January 18

Who is Janey Tetary?

first_imgI am not ashamed to say that I do not have much savings in the bank or even under the mattress, but I am willing to bet whatever I have on the following statement that only a handful of Guyanese probably know who Janey Tetary is. Of course, my intention here is not to test the nerves or insult readers, but to investigate why this person is a mystery to the Guyanese public.My statement speaks to a larger concern of historical inquiry, which in order to answer, will require an exploration of delving into historical knowledge, into the depth of historical exposure and into the degree of historical grounding in and outside of the Guyanese classroom.I attended Skeldon Line Path Government Secondary School in Upper Corentyne, a few miles from Molesen Creek in the 1970s. Physically, the school was shaped like the letter ‘L’ with a parallel internal corridor that made traversing the two storey building manageable. Psychologically, the school was located somewhat close to the Corentyne River so students and staff could benefit from the constant flow of tropical breeze to facilitate a pleasant learning environment.I have no qualms about this setting and I am still impressed by the structure. What I am more concerned about is the substance of instructions in this setting. In my final year at this school, I was taught History by a man named Denny Brijbasse. He was a tough but talented teacher. I still believe he did the best he could during a time when Guyana’s educational system and standard was reeling from hopelessness, much less providing any meaningful support for a decent education to the younger generation. I was a victim of these circumstances. What happened to Brijbasse and teachers like himself, as well as students that came under their sway was a national irreparable sin. The teachers were given syllabi that mirrored their colonial masters to command and control the classroom in post-independence Guyana. The teachers were commodified to carry out the colonial pattern of education. In the process, they suffered from the freedom of individuation and didacticism in their instructive paradigm. The students were sponges to this dictum, while the teachers were reduced to helpmates and hospices, rather than motivators of history.If my memory serves me correct since I have more years behind instead of in front of me, I do not think then and now that anything was taught about Indian history. I certainly remember that there was not a single question on the GCE examination on Indian history. This is why I posed the above question to share parallel sadness in our educational system. If there is any personal solace or hypallage to this historical episode, it is that I understand that the CXC examination council has recommended my book – Indo-Caribbean Indenture: Resistance and Accommodation for students to use. It is better late than never.Janey Tetary was an Indian female indentured servant, along with her 10-year-old son, who signed contracts in India to labour overseas. She and her son arrived in Suriname in 1880, seven years after indentureship began in that colony. She was indentured to Plantation Zorg en hoop in Suriname. She eventually rose up against her overlords and led a rebellion in which she was shot and killed by the colonial Police before her contract ended. To say that she was a rebel would be an understatement and a travesty of injustice. She was a single parent, a traveller, leader, fighter, a visionary, etc, everything the plantocracy despised among the labouring class.You may want to argue that this is Suriname’s history, but I argue equally that it is an undisputed thought that many have written on Indian resistance and have never mentioned her name. How to address this omission will require a lot of sympathy from me which I do not have right now. I do have the energy, however, to say that Janey Tetary’s life, her narrative, should be moved from mystery to the mainstream of Caribbean history and Indian people. For me, her life story has opened new doors of enquiry into the female experience and existence during indenture and beyond. I have always asked this question: Are we to believe that of the 500,000 Indians that were brought from India to labour in the Caribbean there were no female leaders or heroines among them? Were among the immigrant labour group only “he-roes” and not “she-roes”?In a global atmosphere where many are still dealing with a post-election shock in which a woman lost to a loose cannon, my young daughter Priya, has always asked me this: “Daddy, are there heroines among Indian women?” I can now partially answer that question without scratching my head too hard.(Send comments to: [email protected])last_img read more