organization amongst Muslim and Hindu groups, as Brian Moore asserts, as well as the access to resources since the government refused to provide support for mosques in 1886.7 It is unclear how these buildings came to be, although there is some evidence of individual or small group contributions in the early twentieth century.8 The control of these buildings then shifted to the community in the 1920s alongside the development of functioning religious organizations.

  • 9 Knight, Franklin W. ‘Race, Ethnicity and Class in Caribbean History,’ in General History of the Car (...)

5Missionaries in British Guiana both contributed to and hindered the process of nationalism in the twentieth century. While missionaries continued to develop the process of ‘civilizing’ the non-white, non-elite, non-Christian population in the colony, they also controlled access to the most important form of social mobility: education. Missionaries were able to influence both the East Indian and Afro-Guyanese populations through their search for economic improvement and political inclusion, caused by the ‘zeal for knowledge’.9 The Canadian Presbyterian Church (CPC), which primarily served the East Indian population of British Guiana from the early twentieth century onwards, reported difficulty drawing out the East Indian population. That is not to overlook the significant role and presence of the Church of Scotland, the Wesleyan Church, the Congregationalists, and other groups but the Canadian Presbyterian Church warrants particular attention because of its role amongst East Indians in the colony and its attempts to convert this predominantly Muslim/Hindu population group. As the 1938 report of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission reveals, the Guianese population at the time:

  • 10 Rayner, De Courcy H. (Secretary, Canadian Mission Council in BG). Annual Report for the Year 1938. (...)

came from India with little religious background to be exposed to the double influence of Western civilization and African superstition. The latter with its obeah and ‘jumbies’ (or spirits) still prevails among the more ignorant people. As a result our church has to contend not so much with open opposition as with ignorance and that deadly indifference towards spiritual matters which is rapidly becoming the church’s most dangerous foe at home and abroad.10

6In addition to revealing pejorative racial stereotypes, this report highlights that African spiritual practices continued to challenge the spread of Canadian Presbyterianism. Furthermore, the complaint about ‘deadly indifference’ to the church could mean that East Indian migrants were more concerned with economic stability and social mobility, or that they perhaps wanted to keep religious concerns private. The refusal of church officials to respect the non-Christian religious practices in the colony then had the dual effect of tightening religious control through the churches and the CP schools across the country, as well as breeding dissatisfaction amongst non-Christian populations with what they perceived to be the colonial religion of Christianity.

  • 11 ‘Compulsory Education’, Daily Argosy (Sept 8 1918): 5.
  • 12 ‘Politics on the East Coast’, Daily Argosy (Sept 8 1918): 8.
  • 13 MacArthur is listed as the ‘M.C.P.’ in this article, which is likely Member of Court of Policy.

7The Canadian Presbyterian Church (CPC) participated in the process of nationalism in the colony, both deliberately and inadvertently. The CPC was most active in the areas of education, but in 1918 with the end of indentureship, its control over schools was waning. While compulsory education was introduced for ages 8 and above in 1876, parents continued to resist this process, particularly in the plantation zone of the West Coast of Demerara where ‘sixty odd parents’ were prosecuted in 1918 for ‘failure to comply with the compulsory education clauses of the code’.11 In this year, a Jury Ordinance banned religious education in schools, further limiting the reach of the church in the East Indian community.12 The Honourable J.S. MacArthur of East Demerara raised his concerns with this code, arguing that ‘if children were brought up without any religious training they would be bringing up a race of devils’ (Daily Argosy 1918: 8).13 He critiques the governor for thinking that it was ‘absurd to grant to a school to give religious knowledge of Christian principles to Mohammedans’, which according to him, overlooks that all schools in British Guiana were formed by Christian missionaries or Christian proprietors (Daily Argosy 1918: 8). He acknowledges, more as justification than as a suggestion, that ‘there was not a school purely of East Indians’ (Daily Argosy 1918: 8). This 1918 shift in educational policies nonetheless had a domino effect of reducing the role of church doctrine and ministers in the education system, and significantly diminishing the role of the Canadian Presbyterian Church in British Guiana.

