Poetry Cyril Dabydeen, McDonald Dash, Jacqueline de Weever, lan
McDonald, Pamela Mordecai, A. J. Seymour.
Fiction Excerpt from novel APATA Harold Bascom
Miss Lizzie the Herb Woman Jacqueline de Weever
Culture Man Ras Michael Jeune
Articles The Practice of Biography A. J. Seymour
A Report from Curacao Elaine Campbell
"Has now Brown Cow" (English Exam
Results for Guyana 1960-1984) David Cox
"A Dumb God Buried in your Granfather's
Copper Trunk" (Indo Guyanese Poetry) Jeremy Poynting
Reviews Penguin Book of (Eng.) Caribbean Verse (Pamela Burnett)
Tales of the Wide Caribbean (Jean Rhys)
Woodskin (Joy Bland)
Early Childhood Education in Guyana (Elma Seymour)
Harold Bascom Guyanese novelist and short story writer; Hei-
nemann is publishing his first novel Apata this
year; lives in Guyana where he is also a well-
Dr. Elaine Campbell Former lecturer in English at Boston Univer-
sity, she gained her Ph. D with a study of West
Indian fiction with particular reference to Jean
Rhys, V. S. Naipaul, Wilson Harris and George
Lamming; her present interest is women writers
in the Caribbean and she recently presented
in Chicago to the Modern Language Associa-
tion a paper on Dutch Antillean literature,
which Kyk has great pleasure in publishing.
David Cox M.ED. Birmingham; lecturer in the Depart-
ment of Languages and Social Studies, Faculty
of Education, University of Guyana; has re-
cently completed a study of CXC English Ex-
amination results in Caricom countries over
the period 1960-1984.
Cyril Dabydeen Guyanese poet who was appointed Poet Lau-
reate by the City of Ottawa in Canada for the
period 1984-1986; his book of poetry, Islands
Lovelier than a Vision will shortly be published
by the Peepal Tree Press, United Kingdom.
McDonald Dash Prominent Guyanese journalist; playwright and
producer; contributed to New Writing in the
Dr. Jacqueline de Weever Professor of English, Brooklyn College, New
York University; has published poems and a
book of fairy tales.
Janice Forte Research Fellow, Amerindian Research Unit
of the University of Guyana.
Ras Michael Jeune Guyanese performance poet; has published
small collections of his work including Black
Pamela Mordecai Jamaican poet; radio and TV producer, editor
of Caribbean Journal of Education: has written
many books for children.
Dr. Jeremy Poynting Specialist in studies of East Indian writing in
the Caribbean; he is the founder of the Peepal
Tree Press, United Kingdom.
Jan Shinebourne Guyanese writer resident in the U.K.; her novel
"Timepiece" is shortly to be published by the
Peepal Tree Press.
Kyk 35 EDITED BY A. J. SEYMOUR AND IAN McDONALD -
. TABLE OF CONTENTS
SThe One Essential Investment
Across The Editors' Desk
Lives; After Romance-for Derek
Sunset To Moonset
To. No Music
In The Final Analysis; Nevado
Essequibo Sequence: Caiman Fever
The Poisonmaker; Last Of Her
Race; Carib Bones
Excerpt from "Apata"
Miss Lizzie, The Herb Woman -
A. J. Seymour
Jacqueline de Weever
Pamela C. Mordecai
Harold A. Bascom
Jacqueline de Weever
Ras Michael Jeune
A Report From Curacao
How Now Brown Cow
A Dumb God Buried In Your
Grandfather's Copper Trunk
The Practice of Biography
The Penguin Book Of Caribbean
Verse In English
"He And She"
Early Childhood Education in
- Elaine Campbell
- David Cox
- Jeremy Poynting
- A. J. Seymour
- Paula Burnett
- Marc Mathews and
- Joy Bland
- Elma E. Seymour
THE ONE ESSENTIAL INVESTMENT
In this issue we carry an article by David Cox of the Department of
Languages and Social Studies in the Faculty of Education at the University of
Guyana on his research into English examination results in Caricom in the
period 1960- 1984. In summary, the results have been appalling, nowhere more
so than in Guyana. The implications for the future are horrifying in view of our
basic development needs, to say nothing of our literary and cultural needs.
In an article which appeared locally we expressed our views as follows :-
"The widespread ability to communicate clearly and concisely
and to comprehend clear and concise communication is vital not for the
sake of great literature or cultural sophistication, but because it is essen-
tial in the daily working lives of the farmer, the businessman, the en-
gineer, the administrator, the chemist, the accountant, the agronomist,
the banker and the thousand and one other movers and doers in society.
In addition, the ordinary citi: en simply functions better as a citizen if
he has ingrained in him the fundamentals of good language. All men
and women without exception benefit in the ordinary course of their
lives from the ability to understand a logical argument, comprehend the
exact meaning of words, and use language clearly in explaining
things, describing events and discussing his or her or the nation's affairs.
It is therefore dismaying to sense the decay in the proper use and com-
prehension of the English Language in the nation. This is not just a
feeling one has, derived from everyday business and social experience
over the past few years. We have recently seen the draft of a deeply re-
searched study by David Cox of the University of Guyana on English
Examination results in 7 Caricom countries, including Guyana, in the
period 1960 to 1984. This study spells out the decline in devastating and
scholarly detail. David Cox's study should be published as soon as
possible and debated as widely as possible. Let us be clear what we are
talking about. The inability to use and understand language properly
handicaps a person for life. This is not exaggeration. Such a disability
is far more serious than a deformed hand or leg or spine for instance.
Hundreds of thousands of crippled, blind, and deaf people have made
outstanding contributions to mankind. Not one person unable to com-
prehend clearly what is communicated or use language forcefully has
ever made his or her mark in the world. In Guyana today we do not
believe anything is more important than that this should be appreciated
and acted upon. Greater emphasis is now being placed on the teaching
of English in the schools. Much, much more should be done. Emergency
Programmes to increase the number of trained teachers of English and
double, tripled and quadrupled. The establishment of a publishing
to improve English teaching standards in schools should be hugely
stepped up. The National Library should have its budget for new books
centre should go to the top of our list of priorities. There should also
be greatly increased allocations for our bookstores to permit at least
the purchase of the rapidly increasing number of excellent books pub-
lished abroad by Guyanese living here or in other countries. Mark our
words, all such investment, including its element of scarce and infinitely
precious foreign exchange, would be repaid to the nation and our so-
ciety a thousand times in the coming generation."
ACROSS THE EDITORS' DESK
CONFERENCE ON CARIBBEAN WRITING IN
U.K. OCTOBER 23rd 25th, 1986
The Commonwealth Institute, with the support of the Commonwealth
Foundation and the British Council, is organising a Conference on Caribbean
Writing to take place on October 23rd to 25th in London.
This is a part of the programme Caribbean Focus '86 running from March
to November, which opened with a Steel Band, Caribbean Food and launch of a
magazine on March 22nd in association with British Airways. Following months
presented Film and Video Festivals, a Bob Marley Day, a Cricket Festival with
teams from Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and Eastern Caribbean, a Queen show,
a Calypso King and a Poem Competitions, Carnival Day Parade, Evening of
Dance and Spotlight on Sports.
Part of the purpose of Caribbean Focus '86 is to provide teachers of West
Indian children in London schools with an impressive body of material on the
cultural background of West Indian peoples.
Wilson Harris has written to us about the selections of his work from the
old Kyk series which we included in the Golden Kyk No. 33/34:
"I must be honest with you, Ian and Arthur, I am not sure I
want anything I wrote for Kyk-over-Al anthologised in such special
Certainly I would like to be consulted. There are creative/intuitive
links running through an imaginative writer's work and anthologies may
at times help to illumine these links. I hasten to say I cannot, in all
fairness expect you to take such complex matters into consideration.
The business of editing the magazine is sufficiently arduous. But, as you
know, Troy, Agamemnon and Charcoal have all been subtly revised in
the New Beacon re-issue. There are important reasons for this. I have
no narcissistic attachment to the work I have written and certain intui-
tive clues arising in the fabric of the work necessitate certain altera-
I am so glad you omitted the pieces you so generously referred
to in Assaying for a Golden Kyk. I would have been happy to had you
left out Fences Upon the Earth."
BIM No. 69 December 1985, edited by John Wickham, Colin Hope
Dennis Sardinha Christ Church, Barbados.
So the first thing to notice is that John Wickham has gained two joint
editors in this ninety-two page issue. Fourteen poems are here, including work
by Edward Brathwaite, Ian McDonald, Tony Kellman, Cornelia Frettloh and
Travers Phillips. Two old-time contributors, Geoffrey Drayton, the novelist, and
Harold Marshall, the short-story writer, are back with significant and welcome
We give pride of place to Dr. Richard Allsopp's article "A European
Leader in Caribbean Culture" in which le tells the story of Dr. Douglas McRae
Taylor, a Cambridge Scotsman, who lived in the mountains of Dominica for
nearly fifty years, wrote two books, 31 previews and 108 articles for learned
journals in America and Europe, and so became a world authority on Caribbean
creoles and the world authority on the Linguistic anthropology of the Amer-
indian peoples of the Caribbean basin. For this achievement, the University of
the West Indies conferred on him a most well-deserved Hon. D. Litt, at Cave Hill
in January, 1979.
RHYTHM and RHYME Anthology of poems from New Zealand -
April, 1986, edited by Barbara Whvte and
Another valuable collection of the work of 102 poets from New Zealand
and twenty-five other countries. Most noteworthy are two poems by Leopold
Sedar Senghor of Senegal, a poem on kite-flying in Jamaica by R. L. C. Mac Far-
lane, and modem translations from a new anthology of Chinese poetry.
In previous issues there have been introductions to the poetry and the
value of this issue would have been enhanced had that practice been followed.
We regret that, on going to press, news reached us of the death of Barbara
THE NEW VOICES No. 27, March, 1980 edited by Anson Gonzalez
P.O. Box 3254, Diego Martin, Trinidad.
The highlight of this issue is the Poetry Day celebrations of October, 15,
1985 at the Trinidad Hilton Hotel, when :-
1) the winner of the grand Poetry Prize Competition 1985, Joseph Cummings
of Trinidad and Tobago, received the first prize of $2,000 (T. & T.) and the TNV
certificate of merit. Thirty-one entries had been received from seven countries.
2) eleven poets were present and read their poems to a distinguished gathering.
The issue also carries twenty-two poems, one story and an important book
review by Anson Gonzalez on Movement of the People by S. R. Cudjoe, the
Poetry Day Address, and Letters from Barbados and Saint Lucia setting out
the cultural and literary activities in those two islands. In his review, Gonzalez
points to the crucial role the intellectuals have to play in thinking and formulat-
ing a comprehensive philosophy for Trinidad and Tobago.
DICTIONARY OF GUYANESE BIOGRAPHY (VOLUME TWO)
by Arthur and Elma Seymour GEORGETOWN 1986
Elma and Arthur Seymour have produced a companion volume to the
1984 Dictionary of Guyanese Biography. Running to 95 pages, it contains 280
biographical sketches of additional women and men who have helped to mould
modern Guyana. They range over the immediate past, like Rupert Dowden the
Coops Giant, to the wealthiest or "most landed resident in the West Indies",
Wolfart Katz, who received more than 63,000 as compensation when Emancipa-
tion took place. Dorothy Rice, the Ruimveldt estate field worker who gave heroic
evidence in 1905 Riots is there as well as Dr. J. E. A. Ferguson who cut down
the malaria rate in Peter's Hall by the use of quinine in 1908 and gained the
Davson Research Gold Medal.
This book helps to make the Guyanese cultural identity a valued posses-
ARTHUR GOODLAND OBITUARY
In issue No. 32, December 1985, we noted with great pleasure Arthur
Goodland's fine translation of "Macunaima" by Mario de Andrade (Quartet
Books). Shorty afterwards we received the translation made by Arthur Goodland
of Darcy Ribeiro's "Maira" (Picador). This book gives us a sharp sense of won-
der and makes us realise the sheer difference between the world of Amazonian
Indian and our "Western" world. In his plot, which recounts the return of an
Indian trained to be a priest to his native village, Ribeiro asks the question : once
one has stopped being an Indian in other words, once one has come into pro-
longed contact with a technologically superior culture can one ever return to
one's place of origin? Around the central plot, Ribeiro shows us the real world of
the Amazon with its powerless or corrupt Indian Protection Service, its greedy
and ambitious tradesmen and politicians, "pacified" and "unpacified" Indians,
missionaries Protestant and Catholic, its grandiose (and threatened) natural set-
ting. Maira is worthy of the larger tradition of which it forms a part, and, what
is no less important, it is an effective plea for the few remaining Brazilian Indians
to be left in peace.
Both translations by Arthur Goodland, of Macunaima and Maira, have
been widely noticed and praised. Sadly, we have now received news that Arthur
Goodland died on May 24th this year. Although he left Guyana as long ago as
1971 his memory is treasured by many friends here. Ian McDonald writes :
"Arthur Goodland was one of the most remarkable men I have ever
known. In his time in Guyana as Technical Director of Bookers Sugar
Estates (1958 1971) he was celebrated as a great, enlivening, colourful
and creative personality. Not only did he direct with vigour and imagina-
tion technical development in the main body of sugar factories in the coun-
try in a particular dynamic era for the Guyana sugar industry, but he also
became the foremost amateur archaeologist in the country and developed
his talents as a sculptor to the point where he was honoured among Guy-
ana's greatest artists. His massive carving of the slave princess Imoinda,
which now stands in the main lecture hall of the University of Guyana, is
perhaps the greatest piece of sculpture in the nation. In Guyana also his
interest in Amazonian mythology grew and he begun the arduous work
of translation which was to bear fruit in his years of retirement near Recife
in Brazil and then in Canada.
His two great translations of Macunaima by Mario de Andrade and
of Maira by Darcy Ribeiro were finally published in 1985 to the delight
of himself and his many friends. He was a man with a tremendous appetite
for life. His joy in living to the full and feasting on the great range of won-
ders that the world offers warmed and invigorated everyone he met. Shortly
before he died, in his last letter to me, in his 75th year, he wrote about the
old bell he had once found in Guyana and donated to St. Catherine's
College in Cambridge, about WaTter Roth's translation of Thedor Koch-
Grunberg's Myths & Legends of the Arakuna & Taulipang Indians, about
his memories of the performance of the sugar factory at Albion in Guyana,
about the potential use of Guyana's letterwood for making cellos in Can-
ada, about Salvador Dali's masterpiece Santiago el Grande which he had
just seen in the Beaverbrook Gallery, and about the errors he had found
in the successive translations of Aeschylus's Agamemnon. He also wrote,
"I think I notice unusual beauty more than when I was younger" and al-
most the last words of his letter were about a cruise of the Aegean he was
planning : "I have numberless loose ends to deal with before departure".
If he had lived a thousand years Arthur Goodland would have always left
numberless and wonderful loose ends still to tie up before departure".
PHYLLIS SHAND ALLFREY IS DEAD
We regret to let literary West Inndians know that Phyllis Shand Allfrey
died recently in Dominica at the age of 86.
