-TRE ATHLETIC MEET Wlson Harrs
(from a forthcoming novel)
GRANDMA JOHNSON IN BRAZIL John Wiokham
GUYANA and PORTUGUESE IMMIGRATION
Sr. Mary Noel Menezes
LITTLE-KNOWN GUYANESE FICTION Joel Benjamin
POEMS SHORT STORY ARTICLES REVIEWS
Kvk 30 EDITED BY A. J. SEYMOUR AND IAN McDONALD
TABLE OF CON 1..,
Four Poems & Demerara Niger
Five Poems from Mercy Ward ,
For Elsa Gouveia
Song of songs
The Athletic Meet
The Duel in Mercy Ward
Grandma Johnson in Brazil
Lesser Known Tradition of Guyanese
Portuguese Emigration to B.G.
East Indians in the Caribbean
Profile of Sarah Denbow
CXC Exam. and Literature
A. J. Seymour
Sr. Mary Noel Menezes
1985 Poetry Competition
Thirty Years a Civil Servant
Dictionary of Guyanese Biography
Sea Drums in my Blood
A. J. Seymour
This re-appearance of Kyk-over-Al provides, among other things, a wel-
come chance to link and compare the intellectual and literary climate in Guyana
today with that of the mid-forties when Kyk was born.
When it appeared in 1945, Kyk quickly became representative of the
national and regional excitement that followed the 1939/45 War. That excitement
included the dawning hope of political freedom and the prospect of a nationhood
for us all in this region, and with them went the desire to put our visions and
imaginations on paper so that everyone could follow with pleasure our growing
sense of maturity. The poets writing then in Guyana and the West Indies believed
they were part of a chorus cf voices creating the inner spiritual dynamic of what
would later become a political federation. Freedom was in the air.
There was another reason for the excitement of the forties. Guyanese
patriate writers (as opposed to the expatriate writers of the nineteenth century)
felt deeply conscious of their satisfaction that indigenous minds had taken charge
of community intellectual and cultural development. In 1882, the magazine
Timehri had started on its important and astonishing tradition of comment on
the Guyanese cultural heritage. That magazine was sustained by English expatri-
ates contracted to work in the tropics, who instituted what was a predominantly
scientific approach to the flora, fauna and events of a colonial outpost. This atten-
tion stimulated our commercial and agricultural development and also the arts
and sciences in Guyana.
In another place, we propose to examine the major contribution of Timehri
to Guyanese intellectual development and to expatiate on the wide range and
excellent quality of articles produced there for more than a century on diverse
matters. All we need to say here is that Kyk-over-AI sought to be a voice for the
hitherto voiceless indigenous peoples, recording their past history and present
environment, identifying heroes, and extracting spiritual essences for brothers and
sisters anxious to interpret the significance of events.
The literary climate in Guyana today is of a radically different constitu-
tion. For one thing, the regional hope seems to have virtually disappeared. That
hope had fed and sustained the writers of the forties, waxed full in the fifties and
was fulfilled by the establishment of the West Indies Federation. Regretfully it
was shattered by the collapse of that Federation, and what we saw then was the
emergence of national literary movements.
In the Republic of Guyana several social forces prevail; the economy of
the nation is at a low ebb; the high price of paper and the devaluation of the
dollar inhibit publications; education suffers from the emigration of underpaid
teachers; rising prices of foodstuffs absorb the cash in the household.
And yet there are a few, faithful to the art and craft of writing who write
poetry and short stories, either because they had developed the habit and would
not give up, or they have been moved to begin to write because their minds are
full of involuntary images and rhythms and ideas which must be harvested.
The reappearance of Kyk is therefore an act of faith, speaking to the new
and would-be writers of this generation, saying that in the matter of the creative
imagination this is a relay race and the baton is being passed securely on to them
with the goodwill of the writers of the past. We need to ensure that the nation
will maintain an organ of self-expression to meet their creative needs. Where there
is no vision, the people perish.
There are also deeper related issues involved. The celebrated Mexican
novelist, Carlos Fuentes, recently published in UNESCO Features an article "A
Latin American Perspective on Literature and Cultural Heritage" pointing out
the Latin American dilemma which is also a Caribbean dilemma. This represents
the deep opposition between the tradition of rich culture and the low level of poli-
tical and economic development which bedevils the continent.
Writers such as Clive Thomas, Gordon Lewis and Aubrey Fraser have
written subtle and perceptive comments on the lessons of Grenada for all think-
ing West Indians, and it will be some time before all questions are answered. From
the days of Plato, there has been a clear relationship between justice and self-
expression, that either one is necessary for the other. This twin relationship is
obvious in all discussions of slavery and colonialism and of Abolition 150, in all
that underlies the basis of our systems of education, and in all that leads to the
development of a mature and change-oriented personality. To keep alive an organ
of regional expression is to bring justice nearer than it was.
Finally, we're happy to have in these pages, a treasure of ideas and expres-
sion. We have, excellently, an extract from a forthcoming novel by Wilson Harris
and that is a fine link with the past, part of a valuable survey of little-known Guy-
anese fiction, an account of how enterprising Barbadians built a railway linking
Brazil and Bolivia, and some preliminary reflections on mid-nineteenth century
Portuguese migration to Guyana.
It is a marvellous privilege to be associated with the rebirth of Kyk-over-Al.
When I was a young student in Trinidad in the late 1940's and early 1950's I re-
member with what respect we who were interested in writing looked upon Kyk-
over-Al in Guyana and BIM in Barbados. And I remember the absolute delight
when one or the other of these magazines accepted a poem or a piece of prose for
publication. The respect and the delight flowed simply from the fact that they
were the two leading literary magazines in the West Indies and it was an honour
and a break-through to appear in their pages. They represented the growing in-
tellectual ferment in the region at the time and were helping to formulate new
thinking and fashion new ways of expression for all of us. What a privilege, then,
to be able to play a part in the revival of a magazine which had such a distin-
guished and distinctive role in West Indian intellectual and literary history.
It will be hard, probably impossible, to match that flowering of Kyk in
the 1940's and 1950's. But it is surely worth while trying. The need for as many
outlets as possible for Guyanese and West Indians to express themselves in literary
form is greater than ever before. And yet there are so few of these outlets. For
the new Kyk lack of material will surely not be a problem. The problem will be
to winnow the best from the outpouring of work being done.
Inevitably this first issue of Kyk reborn contains writing by well-estab-
lished, and in some cases already celebrated, writers. The hope is that such writers
will continue to publish in Kyk. But Kyk certainly proposes also to provide an
outlet for new writing talent in the region writers who have never been pub-
lished before, writers taking their first, nervous, excited steps, writers in whom the
urge to express themselves builds up and builds up and looks for release. That is
not to say that the simple urge to write will be any sort of criterion for accepting
material for publication. For young writers the discipline of rejection can be as
important in its own way as the encouragement of acceptance. Knowing that stand-
ards will be kept high is in the end the greatest spur to good work for the talented
young writer. Wherever they may be in in the region we invite new young writers
to submit poems, short stories, articles, or extracts from novels in progress.
In a perceptive passage in the Introduction of her edition of the Poems of
Cecil Herbert, an undeservedly neglected poet from Trinidad, the critic Danielle
Gianetti has this to say :
"When the writer seems increasingly to be carrying on a dialogue
with himself, the very act of writing can seem an absurd occupa-
tion, eventually leading to a period of creative paralysis. The pain
and dedication required in the pursuit of the arts under these cir-
cumstances can therefore become too high a price for what is, at
best, a questionable return. Given the artist's need for communica-
tion, the demands and rewards of human relationships might
appear a more relevant and satisfying substitute for self-expres-
It will be, as it once was, one of the aims of Kyk-over-Al to fight the
creative paralysis which threatens when a society caters hardly at all for literary
self-expression among its own people.
A VERY SPECIAL THANKS
The idea to begin republishing Kyk-over-al which the
editors conceived one fine day could not have been imple-
mented without the financial support of a number of people
and organizations in the community. In these difficult econo-
mic times it is often hard to see any benefit in a purely cul-
tural activity. We are therefore more than grateful to those
who so readily supported this effort to revive, and we hope
add to, an important part of Guyana's literary tradition. Guy-
anese concerned and interested in the literary life of the
nation owe these contributors a debt of gratitude. The
editors warmly thank them for their support which has given
a new life to Kyk.
Associated Industries Limited
Banks D.I.H. Limited
Barclays Bank International Limited
Bauxite Industry Development Company Limited
Brass Aluminium & Cast Iron Foundry
Caribbean Molasses Company Limited
Demerara Sugar Terminals Limited
William Fogarty Limited
Guyana Liquor Corporation Limited
Guyana National Co-operative Bank
Guyana National Engineering Corporation Limited
Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation Limited
Guyana Stores Limited
Guyana Sugar Corporation Limited
Margarita Gift Shop
Royal Bank of Canada
Shell Antilles & Guianas Limited
Wieting & Richter
New Building Society Limited
"Supporting KYK-OVER-AL Guyana's literary magazine".
Editors: A. J. SEYMOUR and IAN McDONALD.
FOUR POEMS and DEMERARA NIGGER
Trees are arranged like mourners by a sadness.
Root, stem, and wreath, and high above, the crown.
And a lizard upside down walks on the moon.
Futile rebuke of mourning. It will fall.
Balance was never. The spindle warps the thread.
The spin the spindle. And a work the work.
Body of soul,, which world is like this one
if not this one? which waywardness as right
as this scale leaning? The thing to be before
must be the thing again. More is that which was first
and stays the first. Again because before.
Apart because between. All is dominion.
The beach it breaks on is what makes it ocean.
Not so is it done, O no
not so. It is done, so,
as I think I am doing it,
neither not, nor so, but only
just in a wait, in a
moment, in a year, in
and this moment, this
yester just so, Because
a poet cannot truly speak
to himself save in his
own country: even among
the fearers of joy, enviers
of pride. Standard bearers
of his and their defeat. Just
so. And the sly drum.
Withholding rain, I identify
myself with the witholden. But
no more ever cosmos. Mud
is the lacing of the boot
of a bird's wild whistle. Or
flute, the very same one I
imagined in the journey
of the flute's music, before
and after loss. When
rain becomes water the triumph
of a horse's hoof is
the sling shot of the pelt
of stars; imitating the drops
of the never to be; with holding
rain of the world's blind
destiny. For what is rain
but delta? And delta
what but the immortal river
of rain? A thing falling
ever from theee mortal
The spared are not the saved. The living
but the unhanged. When that stair
of the gallows collapsed, no one was treading
on it. All had been hanged already.
Hangman gone home. No wood ants
in his house. So I was told and saw, but
still, not seeing, doubt. Because
everywhere something betokened
and previous is always to happen.
And everywhere something ordained
and mortal is rightly to method.
Han'man himself to bereave
wood ants their trade to accomplish
in stair of house and of gallows,
nor confidence betrayed,
truth such as this recovered
and famous justice made.
In right accordance, and demandingly
because what withstands, stands,
Farinata, the Ghibelline,
"entertained great scorn of hell
and asked about ancestors". So
be it. "Demerara nigger. Downward
through the horse". Hells are comparable
but mind stays in advance of dispensation.
This foot for instance. This shoe.
Step. Floor. Book for instance. Lamp.
From one to the other; and words
tortured out like a turd. Until the sudden
fumble of the premonitory wing
of the bat in the roof. I held
mortality a thing to be endured;
human fact deliverable. What
when fear is hope; if no messenger rode;
way and cause as right if not
an ending? Therefore found it just
often to barter talk for sight
and turn a bat and confuse clocks. At
any cost I had to go; went scorning
and demanding. Mortality put to question.
Cosmic justice reckoned in confirming
a horse of hell as likely as the riding
companion mind; mind in advance of mind,
the mind requiting and mind singular.
enabled mind, mind minded to suppose
nigger and Ghibelline.
Martin Carter poet whose poems of social protest have been translated into
Five Poems from "MERCY WARD"
A SEQUENCE BY IAN McDONALD
JUST JOHNNY ON HIS CHART
Johnny on his chart,
His large head slips sideways,
A stick arm hangs listless out the cot
Like a last gesture for help.
Eyes look at you :
Blue-black in the corners.
Flickering, searching, ending,
Don't look at the eyes.
I feel like shouting out
Hold him quick!
He slips on the world like grease,
Soon fall off.
BELLE OF THE BALL
"Why is she in rags?"
Silk dress, but in shreds now,
Flowered, faded, aged and filthy,
It was made for bigger breasts
And plumper hips and sweeter thighs:
Eighty pounds at least are missing,
A heap of bones in this strange silk.
"She wanted to wear it;
She is dying, why not let her?"
What dance does she remember,
What dancing days,
When that nice dress once made her
Belle of the ball?
GRANNY ISAACS VERSUS DEATH
Granny Isaacs, from the time she came,
Fought death like a tiger.
She looked ready to go from day one :
Frail as a stick in the sun,
Tissue paper for her skin.
Old, toothless mouth caved in,
iair lank and loose and ivory.
So thin, bones showed :
The next thing would be skeleton.
But she battled for life
And would not give in.
She hurried to take her food,
Sat up when and where she could,
Was eager to keep presentable,
And tried conversing quite a bit.
She would not just go.
And, most of all,
She made it clear,
She placed her faith
In God's arrangements
And that beyond
This fierce encounter
Other ceremonies were planned.
It could be said
Death came out top.
Who can be sure?
Now she has gone
She made me think
We'll have to wait
A little more
To see who won.
A bird flew in,
Quite big, taloned,
Perhaps it was a hawk.
It grew desperate:
Flew against shut windows,
Battered against rafters,
Begun to leave droppings.
Great fluttering of wings.
Somebody screamed out:
"Out, out, get it out !"
Full of fear and hate.
The dark angel.
Mister Edwards, more my good friend
Than gardener and handyman at home,
Served me well for half my life.
Prince, they called him, born about that colonial time
I called him Mister Edwards until the hour he died.
Strong black face, handsome old man,
Ashy cap of curled short hair,
Never sick a day until a day he sick.
"Wind by the heart", he said
But the heart was sound, too sound,
It took months of agony to kill him
Ripping his guts away slowly
Until that strong, good man was nothing
"God's work", he would say
When the rain pelted down
And floods rushed in the rivers
And storms lashed the tree-tops.
And "God's work" now he said
When the pain wracked him
Spasms crumpling up his face
Sweat dripping in the effort to hold back
The gut-contracting cry not quite escaping.
"Prince Edwards, he too strong for cry",
But his last day in my arms he cried.
"God's work !"
God should play more.
fan McDonald poet; novelist; playwright; business executive and radio
commentator. Joiit editor with AJS of Kyk.
I am a little mountain in a big world
I am a big mountain in a little world
Climbing me is an ascent to excellence
They fear my north face
Thinking it is on the edge of doom
the clawing tarantulas are spiteful and menacing
invulnerable on their own ground.
