President Ali hails ancestral contributions to nation-building on Arrival Day

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President Dr Irfaan Ali

President Dr Irfaan Ali has hailed ancestral contributions to nation building made by the first Indian immigrants to land on Guyana’s shores, as Guyana today celebrates Arrival Day.

In his message for today’s observances, the President extended Arrival Day greetings to all, and lauded the achievements of these immigrants who contributed to the collective effort to build Guyana and agitated for the country’s freedom.

“Arrival Day celebrates Guyana’s multicultural heritage. The immigrants who arrived added to the country’s cultural diversity. Their cultural imprint is evident in their religions, festivals, folklores, dress, music, dance, food, values and traditions. Many countries have struggled with the challenges of multiculturalism.

“Guyana, however, stands as a proud example of how persons from diverse ethnic backgrounds can coexist in harmony, cooperate for the common good, and respect one another. We must work to preserve this legacy,” President Ali has said.

Referencing his “One Guyana” initiative, the President noted that the initiative he launched is aimed at celebrating Guyana’s diversity. According to him, it affirms that Guyana is a multicultural society, and also aims to promote greater mutual respect and cooperation among Guyanese.

“The 5th May each year is also observed nationally as Indian Arrival Day. This year marks the 184th anniversary of the arrival to our shores of the first batch of Indian indentured immigrants. In the ensuing years, more 240,000 Indians made the long and arduous journey by ship to the colony of British Guiana.

“Most remained and planted roots in our land. Indian indentured immigrants transformed the human, physical, economic, social and cultural landscape of our country. Indian indentured immigrants helped to sustain the sugar industry, diversify economic activities, and contributed to the struggle for freedom and improved living and working conditions,” the President said.

He noted that, today, the descendants of these immigrants continue to make positive contributions in all facets of national development. Thus, he noted the historical and national importance of Indian Arrival Day.
“On this Arrival Day, let us all move forward as a united country, mindful that each of our various peoples has a claim on national development and an entitlement to share in the great bounty which the future promises.

“Let us commit to living as brothers and sisters in peace, harmony and goodwill, knowing that in doing so we will be preserving and honouring the legacy of those who came and those who were here before them!” President Ali said.

Meanwhile, the People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R), in its statement on occasion of the day, issued a call for the day to be rebranded as Indian Arrival Day…a call that comes despite the fact that under the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), no effort was made to change the day.

In fact, former President David Granger signed into law orders creating Chinese Arrival Day (January 12) and Portuguese Arrival Day (February 27), while studiously avoiding renaming Arrival Day as Indian Arrival Day.
In its statement, the PNC/R acknowledged the need for separate arrival days for people to celebrate their distinct cultural identities.

According to that party, it has chosen the theme “Safeguarding and Building on our rich heritage” for this year’s observances.

“Designating May 5th as Indian Arrival Day also respects the historic fact that the date specifically marks the arrival of the first Indian Indentured labourers to these shores. May 5th therefore should be wholly devoted to celebrating the valuable contribution that our East Indian brothers and sisters have made to the development of our country and the shaping of its rich cultural tapestry.

“Separate Arrival Days for Guyanese of Indian, Portuguese, and Chinese descent; a Heritage Month for Guyanese of Amerindian descent; and Emancipation Day for Guyanese of African descent should all be seen as occasions to celebrate our distinct ethnic identities and cultural expressions, while at the same time embracing our unity in diversity, our mutual respect, our common understandings, and our shared destiny,” the party also said.

According to the Opposition party, the untiring efforts and sacrifices of these ancestors must be saluted. And while more work remains to be done in the quest for a “perfect nation”, the PNC/R noted, Arrival Day presents an opportunity to recommit to that task.

The existence of “Arrival Day” as a public holiday stems from a 2003 parliamentary process whereby a Special Select Parliamentary Committee was tasked with considering the date of May 5 to commemorate Indian Arrival Day. It has been speculated that naming the day “Arrival Day” was originally done in the hopes of promoting inclusion of other groups of indentured servants.