April 13, 2008

The Hindi language in multicultural Guyana -1994

Posted in Education, Guyana, Religion, Thoughts tagged , , , , at 12:33 am by randallbutisingh


A paper by Randall Butisingh, read at a gathering for RACE AND ETHNIC STUDIES IN GUYANA in April 1994.

 First of all let me pose the question. Is the Guyanese society truly multicultural? If the answer is yes, then it must be a multilingual society as language is a major component of culture. If it is not multilingual, to what extent is it multicultural and what effort has been made to restore, revive or improve the language component.

Sixteen years ago, in 1978, there was an upsurge of interest in Hindi in Guyana. This interest was awakened by the Guyana Hindi Prachar Sabha, a non-political, non-sectarian organization of Hindi lovers. The Sabha’s chief aim was the revival of Hindi as a spoken language. Throughout the country, classes were held in temples, schools and other places. By the Sabha’s efforts Hindi was introduced in the Secondary Schools, wherever there was a teacher on the staff who could teach it. This fell through because of the unavailability of qualified teachers in the schools. The Cove and John Secondary School and the Tagore Memorial School, Corentyne are now the only Government Schools where Hindi is taught.

About this same time, there had been efforts by Afro-Guyanese to teach Swahili as a means of social identification for the group. Some Afro Guyanese even assumed African names. Unfortunately the flame of enthusiasm dwindled to a flicker, then to smoldering embers.

“Language,” as U.N. Tiwari, first lecturer of Hindi at the University of Guyana puts it ,”is an awakened act of civilization and poetry, its divine blossom.”. I have made this statement on the basis of what these two elements, language and poetry have contributed to the quality of life and character of a once oppressed people. Language, be it spoken or written, conveys the feelings and emotions of individuals or groups of people. It is a system of communication by which thoughts are expressed, and a medium by which cultural traditions are handed to future generations. I may say an accurate judgment of any civilization can be determined by the language of its people.

To illustrate my point, let us look at the word ‘love’. There is no word for it in the vocabulary of primitive peoples The virtue love is a development of civilization, and the word love – a flower of its language.  The emotions of love, kindness, sympathy and the like are expressed in the languaage of all civilized peoples.

However, there are words in some civilized languages that cannot find equivalents in other civilized languages. For example, I quote from Hindi, the language that I study and teach: There is no single word equivalent for the word DHARAM. Dharam is variously connoted as Religion,; Duty; Justice; Righteousness and the like; but its application is wider. To the Hindu, there is Dharam in everything and whatever thing loses its Dharam, that thing perishes. In short, it is Dharam that supports the universe. Another word ATITHI; the guest who comes unexpectedly and is treated like a god. This type of hospitality is only found in the social structure of Hinduism.. Hence the uniqueness of the word itself..

Now, let us look at the social behaviour of the second person in Hindi; the pronoun “YOU” This word has three dimensions, Tu, Tum and Aap. Tu is used when addressing an inferior, a child , a very dear person or God. Tum is used for equals like friends and lovers and Aap is used for superiors, strangers and husbands, even a beggar  must be addressed as Aap; a mother can be fondly addressed as tu, but never the father; to address a friend as aap means that something has gone sour in the friendship.. So, you see, one has only to place oneself in the social environment of a people so as to understand how they feel and act, and what language they use to express their feelings. Language is the symbol of social and cultural identification. When a people loses its language, it loses its identity.

Hindi first came to Guyana, then British Guiana when the sailing vessel Hesperus dropped anchor in the Demerara River and deposited its human cargo on a Georgetown wharf in 1837. These immigrants, chiefly hardworking peasants, were the first batch of indentured labourers from India. Other batches were to follow until the year 1917 when the last batch arrived. A small number of these immigrants returned after their contract ended; some renewed their contracts, but most of them remained and made Guyana their home.. Today Indo-Guyanese make up nearly half the population of this country. Most of the immigrants came from Bhojpur, a province where Hindi was spoken. Hindi, therefore was the medium of communication among them.

That Hindi has survived in various aspects of Guyanese life up to the present time has been due chiefly to the deep religious beliefs of the Hindus and the high value they place on their customs and traditions. Hindi was not just for them a bread- and- butter language. Here is where poetry comes in as a motivator and a sustainer of the Indian spirit. The small number of them that was literate brought with them their religious books, the most prized among them was the Ramayan, an epic which treats of the life of Lord Rama, their much beloved hero who was the incarnation of Vishnu – the preserver God of the Hindu Trinity. The Ramayan is written in Hindi verse and Hindus never tire listening to the exploits of their hero, the devotion of Sita, his consort and the fidelity of Lakshman, his brother. Many of the listeners were illiterate, but they carried the stories in their heads. This was acquired by frequently listening to readings of the Holy Book.


The Ramayan was the chief of inspiration for the immigrants. In it they found comfort and hope and the fortitude required for the slave labour they had to perform. It was not unusual that after a hard day’s work, these devout people would sit in groups in the flickering lights of diyas and listen to the great story.