  • 14 ‘The Canadian Presbyterian Mission Council in British Guiana’, Canadian Presbyterian Archives 102.D (...)
  • 15 Rattee, Neil M. ‘Statement Regarding the Proposed Transfer of British Guiana as a Mission to the Ch (...)

8Within the church and likely as a result of the shift in education policies, there was a move in 1925 away from encouraging foreign missionaries towards recommending ‘indigenized’ leaders by training East Indian young men for the ministry (Rayner 1938: 8). This transition seems to have been made by 1955 when the Mission reported that ‘the native ministers and catechists are accepting a greater measure of responsibility in the pastoral duties of the local charges’ and the missionaries only intervene when needed.14 This shift reflected the transition from Canadian responsibility for the Church in British Guiana to a process of ‘Guyanisation’. When the responsibility for the Presbyterian Church in Guiana was handed over to the United Church of Canada, an important concern for the United Church was that the Guianese Christians were never taught denominational differences and would be confused by the arrival of a different form of Christianity.15 They were therefore neither West Indian nor Canadian Presbyterians, but Guyanese Christians.

  • 16 Guyana Council of Evangelical Churches, ‘Responsible Nationhood’, in Independence Issue, Basil Beha (...)

9The church then contributed to the formation of a Guyanese national identity through the development of the Church as a religious and educational body. It was also politically active. The first issue of the Guyana Presbyterian Church magazine in 1966 defines nationalism as ‘the struggle for an inclusive national culture and the building of a sense of oneness so essential to the life of a new nation’. The council elaborates that ‘it is the uniting of a complex society of differing racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds into one strong, united whole’.16 In the age of nationalism, the church ironically sought to undermine the racial fractions created through the colonial system, of which the Canadian Mission was an active participant.

  • 17 Report of the Immigration Agent General for 1905. Viewed in Moore, Robert ‘Colonial Images of Black (...)
  • 18 Bisnauth, Dale. History of Religions in the Caribbean. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1989; 150.
  • 19 ‘East Indians Seek Permission to Keep Tajdah Festival’, The Daily Argosy (January 26, 1918): 6.

10While the Canadian Presbyterian Church was establishing schools across the country in the early twentieth century, East Indian migrants were negotiating their place as colonial subjects. The Immigration Agent General in 1905 wrote that East Indians remained attached to the land and avoided matters of politics.17 This official perspective on the lack of East Indian political participation can be contrasted to the rise of East Indian social and religious groups in this period, particularly the British Guiana East Indian Association, the Sanatan Dharma in 1927, and the Sad’r Anjuman in the 1930s. Records of Hindu and Muslim religious festivals reveal a much more public role that moved East Indians from the geographical isolation of plantations and into the wider public. East Indian festivals like Holi or Phagwah, Dasserah or Durga Puja, and Tajdah or Hosay were revived in the late nineteenth century and estate managers allowed these to be celebrated publicly.18 The newspaper, The Argosy, reported in 1918 on the celebrations of ‘Eduddoha’ or Eid ul-Adha, the Muslim holiday commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice to God by sacrificing animals and distributing the meat to the poor, at the Queenstown and Peter’s Hall Mosques. These articles, and the fact that they originate from a predominantly Afro-Guyanese newspaper, reflected the public recognition of non-Christian practices in the country. These festivals also created spaces for inter-ethnic cooperation and continued the trend of inter-racial and inter-religious celebrations that Hosay or Tajdah was well known for. On the other hand, this collective cultural expression made the colonial officials uneasy. In 1918, The Daily Argosy reports that a New Amsterdam magistrate refused to grant permission for the performance of tajdah, the Muslim festival commemorating the martyrdom of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Husayn, because ‘they had to apply fifteen days before hand. He advised them to select a “head-man” to write asking for permission’.19 This rejection, based on a previously unknown and rather bureaucratic concern, revealed an increasing hesitation with the racially and religiously unifying holiday in the early twentieth century and indicates the limits of cultural accommodation in the colony. Furthermore, the newspaper designated this holiday an ‘East Indian’ one, which placed emphasis on how the celebration fostered ethnic ties over religious identification and racial unification that were also important aspects of this celebration. This language then inferred that the commemorative event undermined religious ties, deepened East Indian collaboration in the colony, but did not significantly challenge racial schisms according to the Afro-Guyanese editors.