Born and brought up in Dominica in a white upper-class and financially
comfortable family, she was a family friend of Jean Rhys and she was active in
politics and became Minister in the ill-fated West Indian Federation of the late
1950's. She is important to us for her novel The Orchid House Constable (1953)
and her poetry Palm and Oak. These last are twenty-two poems, self-published
in 1973, of which she gave a copy to AJS when they met in June 1978 in rural
Dominica, where she lived. He recalls how they talked to the rustling of the
leaves on the towering hill cliff behind them and the continuous sound of run-
ning water by their side.
The Orchid House is a historically accurate tale of the disintegration
and decline of a white family, related by an elderly family retainer, as a new
political order emerges in the island with the hope for a positive future for all.
Fear and hope make the novel significant.
Palm and Oak has given AJS great pleasure with its strong supple vision.
The name means that she has tropical and Nordic strands in her ancestry, but
the palm comes first since she chose to live in Dominica. The poems fall into
three groups those with Caribbean interest, those with a main interest in the
U.K., and those relating to her personal and domestic life.
In one poem she wrote:
Love for an island is the sternest passion
Lovers of islands dig, plant, they
build and they aspire
To the eternal landmark when they die
The forest covers up their set desire
They blend their flesh with their beloved clay.
There is a special feeling
Pulsing beyond the blood through roots and loam
It overflows the boundary of bedrooms
and courses past the fragile walls of home.
These poems are a testament of her life and a guide into the thinking of
a generation and class now passed away.
GUYANA HERITAGE SOCIETY ACTIVITIES
(1) A GUIDED TOUR OF HISTORIC GEORGETOWN:
is the name of a well written account of the more important buildings in
the capital city of Guyana seen on a tour which starts from the Pegasus Hotel.
runs south to Brickdam, then east along Brickdam itself to Vlissengen Road
north to Kitty foreshore and returns to the Pegasus through Carifesta Avenue.
These are the broad outlines of the tour but it bends here and there to take in
St. Georges Cathedral, the Promenade Gardens, the public hospital and a well
known Sharpies House. David Ford is to be congratulated on the thorough re-
search and the orderliness of the twelve pages with map and pictures which re-
create the significance of the city's buildings.
(2) CULTURAL INVENTORY OF GUYANA PHASE 1:
Two joint Project Officers have been appointed to complete Phase 1 of the
Cultural Inventory of Guyana by the Guyana Heritage Society, one to compile
the material Immovable Heritage and the other to identify and list the Non-
Material Heritage. Broadly speaking, the first embraces structures and buildings
of historical and/or architectural consequence, from Dutch, British and Amer-
indian sources, sea walls, monumenst and archaeological sites; the second com-
prises the folk tradition, social forms and expressions, eg. festivals, ceremonies
and traditional foods and religious forms.
TOO BRIEFLY NOTED
S race is far too limited to review in any detail the great variety of interest-
ing publications about Guyana and the wider Caribbean that come our way.
This is frustrating because each of these publications deserve is more than just a
mentiin to do them justice. For lack of being able to do better, however, and in
case any reader may have a special interest, we would like at least to notice
receipt of the following publications:
Guyana National Library 75th Anniversary Booklet.
1985 Guyana Chronicle Christmas Annual, including results of the
1985 West Indies Cricket Annual, edited by Tony Cozier.
Proceedings of the International Round Table held in Georgetown,
Guyana, to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Aboli-
tion of Slavery.
Journal of Caribbean Studies, Volume 5, Nos. 1 and 2.
"Caribbean Aspirations and Achievements" 7th Annual Confer-
ence of the Association of Caribbean Studies, edited by O. R.
A beginning storm sets my blood racing
I imagine the past with drum-beats-
I am memory of the tropics
I listen to hoof-beats
In the careering clouds
I am watchful as always,
Meandering with each spell of rain,
Each set-back to the ground
I wait my turn
Stepping out with ritual;
I build canoes from the heat
Of my insides, skin bark-
Blood coursing round a cambium-heart
I am now Raleigh making up for lost time
I bend and turn through the winding thickets
My veins reek of silver and gold-
I am at the Orinoco
My eyes meet at the limit of ground and sky
I am history in the making
I am topsy-turvy once more
for Derek Walcott
Plagued into becoming more of myself
I travel along this dreamer's path
Take the world as it is in me,
It is the only real place -
I am unable to conquer more of myself:
This too is epistemology, the ways
Of becoming ingrown like one's toenails
And being reminded of the burnt-brick heap,
The bird alighting -
Remnant of a lost paradise
With a realist's touch I consider
My father becoming grey, shaking
At his ramshackle bone; a brother next -
News of an imprisonment; another night
Without sleep; oh the ways of keeping vigil,
The imagination's fugitive now
I scatter grains of rice while cockroaches
Scurry across a bed how a nephew slept
The night through; and, trying to hang the moon
From a pillow in a trade wind's rhythm,
I burn from all sides, feet and brain first;
Later, making amends, I become a somnambulist
Meandering through the thicknesses -
I mythologize as much as you
Gaiety's good for the heart
The turn of the jest and the smile
The veiled look, saying "ah here
Is the place to rest a while"
Even the call of a tune
Will gladden the ear, to gleam
In the souvenirs of delight
And pluck from time a dream
For nothing will sicken and die
But the heart that has no zest
And for recipe, sad lone lover
Oh, laughter and smile are best.
Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear
And always at lips' brush
The fastness of her hair
Fades deep within my breath
My soul inhales her own
And faintly in the kiss
I hear her spirit moan.
Fingers are pillars now
That stand within her hair
Rigid as love & cupping
The chaliced lips as near
As flesh to flesh can crush.
Contact is made & soon
Spirits electric whirl
All passionate in tune.
My ecstasy forbids
Tale to be clearer told
Suffice it in her arms
The gates of heaven unfold.
Bodies give up their breath
In aromatic moan
And limbs have uttered now
What touch at the lips begun.
A. J. SEYMOUR
SUNSET TO MOONSET
A turned-down red cup, the sun
slides off the kitchen table
of the horizon;
and night, a soaking coffee stain
spreads as the black
pelts down through the air.
The sky is soon clear;
the moon, a large plate
of chinese blanc de blanc,
hangs on the shelf of night,
high over the roof tank;
the chinoiserie, white white,
drenches the street
in its light,
and cars and people meet
and move like bugs
bereft of sight.
dissolves into morning;
westward the white
as the sun turns
up its rim;
and the clouds are wrappings
of tissue paper
for the chinese plate
as it slips, slips
down to the river.
JACQUELINE de WEEVER
TO NO MUSIC
That is my quarrel with this country.
You hear them say "April?
Spring's on its way, come April"-
and, poor things, believe it too,
see them outside, toes blue,
in some skemps little cotton sk rt
well set on making what don't go so, go so.
And this big April morning
it make as if to snow serious!
That is something that must
make a man consider: if you can't trust
the way the world turn,
winter, spring, summer, autumn,
who you can trust?
When it reach April and you been bus-
sing your shirt for eight straight month, just
to keep warm, you in no mood to wait
one degge-degge day more-
not when you poor
and cold in the subway,
cold in the street,
cold where you work
where you eat
where you sleep ...
But you don't get a peep
out of these people;
"Well, spring is late this year,"
they say, toes blue
peeping out the open-toe shoe
and hug the little skemps skirt
tight round them, shivering
for all they worth.
Dem don't agree wi:h the coldness
and dem doan disagree:
dem walk to no music
and dat is misery.
PAMELA C. MORDECAI
IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS
In the final analysis
When the chill
clutches your bones
in an almost
You want to come home
More than badly
to the sundrenched streets
cutting through the
And the thought
Of a pleasant promenade
on the old dutch wall
counting off the
to blushing spring
And memories return
of the fire
In the hibiscus
On your hedge of dreams
White days, white nights
On the wide boulevards
Of winter infinite
And musing of sunset's
Beyond the lowering river
straying back to a pleasant
picnic in the deep woods
I am Tropic's child
lost and away
in an iceberg cloister
on the icy underfoot
Looking at the bagladies
From a breadheap on the sidewalk
And then sequester
themselves in a nook
And then I think
Of the freedom the sun
has offered me
to stand polestraight
And use my handkerchief
In the final analysis
When the chill clutches
The sun always gets
in your eyes
There are still so
to gushing spring
with its promise
of greens and blues
Yellows and rainbows
I am Tropic's child
in the final analysis
It is time to go home
to my sundrenched streets
NEVADO DEL RUIZ
Grey is the valley of death
Grey the metal men
under the viscous
Grey the instant graveyard
Grey the final hand
In the surrender
Grey the rumbling, gorging
Of flood of fire
Ash Wednesday in Armero
Grey the death
in the eternal dusk
Grey the sky of tears
Aiee! Santa Maria!
Nevado is blown!
Grey is the weeping
Grey the souls
O toll the bells
in the high haciendas
In the long green hills in Manzinales
Far from the graveyard
Of grey Armero
Village of Dead
O toll the bells
Far away in the wide paseos
In the long avenidas
Where the skies are blue
Where was I when Nevado
Should I weep some?
But men must die
if their death was not
in the diary of doom
And the children
happy with laughter
And the old men grey
Now grey is the colour
of their eternal shroud
Omaira Sanchez, just thirteen
dead in the grip of love
For the shield of parents
protecting their unbloomed
For little Corazon
For little Felipe
Fleeing from the thunder
on ratchet legs
For the old lady
who was going to visit
down the broken street
To make confession
Should I still weep
a grey weeping?
I must weep
For each must some time
fear his own Nevado
I weep for myself
Grey is my weeping
Grey is my death to come
And toll the bells for twenty thousand
When Nevado blew
I too went under
In the flood of the fire.
Cold wind creeping on the skin,
A shaking-ague deep in bone,
All night in and out of sleep,
Fitful skin-damp wakings every hour
And a restless dream recurring:
Huge caimars thrashing in the river
Tails beating the water egg-froth white
Eyes blazing as they struggle,
Musky odour rising in the night.
I smelled and feared the grappling beasts.
Shivering in a misty river dawn
I meet Majesta who minds this house,
Ancient-slow but cooks a perfect pot.
She gives a look and knows the whole thing true.
"You have the caiman fever bad".
(How can she know my deep-down dream?)
Her old bright eyes turn full on me:
"Caiman fever shake the bone".
She has the cure for me she says.
Cold water from a baked earth jar,
A pinch of golden powdering.
A dip of lemon grass put in:
Drink it off in one great gulp.
Taste of woodsmoke
And old nights
Moon in cloud-scud
Red jasper round the throat.
The powder like a golden dust
She pinches carefully from a stone box
With sacred ointments and white spider cloth :
Caiman's penis dried golden in the sun
Scraped to powder on a fish's spine
It's chased the fever
Down a thousand years
I will not dream the great beasts anymore.
Travelled miles that day
Gold savanna sun to shadows of darkest green.
A day of such beauty
I have not seen before,
The air gleaming like the start of the world.
On the edge of forest
Hawks hanging in the blue heaven:
Black wings beat once
And they are aloft forever.
They have always been in this great sky
Eyes scanning the long horizons
Where suns have burnt to black the short-grass valley-fields.
Amidst orchid-covered granite blocks of white
Gold and scarlet cocks-of-the-rock sport and fight.
Then the dense-dark forest green :
In the cold creek canopied with branches
The bright, dark-red water runs like wine.
Mora-trees, breaking into new leaf everywhere,
White, liver-coloued, green, and deepest red
Stand like huge chandeliers in ancient rooms.
Flashing messengers of light and swiftness,
Grey-blue kingfishers lead downstream to a village.
Well-kept habitations in a green glade:
Bustle with life, women bake and cut,
Children play with rolling balls of silverballi wood,
Hunting dogs snooze amidst the cooking smoke.
Red-stained hammocks swing in evening air,
Strings of red beads are heaped for market day
Making mounds of brilliance on the brown earth floor.
Relaxed, at ease, on mats of yellow cloth,
Chewing Indian corn parched white as jasmine buds,
The men extend an unsuspicious welcome,
Offer pepper-hot iguana eggs and wild red cherries,
Cool, week-old paiwari spiced with sugar-gum.
Their eyes are black and impenetrably bright.
It looks a place well-settled in good routines.
Alone, outside the evening light,
Alone with black arrows,
Who is that man, wrapped in black,
Squatting in twin-circles of dropped black pods,
Crouched like a crow, stirring a black pot
Sizzling on red embers like a black cat spitting?
A chant of mourning comes from this figure of the night.
Why does no one approach him? Why so far removed?
Why will he never join the hum of life and light?
They shrug and smile like children who are happy:
"The poison-maker", they murmur, "he is the poison-maker".
LAST OF HER RACE
A walk in the morning:
Sun burning off the early mist,
River-bank ablaze with Lady Slippers.
Old hut in a green clearing:
No sign of fire-side or children.
Friends who know the forest:
"Come and see this wonder,
Maybe she's a hundred years.
Talk to her, see if you can get her story".
Room is misty with strong tobacco smoke,
Old woman in a corner croons and drools,
Lifts up her terrible blue-stone eyes.
Miaha, "last of her race",
Frail, desolate, decayed,
Greets no one in the mornings,
Relates no heroic deeds to anyone :
Children, children's 'children, not there anymore.
All gone, all gone.
She wears one green stone of Amazon,
Amulet against the snake-bite threat,
The gaze of Spirits that accuse.
A trembling voice saying nothing:
Deer have grazed for long
Over the rain-worn tribal mounds.
Her cloudy eyes skim past
Missing mine by centuries
Seeking something deep, eternal, lost.
I am shy, I am ashamed,
Edge out into the sunlight,
Saying nothing to the picnicers,
Breathe in the green deep forest air.
Old toothless woman comes and goes
In this forgotten place smelling of orchids :
Past and gone, the wind whispers,
Past and gone, the forest hardly stirs.
Ten miles along a logger's trail,
Greenheart in flower smelling rich and sweet
A camp abandoned long ago
Has nowadays a few huts rotted by the rain.
Enter the chief hut by a slack-nail ladder:
Three old men squatting down like stones
Convey a welcome with their shrunken eyes.
We squat and take small gourds of drink
Brewed wild cashew and sapodilla skins.
The ramblings of the old men grow wild
Soon others leave to hunt the angry pigs
And fish the clear, old, black as satin streams.
The old men begin a chorused chant :
Memories of remembering their father's father's tales.
The old men squat scratching withered genitals
Sucking pipes of scented, strong tobacco
Black tongues lick across half-blackened gums
The chant rises, falls, whispers, shouts
Where it begins ,
And they are stone again.
The Caribs were the great ones,
Greater than the tall trees,
No forest men could conquer them.
Out of the arm-bones of their enemies
They made flutes to sing their triumphs.
Courage was dear to them as life
Their war-songs sang of bravery alone:
No word for cruelty except for "love of pain".
Before they chose a warrior
They sliced his skin and rubbed in pepper bush
Tied him in a hammock filled with tiger ants
And if he made a sound he failed.
Fear they did not know,
Death they despised, a puny thing.
Battle was good :
To feel the heart beat fast
Was life itself,
The sweetness and the song of life.
The hearts of men they killed,
Dried in fires made of wood and jaguar bone,
They pounded into "chieftain's" dust
To drink with shining eyes like blood.
