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;
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
The evacuation of Indo-Guyanese from the massacre sites at Wismar
and Christainburg did not take place until the evening of May
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
Temporary shelter was soon set up at a factory outside Georgetown
with many other refugees later being put up in predominantly Indo-Guyanese
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,
Newsweek Magazine: "Politics of violence." June 8th,
Facts on File, Volume XXIV: "British Guiana." June 4,
[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.]