British soldiers are sent to the Demerara mining town to keep the peace after the tragedy. Below, the fatal date of May 26, now celebreated by Guyanese as Independence day without mention of the Wismar massacre.
Properties burn on May 26, the now-independence day selected by Forbes Burnham. Above right, a nurse tends to a baby who was evacuated to Georgetown. Below, a paper tells the story of evacuation.

"I am surprised and amazed that similar action has not been taken at certain areas on the West Coast of Demerar a where murder, rape, arson and intimadation has become the order of the day for the last 14 weeks, and in spite of the declaration of emergency..."
Forbes Burnham, commenting on the response of the police and government towards Wismar, which, ironically was very late. May 27, 1964

"From Saturday May 14th to Monday May 26th,
There's no time more glorious
For reflection upon history,
Both great and notorious,
It's all part of the story...
The Guyana way"

"In these times of national crisis, the corporation of all is needed but this cannot be obtained, for there is such glaring evidence of discrimination."
        —Forbes Burnham, May 27, 1964
“In May 1964, the Negroes at Wismar formed themselves into gangs and went to the business places and homes of the Indians and demanded the keys of the safety boxes and drawers in which they kept their cash, jewellery and other valuable articles. Shortly afterwards, a house at Third Alley was set on fire and soon the whole area became an inferno as the gangs roamed looting, burning and terrorizing the 1,600 Indians as they tried to escape. Every man, woman and child was attacked. The men brutally beaten and the clothes of the women and even girls of tender ages were ripped away. The women and girls were raped in full public view by gangs of men.”—Dwarka Nath, A History of Indian in Guyana.
May 26—The Wismar Page: One
by Rakesh Rampertab
  Essay, May 26: Taboo The Wismar Report Wismar Page Two





Wismar is a charged topic not only because Indian people were murdered, Indian women raped, Indian-owned proerties burned, and hundreds of Indians forced to flee from there homes despite being taxpayers and free men and women of the British Empire. Wismar is a charged topic because one half of Guyana continues to deny its seriousness, refusing to accept that wholesale public denounciation of May 26 is a necessary part of any possible reconciliation for the future. Wismar is a charged topic not only because every national election is an occasion for Indians to be attacked, robbed, sexualy assaulted, shot, and intimidated in general. Wismar is a charged topic because the national political leadership by the PPP and PNC have thus far, allowed Wismar to remain a taboo subject instead of history. In the future, children of Guyana shall speak of Wismar as something that never happened.

When I say wholesale denounciation, I mean that Guyana cannot move beyond Wismar unless it selects a new date for its Independence celebration. By wholesale denounciation, I mean something much more that a children song, such as was done (in a doggerel) for the 1980 Independence celebration by Mr. Edwin Vanderyar which says;
































by Fazil (Raymond) Ali

In the early 1960s Wismar and Christianburg were two mixed villages where Indo-Guyanese resided in the predominantly Afro-Guyanese (90 per cent) mining town of Mackenzie, located some 65 miles up the Demarara river from the capital of Georgetown.
But after independence from Britain, the name of the bauxite town was changed from Mackenzie to Linden. The PNC leader Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham named it after himself. It had been the scene of his greatest political triumph.
Did Burnham really change the name of the town from Mackenzie to Linden because he wanted to remove the colonial legacy and substitute a local name for a foreign or colonial one? If this was truly Burnham’s intention, then could have renamed Georgetown, which was of course named after King George of England.
Instead Burnham’s real motive for naming the town after himself was to symbolically establish his stamp and mark over a massacre where he had reigned supreme over Indo-Guyanese.
In short, "Linden" was a message to Indo-Guyanese that if they challenged him (Burnham) they could expect the same fate as the Indo-Guyanese community experienced on the 24th, 25th, and 26th of Mat 1964 in Mackenzie.
However, Burnham’s move to change the name from Mackenzie to Linden was only of his many acts to show his supremacy and superiority over the Indo-Guyanese community. He had earlier humiliated the same community by recommending the 26th of May 1966 as Guyana’s Independence Day to the British. The PPP was had fought so hard for the freedom of Guyana welcomed the end of British rule but did not participate in the independence celebrations with the same enthusiasm with which if fought to free Guyana. This was the same exact date and month that Indo-Guyanese in Mackenzie were murdered, raped, and burnt alive Blacks in the country’s worst racial violence.
The intensity of the racial violence perpetrated countrywide by Forbes Burnham’s People’s National Congress (PNC) and Peter D’Aguiar’s United Force (UF) was instrumental in bringing down Dr. Jagan’s PPP government after reaching its apex in Mackenzie.

The massacre of Indo-Guyanese began at Wismar and lasted for over 38 hours, beginning from Sunday May 24th and ending on Tuesday May 26, 1964. In the 38 hours of brutality, barbarism, and savagery on some 2000 Indo-Guyanese living in villages of Wismar and Christianburg, some 18000 Afro-Guyanese armed with cutlasses, wooden poles, gasoline bombs and guns burnt and destroyed over 230 Indo-Guyanese homes and businesses. Indo-Guyanese who thought they could find shelter in their own homes were confronted and beaten by large mobs of Afro-Guyanese screaming "kill de coolies" as their homes were burnt to the ground. One family whose home was burnt was confronted by a large mob who beat the wife unconscious, repeatedly stabbing the husband and then continuing to kick and molest two smaller children. This occurrence was by no means isolated. Some families who managed to escape from the villages into the nearby forest were also hunted down like animals.