Eternity is above
and all around me.
The plants and pestilential animals
are trying time and generations
by procreation to infinity
I am a child of Time
Of snow and sun and rain
and thunderbolts and lightning
I was built of Gabriel from a plan by God.
But I will spawn Eternity
in a virgin birth of rock and stone
sired by the elements
which have no truck with Time.
I claim the best of both worlds.
Born of yesterday
I am a sentinel of today
facing every tomorrow
I straddle a boundary
I am the examplar of Guyana, of Venezuela
striving to write on the blue wall
of never-neverness ............"
"I too come to Time out of Eternity
I am a beauty queen
on a Potaro throne
my good looks are blinding
and an angel comes down
every night to kiss me
leaving for me
the sun for an orb
and the rainbow for sceptre.
1 was not born in 1870
Only Barrington-Brown found me then
Long widowed of Kaietuk
Leaping to eternal life
I am made
of rock and stone
and mystic water
I am a siren.
Below me is
the cemetery of El Dorado
and the grave of my husband
on the voyage of no return.
I am the grandest and most beauteous
of my kind
in the world
I too am an exemplar
and of strength
and of riches
I am the grandchild of a river. .. ."
".........Yes, I am the grandfather of Kaieteur
I am the father of Potaro
and of many more rivers
I am a patriarch of a river
wearing a garland of gold
I am a long river
flowing from Eternity through Time
born out the bowels
of South American deeps
in a behemoth of waters.
My banks and plains
re granaries and breadbaskets
My wide mouth with which I peek
the cheek of the ocean
sports a calendar of islands
My timbers are rugged and strong
mocking wear and tear
My basin is full of food
and teeming forest.
I know Roraima
I bear some of his weight
as he tries to see his faces
in a large mirror
You have brother or sisters by blood
I have brothers or sisters by water.
They say, 'blood is thicker than water'.
Your blood will die
But our waters will last forever
Me and Demerara
Berbice and Corentyne
are your big everlasting arms. .........
How many drops of water go
to make us up
us and our smaller brothers and sisters
Can you guess?
Do you think
you can empty us
with a bucket?
CLEVELAND W. HAMILTON.
Ceveland Hamilton poet: lawyer and former head teacher who wrote the
lyrics for "The Song of the Republic".
FOR ELSA GOVEIA
(d. March 18, 1980)
and here we are
searched out meaning
in the dust
and left us
the enigma of her
beyond the longing
and the lies
if you cant be good)
a cringing dread
Merryn Morris Jamaican poet and critic. Senior lecturer in English at U.W.I.
"Writer sit thee down and write"
the ancient poet intoned
a message well taken by one
the thoughts of your heart, the feeling
and all who profess an interest
in the art of the pen, "that all
may read." the music of your mind,
of your senses, the logic of your brain
the intuition of your soul
Penning these lines for you
helps this poet to clarify his own thoughts
about you, as yourself, and symbolic
of all young writers, as himself, once was
Desiring recognition, still working at craft,
seeking uniqueness, craving acceptance,
feeling frustration at the magnitude
of struggle yet impelled to continue
a compulsion strong from source unknown.
0 write the songs that bubble up
from the heart in the quiet time
as the silent muse-song fills your head
write the unearthly lines that insist
you tender your gentle ministrations
And when your glands colour your responses,
and insist that 'love' is more important
draft the proper perspectives for
the future, so that your beingness
is not strangled by the forces
of domesticity and another's ego
Gain balance, be cause, not effect
of another's wishes, be the centre
of your own universe, radiating
outwards, to the selected one, and all life,
love, caring, affection, even
duty, even as you write
the song of these aspects, and create
not only procreate, artefacts
of your presence here in this cycle
of your existence.
Thus when the way grows difficult
do not submit to frustrations, rise
above these occasions, treat them as topics
for your art; your life, all troubles,
tribulations, failures and successes are only
momentary and matter for your chosen duty
"Writer sit thee down and write"
from Postcards and Haiku
Anson Gonzalez poet; Editor of The New Voices, Trinidad and Tobago.
and so to bed: on this
sweet tropic evening
sky the colour of ripe
fruit, what's there to do
but go to bed.
in roun about two mimts
time tree million sperm let loose
gwine do some rockers
here, no lime dat, brodder,
a dead serious search
for a black egg to make
now, dem have many versions
of who be de
but just now
I would forward
as a heavyweight
contender for that title
dis here nigger
dat I'm under
The sky dims into purple, ripe
starapple, then bougainvillea fading
bleached into a fragile palour
by an unrelenting sun.
He's gone, the sun, the nigger
and I have yet to learn
the lessons of a decent chastity.
Like the trees, I follow seasons
fruiting, fruiting with the coming
of the rain that I am parched for
Oh! To be content as dust
This is the last line I draw.
Alright. Draw the last line.
But I tell you, yonder
is a next. No line never last
no death not forever.
You see this place You see it?
All of it? Watch it good.
Not a jot nor a tittle
going lost. Every old
twist-up man you see,
every hang-breast woman,
every bang-belly pickney,
every young warrior
who head wrinch
with weed, white powder
black powder or indeed
the very vile persuasion
of the devil (for him
not bedridden, you know)
every small gal-turn-ooman
that you crucify on the
cross of your sex
before her likl naseberry
I swear to you
every last one shall live.
Draw therefore, O governor,
prime minister, parson,
politician, university lecturer,
draw carefully that
last fine line
of your responsibility.
PAMELA C. MORDECAI
Pamela Mordecai Jamaican poet and radio and TV producer.
Embryo of day,
at this forest's edge,
save for unquiet roosters
here and yon.
Stir of chill wind,
and you draw the covers up,
returning to sleep's warmer clasp.
Stars keep watch
in twinkling beauty beyond the mist
Stars called in
and mist prostrate on the river's floor.
yon islets' brooding shapes
out of mist
but not for long.
King Sol awakes
and sends his beams softly forth
clothing clouds in tender colours
ere turning into
a masterful glare.
as they penetrate higher
over old man Essequibo,
spilling sunlight on
his grey shape.
towards selling, market, quarry
the brownish sand
still cold beneath his naked feet.
Lloyd Rohlehr Poet and TV editor.
In the same night
He was betrayed
Our Lord took bread,
O sacred words
In every tongue,
Most sacred words
In all the world
For those who take
For those who pray
In every age.
Invests these words
Unite us all.
All the world's ears
Receive the sounds
Within the soul
The sacred bread
SONG OF SONGS
Love is as strong as death
And never will yield its power.
Like a seal that is set on the heart
Or a clasp that circles the arm.
Tho' cruel and jealous the grave
Love flashes with flame like fire
A very flame of the Lord.
No water can quench its love
It cannot be drowned in the floods.
Love is as strong as death.
A. J. SEYMOUR
A. J. Seymour poet, critic, editor.
THE ATHLETIC MEET
by WILSON HARRIS
Short Extract from CARNIVAL
(to be published by Faber and Faber in the spring of 1985)
In 1931 at the age of Carnival fourteen Masters became a Boy at the
famous College in Brickdam next to Aunt Alice's dancing school in the Alms
House. His cosmic apprenticeship as princeling-overseer of the sugar estate of
the globe formally commenced. Above the portals of the College was written an
injunction attributed to Heracleitus the Obscure:
THE AION IS A BOY WHO PLAYS,
PLACING THE COUNTERS HERE AND THERE.
TO A CHILD BELONGS THE COSMIC MASTERY.
A high priority on the curriculum was athletics. And within the first year
of his apprenticeship Masters shone at the Athletic Meet in two of the under-
fifteen events. He beat Merriman in the hundred yards and Philip of Spain in the
After seventy-five yards (in which he kept me at his side and led me in a
dream) he and Merriman were ahead of the field and suddenly it seemed to
Masters that Merriman would win. The field stetched into a cave at the entrance
to which stood two coal-black guardians or referees holding a ribbon or bandage
There was a fiendish grin on Merriman's face. His skull shone through
the seed of his hair that had been oiled. Masters and I were on the verge of panic.
We saw the merry shadow of the false shaman at our side in the collegiate In-
ferno. We saw that everything we had gained on the beach could be plucked from
us now in the laughter of Merriman. Such are the ruses of diseased Ambition.
There is rape and rape. There is the seizure of others, there is conquest. That
is one form of rape. There is panic that is another form panic in being
overtaken by a grin.
Masters made his last crucial effort and succeeded in breasting the tape at
the entrance to the cave ahead of Merriman. He found it impossible to say in
the interior darkness that enveloped him to what degree he had outrun diseased
and merry Ambition, to what degree he had profited from it. The sudden dark-
ness left me blind in the cave and I returned to the sun dazzled and uncertain
of where I had been.
Philip of Spain was the nickname given to the Boy Rodrigues, whose
antecedents were Venezuelan. He was loose-limbed, sorrowful-looking, and his
tutors concentrated on making him spell "crocodile tears" on every page of his
Wilson Harris outstanding novelist and poet who was a frequent contributor
to Kyk in the early years.
exercise book until he had accumulated a body of waves he scaled in the mental
high jump. He jumped with a priestly cassock on his head over the bar of the
world, into other people's hearts, other people's Milky Way entrails.
Each contestant was given three chances to clear the bar or to retire
from conquest. Each clearance ran into decades, generations, even centuries, and
was a signal for the referees or guardians to take the bar up another inch, an-
other generation. And thus the mouth of the cave heightened into an interior
darkness in which a drama of the soul festered or tranfigured the elements, the
Philip was set to win. He had cleared every vertical extension of the
cave in which Masters dreamt he discerned the ghostly donkey cart of Christ
and the ghostly wheel of revolution that ran through Christ's imperial masks.
There were other relics as well in the cave. What a distance lay between a
donkey ride and an emperor's Byzantine saddle in heaven. It was this thought
that drove Masters to face his opponent when the high jump seemed lost. The
bar had been raised still another inch, another generation, and Philip had cleared
it but Masters had knocked it flat. He jumped, knocked it flat again. Should he
fail in the third attempt, he would have lost.
He looked at his priestly opponent. He perceived nothing really "priestly"
about him. He was more of an engineer or an architect than a priest. His faculties
were primed to structural measures, to siftings, to making adjustments, making
divisions, to creating a shield over his interests, an archaic mask, modern ad-
justments in the archaic shield, partitions, edifices, boundary lines, division of
spoils; except that, in an odd way this time, diseased, archaic high jump Am-
bition was such that it had begun to speculate on diseased frontiers, on a
clearance into all or nothing.
"What do you mean by all or nothing?" Masters wanted to ask the bud-
ding twentieth-century Philip of Venezuela in a collegiate Inferno or colony.
("Spain" was a nickname for Venezuela. Venezuela, it was said, contemplated
invading New Forest. Indeed Philip Rodrigues was loose-limbed and athletic
enough to accommodate many skeletons in the cupboard of America, many
invaders, many old and new invasions.)
Masters gauged the bar for the last time. He ran at it. He leapt into the
air like a daemon. He cleared window and gate and bar to come abreast of Rod-
rigues' performance that he had endowed with proportions of contradiction
and fantasy to drive him to mental and physical victory. He had seen into
Philip, as it were, and profited from conscious, subconscious, unconscious, sav-
age motivation beneath cassock and slide rule. He felt almost sorry for Philip
now. His opponent s powers, his drive to rule the roost, to build upon the
bones of the defeated, was a necessary moral evil. Was evil sometimes moral,
was evil the moral ground of frames that claim to be absolute? Did such abso-
lutes conscript the imagination until alternatives diminished into lesser and
greater evils, and the lesser evil became the moral imperative?
The high jump or frame had been raised again. This time Philip faltered.
He failed to make the clearance, Masters soared over the cave by an extra inch
or two. Philip tried a second time, struck the bar to the ground. He limped as if
he were physically maimed. Perhaps he had been caught off guard-though he was
unaware of it by Masters' philosophic gymnasium. He ran and jumped again.
There was a roar from the spectators. His ankle caught the bar and sent it spin-
ning to the ground. He had lost and yet he had won. He had lost the event but
he had secured a premise of "moral evil" that was to haunt Everyman Masters
all his life. It was not just that Rodrigues' high jump his military, economic
or whatever ascendancy would have proven the greater evil, that his (Masters)
was the lesser. It was the realisation that revolution that the wheel that ex-
pands into the door of a problematic cave required a complex relationship
to the tyrant-psyche one overcomes, a complex apprehension of the tyrant's
blood as native to oneself and to the wounds of transfigurative inner/outer
being, transfigurative architectures of the Carnival body of space.
"Can you tell me something about the cave," I suddenly asked Masters,
"into which you ran at the end of the race? It seemed so dark when you led me
in. I saw nothing."
The dead king stared at me in my dream.
"It was the cave of the tyrant-psyche," he said at last. "Do you follow?"
I did not reply. He continued, "It was the cave of relics, it was the cave
of heartfelt competition and divine right. It was also and this was strange
- the cave of abortive revolutions. You were actually in," he paused, gestured,
searched for an image, "a hollow shell symbolizing an embalmed god." He
paused again. "May I qualify what I have just said? Not necessarily a god in
strict logic, no, that hollow shell may symbolize a beloved atheist or a beloved
despot or an ambiguous saint, each or any one of these may be embalmed into
a god. Cast your eyes around the world and you will see. It was like running, I
repeat, into an embalmed shell, into a comedy of excavations.'
"Comedy of excavations!" I was struck by the expression.
"Yes',' said Masters. "Place your ear to the shell and you will hear the
echo of an excavated heart, lung, organ. We ran into all these. I tried to make
you see but you were hypnotized by the semblance of immortality. Yes, hypnotic
semblance of immortal regime."
His voice faded and I was left to ponder the implications of what he had
said. Indeed it was a confession, a deep-seated, far-reaching confession. Rather
than accept the lesser of two evils as the nature of order, Masters sought a
confessional frame through which to illumine the counterpoint between tyrant-
psyche and age-old deception or semblance of immortality. Such illumination
- he appeared to imply might pave the way for a fiction of grace that led
through the restrictions of alternative evils within the parameters of conquista-
dorial deity, conquistadcrial morality; led through to a deeper comprehension
and rebuttal of conquest in the creativity of underestimated moral being. It
was a goal that lay unfulfilled and far in the distance in the race of humanity,
and in the meantime I saw that Masters was depressed, chastened, beaten, even
though he had won the two events in the collegiate Athletic Meet.
When he received the silver cups that were the prizes for the high jump
and the hundred yards he turned and looked at Rodrigues and Merriman
and his body hardened all of a sudden (as if it had received the embalmer's
knife) with the conviction that they had won, he had lost. It was the avid way
they stared at the silver in his hands and the fact that he kept it close to his
heart (as if that too had been sliced); they stared at him as if he were a thief,
as if he had stolen the prize from them, as if his heart were in their breasts and
he were the shell of the race, not they.
