It is great news that the Government of Guyana has announced the digitalization of the Indian indentureship records, a project that a group of Guyanese and I initiated in New York, replicating what was done in neighbouring Suriname. After a decade of politicking a private Guyana-based IT company was finally granted the approval to undertake the project which is being funded by Unesco.
Such a project encompasses much more than just the digitalization of the ship logs that brought the passengers to British Guiana during the period 1838-1917. It should include, but not be limited to, the respective plantation records ‒ of births, deaths and repatriated immigrants; similar to what was done in Suriname, which received high praise from Unesco and other historical bodies and which is being replicated in Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean.
The Africans, Chinese and Portuguese indentureship records should also be part of the project if they are still at the archives. Many of these documents are missing from what was gathered from field research. And most of the African documents from the slavery period (as opposed to indentureship) are either in Dutch or missing and will require collaboration with The Netherlands or Suriname in their translation.
While I have no interest in this project, I would like to see it completed properly and to international standards that will benefit historians, researchers and those interested in their genealogy. This is not just an IT project but one that requires participation from academia such as the University of Guyana and experts in the field. Furthermore, will a database be created whereby persons wanting to research their foreparents can access said database? If this should materialize, as we have always advocated, access to the data should be free of charge for anyone wanting to run a search/query of the database.
Perhaps Guyana could collaborate with Suriname on this venture; however, at the just concluded Caribbean Conference on Slavery and Indentureship recently held in Suriname, no one from the Guyana archive was present, a missed opportunity from which Guyana could have gained tremendous feedback on the project.