By Oluatoyin Alleyne
The A $2M facelift for the Monument Gardens at Camp and Church Street is how the Indian Commemoration Trust (ICT) is marking 175 years since Indian Arrival in British Guiana. The renovations include a stage set in classical Indian-Guyanese architecture and a replica of the Calcutta Memorial Monument.
The monument representing the SS Whitby the first ship carrying Indians to this country that docked at Plantation Highbury on the east bank of the Berbice River on May 5, 1838, will however remain in the middle of the gardens where it has been for years.
According to Sase Sankar, a member of ICT which is chaired by Yesu Persaud, the Trust was formed many years ago and was the organization which had made representation for a plot of land to build a monument representative of the era of indentureship. The spot where the garden is located was given by then Mayor Compton Young, and Sankar recalled that it was swampy at the time. However, with a lot of work it became a garden which was equipped with a small stage to host functions every year in observance of Indian arrival to Guyana.
Sankar stated that apart from highlighting the history of Indian arrival, the Trust also wanted to have a garden that was child and people friendly and where the entire family could relax. With the new stage, he continued, they would be better equipped to hold functions.
A replica of the Calcutta Memorial Monument is also to be installed. The original was built by the Indian Government in Calcutta (Kolkata) in memory of all the people who left India to journey to different parts of the world as labourers. “We are doing sort of a replica here and we are doing one also in Highbury in Berbice, which is where the first arrival took place on the 5th of May 1838…” Sankar said.
Speaking about the current ship monument, Sankar said it was commissioned by the Indian Government and came to the Indian Commemoration Trust as a gift in 1991. He said locally a competition was held for a design for the monument; most of the submissions were of ships, and the one in the gardens now was chosen. The final design of the ship was done in Guyana with the help of an Indian architect who travelled here, and then it was taken back to India where the monument was cast. Local architect Albert Rodrigues was also involved in the design.
This year the Trust has many activities planned to observe the 175th anniversary, and representatives from the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), which donated the Calcutta monument, will be part of the celebrations.
Two hundred and nineteen thousand Indians came to Guyana as indentured workers and around one third of them returned to India, said Sankar. Over the years, he continued, their descendants have contributed heavily to many sectors in the country, not the least of these being the rich Guyanese culture.
“We are Guyanese, we have evolved, we have dropped some things that we would have brought from India like our language to a large extent, [but] we still love Hindi music… we are not quite sure of everything it means but because of the context in which we listen to Indian music in movies and so, we get a sense of what the songs are saying…” he said.