Hindi was taught in the Canadian Presbyterian Mission schools in the early 19th century
I agree with the general thrust of Mr Charles Sohan’s letter (‘Indian-Guyanese were always keen on education but many lacked the economic capacity to send their children for secondary education,’ Stabroek News, May 29). However, for the sake of historical accuracy, I believe two points should be clarified.
In his letter, Mr Sohan writes: ”I received my primary education (1938-1947) at Maryville, Leguan, Canadian Mission School located in a largely Hindu community. During those years, neither Hindi nor any subject with specific Christian influences was ever taught in the school.” I wish to point out that both documented and oral history show that what prevailed in earlier years, at least in other schools, is different from Mr Sohan’s experience.
In his 1971 Master’s thesis titled ‘The Canadian Mission in British Guiana, The Pioneering Years, 1888-1927,’ submitted to Queen’s University, Canada, Charles Dunn quotes the Immigrant Agent-General annual report of 1913 as stating: “The efforts of the Canadian Presbyterian Mission to popularize their schools by teaching Hindi as well as English appear to be meeting with a fair measure of success.” This statement reveals clearly that Hindi was being taught in some schools in 1913. And, as for oral history, my father who is now ninety-two years of age and still going strong, attests to the fact that Hindi was taught by a Catechist Ramcharan at the Canadian Mission school at Novar Mahaicony, ECD, where he was a student in the 1920s. Charles Dunn, in his thesis, records that Catechist Ramcharan was Reverend Cropper’s (then Head of the Canadian Mission in the country) “right hand man.”
Also, Mr Sohan states, “The Canadian Presbyterian Mission churches/schools were established in Guyana to administer primarily to the faithful who came from India, but their doors were open to all – no questions asked.” I believe Mr Sohan may have inadvertently mis-stated the position by including the phrase “primarily to the faithful.”
Only a tiny handful of the arriving Indian immigrants were Christians so the churches/schools were not established “primarily” for the “faithful who came from India.” For the Canadian Mission, education was seen as the means to gain converts. Again Dunn provides an insight into this matter when he writes: “It grieved the early missionaries to see these children growing up ignorant and illiterate and they felt that the children must be educated in East Indian schools. Part of what was taught, of course, was the Christian religion so that children who attended Canadian Mission schools might be won for Christ. The missionaries also reasoned that they might win the parents to the path by what they were doing for the children.”
Incidentally, Charles Dunn is one of the two foremost authorities on the education of East Indian children in Guyana. He grew up in Berbice where his father was a missionary of the Canadian Mission church in the 1940s and 1950s. After gaining his Master’s degree, he extended his research in the same area and gained his doctorate. The other authority is Guyanese-born Dr Rudy Grant (now deceased) whose 1967 Master’s thesis at the University of Toronto is titled ‘The Contribution of the Presbyterian Church in Canada to the Education of East Indians in Guyana 1894-1964.’