Headlines      Issue Released October 20, 2004


"Guiana 1838" 

A link to the past

By Camille Ross

The pioneering Rohit Jagessar wrote, produced and directed "Guiana 1838" over the last seven years. The final product, which premiered at the Albion Cinema Friday night, attracted a large crowd of moviegoers.

Laxman, the character played by Kumar Guarav in "Guiana 1838" was one Indian man among many from Calcutta, who signed a contract to work in Guiana, where El Dorado, the land of gold was to be found. They were the first group of hopeful "coolies" shipped away.

By 1838, the emancipation of African slaves had come and gone, and the new system of indentureship required cheap laborers to fill the labor void in Guiana. Indian men and women were accustomed to the warm climate, capable, and willing to work in the fields. Soon, corruption within the indenture system was introduced.

Guyanese born Rohit Jagessar

Jagessar begins his depiction of the indenture experience with roughly one hundred men, ten women, and a young boy locked in bamboo cages like animals by the British planters - perhaps to foreshadow their treatment aboard the ‘Hesperus,’ the ship that would take them to Guiana. They thought the trip would last two days. Those two days turned into four months of the hunger and pain amidst the unbearable stench of feces and death.

The seemingly never-ending darkness at the bottom of the ship also represented the never-ending loneliness some of the Indians faced. For instance, the young boy who was separated from his mother and family asked one of the few ladies on the ship if he would ever see his mother again. The woman tearfully responded that if not, his mother would still pray for him. 

An Indian man by the name of Sinha, who was hired by the British planters to recruit ‘coolies’ from Calcutta, was behind it all. He deceived his fellow Indians saying they could escape the hardship in India and visit beautiful Guiana. There, they would work, and make money for their families.

Upon arrival in Guiana, the survivors, barely carrying their own weight and the few belongings in their jhoris, limp toward their small logies, what would become their new homes.

The larger adjustment however, is the hostile environment they face, where animosity is present from the African people recently freed from 200 years of slavery still residing in Guiana. Disputes occur between the two groups of people but the masters do nothing to reconcile them. It was to the advantage of the British masters to keep the two groups separate. But this didn’t stop Laxman from creating a bond with the African people, especially Cabi, played by Henry Rodney, a man with whom Laxman built a strong friendship.

Brutal scenes of flogging followed by the rubbing of salt into open wounds are present, and capture the emotions of the audience. Laxman, cannot bear to see the brutality being inflicted upon his people, and does the unthinkable to save them. Whether or not he is successful in this endeavor is not the film’s message. The message Jagessar tries to convey is that Indo-Caribbean people need to appreciate the sacrifices their forefathers made to ensure a better life for future generations. A better life meant freedom from indentureship, freedom from the British rule and freedom from racism. This message is primarily geared towards Indo-Caribbean youth. This movie enhances one's sense of identity and improves one’s knowledge of what life in Guyana was like prior to creolization.

"Guiana 1838" is an emotionally engaging film that incorporates the struggles of the indentured laborers during this period of transition, and their victories as a progressive and hard working society.

It touches upon a number of significant events the Indians faced in Guiana such as the severe gender imbalance among the Indo-Caribbean population, concubineage, disease and hunger.

The quality of the two-hour movie shines through in the scenes where the sun is setting, the waves are washing up on the beach and the silhouettes of the characters are seen against the luscious trees. The $12 admission fee is well worth it.

The storyline runs very smoothly, and is understandable. The characters are real therefore easy to relate to. At times, the female actors show a lack of emotion, making their pain harder to sympathize with. On the other hand, Kumar Gaurav was phenomenal, as he carried the burden of his people in his eyes throughout the movie. Henry Rodney was comical and earned the respect and trust of the viewers.

The film is strong because it’s not general, but rather focuses on a specific group of people and allows the viewers to become involved in their experience. Viewers are not given a vague description of the indenture experience, but one that is detailed and clear.

"Guiana 1838" could have been more realistic if the Indian laborers spoke in Hindi with subtitles, as oppose to English. In reality there was a language barrier between the Indians and the African people they encountered in Guiana. On the other hand, it was practical for Jagessar to have everyone speak in English because it made the entire movie more understandable for some seniors who may be illiterate, people who are visually impaired, or simply very young.

Jagessar, produced this movie based on the true events he came across in the 50,000 pages of research he did prior to making the film. Surely, it gives people a credible glimpse into the past.




Achievers: The Canadian Indo Caribbean Association (CICA) handed out its Annual Academic Awards on October 9, 2004 at a well attended function held at the Hamilton Spectator Auditorium. Keshwattie Balkaran (2nd from right in pix) topped the list at the secondary level. Winners at the elementary level included (from left) Niraj Maulkhan, Sarita Deonarain, Bhopaul Balkaran (right) and Padmanie Maulkhan (not in pix). Accountant Gulcharan Mohabir (front centre) came in for an award for his volunteer service to CICA over the years. Guyanese-born poet and educator Kesh Kumar (back row, left) read poetry from his two volumes, The Face that Smiles and Pure Gold and Other Selections while the ebullient Dimple Karrer (back row, right) gave a very uplifting talk on "A Career Path." The programme also featured songs and dances by the Friday Night Group of Toronto (see page 3).