Other favourite books were the Hanuman Chalisa and the Danlila. The former extols the power of Hanuman, the greatest of Lord Rama’s devotees, while the other treats of the exploits of their most beloved Incarnation, Lord Krishna, when he was a child.


Music also is a potent factor in the preservation of Hindi. The Indo-Guyanese is a lover of music, and there is hardly a religious or social function in the mandirs or private homes where this exercise is not given prominence. Old and young contribute to the programmes accompanied by the dholak, dantal, the sarangi and the harmonium. Music was another sustainer of the Indian spirit. After a hard day’s work in the fields which was usually a long way from home, the women would sing along the way drumming on their saucepans while the men would beat the time on their cutlasses with their files, thus relieving the strain of a hard day’s work and the long walk towards home. In addition to ceremonial music, the advent of Hindi films has played a significant role in Indian music. Songs like Suhani Raat and a few others have found favour with other ethnic groups. I again quote U.N. Tiwari here. In his article “Modern Hindi Poetry”, he states: “Musicality of Hindi poetry is self-evident from the single fact that film songs predominantly composed in Hindi are cravings, not only in India, but other lands such as the Soviet Union, the Arab world, the Caribbean including Guyana. The people of these countries – both young and old alike – go on humming the tunes; and their non-understanding of the Hindi language does not create any hindrance to their enjoyment and appreciation.”

Although as a spoken language Hindi is almost out, yet it still persists in various aspects of the Guyanese Culture. There are still some old Indo-Guyanese who can speak it, some understand but do not speak, and there are a few Afro-Guyanese who can both understand and speak.

The motives for learning Hindi in the past were various. Chinese businessmen learnt it for the purpose of trade,; White Christian missionaries for the purpose of proselytizing, but the Africans who learnt it did so through cultural appreciation. Some of these Afro-Guyanese assumed names like Rajaram and Paltu das. The late Rev. V.V. Gray, an Afro- Guyanese scholar in both Hindi and Utdu, called himself Pandit V.V. Gray before he was ordained.

Hindi has persisted in the names of Indo-Guyanese, be they Christian or Hindu. The Tiwaris, the Dases, The Persauds, the Singhs are common Hindu names. Hindi has also persisted in the greetings among Indians; Ram Ram, invoking the name of a beloved deity; Pranaam and Namaskar or Namaste are greetings used. Most of the Indians still address their relatives as nana, nani; aja aji for maternal and paternal grandparents respectively and so on. Other words which have been retained in the local vocabulary are Bhaji, dal, massala, sari, orhni, phagwah, divali, dost, roti, puri, and others. The words pundit, thug and jungle are Hindi words used internationally and have found a place in the English dictionary.

Hindi is an inter national language, used and understood to a various extent in over fifty countries and was recently introduced in the United Nations. It is the official language of India and the mother tongue of 200,000,000 people. A major component in Indian Culture, it has a significant role in forging a world culture. BASUDAIVA KUTUMBHAN, the whole universe, constitutes one family and is the language flower of Hindu Thought.

Hindi is very among us today in Guyana. It is a part of the culture of one of the major ethnic groups. It is their mother tongue also. It should be given precedence over languages like Spanish and Portuguese in the curricula of our schools. If given the encouragement and help it deserves from all sections of the community, educational institutions and Government, Hindi will play a significant role in the social and cultural life of our multicultural nation. If it is allowed to decline, we may well witness the decline of those qualities which have helped to make the forefathers of the Indo-Guyanese a hardworking, devout, peaceful and law-abiding people who helped to build this Nation..

Finally, let me add, Nationhood , whether in the context of a Multiracial Society or not is a unit. It is a projection and extension of the individual. If there is any distrust, suspicion or other wise among the multicultural ethnic components, the goal and ideal of One People, One Nation, and One Destiny cannot be realized. Hindi , as a language for all Guyanese can play a significant role in National Unity.

— Randall Butisingh



  1. Rabindranauth Tiwari said,

    From: Rabindranauth Tiwari
    To: randallbutisingh@hotmail.com
    Subject: RE:
    Date: Wed, 19 Aug 2009 02:41:16 +0000

    Namaskar Adhyapak ji,
    aap kaa e-mail parda kar mai bahut kush hu!
    Thank you for sending me your article on Hindi in Guyana. Every time I speak to Indians in Hindi they usually ask, “Where did you learn Hindi?” I would tell them that I was introduced to Hindi in Guyana by my Guru ji Shri Randall Butisingh ji and I still keep in contact with him. Adhyapak ji I still remember those ten sentences you taught us at the Annandale Mandir Hindi School. You have and will always be our dear Adhyapak ji.

    Thank you for instill in us a love for our “Maatri Bhaasha”.

    Rabindranauth Tiwari

  2. Akhilesh said,

    Very good article every guyanese should respect hindi thanks

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