India and the Shaping of the Indo-Guyanese Imagination

Written by Mario Relich for Lines Review on

In India and the Shaping of the Indo-Guyanese Imagination, Clem Seecheran traces the growth of an intelligentsia among the East Indians of British Guiana from the 1890s to the 1920s. Joseph Ruhomon, among others, did much to strengthen cultural links with India, as proponent of the Hindu Revival (ironically partly inspired by the Anglo-German Sanskrit scholar Max Muller) in British Guiana. He was also a minor poet. His 'Threnody', which mourned Queen Victoria’s death, almost sounds like Kipling at his most high-flown, but the poem does hint at the deification of the late Empress of India into a Hindu divinity. Another important figure was Dr William Hewley Wharton who obtained his medical degree as the first Indo-Guyanese to do university studies in Britain, at the University of Edinburgh. He was also founder of the Edinburgh Indian Association. The author, who teaches Caribbean Studies at the University of North London, would be very pleased to hear from anyone who has any other information about the otherwise somewhat elusive Dr Wharton.

One consequence of the Indian cultural resurgence was that 'a comprehensive Indian identity, inconceivable in India, has cohered in British Guiana,' according to Seecheran. This meant that antagonisms between Muslims and Hindus, for instance, submerged. It also meant that the strong sense of Indian identity merged with West Indian nationalism. It did not do so, however, without generating problems between the descendants of Indians and Africans in Guyana.