T&T budget 2005 –

"Let the good times roll"

By Sandra Chouthi

Special to Indo Caribbean World

Port-of-Spain — Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s 2005 (Can) $7 billion budget reduced the surcharge on imported chicken and slashed VAT from certain foods, but he continues to be heavily criticised for creating the dependency syndrome of the 1970s.

The October 8 budget, which is (Can) $1.2 billion more than last year’s, and which has been set at an oil price of (US) $25, had among its highlights:

• Increase in the minimum wage from (Can) $1.75 to (Can) $2.25

• Reduction of prices of powdered milk, split peas, black eye beans and cheese

• No VAT on brown sugar, cocoa powder, coffee, mauby and orange juice

• Reduction on surcharge on chicken and turkey parts from 86 percent to 40 percent

• Increase in duty-free allowance from (Can) $300 to (Can) $750

• Increase in personal allowance tax

• Increase in old age pension from (Can) $250 to (Can) $288

• Increase in public assistance by (Can) $37

• Free medical care at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex

"Let the good times roll" and "Survival budget" were two headlines in the following day’s newspapers.

The budget has forced owners of bakeries and fast food outlets to state that prices will be slashed by November. Those business people said there were a number of increases in the cost of running business, among them higher wages, insurance, security and higher prices for some raw materials, which would work against any reduction in prices to consumers. Ron Austin, president of the Bakers’ Association, said on October 11 that, "No decision has been made to reduce the price of bread. In the meantime, it remains an open market for the 200 estimated bakeries in the country."

Hasheed Amin, owner of Amin’s chain of roti shops, said, "Even if the price of chicken goes down, we still have to pay more for labour, oil and other (cooking) ingredients."

The removal of VAT from brown sugar will have little effect on the price of soft drinks, at least those manufactured by S.M. Jaleel. "We are not affected by the removal of VAT (from brown sugar) because we use granulated sugar in our production," said an official.

Consumer activist Hazel Brown, who is usually speaking out for the poor, accused the government of crippling the poultry industry by reducing the surcharge on imported chicken.

"I don’t know how we could substitute something we know nothing about to destroy a local industry," said the outspoken Brown. "This will affect the local market, which affects a lot of women. You get a solution that causes more problems than you had before"

Poultry producers feel betrayed. Ronnie Mohammed, vice-president of Nutrimix, the country’s largest poultry producer, said the government’s move was like a stab in the back since the company was being asked to compete with Brazil and the US, which the World Trade Organisation has ruled are receiving subsidies.

The budget has come in for heavy criticism by the business sector. The South Chamber of Industry and Commerce slammed the government, which is on a heavy drive to make Trinidad and Tobago a developed nation by 2020, for its lack of vision.

"In terms of the overall picture painted by the budget, it is clear that we are not moving any closer to the dream of developed country status," the Chamber said. "While the budget indicates that the country’s GDP growth rates will remain healthy over the medium-term, it does not indicate the sort of positive growth rates needed to transform Trinidad and Tobago to a developed country by 2020."

The San Juan Business Association noted with concern the minimum wage increase. President Gail Merhair said, "We are concerned about the increase in the minimum wage to [(Can) $2.25]. This could send the inflation rate up and could mean that you’ve given with one hand and taken back with the other. With this move, that very unemployment rate of 7.8 percent could go up rather than down."

The accounting firm Ernst and Young criticised the government’s social programmes as announced in the budget. Referring to such programmes as youth training, assistance with family dysfunction, poverty alleviation through pension increases, the company said these programmes fall short of developing the country’s human resources in a manner to make them independent and build self-esteem.

However, Ernst and Young applauded three pillars of the government’s economy strategy: maximisation of returns from the energy sector, diversification of the economy, and sharing the country’s wealth equitably.

The firm warned that unless the social development of the country is addressed in a meaningful and sustainable way, the vision for First World status will not be achieved, regardless of the favourable economic factors.

Manning had said that inflation had been kept in check, coming in at 3.8 percent in 2003 and 3.3 percent in the 12 months ending in August 2004, and that GDP was projected at 6.2 percent for 2004. The government can afford to smile and deliver goodies for many.

As of October 12, oil futures prices advanced to a high of (US) $54, but the government explained prior to the budget that this country does not benefit from such high prices as its oil production is sold at preset prices. The price of oil on the world market also depends on the quality of the crude. Oil prices were this year 80 percent higher than one year ago.


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