Letter: Digitising of records

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

Dear Editor,

Almost five years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Guyana, completing a multi-city lecture tour. Since then, I have kept abreast of current events there. I am learning only now about the controversy of digitising the records of those who suffered the humiliation of indentured servitude.

The descendants of these brave individuals, who sought a new life in Guyana, now face a unique challenge — the Guyanese Government’s reluctance to digitise the records of indentured servants. This issue has significant implications for citizens who are direct descendants of those immigrants, impacting their ability to connect with their roots and understand their familial histories.

Indentured servitude, a system that brought labourers to then-British Guiana from regions like India, China, and Portugal, represents a crucial chapter in Guyana’s past. These migrants played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s cultural and social landscape. The documentation of their arrival, work contracts, and subsequent contributions form an essential part of Guyana’s historical narrative.

Unfortunately, the lack of digitisation of these records poses a formidable obstacle for descendants who seek to explore and preserve their heritage. One key aspect of the digitisation debate lies in accessibility. Traditional paper records are often stored in archives that may be challenging to access due to factors such as physical distance, limited resources, and preservation concerns.

Digitising these records would make them accessible to a broader audience, enabling descendants to trace their roots with greater ease. It would foster a sense of connection to their ancestral past, and provide a tangible link to the sacrifices and contributions made by their forebears.

Furthermore, digitisation can play a crucial role in the preservation of historical documents. Paper records are susceptible to deterioration over time, whether due to environmental factors, ageing, or mishandling. By converting these documents into digital formats, the risk of losing valuable information is significantly reduced. This preservation effort is not just about safeguarding the past for the sake of posterity, but also about ensuring that future generations can explore and understand their cultural heritage.

For the descendants of indentured servants in Guyana, the digitisation of records represents an opportunity to reclaim a piece of their identity. It empowers them to explore their roots, understand the sacrifices of their ancestors, and contribute to the rich tapestry of Guyanese culture. Beyond personal connections, it also contributes to a collective understanding of the nation’s history, fostering a sense of unity and shared heritage among its citizens.

One other thing of importance is that those whose families hail from India will have a much harder time visiting the land of their ancestors, as they will continue to have to apply for visitor visas rather than holding an Overseas Indian Citizenship (OIC) card. If nothing else, this should motivate the Government to act toward digitisation.

In conclusion, the lack of digitised records of indentured servants poses a significant challenge to those seeking to connect with their ancestral roots. The importance of digitisation extends beyond convenience; it is a means of preserving and celebrating the diverse contributions of indentured servants who played a crucial role in shaping Guyana.

As we navigate the complexities of the present, embracing technology to safeguard our historical treasures ensures that the stories of the past remain accessible and relevant for generations to come.

Sincerely,Fred Stella