They could not perceive the distinctions he wished to coin in the realm of
the state between false shaman and true shaman, between diseased Ambition
and confessional frame. It was their currency, their conquest, that he received
in accepting the prize. He had robbed them. It was plain to him now. He could
not make them see the springs, the torments, that had given him the edge to
outwit their diabolic pressure upon him. What they saw was that he had pro.
fited from a native alliance, native savagery, and he was one of them, a king
THE DUEL IN MERCY WARD
by IAN McDONALD
Benjie and Beepat arrived in the ward at Mercy about the same time.
This ward was for chronic, not exactly terminal, cases. One or two used to
make a kind of recovery and totter out into the land of the living. But
generally when you went in there you only came out on the long journey.
Benjie was wheeled in one morning, Beepat the same afternoon, and ever
afterwards Benjie made his seniority a point to emphasise and exaggerate.
"I was here long, long before you come in making trouble", Benjie
"You old fool", Beepat would respond. "We come in the exact same
And that would be good for an hour or two of satisfying, acrimonious
But that was just a very small bone in the huge pot of contention that
Benjie and Beepat soon began to cook up. They argued about everything. They
drove the nurses to distraction. They were in next-door beds at first but they
soon had to be separated. They still found ample ways to meet and quarrel and
suck teeth at each other's views.
They made as many as possible in the ward take sides, which added to
the confusion. The halt and the lame and the nearly blind, not to mention the
dying and the nearly dead, were summoned to make a choice. It was World
Cup Final every day, Benjie's team against Beepat's team, and you better have
helmets because bouncers bound to fly.
Everything was a case of competition between Benjie and Beepat. They
had some big rows about politics how the other one's party was full of
vagabonds and fools. They had some big rows about religion how Hindus
have so many thousands and thousands of Gods they even have a God for
water-snake and carrion-crow and how Christians like cannibals, wanting to
drink the blood of Jesus Christ. And they had some big rows about race -
how Indians mean and sly and can't take their liquor and how black people
only like to fete and play with women. But sonhehow in these rows you had the
feeling they were rowing for rowing's sake. It was Beepat so Benjie had to
say one thing and it was Benjie so Beepat had to say the other thing. But
they didn't seem to want to put their heart in it. Politics, religion, and race
really were not worth getting worked up about. Life was too short.
Cricket was the cause of more important rowing. Right at the beginning
they made a mistake and in one argument both said, while the other was also
saying, how Kanhai was the greatest batsman in the world. So from then on
they had to forget Kanhai in the rowing and row instead about who the
second best was. And if Benjie selected a team not one man could be the
same as in the team Beepat selected. And if a man had a good cover-drive
for Benjie, no, he only had a good hook-shot for Beepat. And when they were
listening to Test Match cricket there were always three commentaries -
Benjie's commentary which was giving one view, Beepat's commentary which
was giving a -view as if it was a different game, and the real commentator's
commentary which, to tell the truth, wasn't half so interesting or quarter so
scandalous as Benjie's and Beepat's commentaries.
But even cricket wasn't all that much. What Benjie and Beepat really
put their hearts into were rivalries that could be decided definitely and specifi-
cally right there in the ward on a daily basis.
Like the rivalry to see who was the most popular patient in the ward.
This amounted to seeing who could get the most visitors to come at visiting
hour. The story started when one of Beepat's cousins and five nieces and
nephews happened to come and visit at the same time when his old brother and
and sister-in-law were there. That made eight people around Beepat's bed. And
Benjie only had two people visiting him. So Beepat made a big thing
about how some people so bad-natured they don't have any family or friends
left to visit them while some other people at least could say a lot of friends and
family still think highly of them and show their devotion.
Well, you can imagine Benjie's response. It only took about three days
before ten people turned up around Benjie's bed at visiting hour and only four
by Beepat's bed that same day. Benjie didn't forget to rub the salt in the
wound, and what could Beepat say? He stayed quiet and planned his own
counter-attack. He sent word out by his cousins and by his cousin's cousins.
I am sure I don't have to describe all what happened then: more and more
people coming in to visit Benjie and Beepat. Benjie drew from all over town
and up the East Bank; Beepat drew from the East Coast mostly but as far away
as Crabwood Creek too. Benjie even sent out and hired a bus to bring visitors
in one day after competition was going about a month. By this time only a
few of the visitors were actually getting in to see Benjie and Beepat, but that
didn't prevent both of them getting a count of how many had turned up to
visit and then each announcing, like an election official, the total number that
had tried to pay a visit to their beloved Benjie/Beepat. It was a hard battle
and visiting hour was an exciting time for the whole ward until a stop had to
be put to all the nonsense, the authorities cracked down, and Benjie and Beepat
had to find another contest in which to test wits and belligerence.
That ward is more often than not a place of anguish and despair where
people at best lose their grip on life and quietly fade away and at worst die
in a hopeless, lonely agony which shakes the soul to think about too long.
But in the era of Benjie and Beepat a little more of something like a last
vital spark was preserved a little longer in all those hopeless, discarded cases.
It wasn't much and it wasn't for long but it was something and it was for a
while and in life can you be sure that in the end there is much more than that?
I don't know.
And that leads directly to by far the intensest rivalry between these
Neither of them was going to be the one to die first. That was the ultimate
two obscure but determined representatives of the life-force, Benjie and Beepat.
competition. Benjie, you could say, would rather have died than pass away
before Beepat. And Beepat felt exactly the same way. They put their last surge
of will-power into this battle to the last breath not to be first to go.
They kept an eager eye on each other to see what signs of wear and
tear might be appearing further wear and tear, I should say, because you
can imagine that Benjie and Beepat were both worn and torn a good bit already
by the time they were brought in to the ward at Mercy. If one of them coughed
an extra amount in the night the other started up at once and the next morning
was sure to make a comment. They kept an eye on each other's bowel move-
ments. Nothing they would have liked better than to get a sight of each other's
urine samples to see if they were clear or cloudy. They each had ancient
village remedies to supplement the despised hospital medicine and they both
made sure the other knew a new and extra-potent cure was being smuggled in
which would give the recipient an edge in the struggle to survive.
Twice they had to take Beepat down to the operating theatre.
"He gone now", Benjie said. "Old Beepat gone. I don't know how he
last so long, he was so sickly-looking. But now he gone".
But Beepat returned both times and continued the fight to the death.
Once Benjie in his turn had to be given blood and saline, right there in his
bed. A doctor and some nurses bustled about setting up the apparatus and
plastic bottles and Bonjie in truth looked gone, lying with his eyes closed and
a deadly waxen look in his face. It was Beepat's turn to intone the last rites.
"Benjie could never make it now. When you see those bottles hook up
like that in a man, that is the end. The end. He can't make it any more. It
was only mouth when he said he was feeling so good yesterday. Now look at
that face, it could be in a coffin already".
But Benjie pulled through.
One morning at crack of dawn Beepat was amazed to see Benjie trying
to do what appeared to be push-ups on the floor by the side of the bed. The
word went round that Benjie was feeling so good that he had decided to begin
a regime of light exercises every morning and evening. It was good psychology,
and had the effect of shaking up Beepat and putting him on the defensive for
a while. But it turned out to be counter-productive. After a couple of mornings
Benjie couldn't make the grade and had to put the get-fit regime in cold-
storage. In fact he had a bad relapse and couldn't even get out of bed for a few
days, which gave Beepat the chance to make a special effort to walk around
the whole place and show how strong he was.
It would be good to tell how the story ended with Benjie and Beepat
walking out one fine day, good for a few more years rowing. But, in truth.
life isn't like that, not for you, not for me, and not for Benjie and Beepat. The
day came when Benjie began to go down. It was Diwali and Beepat had got
some clay diyas and put them glimmering around his bed. It looked beautiful.
Beepat was very proud. Normally Benjie would have had some comment to make,
but he was silent and still. Beepat was surprised. From that time Benjie couldn't
get out of bed anymore. He tried hard one or two more times but he couldn't
raise himself to take the bait. Beepat began to get silent.
Benjie had a bad case of sugar and it had got to the time when the
doctors couldn't even slow down the ravages of the disease. The legs were
going bad. They had to operate and cut and try to keep the rest of Benjie
whole. But the sickness was too far gone and Benjie was too old. You can't
only live on strong will. In the last month they cut him down four times, but
he still hung cn. The first time Beepat made a joke at Benjie's expense, but
after that he didn't make any more jokes. Every time they cut Benjie, Beepat
grew more quiet. The whole ward grew silent: no more Benjie and Beepat
rowing. The time for that was over.
When they cut Benjie for the fourth time they brought him back up to
the ward with his legs cut off just above the knees. He was hardly living any
more but he was still alive. Beepat lit a diya in front of the greatest of his Gods
before he lay down for the night. During the night you could hear Benjie's
breathing across the ward. The diya by Beepat's bed flickered out and he fed
it with oil a few times. Beepat lay awake late and then he composed himself to
sleep. It was strange. When the nurses made their second morning round,
when the birds had just begun to sing, they found that Beepat's sleep had eased
into dying. It was recorded that his heart gave out, after respiratory troubles,
and he died at 9.02 a.m. Benjie lasted until noon that day.
GRANDMA JOHNSON IN BRAZIL
The Barbadians of Porto Velho
by JOHN WICKHAM
Last July I spent a week among a community of Barbadian origin living.
in Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia, Brazil's newest and fastest growing
state. This unforgettable experience followed my reading of an article by Dr.
Sidney Greenfield of the University of Wisconsin which appeared in an issue
(1981) of the Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. The week
was a virtual observation tour of a process of social change and acculturation
and certainly offered an excellent insight into the ways and means by which a
community establishes itself and the techniques it uses to maintain its identity
until time itself takes over.
During the first decade of the present century, a substantial number of
West Indians, the majority of them Barbadians, took the opportunity offered
by the recruitment of workers for the construction of a railroad link between
Brazil and Bolivia. The Estrada Ferrovia de Madeira-Mamore (EFMM) was
intended to provide Bolivia with an outlet for her products to the Manaus river
harbour, and from there, to the Belem sea port. The work which was carried
out by mainly American engineering companies, attracted workers from all
parts of the world, but West Indians, because of their knowledge of English and
generally better education and superior skills (several of them had been car-
penters or masons at home), were very quickly given positions in the mainten-
ance shops in Porto Velho while the railroad made its way through the Amazon
The construction work began in 1907 and was completed in 1912 when
most of the immigrant workers left to seek brighter opportunities in other parts
of Brazil Rio, Sao Paulo, Belem, Manaus and even in neighboring Bolivia.
The West Indians, with Barbadians in the majority, settled in the new town,
ironically named Porto Velho, the Old Port, to make their lives.
In doing so they have left their mark on the city in the shape of a number
of houses they built in the traditional architectural style of their original home-
land and in the respect they have earned in the community of which they form
a small but distinctive part.
In the more than 70 years since their first arrival, the Barbadianos, a
generic term used to refer to all the English-speaking West Indians, have,
naturally, lost many of their connections with their island homes a they made
their new homes and families in Porto Velho; they have integrated through mar-
riage and participation in the civic life of the city and their children and grand-
Job Wickham editor of BIM, literary editor of The Nation (B'dos) who has
published memoirs and two collections of short stories.
children are now more at ease in the Portuguese language than they are in the
'domestic' English they learned from their grandparents and which they speak
with decreasing frequency among themselves.
The three of us who visited the Barbadian community of Porto Velho
are very likely to have been the first Barbadians from outside of Brazil they
have ever seen, Similarly, the large majority of present day Barbadians would
never have heard of the Porto Velho community: which brings to mind a
curious feature about geographical distance. Porto Velho is only (via Manaus)
four hours by air away from Barbados and, as the jet flies, probably no more
than three. It is only a little farther away than Jamaica, nearer than either Ber-
muda or Belize and considerably nearer than Washington or New York and yet
the Barbadians who live there have lost all contact with Barbados and think of
themselves as immeasurably separated from home when their erstwhile com-
patriots in Brooklyn or even in Brixton on the other side of the Atlantic are
able to come home with ease for a few days at Christmas or to bring their
children during the summer holidays to meet their West Indian cousins.
In their estrangement from their natural habitat, the Barbadian com-
munity found a major strength and support in the cementing privacy of their
language which not only kept the group intact but also provided a source of
moral guidance for the younger generations. The language and the accent
served to remind the first exiled group of home and the communication of its
nostalgia combined with other cultural elements such as food and methods of
cooking, building, and worshipping proved to be enduring defences against any
threats of erosion, absorption, loss of personality and, indeed, sense of worth.
Our main hosts, the Johnsons, represented the Barbadian community
and provided us not only with generous and unfeigned hospitality, but, through
easy access to the friendly household, an excellent and tidy site for observing
the process of cultural change.
The Johnson family in Porto Velho began with the arrival from Bar-
bados in 1912 the first year in which women were accepted as immigrants -
of a young Barbadian girl of eighteen or nineteen. This girl must have been
blessed with a lively adventurous spirit as well as a strong character for she had
left Barbados on her own with no destination of family or friend to meet and
greet her at the other end. She could hardly have known, in any conscious
sense, that she was destined to found a dynasty but she lived to nonagenarian
ripeness in the bosom of an affectionate and devoted family and to become the
indomitable archmatriarch of the Barbadian community. She must have wielded
immense influence, to judge from the way in which her children and grand-
children speak about her; everything they have learned about life and living has
come from Grandma, she was the fount of wisdom and love and discipline and,
even now that she is no longer around, her spirit hovers over them all.
The second generation, growing up under the full influence of the first,
which still maintained the tribal memory vivid, has done what it was trained to
do and accepted the values and styles which were handed to it, has kept the
torch burning and passed it on to the third generation. But already it is possible
to see the diminution of the distinctive Barbadianess the blood does not run
as strong as it once did, and as the years pass and the new experiences crowd.
recipes and words are forgotten or put aside to make room for the new ideas
and knowledge. The need for the tight enclave which was so pressing in the first
years after the arrival and acclimatisation has diminished as the new citizens
no longer sense any threat in the foreign language, now no longer foreign, the
food and the many other cultural idioms which are now taken for granted.
Greenfield's comment is relevant and appropriate:
". Today, therefore, it is difficult to tell the descendants of West Indlans
from other members of the racially and culturally mixed population of the
city. Furthermore, although some of the members of the community ae aware
of their origins, there is no special terminological or other recognition given
to the descendants of West Indians. By the third generation they are considered
to be, and consider themselves to be, Brazillans. And since many have married
or mated with Brazilians of light colour, and a large percentage of the new
settlers especially those from the northeast are dark-skinned, it Is almost
impossible to identify them on the basis of physical appearance."
