Michael Charles, Leguan, and indentureship

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Mike Charles

Dear Editor,

As Guyana bid farewell to a national hero, many questions remain about his life outside the military that he served for 40 years.

One particular group on Facebook, Friends of Leguan Island, initiated and administered by our German friend Hans Buer, wanted to know more about Mike’s connection to this tiny island at the mouth of the Essequibo River. When the Hanuman Murti was consecrated at Blenheim, Leguan, a helicopter flew overhead and the villagers many of whom had not yet known his name said “Moneyman grandson”. Gradually Mike was to endear himself to the islanders as he constantly showed them aerial pictures of their lovely island which were posted online.

Leguan connectionMoses Rampershad (February 26, 1897 – July 9, 1999)

Mike’s mother, Rosie Charles, daughter of Surujbhan aka Moneyman, was born at Blenheim, Leguan but moved to her grandfather Moses Rampershad at Herstelling at a very young age. After her marriage to Edwin Charles, she settled in Soesdyke. Her family took care of Moses until his death in 1999 as his only child Albert had migrated to the USA.

Sukhoo, later known as Moses Rampershad, made his first appearance at Blenheim, Leguan on February 26, 1897. At that time his parents were indentured to Henrietta estate, another part of the island. His birth certificate shows his father as Bijah, Calcutta Immigrant, no.3371 ex. Hereford 1887 while his mother is shown as Toolsea, also a Calcutta Immigrant, no.17774 ex. Bann 1883.His biological mother had passed away and was buried at Blenheim next to the temple opposite the hospital. Cremation was unlawful in the country until 1956. In 1906, the father, son Sukhoo, and step-mother left for India.

They landed in Calcutta (Kolkata) and eventually made their way back to the village of Umra, Thana of Narwan, district of Benares (now Varanasi), but could not find any relatives.

Sukhoo and his family were not wealthy or educated so one can imagine the pressure they must have experienced after returning from the West. It is also likely that they must have picked up a strange language (broken English or patwa), but their dress may have been the same as when they left years earlier. Secondly, without doubt they also felt that the conditions of British Guiana were more attractive than those in India. Thirdly, they had no ancestral home and as a result of poverty, were probably moving to various locations in India before they boarded the ship from the depot at 8 Garden Street, Calcutta for their first voyage across the Kala Pani around December 1886.

India to TrinidadSukhoo and his parents did not remain in India very long. They left the same year on board the very ship SS INDUS which took them from Guiana to India. They were able to arrange another departure, but this time for Trinidad on a three-year contract signed by the mother alone. At age 50, the father may have paid his own passage, but accompanied the mother and infant son.

In Trinidad, they were attached to the Orange Grove Estate, Tacariva District and also the Caroni Estate. Attempts to prevent him from going to school may make for interesting research of the practice at that time with respect to the status of infants of indentured servants.

In 1913, they were able to fund their trip to return to Guiana by selling a calf, which was bought from the proceeds of a donkey, which was financed by his gold ear rings.

They finally settled in Blenheim, Leguan where they had their own house with troolie leaves as a roof. When indentureship ended in 1917, Leguan had about 23 sugar and 3 coffee plantations. Labour shortage was one of the factors that caused estates to close so Sukhoo moved to La Penitence and worked as a cane cutter for Diamond Estate. He built a new home at Herstelling, which was a welcoming address for many relatives from the countryside when they visited Georgetown.

Much of this information was made possible by the video equipment of Michael Charles operated by his 13-year-old nephew Stayon Charles when I had a cursory, impromptu interview with Moses a year before he passed at the age of 103. This may be the only live evidence of someone who had crossed the Kala Pani twice. It also enabled me to do further research to find and visit the ancestral village in India on the banks of the Ganges.

Mike is a descendant of one family of indentured servants who numbered just under 239,000 in Guyana and over 543,000 in the Caribbean when this inhumane system ceased in 1917. With Mike’s skill and contacts, we were able to share with posterity a unique interview with his Great Grandfather.

Interested parties can google: INDENTURESHIP-GUYANA SUGAR BURNING and view it on Guyanese online.net.

It is quite a consolation to hear the many well-deserved accolades and announcements at his grand farewell including one that his works will be displayed at the National Museum. Mike was generous and caring especially to those in the interior on whom he relied for information as to activities along all borders, not just Venezuela’s. He shared his work and has laid the foundation with his videos to promote Guyana globally. With his help I was able to visit the legendary Kaieteur Falls and joined an unforgettable fishing trip deep in the interior.

Indentureship recordsThere is no doubt that he would have loved to share with others the information of their ancestors who had a similar heritage. This information is in the archives and reports describe the documents as fragile and the pages so old and dry that they may crumble in one’s hands if not handled carefully.

Many Guyanese who have watched the video have sought my assistance in tracing their ancestry, but do not live in Guyana and do not know where to start.

There have been several requests and attempts to digitise these records and make them available online while they are still legible. Suriname and Mauritius have done this. Surely Guyana and the Caribbean can follow suit.

To put Mike’s works in the National Museum is in the best interest of the country. Similarly, to enable others to trace their ancestry to the villages of the most ancient civilisation on earth is in the best interest of the nation.

Can this be done as a way of honouring the fallen national hero who has given his life to serve and protect his country? A patriot who has demonstrated his love for humanity and always shared his knowledge?

One Guyana is indeed a noble objective for a country of less than one million with many races, religions, and ethnic divisions. Anyone who thinks that this is impossible should take a few pages of the book of my late nephew. Look at the respect he commands from his family, his friends, and colleagues, and all who spoke and attended the last farewell. It is compelling evidence that he soared in the skies not just in his helicopter, but high above the artificial divisions of mankind practised by lesser mortals. Those who still perpetuate the Western mentality of “superior race, religion and culture” and tell others that they worship the wrong god have lots to learn from the “Pilot Extraordinaire” who freed himself from all these colonial shackles.

Farewell, my charismatic and generous nephew. Proud to share your DNA. We will follow you one day, but remain behind to see promises at your funeral fulfilled and your generosity shared with all mankind. Your great grandfather Moses, would certainly recommend that your ashes be sprinkled not only in the rivers and forests of Guyana but in the waters of Mother Ganga, Uttar Pradesh, the land from which we came.

Sincerely,Ramnarine Sahadeo