11The struggle for protection further expanded this East Indian identity. In 1919-1920 when influenza took the lives of approximately a thousand East Indians, many East Indians invoked the goddess Kali Mal (Bisnauth 1989: 151). Furthermore, as fear of obeah spread amongst the East Indian population with the widening rift between racial groups, priests and Imams became ‘protectors’ of both Hindu and Muslim East Indians and were sought out by both groups for charms and prayers of protection (Bisnauth 1989: 155). By the late 1930s, it had become a regular occurrence for East Indians to struggle against any threats—religious, political, and economic—together.

  • 20 ‘Woman and Her Interests: Aga Khan’s Wedding’, The Daily Argosy (February 2, 1930): 10. The article (...)
  • 21 Quraishi, Uzma. ‘Diffracted Diasporas: Trinidad’s East Indians, Religio-Nationalism, and India’s In (...)

12In the creation of this over-arching East Indian Guyanese identity, differences between sects and castes were sometimes eclipsed but not completely absent. There were many differentiations between Muslim groups, which included Afghani Muslims, the Qadri and Chishti Sufis, Ahmadiyyah Muslims, and Sunni Muslims. In addition to this local dimension, international religious events continued to spread to Guiana and added a global dimension to the creation of this South Asian identity. The Daily Argosy reported on the wedding of Aga Khan III to Lady Andree Carron of Paris and even discussed how this marriage did not create any theological complications although Lady Carron had no plans to convert to Islam from Catholicism.20 This Ismaili Muslim story was significant enough to be briefly mentioned in a 1930 newspaper, presumably both for public interest as well as for its sensational value. In the negotiation of the Muslim and Hindu marriage and divorce rights in the 1940s, Hindu East Indian sects, particularly the Sanatanists and the Arya Samajists, differed on some of the minor details such as minimal age of marriage. Beyond sectarian differences, the East Indian identity eclipsed many but not all differences between Hindus and Muslims. In looking at the formation of a communal identity through local and national newspapers in the 1930s and 1940s, Quraishi argues that the 1930s political movements such as the struggle for Muslim and Hindu marriage and divorce rights for which Muslims were granted these rights in 1935 but Hindus in 1946, bifurcated a common ‘East Indian’ identity with separate political identities.21 Hindus and Muslims struggled both together and separately for the recognition of their religious marriages, disrupting this East Indian identity.

  • 22 Sadiq, Mohamed. Memorandum from Mohamed Sadiq to Moyne Commission. In National Archives’ West India (...)
  • 23 Shakur, Abdul Jaleel Interview with Abdul Jaleel Shakur, Personal Interview (February 21, 2016). Fo (...)
  • 24 ‘Gandhi’s Foolish Blunder’, The Daily Argosy (January 3, 1930): 4. While the article does

13The larger South Asian context continued to influence East Indian identity in British Guiana through travel between India and Guiana. Interviews with elder Guyanese confirm that Muslim religious practice in the early twentieth century was rooted in an Indian cultural and linguistic tradition. India continued to play a part in the physical, spiritual, and emotional lives of East Indians, in addition to the poignant memories of the homeland. It was also part of legislative concerns and popular culture. Notices were often printed in Hindi, a practice that continued into 1930. In 1939, Mohamed Sadiq of Alboystown sent a memorandum to the West India Royal Commission (also known as the Moyne Commission) asking them to look into the teachers for ‘Hindi Urdu’ in the colony since he claimed that the yearly-allotted sum of two thousand dollars went to teachers who were ill qualified to teach the language.22 He was not just concerned with the preservation of language, but also the relationship between India and Guiana as he requested cheaper and increased travel between the two countries (Sadiq 1939). Finally, he asked that East Indians not be restricted from teaching if their religious values were not in line with the school for which they taught (Sadiq 1939). Interviewees recalled similar limitations on East Indians teaching in schools in the 1960s and 1970s.23 There was therefore a close relationship between the identifying of East Indians as cultural inheritors of India (both through religion and language) and their view of their identities as Guyanese South Asians. East Indians nonetheless sought accommodation as an East Indian ethnic minority with cultural and religious practices that were different from the colonial authority instead of assimilation. Part of this connection stemmed from the spread of Indian Nationalism. Newspapers in British Guiana tracked the spread of independence ideas in India and particularly critiqued Gandhi in the 1930s for switching from the call for dominion status in 1930 to the declaration that he would ‘not bring back greater bondage than exists in India to-day’ in 1931.24 The other aspect of this connection to India occurred through the increase in missionaries from India including Christian, Hindu, and Muslim missionaries. The continued linguistic, religious, and physical connection through missionaries, travel to India, language, and nostalgia, then allowed the East Indian ethnic identity to become deeply rooted in the colony but with connotations of Indian nationalism and a desire for independence from Britain.

