I thank Malcolm Harripaul for reminding us of what was perpetrated in the greater Linden area in May and July 1964, but I believe he erred (May 25) penning that elements of the PPP Liberation Army bombed the Sun Chapman that was on course to Mc-Kenzie from Georgetown on July 6, 1964 that resulted in the deaths of 43 Africans. It is not known definitively what led to the explosion. The launch or passenger boat was not ‘bombed’ unless Malcolm can cite the violence. Some 3,000 Indians were ejected from the area — on May 26, 1964 — genocide and ethnic cleansing of Indians in Wismar, losing their homes, properties, possessions, and belongings that would amount in today’s value a couple hundred million American dollars. It is a day of infamy, and victims’ families still remember what happened to them 58 years ago. They hold private memorial services since government does not hold any to remember the victims. The PNC and the Granger administrations held memorial services for the Sun Chapman.
The Commission of Inquiry into the horrific act reported that explosives were kept near the engine room of the Sun Chapman launch with the heat triggering a blast. It is not clear if the explosives were planted by an agent (s) or were were brought on board to be transported to Wismar-McKenzie to unleash violence on people on account of race as alleged by many PPP activists. In my interviews with individuals familiar with the incident, some alleged that the explosives were secretly brought on board and hidden near the engine room so as not to be detected. PPP leaders denied they were affiliated with those who planted the explosive near the engine of the vessel.
We may never know the truth about the Sun Chapman explosion. Each side put out their own narrative. A few years back, David Granger, as a historian wrote, about it in a paper delivered at a conference; there was a brief reference to the Wismar Indian Massacre. Prof Alissa Trotz also made short shrift of the Wismar Indian Massacre while focusing on the Sun Chapman when she wrote on commemoration of historic events relating to violence. Sharma Solomon also ignored the anti-Indian pogrom at Wismar when commenting on the tragedy of Sun Chapman. President Granger promised during an election campaign and put up a memorial site for the Sun Chapman; a wall with the names of the victims was established. There is no similar equivalent memorial site for the many killed and for some 3,000 Indians who were ethnically cleansed from Linden, a town named after the dictator Forbes Burnham after the butchery at Christianburg, Wismar, McKenzie communities.
The 1960s was a most difficult period for Guyana. The cold war affected race relations in the colony. Communism was injected into our politics in 1950 from which we have not recovered. Prof Baytoram Ramharack is conducting research on the Wismar Massacre of Indians.
A Commission of Inquiry (or a Truth and Reconciliation Commission a la South Africa in the 1990s) should be conducted into the violence in Christianburg, Wismar, McKenzie communities (and nationally) to bring closure to those who were affected by the orgy of violence that swept the country during the 1960s. We should not bury the past. Prof Ramharack, in a Globespan program on May 25 evening, urged that history “not be silenced”. We should record factually and dispassionately, without casting blame, what happened. And we should pursue forgiveness in order to move on as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa. Pretending that ugly incidents never happened and that we live in a harmonious state will not allow us to move on.
By Vishnu Bisram