And when great warriors died
Their bodies wrapped in snake-skin shrouds
Washed and watched by chosen women
Rotted slowly under suns and moons
Until the flesh was ready to shred off
Then women cleaned the bones as bright as dawn
Painted the clean bones gold of sun and earthen black
And placed them in honoured virgin-woven baskets
Carried everywhere, more treasured than a home,
Such great bones last longer than gold or settlements.
Kept forever, the old men chant,
Forever kept, forever and forever,
Forever to match their courage against foes
To guard the people against defeat
To guard the people against all ill
To guard against the giants of the dark
Forever guard, these strongest of the strong,
For however long forever ever lasts.
EXCERPT FROM "APATA"
by HAROLD A. BASCOM
Mrs. Bailey folds-in her lips and bites in on them everytime she comes
down with the pressing iron to begin a smoothing run on Michael's short pants
on the board. There's a hymn on her breath : "What a friend we have in Jesus,"
she sings lightly, "O what sins and griefs to bear".
"Don't put wares on that window sill you know!"
Grumbles Mrs. Bailey, "Like you like to hear that man fret!"
Having made a smooth run to complete a neat seam she places the iron
on the little coal pot. She picks up a shirt and shakes it out. In the background
Beverley is bent over the sink and from below the smell of the seedy glue being
boiled comes up to them. Mrs. Bailey wrinkles her nostrils. God, she whispers to
herself, I don't like how that thing does smell ..
"MIKE!" she hears her husband call below.
"Coming Uncle Joel."
"Calculate this thing for me man you fast."
Mrs. Bailey shakes her head.
"But why Michael had to hit the red boy in the people place for?" she
says aloud to herself.
"Why you like to talk to yourself so, Mommy?"
"Is only when you answer yo'self, you gone mad! So leave me alone.
Plenty o' we does talk to we self. And don't fo'get that you have to go for that
Tomorrow, Monday, Michael goes to school. Mrs. Bailey sucks her teeth.
This week would have been the last week in Jagnauth's school. Next term he
should have started going to King's College. Should have. Not any more.
Why Mike had to strike the damn red-man son? She sucks her teeth.
"Mommy I'm going now for the milk," says Beverley.
"Take the enamel mug !"
"Man Mommy -", she begins fretfully.
"I SAY TAKE THE ENAMEL MUG! WHAT HAPPEN TO IT? WE
BLACK PEOPLE GOT TOO MUCH STUPID PRIDE FOR ANY THING
Beverley sulks away to the bedroom, but Mrs. Bailey hasn't seen her.
"Mike?" she hears Beverley calling from the bedroom window.
"Girl what you calling Mike for? Mike doing something for yo' father!"
Mrs. Bailey wishes he had not said it. She knows that there's a tenderness
between her daughter and Michael, but she doesn't like it. She's grateful to his
grandmother Jane for bringing her up, but she still doesn't like it. She's a mother
now. She's her own woman now and no form of indebtedness should foil her
judgement in something concerning her own daughter. She doesn't like it. Likes
Michael, yes; but this deep attachment between Beverley and Michael she doesn't.
She had told Joel about it, but Joel saw nothing to it, sees nothing to it and
would do nothing about it. The most he agreed on was that, at those times when
they both would be out, Beverley would stay with his sister who lives in Albouys-
But Beverley and Michael are aware of why this arrangement was thought
necessary. Between them they have agreed not to attempt love making at this
time. On that score, a few boys have tried to scare Michael, "Boy you stupit
boy! You saving up duh girl fuh somebody else to knock out before you!" But
such taunts never did and do not now perturb young Michael Apata. He loves
Beverley and Beverley loves him. He's sure of that.
There's a boy who Mrs. Bailey hopes Beverley would take to. He is the
son of Mr Bernard the milk man. "Girl?" The milk man's wife had said one
time to Mrs. Bailey, "Like my Dennis liking Beverley!" The milkman's wife
had laughed at this point. "But that girl don't even voonks on he. That Dennis
liking Beverley is something strange. Even he father end up wondering if the
girl got something special. Dennis is a boy who used to show no interest in girls.
All Dennis friends got girl friends some lil girl they saying they like but
that Dennis Let me give you this joke.
"One day he father say to he, 'Boy, when me dead you getting all them
cow you see grazing on dat dam, you getting the butcher shop downstairs and
the two in the market. And what? You ent going to get marry?' Well Dennis tell
he father that is not that he don't like girls, but is just that he didn' see no girl
that he like!" She laughed. "But now is a different story. When Beverley come he
does hussle to sell she milk and to give she extras too."
"Well, if Beverley don't like he, what we going do girl?" Mrs. Bailey had
Mr. Bernard is part Indian part Portuguese part Chinese and a whole lot
of Negro. His wife is a brown-skinned woman mixed also, who was a runner-
up some years ago. in a popular beauty contest. Having come together they pro-
duced quite a handsome boy by European standards. Dennis's skin is creamy.
The pupils of his eyes are hazel. His hair is like an Ethiopian's and his manner is
tender as his voice is tender. To Beverley, there's something about him that is
effeminate. She doesn't like him for whatever it happens to be. She loves Michael
for everything even though if she's asked to detail those specific things that make
up everything, she would be stumped.
But her mother likes Dennis Bernard and wishes her daughter, who'd soon
be grown enough, could see him as a future husband. Inheritance is lined up for
him. The procreation of children with opportune skin hues seems lined up too.
And those are the things, the main things, Negro mothers can find themselves
hoping to happen to their daughters in this time.
Mrs. Bailey watches Michael and Beverley as they walk out to the road.
She feels the happiness they support between them. Mr. Bailey watches too from
where he works, and also feels the happiness they support between them. Twist
it turn it, he tells himself, King's College or King's College not, that boy will
make a name for himself in this place, in this Colony.
The gimlet bites deeper into the mortise joint.
Mr. Bailey thinks of his daughter, "She like Michael ... I thought they'd
see each other as brother and sister, but .."
The gimlet bites deeper into the joint -
". .things don't go the way we see things. Pearl would' accept it. If
Beverley like Mike and Mike like Bevy ." He scratches behind an ear. ". .. we
can't put him out or send him back to Bartica because of that."
The bit of the miniature hand drill comes through. He pulls it out, makes
a hole neat then blows through it.
The thing that baffles Mr. Bailey is Michael's calm settling to his fate
after being denied the K.C. opportunity. To the man it just isn't natural. After
it happened Michael was visibly upset and twisted about it. But now, three days
later, the boy seems to be his old self again. Laughing and not at all reluctant
to continue at the same school come the new term when he should have started
going to King's College.
Mr. Bailey takes up the thin saw that can cut around corners. He brushes
the silverballi wood shavings from the worn and ready work-bench then clamps
the panel of wood on it, he will now cut into the shape of a shamrock. "If I said
I understand that boy" he mumbles, "I'd be lying".
The footsteps of his wife recede from that part of the house that faces
the road and he knows that, like him, she had been watching.
MISS LIZZIE, THE HERB WOMAN
by JACQUELINE de WEEVER
She seemed ancient, when I was twelve, but she may have been in the
prime of her life. She lived alone in the bottom-house of the house we lived in in
Vreed-en-Hoop. a woman of average height and square, chunky build. Her feet
fascinated me, so unlike any feet I knew at the time flat, broad, hard, and
callused, covered with the red dust of the Vreed-en-Hoop public road when she
returned from her journeys. She sold herbs, you see, throughout the surround-
ing villages, and would be gone for days at a time, walking, her feet said, from
village to village.
Her bundle of herbs was a matter of endless curiosity to me. Dried sticks.
Leaves in bunches, also dried. Small bouquets tied together. Whole small
branches dried and tied together. All made a large, neat bundle she carried on
her headcloth wrapped in a tight circle on her head. It was not a heavy bundle
since it was all dried leaves. I did not know the names of the various plants and
leaves, but I could see from their shapes and the different shades of green and
brown when they were dried that they were of great variety. When she returned,
days later, the bundle was almost non-existent, very much reduced, shrunken.
Sometimes she returned during the day, and I would watch her coming
up the road, sauntering, sauntering, probably greatly fatigued. But some morn-
ings, as I fetched water from the vat, she would suddenly open the door, her form
filling up the small doorway.
"Morning, Miss Lizzie," I would say.
"Morning," was her reply as she set about lighting her coal pot.
I wondered if she made tea with any of her dried leaves. Most times I
knew she made coffee because I could smell it as I prepared for school. Were her
leaves only for illnesses? This intrigued me because I was a bit of a herb woman
As a child I constantly caught colds, so much so that my mother always
took me to the doctor. When we lived in Vreed-en-Hoop, near the Best Hospital
for Tuberculosis, my mother's constant fear was that I would get TB. And I
hated doctors and their stethescopes, sometimes their X-rays. I found, in the
long backyard overgrown with bushes, a balsam plant. I think someone told
Aunt Carr that it was good for colds. Whenever I caught a cold, I plucked a leaf
or two, held them over a low flame until they were swollen with their juices,
squeezed the juices into a teaspoon, and drank it. In two days, the cold and the
coughing were gone. I have often thought that if I could have packaged it, I
wou'd have become a millionaire. I was p;oud that I could get rid of the colds
without a visit to the doctor.
So I was sure that Miss Lizzie's bundle held cures for all sort of things,
illnesses I had never heard about, and wondered exactly what. I dared not
ask, so locked up in her own thoughts she was, except when she was singing
Miss Lizzie was a Jordanite. She would take her place, at the streetcorner,
at a table with a kerosene lamp, dressed in sparkling white with two women and
a man with a shepherd's crook. Miss Lizzie would read from the Bible and the
man would preach. Miss Lizzie and the sisters sang between segments of the
preaching. One night there were two men. The newcomer was very tall and
imposing, and that night he carried the shepherd's crook. He preached all night.
We could not sleep because his voice boomed through the silent night, and
Aunt Inez sat in the dark in the front gallery, singing the hymns, agreeing with the
message, approving the message, saying every now and then -- "An eloquent
preacher, yes, an eloquent preacher." It was impossible to sleep. When the service
ended, the Jordanites came to Miss Lizzie's room downstairs, but they were very
quiet, and finally we slept.
Miss Lizzie sang her hymns in the early evening when she lit her lamp
and read her Bible. I could see her from her open door as I went up and down
the back steps doing my housework, or coming back from climbing the trees in
the backyard. Our backyard was really wonderful, long and deep, full of fruit
trees which became my refuge from adults saying do this and do that when I
opted to read. I could sit in the top of the trees and no one could find me unless
they knew where I was. I became an adept climber, even of shaky sapodilla trees.
When the sun began to go down, I had to climb down and go back to the house,
and as I came through the dusk I could see Miss Lizzie at her table before her
lamp, reading. I knew it was the Bible because she read aloud, and I could hear
her when I was near the backsteps.
I did not at that time connect the two images of Miss Lizzie with myself
the independent herb woman, owning her own life, answering to no one, mak-
ing a living selling herbs, discovering the villages on her two hard feet, held
some connection with the would-be herb woman curing herself of colds; or the
woman reading by the lamp-light with the young girl reading in the trees. Only
about two years ago I began to think about Miss Lizzie, who is surely dead by
now. I began to wonder what kind of life she really had. Whom did she meet in
the villages she walked through? Was she ever loved, this woman with the hard
callused feet? All of a sudden, I began thinking about Miss Lizzie, as realistically
as if she still lived. Slowly the two images seemed to move out of the mist, a
heavy mist that sometimes comes up out of the Demerara. Clearly Miss Lizzie
seemed to be moving up the Vreed-en-Hoop public road. Was it because, in my
own way, I also wanted to possess and to own my life? Was it because I sensed
Miss Lizzie loved her Book as I loved my books? Gradually, Miss Lizzie assumed
weight and substance in my mind, and I wonder at the strange ways of human
influence, how silently a woman who walked barefoot through the villages im-
pressed her value and her strength on an unthinking twelve-year-old girl.
by RAS MICHAEL JEUNE
Eh eh, look how meh pardna hustling down the road. Like he late foh
something or the odder. Ah wonder whey he going? Hi wha' happening dey
Pardna like you late foh some function or odder? Oh yuh going to the cinema!
Nah I ent care to go, today is rest day foh me duh is why I jus' sid down hey,
plus the fact that I really tired going in Astor an' Globe an' dem odder cinema
to learn 'bout European culture. Wait yuh don't knew duh is wha' all dem
cinemas does show. Yuh don't know all dem dress styles, hair styles an' be-
haviour styles is straight out from house, pit an' balcony deh does come wid
every movie. Yuh ent believe? Well look five years ago, a cinema show a movie
call 'Saturday Night Fever'; since den the who!e country vibrating wid disco
every school child is a yankee dancer. Dat movie was a major breakthrough foh
American culture. Oh! you ent going tc see nothing like dat. You going an' see
a Chinee picture. Yes, dat popular now. Chinee is in style. In Campbelville an'
Newtown alone deh done gat eighteen Chinee restaurant. All dem farmers now
planting pac-choy, cucumber an' bora. Yes is Chinese in style now.
How yuh mean whey dey come from? Dey come from China wid Wang
Yu, Chen Sing an' Shoji Karada. Dey come wid all dem thunderkick an' snake-
fist picture. Is a new ting dey got now name Third World Culture. How yuh
mean I don't like nothing from overseas. I like enoughh ting from overseas: I like
Brazil bus dat does carry dem children to school and dem workers to work.
I like the boats, cause dis land got enoughh river. 1 like tractors cause 83,000
square miles lil difficult foh plow wid just cutlass an' fork. Wha? Of course 1
been overseas. Overseas nice, but I love hey wid all de hard time an' black-
market; de housing problem and de water problem. I prefer unemployment ova
hey, dan foh live pon welfare anyway else. Man, I tell yuh, after travelling over-
seas, I really get foh love this country. An' hear, yuh eva tek a good look at
Bourda, Bourda Market is a rainbow a colours, Purple balanja, red pepper,
pumpkin so yellow yuh mouth got fuh water.
Bone dry coconut an' sweet banana.
"Calaloo, four bundle foh dollar".
"Bora, get yuh nice young bora".
Is poetry how dem hucksters does holler.
Man ah tell yuh deh ent got no odder market like Bourda.
Watch, I prefer to buy me greens off a bag pon North Road dan in one a
dem germ-free anti-septic overseas supermarkets, wid dey cash registers an'
white-skinned sales girls. I prefer a plastic bag to a rubber-wheel trolley. Wha'
is duh? Yuh think I got a point. Man I got 83,000 square points in tropical
green. Man look yuh see I love hey, because hey is home. Is hey yuh an' I born
an' is hey I got to meck living betta, but it getting late yuh betta hurry if yuh
want to ketch de Chinee picture. Yuh ent worrying? Yuh going by Bourda an'
ketch a two dollar mango Yes man I in dub.
A REPORT FROM CURACAO
by ELAINE CAMPBELL
Significant attention is being paid in the United States to Caribbean
Literatures in English, French, and Spanish, but very little attention is accorded
writing from the Dutch Antilles. Although considerable writing is being done in
Suriname (but relatively little in the smaller Dutch Windward islands St.