  • 25 ‘Alleged election fraud’, The Daily Argosy (January 19, 1930): 12. Assumption of Muslim heritage ma (...)
  • 26 ‘Alleged election fraud’, The Daily Argosy (January 26, 1930): 7 and 12; 7.
  • 27 ‘Alleged election fraud’, The Daily Argosy (January 26, 1930): 7 and 12; 12. Note that all religiou (...)

14In addition to both a globally influenced and locally developed East Indian identity, South Asians began to actively engage in politics and the shaping of Guyanese nationalism. This participation occurred both formally through organizations and informally within smaller geographic spaces. The trial of Peer Bacchus is a particularly curious example of an individual struggle against discrimination in obtaining franchise. Peer Bacchus, likely of Indian-Muslim heritage based on his surname, was on trial in 1930 for falsely presenting information during his voter registration.25 Bacchus’ witness Abdul Sakur, who Bacchus also encouraged to register, claimed that he did not confirm that he, Abdul Sakur, could read and write properly but could sign his name so Peer Bacchus continued the registration in spite of this information (The Daily Argosy: January 26, 1930; 12). Literacy was necessary in order to register to vote or to witness for a registrant. It was noted that Bacchus actively campaigned for individuals, some identified as Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, to sign up to the voter registration list. A group made up of Peer Bacchus, Abdul Sakur, Ally Hossain (Muslim), Ramjan Ally (Muslim, brother of Abdul Sakur), and others met on a road and discussed how much rice they needed to cultivate in order to meet the worth of $500 required for voting.26 Peer Bacchus also approached other businessmen in the area, such as Roopchand (Hindu) and Balmand (Hindu), to encourage them to join the voter registration list.27 The articles from the trial were very specific that ‘two black men’ prepared the presumed illicit documents for voter registration, drawing negative attention to the Afro-Guyanese population (The Daily Argosy: January 26, 1930; 12). Yet this trial reveals an attempt by both East Indian and Afro-Guyanese locals to acquire voting power, sometimes through illicit means. The listing of their religious affiliation as part of their identification also highlights both the public nature of religion and the inter-religious nature of the struggle. The magistrate, Mr. De Freitas, acknowledged that since there was no ‘standard’ describing the extent to which a witness must be able to read and write, it was not possible to hold these men to a particular level of literacy (The Daily Argosy January 26, 1930; 12). In a testimony dated a few days later, it was revealed that Peer Bacchus wanted to vote in spite of not fulfilling the voter regulations ‘because he had worth’ (The Daily Argosy January 26, 1930; 12). De Freitas’ response about the level of literary, and Bacchus’ comments about his ‘worth’ brings the discussion of political participation into the realm of individual rights. While the police force, which brought the charge against Bacchus in the first place, represented the political realm, claims about the capacity for political participation were expanding in the judicial realms. While these had not yet trickled down to the police force, individuals were clearly finding ways to manoeuver the current laws to acquire their own agency and with the support of sympathetic officials.