The process of assimilation is perhaps most clearly evidenced in the area
of language. Portuguese had to be acquired in order to deal with the needs of
day to day living and more and more the mother tongue became relegated to
domestic and family matters, a private language. As the children went to
school and began to take their place in the life around them, English/Barbadian
gradually lost ground and now, today, the grandchildren, for the most part.
neither speak nor understand English and even the older ones are forgetting it.
One of them, for example, when talking about his farm, could not recall the
English word for 'cow' and had to appeal to his wife to refresh his memory.
And 93 year old Violet Alleyne who came to Porto Velho in 1914 and whose
accent is a rich Barbadian when she speaks of her early days, lapses into Portu-
guese without even realising that she has changed languages.
Many of the Barbadians worship at the Baptist Church of which there
are about a dozen branches around the city. They take a leading part in the
church work and organisation, leading the services, playing the organ, singing
in the choirs and their presence in the congregation give a family flavour to the
services which are charmingly informal and as much social occasions as religious
Everyone in Porto Velho, from the governor of the state and the judge
and mayor, knows the Johnsons who were there from the beginning of the town
when the work on the railway put the small settlement on the road to develop-
ment. The children have grown into teachers, engineers, economists and have
produced their own hostages to fortune, who are now Brazilians in every sense
as the Barbadian ties and memories dissolve.
But the Barbadians have left their mark. The railroad, after costing the
lives of thousands as it made its way through the thick Amazon forest, served
for a little more than fifty years before it was closed in 1966 because of bank-
ruptcy and today the rusting relics of engines and carriages lie discarded along-
side the track, with the forest once more taking over. However, an energetic
government, bent on developing the rich resources of the state, minerals, hydro-
electric power, fertile soil and bountiful rivers, has revived about 30 kilometres
of track for tourism purposes.
The contribution of the Barbadians to the development of Porto Velho
has not been forgotten and the three original water tanks of Porto Velho have
become a symbol of the city. And, as Greenfield has written, ". in spite of their
being absorbed physically and culturally almost to the point of disappear-
ance, one can still see the many excellent examples of the architectural style
that they brought with them from their island homes that attests to the very
significant part played by emigrants from Barbados and other parts of the West
Indies in the founding and development of this remote part of the Brazilian
THE LESSER-KNOWN TRADITION OF GUYANESE
A Preliminary Bibliographical Survey
First of two parts by JOEL BENJAMIN
This introductory bibliographical study is concerned with the lesser
known novels and short stories relating to Guyana. It specifically excludes any
treatment of individual short stories which have been published in journals or
in wider anthologies. The definition of fiction 'relating to Guyana' is a broad
one here-it includes works by both Guyanese and non-Guyanese set in a local
environment, as well as works by Guyanese set in a foreign one.
Any reference to the 'lesser known novels and short stories relating to
Guyana' must presuppose the existence of a reasonably well established body
of knowledge on the subject. In recent years there have been some specialised
bibliographical and critical studies on Guyana's literature, notably McDowell's
Bibliography of Literature from Guyana (1975) and A. J. Seymour's The mak-
ing of Guyanese Literature (1978). At a wider level there have been such works
as Caribbean writers: a bio-bibliographical-critical encyclopaedia (1979)
edited by Herdeck et al. Besides the body of opinion on Guyanese literature
available in published form, there is the conception of the wider public of what
and who would constitute the important literature and writers on Guyana. In
terms of published novels and short stories this conception includes the more
recent names of E. R. Braithwaite, Jan Carew, Wilson Harris, Roy Heath,
Edgar Mittelholzer, and Denis Williams. For a limited number of persons it
might be felt that the tradition of Guyanese fiction begins in the late nineteenth
century with James. Rodway's In Guiana wilds (1899), continues with such
works as W. H. Hudson's Green Mansions (1904) and A. R. F. Webber's Those
that be in bondage (1917), and concludes with the names of those modern
writers beginning with that of Edgar Mittelholzer in the 1940s.
This bibliographical study has one objective in correcting the generally
accepted view that these well-known names constitute the fiction tradition or
the 'significant' fiction tradition of Guyana. Its major objective, however, is no
more profound than the comprehensive documentation of the various published
novels and short stories outside of the known tradition. As would be expected,
many of these works lack the depth of those belonging to the known tradition.
Indeed, as literary creations, some of these works are positively bad by any
standard some verging on the absurd. As a defence for the inclusion of some
Joel Benjamin Deputy Librarian, University if Guyana, he has a Master's
Degree in Philosophy and special interests as a bibliographer and a
bibliophile. He sits on the CXC Exams. History Panel.
of them in this study, there is the immeasurable value for social and intellectual
history in simply recording the ways in which people have found it possible to
describe the physical and cultural environment of Guyana, or have been in-
fluenced by that environment in their works of fiction. In many instances these
lesser known works of fiction are the only means of access to the inner percep-
tions and values of the various social groups which have been present as his-
torical agents in Guyana. An additional value in such a comprehensive docu-
mentation lies in the vision which it permits of a growth from intellectual and
cultural mimicry to independent thought and expression.
Such a documentation programme cannot reasonably be expected to be
complete, especially when it is concerned with material which is obscure.
Obscurity, of course, is normally a function of the limited merit of works and
their consequent low market value, but in Guyana's case there are additional
factors which operate. Probably the most important of these is the precarious
development of a bibliographical consciousness in Guyana, in particular in the
documentation, acquisition and preservation of printed material. The first de-
ficiency in this consciousness can be partly rectified with time and effort, but
the last two represent a cultural tragedy, especially where the material in ques-
tion was locally published, of limited edition, and consequently rare. It is worth
noting here that Guyana's Incal -rintircr and publishing industry started as early
as the 1790s. An unsympathetic physical environment and human neglect have
together ensured the destruction of much that emerged from the local printeries
since that date. To these could be added the 1945 Georgetown fire, which, in
destroying the library of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society, left
an enormous void in our understanding of earlier locally-printed fiction works.
The present ongoing research into the bibliographical history of Guyana, in
particular that of the nineteenth century, has shown the extent to which one
could be surprised by the volume of the output of local writers, some of whom
clearly emerged from very simple origins. Too often one comes across the names
of little-known local writers (like "W.M.E.P.", the mysterious author of two
books of poetry and drama in 1881 and 1883, no copies of which can be found;
W. T. Pieters whose semi-autobiographical A voice from the woods (1886) only
exists in Guyana's cultural memory through the one surviving copy in the
library of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London). To get a further
idea of the likely extent of such a loss one could refer to Rodway's (1897) very
fascinating account of some of the non-fiction writings which are now only
recorded in the musty pages of nineteenth century newspapers. In the area of
fiction it is only left to wonder just how many works by local authors have like-
wise been consigned to oblivion.
Rodway wrote (1918: 139), "The historian finds it difficult to picture
every-day life in the "good old times" for want of stories by residents in the
colony; a few have appeared in late years but they deal with present condi-
tions". And it is recorded (Jubilee 1894: 202), probably by Rodway himself,
that two or three local novels were among the items in the exhibition held for
the 1894 Jubilee celebration of the founding of the Royal Agricultural and
Commercial Society. There is no certainty that those 'two or three' or 'few'
novels are known to us today, but it is likely that, despite kodway's proximity
in time to the nineteenth century, he was mistaken in his belief that the local
novel or short story was in such short supply.
Even if the obscurity of the nineteenth century literature of (and on)
Guyana is understandable, it is quite remarkable that there are some important
fiction writers of this century (even in the 1970's) whose work is largely unknown
to Guyanese. This lack of knowledge applies particularly to the work of Guy-
anese writers resident abroad.
Arranging this bibliographic survey has not been without its problems.
Chronological development or subject theme of the works seemed initially to be
very important dimensions to consider. At the same time it would have been
useful to pay attention to the various approaches towards (or purposes in) writ-
ing the novels or short stories in question, e.g. whether they contained a social
or political message, or were merely for entertainment. Or, one could have paid
attention to the mode of writing, e.g. satire and comedy. It was decided, how-
ever, to take the angle of the writer's perception as the distinguishing feature in
the arrangement. In this, foreign versus local perspective were chosen as the
Invariably, in a preliminary survey of this nature, it was not possible to
check or consult every work, and some intriguing leads have had to be ignored
for lack of sufficient data. For example, are Henry Bleby's A missionary father's
tales (London, 1876) or Ruth Henrich's Paddle your own canoe (1941), based on
the life of W. H. Brett, works of fiction in any sense? In an unpublished biblio-
graphy of the literature for Guyana, Tyler (c 1979) has recorded the following
as relevant items: Hugh B. Cave's Tales of the West Indies (1963), John
Edwards Gloag's Rising suns (1964), Lionel Thornhill's The hugh steel bolt and
other stories and poems (1966), Alexander Marks' Thou shall not kill (1967),
and Odimumba Kwamdela's The righteous blackman (1972).
Sometimes the hints are tantalising, as for example, Rodway's statement
(Rodway 1921, 14) that "Mrs. Sarah Swain was once prominent as the "Poetess
and Novelist of the West Indies". The context of this statement is one in which
Rodway is writing about local poets and it is interesting that a book of poems
by Mrs. Swain is recorded in a 1896 Royal Agricultural and Commercial So-
ciety Catalogue in the section on local literature. Some of Swain's works do
exist in the British Library, but take Barbados imprints. Was she Guyanese, or
writing stories or novels on a Guyanese theme, as tht evidence would loosely
The Novelist from Outside
Guyana has provided a number of themes and settings for the novels of
non-Guyanese. Early travellers had seen it, as part of the larger mass of Guiana,
as a place of wondrous beasts and men. The lore of the Iwaipanoma, the men
with no heads, persisted until the seventeenth century. According to Walter
Ralegh and others, it was the potential site of El Dorado. This idea of the exotic
land appears, if only incidentally, in a number of works of fiction. It was, how-
ever, Charles Waterton who introduced a special dimension to the perception of
the environment in fiction by the publication in 1825 of his travel and natural
history book, Wanderings in South America. Although Waterton has been
accused of having introduced some measure of fantasy into his writings, he did
have an influence on some persons who, clearly never having visited the coun-
try, needed a potted geography and natural history for the setting of their fiction
writing. George Henry Wall's novel The emigrant's lost son (1855) is an excel-
lent instance of a misguided use of Waterton's work. It is a novel for adoles-
cents, and in it, for example, an inland journey is made across the jungle to the
savannahs by horse and mule. Later scientific studies of the natural history and
geography of Guyana were more thorough, but fiction writers have a great
licence. Arthur Conan Doyle's The lost world (1912) is based on an account
(probably from Im Thurn, Quelch or McConnell) of the unique fauna and flora
of Mount Roraima. This adventure novel describes a high plateau with surviv-
ing prehistoric animals.
The treatment of the physical environment of Guyana by writers who
never visited the country has produced some works with remarkable visions.
Robert Buchanan's The master of the mine (1885) is not a novel on Guyana as
such, but it includes references (Rodway 1887 : 213) to a heroine who was the
daughter of a Demerara planter, and who was made to "wander for hours and
hours in the forests, get lost, and creep into a hollow tree, while the tiger-cats
were crying all around her, and the fire-flies made it almost as light as day", and
whose "nurse was a negress who could only speak Portuguese." Harriet Mar-
tineau's (Demerara: a tale (1832)) is full of those statements which indicate a
lack of personal knowledge of the country. Inter alia, one is informed (Rodway
1887 : 213) "that the heavy rains during the wet season swelled the streams from
the hills, so that the mill-dam was washed away and the estate inundated".
William Hudson's Green mansions (1904) has seen a number of editions,
and has been made into a film. The story starts in a Georgetown setting, but the
main sequence concerns the relationship in a part of south-eastern Venezuela
between Abel and the beautiful but elusive Rima. In this work the physical
description of the tropical environment is partly idealised.
It would be interesting to note that, beside the visions of the exotic or
the fantastic which have appeared in the literature on Guyana, there has always
been the stereotype of the 'land of mud' or of a benighted climate and territory.
In the eighteenth century the phrase 'naar de Berbiesjes' was used to signify
going to the dogs or to ruin, possibly as a consequence of the perceived human
and economic destruction following the 1763 Berbice Uprising. The stereotype
appears frequently in literature, as for example in Hildebrand's Camera obscura
(1851) which makes the connection between sickness, death and Demerara in a
rather poignant story of the demise of a young student in the Netherlands.
The social environment comes in for a range of treatment which covers
innocent bias, idealism, sheer concoction and even absurdity. Merivale's Jumped
by convicts (1918), Wallbridge's Through a glass darkly (1931) and even Mar-
tineau's earlier mentioned work all fall into this range. The extreme range of
treatment here is partly possible simply because the writers had no first-hand
knowledge of the country.
Martineau's Demerara a tale does, however, have the merit of contain-
ing positive social and political messages: she was a vigorous opponent of
slavery, and a defender of the idea that free trade would be a means of ensur-
ing its destruction. Her novel even summarises these moral and political mes-
sages at the end. In this vein of moral concern are the works of Elisabeth Maria
Post and Edward Jenkins. Post's three-volume Reinhart, of natuur en godadienst
(1791/92) appeared in two Dutch editions and a German one. Besides being the
first recorded novel set totally in a Guyanese environment, this work also has
the distinction of having been written by one of the first major Dutch author-
esses. The story is set in Demerara on the plantation of a slave-owner, and is
modelled on the real-life activities of her brother Hermanus Post, the remark-
able individual whose rather enlightened views led to the arrival of John Wray,
the missionary, and eventually to the activities of John Smith and the events of
the 1823 Demerara Uprising. The treatment of the theme of slavery is senti-
mental, but the reality of Hermanus Post's activities might not make this so
completely implausible. (For further biographical data on Post, see Peasman
(1974, 1979 and 1982)).
Edward Jenkins was, likewise, an active campaigner against the injustices
of the East Indian indenture system, as can be seen in his treatise The coolie:
his rights and wrongs (1871). His three volume novel, Lutchmee and Diloo: a
study of West Indian life (1877) is simply a fictional extension of his concern.
Both Elisabeth Post (if only indirectly through her brother's letters) and
more particularly Jenkins had an insight into the realities of the Guyanese social
situation. A number of other foreign novelists could claim this distinction.
George Coxe uses a real knowledge of Guyana to create an exotic setting for a
thriller, Assignment in Guiana (1943). Emmeline Morrison's Jack Rivers' wife:
a romance of British Guiana (1927) was based as a work of fiction, as is claimed
in a note, on her actual impressions of and experiences in Guyana. The story
is concerned with the Rivers' family, owners of a plantation in Berbice. Let
soldiers lust (1963) by George Lauder is set in the emergency period in Guy-
ana, and deals with a love relationship between a Scottish soldier and a female
Guyanese doctor. Anthony Glyn's I can take it all (1959) deals with the life of
an overseer on a plantation in Guyana in the 1940s.
