Indian Arrival Day
With the abolition of Slavery plantation owners in the British West Indies were desperate to find a new source of labour for their sugar estates.
Emancipation had conferred on the Guianese labourers both physical and occupational mobility. They could withhold their labour temporarily or permanently and vacate the estates if living and working conditions did not satisfy them. In fact, a gradual exodus from the plantations began soon after emancipation.
What the planters desired was an alternative and competitive labour force which would give them the same type of labour control they were accustomed to under slavery.
On May 5th 1838, the very year of final slave emancipation (Abolition of Slavery) in the British West Indies, a small batch of 396 Indian immigrants popularly known as the ‘Gladstone Coolies’ landed at Highbury, Berbice in British Guiana (Guyana) from Calcutta, India aboard the Whitby and Hesperus .
This was the beginning of the indenture system which was abolised in 1917, by which time a total of some 240,000 indentured servants from India came to Guyana under a system whose essential features were very reminiscent of slavery.
Most of the immigrants spoke a dialect of Hindi and came from the provinces of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madras (today known as Tamil Nadu).
Within a decade, Indian immigration was largely responsible for changing the fortunes of the sugar industry, the mainstay of the economy, from the predicted ‘ruin’ to prosperity.
East Indians evolved over the years to become the single largest ethnic group in Guyana and branched out of sugar into all aspects of economic and political life in Guyana.
In recognition of their contribution to the overall development of Guyana, The Government declared May 5, Indian Arrival Day. This day is observed annually as a national holiday and across Guyana, the Indian Organisations and Communities host a range of activities to celebrate the rich history and culture of their foreparents.