  • 28 Sectarianism between Muslim groups also developed in this period with Ahmadiyya Islam, Afghani Musl (...)
  • 29 Raymond Chickrie offers a detailed outline of these organisations in his paper. See, Islamic Organi (...)
  • 30 ‘Dinner at Dharam Sala,’ The Daily Argosy (January 8, 1930); 7.
  • 31 ‘Mohammedan Feast in Georgetown’ and ‘Mohammedan Festival at Peter’s Hall’, The Daily Argosy (Sept (...)

15In addition to social, ethnic, and labour organizations, religious organizations increased in number and reach during this period.28 Muslim organizations included the Jamiat-ul Ulama-E-Deen (1934), the Sad’r Anjuman-E-Islam (1937), and the Anjuman Hifazul Islam (formed between 1950-1955).29 These religious organizations often fulfilled the immediate needs of the public. The Dharam Sala of Albouystown, known as the East Indian religious society of Albouystown, fed 1,000 individuals, described as ‘poor persons,’ and offered gifts of money and clothes to these individuals, including the 280 persons who lived at the Dharam Sala, in 1930.30 This particular event carried an air of inclusivity as the religious service was done in both Hindi and Urdu and catered to ‘the indigent poor of all races’ (The Daily Argosy: January 8, 1930; 7). Similarly, when Muslim organizations gathered for Eid, particularly for Eid ul-Adha, they sacrificed animals and offered a portion of these sacrifices to the poor, as was seen in 1918.31 Addressing social needs made religious organizations even more essential to the discussion about politics in British Guiana, and carved out spaces where political concerns were discussed.

  • 32 ‘First East Indian Town Councillor,’ The Daily Argosy (January 12, 1930): 7.
  • 33 ‘Note of a talk with M. A. M. Edun, President of Manpower Citizens Association, British Guiana, on (...)

16A natural consequence of the interplay between religious and political spaces was that it became fairly common for political leaders to be chosen from the leaders of ethnic or religious organizations. C.R. Jacobs became the Council representative for 1938 and 1939 in the North West Electoral District, No. 14 and on the Essequibo Coast Rice Committee in 1938. In 1939, he was also the Treasurer of the Man Power Citizen’s Association and the President of the British Guiana East Indian Association. Mahadeo Panday became the East Indian Town Councillor in 1930.32 Panday was an active participant of the British Guiana East Indian association, showing the transition between the B.G.E.I.A and public political participation. Similar overlap occurred in leaders of religious organizations. Ayube Edun, a known Muslim, was the president of the Manpower Citizen’s Association. He met with the Secretary of State in 1950 to discuss issues related to unused repatriation budgets, bauxite, and the limited number of trade unionists on the Legislative Council.33 R.B. Gajraj, president of the Anjuman Sad’r I-Islam and Islamic Association, was re-elected as the Mayor of Georgetown in 1952. Since it was clearly not unusual for individuals participating in the political struggle to be members of religious and ethnic organizations, these individuals reveal that ethnic and religious spaces were heavily influential in the shaping of colonial independence.

  • 34 ‘The B.G.E.I. Association’, The Indian Opinion (April 6, 1946): 1.
  • 35 Rangela, Amos (Senior Vice President of B.G.E.I.A.), ‘Under 13 Years Old Children Employed by Suga (...)
  • 36 ‘Register Now! Interest at Stake’, Indian Opinion 2 (16) (July 27, 1946): 1.

17Much of this East Indian ethnic identity developed through the British Guiana East Indian Association. This organization, formed around 1919, sought to advocate ‘on behalf of the Indians of the colony in matters of their political, social, cultural and economic rights.’34 Through its newspaper, the Indian Opinion, the B.G.E.I.A. offered political and social commentary on issues like cultural affairs, political changes, and global issues. Similar to the MPCA, this organization was particularly concerned with the rights of workers, for example. They rejected the employment of children under the age of thirteen at Plantation Providence, for example.35 The newspapers heavily publicized registration in 1946 for the general elections and exhorted readers to ‘become interested in the colony’s affairs’ and not lose such an ‘opportunity’ through ‘indifference or laziness.’36 This language enforces how exciting popularly elected legislative government would be for the organization. It also reveals a significant concern with personal and political representation that would then emerge in the political parties of the 1950s.

  • 37 ‘The B.G.E.I. Association’, The Indian Opinion (April 6, 1946): 1.