In this ca'cgory, and something of a mystery, is Vernon Kirke's Zorg:
a story of British Guiana (c 1894). This work, treating of social life in Guyana,
has never been precisely dated, some bibliographies giving it as early a date at
1888. Very little is known about the writer except that 'Vernon Kirke' was a
woman (Rodway 1920: 21). It is possible to speculate that she was a relative
of Henry Kirke. a well-known magistrate in the country in the latter part of the
nineteenth century. Also in something of an uncertain category is William
Craig's Our lodger: his sayings and doings (1895). Craig was a Scottish solid-
tor, and all the evidence of this book would indicate that he had an intimate
experience of the Guyanese social environment. The book is, with some diffi-
culty, classified as a novel as distinct from a treatise on the social life and
customs of nineteenth century Guyana. The dialogue in this work is merely a
technique by which the author allows the 'lodger', someone who had clearly
lived in Guyana and was now resident in Britain, to reflect on and explain as-
pects of life in Guyana, and to express a philosophy which was evidently much
influenced by that of Thomas Carlyle.
The Rev. J. D. Mackay spent the last two years of his life (1903-1905) in
Guyana, and his novel Under the Southern Cross: a story of East Indian inden-
ture in British Guiana needs to be mentioned. It is work with a religious mes-
sage, originally published in serial form in the Canadian Presbyterian Witness
(1904), and presented in mimeograph form as a paper for the fourth Confer-
ence of Caribbean Historians in 1972 in Jamaica.
Although born of Barbadian parents in Brooklyn, Paule Marshall would
have to be considered a foreign writer. Her collection, Soul clap hands and sing
(c 1961), includes a short novel simply entitled "British Guiana". The story,
according to the dust jacket, is concerned with ". .. the last of a proud family
of mixed blood in British Guiana, and the woman who he feels robbed him of
a crucial opportunity to prove his manhood". (Trinidadian Shiva Naipaul is, of
course, in no way a member of any little-known tradition, but his most recent
A hot country (1983) deserves to be mentioned if only from the point of view
of the difficulties in categorisation which it presents for an essay of this nature.
The country of 'Cuyana', the setting for this novel, is a thinly disguised Guyana).
So far it has not been possible to establish the classification for Rose-
mary Grimble's lonothon and Large (1965) or Emmett Henry Carroll's Proud
the jaguar: a novel of savanna ranch life in Guyana (1980). The latter, des-
cribed as an 'original novel', was submitted as a D.A. thesis at the Carnegie-
The Novelist from Inside
The 'inside' tradition has to do with those who wrote as Guyanese. Yet,
a totally satisfactory definition of the notion of the 'Guyanese' novelist or short
story writer is not readily obtained. No racial boundaries will work, nor even
the fact that a person was born or had lived in the country. At most a cultural
definition seems workable, and even within this there are no clear definitions as
to what would constitute a common 'Guyanese' cultural perception. (An inter-
esting application of a wider cultural definition, but not within the scope of this
paper, would be the instance of Ian McDonald, the well-kown author of The
humming-bird tree (1969). Though born in Trinidad, McDonald's adoption of
Guyanese nationality places him within the local tradition).
As regards the novel, James Rodway's In Guiana wilds: a study of two
women (1899) certainly deserves to be considered as the earliest of the publica-
tions within the inside tradition, even though Rodway was born in Great Britain.
His adoption of a local way of life, and his total contribution to it, would con-
stitute sufficient argument for this view. A. R. F. Webber, a Tobagonian by
birth, needs to be treated similarly. His locally published Those that be in bond-
age (1917) deals with the social issue of East Indian indenture.
In other respects, there are few novels which could be identified as com-
ing from locally-based authors, and many of these pose problems of classifica-
tion. Leslie De Cambra, a Guyanese of Portuguese descent, published his Don
Paula in the 1930s in London. The work is short and set in an indeterminate
Latin environment. There is not, however, sufficient information on De Cambra
to establish whether he had become an 'emigre' by this time. Albert Ferreira,
also of Portuguese descent, based his A sonata is simple (195-) on a radio play
which was evidently on the life of the local composer, Philip Pilgrim. Although
seventy-six pages in length, the miniature size of the publication would pro-
bably qualify the work as a short story. Size-wise it is no different from Mr.
Deoram's A rew way: a Caribbean novelette (1975). There is no available in-
formation on Mr. Deoram. His short novel was published in Surinam, and is a
moralistic tale set in a world of kings and ordinary East Indians in a social
environment that appears to be Guyana. There can be no claim to literary merit
in the work, but it is remarkable if only for the somewhat scatological illustra-
tion on the cover.
Perhaps the most visible in this order of writers (and for that reason
doubtfully to be placed in the class of lesser known fiction) is Sheik Sadeek, who
has been personally able to print and publish in mimeograph three novels, viz.
Bundarie boy (1974), a 1961 national prizewinning novel about the experiences
of an adolescent; Song of the sugarcanes (1975), a 1959 national prizewinning
novel which explores the memories of East Indian immigration, and The Malall
makers (1979), a thriller set in Guyana, and, as the blurb says, on the themes of
"international intrigue. Sabotage. Murder. And beautiful women, love, different
kinds of love". There is an expurgated edition of the earthy Bundarie boy.
Most recent in this class of novelist, is T. Anson Sancho. His The politics
of Iguana (1983), published in a limited mimeographed edition, is a satire on
Caribbean politics and, notwithstanding the disclaimer, one is probably com-
pelled to conclude that the target of the work is intended to be the Guyanese
The Guyanese novelists who wrote from an external base form a most
interesting group. One of the least known, yet most remarkable of the novels
from this group is Rollo Ahmed's I rise: the life story of a negro (1937). It is
ostensibly the biography of 'Caleb Buller' set in Guyana, Great Britain and the
United States of America. In reality it is based on Ahmed's own life. Ahmed,
as one tradition goes, had an Ethiopian or Egyptian father and a Guyanese
mother, and a great part of his early childhood was spent in Guyana. His later
travels and life in Great Britain and the United States of America confirmed his
growing involvement in various black consciousness activities. The story is a
moving and well-written one, coloured by obvious influences of American style.
Little is really known about Ahmed's life. In 1936 he published a serious study
on the black art (Ahmed 1971), and there is some speculation that he later got
involved in the Pan-African movement.
Gertrude Potter's The road to destiny (1959) deals with Guyana's struggle
for independence, the main character being an idealistic young East Indian.
More recent novels in the class of 'exiled' writers are Joseph N. Waddy's Be-
cause she seduced me! (1976), Shak Parook's What should I live for, (1977),
Beatrice Archer's Poison of my hate (1978), and Harold Toolsie's Repent O
graduate (1980). In terms of quality Toolsie's novel, set in Argentina and to a
lesser extent in Guyana, is distinctly worthy of note. The others cannot claim
great literary merit though Beatrice Archer's, published in Zambia, is an in-
teresting account of love's victory over racial prejudice. In Waddy's novel, set
in the United States of America and treating of a turbulent love affair between
Joe and Cis, the former has the remarkable experience of losing his virginity at
the age of thirty-four,
In an entirely different order of merit are two novels which won Casa de
Las America's prizes, viz. Noel Williams' Ikael Torass (1976) and Angus Rich-
mond's A kind of living (1978). Williams' lengthy work is set in a Caribbean
environment, and deals with the theme of cultural alienation of West Indian
intellectuals. Richmond's novel is about the rise to self-consciousness of an
individual who eventually dies a tragic and symbolic death.
O. R. Dathorne is best known for his academic publications. He has,
however, produced exciting novels on the cultural conflicts and experiences of
West Indians abroad. Dumpling in the soup (1963) is set in England, and The
Scholar man (1964) deals with a West Indian, Adam Questus, who migrates
from an unhappy life in London to one of confusion and conflict as a teacher
of English in a West African university. Herdeck (1979 : 63) records another
novel by Dathorne, One iota of difference (19??) but it has not been possible to
locate this. Peter Kempadoo's novels (written under the pseudonym of Lauch-
monen) are little known, if only because they appear to be unobtainable. Guiana
boy (1960), the edition of which is supposed to have been partly destroyed in a
fire, deals with the growing up on a sugar-estate of an adventurous youngster.
Old Thorns harvest (1965) is about an old man who dreams of being able to
grow rice again. Claude McKenzie's The Mudlander (1966) is partly set in Guy-
ana, and regrettably stands as isolated evidence of talent.
Christopher Nicole, ambivalently in the class of indigenous authors, is
well-known for his profuse output of novels on Caribbean themes, sometimes
under such pseudonyms as Andrew York and Peter Grange. Three of his
novels have distinctly Guyanese settings. White boy (1966) is somewhat auto-
biographical, dealing with the ambiguities of growing up in the 1930s and 1940s
as a European in an essentially non-European environment. Shadows in the
jungle (1961) is set in the interior of Guyana, and Ratoon (1962) treats of a
human drama during the 1823 Demerara Uprising.
SOME PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS ON PORTUGUESE
EMIGRATION FROM MADEIRA TO BRITISH GUIANA'
by Sr. M. NOEL MENEZES, R.S.M.
The history of the Portuguese in Guyana is still a sparse one. Over the
past two decades only a few historians, Professor K. O. Laurence, Dr. Brian
Moore, Mr. K. Mohammed and one Geographer, Dr. M. Wagner, have seriously
considered the subject and their consideration has veered very strongly on the
economic side. For some years now friends and colleagues have argued that I,
an historian by profession and a Portuguese by descent, should investigate
thoroughly the history of the Portuguese emigrants who first arrived in Dem-
erara, as British Guiana was familiar known, in 1835, in rather small numbers
and who before the mid-century, were to play a significant role in the develop-
ment of the colony a role that was not merely an economic one.
The opportunity for this research came during the early part of this year
when I was on sabbatical leave as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Common-
wealth Studies in London. Through the generosity of a friend who became fas-
cinated with the initial results of my research I received a grant to visit the
archives in Lisbon, Portugal and Funchal, Madeira. In the latter archives the
excitement of the researcher/discoverer was heightened as newspapers, official
statements, Registers of Passports and even a drama on a returned Madeiran
from Demerara "A Familia do Demeaarista" (1859) were brought to light.
Quite a few, yet not comprehensive, reasons for Madeiram emigration
were revealed. In the 1830s and into the 1850s Portugal was undergoing a series
of crises recurring civil wars between the Constitutionalists and the Abso-
lutists, the repercussions of which were felt in Madeira. Many young men
jumped at the opportunity to get out of Madeira at any cost and thus evade
compulsory military service which was necessary, as Madeira was considered
part of metropolitan Portugal. Also, more and more, poverty was becoming a
harsh reality of life on the thirty-four mile long, fourteen mile wide island of
100,000 inhabitants. During the first decade of the nineteenth century life for
the peasant, the colono who worked the land for the lord of the manor, had be-
come even harder.
Madeira had been discovered in 1419 by Joao Goncalves Zarco under the
auspices of Prince Henry, the Navigator, and by 1425 it had been settled. Prince
Henry, son of Joao 1 of Portugal and patron of exploration, an unusually far-
seeing and intellectual prince of his age and of many centuries beyond, was
responsible for the introduction of the sugar-cane from Sicily to Madeira. By
1456 the first shipment of sugar was sent to England, and by the end of the
century the burgeoning sugar industry was helping Madeira to play a pro-
minent role in the commerce of the period. Bentley Duncan claims:
Sr. Mary Noel Menezes, R.S.M. Professor of History, University of Guyana
with several publications to her credit.
By 1500, when Madeira had reached only its seventy-fifth year of settlement
the island had become the world's greatest producer of sugar, and with Its
complex European and African connections, was also an important centre for
shipping and navigation.
After 1570 the sugar trade began to decline as it faced competition from
the cheaper and better-refined Brazilian product. Also the industry had been
bedevilled by soil exhaustion, soil erosion, expensive irrigation measures, des-
truction by rats and insects, and ravaging by plant diseases.
As the sugar declined in international trade the wine trade took pre-
cedence. Here again Madeira owed its name as a famous wine-producing coun-
try to the enterprises of Prince Henry who introduced the vine from Cyprus and
Crete. The "Madeira" of Madeira took its place with the port of Oporto on the
tables of the world. It was soon discovered that the rolling of the ship added
to the rich quality of the wine, and in the 17th and 18th centuries no ship left
the island without a large consignment of pipes of Madeira for the West Indies
and England, the largest consumers. In the 19th century wine was being shipped
from Madeira to the United States, England, the West Indies, the East Indies,
France, Portugal, Denmark, Cuba, Gibraltar, Newfoundland, Brazil, Africa
and Russia. By the late 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia, vied with London
in its consumption of Madeira. But as with the sugar industry so too with the
viniculture. The vines were often demolished by diseases. In 1948 the oidium
ravaged the plants, and by 1853 vine cultivation was almost totally abandoned.
Twenty years later, the phylloxera, which also nearly ruined the French wine
industry, crippled the vines.
The Madeiran peasant, in particular, owed his existence and that of his
family to his job as a sugar-worker, a vine-tender or a borracheiro (transporter
of wines in skins). No wonder when catastrophe continuously hit those crops, "the
peasant, descending from the sierra with his bundle of beech sticks for the beans,
and occasionally stopping to rest at the turns in the paths, casts his glance at the
sea horizon and, in spite of himself, begins to feel the winged impulse to disim-
prison himself in search of lands where life would be less harsh." (de Gouveia).
Thus the Portuguese emigrant who came to British Guiana was the
inheritor of a more than 300 year legacy of sugar production and viniculture.
He was also a "thrifty husbandman of no small merit" (Koebel) utilising
every inch of available space of the terraced hillsides to grow peas, beans,
cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, onion and a vast
variety of fruits. Thus it is surprising to read in Dalton's history that agricul-
ture was not the forte of the Portuguese! What is even more surprising is the
somewhat grudging concession made to the commercial enterprise of the emi-
grants. Significant among the reasons given for their meteoric rise to promin-
ence in the retail, and later the wholesale trade in British Guiana, is the over-
emphasis on the "preferential treatment" accorded them by the government of
the day. It was "the patronage of the European elite (which) was the spark
that ignited Portuguese initiative and secured ultimate success" (Wagner). To
continue this train of thought the government and planters regarded the
Portuguese as allies against the negroes. Yet it seemed that this European
patronage boomeranged as later one is told that as the commercial power of
the Portuguese grew they "became a threat to European elite's dominion."
