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Basdeo Mangru (Ed.), C.F. Andrews, Impressions of British Guiana, 1930. An Emissary’s Assessment. Adams Press, 2007, 129 pages, Illustrated, $12.95.

Reviewed by Gary Girdhari
Guyana Journal, May 2007

George Santayana (1863-1952) admonishes: Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. These words would have been known at the time when Charles Freer Andrews visited British Guiana in 1929. Yet, Guyana did not “learn from history”, not enough anyway.

At age 32, C.F. Andrews was sent to India as a Christian Missionary, after graduating from Cambridge University (1895) and after working among the poor in South London. In India, he received first-hand experience of British colonialism – their derogatory attitude towards their Indian “subjects”. He soon sided with the pro-nationalists, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Lala Lajpat Rai, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, to expose the iniquities of the indenture system.

Earlier, his stature, dedication, resoluteness and the worthy fraternal designation “deena bandhu” (friend of the poor) were influencing factors for his selection to inquire into the indenture system in Fiji and Natal. In 1929, he was deputed by private individuals and organizations to British Guiana, as a guest of the British Guiana East Indian Association, to see first-hand the conditions of Indians in the colony and to report on the “British Guiana Colonisation Scheme” – this was not long after indentureship had officially ended.

A prologue to Rev. Andrews’ Report is lucidly described in Basdeo Mangru’s Introduction in his new book: C.F. Andrews, Impressions of British Guiana, 1930. An Emissary’s Assessment. Basdeo Mangru’s Introduction is brilliant and elegant in the sense of its timing, its umbrella coverage of the indentureship system, and its simplicity. Dr. Mangru who has been an educator all of his working life – at the primary, secondary and the tertiary levels – has dedicated his researches in bringing to the forefront the historiography of Indian Indentureship as it relates to Guyana. His previous books (Benevolent Neutrality. Indian Government Policy and Labour Migration to British Guiana, 1854-1888. 1988. Hansib Publishing Ltd. London; Indenture and Abolition. Sacrifice and Survival on the Guyana Sugar Plantations. 1993. The Toronto South Asian Press, Toronto; A History of East Indian Resistance on the Guyana Sugar Estates, 1869-1948. 1996. The Edwin Mellen Press, New York; Indians in Guyana. A Concise History from their Arrival to the Present. 1999. Adams Press, Chicago; The Elusive El Dorado. Essays on the Indian Experiences in Guyana. 2005. The University Press of America.) are all dedicated to further clarify, expose and make public the indenture system, not only at the academic level, but also for the general public.

Rev. C.F. Andrews reported his findings, but very few Guyanese had any access to it. Mangru’s new book is now excavating valuable archival material long hidden in the esoteric sanctum of libraries. The type-written, ink-edited Report was laboriously put in this book so that anyone may now access it. Andrews literally traveled the breath of British Guiana and held meetings with diverse groups and with prominent individuals, listening to their issues and eliciting questions and answers.

Impressions opens an invaluable historical and sociological window to glean the conditions of the indentured Indians. It speaks of the “laxity of moral and religious fibre” among the Indians, especially the rank and file younger ones. Andrews observed repeatedly that despite the “old idea of alcohol, as forbidden by religion” there had been an “enormous increase in rum-drinking”. In almost every village that Andrews visited he found “drunkenness”. Villages “reeked with rumshops. Day and night, people can be met rolling about the street half drunk.” Is there a parallel today? He decried the British non-acknowledgement of the Hindu marriage – causing the problematic binomial nomenclature in many certificates of birth where the father’s name is ‘not stated’ – a situation that prevails for many. Rev. Andrews was appalled at the abominable living conditions in the logies – the lack of basic sanitary amenities, such as pure water and toilet facilities, and the prevalence of many preventable diseases due to vectors and malnutrition, despite the fact that “sugar profits were soaring high”.

Despite these, the conditions in Guiana were relatively better for many compared to repatriation because of severe socio-religious ostracizing in India. Andrews related a story: “[A returned immigrant] had returned to India in 1920 and had tried to get received back into caste... The Brahmins… had first tried to make him pay five Rupees to each [fifteen of them], an act of penance for going abroad. But he got the sum reduced to ten annas each… He then had to give a caste dinner to the whole village… [costing] him between 150 and 200 rupees. Even after this, his own family made him sit apart, and he had other indignities to suffer… Therefore, he wanted to come back to British Guiana.”

The Report deplored the lack of East Indian teachers (“Hindu and Muhammadan”), the continual child marriages, premature school leaving, and the excessive rum-drinking. Deena bandhu noted perspicuously: “I know that in the far future a people has to be formed and moulded in this country, that it is neither African nor Indian, but indigenous to Demerara itself. But no good whatever will come from hurriedly throwing into the melting pot all of the different races and expecting to get a good amalgam out of the melting. New nations are born, not made.” How appropriate an observation then as it is today! Even then Andrews saw a potential “rivalry” and “competition” if “the Negro and Coloured people … feel the pinch of poverty owing to the presence of the East Indians”.

Dr. Basdeo Mangru has done all Guyanese a great service by bringing this Emissary’s Assessment to the fore. All Guyanese will be wiser affectively after reading this compelling book. Hopefully, we can all “learn from history [and not be] doomed to repeat” past mistakes.

by Gary Girdhari PhD
Editor, Guyana Journal

Info: Basdeo Mangru 718-845-7596. Email

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