18The British Guiana East Indian Association also became important negotiators of workers’ rights. Not only did they report on strikes, like the 1946 strikes on the Albion, Ogle, and Vryheid’s Lust plantations, but also faced resistance from the government as ‘open disagreements and clashes became frequent, so much so that considerable pressure was exercised to suppress the activities of the Association’ in 1946.37 This backlash from the government revealed a weakening of colonial authority in the region as local organizations acquired greater support and became advocates for the non-elites. These organizations then led to political parties that further undid the colonial state structure. The British Guiana Labour Party developed in this period and was formally created on Saturday, 29 June 1946, with representation from the Trade Unions, Friendly and Burial Societies, the League of Coloured Peoples, and the British Guiana East Indian Association.

  • 38 Correspondence from Malcolm MacDonald to H. Beckett, Esq., Miscellaneous: Mr. C. R. Jacob, In Nati (...)
  • 39 ‘The Negro and the East Indian as Farmers’, The Daily Argosy (September 26, 1918): 5.

19However, this emphasis on the formation of an ‘East Indian’ identity further deepened the rifts created between South Asian and Afro-Guyanese individuals and groups. In addition to their geographic isolation from each other, with Afro-Guyanese urban areas topographically separated from the predominantly Indo-Guyanese plantation zones, the colonial government discouraged close interaction between these groups. Stereotypes of the ‘docile’ South Asian and the ‘unintelligent, uncontrollable’ Afro-Guyanese informed colonial policy. Governor MacDonald writes in 1938 that assigning an Indian agent to the East Indian population would cause ‘a good deal of feeling among the blacks who are in many ways feeling the pinch of the superior intelligence and astuteness of the East Indians and resent any special favour or consideration shown to them . . .’38 Bearing in mind that intelligence was often judged based on the colonial government’s ability to control the population, the governor acknowledges that the relationship between Afro- and Indo-Guyanese in the 1930s was tense and any perceived favours would further rupture this relationship. Beyond the government, an editorial in The Argosy on September 26, 1918 criticized Afro-Guyanese for working on plantations with East Indians ‘instead of cultivating their own lands’.39 This criticism reflected the racial collaboration that accompanied economic difficulty. It also revealed that the limits to racial cooperation were policed not just by colonial officials but also by individuals within the East Indian and Afro-Guyanese racial groups. Oral records emphasize a frequent discouragement towards inter-racial and inter-religious marriages that further deepened this racial divide.

20Nationalism was very much a negotiated, interlayered process in British Guiana. Ethnicity, particularly the layers of East Indian ethnicity influenced by the local struggle for autonomy and a real and imagined connection to India, created a deeply rooted Indo-Guyanese identity. The cross-pollination of ideas through individuals who often participated both in political and religious/ethnic organizations added a layer of politics to these typically cultural and spiritual spaces. Political individuals were often chosen from those who were respected within their temples, mosques, and churches. Examining politics and ethnicity through religious and cultural spaces thus reveals both the limits of these hybrid social spaces, which can help to explain the current dynamic where racial tension continues to dominate the political space in Guyana, but also the possibilities for collaboration within these spaces. The negotiation of authority that occurred between these groups, political organizations, and colonial officials revealed the cracks within a multicultural, multi-religious society. Ethnic differences blurred along religious lines but often hardened along racial lines. This racial divide, while not a complete dichotomy, created political rifts that continue to plague the country today as seen when every political election erupts into racial violence. Yet as we conclude, it is worth noting that the places through which this racial divide is reinforced—cultural and ethnic organizations—can also undo this bifurcation by shifting the systems of authority and privilege in these spaces.

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Rodney, Walter. A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.

Shakur, Abdul Jaleel Interview with Abdul Jaleel Shakur, Personal Interview. February 21, 2016.

Sitahal, Harold ‘Idris Hamid’, The Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions, Patrick Taylor and Frederick I Case, eds. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013; 250–252.

Tinker, Hugh. A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 1830–1920. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Notes

1 Guyana was referred to as ‘British Guiana’ under the rule of England from 1831–1966. This paper therefore uses ‘British Guiana’ for references prior to 1966 and ‘Guyana’ thereafter.