One is left to conjecture whether the Portuguese in British Guiana
would ever have risen in the mercantile trade had not the government and
planters paved the way for them. Yet an investigation of Portuguese-Madeiran
history indicates a long familiarity with trade and the tricks of trade. The
Madeirans were heirs to a dynamic trade system that had its roots in 14th
century Portugal when Lisbon was the important Atlantic seaport carrying on
a vigorous trade with the Orient and Europe. Nineteenth century sources re-
veal an incidence of shopkeepers on the island with writers commenting causti-
cally on those "wily creatures" (shopkeepers) imbued with the spirit of swindl-
ing. One observer on the island wrote : "They can work like horses when they
see their interest in it, but they are cunning enough to understand the grand
principle of commerce, to give as little, and receive as much as possible." A
plethora of shops on the island, some of which date back to earlier centuries.
attests to the fact that the Madeirans were no novices in business. The British
presence in trade and industry was ubiquitous but by the eighteenth century
native jealously had become very overt. By 1826 Madeirans were strongly
objecting to "the almost monopoly of trade of the island in the hands of British
merchants." (Koebel). Possibly then the Madeiran merchant in British Guiana
might have argued that the British merchants there owed him patronage in
return for the privileges their counterparts had been receiving in Madeira for
over two centuries!
The Madeiran emigrant, then, did not arrive in British Guiana devoid
of everything but his conical blue cloth cap, coarse jacket, short trousers and
his rajao (banjo). As did all other immigrants he brought with him a back-
ground history in agriculture, a flair for business, as well as the culture and
mores of his island home, a replica of the mother country, Portugal. He brought
with him, not only his family, but in many cases his criado (servant), his deep
faith, his love of festivals, his taste in food, the well-known pumpkin and cab-
bage soup, the celebrated moorish dish, cus-cus, the bacelhau (salted fish),
cebolas (onions) and alho (garlic). These tastes and many other customs be-
came incorporated into the life of the Guianese. Very early the Catholic faith
was carried throughout the country and wherever the Portuguese settled
churches were built; the major feast days were celebrated, as they were and
still are in Madeira, with fireworks and processions. As the Register of Ships
notes, throughout the nineteenth century ships plied between Madeira and
British Guiana, ships chartered by the Portuguese themselves, bringing in
their holds cargoes of bacelhau, cus-cus, ccbolas, alho and wine, as well as
The success and prosperity of the Portuguese within a short span of
time and out of proportion to their numbers (in a total population of 278,328
in 1891 they numbered only 12,166 or 4.3 per cent), whether due to "prefer-
ential treatment" or not, brought in its train economic jealousy among the
Crecle population, erupting in violence within fifteen years of their arrival in
the colony. Later, when the Portuguese began to oust the European merchant
in the wholesale trade, they felt the brunt of European envy which manifested
itself in many subtle and overt ways.
Though the whites grudgingly acknowledged the economic supremacy of
the Portuguese, at no time did they accord them social supremacy or draw
them into their privileged group. This attitude undoubtedly hurt and embit-
tered the Portuguese who considered themselves Europeans. But this did not
hamper them or cripple their expectations or ambitions. Although from the
very outset the local authorities, both Church and State in Madeira, tried to
dissuade their countrymen from leaving the island, the emigre returning with
his earnings, on the other hand, encouraged his brethren to cross the Atlantic
and find their El Dorado in Demerara.
Today it seems that "the winged impulse" has again overtaken the Portu-
guese, and many have crossed the ocean in search of another El Dorado in
the North. Maybe it is the resurgence of the spirit of the early Portuguese ex-
plorers who lived to the hilt the motto of their Prince : "Go farther."
EAST INDIANS IN THE CARIBBEAN:
A Personal View
by JEREMY POINTING
The conference held between August 28th and September 5th on the
U.W.I. Campus of St. Augustine Trinidad, brought together scholars from
the Caribbean, India, Africa and Europe; performing artists from Jamaica,
Trinidad and Guyana; and mainly Indian members of the Trinidadian public
who flocked to the cultural events in large numbers and came to the academic
sessions in rather smaller numbers.
There was a bigger academic programme than ever before; no fewer
than thirteen different seminars and six public lectures. Two particularly in-
teresting new panels were those on women and language. The former marked
the beginnings of an attempt to construct a new approach to the experience
of Indo-Caribbean women, an area for which both the historical sources and
the historiographical treatments have been male-oriented. The language panel
brought together linguists from Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname and South Africa
to compare the fate of Bhojpuri in those countries. There was a lively, well-
received contribution from Guyanese Kunte Ramdat on Indic perjorative ex-
pressions; here there was a delightful contrast between the demureness of pre-
sentation and the bawdiness of content.
The contribution of literature to the study of the Indo-Caribbean ex-
perience has met with successively greater recognition at these conferences.
At the first there was no literature panel; at the second there was one; at this,
two. Here also there was a newly defined subject, on par with History, Cul-
tural Change or Religious Experience: V. S. Naipaul. This kind of recogni-
tion would no doubt both amuse and alarm him. However, if his figure loomed
like a Himalayan peak, there were no pitched battles for possession of the
peak at these proceedings, either by those for whom Naipaul has become an
oracular figure or by those for whom he symbolises a betrayal of the Third
World to the West. Instead participants were mostly content to explore the
foothills and concentrate on determining what Naipaul was actually writing
rather than arguing over the significance of what he was assumed to be say-
ing. Victor Ramraj, for instance, presented a carefully argued paper exploring
the differences between Naipaul's treatment of experience in autobiography
and in fiction as a means of seeing more clearly what Naipaul attempts in
his fiction and of looking more closely at the transformative processes of
the novel. Robert Hamner and Rambabai Espinet both presented papers on
Naipaul's treatment of women in his fiction and both came to negative con-
Jeremy Poynting Senior English Lecturer at the University of Leeds, he has
a special interest in East Indian Culture in the Caribbean.
clusions. However, whilst Hamner's male-oriented paper focused mainly on
the way Naipaul's portrayal of sexual relationships has been markedly pessi-
mistic, Ms. Espinet charged Naipaul with a more specified impercipience in
his portrayal of women's experience in his fiction. She cited the portrayal of
Shama in A House for Mr. Biswas, but was reminded that in a couple of
significant scenes, Naipaul reveals to the reader that the image of Shama re-
ceived through Biswas's eyes is biassed and limited by his male prejudices
and his self-concern.
However, the liveliest literary contribution came from Professor C. D.
Narasimhaiah, from Mysore, who belaboured Naipaul's depiction of India in
An Area of Darkness and India: A Wounded Civilisation. He scored a good
many points, but also slipped one or two punches below the belt. With an
enviable breadth of scholarship he was able to demonstrate some of Naipaul's
misunderstandings of Indian culture and history, but one felt that he was
sometimes guilty of rough fighting by not accepting Naipaul's own disclaimer
that his subject is not so much India but his experience of India. There was a
certain lack of sympathy for what, in An Area of Darkness in particular, seems
to me a moving account of how his twice transplanted experience had dis-
abled him from seeing India as he would have liked to have done.
The second literature panel focused on how fiction could expose criti-
cal breaks and changes in a society's or a community's sensibility. Kenneth
Ramchand for instance, looked at treatments of weddings and marriages in
Indo-Caribbean fiction for the way they dramatised a shift in the Indian com-
munity between communal and individual values.
In my own paper I discussed how Indo-Caribbean novelists had por-
trayed the relationship between Indian and Creole cultural systems as an
Appolonian/Dionysian contrast, but argued that what this process of con-
trast revealed was that it was impossible for Indo-Caribbean novelists to try
to define Indian experience without seeing it in relationship to the Creole
If there was no attempt made to clarify what the study of literature
could contribute to the wider project of exploring this portion of Caribbean
experience, there was at least a healthy though tacit acceptance of critical
pluralism. Moreover, I felt at various times during the conference that literary
approaches, like Ramchand's or Narasimhaiah's, showed the capacity to define
issues in the kind of fundamental way which served as frameworks for the
business of the whole project. Ramchand's paper reminded us that at the
centre of Indian experience in the Caribbean there has been a profound change
of sensibility, whilst the title of Narasimhaiah's paper, 'Your Naipaul, My
India,' defined, negatively perhaps, the extent to which the conference dealt
with a Caribbean experience. This made all the more disturbing, though not
unexpected, the absence from the conference of Trinidadians who, with a few
exceptions, were not of Indian origin. This was a great pity because the con-
ference dealt with an area of Caribbean reality, and the sooner that other sec-
tions of the population wake up to that fact the better. Undoubtedly the con-
ference would have gained from the expression of other perspectives.
PROFILE OF SARAH LOUISE DENBOW
by CLEVELAND HAMILTON
The death of Mrs. Sarah Denbow in her 99th year in 1979 was a matter
of more than personal achievement or family history of the most significant
and singular kind. It was a momentous event in the national annals.
When more than a decade ago I met the late matriarch closely for the
last time, I was fascinated by her homeliness, humility and alertness. Old age
seemed to invest her with its own peculiar brand of coolness.
I had been trying to make some sense out of a difficult brief, and to
bolster my case I required the sworn testimonies of five to six persons to depose
the central position of my client's claim. The rub was that all these deponents
had to be in their middle or late eighties.
My client he predeceased Mrs. Denbow by some seven years was
very helpful. So one afternoon I found in my Chambers a most delectable
assemblage, a golden grey gallery of super-annuated longevity. Sarah Denbow
was almost insouciantly niched in this pantheon of perpetuity. She might have
been the eldest of this selective body of charming eldest citizens. They evoked
inspiration, these men and women born well before the end of the last century,
and still living well nigh the last quarter of this one. Among them they carried
the total wisdom and maturity and experience of over five hundred years. My
Chambers were honoured and, I hope, blessed. I congratulated each of these
amazing people for all the trouble they took to leave their homes and for being
punctual and for being willing to help someone else on a matter of vital per-
sonal importance. But most of all I congratulated them for their alertness, the
comprehensive, infallible capacity of their memories and the manner in which
co-operatively they were able to reconstruct incidents and compare notes in
their correlation of events with such unhurried distinction. Sarah Denbow
did her stint of antique recollection with an easy spontaneous consummation.
I have had more trouble with clients and witnesses less than half their age.
If I were going to be thus blessed, then old age could have no terrors
Looking at Sarah Denbow and her venerable contemporaries, both
singly and as a group, I sensed the pervasiveness of a peace that passeth all
understanding. Here were people in the November of their lives who carried
on regardless within the constraints of their limitations, whose lives, like a
river just flowed on as it were, into the ocean of Eternity. They would die some
day, but for the time being, they were oblivious of that eventuality and they
lived on as a matter of course in a riverain way. Marvellously, for the hour or
so Sarah Denbow and Co. were with me none of them complained about an
ache or pain. All the killer diseases and nagging ailments seemed to have passed
them by, in favour of more susceptible victims. They stood and sat and stood
again with facility. They were intelligent and intelligible.
If I could extract a formula for long life from this human historical
parade it appeared to be humility, contentment and a happiness born of an
unchallengeable faith and belief in a Supreme Being. Mrs. Denbow was a
religious woman. She believed, as they say, in her church. Her membership of
St. Andrew's Kirk covered the so-called allotted span of man's (and woman's)
life or existence on earth seventy years. She became an Honorary Deacon
of St. Andrew's. One extract from these mechanics and achievements the in-
gredients of faith and discipline, but most of all they derived from good and
Mrs. Denbow was born at Perth Village, a good mile and a half off the
Central Mahaicony District to the south. It is a portion of the district which
has become famous for the fruitfulness with which it produces long "livers". I
believe in this connection it is a match for any part of Guyana. The cen-
turions (or is it "centenarians?") of this almost primitive rural community run
into scores. At Perth they farmed during the week, ate straight from the
earth, went to church on Sunday and sang lustily and prayed, and tucked in
to their foo-foo soup (barley or split peas, ochro, dumplings, cassava) with cow
heels, between the religious sessions. This was one of the anvils on which dis-
cipline was shaped. That would help to forge the inner strength and resources
of spirit from which a woman would and could draw to bring up her
children without a husband, and maintain her respectability for fifty years.
Mrs. Denbow's husband died in 1929, in the period of the Great Depression.
She died, the moterfamilise of a doctoral family in the era of the Arab astro-
nomical ascendency and the oil crisis.
If long life, like so many other things, good and bad, virtues and
vices, runs in families, it is hardly surprising that Mrs. Denbow only just
missed her hundred. The Peters family of Perth Village and Fellowship, Mahai-
cony, have built up a tradition of hardihood and long life that elevate them
almost to a dynasty. The expectations of those who come afterwards are
high and those who don't make it are the logical exceptions that make the rule,
have imbibed too much of the modernity of their generation or are among the
chosen historical guinea-pigs of the theory of evolution or merely the victims
of the on-going unfathomable conspiracy between life and death. They are
the biological mis-hits. Sarah Denbow was chosen for big things in a long life
that was, by definition, satisfying, all or most of which she savoured her
ancestral foo-foo soup with the regularity they did at Perth Village.
My children and yours would hardly have heard of Dan Peters, and
Peters' Mine which got its name from this man who found a fortune as a gold
and diamond miner in the Puruni River, and built at Fellowship, Mahaicony,
a palace of a house which dominated the landscape of that part of the country.
Mrs. Denbow was a kinswoman of the legendary Dan Peters.
But more importantly, she was the wife, afterwards widow, of one of
the most historic figures ever in the British Guiana Police Force. Charles
Egerton ("Big Eye") Denbow, who married Sarah in 1908, filled the Force
with his size and the photographic quality of his brain. He is said to have
known the names and numbers of everyone of the serving policemen of his
time and the places where they were stationed. Testifying to this feat of memory
and dedication in a tribute at the death in January, 1929, of the late Chif
County Sergeant Major, was (as he was then called), the Inspector General of
Police, Colonel W. E. H. Bradburn.
The C.C.S.M. rose to that rank, the highest a Guyanese could attain
in those days, at an early age of 39. Mrs. Denbow thought, quite justifiably, that
her late husband and those of his ilk laid the ground for the Austins, the
Frasers and the Barkers who followed as spectacularly and eminently thirty.
forty and fifty years on.
When Mrs. D:nbow was 92, she was named "Mother of the Year."
At all times it would be a title highly valued and one for which a multitude of
women would give their lives. A good mother is someone very special even
though the rationale of the appellation might be considered by many a contro-
versial one. Yet very few of us would deny the elements of good motherhood in
any age. The justification of SASA, as she was affectionately called by her
children, five of them, and her grandchildren (eight), lies in the fruits and
consequences of her motherhood. Perhaps one may also say in a paradoxical
or contradictory way, her fatherhood. There were five children to be fed, clothed,
sheltered, schooled and cared after the death of her husband half a century ago.
The individual and aggregate attainments of the Denbow tribe have
achieved a deserved renown. The chronicle of fame is both worthy and un-
worthy of repetition. The compendium of scholarship and illustriousness run-
ning from stock to scion, from stem to branch, would gladden the heart of the
hoary head of any family. Here may have been discovered the joys that activated
the will to live and promoted the ultimate longevity. The Romans said, and
the lawyers who drew from their system say, "Res ipso loquitur" the thing
speaks for itself.
