May 5 was officially designated a public holiday, “Arrival Day” in 2004. But before then and since it has been commemorated across Guyana as “Indian Arrival Day”. How did this dichotomy come about? On April 14, 2003, the PPP Government established a Special Select Parliamentary Committee, of which I was a member, “To Review The Public Holidays Act, Chapter 19:07”. More specifically it was to consider making May 26 a permanent public holiday (Independence Day) and May 5 to commemorate the arrival of Indians to Guyana.
The rationale for considering the holiday was stated in the introduction of the Report of the Special Select Committee: “Guyanese of Indian origin, who form a large portion of the country’s population, had for a period of in excess of the past forty years, been calling for 5th May to be declared a statutory public holiday, in observance of the arrival of the first batch of Indian indentured labourers who came to the then British Guiana in 1838.” Yet the Govt’s Resolution (No 12 of 2003) April 14, 2003, to establish the Committee declared that it should review as a possible public holiday “Arrival Day, that is to say, the 5th May, or, if that day is a Sunday, the following day.”
In its conclusions, the Committee noted: “While the aforesaid recommendation (on the holiday be named “Arrival Day) is in keeping with our mandate, the Committee wishes to note that all the submissions favouring 5th May as a Public Holiday recommended that it be designated “Indian Arrival Day” as is the case in Trinidad and Tobago.” It was presented to the National Assembly on April 29, 2004, and approved. The first “Arrival Day” as a public holiday was officially observed on May 5 of that year.
The decision was clearly actuated by a desire of the PPP Government not to possibly alienate other Guyanese groups who had also arrived as indentured servants. But in the years since, none of the other groups – such as Portuguese and Chinese whose arrival dates were respectively on June 3 and Jan 12, took the opportunity to commemorate the occasion on May 5. In fact, there were expressions from individuals from those communities expressing disagreement that their arrivals should be conflated or subsumed with a date that clearly marked the Indian Indentured’s arrival to Guyana.
In 2017, President David Granger established a precedent when he issued a public notice in early January 2017 to the effect that Jan 12 was henceforth designated as “Chinese Arrival Day” but not a public holiday. Later, on February 27, 2017, he proclaimed May 3 each year as Portuguese Arrival Day. The days have since witnessed commemorative activities by those communities.
It is my considered view, that the Guyanese community would almost universally support the reconsideration of the name of the May 5 holiday as “Indian Arrival Day”. And I submit that the time has come for the Government to officially rectify the anomaly.