May 5th is Guyana’s Indian Arrival Day 185th Anniversary

Commemorating Indian Arrival Day in Guyana (DPI image)

By Chaitram Aklu

May 5 is Indian Arrival Day in Guyana, a National Holiday in honor of the first Indians to arrive in the country and which ethnic population in 2021 made up 40% of the country’s total population.

Following the abolition of slavery in 1834 in the British Empire, the Indentureship System was introduced to replenish the labor shortage on its plantations. Indentured laborers were recruited from China, Madeira, and India to satisfy the sudden demands. The Indenturship program from India began in 1834 and ended in 1917. The last batch arrived in 1928.

According to reports, the number of girmityas (or girmitiyas) as the Indian indentured or contract laborers were called, ranged from 1,194,957 to 2 million and were contracted or ‘bound’ to 19 colonies including Fiji, Mauritius, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Trinidad, Guyana (British Guiana), Malaysia, Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa.

Girmityas first arrived in colonial British Guiana (Guyana- since May 26, 1966) on May 5, 1838 on two ships the Whitby and the Hesperus with a total of 396 immigrants. . Between 1838 and 1917, 238,909 Indentured Indian immigrants were indentured in Guyana alone. They were contracted or ‘bound’ to various sugar plantations on the Guyana coast. They served on a five-year contract which stipulated a free return passage back to their homeland upon completion of the contract. Those who decided to extend their contract for a second term were given land in lieu of the return passage.

The girmityas suffered tremendous abuse on the plantations – work was relentless and demanding, involved digging, planting, dredging, harvesting and repairing machines all year round; overtasking – making the tasks to be completed larger; and heavy fines and even flogging for minor breaches. The dehumanizing and degrading experience led the girmityas Indians to describe their condition as “narak” or hell. Soon reports of these abusive conditions began reaching India and Britain, initiating the conducting of several investigations.

By 1917 Mahatma Gandhi threatened to embark on one of his famous fasts. That same year the Indian Congress issued a statement, part of which reads, “nothing short of complete abolition of indentured labour, (sic) whether described as such or otherwise, can effectively meet the evils which have been admitted by all concerned to have done irreparable harm to the labourers. (sic)”

The system ended that same year on March 20, 1917 and some 75 898 girmityas and their children returned to India at the end of their term.


1. This sugar estate was the first to receive indentured immigrant laborers contracted to Guyana.
What is ________________________?

2. After qualifying as a lawyer, she was admitted to practice at the Guyana Bar in 1954. She was appointed a Magistrate and served mainly in the Traffic Court in Georgetown.
Who is ______________________?

3. The total number of Indentured Immigrants that arrived in Guyana was Hindus and Muslims. The percentages of the total represented by each group were ________.

4. He formed the first trade union to represent sugar workers in Guyana 1937.

5. Known as the ‘Barefoot” runner, he is the only Guyanese ever to compete in the Summer Olympic Games Marathon in Mexico City in 1968.
Who is ______________________?

6. He was appointed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ) in 1987 where he wrote 23 opinions for the Court – a record for any Justice on the Court.
Who is _________________________?

7. He played in 79 Cricket Test Matches over a 17 year career beginning in England in 1957.
Who is ____________________?

8. His parents arrived in Guyana as infants with his grandparents. He was the first person of Indian descent to head a government outside of India and also the only person whose only wedding photo was taken at a 25-cent photo booth.
Who is ____________________?

9. He produced a pioneering work on East Indians which he began in 1930 and published in 1947 and was a founding member of the British Guiana Literary Society which was established in 1930.
Who is ___________________?

10. He was the Solicitor General and then Assistant Attorney General during the life of West Indies Federation. A Harvard graduate and Kings College of England, he served as the second Secretary General of the Commonwealth (1975 -1990).
Who is _________________________?

11. This ship was chartered to return Indentured Immigrants to India at the termination of their indenture.
What is _____________________?

12. Although polio restricted her to a wheelchair since she was 6, she was women’s rights advocate before the movement recognition and one of the first Indo-Guyanese and Caribbean women writers on matters affecting Indo-Caribbean women.
Who is _____________________?

13. When she was appointed Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, she became the first Indo-Guyanese woman on the Muslim religion to serve in that position. Born on Leguan Island, she was an educator for 37 years before pursuing a law degree and practiced for 23 years. She was a Member of Parliament for 14 years, five as Minister of Human Services and Social Security. Her last public office was that of Commissioner on the Guyana Elections Commission.
Who is _________________________?

