First Published: 6th of May, 2021
As mentioned in our previous article, Indian Arrival Day, the attitudes of the descendants of colonized East Indians of British Guiana towards their colonial past are wide and varied. Some are thankful for the voyage that brought them a new life and new opportunities while others detest the compromising and sometimes harsh conditions to which their foreparents were subjected during their voyage to the new world.
In this story, a young girl reflects on her ancestry, colonial history, and her life now in modern-day Guyana. As you will see, her feelings about British Colonialism are also mixed. On one hand, she is thankful about some things, but on the other, she is infuriated about others.
Arrival Day usually gives me a mixed set of emotions. I’ve studied too much history in high school and read too much to not understand some of the ironies of this day. I’m eternally grateful for the fact that my fore parents made that journey across the Atlantic – whether by choice or not. I’m much better off for it and for their endurance and sacrifices.
I’m both infuriated and heartbroken at what they’ve had to endure on both the journey and the life after. I’m still learning of what the women went through because that was a time when women’s voices were never heard or recorded. I’m not sure I know how I feel that I cannot trace my roots to India even though we’ve held on as much as we could to this day.
I understand as much Hindi as I do Spanish. English and creole are my native tongue now. My wardrobe is an eternal mix of western clothes for everyday life and an explosion of colorful lehengas and saris and shalwars and kurtis and jhumkis and bangles and bindis. As I grew older, I started to realize that traditional Indian skincare works better for my skin and hair- turmeric face packs and neem products and coconut oil. It’s the biggest irony of my life – I tried to live a western life for generations only for my skin to remind me that I’m still very much who my ancestors are.
Today I remember my maternal great-grandparents, Kousilla and Parker Narine Singh, and Bhairo, because those are the last generation of my family that I know of. Their parents were the ones who made the journey across the Atlantic, but we don’t have any way of knowing their recorded names on the shipping manifest.
From left to right: Padmawattie Chanderballi (née Singh), Kousilla, Champa Tiwari (née Singh), and Parvati Loaknauth (née Singh) from Zeelandia Village in Wakenaam, Essequibo River. This photo was taken in Windsor Forest in the late 60s/early 70s.
Read More: People, History, and Culture of Guyana