Maarten, St. Eustatius, and Saba), any focus will be on contemporary writing from
tht Dutch Leeward islands known popularly as the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire,
While collecting materials by Caribbean women writers for a contracted
anthology, I found in Curacao a highly active group of women writing in Eng-
lish, in Dutch, and in Papiamentu. Sonia Garmers, Nydia Ecury, Carla van
Leeuwen, Diana Lebacs, and Adriana Kleinmoedig-Eustatia, among others,
unabashedly produce such popular genres as folktales, children's novels, tele-
vision scripts, cookbooks, and journalism. But they also write excellent poetry,
social critiques, and political commentary.
The women writers of Curacao take advantage of the three languages
spoken in the Netherlands Antilles; they write largely in Dutch and Papiamentu,
but are becoming comfortable in English as well. They espouse genres spurned by
ma!e writers and they exploit genres neglected by women in other Caribbean
settings. However, the most interesting aspect of their writing, in my opinion,
is their refusal to separate writing into high art and low art, and then subs2-
quently type themselves as creators of one form or the other.
Another interesting characteristic of the women writers of Curacao is
their relatively high visibility. For example, Sonia Garmers, the author of such
novels as Orkaan (1977) and Orkaan en Mayra (1980) both written in Dutch
and published in the Haag is a popular radio personality who conducts cook-
ing classes twice weekly for her listeners. On the literary side, Orkaan en Mayra
received in 1981 the Mienke van Hichtum prize in the Haag and in 1983 the
Cola Debrot prize for literature in Curacao. Garmers' output includes seven
books for children in Papiamentu, six cookbooks in Papiamentu, two books
about black magic in Papiamentu, and Tree Rosea (Three Breaths of Air), a
book of thirty-six poems with Nydia Ecury and Mi a Palm, also in Papiamcntu.
Her Papiamentu classic, known throughout the Netherlands Antilles and recalled
with affection by a generation of expatriated Antilleans in this country and in
Holland, is Lieve Koningin Hier By Struik Ik U Myn Docht (My Dear Queen, I'm
Hereby Sending You My Daughter, the Haag, Leopold, 1976).
Diana Domacasse-Lebacs, who has published six books in Dutch and
five books in Papiamentu for children, has also produced educational programs
for television as well as television productions of folktales for all age groups.
Among Lebacs' Dutch novels written for young women is Sherry, the Beginning
of a Beginning which is about a girl's search for identity during the post-colonial
period of her island. Sherry has been translated into Finnish and German. An-
other novel for young adults is Lebacs' Suikerriet Rosy (Sugarcane Rosy) whose
protagonist is a Caribbean girl who comes from the countryside to work in
Curacao as a live-in maid.
Of special interest is Lebacs' Dutch television series "Hartelijke Groeten"
or "Fond Regards." Produced by the Dutch Humanist League, the series of six
television programs presents a dramatised correspondence between Bea, a school-
teacher in Curacao, and Emma, a housewife in Holland. Both women are in their
fifties and have daughters who have studied together in Holland. The daughters
have very different ideas from those of their parents and the mothers write to
each other about their reactions to these ideas and about the feelings that these
ideas arouse. Bea and Emma correspond about other situations as well, and a
picture is formed of how the actions and reactions of the two women are in-
fluenced by their different cultural backgrounds. Some of the subjects treated are
marriage, financial dependence, the empty nest syndrome, discrimination, and
growing old. Jetshe Mijs is the author of the letters from Holland and Diana
Lebacs wrote the letters from Curacao. The originality of the series attests to
Lebacs' versatility as a creative artist.
Note should we made of Adriana Kleinmoedig-Eustatia who, unlike
Garmers and Lebacs, maintains a low literary profile in Curacao, restricting
herself to the traditional role of folklore teller. Kleinmoedig-Eustatia writes only
in Papiamentu and she avoids radio and television exposure. Her three softcover
books are published locally by the Ministry of Culture and all three volumes
carry the Papiamentu title Mi Koto di Kuenta (My Bag of Tales). Published in
1981 and 1982, the volumes display the universal characteristics of folklore,
peopled as they are by peasants and kings (no middle-class characters need apply),
and by the personified animal characters of fable. Brother Goat, Brother Lizard,
and Brother Turtle singularly Caribbean animal characters make their
appearance, as does Kompa Nanzi, known in the English-speaking Caribbean as
Anancy, the West Indian descendant of West African spider lore. With their
inset chants and verses, their heavy reliance upon dialogue, their dissolution of
the line between human and animal characters, the stories of Mi Kota di Kuenta,
volumes 1, 2, and 3, are important contributions to the collected folklore of the
Antilles. By enacting her folktelling role in print, appropriately in the indigenous
language of the Netherlands Antilles, Kleinmoedig-Eustatia dignifies the role of
the woman teller of tales while at the same time helping to preserve part of the
oral tradition of the ABC islands.
Of an entirely different cast is the delicate poetry of Carla van Leeuwen,
gathered into the collection entitled Because. Van Leeuwen writes in English and
in Dutch. Because is evenly balanced in the two languages : seven poems are in
Dutch, eight are in English. Titles like "If I Could," "I Remember," "If You
Only Knew," "Introspection," "Choice and "Silver Dreams" express the con-
templative nature of the poems that generally convey a mood of gentle sadness.
The poet's awareness of an ambiguous world is displayed in such lines as "At
times/ you can/ and may/ choose/ which/ two/ wells to/ drink from/ well of
happiness/ well of sadness." In a voice of greater disenchantment she explains
"I had a dream/ and saw/ Mankind,/ Loving/ Living/ Sharing/ Caring/ Giving/
I went out/ and saw/ Materialism/ Money/ Egoism/ Jealousy/ Pride/ So I re-
treated/ ... I went on dreaming/ of Mankind/ Loving/ Living/ Sharing/ Caring/
Giving." Because is especially precious because it represents the only published
collection we have of Carla's verse written before she ended her life from the
great span of Willemstad's Queen Juliana bridge.
The most active and highly visible of the women writers of Curacao is
Nydia Ecury. Aruban by birth, Ecury, like most of her sister-Curacaon writers,
works in various genres. Her poetry collections, written in Papiamentu, include
Tres Rosea with Garmers and Lebacs, Bos di Sanger (Voice of my Blood) 1976,
Na Mi Kurason Mara' (Bound to My Heart) 1978, and most recently Kantika Pa
Mama Tera (Song for Mother Earth) 1984. Her children's stories include Di kon
anasa tin korona (Why the pineapple has a crown) and E Fruta di Abrakazor
(The Fruit of Abrakazor) 1981 as well as "Un Mosa Balente" ("A Courageous
Lady") in Nos Isla, 1982.
Ecury's theatrical involvement dates back to 1960 when she played in the
Papiamentu version of Shaw's "Pygmalion." She has translated into Papiamentu
Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo," John Peacock's "The Children of the
Wolf," Jean Genet's "The Maids," and Carlo Goldoni's "The Liar" and his
"Servant of Two Masters." One of Ecury's more recent theatrical ventures was
a one-woman show entitled "Luna di Papel" ("Paper Moon"). The multi-media,
multi-language production with sections in English, in Dutch, and in Papiamentu
combined Ecury's acting and singing with musical interludes by a jazz trio. The
production offered a curious medley of serious commentary on Antillean post-
colonial situations with rather light social farce.
More uniform is Ecury's essay written in English for a 1976 presentation
at the Toastmaster's Club Contest in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The prize-winning
essay, entitled "My Native Language" opens with a Papiamentu poem by the
late Antillean poet Laureate Pierre Lauffer a poem full of drumbeat rhythm.
The poem translations into an English prose text which opens with the line "Did
you hear the African drum?" Ecury identifies the African drumbeat's importance
to the rhythm of Papiamentu and goes on to explain the legendary birth of the
language. The word "Papiamentu," based on an old-Spanish verb, paperar"
meaning "to speak," indicates a language that remained exclusively spoken for
many decades. The nasalization that is characteristic of the language is traceable
to Portuguese, while Dutch contributed words with nordic sounds like zuur,
huur, brug. Some English and much Spanish also figure in Papiamentu, as well
as an occasional word with an African root.
Ecury's explanation of the historical background of Papiamentu grows
in "My Native Language" into a highly personal ecomium of the language,
pitting it, as it were, against Dutch the language of Antillean colonisation.
"Op school moet ik te allen tijde Hollands spreken." "At school I must at all
times speak Dutch." Arguing that proficiency in foreign languages is a necessity
for the inhabitants of very small islands, Ecury nevertheless bursts into Papia-
mentu as her essay reaches its apex:
The language that I heard as I was being rocked to sleep.
Do do do mana su yuchi."
The language that I heard as I stood at my father's knee, looking up for
guidance and advice.
Bibi segun lei, mi yu, i un dia, lei lo pretehe' bo."
The language in which I said my first prayer.
Papa dios, hasi Nichi bon mucha"
The collected poetry in Kantika Pa Mama Tera represents a new effort by
Ecury to overcome the language barriers among the islands of the Caribbean.
The retreat from Dutch that she documents in "My Native Language" is fully
accomplished in Kantika. At the same time, in a gesture of outreach, she trans-
lates her own Papiamentu poetry into English while preserving the Papiamentu.
Simultaneous to Ecury's concern for the cultural and political implica-
tions of the language in which her poetry is written is her attempt to achieve re-
conciliation on a more personal level. The ninth child of thirteen, Ecury is in-
tensely interested in both identifying and resolving her familial relationships. She
takes pains to explain that her great grandmother Francisca was a slave in Venc.
zuela who migrated to Aruba. (Ecury=groom, her great grandmother's name be-
came the family name.) Francisca's son by a Jewish shoemaker was Ecury's
grandfather who married a woman half-German and half-Venezuelan. Ecury's
mother, Juliao, was Portuguese and Ecury's husband a Dutchman. Embracing
all these racial and national strains with ease, Ecury turns in the poetry of
Kantika to a very individual reconciliation : that of acceptance of her mother
with whom she had a difficult relationship. The Mama Tera of Kantika's title is
both universal and specific. On the universal level, Ecury says in the title poem,
Mama Tera, k'a parimi,
Hesu' bo yu su alma,
tin di krusa
un desierto largu
In dwelling on your face,
Old Mother Earth,
my soul must cross
a desert vast
Later, she makes her gesture of homage:
Ma at 'awe'
mi yu chiki'
a karisia' mi kurason
ku un kantika dushi
k'el a kanta
pa mi so.
I bow my tired head
your weary womb
I am a Mother, too.
On the specific and personal level, Ecury opens her collection with "Habai"
("Old Lady"). After verses beginning "Machi bieu" (Li'l old lady), Machi leu"
(Silly old lady), "Machi kens" (Daft old lady), Ecury concludes with "Machi
prenda" (Sweet old lady) saying,
Sweet old lady
with your clogged up veins,
your widow's hump,
your eyes opaque,
I'll have you for my baby
for a single night, at least,
to hug you-kiss you-love you
before you cease the movements,
before you turn into an object,
cold and still.
The collection ends with "My Mother-My Child." In a narrative mode,
Ecury relates her mother's jealousy of the father's best-loved daughter. Describ-
ing the widowed mother, Ecury says,
and left with us
and pampered bride.
But, finally, the poem achieves reconciliation:
Love is love is love
its direction matters none
Peace, Mother-my Child.
Peace unto you, my dear.
On the subject of love, I wish to conclude with fragments from "Amor
di nos sekretu
bo poesianan muda
ta kantami un crescendo ...
Within the silence
of our secret
your wordless poems
sing to me
a crescendo ...
di nos sekretu
mi kurason ta boltu
pa shen palomba
shen palomba blanku
Within the silence
of our secret
my heart moves aside
to make way
for a hundred doves,
a hundred white doves ...
di nos sekretu
mi sanger ta bira riu,
riu ki ta desborda',
ku ta inunda'
doloman di tur dia
di tur ana,
di tur siglo,
i siglonan, amen.
Within the silence
of our secret
my blood becomes a river.
a river that overflows
to inundate the pains
of all the days
all the years
all the centuries
and centuries, amen.
'HOW NOW BROWN COW?'
Mordant reflections on English examination results for Guyana, 1960-'84
by DAVID COX
Their faces seem to speak of passion,
A passion sensed but never felt.
Embers without conflagration -
Tabulae rassed up ...
The attempt at poetry that appears above was written in 1972 or there-
abouts. It is probably a little Romantic, but it should also be seen as ironic, since
it hints at a positive alternative. At any rate, there seems little reason to change it
in the light of developments since then and I would recommend its brevity and
compression. The initial stimulus came from my perceptions of the responses
of the secondary school students to whom I taught English Language and Litera-
ture, but I came to see it as a reflection of much of Guyanese society.
At the time of writing the poem, the mood in Guyana was optimistic and
there seemed a possibility of changing things. Those with doubts had left, and
those that remained were willing to accept some incongruities so that they could
begin (or continue) to repay the debt to their nation in the only manner that has
meaning the provision for future generations. Nowadays, there is some
pressure to change the second line to :
.. .'A passion neither sensed nor felt'
In a way, this article is concerned with that change of feeling. Guyana
was on a crest of optimism in the early seventies. Art, Literature and Music
flourished (Carifesta was its symbol). Education was repaying earlier invest-
ment, dedication and interest. The Nation was literate. But, even then, there were
undercurrents in the wave. It seems to me that we are now at the bottom of a
complementary trough of equally intense pessimism. However, once again, there
is choice. Within another ten or twenty years it seems possible to be on the crest
of another, equally positive but necessarily different wave if we recognize and
accept the failures of the past and present (and their origins) and aim for that
distant time now.
Some may consider that what I will write about below is impolitic. Such
a view is regrettable and I think short-sighted in the context of Guyana at this
time. Governments come and go, but the Nation endures and the well-
informed decisions that are made today will not be regretted at the millennium.
Besides, to remain silent or comment obliquely on a matter that I believe to be
of crucial importance to my nation, my profession and myself would be both
immoral and unethical. (I hope that you will not also consider being candid as
being 'old-fashioned .')
SOME 'GIVENS OF THE NOW'
Recently, I conducted research into the English examination results in
seven CARICOM territories over the period 1960-1984. While the results are
disconcerting in all the territories surveyed to some extent especially as far
as socio-political and socio-educational considerations are concerned my
immediate concern here is with my nation, Guyana.
Space does not permit a discussion of methodology, assumptions, limita-
tions or analysis of the data, and I must ask you to take what I will outline
below on trust for the moment.
Over the twenty-five year period, about 212,000 students entered for the
G.C.E.'O' Level/CXC (16+) English Language examinations in Guyana. Slightly
less than 45,000 were successful, such that the percentage pass was 21% (approx.).
Roughly speaking then, for the last twenty-five years (i.e. to July, 1984) four
out of five candidates have consistently failed to obtain universally-accepted
evidence of their competence in the official language of their country and one
of the most important languages of the world.
