An eye into Guyana’s past… Historian Tota Mangar is a ‘Special Person’
“I like history; I find it a challenge. It’s dynamic and not static, as some people think. It’s not just about dates and events. It’s about how you analyse and interpret the information that gives it life and meaning.”
By Neil Marks
Tota Mangar has emerged, from humble beginnings, as one of Guyana’s leading historians.
From bicycling miles upon miles to school, Mangar has built up a stellar record as a school teacher then University lecturer to today, leading a programme to improve teacher education in Guyana.
He is one of the first persons to be called on if there is any to be written on 19th and 20th centuries British Guiana, about immigration and slavery, and on village experiments within the Chinese, East Indian and African communities in Guyana.
Mangar has developed a deep reservoir of research work, and is readily tapped into for lectures at conferences or at universities. Over the years, he has taken his research work seriously, seeking to “update” what he already knows on any particular subject.
How did he get to this point?
Tota Mangar was born in a mud-walled, thatched roof house at Anna Regina on the Essequibo Coast. His mother had returned to the home she grew up in to deliver, as was the custom then.
A few days later, he was taken to where his parents actually lived – at Sparta, also on the Essequibo Coast.
Life for Mangar, and his nine siblings who followed, began in the same thatched roof houses built with walls of mud. It was the first set of houses built after Indian indentured labourers and their progeny moved out of the “logies” that served as housing under the British-controlled sugar plantations.
Mangar’s grandparents were in fact among the Indian indentured labourers who were lured to work here and ended up working under conditions comparable to slavery.
Mangar’s maternal grandfather and his brother came to what was then British Guiana in 1905. During the period of indentureship, Mangar’s research shows that a total of 536 shiploads of indentured workers came.
During the period 1838-1917, the historian finds that an estimated 239,000 Indian indentured workers came here, with only 75,000 returning home when their contracts were up. His grandparents were among those who stayed.
Mangar’s father, Manoram, worked as a public servant to take care of the large family.The elder Mangar was attached to the Public Works Department and moved up to the position of Senior Clerk at the department’s Suddie location.
Manoram’s final job was as a paymaster at Suddie, after which he retired, having spent 35 years in the public service.
“We came from a poor family, but my father was an amazing man; he took care of us,” Tota reflected.
He received his pre-school at Danielstown. Later, he attended St Agnes Anglican Primary, where he stayed on and wrote the College of Preceptors Exams.
Mangar was next enrolled at the Normal Educational Institute, a privately-run secondary school in Queenstown, some 21 miles away from his home.
To get there, Mangar would pedal his cycle every day. He remembers that certain sections of the road were so bad that at times you had to divert to the seawall, ride a good portion, and then head back onto the road.
“It wasn’t easy. To get to the seawall we would have to cut through people’s yards and so on,” Mangar remembers, though that wasn’t a problem.
He said that for East Indians, making a lot of children was a gift, and getting them educated was what brought prestige to families. Children were viewed as “wealth,” Mangar says, because they could then help the family on the farms or in other economic activities.
Mangar applied himself to his studies, burning the lamp then to make sure that he would do well in exams.
TEACHER, LECTURER, ADMINISTRATOR, HISTORIAN
After writing the London GCE Exams, Mangar found work as a teacher in the secondary department of the same St Agnes School he attended. That was in 1968.
“Being a teacher in those days brought a certain respectable status to your family. Teachers were greatly respected.”
Then, in 1971, he joined the Government Training College for teachers. Attending teacher’s training college, located then in Battery Road, Kingston, meant that Mangar had to move to the city and take up boarding with a group of other students.
In 1973, Mangar graduated as a trained teacher and went back to the secondary department of St Agnes where he taught for a further two years.
In 1975, he left the Essequibo Coast to pursue a degree in history at the University of Guyana.
“I like history; I find it a challenge. It’s dynamic and not static, as some people think. It’s not just about dates and events. It’s about how you analyse and interpret the information that gives it life and meaning,” says Mangar.
Mangar’s batch of students was the first from the University of Guyana that was called into the Guyana National Service (GNS), stretching the degree programme from the normal four years to five years.
Mangar was sent off to Kimbia in the Berbice River, but another love of his – cricket – would keep him away from work there.
While a schoolboy, Mangar was an avid cricketer, and got involved in the game at all levels. While at Teacher’s Training College, he played first division cricket, and eventually played as part of the Essequibo team in Inter-County Cricket.
An opening batsman and left arm spinner, he also joined the University of Guyana’s Cricket team.