However, their chances of survival were much better in the forest than in the villages. In addition to the mass burning and looting which resulted in over 1500 Indo-Guyanese becoming homeless, and the indiscriminate beating of Indo-Guyanese men, women, and children, 8 women were raped including two girls. Some of the women were repeatedly raped as the marauding band took turns on Indo-Guyanese women victims. This figure may even be higher since Guyanese women who were victims of rape seldom come forward and admit to such a heinous crime due to the shame associated with it. Once man was also burnt alive. Another, Mr. Ramjattan, a supporter of the PPP was found decapitated.

Injuries were in the hundreds, ranging from gunshot wounds, knife wounds, burns, broken bones, and mutilated bodies. One Indo-Guyanese man had both his legs and feet broken. An employee from the Demarara Bauxite Company said: "The Indians never had a chance". A Black woman showing no remorse said: "De ga wa dem deserve" (They coolies get what they deserved).
The evacuation of Indo-Guyanese from the massacre sites at Wismar and Christainburg did not take place until the evening of May 25th.

Two river steamers were commissioned to take the first batch of 1300 Indo-Guyanese refugees to Georgetown where they were booed, jeered, and pelted with bricks by Blacks as they arrived. A Red Cross worker said of the survivors: "Few wept, but the hundreds of children appeared terrified and frightened."

Out of the 1300 that arrived, 300 found shelter with relatives while the rest slept on the concrete floor of the pier warehouse in Georgetown huddling in fear while covered with tarpaulins and rice bags.
Temporary shelter was soon set up at a factory outside Georgetown with many other refugees later being put up in predominantly Indo-Guyanese areas.

For the rest of the 26th, 27th, and 28th about 500 Indo-Guyanese who had been hiding in the forest surrounding Wismar and Christainburg came out and were taken to the refugee camps outside Georgetown.

It is quite clear that the results of the massacres could have been significantly reduced or even avoided altogether, if the 75 members of the Mackenzie Police and Volunteer Force had not been all Blacks. The entire armed forces detachment at Mackenzie, which was heavily armed, took no offensive action while many friends, family and neighbors were carrying out the atrocities. Many members of the Police and Volunteer Forces took part in the looting, beating and killing of Indo-Guyanese as they had specialized military training as a profession.

In one incident two armed Black Volunteers refused to intervene when two Indo-Guyanese women were being raped. Instead, the women had to be rescued by employees from DEMBA. In another case, the Volunteer Force shot a young Indo-Guyanese man to death because he refused to stop at their command.

In those 38 hours of the massacre no Afro-Guyanese was arrested and only two wounded by bullets.
Janet Jagan, then Minister of Home Affairs on June 1st in a speech to the Guyana Parliament equated the suffering at Wismar to genocide since the police had done nothing to prevent the massacre.
She said, "It is possible for anyone to believe that, with the widespread violence, arson, rape, and murder, there could have been no show of force by the armed police and armed volunteers. Since this is impossible to accept, one can only come to the conclusion that planned genocide of a village was carried out with the connivance of all concerned."

She then resigned to protest the British Police Commissioner not responding to her orders.
However, it was not until after 24 hours of the violent massacre that British troops eventually arrived in the mining town. Their only suggestion was to evacuate the area.
The British troops they were powerless to stop the violence and the most that they (the troops) could do was to impose a curfew. The curfew did manage to quiet the situation but most of the killing, rapes, burning and beatings had already taken place.

The massacre of Indo-Guyanese in Wismar and Christianburg has remained a well-hidden and well-guarded secret. Not only have Guyanese failed to record and seriously document this important part of our history but also the older generations of Indo-Guyanese have not passed on this information even orally. Up to today these is no accurate figures on the number of Indo-Guyanese that have died during the Wismar massacre.

When Guyana’s Independence Day is celebrated on May 26th, Indo-Guyanese should also take time off to acknowledge those who suffered and died in the Wismar-Christianburg massacre. It may be necessary some atrocities orchestrated against them by the PNC, but we must not forget how and why it occurred.
All Guyanese must ensure it does not happen again. How can this be done? Obviously the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) recommendations which the PNC government agreed to implement must now be reflected in the Guyanese armed forces. Then any "ethnic cleansing" of other communities like Mackenzie will not reoccur again. Never again!

New York Times: "East Indians flee race violence in British Guiana mining area." Wednesday, May 27th, 1964.
New York Times: "Official accuse Police in British Guiana." Thursday, May 28th, 1964.
Time Magazine: "British Guiana race war." June 5th, 1964.
Newsweek Magazine: "Politics of violence." June 8th, 1964.
Facts on File, Volume XXIV: "British Guiana." June 4, 1964.

[Editor’s Note: The writer, Mr. Raymond Ali is a 1992 graduate of Brooklyn College with a BA in Economics. He served as Vice President of the Indo-West Indian Movement at Brooklyn College (1990-1991). Article being sourced from East Indians in the New World: 155 Anniversary (1838-1993). A publication of the Indo-Caribbean Federation of North, May 15, 1993.]




© 2001