2 See Tinker, Hugh. A New System of Slavery: The Export of Indian Labour Overseas, 18301920. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

3 Colonial Office Correspondence, In National Archives Colonial Office Collection: CO 111/763-3. The National Archives, Kew, UK.

4 Mohamed, Patricia ‘Gender Relations,’ The Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions, Patrick Taylor and Frederick I Case (Eds.). Champaign: University of Illinois Press (2013): 393–395; 393.

5 Bryan, Patrick E. The Jamaican People, 1880-1902: Race, Class, and Social Control. 1991. Kingston: The University of the West Indies Press, 2000; 262.

6 This paper uses newspaper records, oral records, and archival materials from The National Archives (UK), the British Commonwealth Library (UK), the Smathers Library and Archives (US), and the Canadian Presbyterian Archives (CAN). The author wishes to express gratitude to all these sources for contributing to this research.

7 Moore, Brian. Cultural Power, Resistance and Pluralism: Colonial Guyana 18381900. Toronto: McGill-Queen's University Press; Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 1995; 211.

8 See, for example, the story of the Buxton Hindu Temple, which was built by Baboo Tanneysingh in 1894 but, upon Tanneysingh’s death in 1908, passed into the care of Ragnauth Singh, then Mr. Sewpersaud for 11 years, then to a committee of 23 members in 1931. In ‘Buxton Hindu Temple,’ The Daily Argosy (April 2, 1931): 8.

9 Knight, Franklin W. ‘Race, Ethnicity and Class in Caribbean History,’ in General History of the Caribbean: Volume VI Methodology and Historiography of the Caribbean, B. W. Higman, ed. London: UNESCO Publishing/MacMillan Education Ltd., 1999; 200–232. Walter Rodney also makes a similar argument that education in Guyana led to the creation of the middle class (See Rodney, Walter. A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981; 115).

10 Rayner, De Courcy H. (Secretary, Canadian Mission Council in BG). Annual Report for the Year 1938. Guyana: The Canadian Mission Council in British Guiana, In Presbyterian Church Archives, 102.D.11 (1938); 2.

11 ‘Compulsory Education’, Daily Argosy (Sept 8 1918): 5.

12 ‘Politics on the East Coast’, Daily Argosy (Sept 8 1918): 8.

13 MacArthur is listed as the ‘M.C.P.’ in this article, which is likely Member of Court of Policy.

14 ‘The Canadian Presbyterian Mission Council in British Guiana’, Canadian Presbyterian Archives 102.D.11 (1955); 2.

15 Rattee, Neil M. ‘Statement Regarding the Proposed Transfer of British Guiana as a Mission to the Church of the Non-Concurrent Presbyterians’, Canadian Presbyterian Archives, 102.D.13; 2.

16 Guyana Council of Evangelical Churches, ‘Responsible Nationhood’, in Independence Issue, Basil Beharry, Cyril Kanhai, and David Murphy, eds (May 1966); 13.

17 Report of the Immigration Agent General for 1905. Viewed in Moore, Robert ‘Colonial Images of Blacks and Indians in Nineteenth Century Guyana’, The Colonial Caribbean in Transition: Essays on Postemancipation Social and Cultural History, Bridget Bremerton and Kevin A. Yelvington, eds. Kingston: The Press University of the West Indies, 1999; 149–150.

18 Bisnauth, Dale. History of Religions in the Caribbean. Kingston: Kingston Publishers, 1989; 150.

19 ‘East Indians Seek Permission to Keep Tajdah Festival’, The Daily Argosy (January 26, 1918): 6.

20 ‘Woman and Her Interests: Aga Khan’s Wedding’, The Daily Argosy (February 2, 1930): 10. The article shows that Muslim theological rules allow marriages to anyone who recognizes a single divinity. It also mentions that Muslim marriage is one that is more like a civil contract performed by a ‘priest’ or Imam and in front of witnesses. While these rules might be debated among Muslim scholars, the article’s intent is clearly to highlight a particularly liberal view of Islam that allowed for this wedding to happen. It is a very positive description of Muslim marriages.