At the time he was enlisted for National Service, the GNS was scheduled to play against a team from Mackenzie, Linden.
At the time, Norman McLean, who would later become Chief-of-staff of the Army, was the Director General of the GNS. McLean recognized Mangar’s prowess on the field and suggested that he would be needed for the GNS for upcoming matches. As a result, Mangar was detached from Kimbia and joined the GNS Education Division in Broad Street, Georgetown.
When the cricket season ended, Mangar was sent back to Kimbia, though only for a short time.
After graduating from University, Mangar was attached to the Ministry of Education’s Research Unit, serving as a Research Officer for two years.
In 1982, due to some changes to the Research Unit, Mangar ended up as a teacher at the North Georgetown Secondary School as a trained graduate master. He served in that position for three years and was promoted head of the school’s Social Studies Department, under which history falls.
While at North Georgetown Secondary, Mangar pursued a Master’s Degree in History at the University of Guyana. He completed the Master’s programme in 1987 and joined the teaching staff at the University of Guyana as a part-time lecturer.
Mangar left North Georgetown Secondary in 1988 to become Lecturer I in the Department of History at the University. In 1990, he was promoted to Lecturer II.
In 1998, he was named a Senior Lecturer and was given indefinite tenure at the University in 1999.
While at the University, he held many administrative positions, including Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Deputy Dean and then eventual Dean of the School of Education and Humanities.
In 2007, he was appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor, and served as Acting Vice Chancellor for a six-month period in 2008/2009. In December 2010 to August 2011, he was named Director, Office of Resource Mobilisation and Planning.
Over the years, Mangar served as a Guest Lecturer at Carter Brown University in Providence Rhode Island, considered one of the oldest universities in the world.
At the Federal University of Roraima, he served as guest lecturer on aspects of Guyanese and West Indian History.
In 2009 and 2010, Mangar lectured at a course for South American diplomats organized by Gusmao Foundation and the Institute of Research and International Relations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The courses Mangar taught at the University included Organisation of History and Research Methodology, pre- and post-Emancipation Caribbean History, Survey of Guyanese History, philosophy of History, and the Caribbean Labour Movement.
Over the years, Mangar has also served as an examiner.
From 1990-1992, he served as Assistant Chief Examiner in Caribbean History for the NAFFAT (National Fourth Form Achievement Test) for the Ministry of Education.
Starting in the 1990s, he served as an Assistant Examiner for History for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams offered by the Caribbean Examinations Council.
Since 1998, he has been preparing History questions for CSEC and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE).
Mangar’s impressive record as a teacher, lecturer and administrator, has led to him sitting on many boards. These include the National Subject Committee on Caribbean History in the 1980s and 1990s, the National Archives Advisory Committee, the National Museum Development Committee (chairman), and the current teachers training college, CPCE, from 2005-2007. He also coordinated the Living History broadcast series for over eleven years.
In 2001, Mangar received a Fellowship to the Carter Brown University. The Library holds one of the world’s leading collections of books, maps, and manuscripts relating to the colonial period of the Americas, North and South, from 1492 to ca. 1825.
There, he conducted research work on European Exploration of the Guianas in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In 2003, Mangar received the University of Guyana’s 40th anniversary Special Award for Distinguished Service, and then in 2008, he also received one of the University’s Long Service Awards.
In 2007, the Indian Arrival Committee awarded Mangar for “outstanding contribution to the development of Guyana and as a distinguished Indo-Guyanese.”
Some of Mangar’s research work includes Planter Class Power and the Struggle for Constitutional Reforms in Nineteenth Century British Guiana; Conceptualisation and History of the Guianas; Henry Irving’s role on Immigration in British Guiana; Struggle, Sacrifice and Resistance of the Indians in Guyana; and an investigation of immigrant settlements, including Hopetown in the Demerara River where the Chinese wanted to make into a settlement, and Huis’t Dieren, an experiment in East Indian Land Settlement Scheme.
Today, Mangar serves as the Coordinator of the Guyana Improving Teacher Education Project, lengthening his 44 years in the education system.
Mangar is married to Elizabeth, also an educator, whom he married in 1975. They have two children.
One of Mangar’s proudest achievements is that his research work led to Guyana being placed on UNESCO World Heritage Register of “Documentary Heritage of the Indian Indentured Labourers”.
Looking back on his life, Mangar has no regrets, especially since he would have been able to make an impact on the lives of thousands of students, whether at secondary school or at University.
Mangar became a teacher because of the status that was attached to the profession, and he is proud to have lived up to the reputation that is expected of those who teach others.