Sarah Denbow obviously kept a tight rein, but always lavishing love and
and care on a closely knit family. Surely she would have had and benefited
from, the ministrations of friends and relatives but to me she seemed incapable
of compromising her dignity or that of her late husband.
The blessing of Almighty God kept her alive long enough to see nearly
the final fulfulment the graduation of another doctor grandson, but she fal-
tered after laying to rest the eldest Denbow doctor, and the cedar fell in Leba-
One of her more momentous utterances must at this time bear repeated
scrunity and contentious study. Spoken in an age when migration is one of our
major industries, it goes like this :
"I hope and pray that all of my five children and eight grandchildren and
their spouses will live and work and die in Guyana, contributing substantially
to the betterment of Guyana."
This was a woman to end all women; she had the faith of her fore-
fathers from Perth Village, Mahaicony.
"DEATH IS BUT THE OTHER SIDE OF LIFE"
CARIBBEAN EXAMINATIONS AND THE
FUNCTION OF LITERATURE
by JANICE AUGUSTIN
The CXC Examinations in English are making an important impact in
the Caribbean in various ways. First of all, the English Examinations have
made a significant contribution to the recognition of Caribbean Literature. The
Council has shown the people in the region that Caribbean Literature, their
own Literature, is serious enough to be studied for examination purposes. The
G.C.E. has been for decades the only recognized certification for secondary
schools; yet London University introduced Section D, Paper 2 (African and
Caribbean) only in June 1981. And this is at the Advanced Level only. Before
the coming of CXC, "serious" literature in the upper forms of secondary
schools had to be confined to writing from the north. Even if an enterprising
teacher had exposed his students to Vic Reid, Salkey, Brathwaite, Mittelholzer,
Seymour, Me. Farlane, Collymore and other Caribbean writers, those lessons
were not considered important and were mostly confined to the lower school.
Real literature was Dickens, Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot and so on. And they
were considered real or serious or important because they appeared on exam-
ination papers, which if a student wrote successfully entitled him to a certifi-
cate which the world recognized. Now our Caribbean literature is doing the
Closely bound up with recognition for examination purposes, is the
growth of self-esteem and respect within the Caribbean student. Here are in
print stories reflecting his own environment and experiences. Close reading of
the syllabuses reveals that one of the fundamental principles is, that students
from an early age should be exposed to literature written by Caribbean
authors, because these mirror the lives and aspirations of their own people
much more closely than writing by other authors. One of the skills tested in
English B is "to make critical appraisal of states of feeling, value judgements
and concepts expressed in literature and to relate these to every-day living."
It would seem odd to have students make critical appraisal of feelings, values
and concepts of Victorian England or Southern America without first doing
that kind of analysis of their own environment. This may be a point against
critics of the syllabus who say that it contains 'too much Caribbean Literature.'
The English syllabus gives a comprehensive Suggested Reading List
which includes the best that has been written about Caribbean life suitable for
that age. These titles are set out under the categories :- Novels, Anthologies
of Short Stories. Sources of Short Stories and/or Prose Extracts and Poems.
Each level of the secondary school is listed. For example, the West Indian List
(novels) for the First Year makes delightful reading for the eleven plus
Janice Augustin senior member of Curriculum Development Unit. Ministry
of Education, Guyana, with several publications to her credit.
child. These are Anthony's King of the Masquerade; D'Costa's Spratt Morrison;
eight stories by Everard C. Palmer; four stories by Salkey; Selvon's A Drink
of Water; Terry Parris' Jason Whyte and Reid's The Young Warriors. Sources
of poems for the Third Year include Talk of the Tamarinds; A. N. Forde, Bite
In Stage 3; Cecil Gray, Selected Poems; A. J. Seymour, New Ships; D. G.
Wilson, Out for Stars; Neville and Undine Guiseppi, West Indian Poetry;
Ramchand and Gray.
For closer examination in the Fourth and Fifth Forms, the selection of
eight set texts includes four Caribbean titles:- Schools Out, Trevor Rhone;
My Bones and My Flute, Edgar Mittelholzer; Miguel Street, V. S. Naipaul;
poems by Brathwaite, Carter and Scott in West Indian Poetry; Ramchand and
Gray. In the selection for general reading, ten themes have been given. These
are: Moral Courage, Childhood/Adolescence, Individual in a Small Society,
Cultural Confrontation, Justice/Injustice, Religion, Love, Alienation (from
society), Survival, Quest/Journey. Under these themes-twenty-nine books have
been selected, twelve of which are Caribbean. These are : Brother Man, Ways of
Sunlight, Wide Sargasso Sea, The Leopard, Banana Bottom, Moon on a Rain-
bow Shawl, Green Days by the River, A House for Mr. Biswas, Children of
Sisyphus, The Year In San Fernando and Christopher. Students are required
to study at least four books under any one theme. All titles are for the 1984-
1986 examinations. It should be noted that English A (Language) also has a
literary component so that all students must do some literature. By his fifth
year in secondary school, a student preparing for CXC examinations in English
would have a range of Caribbean experiences through the literature pro-
gramme. For example there are Shell and Francis growing up in Green Days
By the River and The Year in San Fernando, the dilemma of a white West Indian
in Christopher; the tensions and anxieties of the poor in Moon on a Rainbow
Shawl; the 'Romancers' in Miguel Street; teacher and teaching in School's Out;
the Indian family in House for Mr. Biswas; the hope in Death of a Slave; the
hopelessness in The Dust; the wisdom in Uncle Time.
All this does not imply that Caribbean students are cut off from other
literature, for Caribbean (Commonwealth) literature is a branch of the great
tree of English Literature. But English literature (like Caribbean) is a product
of its own culture. If people from outside that culture are to appreciate it an
any meaningful way, they must do that only after they have a strong grasp of
their own. Again, the CXC English syllabus is a good offering of most of the
English Literature (Commonwealth, Asian, American, European) for students
who have been listening to and reading their own literature, at both the primary
and secondary levels of school. This literary background which gives them the
crucial experience of coming to terms with themselves and their environment,
should give them the maturity to comment on literature other than their own by
the fifth year.
Another important impact of the CXC examinations in English, is the
cementing of the Caribbean people through a study of literature from the
various territories. Think of the thousands of young people who between 1979
and the present time have been able to share experiences, through literature,
with people from Belize in the North right through to Guyana in the South. I
believe every good hope for the future of our region rests on our young people. If
the understanding, sympathy and caring which comes out of the study of litera-
ture, touches the youth, then introduction of these examinations will prove a
And yet, the picture is not perfect. Many students tend to drop the study
of literature (English B) after their third and fourth year unless the school ad-
ministration makes it compulsory. It seems as if having given Caribbean Litera-
ture the prominent place it should have, educators are discovering that students
of the eighties do not find it valuable or interesting. Some students say that
literature is 'not useful for getting jobs', or is 'a dead end unless one wanted
to teach.' Some adults and parents see it as part of the colonial skin (Poetry is
white people thing) that needs to be shed. The only literature that is relevant,
this attitude implies, is that of the oral tradition. But written literature comes
out of oral tradition and should not be spurned because it is written or because
it is in English. Another disappointment is that this disinterest comes at a time
when Caribbean writers have gained the respect of non-West Indian critics
the world over. Carter's poems have been translated into Chinese, Russian,
German, Japanese, Yiddish and Spanish. Derek Walcott won the Mac Arthur
grant. This prize worth $250,000 is the 'genius award' from the foundation by
John D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur. Naipaul, Selvon, Brathwaite, Harris and
many others are well known in America and England. Tell these facts to some fifth
former and you might not even get the bat of an eyelid.
What solutions are there to this problem? It certainly claims the atten-
tion of some teachers at department meeting or training seminars. First of all
I think that the teaching of literature needs to change. The methods in class-
rooms suggest that we only want students to remember what they have been
told about Julius Caesar or School's Out or Things Fall Apart. The ability to
understand the experiences in the work then make connections with real life are
not taught. The teaching should draw students out to make their own responses
to the books, to discuss with others and so refine and expand these responses.
The study of literature calls for the interaction of brain and mind. It should
not be merely copying notes and repeating them on paper. If the statement,
"bright students drop literature" is true, then we can see why they do. The
importance of literature can be demonstrated by pointing out the differences in
the level of existence between human beings who can respond to experience com-
municated through novels, short stories, plays and poems, and humans who
Another suggestion is that literature programmes in the Primary school
include prose, poetry and drama in a more systematic way, and that the lower
and middle sections of the Secondary school work out an organised programme
that gets serious attention rather than waiting until fourth form. The use of the
mass media can also help in creating and sustaining an interest in things literary,
but material should be of a high standard.
In conclusion, it is not yet possible to judge the impact of the CXC
examination as it affects cultural awareness through literature. We do not have
a generation since we set out to think seriously about our own examinations
and introduced CXC. Still we can hope for some positive results by the year
2034. I see in that year the Caribbean Man-in-the-street very knowledgeable
about his own literature and fairly well-read in other English literatures.
Walcott, Scott, Brathwaite, Carter, Seymour and others will be household
names. The classics will include works by Naipaul, Mais, Harris, Selvon,
Lamming. Their works as well as those by Errol John, Trevor Rhone and Errol
Hill will have been made into films by Caribbean as well as other film com-
panies. Critical essays by Rohlehr, Ramchand, Gilkes will be part of a large
body of reference material for Universities scattered over the islands great and
small. The dialect works by Louise Bennett and Paul Keenes-Douglas will
be bound in leather and gold. The Caribbean citizen in 2034 will be less paro-
chial in his attitude to and taste for literature. He will read, listen to and talk
about his cultural heritage in a more informed way. Caribbean literary maga-
zines will be easily available. All this vision rests on the assumption that Carib-
bean Literature continues to grow pure and authentic, and that the people
demonstrate their belief in its importance. In homes, communities and terri-
tories the writer will be given the audience and the recognition he deserves.
At last the prophet will have honour in his own country and among his own
THE NEW VOICES
GRAND POETRY COMPETITION 1985
1. The competition is open only to 1985 subscribers of The New Voices.
2. The competition is to select a manuscript of a book of poems for publi-
cation by The New Voices.
3. While individual poems in the collection may have been previously pub-
lished, the collection as a whole should not have been previously published.
4. The copyright in each poem should be held by the poet at the time of
entry, and in the case of the winning entry, the copyright will be held by
The New Voices until 15 October, 1987 when it will revert to the author.
5. Manuscripts will not be returned, due to excessive mailing costs, so that
photocopies will be accepted.
6. Closing date for entries will be 15 March, 1985 (or postmarked that date).
Late entries will not be accepted.
7. A photograph (preferably black and white) and a brief resume, including
previous publications should accompany the entry.
8. The poet's name and address should not be written on the manuscript, but
instead, should be placed on a separate sheet of paper. Failure to comply
in this regard will result in disqualification.
9. Joint authorship is allowed but each author must be a subscriber for 1985.
10. The prize is to be collected in Trinidad and Tobago. The New Voices can-
not arrange for foreign exchange should someone outside of Trinidad and
Tobago be the winner.
11. The judge's decision is final and binding and no discussion will be enter-
tained on the merits or demerits of the decision.
Send to: Poetry Competition, The New Voices, P.O. Box 3254, Diego Martin,
Trinidad and Tobago.
Thirty Years a Civil Servant
by A. J. SEYMOUR
A. J. Seymour has always had apart from his poetic and literary talents
which are known to be outstanding, the talent for getting works published
under whatever conditions the prevailing order cared to impose. In his 68th
year he had lost none of the talent and out came the "Civil Servant". In my
view it is not the work of the reviewer to read for the public, so this review will
not be much help to those who wish to avoid the text and depend on this review
for factural information.
The book, too short at 121 pages, and highly readable, employs Seymour's
own career upwards in the Civil Service to give us an insight into the social
motion of the times, at least of some aspects of that motion. His own entry into
the Civil Service by means of the post office as a volunteer after a spell of
teaching was not an act of favour or a privilege bestowed. Young Seymour
had been a good student at the country's leading school and had been in the
running for the Guyana Scholarship. He records that as an entrant on a volun-
tary basis into "the service" his first duty was in the mails branch as a Super-
intendent of sorters. It would seem that he had no knowledge of the art of
sorting letters and that any sorter could instruct him. But such was the concept
of structure and status of the culture, working for once in his favour.
This preferment recruited exceptional talent for the colonial adminis-
tration, at no cost to that administration and helped to strengthen the habits of
mind that saw the intelligentsia as a more able breed. As it turned out this was
only one of the many pretences of the civil service. It is the same service which
discriminated on the grounds of colour where the competition took on a dif-
ferent form; both Lutchman and Rodney recall the issues of Rohlehr and
Sharples who were overlooked by the Governor because of their non-European
The service thus had a bad start and as Seymour was to experience later
a time was to come when the old order was to change lest the custom on which
it had rested should corrupt the world. The new holders of power began to dis-
semble standards, this time to suit not an expatriate interest, but interests like
loyalty, race, security and such considerations.
But Seymour was, it may amuse him to learn, a member of the unwaged
proletariat and might even have been a victim of industrial or occupational
disease of the eye from the hazards of the superintendent of the occupation
in the sorting office in which the superintendent often helped the postmen and
the sorters. From sorting office he was transferred to accounts branch, the
"brains" of the post office, and then upstairs to stores.
He had already surfaced as a writer and poet and discusses the impression
this created among his workmates and seniors. What is interesting to me is
that even in those days the Post Office was a forum for the exchange of ideas,
with its outstanding and competent personnel, men and women, at every level
Coming to know it from the outside a decade or so after, it always
struck me as a place where a lot of thinking went on. It is a happy coincidence
that Seymour remembers Andrew Jackson, the famous trade unionist, as a pos-
tal employee with concepts of mind and matter. Jackson was perhaps respon-
sible through the union he later nurtured for the organisation of that same
ferment at the level of the rank and file worker in the post office system. In the
union it became a requirement to grapple with ideas.
Seymour moved into another highly unpoetic department, the Income
Tax Department. Surprisingly, none of these places dampened his creative
spirit. At every move he encountered persons aware of their minds. His revela-
tions of these encounters give a good record of the many ways the resulting
Guyanese culture has been influenced and formed. It also records several of
the family names that later became well known or famous in the social life of
the city, and the country in the twilight of the colonial period.
Seymour takes time in the book to lament the fact that his most cherished
workplace, the Bureau of Publicity and Information was not thought worthy of
mention in many of the books written about the period of the twilight. He
finds this astonishing, especially as he himself, in drafting the Annual Report
1946, omitted this valuable department. In a letter I felt moved to write to him
after reading Thirty Years, I assured him that in a class of political activists I
was introducing to the recent political history of Guyana I had specially men-
tioned the work of the BPI, spearheaded by the late H. R. Harewood, Seymour's
hero, whom I consider one of our foremost patriots, Evan Drayton and A. J.