Next, we should note that the numbers entering in 1960 and those enter-
ing in 1984 were virtually the same, (1960 : 4,622; 1984 : 4,579) as were those
passing in the same years (1960 : 917; 1984: 908). These data are particularly
interesting when one considers that numbers entering in 1971 (the high point)
were about 12,000 and passes about 3,000. There was a gentle decline to 1979
(10,697 entrants and 2,000 passes) after which there is a rapid decline to 1984
English Literature results at the 16+ exam level are as bad. About
119,000 entered over the twenty-five year period, and of these slightly less than
27,000 passed. The period percentage pass was thus about 22% or, that is, four
out of five also failed. While more difficult to evaluate than the situation in lan-
guage, this result does not indicate problems in reading, higher-order comprehen-
sion, awareness of values/feeling and, generally, the level of culture of the popu-
lation over the period. (Alternatively, I suppose, this result may be seen as positive
from a 'grass-roots' angle of vision .).
Numbers over the period dropped by nearly 50%. (Entrants 1960 : 2,420;
1984 1,287. Passes 1960 : 473; 1984 : 270). The high point was 1969 (entrants :
9,700 (approx.); passes : 3,300 (approx.)), and the decline from that point was
roughly in a straight line to 1984 levels.
Advanced Level (18+) English Literature is somewhat better. About 2,200
entered for the 18+ exam over the period and of these 800 were successful-nearly
a 36% pass rate. The peak year for entrants was 1973 (146 sat), but the peak year
for passes was 1968 (53 passes) five years earlier. However, it should be noted
that there has been a marked reduction from 1960 (entrants : 69; passes 26) to
1984 (entrants: 26; passes 10). These figures have particular relevance to the
numbers and quality of potential English teachers available to the system over
the period and the overall fall in numbers entering and passing at the 16+
exams of later years.
SFinally, (at this time the research-is progressing) a look at some of the
population figures (as given by the Population Census of the Commonwealth
Caribbean: 1960, 1970 and 1980) alongside numbers involved, is of more than
passing interest. The tables below encapsulate the relevant data:
Table 1: Guyana : Total population, 15-19 yr. cohort; numbers entering
for and passing at the 16+ and 18+ English examinations
1960, 1970 and 1980.
Year Tot.pop. 15-19 yr. 16+ Lang. 16+ Lit. 18 + Lit
cohort No. ent. No. pass No. ent. No. pass No. ent. No. pass
1960 560,330 51,884 4,622 917 2,420 473 69 26
1970 700,000 47,600 11,800 2,800 8,850 1,800 118 43
1980 758,619 96,554 7,960 1,800 2,848 496 45 25
If the 'A' level figures (18+ yr. exams) are omitted (the numbers in-
volved are infinitesimal and not central to the thrust of this essay) then the
following picture emerges:
Table 2 : Percentages of 15-10 yr. cohort entering for and passing at
the 16+ English Exams 1960, 1970 and 1980.
Year E. Lang. E. Lit.*
% ent %pass % ent. % pass
1960 8.9 1.8 1014 2.0
1970 24.8 5.9 41.3* 8.4
1980 8.2 1.8 6.6 1.1
[*Approx. figures based upon the finding that about 45% of the cohort
entered for E. Language also entered for E. Literature in the seven territories
over the period.] ,
What has been outlined above is, however, merely the tip of the iceberg.
There are further 'givens' that are common knowledge (though perhaps less
well documented) and these too must be considered in order to deepen an appre-
ciation of the situation as it exists.
There has been a population explosion over the last twenty-five years
and a consequent surge in demand for Education. There has also been large-
scale emigration from Guyana over the same period. The first wave took place
after the 1962-4 turbulence and prior to independence (1966). The second wave
began in 1970 with the Arab oil crisis and probably accelerated after 1980.
Many of the legal emigrants were skilled workers (technicians or pro-
fessionals). There is a high unemployment rate especially amongst the
Because of currency restrictions and production shortfalls, there has been
a shortage of books, magazines, newspapers, journals and indeed of com-
munication aids in general.
Fora variety of reasons, there has been a contraction in intake levels at
teacher training institutions and hence a drop in the output of graduates at all
levels. (Besides, these graduates frequently feed the emigration torrent). Finally
there is the high tax bill and the concepts of responsibility and accountability to
the citizens and, value for money.
SOME PROBABLES OF TOMORROW
It is impossible to do more than touch very lightly upon some of the more
obvious implications of what has been outlined above. Suffice it to say that the
results to date are very unsatisfactory if not horrifying in view of our develop-
mental needs and the fact that we have been 'masters of our own fate' for at
least twenty of the twenty-five years surveyed.
First of all, it would appear that there is a crying need for scrutiny of
what is going on (or is not going on) in schools in Guyana. Thus both the teach-
ing profession and the Ministry of Education (at least) will need to do a great
deal of explaining in the first instance as to how we came to be in this sorry
mess. Perhaps the first question is one of the degree of trust that should exist.
The second is one of the high taxes extant in Guyana. However, questions
must also be asked about methodology, curriculum and administration/manage-
ment both in the schools and in the Ministry as a whole. There are also the
questions of overall policy and responsibilities (white, brown or other coloured
papers on educational policy), ancillary staff, resource allocation (including
books and furniture), finance, appointments, transfers, salary selection, the
Teacher Service Commission, etc. There is also the question of Adult Education
and distance learning, since neither tax-payers' children nor tax-paying pros-
pective past-secondary students are always near secondary schools or other
Secondly, there is the area of Teacher Education and Training. Questions
will again have to be answered about curricula, methodology, administration,
staffing, salaries, training of staff, physical plant, finance and resources at both
the University and the teacher training institutions.
These, then, are some of the immediate or short-term areas of account-
ability. But, there are the wider and long-term implications. If the normal re-
placement of generations is considered in the light of the need for literacy and
language-based skills in an increasingly more complex society and world where
the official language is English, then it can be perceived that the results and other
developments over the last twenty-five years do not augur well for the immediate
or the more distant future.
English Language is necessary for employment, promotion and further
study. Since the number of satisfactorily-trained youth is small, then the
de facto retirement age will rise and/or there will be mismanagement/incompe-
tence. Hence the days of the 'well-earned retirement' are probably over. The
large number of training courses and workshops, unfilled posts and temporary
appointments after retirement that have been taking place over the last decade
or so in Guyana and the number of foreign consultants that regularly visit, lend
support to such a view.
Another, and at least equally important aspect of English, is that of
expression and creativity. Bread and butter issues aside, there is the whole
question of mental and spiritual health that is bound up in the appreciation of
Literature and its expression. Materialism and 'enlightened self-interest' can
only serve to an extent. The areas of the feelings, trust and values in general,
understanding of self and other, self in relationship to nation like the value
of Education cannot be reduced merely to dollars and cents (US or otherwise)
or slogans. Indeed, it is precisely now after we have tried various experiments
(and, perhaps, found the 'bottom line' in terms of survival) that there is a burning
need for revisions and new visions.
The new entrepreneurial class is in existence. Racial and cultural in-
tegration are well under way thanks to economic pressure, demographic factors,
the education system and the rural-urban shift. These will continue. But, now
that the tool has been formed, it must be tempered and magiced/imbued with pur-
pose and vision or it will once again fragment when diversity ebbs. The tempering
and incantations fall within the realm of the Arts and especially literature.
But, that is the 'brighter' side of the coin-the 20+% passes. Assuming
a sufficiency of jobs, these people can be inducted into the system. However, there
is also the question of the 60-80% who do not pass (or whose results are well be-
low 'barely fail') and, those who are not even given a chance to fail. If we posit a
link between expression and the ability to think constructively, then failure in
English indicates weakness or worse in the ability to comprehend, apply,
analyze, synthesize, assess as well as communicate easily and cogently. It can
even indicate, a growing illiteracy. In effect, then, we are talking about of the
unemployables created by the system (or lack of it .). This in turn implies
dependency on the same age group that is working towards the 'well-earned'
retirement and ease ..
Out of this dependency will come various attitudes. Thus there could be/
is a growing resentment and a contempt for the meritocraticc' system that made
them into 'rejects'. Alternatively there may come a sort of lassitude/giving up,
or a growing violence born of the frustration of an inability to communicate.
These attitudes could in turn lead to an increase in leisure or youth -
associated misdemeanours and crimes (littering, vandalism, robbery, rape, drugs)
or teenage pregnancy and a greater dependency. There could also be an in-
crease in cults or the uncritical acceptance of different local or foreign life-styles
out of their original contexts.
But perhaps it is time to call a halt to the horror stories. I was not seriously
suggesting that the passing or failing of English Language or Literature is the
sole factor responsible for a decaying society, merely to attempt to indicate (or
underline) the importance of English in an english-speaking society insofar as
personal development, employment and the quality of life are concerned both
now and in the future.
Nor am I attempting to single out any group or organisation for more
blame than they deserve. Education be it in English or any other discipline
or area, is the collective responsibility of the society and can only be delegated
temporarily. The situation that has developed here is no one's fault if it is not
ours for letting it happen. If the youth are an investment in tomorrow, then we
(and/or our stewards) have scandalously mis-spent both the capital and the in-
terest, and bankruptcy looms near like another Haiti. It remains to be seen, now
that more information is to hand, what we will do ... I, at any rate, would like
to be able to write a companion piece (to the first poem) entitled 'Los Dorados' in
about ten years or thereabouts. Help me.
'A DUMB GOD BURIED IN YOUR GRANDFATHER'S
Indian Religious Sensibility in Indo-Guyanese Poetry
by JEREMY POINTING
There has been a significant but not surprising gap between the attach-
ments of a large majority of Indians in the Caribbean to their ancestral Hindu
and Muslim faiths and the detached, ironic and sometimes highly derogatory
portrayals of the practice of Hinduism and, to a lesser extent, Islam in Indo-
Caribbean fiction. V. S. Naipaul's Mystic Masseur (1957) and H. S. Ladoo's No
Pain Like This Body (1972) and Yesterdays (1974) are but the most obvious
examples of novels written out of the fear that the gods were dead and the cer-
tainty that Hinduism had become absurd in the Caribbean.
It is not the purpose of this article to explore the reasons for this division
between popular attachment and the detachment of these novelists. One may
take as exemplary V. S. Naipaul's moving account of how his westernising edu-
cation in Trinidad and England made him incapable of living within his ancestral
world view.1 Yet even in Naipaul, with his self-confessed distaste for Hindu
ritual, the process of separation is by no means complete. Novels such as Mr.
Stone and The Knight's Companion (1963) and The Mimic Men (1967) show
Naipaul wrestling with the stubborn vestiges of Hindu belief.
That tension in Naipaul's work is but a part of a much wider range of
literary responses to the religious experiences of Indians in the Caribbean. How-
ever, because that quite sizeable body of work raises issues which are impossible
to deal with in an article of this brevity, its focus is limited to a review of the
way a number of Indo-Guyanese poets have expressed a religious sensibility
which has been shaped by the transformation of Hinduism in the crucible of
In narrowing the focus in this way, two things must be borne in mind.
Firstly, poetry is the form which has gone furthest in expressing the possibility,
at a personal level, of fusing the ancestral and the Caribbean. By contrast, most
fiction, including that by Indo-Guyanese writers, has focused on the social incom-
patibility of Hinduism and Caribbean secularism. Cyril Dabydeen's recent novel,
The Wizard Swami (1985),2 for instance, deals with the uncomfortable and
corrupting experiences of a young, pious country Indian who tries to be an
ascetic holy man in profane Georgetown. Secondly, although there is much in
common, there are significant differences between both the experiences and its
literary treatment of Indians in Trinidad and Guyana.
The Guyanese experience includes the fracturing, by time and distance,
of an intimate relationship with India, the transformation of a caste peasantry
into proletarians on the estates, the impact of Christian proselytization, mission-
ary education and incorporation into the institutions of colonial and post colonial
Guyana. The Hinduism and Islam brought to Guyana came in the main as
village faiths, and though they remain meaningful to many, it was impossible
that they should stay the same for all Indians.
The most blatant challenge to Hinduism and Islam came from Christianity
and missionary education. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, con-
version, a condition of entry to the missionary-run secondary schools, provided
the main route away from agricultural labour into professional occupations. The
earliest members of the Indo-Guyanese elite families such as the Ruhomons
and the Luckhoos, for instance were almost all Christians, as were the very
first Indo-Guyanese to produce literary works in English. Yet even in the work
of the earliest, most missionary influenced writers, one can observe an incom-
plete detachment from an ancestral sensibility. For some it was no more than the
assertion of ethnic pride, but for others it was the urge to bring the Hinduism
they had abandoned into contact with the Christianity they had embraced. In
the work of Joseph Ruhomon, for instance, there are both the pious Miltonic
poems on such themes as 'Easter' and 'Nosce Te Ipsum',3 which give no clue
that they were written by an Indian or a Guyanese, and there are the curious
idealist treaties such as Good and Evil (1916,)4 Signs and Portents (1921)5 and
The Transitory and The Permanent (1925),6 each of which aims at some fusion
of the 'discoveries and speculations of Western philosophies' with the mysticism
of 'occult and oriental philosophies based on the revelations of the Yogi
Fathers many centuries ago'. In particular, Ruhomon infuses his Christian specu-
lations with a continuing adherence to the concept of maya, the illusory nature
of the temporal material world. Similarly, a somewhat later writer, R. N. Per-
saud, in his Scraps of Prose and Poetry (1933)7 wrote both turgid Christian verses
on 'Creation' and tear-soaked contemplations of hell, and also Tagorean influ-
enced prose pieces such as 'East and West' where he defends Hindu India from
attack by Western scholars. However, writers such as Joseph Ruhomon and
R. N. Persaud were unable to translate the sensibility expressed in their prose
speculations into any kind of poetry. The dominant tendency in their verse, and
that of the Christian authors of The Local Anthology of Indian Verse (1934)8
was to write in an anglicised style on anglicised subject matter, leavened only by
a discrete acknowledgement of the influences of Tagore and Mrs. Naidu.
That tradition of Christian-Indian verse, marked in its diction by the
shaping influences of Victorian and Georgian English verse and the Presbyterian
hymnody, has been continued by more recent Indo-Guyanese writers such as
Leela Sukhu (Scattered Leaves, 1968)9, Randolph Butisingh (Love's Light, 1972:
and Wild Flowers and Other Poems, 1972)10 and in the work of younger writers
such as Krishna Prasad (Born To Die, 1977)11 and Nadeer Bacchus (The Golden
Arrowhead, 1978).12 Butisingh's verse perhaps stands out for its greater technical
facility and its gently reflective generosity of spirit, but as a whole this Christian-
Indian verse presents its feelings in the borrowed language of rugged paths and
ways strewn with tears, parched sinners and living waters, shepherds and lost
sheep. If these writers deal with a specifically Indian-Christian experience, it is
the expression of a sense of isolation, spiritual loneliness and despair. In 'I Want
For Death', Bacchus writes:
I grow aweary
Of this sad life
I beg you spectre
raise your scythe.
and in his Life and Living (1980), Prasad hears an African woman and an Indian
man cursing each other and :
And wished that
I was not.13
However, the work of three other Indo-Guyanese poets, Cyril Kanhai,
Churaumanie Bissundyal and B. Ramsarran, indicates that the limiting effects
of the Christian influence on the writer's mode of expression were by no means
inevitable. Kanhai escapes from the missionary straight-jacket through the
toughness of his sensibility and the original vigour of his language. In the poems
in My New Guyana (1969) he roots his Christian message of hope that love,
divine and human, may purge the racial hatreds of the early 1960s in images
which are drawn from the Indian experience of Guyana:
Deep Love and Hate
In Heart Estate .14
and reinvigorates the idea of spiritual regeneration by avoiding the hymnody
cliches of crystal streams and using metaphors drawn from the rice farmer's
May there yet spring
In the light of the day
From the scorched soil of the heart of man,
The torrents of love
Strangling every strange weed
and flooding the new land .15
Kanhai writes with great intensity, to the extent of verbal excess at times,
but even within the eclectic freedom of his diction, one notes the familiar influence
of the Presbyterian hymnody, in his taste for words such as "fulminate', 'satanic'
and phrases such as 'honest toiler' and 'life's stormy waters'.
