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Indian Arrival Day Greetings from Suruj Rambachan

I greet you in the name of our ancestors as we remember them with gratitude in our hearts and admiration for their spirit of persistence in very difficult circumstances. I am truly happy that events like Indian Arrival day, Emancipation Day, Shouter Baptists Liberation Day, Eid U Fitr and other similar festivals and occasions are celebrated in our country on an annual basis. Apart from enjoying the friendship of those who gather for the celebrations and as well the cultural performances, they are also occasions when on reflection of our heritage and the journey our ancestors made over the past 175 years, I personally become inspired to do more, to serve with even greater commitment and sacrifice so that the future will be a better one for all of us.

These occasions are reality checks and moments of truth as to whether we are making the quality and quantity contributions which we are capable of as productive members of society. WE have not gotten to where we are today all on our own. Far from it. Foundations were laid by the ancestors, not only East Indians but before us our African brothers and sisters as well as the Chinese, Syrians, Lebanese and other settlers to our country. Today we celebrate them all and recognize that whatever success we have had is as a result of the sacrifices and contributions of those who preceded us as well.

Indian Arrival Day as a holiday did not come about by simple wishful thinking. The history of how it came to be recognized as a holiday has still to be properly documented and tribute has to be paid to those who ensured that it became a reality. That history will show that as late as the 1980’s there were many prejudices present in the society, these prejudices born out of insecurities in some sectors if the society. The prejudices however ignored the fact that whether a holiday was granted or not, you could not dismember the cultural and religious soul from the people of Indian descent as you could not also dismember the cultural and religious souls of the people of African or Chinese descent. Long before the holiday was finally granted the Indian community was celebrating the day and had constructed a monument in Cedros to mark their arrival.

It is my view that we are far better off and in a far better place by having Indian Arrival day, Emancipation Day and Shouter Baptist Liberation Day as national days. These days do not make us any less Trinidadians and Tobagonians, they do not make us any less true and committed citizens of our country. They are not days which promote divisiveness, as were the arguments put forward in the debates of the 1980’s. In fact by acknowledging our heritage, we are constantly reminded of the rich values and inspiring traditions which have placed us in a better position today. BY acknowledging our heritage, and the work of our ancestors, we have in this country been able to borrow from each other traditions the best and incorporate it into our own life formula for success and growth. This is our beauty as a people and this is why we are a beautiful nation. In a real sense without these celebrations I am of the view that a lot of our history will not be told and the generations of the future may well grow up not knowing of this rich past that we have. Already so much has been lost, whether in terms of traditions, or physical assets.

We need to pay greater attention to preserving this past through our museums and our libraries. Our investments in these areas are too small. University students doing social studies must be encouraged to research and write the history of villages, document the lives of village heroes and tell their stories by way of audio, video and books. These efforts must find private and public support in terms of funding.

A people who have forgotten from where they came, who have forgotten how they are where they are today would be a troubled people. Our art must also record our presence.

I speak of these not just as an exercise in generating ideas but my history as Mayor of Chaguanas witnessed the publication of the first volume of a book called “Contributors” which is a collection of the profiles of those who contributed to the building of Chaguanas. As Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2012 to mark the United Nations International Year for People of African descent an art competition was held at the Ministry involving students of which 60 pieces of art reflecting the African presence was displayed at the UN in New York. I hope that these pieces will be preserved as I understand that they are now at the TT Embassies abroad.

Indian Arrival day must teach us to persevere with vision and to have faith in our abilities and strength to succeed. Indian Arrival Day must rekindle the spirit of the jahajees and the brotherhood and sisterhood of the boats. It must rekindle it not just as an emotional connection to the past but as a reminder that the journey is ne

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