I was fortunate enough to view pictures posted by one of the noted Guyanese artists who worked on the newly-completed Indian Arrival Monument. Not having seen it before, I found the monument to be uniquely relevant and evocative of our history, one that began with millions of people being removed from their home continents and settled in other parts of the world; an action based solely on the work their bodies could provide.
Signing their lives away for the right to toil in a distant colony, somewhere that probably seemed as remote as the moon is to us. Our ancestors did this, their travails making a wealthy empire even wealthier.
This distant child of indentureship feels humbled by what the monument conveys. With outstretched hands, ready to embrace not engage in combat, Indians came to work alongside former slaves and other labourers. Not to be prideful or with an imposed arrogance, they brought the vestiges of an ancient culture, its languages, clothing, religions and food. The women, as always, bearing the heaviest burdens, but looking boldly ahead, unafraid of what they might face or see.
It is striking…personally evoking the spirited, strong women that were my grandmothers and all other foremothers of a formerly colonized people. Experiencing prolonged physical hardship, they thrived and prospered when they could easily have given in to despair.
Fetching their tools to prepare the aromatic, flavourful dishes of their homeland, I wonder if they ever imagined that their foods would become the dish of preference of the empire that brought them here? Or that the land they left would become a world power in its own right, poised as it is on the absolute cutting edge of technology, with more educated women than men. Although it is another flawed democracy, fraught with the challenges of an evolving civilization, it is still succeeding and overcoming impossible hurdles.
We all take for granted the disparate places where our foreparents arrived from; whether by choice or force they left bonded or enslaved, coming not to conqueror this Guyana, but at the hands of the conquerors.
Indentureship and transshipment were undoubtedly frightening, who wouldn’t be afraid of such a process? Nonetheless, as impoverished in their homeland (as most labourers probably were) they boarded the ships and came. Our foreparents weathered this, evolving, becoming stronger, educated, emancipated and eventually independent. So much poignancy in this long journey…
Beautiful and quite simple, the monument starkly reflects ancestors whose undaunted bravery and optimism led them to reach out to figuratively close the divide they had just physically crossed. We should reflect on this as they came in peace, humbly greeting equals in a land foreign to them all.
Guyana’s collective moral compass has always pointed to a joined destiny in this once-strange land that is now, amongst the most valuable in the world. After all they withstood and survived, we are still working on realizing the vision of becoming one people in this singular nation that is on the cusp of an even greater destiny.
Scheherazade Ishoof Khan
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