The other escape from the alienating anglicanism of the Presbyterian
tradition was to return to the Hindu tradition from a Christian perspective,
though some European missionaries feared that the process was more a case of
the hinduisation of Christianity. One of the most interesting expressions of this
process can be found in the work of B. Ramsarran in his Glossary Of The Soul
(1967). As A. J. Seymour has remarked,'6 Ramsarran's work is primitive in
the best artistic sense of the word, both in terms of the idiosyncracies of his vision
and the forms and language he uses to express it. One sees in his work the same
flight from external reality ('the naked disdainful nature of the world') which has
driven several Indo-Guyanese poets either towards mysticism ('the exalted hemis-
phere of supersensuousness') or inner searching, as an all too understandable
response to contemporary Guyanese reality: a 'world of falsehood and down-
right shallowness on all sides a world of poverty, miserable old age .'17 The
themes of Ramsarran's poems are narrow : the illusory nature of the world and
the deceits of the senses, the divine and the diabolic as human qualities, moments
of revelation and the frustrations of being condemned to live within the earthly
body. Frequently Ramsarran fuses Christian and Hindu approaches to these
themes. In 'Freedom' he recognizes :
Like as my God is called by different names -
Jehovah, Allah, Brahman, and many more .
and in 'God's Comment' he describes the wish for Christian bliss in terms of
freedom from samsara, the cycle of rebirth in material, temporal form:
Passion binds one to desires for attachment to action
which is born of lust and hate
Purity elevates one to blissfulness and knowledge frees
Again, in 'A Magnificent Absurdity', the idea of a 'Transcendental Sanc-
tuary' of oneness with existence owes much more to the Hindu concept of atma
than Christian images of heaven. The syncretic approach works in both directions.
In 'Maha Kali', Ramsarran tries to rescue the goddess's role as 'Mother of the
Universe' from her association (and local Indo-Guyanese practice) with the sacri-
ficial cult of Kali-Mai, arguing that the supreme creator and destroyer of all
matter is demeaned by being idolised. Speaking in the voice of the Goddess, he
Why should I disclose myself to you?
Perhaps I shouldn't be a lifeles image
Shrouded with terrifying esoteric misunderstandings
For all time.18
At his best, Ramsarran reminds of Blake or D. H. Lawrence in the argu-
mentative freedom of his thought and the energy of his expression. In 'The Mag-
nificent Absurdity', he attacks as simplistic the Christian notion of God and
Satan as opposites and external to man:
What a magnificent absurdity
to tell man of Satan and God
as if they exist at opposite extremes-
One in celestial command to reign over high heavens,
the other in preposterous lordliness
to lure the sinless away to perish mercilessly in hell.
What appears to be satanic at one end
Is virtue vibrating at its lowest ebb,
What appears to be Godly at the other end
Is this very property with the print
of evil colouring apparently erased.
In other poems Ramsarran quarrels with his conception of God in the
manner of George Herbert or Manley Hopkins, but though he shares something
of those poets' colloquial vigour, he is a primitive without craftsmanship or dis-
crimination. Too many of the poems are full of such mind-numbing abstractions
as 'miraculous infinitude', clotted with latinisms such as God's fondantt power',
man's'oscitant course' 'flagitious thorns' and morbificc muddiness', and larded with
archaisms and the familiar Presbyterianisms of 'eternal mansions' and 'celestial
cities'. Nevertheless, Ramsarran's verse is in the best sense curious and original,
the product of a wrestling with a diverse religious heritage.
Churaumanie Bissundyal, writing under the name of Omartelle Blenesse-
qui, goes even further in his long narrative poem Glorianna (1976)19 in describing
a syncretic religious experience. At first glance, Glorianna might seem wholly
sui generis as the account of a young man's vision of a goddess who comes to
rescue him from 'the web of material glamours'. However, as the work of Joseph
Ruhomon and Ramsarran shows, it has its roots in the contact in Guyanese
culture of English verse, Biblical apocalypticism, Hindu speculation and the
folk-culture of spirits and spiritual possession. The poem, like so much Indo-
Christian poetry, expresses an isolated existence on a Hindu estate ('I was the
treasure/ of no-one/ but my lonely self/ I was but a lonely observer/ looking on')
and of flight from the external world of Guyanese reality.
It seems to me central to the significance of Bissundyal's work that the
goddess should appear to the narrator in a form and name which are explicitly
European, whilst those who are trying to destroy his faith in her employ distinc-
tively local Indo-Guyanese means. Yet, if Glorianna comes apparelledd in dazzling
in the midst
of a host of angels
skimming over the river
and dancing in the sky ...
she, as 'a great spark/ of this UNIVERSAL POWER', who is part of a female
trinity which also includes mother nature and the 'Great Power', clearly also be-
longs to the Hindu tradition of female divinities, in particular Lakshmi. So, when
the narrator's devoutly Christian father discovers his son's vision, he is convinced
that he is in the grip of 'some pagan goddess/ come down to earth/ to pollute
the world of Christ'. Anxious over his son, and his prayers failing, the father
takes him to a mystic healer, a Hindu ojha whose appearance contrasts sharply
with Glorianna's whiteness:
He was robed in red
with a yellow turban
on his head
smelling of sandal wood
hanging down his neck
as if they belonged to the dead.
However, the mystic healer fails to cast out the vision, and the estate
people take the young man to the seashore and make him 'the centre/ of a
CIRCLE FIRE'. This time rains come in answer to the young man's prayer to
Glorianna and the Hindu sacrificial fire is extinguished. However, the message
the goddess brings the young man is far more compatible with Hinduism than
with Christianity. She tells him that good and evil are not opposites :
S. for evil is just a part of life
serving the purpose
of telling man
that he's far away
from his functions in this land.
Similarly, her teaching on the nature of reality falls back on the kind of
pantheism found in the Upanishads. Things in nature are to be seen as aspects
of the self, all part of the same formless unity:
The soft twittering of the birds
and the lonely calls
from the cows
coming from the horizons
of my awakened self.
They were voices
living millions and millions of years
within my soul ..
There is much that is impressive about the poem : it has structure and
coherence and communicates an esoteric experience very clearly. Its weaknesses
are equally plain. The language is rarely inspired, the images emblematic rather
than vivid and sometimes merely trite, and the goddess herself delivers her
message in the tones of a platitudinous maiden aunt and occasionally like a
pantomime fairy-godmother. Nevertheless, Glorianna remains a fascinating and
always interesting attempt to explore a uniquely Indo-Guyanese experience.
But Bissundyal is very clearly not a reflective artist who is able to examine
his own response to his experience and find a language and form which expresses
its uniqueness. Rooplall Monar, by contrast, is highly conscious of his perspec-
tive. It is, indeed, the subject of his religious poetry, and though he does not
always achieve a perfect mastery of a form which is equal to the complexity of
his vision, he is very clearly striving for it.
Unlike the writers so far discussed, Monar writes from a Hindu perspec-
tive uninvolved with Christianity. However, no less than the writing of those
discussed above, Monar's exploration of what Hinduism means to him is pro-
foundly affected by his Guyanese perspective.
Monar's religious poetry is the extension of a search for an authentic Indo-
Guyanese identity contained in a remarkable series of poems published in Mean-
ings (1972) and in the journal, Kaie in the 1970's. They move between the hope
that such an identity might have been forged on the sugar estates and fear that
the history of oppression which has shaped that culture makes it impossible to
embrace, and between a yearning for the ancestral mother and the cold con-
sciousness that the umbilical contact has for ever been broken. 'Going For
Lawah' expresses the fear that the ancestral gods are dead and are now no more
than sentimental salves for the pain of separation. As the haggard old drummers
beat for the marriage ceremony, they sense that their rhythms fail to vibrate the
celebrants into any promise of fertility, and suspect that:
their gods are polluted
poor souls of sugar's ointment.20
'Ishwar', expresses a dreadful sense of abandonment, and the god is called on to
explain his silence and the meaning of the historical process which threatens the
poet's cultural extinction :
Save me before I am lost
Let my children know
The purpose of my death
If not my birth
In Meanings and the other poems of this period, Monar mainly explores
the issue of identity in cultural and historical terms; in the poems of Darling
Of The Rising Sun (c. 1975),22 it is taken up both in more intimately personal
ways and in terms of a deeper religious questioning. The search for inner religious
truth itself occurs at two levels. At the social level, he draws on a local tradition
of spiritual resistance to what he sees as the ossifications of brahminical Hindu-
ism. He finds this spirit of resistance in the mixing of South Indian traditions and
the proletarian ideology of the sugar estate worker. At the cosmic level, Monar
relates his own oscillations between hope and despair to the polarised impulses
contained within Hinduism, between the image of energy and regenerative crea-
tion contained in the vision of Shiva's cyclic dance, and the yearning for escape
from the cycles of rebirth contained in the idea of samsara.
In 'Darling Of The Rising Sun', Monar contrasts the hollow illusions of
ritual piety with the living sacrament of sexual union, another image of Shiva's
dance. He warns the brahmin girl to whom the poem is addressed that she gives
To a god far away
A dumb god once buried in your
grandfather's copper trunk
A god whose potency reigns
in red bamboo flags flying in our yards ...
I long to sacrifice that clay god
kissing your night sleep
and shape you in the likeness
of my own
God of the canefields.23
The same spirit of resistance within Hinduism is even more extensively
explored in 'Coming Of The Rain'. Here the ritualistic, venal and ethnically
chauvinistic pundits are not only powerless to end the spiritual drought, but are
in part responsible for its creation:
Once you know
pride transformed these frescoes greater than gods
as white-clad pundits searched the altars
for devotees' offerings.
How they smiled that smile of deceit
misinterpreting text from the Ramayan.24
But the drought is also linked to the people's failure of vision because
of their experience of servitude and their dependence on the hope of divine
rescue. In the second part of the poem, the 'boom' is not only the thunder which
ends the drought, but the sound of the iconoclastic overturning of the brahminical
idols by men who look inwardly, and who by acting become gods themselves:
mortal peasants tear the temple gods to pieces
bony hands challenge the omnipotence of the sky
Boom Boooom .
closed, undisturbed eyes ...
Men become gods.
However, this faith in the democratic human spirit is only one impulse in
Monar's work. For he also expresses a tormented sense of division between the
urge to be part of the cycle of creation and the urge to escape from it. In 'Birth',
he sees in sexual union a replacement for the lost hope of finding cultural rebirth
through social action. Here Shiva is invoked in his manifestation as the ithyphallic
Paralysed hands grasp for music
in the sanctum of sorrow
as Shiv's dances neared patterns
in confusions with penis and clitoris
original birth appears.25
However, in 'Metamorphosis', cursed by a sense of futility ('how many stars have
poisoned my lineage') he looks for escape and considers:
Once I drowned between sea-beds -
who could wish a better death
than live with a curse in the forehead
of your Universe.
Here the sexual dance of Shiva, the snake-armed god, becomes a burden from
which he wants release (moksha):
.. must I resurrect for a second birth
the wicked serpent again
for Shiv's dances enchant the cobra?
are we victims of this ..
this timeless symphony?
Can our death beget our birth?26
Monar brings these ambivalences together in what is to date his most pro.
found and complex poem, 'Koker', in which he uses the landscape of the sugar
estate as a deeply though-out image for his spiritual state. In the poem, the
koker, the sluice-gate which, at the front of the polder, keeps out the sea water,
and at the back of the polder controls the amount of fresh water let in from
the savannah, is a symbolic boundary point between dry land and flood. The
poem, which speaks in the voice of the koker, expresses the ambiguous antagon-
ism and attraction between the two.
The poem begins by identifying the ocean, which the koker must keep
out because its salinity will poison the soil, both with the attraction to the aban-
donment of sexual orgasm and, as in earlier poems, with the call of the ances-
Belly waves roll upon waves
climbing on top the other
as unfulfilled lovers do
tumbling in whirlpools
at the end of desire,
then come plashing me in the face
drunk with the power of temporal grace.2"
That freedom and grace is contrasted with the land within the polder, tor-
mented by the sun, and the 'dual agony' the koker speaks of must be seen as both
the endurance of the 'sun-cracked weather' and its separation from the sea,
apparent but false source of fertility. The spirit is drawn to life (the koker is
what makes cultivation possible) but is also frustrated by its captivity within
But who knows
who ever knows the beginning of this dual agony?
I still wonder at the endurance
of sun-cracked weather:
silent carrion-crow clouds;
white unending unending distance .
In the next stanza, Monar appears to allude to the Creation Hymn (Nasa-
diya) of the Rig Veda which begins :
There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was
neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What
stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottom-
In this hymn and others celebrating the creation in the Vedas, it is the
waters of unconscious matter which exist prior to the imposition of form through
the generative heat of the sun, a metaphor which suggests that it is the heat
of desire which keeps the phenomenal world of form in existence. Since this
desire is the force that stands in the way of goal of release from samsara, the
Sometimes I question the futility of my birth
and the riddle of the proverbs -
(who first saw the maker of this life
or heard the first cry of this Creation?)
The koker thus comes both to long for the fresh water which brings life
and to feel the burden that the cycle of fertility brings :
I forever bear like pregnant paddy sheaves
everlasting burden of three month's rain;
savannah surging waters.
In its boundary position the koker is set between the world of man (the
land) and the gods (the sea). Sought out by people as a source of life and wisdom,
the koker is tempted to see itself as elemental and divine, but has to recognize
that it is man-made and can only be aware of but is always in some measure re-
moved from the mysteries (the 'unseeming tapestries') of the infinite:
lost little children
seeking my age-old counsel.
I turn to myself and ponder:
'Perhaps I am life-and-death ..
yet I am neither
for unseeming tapestries continue to weave
and weave .'
Yet the koker is, though separated from the ocean, still intensely drawn
by its summons. Here Monar uses the images of sea and land to stand both for
spirit and matter and for the ancestral Indian call cf the ocean and the parched
difficult identity of the Indo-Guyanese. The ambivalence of the koker's response
to the ocean's call is beautifully caught in the image of 'the wink of my eyes',
suggesting not only the glint of the sun on the kicker's water and the idea of the
koker's relationship to the sea, but also the idea that the koker's understanding
of the ocean's message is both momentary and enlivening :
Out there in the ocean
Something silently speaks with me
and only the wink of my eyes understand
Am I sun or rain?