Seymour. At the time I laid emphasis on Harewood as he died many years
The significance of the book for those interested in the political de-
velopments of the latter colonial period, is that it is a selective history of the
administration of the state, against the backdrop of political change. This
will recruit a wide body of readers.
Next, it is a selective history, as all history is, of the administrative
middle class, that is the bulk of the Guyana middle class, as a sub-culture of
colonial society in the days of the twilight of British rule.
At the very top of the class, so much at the top of it that he was really
part of the ruling class, was Sir Frank McDavid, a native Guyanese who rose
to the rank of Financial Secretary and Treasurer of British Guiana. When he
suddenly retired after the electoral victory of the P.P.P. in 1953, he became
Minister without Portfolio. Seymour in his history stresses only McDavid's
complete grasp of an economy, which he knew thoroughly. McDavid was more
than this. Not only as Seymour said did he have the apparatus of a Governor-
General. This is putting a strain on the principle "of the dead say nothing but
good". Sir Frank's concept of goodness led him to be the brain-box of colonial
oppression, the supreme manipulator of the legislators, an intimate co-conspirator
with foreign firms and big capital, a wielder of power who was known to pursue
grudges for years; who like Macbeth was not a killer, but "in each house, had
a servant fee'd" and who could feed to governors information from various
angles like notes from many organ pipes. The treatment of this public enemy
of the mass movement in this work is once again proof that delicacy is one of the
highest achievements of A. J. Seymour.
A critic once referred to Wordsworth as a poet "Who both by precept
and example shows that prose is verse and verse is merely prose".
A.J. shows that prose can read like verse. In writing what could be a
dry commentary of affairs, he cannot lay aside consistently his poetic methods
as he describes his passage from minute to minute, desk to desk, bar to bar,
motion to motion, motion to promotion in which Winifred Gaskin called
"the graveyard of ambition".
Seymour's history gives an insight into the pressures which acted on
the administrative middle class in its formation. Since Seymour did not enter
at a major disadvantage in the context of 1933, and belonged to the ethnic
group which formed the majority in the service and which had risen as far as
natives could rise, it will be interesting to picture the fate of say, the Indo-
Guyanese civil servant some years later, when the service had not yet got ac-
custcmed to their presence. Again, Seymour experienced by-passing as a result
of political mistrust, following a change of political authority into P.P.P. hands.
A younger public servant, the personal secretary, to the Premier, could say to
Seymour "I am now one of the most powerful persons in the country." The
germination of old seeds was succeeding.
All of this makes the reader curious about how those who worked closely
with the P.P.P. government behaved or fared after the change over to the
coalition, and who then emerged as "one of the most powerful persons in the
country"' within the civil service.
The lasting impression for me is the one noted above, that the adminis-
trative middle class grew up in an atmosphere of caution, anxiety, prayerful
hope, silence, calculated submission. Rebellion surfaced here and there and
received its due reward and surfaced in an organised way in the Civil Service
Association, but this itself was torn by the principle of status and paramountcy
Eusi Kwayana poet, playwright, former Gov't Minister, politician.
Dictionary of Guyanese Biography
by ARTHUR and ELMA SEYMOUR
A nation needs to know what it is heir to and the people who have
worked hard to bequeath it. The Dictionary of Guyanese Biography (D.G.B.)
contain in alphabetical order, the sterling contributions made by people in a
wide cross-section of fields of endeavour. These include law, medicine, religion,
administration, business and commerce, athletics, the natural sciences, litera-
ture, history, trade unionism.
With three hundred and nine entries, twenty-four references and a list
of sixty-three persons contacted, the Dictionary of Guyanese Biography re-
presents a massive achievement for Guyana's national poet and writer, Dr. A. J.
Seymour and his wife Elma Seymour. In addition to the reference material
listed at the back, there are other valuable sources of information, for some
entries contain titles published by individuals.
The Dictionary is the first of its kind to come out of Guyana and should be
compulsory reading for every citizen interested in his heritage. To the young
population, about 60% under 30 years, the D.G.B. gives new knowledge and
perspective; to the other 40%, an opportunity to refresh the memory and re-
new the spirit. Description of the major contribution, as well as details about
early education, family background and other interests makes each name in
the D.G.B. come alive. Here is William Claxton on page 24, the founder of
Methodism in Guyana. Born in Nevis and reported a tailor by occupation, he
came as a free Negro to BG in 1802 with his friend William Powell. What is
interesting here is the statement, "The Governor hearing that a blackman was
preaching, examined him and then gave permission to continue his evan-
How Claxton must have repeated that examination. On page 110 is
recorded the work of Mrs. Victor Vyfhuis nee Mary Louise Overton (1851-
1931). A brave woman. I think to start a private school in 1870. She was not
only brave but a pioneer, for in 1890 she succeeded in getting Cambridge Local
Examinations for girls. Government gave money prizes to each girl who passed
and $50.00 for First Class Honours. We who now take secondary education so
much for granted, need to pause a little here.
When we read about the great toll on lives that malaria took in the early
days, and the high death rate among babies then, the work of Dr. Charles Poole
Kennard (1866-1945) and Dr. William de Weever Wishart (1873-1955) stand
out. Dr. Kennard did research in malaria and passed over some results of his
work to Dr. George Giglioli, one of the most eminent malariologists of the 20th
century. Here we see cooperation for the improvement of human lives. Dr.
Wishart was invited to open a Georgetown Medical Service for the municipality,
and, although a doctor, studied for two years for the Diploma of Public Health
in Dublin. He was appointed Muncipal Medical Officer for Health and specia-
lised in child welfare and infant mortality. He worked for over thirty years in
this field and was responsible for the great drop in infant mortality in George-
town. The majority of the public health measures now in force were introduced
by Dr. Wishart.
Not only Christians made significant contributions to our society. The
work of Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj is recorded on page 72 of the D.G.B.
Son of a Hindu priest, his Hindu faith taught him that he could serve
God best by serving poor and suffering humanity. The Dharam Shalas which
we all know so well in Georgetown and New Amsterdam today stand as
testiments of the work of Pandit Maraj. I found the entry for Patricia Loncke
an inspiration for young people and perhaps because her death last year is still
so fresh a memory. Packed in thirty-eight short years is a brilliant career in
musical composition. If there ever was a fine example of triumph over adver-
sity, the work of Egbert Martin (Leo), a cripple is one. Born in 1862 he was
one of the early outstanding poets of Guyana. In 1888 he won the Empire
wide competition by adding two verses to the National Anthem of Great Britain.
He published several anthologies before his death at the age of twenty-eight.
I think the Dictionary of Guyanese Biography provides readers with a
wealth of new information about people unknown to many or long forgotten
by some. We need to know more about our country if we are to make any
contribution to its development. And so, while we read that Prof. Joseph Niles
was the first Caribbean member of UNESCO's International Coordinating
Council of Man and the Biophere (MAB); or learn that Capt. Claude Walcott,
the first Guyanese Harbour Master, was fascinated with the workings of the
English Language. or that Vernon Charbrol, full back, died the night he helped
Guyana to win a football trophy, we note the accomplishments of the past, are
struck by the high standards, and hopefully ideas for what is possible will take
Pathfinder-Black Awakening in the Arrivants of
by GORDON ROHLEHR
This is an important and formidable book. It is important because W.I.
critics and teachers will have to study and digest it in order to pass on to
students in their classes the fine insights and the subtle interconnections a-
bounding in it. The more able students will find pleasure in mastering sections
close to their interests and projecting the ideas in their conversations and papers.
It is formidable because it makes considerable demands upon the reader with
its Johnsonian massiveness, its penetration cf depth and its encyclopaedic al-
lusiveness. I daresay because it is his first book he put everything he had in it;
sometimes it reads as if he is engaged on a personal conversation with the
author on a one-to-one basis with no regard for the lack of knowledge on
specifics that others may have. I can see that this will become perhaps a book
for the reference than a book for reading especially by the educated critic.
In these 340 pages, an acute mind examines with the perceptions of the
cultural sociologist the images and themes in the first three books of Edward
Brathwaite's poetry RIGHTS OF PASSAGE, MASKS and ISLANDS. He
claims in the Foreward that the poet invested the words in the pcems with di-
mension and density, so his study focuses on the background and on the con-
texts out of which the poetry took shape, as well as on the actual process of
shaping. He concentrates on the poet's essays and the development of his ideas
and many times he tells us that this insight or that comes directly from the
poet's replies to his enquiries.
Rohlehr has read everything that Brathwaite has written and with the
close reading of the scholar he takes pleasure in revealing the hidden origins
of a great deal of our unappreciated literary culture. He shows where the roots
have been transplanted to the Caribbean from African tribal soil, sometimes
via Harlem or Afro-American dynamics. The picture that emerges of Brathwaite
is that of a craftsman like an architect deliberately injecting allusiveness into
sentences. I get the impression that Rohlehr has spent more time on the first
book and dealt at greater length with its aspects than on the other two books.
Although the two others are well treated there was something about the charis-
matic appearance of Rights of Passage and the deep sense of welcome by per-
ceptive readers of African descents.
The texture of the criticism is unusually dense; here is one powerful
mind meditating on another powerful mind of the same calibre. This comes
out most significantly in the field of music and the oral tradition, so on jazz,
reggae and calypso, the affinity and specialised interests are clearly discernible
that belong to both poet and critic and carnival and rastafarian overtones re-
veal themselves most readily.
I've read the book only once it will repay more than one reading but
as I went along, I began to log in a simple catalogue some of the issues and
themes involved. Out of my catalogue which runs for several pages, I pick
the following as worthy of some study to understand the poems:
the Akan philosophy and tribal amnesia;
the judgement on colonial education as dedicated to maintaining the
great tradition of Europe and the secondary school as a special exten-
sion of colonial education;
the value of music as a means of understanding as black people, the
black people of the New World;
the role of the Church as an agent of colonial conquest in destroying the
black man's primal vision;
the feeling that the black man remains "invisible" so long as he refuses
to accept and express his own traditions of pain and craftsmanship;
the way the Caribbean female psyche asserts its emotional independence
of the man like the Black Widow spider devouring her spouse after
the background thinking of corrupt priests in Africa.
One result of my reading was a great admiration of the depth of the
poetic understanding and craftsmanship and of the strength of the critic's
analyses of African origins. The poetry works on several levels of meaning and
through surprising paradoxes. Scme readers will feel lost in the forest as they
walk among the trees and for others the poet's hold on the reader will be lost
in tributary association. The question that emerges is like music at a concert.
How much of Beethoven's compositional genius must you known to understand
and better appreciate the music? Does the reader have to know all these foot-
notes, or how many for appreciation?
I'd like to make two suggestions. In the first place, to improve the value
of the book's second edition, the Table of Contents must be heavily amplified.
The first Chapter may remain unannotated although it sels out the themes and
counter themes of the book rootlessness, alienation, exile movement and
journey as against roots, folk values, community, communion and tradition -
and comments on the shifts and currents in West Indian writing. But for Chap-
ter Two and recall, you will need to remember the figure of Tom as father,
founder and flounderer; the great nigration. Urban Blues and Jazz The
inner city; swing: Be Bop; Cool Caribbean Cycle; Brathwaite's Triple
Journey Bird Calls. Even more important perhaps will you need to know
the details of Chapter Three on the aspects of technique in Rights of Passage
such as allusion, repetition, improvisation, dissonance and discord, lyricism
flatness etc. Similarly the complex issues of Chapters Four, Five and Six can
be given synopses in the Table of Contents for easy reference.
The second suggestion is that the book must have an Index. We should
be able to look up the references to Anansi scattered over the pages, where
references have been made to prominent West Indian writers, the reference, say.
to the "deafening silence that overtook once eloquent voices in Guyana", that
quotation "slave master .n horse becomes political leaders with outriders,
sharing a common degradation as they will share a common fall".
Two final points. It is interesting that Brathwaite has been appointed
first Professor of Social and Cultural History at U.W.I. This emphasises the
need for us to enhance the cultural content of education in the Caribbean and
that we should show the cultural identity embedded in the poetry as we move
to distinctive nationhood and evaluate the African and Asiatic elements.
In the second place. Gordon Rohlehr (at the time of this writing) was
about to spend his sabbatical year at Harvard and it was good for him to take
this book under his arm as a visiting card among American scholars.
(first published in The New Voices, T'dad)
A. J. SEYMOUR
Sea Drums Roll in the Middle Passage
A Review of Jan Carew's
SEA DRUMS IN MY BLOOD (POEMS)
Here are 48 poems in 100 pages, the first book that Jan Carew has had
published in the Caribb:an. They cover a wide range of love, elegy, political
protest and historical reference and from the title itself they show they are
concerned with the African diaspora linked with Amerindian motifs and are
basically socialist in tenor. The sea drums roll in the Middle Passage.
Jan Carew is novelist, university professor, magazine editor, research
worker and broadcaster. Perhaps one of the small band of eminent Carib-
bean men of letters (which includes C. L. R. James and Eric Williams) his
poetry is invested with a racy and swift inventiveness and many will survive.
Much of the work here is political poetry evocative of the power of dreams.
He says "my dreams span distances/ wider than galaxies ... I am a tall brown
man/ wearing macaws for epaulettes/ and starlight for a crown ... my love for
the wretched/ is fathomless".
In one poem "Ballad for a Revolution", he names his colleagues and
constituents Caonabo singing a poem-hymn, Anacoana shouting defiance,
Boukman and Macandal chanting, Nanny, Bogle, Marti, Garvey and Fidel. In
other poems Toussaint stirs, and Kwame Nkrumah, and Retamar and there is a
splendid memory from boyhood days of Walter Rodney.
This is a resonant, topographical poetry where place and personality
marry under emotional pressure. The reader at times is startlingly conscious
when the poet crosses the green line between propaganda and poetry sud-
denly the words and images are bewitching us with promises and new seasons
ahead. Now and then the images plunge into Harlem and challenge comparison
with the poetry of Eddie Brathwaite's great trilogy.
For a Guyanese reader, one is indebted for the link between the Cuban
plane with Guyanese destroyed in the ocean where
Five million nameless ones
were scattered in a boiling wake of sharks and blood.
In "The Slave Ancestor", Carew points out that in the African diaspora
when the slaves landed, fifteen nations and twenty seven occupations were all
"designated as negroes/a single branding iron erased their identity",
The Guyanese and Caribbean psyche will read and applaud the pro-
"When you dream with millions
The dream's like a flower awakening
To trumpet new dawns of reality
We'll carry your memory like pennants of flame
My favourite Jan Carew poem is "Requiem for my Sister" with its
anguish for the conditions in contemporary Guyana rooted in our history as a
region. In this poem the propaganda is in the poetry, the deep realities lie bare
and we see the common web of folklore which holds all together in a grip of
We congratulate the The New Voices on this publication.
(first published in The New Voices T'dad)
A. J. SEYMOUR
PRINTED BY AUTOPRINT LTD.