21 Quraishi, Uzma. ‘Diffracted Diasporas: Trinidad’s East Indians, Religio-Nationalism, and India’s Independence’, Journal of Social History 49 (2) (2015): 406–426; 410–411.

22 Sadiq, Mohamed. Memorandum from Mohamed Sadiq to Moyne Commission. In National Archives’ West India Collection: CO 950/743 (February 1939).

23 Shakur, Abdul Jaleel Interview with Abdul Jaleel Shakur, Personal Interview (February 21, 2016). For legislative examples, see ‘Extracts from Press Selections: Madras’, British Guiana Reports. National Archives West India Collection: CO 111/833 (21 February 1920): 2.

24 ‘Gandhi’s Foolish Blunder’, The Daily Argosy (January 3, 1930): 4. While the article does

not critique Britain’s role openly, it quotes from other newspapers that critique the role of Gandhi and his acceptance of British rule. ‘Congress Supports Gandhi’, The Daily Argosy (April 1, 1931); 4.

25 ‘Alleged election fraud’, The Daily Argosy (January 19, 1930): 12. Assumption of Muslim heritage made based on a later article that indicated his brother’s Muslim identity.

26 ‘Alleged election fraud’, The Daily Argosy (January 26, 1930): 7 and 12; 7.

27 ‘Alleged election fraud’, The Daily Argosy (January 26, 1930): 7 and 12; 12. Note that all religious designations are listed in the newspaper article. Any assumed religious designations are acknowledged as such.

28 Sectarianism between Muslim groups also developed in this period with Ahmadiyya Islam, Afghani Muslims (leaders of the Rosehall Plantation revolt of 1913), Sufis of the Chishti and Qadri orders, and the predominantly Sunni-Hanifi East Indians. Many of these splinters became more significant in period of colonial independence when politics became racialized. See Frederick I. Case, ‘Guyana,’ The Encyclopedia of Caribbean Religions, Patrick Taylor and Frederick I Case, eds. (University of Illinois press, 2013); 307.

29 Raymond Chickrie offers a detailed outline of these organisations in his paper. See, Islamic Organizations in ‘Guyana: Seventy Years of History and Politics, 1936–2006,’ Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 27 (3) (2007); 401–428.

30 ‘Dinner at Dharam Sala,’ The Daily Argosy (January 8, 1930); 7.

31 ‘Mohammedan Feast in Georgetown’ and ‘Mohammedan Festival at Peter’s Hall’, The Daily Argosy (Sept 17, 1918); 4.

32 ‘First East Indian Town Councillor,’ The Daily Argosy (January 12, 1930): 7.

33 ‘Note of a talk with M. A. M. Edun, President of Manpower Citizens Association, British Guiana, on 2nd June, 1950’, East Indians in the West Indies, In National Archives West India Collection: CO 318/497/6 (1950): 1–2.

34 ‘The B.G.E.I. Association’, The Indian Opinion (April 6, 1946): 1.

35 Rangela, Amos (Senior Vice President of B.G.E.I.A.), ‘Under 13 Years Old Children Employed by Sugar Estates’, Indian Opinion (August 10, 1946): 4.

36 ‘Register Now! Interest at Stake’, Indian Opinion 2 (16) (July 27, 1946): 1.

37 ‘The B.G.E.I. Association’, The Indian Opinion (April 6, 1946): 1.

38 Correspondence from Malcolm MacDonald to H. Beckett, Esq., Miscellaneous: Mr. C. R. Jacob, In National Archives West Indies Collection: CO 111/747/5 (1938).

39 ‘The Negro and the East Indian as Farmers’, The Daily Argosy (September 26, 1918): 5.

Auteur

Ateeka Khan is a senior PhD Candidate at the Department of History at McMaster University. This paper is extracted from her dissertation project on Muslims and politics in twentieth century Guyana, which is a case study seeking to understand how religious and ethnic groups and organizations interact and/or engage with political changes in the lead up to nationalism and decolonization in the twentieth century. The author is grateful for invaluable funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and the Department of History at McMaster University, which made this research possible.

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