Am I 'fairy-godmother'
to crabs...... shrubs ............courida............?
Monar's poetry does not always match the profundity of his exploration
of the split sensibility of the Indo-Guyanese with a corresponding technical ex-
pertise. Yet whatever these poems may lack in terms of structural coherence,
rhythmical certainty or verbal polish, they are unmatched as highly self-con-
scious expressions of a transformed Hindu sensibility in the Caribbean. Through
Monar's poetry, the dumb god buried in the copper trunk is given voice.
1. See An Area of Darkness, London, 1964; and Finding The Centre: Two Narratives
2. Calcutta Writer's Workshop, 1985.
3. In the Anthology of Local Indian Verse, Georgetown, 1934.
4. Georgetown, Demerara Daily Chronicle, 1916.
5. Guyana, Berbice Gazette, 1921.
6. Georgetown, Daily Chronicle, 1922.
7. New Amsterdam, Lutheran Press, 1933.
8. Georgetown, Argosy, 1934.
9. Kitty, Sheik Sadeek, 1968.
10. Georgetown, Advance Press, 1972.
11. Wales, W.B.D., 1977. See also Dawning Days, 1976 and Horizons of Life, 1977.
12. Corriverton, 1978. See also Shattered Dreams, 1979.
13. 'The Row', Life And Living, Wales, 1980.
14. 'Love and Hate', My New Guyana, Kitty, Sheik Sadeek, 1969, p. 12.
15. 'The New Land', ibid. p. 17.
16. The Making Of Guyanese Literature, Georgetown, 1978, p. 55.
17. Forward, Glossary Of The Soul, Georgetown, c. 1968.
18. 'Maha Kali', ibid.
19. Enmore, 1976.
20. 'Going For Lawah', Meanings, 1972.
21. 'Ishwar', Kaie no. 10, p. 29. (written under the pseudonym of Bramdeo Persaud.)
22. Typescript, c. 1974.
23. 'Darling of the Rising Sun', Patterns, Georgetown, 1983.
24. 'Coming of the Rain', Darling Of The Rising Sun.
25. 'Birth', ibid.
26. 'Metamorphosis', Patterns.
27. 'Echoes of Memory Koker', Kaie, no. 12, 1975, pp. 72-76. (Published under the pseu-
donym of V.D.B.).
28. W. O'Flaherty, The Rig Veda: An Anthology, Penguin Books, 1981. pp. 25-26.
THE PRACTICE OF BIOGRAPHY
A. J. SEYMOUR
A biography is the written account of the life or an individual. And
what is an individual? Each man, says Archbishop Wm. Temple, is the
Universe coming to self-consciousness in a particular focus, the self-awareness
of the Universe finds a tower of reference of all creation in one observing eye.
And, of course, an autobiography is the story of a person's life written by
himself. There you have three definitions, two taken from the dictionary
and one from the Archbishop of Canterbury which lifts the other two into
the dimensions of philosophy and religion.
In 1978, when I was publishing the second part of my autobiography, I
asked the question "why does one write an autobiography" and then I pro-
ceeded to answer it. I put down four or five reasons first, to bear witness
to the events of his life and show how the history of the nation is written
although smaller in his own life, this is to say that social history both influences
and is influenced by the observing eye. Second, to record his self-education,
how his books and his wife and his friends and his job all conspired to create
his personality with one particular viewpoint of selection from a seething mass
of ideas and attitudes; what is important here is the element of unconscious
selectivity that we exercise. Thirdly, to help the younger generation to know
the facts and lessons of one's life, depicting the past now vanished for the
people now alive the truths and insights extracted from social forces to be
submitted to the judgment of time. Since the cinema lens of history is always
passing on to new frames of reference, young people are given a depth of
cultural meaning of their own environment in this way.
In the fourth place, autobiography is an equation. He sees how the
purposive and the accidental come together, if you like, the causal and the
casual, how the chance arrival of a personality or an accident, can make
a great difference in a man's life. Here we see how the playing by ear of the
melody of one's life changes resonances and even direction depending on one's
unconscious selectivity and chance. Here too you find the tension between a
surface-event and the deep symbolic value of the episode which emerges with
the years. Other reasons also present themselves the yearning for dignity in
one's own right, each of us wants to be important in our generation in some
way, the reaching for a base of unquestioned personal authority. For a poet,
there is the body of his poetry written and published as part of his life-writing,
along with reflective memoirs. So we focus into the story of one personality
all of these and other streams of invisible income and tribute, and you let
judgment work upon memory in perceptions of creative change.
This is the unconscious and vague theory behind the practice. My own
practice of biography began very simply. It was in 1965, I had an efficient
shorthand secretary who never knew what she would be asked to put down -
a sermon, a letter to the newspaper, or to the Prime Minister, a lecture or some
draft of a book review. One day after she had typed a letter in which I made
certain remarks she suggested that perhaps I might like to put down some
part of my life story and she would be happy to do it after working hours.
So there was I with an offer which I was happy to take up and I dedicated the
first book Growing up in Guyana in this way. Some time elapsed then I wrote
by longhand part 2, Pilgrim Memories on lectures and visits to U.K., U.S.A.
West Germany and Brazil in 1977. Part 3 came by chance. We were preparing
for a family reunion on our 40th Wedding Anniversary to be held in Toronto
and it occurred to me that since I was the tame writer in the family, I should
mark the event, by writing out how I met my wife, how the children were born
and how we grew up as a family, based on some of my memories, especially
the cementing ones! My printer said he would do 100 copies, but I must give
him four clear weeks before I left. So there was I, trying to write it all down,
sometimes at 2 a.m., in order to finish in time. Then typing was the problem,
but when the typist assistance ended, the printer said he would be able to
read my hand writing and set it from that. I was very happy. The printer was
as good as his word. The day before we left for Toronto I got 100 precious
copies of Family Impromtu to take with us. This is a private publication in
every sense of the words in short a privication.
And then there is part four, Thirty Years a Civil Servant which came
out in 1982. In 1983, I was fortunate to bring out another section,
The years in Puerto Rico and Mackenzie, which follows on from the career
I had as a national civil servant and from which I went on to work with
an international organization and then with a multi-national corporation.
I continue to write and I'm now drafting my travels as a cultural emissary
for Guyana inviting Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Dominican
Republic and Haiti and Suriname to participate in the 1972 Carifesta cele-
Of course, there are deeper aspects of autobiography. A psychotherapist
Chas Ryecroft points out that the person writing an autobiography is engaged
on a quest back into memory in which he encounters his past selves in a
multiple and slowly-changing personality corridor, like walking down a long
corridor of mirrors in which he sees himself at different stages. The writer
selects memories in the light of his present conception of himself. Sometimes
the memories press for expression, sometimes they resist and elude his
imaginative recollection. So when the present "I" records the events in the
life of the past "me", a dialectic is taking place in which both experience a
certain amount of change almost imperceptibly, and at the event the I-me
dialectic can be said to be "I wrote it" or "It wrote me". I mention this because
it is important to realise that there are elements of self-justification, self-
aggrandizement, confession and the desire to amuse among others all operating
in the mind of the writer who is recounting his life.
One man suggests that all this special question of autobiography can be
traced back to the 15th century in Europe when modern man took the place of
medieval man. Medieval man considered himself as a member of society, but mod-
ern man came to conceive himself as having a self, an identity, which was defined
in terms of itself and in opposition to, not its membership of, society. Jacob
Burckhardt in The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy mentions the great
part played by Dante in this movement of history. Suddenly the individual is
important and the famous person even more so, and he tells us how all local
celebrities were noticed and their lives set down and there are two names,
Bartolemew Facius and Pado Cortese, persons who collected facts and published
books about famous men of the present and of the past, treating them as if
they were members of one illustrious family. They lived in the 15th century which
is a century of explosion of the concept of the personality, and the development
of the individual.
Facius wrote The Book of Famous Men in 1445, only Italians, but by
category,-poets, orators, jurists, physicians, painters, sculptors, generals, emi-
nent citizens, princes and Kings. These were all contemporaries. Cortese in
1490 in A Dialogue of Learned Men dealt only with the dead, often the long
dead, and by way of discussion with two scholars, and he concentrates on the
eloquence of these Italians. What we have here is a Who's Who by Facius and
a Dictionary of Italian Biography of the Renaissance by Cortese. We should
notice that both books seemed necessary to satisfy public demand and curi-
ousity, at that time of explosion of interest in the human personality. The
thought therefore arises, there is a parallel between the sudden eruption of
interest in the individual at the time of the Renaissance when modern man
was growing up, and the explosion of interest in Biography in Third World
peoples, as they pass from colonial dependence to independence of political
action. Third World peoples partake of the same pride in knowing about the
personalities who helped to form the modern nation.
One other contribution to autobiography comes from psychoanalysis.
Autobiography deals with the conscious, but there is also the unconscious, and
we are told that repression and resistance are the forces which block the way
to our unconsciousness, because what is alarming, disagreeable or shameful,
or in any way painful, has been forgotten as a defence.
This leads us to the biological drives covered by the ID, the conscious
mental activities covered by the term the Ego, and the conscience of culture
which carries the name of the Super-ego. There is a fascinating and subtle
relationship among these during all stages of our normal development, and
so what the life of a person has meant and what it deeply means at the present
moment are part of the value of autobiography.
What has been the practice of biography in Guyana? The Reference
Department of the National Library prepared for me seven pages of listings
of books by Guyanese and yet that was incomplete. Looking at the record
in analysis, I could see that teachers pre-dominated. The lives of Cyril Potter,
Norman Cameron and remember the book which became a film To Sir With
Love, that is autobiography made into fiction. Then G. H. A. Bunyan had put
down a 60-year history of the Teachers Association in 220 pages, 1884-1944.
There were two portraits of Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow one in 1949 and another
in 1976. You would expect that, a life-story of a man who made an interna-
tional and regional impact on working-peoples' lives. The life story of a lawyer
Hon. A. B. Brown was told by his widow Edith Brown -, "Mamee" Brown as
we called her. Denis Williams had devised a careful study of George Giglioli.
Norman Cameron was there twice in his own account of his adventures
in the field of Culture and Joycelyne Loncke had done a booklet on Norman
Cameron, the man and his work. Writers were well represented, we may say
Edgar Mittelholzer, Walter McLawrence, A. J. Seymour, and Arnold Apple
P. H. Daly was outstanding. He published three collections of biographies
in Stories of the Heroes. These contain valuable data representing considerable
research in newspapers, and this information is little-known although one may
disagree with some value-judgements.
What is the reason behind these and other books not chronicled here?
The history of the lives of individual men and women is intended to give an
artistic and truthful presentation of the individual with a sympathetic under-
standing of his character. We are talking here of the value of existence, about
the worth of an individual and how to measure that worth, the intrinsic good-
ness or value, the excellence and usefulness of the years of living.
In the Guyana situation, we quickly became conscious of the colonial
setting in which many lived their lives. Now that we have attained what we
called political freedom, we give value to the cultural Guyana ground.
Take examples. In 1966, Cheddi Jagan in The West on Trial, devotes
scores of pages to the conditions of his early life and how his father and mother
lived, and then analyses the political and social forces at work as he sees
them. He was searching for political freedom. Edgar Mittelholzer in A Swarthy
Boy sets out his instinctive protest against the social conditions that surrounded
him at home in New Amsterdam, just as he later protested living social con-
ditions in the U.K., and many of his novels depict the determination of charac-
ters who by will-power carve out the framework of their own lives in improved
The lesson behind the biography of Dr. Giglioli by Denis Williams is
that a scientifically trained personality based on European norms had to
investigate the scourge of malaria in his tropical environment, and so Guyana
gains with the eradication of disease by DDT. Take Ayube Edun. He wrote
London's Heart Probe and Britain's Destiny 1928 as the expression of his personal
philosophy and so criticised social life in London the Royal Family, the
Stock Exchange and the British working class. He used the selfless services
rendered in India as a base and a hope and condemned the rottenness of the
whole British structure. You see here the will-power with which he fought
for the improvement of East Indian estate workers as a trade unionist.
Or just take the accidents of immigration, Richard D. Nurse was born in
Barbados as the youngest of a family of eighteen children. Apprenticed as a
carpenter to his father, he came to Br. Guiana in 1880, served under the
most able and efficient contractors and went on to become a contractor in his
own right. He built the B.G. Mutual Fire Insurance Buildings in 1894, Bourda
Market in 1903, the National Liby in 1909 and Wieting and Richter Ice
Factory in the same year.
E. Rupert Burrowes was born in Barbados in 1903 but spent his whole
life in B.G. and became the father of the modern art movement in this country.
We talk about Barbados. From Antigua now. In 1878 a N.C.O. of
Police named George Potter came to Demerara with his three young sons from
the island of Antigua. One became a Minister of religion, Rev. George Potter,
and in the second generation, we find those stalwarts of Guyanese intellectual
and educational life J. C. La T. Potter, E. A. Q. Potter and R. C. G.
Potter as the N.C.O.'s grandsons. There is a cultural ground to all this. The
heroes of Guianese society have been up to now the Colonial masters, Governor
this and Chief Secretary or Chief Justice that. Then there have been some
12 to 20 English families, which have dominated Guianese life in the 19th
century the Austins, the Bayleys, the Campbells, the Davsons, the Kings,
the Langs, the Macnies, the Seafords, the Smeliies and others.
What we must remember here is that a first generation Englishman comes
out to Guiana. He settles down, sends his son to school in England and then
brings him back to live and work here, but at a high Executive level. Some of
these 2nd generation sons may consider themselves Guianese; they make a con-
tribution to our country's future. We have to consider them. Against that group
are the up-to-now unmentioned and forgotten contributions of black and col-
oured Guianese who did not start high up the executive ladder, who did not
have the education or the opportunities, but who by sheer persistence and will-
power sometimes learning the language of the white contemporaries have in-
deed made a contribution to the present national heritage.
It is well to be conscious of this trend. Sometimes there is no record,
or little record, of the contributions of what would have been considered
as the important Guianese who was born black and often lower class. The editors
of the day would have ignored them, so the faceless and unknown are many.
In fact it is only in these more recent generations that the black Guyanese
themselves begin to record their contributions. Many worthies of the past
suffered in this way and are unknown today.
Take Alyce Fraser Denny. Legend says she possessed a remarkable
voice. Quite by accident, I read that in 1929/1930, or 1931/2 when in England
there was a coming together of all the Wesleyan and Methodist religious so-
cieties, Madame Alyce Fraser Denny was invited to sing as a Guianese in the
Albert Hall at a concert to mark the occasion. This would be a great honour.
What did she sing? Where else is this recorded?
There is another problem which has arisen. In the colonial days, what-
ever the Establishment did was right. When you thought of Cuffee as a rebel
fighting against Baron Von Huggenheim, the Governor of Berbice, in 1763.
you said the Governor automatically was right and the slave was wrong. This
is how the historybooks have been written. Today with independence, and
the desire to catalogue all the native and indigenous movements towards free-
dom as good, Cuffy was declared the hero Von Huggenheim is considered the
villain. Do we revise the history books to show the new attitude? This is done
in some countries, e.g. Japan. With the Enmore Martyrs, you see the trend.