14. The total number of Indentured Immigrants that arrived in Guyana was from the Hindu and Muslim religions. The percentages of the total represented by each group were ________?

15. His father was the first Indo-Guyanese solicitor in Guyana. He distinguished himself as a legal luminary in murder trials. He also represented the cult leader Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple commune. 914 people including Jones died by suicide or were murdered.
Who is _______________________?

Short Trivia: ANSWERS
1. What is Plantation Highbury? The village is located twelve miles South of New Amsterdam on the East Bank of the Berbice River. They were part of the Jahaji batch of 236 brought by the first two ships (The Whitby and Hesperus) to arrive in Guyana on May 5, 1838.

2. Who is Shirin Edun? Deceased.

3. What is 85 percent Hindus and 15 percent Muslims? In 2021 the ratio was 62 percent Hindus and 15 percent Muslims of the country’s total population.

4. Who is Ayube Edun? Deceased. He founded the Manpower Citizens Association (MPCA) – the first union founded by an Indo-Guyanese. The purpose was to provide direction and leadership for the suffering workers who had begun to rise up against the hardships meted to them.

5. Who is Harry Prowell (1936 – 2000)? The 6 foot tall athlete, Prowell at age 32, competed against 74 international competitors from 41 countries and placed 50th.

6. Who is Dr. Mohamed Shahabuddeen (1931 – 2018)? Son of Indentured laborers, he served as Attorney General of Guyana and was the first justice from the Commonwealth Caribbean to be appointed the ICJ. He was also on International Criminal Tribunals for (formerly) Yugoslavia and Rwanda where again he excelled – writing 81 opinions. Shahabuddeen was prolific writer on legal matters, authoring four books and numerous articles. He received Guyana’s highest and second highest national awards – the Oder of Excellence and the Order of Roraima.

7. Who is Rohan Bholalall Kanhai (1935 – ). For most of his life Kanhai’s name Bholalall was corrupted to “Babulall” instead of Bholalall. He clarified it in an interview and when asked why he did not correct it earlier he said he just ignored it. Rohan Kanhai played in 79 Test matches for the West Indies over a 17 year test career. He first played against England in May 1957 scoring 94 runs. His last test was also against England in April 1974.

8. Who is Cheddi Beret Jagan? (1918 – 1997). He changed ‘Bharat’ to ‘Beret’ while studying in the United States. After graduating from Queens College, he proceeded to Howard University in Washington D.C. to pursue a degree in dentistry. He transferred to Northwestern University in Chicago where he graduated with DDS and BS in Political Science degrees in 1942. His marriage Janet Rosenburg took place at the Chicago City Hall. They then took their only wedding photo at a 25-cent photo booth. They returned to Guyana where he entered politics and was – elected Chief Minister, Premier, Leader of the Opposition, and President.

9. Who is Peter Ruhoman (1880 – ?)? Titled: Centenary History of the East Indians in British Guiana, 1838 – 1938.’

10. Who is Sonny (Shridath Surendranath) Ramphal (1928 – ): His father was a school teacher and later became the first Guyanese to be appointed a commissioner in the Department of Labour in colonial British Guyana. He served as Guyana’s Minister of Foreign affairs (1972-1975). In his capacity as Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Ramphal challenged the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who had said that the international economic system had worked well. Ramphal challenged that view, saying that it did not serve the developing countries well. Ramphal served as Chancellor for the University of the West Indies, University of Warwick and the University of Guyana. Lead counsel for Guyana in the Guyana-Venezuela Border dispute at the ICJ.

11. What is the M.V. Resurgent? British Guiana was the only territory to charter a ship (in 1947) to return Indenture immigrants to India after their contract ended.

12. Who was Rajkumarie Singh (1933 – 1979)? She was a writer of plays and poetry, radio broadcaster, and Indian cultural leader and educator who wrote instructional programs for the Broadcast to Schools Program. She was a member of the British Guiana Drama Society. She ran into controversy in 1972 when she joined the Guyana National Service, an organization which Indo–Guyanese opposed. The New York based Rajkumarie Singh Cultural Center was established in her honor.

13. Who is Bibi Safora Shadick (1946 – 2022)?

14. What is 85 percent Hindus and 15 percent Muslims?

15. Who is Sir Lionel Alfred Luckhoo (1914 – 1997)? Lawyer, politician, and diplomat, he was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful criminal legal advocate with 245 consecutive murder acquittals between 1940 and 1985. He was also elected Mayor of Georgetown four times between 1955 and 1961.