Indians, Africans have no ancestral land rights

Indians, Africans have no ancestral land rights

ACDA President Eric Phillips and some other African nationalists err when they claim ancestral land rights in Guyana. No immigrant group, by the very definition of the term, has ancestral land. But those cheated by the colonial rulers have a case for land as compensation.

The concept of ancestral land refers to lands and resources of indigenous peoples (those settled thousands of years in a particular area) or communities. As one article in the literature on the subject states, “this includes the continuous and open possession and occupation of land by the said indigenous people or community and its members”.

Only original people in an area have ancestral land rights. Examples of ancestral land would be tribal lands in Africa and community land in parts of Asia, Latin America, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, etc. These lands belong to a community long before colonialism and slavery.

The Amerindians have ancestral land rights because they are considered the native people of Guyana. Africans, Indians, Portuguese, Chinese, British, and Mixed peoples have no claim to ancestral land as they are migrant groups who settled in Guyana through the circumstances of history; these groups can acquire title ownership. Purchasing and transferring of land in the colony was done by law and deeded.

The indigenous Amerindian tribes don’t need to make a land rights claim as they are custodians or guardians of the ancestral lands. They are not title owners or landowners, and there is no need for them to purchase or acquire title to land that is in communal ownership.

The concept of property ownership was introduced by the colonial empires and was not applicable to Amerindians or natives. The Amerindians have a claim to ancestral rights because they never bought or sold land as they saw the land as theirs..

Ancestral lands are not bought and sold like plots of land that are titled and deeded. Indians, Africans, and other groups have to acquire title (purchase or being given by the state) to land since they cannot make a claim to ancestral land. Some squatted on land after slavery because they could not afford to purchase land.

As noted in Wikipeda, “while the colonial model of land ownership gives an individual the property right to control land as a commodity, and trading it, ancestral land have a cultural and spiritual character to it. They invoke a mutual responsibility and relationship between land and people. The land belongs to all of the members of the tribe. The right to such lands shall be protected to ensure non-encroachment by other groups”.

One piece of literature on ancestral land asserts: “The concept of ancestral land is rooted in the culture and heritage of the native tribal communities”. Thus, Amerindians have a right to defend and retain their ancestral lands for loss of ancestral land ultimately means loss of traditional ancestral culture.

Africans, Europeans, Chinese, and Indians have no ancestral land in Guyana. These groups were brought to the colony to do the work of the colonial rulers. And the mere fact that Africans bought land (villages and estates right after slavery ended) renders moot any argument that African has ancestral right to land. Why buy land if you have ancestral land?

In the 1840s, Africans acquired land by purchasing it and not by ancestral rights. Africans and Portuguese owned land around the same time. Land acquisition and ownership is communal for Africans because they bought whole villages. For Indians or Portuguese or Chinese, it is a private right of passage – they want title and ownership. Had the indentured Indians pooled their return passage savings and financial incentives for re-indenture (in excess of $4 M), they would have been able to purchase over 125 estates (500 acres each). Indians were cheated of their money when acquiring land -- money taken for worthless, useless land; they are entitled to compensation. And Africans had far more land than other groups (except the colonial rulers) well into the 20th century.

It is interesting to note that the villages bought by Africans did not have African names but retained the names of the Europeans from whom they purchased the land. The fact that Indians purchased or leased land from Africans for farming during and after indentureship affirms the argument that Africans owned more land than Indians.

Since Africans, Indians, Europeans, Chinese owned land by buying it, they and other immigrant groups lack claim to ancestral lands.