The names of the five Martyrs are recorded with pride and the colonial police
are said to have committed murder, and annually marches and speeches
celebrate the deaths of these sugar workers.
Does this mean that the history books have to be rewritten for today's
children? We speak in a small local environment, but UNESCO has had to
consider the re-writing of the history books of the world in places like Ger-
many England and France, and in Japan. How does one minimize the dropping
of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima dropped by European people on Asiatic
peoples? The issue here is that every national culture is to be considered as
important as every other, say Guyana as compared with the United Kingdom,
and it is the duty of the state or national conscience to provide the material for
It will be very evident that the practice of biography, and therefore of
autobiography, becomes very important as a means of creating the material
on which the national pride of Guyana may be built and to redress the neglect
of decades and even centuries. Take our contemporary world of the Caribbean.
In giving lectures to some groups of teachers, I have got the impression that
for some of them life began only in 1966. They have no appreciation of the
social forces at work in Guyana in the 1930s and the 1940s; the suspension of
the Guyana Constitution in 1953 is not clearly understood and the trends and
direction of the constitutions under which life in Guyana has been lived are
One difference between a developed country and a developing country is
that in the developed country anyone will have access to the memoirs of the
leaders of the previous generation and therefore form in his mind slowly-
shaping criteria of judgment by which to evaluate what is being done and
said by the leaders of today. They tell us that every man, every woman, has
in him or her at least one book, the story of the individual life.
What I'm saying is that more and more Guyanese should write the
story of their lives to provide the web of social memory upon which the real
identity of the young developing nation may be built. There is a surprising
interest in the writing of memoirs today, and many persons say they are thinking
of doing so. I give you an example. Arthur Davis of Sash Window fame, had
lost his wife after many years of married life happily together. We met in
one of the corridors of Bourda Market and we talked, and partly as a result
he began to write his life story. Now that his autobiography has been com-
pleted, everyone who reads it is strengthened in a mental way. Walter Rodney
in his two books on Guyana, Sugar Plantations in the 1989's and the
History of the Guyanese working Class 1880-1995 has shed a torch light of
great illumination on the last twenty years of the 19th century and the begin-
nings of the Ninteen hundreds. These give us our history which we didn't know
and build our national pride. We are intensely interested in learning more
and more of our past nation builders.
I've talked to you about the practice of biography, told you how it
happened in my case, and some of the reasons why a life story is written. Lightly
I've touched upon the psychological difficulties, the way this type of writing
suddenly flowered with the Renaissance when modern man evolved from medie-
val man, lingered on the edge of the unconscious and looked at some of the
examples from the Guyana scene. Of course, biography is social history as
well as self memorising and in Guyana and the Caribbean our social history
is rather thin. One question is who have built the nation? and what insights
have they passed on to us?
There is a project being planned and executed, A Dictionary of Guyanese
Every Fifth Former in a Secondary School in Guyana should be able to
pick up a small reference book with the biographies in brief of 200 persons
who are safely dead and who have made a notable contribution and helped
to build the modern Guyana. For example, when you hear the name Edgar
Duke as a model of scholastic excellence, or Robert Victor Evan Wong, as a
promoter of wood pulp or Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, you should be able to
check this Dictionary and find in two or three paragraphs what is the worth
of the individual's contribution to the national scene. Where have the spiritual
and intellectual forces of creativity been most at work in the Guyana national
scene the creativity that was responsible for the B.G. Union of Cultural
Clubs 1943-1950, creating a vision of the intellectual capital of Georgetown
life, the B.G. Dramatic Society for 18 years stressing the valuable in Indian
Cultural heritage in the man, the Macusi Bichiwung who was responsible for
starting the Hallelujah religion for James McFarlane Corry who, from
1904-1924 as President of the Village Chairman's Conference, and year after
year led innovative and forward-looking debates on the future of rural
dwellers, for the ingenuity of John Bradshaw Sharples who built all the rail-
way stations and bridges between Georgetown and Rosignal and Vreed-en-hoop
and Greenwich Park for $85,000 in 3 years.
What we're talking about here is the angle of vision, the need for this
particular age to gain whatever facts are available of the faceless anonymous
of the past, and to interpret them and their record into a basis of hope and
discernment of the future emerging from the past. It is to some extent an
impossible task. James Rodway went through the newspapers available for
more than ten years to write his The Story of Georgetown. Those newspapers
have gone up in accidental flames or perished by culpable neglect. All we have
now is Rodway's Story. A. R. F. Webber wrote a newspaper history of British
Guiana in 1931, writing the text almost year by year. Now the newspapers have
gone and his History remains. What is important always is that we in Guyana
should concentrate our attention on this aspect of our social history. We need
to do two things to read the network of biography in Guyana more con-
sciously and make an attempt of possession of it, and also, those of us who can,
should consider writing the book that lies within each one of us and so
add to the national biographical heritage.
THE PENGUIN BOOK OF CARIBBEAN VERSE IN ENGLISH
edited by PAULA BURNETT
To say it right away and briefly, this is a marvellous book. No one inter-
ested in West Indian writing, and I go so far as to say that no West Indian with
any feeling for our literature and culture, should be without this book in his or
her library. There are many lovely anthologies the recent "Caribbean Poetry
Now" edited by Stewart Brown, and "Facing the Sea", edited by Anne Walmsley,
spring to mind but surely this is the most comprehensive and best anthology
of Caribbean poetry in English there has yet been. Not the least of its merits are
the excellent, mind-nourishing Introduction by Paula Burnett and the succinct, in-
teresting, useful biographical notes. The Introduction by itself is a pleasure to
read, written with great lucidity, full of invaluable historical information and
analysis, and spurring one continually into new and fascinating avenues of ideas.
Of course there must be quibbles. What anthology in history has not been
quibbled over? Every single person who gets an anthology, the first thing he does
is lament what has been left out. It will be so with this anthology too. Personally
I am sad that there is nothing here of Cecil Herbert or Owen Campbell or H. A.
Vaughn or Harold Telemaque or Milton Williams. I would have liked to see more
of Pamela Mordecai. I missed Eric Roach's "Homestead" and "To My Mother"
without which, for me, any Caribbean anthology lacks something. In the case of
the major poets Derek Walcott, Eddie Brathwaite, Martin Carter, Mervyn
Morris you always think of pieces that you would have dearly wished to see
included. I think Wordsworth McAndrew deserved a place his "01' Higue",
especially as performed, is a wonderful example of the oral tradition in Carib-
bean poetry. Guyanese poets like Mahadai Das, Shana Yardan, and Rooplall
Monar would have been worthy of places and would have strengthened represen-
tation of the East Indian strain in our poetry, as indeed would the inclusion of
one or two East Indian folk songs in the oral tradition section.
But when all is said and done, these really are quibbles. If Paula Burnett had
had twice the 370 pages she had at her disposal still she could not have got in
more than an inkling of what is valuable, such is the richness that belongs to
Caribbean poetry now. And, to more than offset any personal quibbles, there
were any number of discoveries, new to me. Horatia Nelson Huggins's "Hiroona"
was a completely unexpected revelation. James Berry's poems, to my shame, I
did not know before this anthology. Individual poems like Frederick D'Aguiar's
"Letter from Mama Dot" and Dennis Scott's "Grampa" and "Epitaph" and Louis
Simpson's "Jamaica" and John Agard's "Pan Recipe" and many others I had not
seen before and already love. And, above all, the whole section with the oral
poets, and Paula Burnett's examination of the oral tradition in our poetry, gave
at least this reader invaluable new insights into what is and what is not Carib-
Blurbs, of course, are not to be trusted but it may have a special signifi-
cance that the one on the back cover of this anthology highlights the vigour of oral
tradition in Caribbean poetry "performance poets, dub and newspaper poets,
singer-songwriters Louise Bennett, Michael Smith or Bob Marley (w-P)
have created a genuinely popular art form, a poetry heard by audiences all over
the world." Even Edward Brathwaite and Derek Walcott are mentioned in the
context of their "exploring ways of capturing the vitality of the spoken word on
the page." I think this advertisement for understandable commercial reasons
- does some injustice to the book which remains at its heart a marvellous an-
thology of the rich "literary tradition" in Caribbean poetry. Yet I do not doubt
that the emphasis on the oral says something valid about this collection. I do not
know of any other anthology that brings in "oral" poetry as comprehensively and
as such an essential part of the tradition of poetry composition. This is surely an
important departure and it will be difficult for future anthologists Caribbean
certainly but perhaps others too to abandon the idea. "In the last 15 years",
Paula Burnett writes "a whole new cultural phenomenon has developed in re-
sponse to modern technology, which has finally broken the old association of
the vernacular with comedy, and is, in fact, a remarkable re-invention of an
ancient tradition". Her analysis of the emergence and blossoming of this "new"
kind of poetry is fascinating and vital.
Of course, the danger is that one may go overboard in describing all kinds
of calypsoes, performance songs, and acted words as "poetry". How much of Bob
Dylan is poetry? The Beatles? Neil Diamond? Kitch and the Mighty Sparrow?
Yellow Man? Folk songs? Work chants? All or none? Presumably some, but
how to decide the some? Is it a purely subjective feeling "this is poetry"? Or
can there be more objective criteria? I for one in this anthology, for instance,
accept without any misgivings at all that the Dancing Songs recorded by J. B.
Moreton in Jamaica in 1973, "My Deery Honey", Louise Bennett's work, "Get
To Hell Out of Here" by Sparrow, "Guyana Not Ghana" by Marc Matthews,
"Wukhand" by Paul Keens-Douglas, to name a few, are all poetry by any defini-
tion you may care to use and can never again, therefore, be left out of considera-
tion when such anthologies are being compiled in future. Some other oral pieces
I am not so sure about but then is one so sure that all the thousand and one
"poems" that jostle for inclusion in the literary tradition are themselves true
poems? All in all the reading of this anthology has set me off on a search for
poetry in the work of song composers, calypsonians, and dubpoets in Guyana -
in the folk songs of which country I already know there is so much of the feel
and music of real poetry.
Before concluding I cannot resist a small diversion which may be worth
a footnote in any future edition of this wonder-full and valuable anthology. In it
three poems by a Donald McDonald appear. The biographical note on Donald
McDonald states simply: "Born Antigua. All that is known of McDonald is his
volume of First World War verse, for which the proceeds were to go to the West
India Committee Contingent Fund. Verse, rather than poetry, it is none the less
competent, and typical of the period." Donald McDonald was my great-uncle,
the eldest of 5 brothers prominent in Antiguan life at the time, one of whom was
my grandfather, Dr. William McDonald, still to this day affectionately remem-
bered as "the children's doctor" by many Antiguans. For years I had heard from
my father of Donald McDonald's "Songs of an Islander" but no one in the family
had a copy. Now, through Paula Burnett, I have been able to trace a copy in the
library of the Royal Commonwealth Society to my great delight.
Donald Mc Donald's story is a sad one. His only son, Ian, in his teen became
air hero of the First World War with 22 victories fighting in the fledgling Royal
Air Force. After the War was over he came back to Antigua but grew restless and
soon returned to service in the R.A.F. He was killed in action during an operation
in Mesopotamia, still aged only 21. His death completely broke my great-uncle's
McDonald's story is a sad one. His only son, Ian, in his teens became an air hero
of the First World War with 22 victories fighting in the fledgling Royal Air Force.
After the War was over he came back to Antigua but grew restless and soon re-
turned to service in the R.A.F. He was killed in action during an operation in
Mesopotamia, still aged only 21. His death completely broke my great -uncle's
life. His business, McDonald and Company in St. John's, collapsed and he had
to sell out for a song. Soon after he died. Donald McDonald's young brother, my
grandfather, married Hilda Edwards who also by coincidence wrote poetry. In her
life she published three short volumes of poems, some of which, I am certain,
will find a place whenever early West Indian writing is being considered. Both
sides of my father's family, therefore, contributed in a new generation to my own
sprig of poetry. One of the side pleasures for me in reading Paula Burnett's lovely,
stimulating book was to find my great-uncle's poems, which I had never seen,
and to be reminded of the ancestral roots of my own great love of poetry.
"HE AND SHE"
MARC MATTHEWS and ZENA PUDDY.
Here in London we often hear Caribbean language used in drama and
performance to stereotype or caricature Caribbean people, even with the best
intentions. A rare exception to this was He and She with Marc Matthews and
Zena Puddy as the principal performers.
Their choice of material was exciting. It gave full scope to both per-
formers with their obvious love for the material. These were pieces which
plunged us uncompromisingly into harsh settings. These were Roger Mais'
Yard Chorus, Zena Puddy's Rape, Frank Collymore's Ballad of an Old Wo-
man, Bruce St. John's Letter to England, and a long extract from Earl Love-
lace's The Dragon Can't Dance. Then there were pieces which portrayed
the kinds of response which Caribbean people make to this reality: defiance
and revolt in Bob Marley's Redemption Song and Martin Carter's I Come
From The Nigger Yard and Letter I; longing for escape into spiritual consola-
tion in Zena Puddy's hymnal songs; grief at suffering in Paul Keens-Douglas's
Coconut and Frank Collymore's Ballad Of An Old Woman; affirmative and
positive embracing of innocence as symbolised by the landscape in Kamal
Matthews' Six O'Clock Feeling and as symbolised by childhood in Marc
Matthews' Jumbie Picnic; and a sarddonic note decrying ignorance of Carib-
bean history in Andrew Salkey's Into History Now. Mighty Spoiler's Medley
was a sparkling comment on Caribbean word language dexterity as anarchy
against the English language.
Both performers gave all this material passionate interpretation as well
as controlled structure. The first came from inspired acting underlined in the
case of Marc Matthews by the depth and quality of his experience. His acting
history is tied up with the genesis of the Dem Two and Me One shows which he
and Ken Corsbie initiated in Guyana in the 70's. It was a historic moment when
Caribbean theatre and literature were united. Much of Caribbean literature owes
a debt to its oral roots in creolese but flowered as a phenomenon of printing.
The appearance of the literature on the Dem Two and Me One stage put
it in its proper context Both Ken Corsbie and Marc Matthews worked hard at
these shows, touring the Caribbean and developing their skill at using regional
accents which was unprecedented in Caribbean theatre. Through their work, the
work of Caribbean writers, the Caribbean language itself, was carried to the
people and opened up the possibilities for using it in schools through to univer-
I could not help but see He and She as the latest stage in the genesis of
the first Dem Two shows so many years ago. It bore the stamp of innovations
of that time, innovations now matured into mastery and control.
So much expense usually goes into creating Caribbean settings of poverty
here a contradiction which usually defeats the performance. A minimal set
and imaginative use of space, slides and shadow-acting backed up the performers.
Wooden panels used for entrances and exits conveyed movement, passing of time
and interiors and exteriors. The effect of having the audience listen to creolese
emanate from behind the panels (and the screen) created the sense of over-
hearing the Caribbean at a great distance. It provided an extra charge of realism.
Hillside villages, market scenes, tenement yards, interior domestic scenes, wide
open spaces in various hues of natural light and dark, back yards with fruit
trees, verandahs and landings all these unfolded vividly with only the help
of an empty crate or two, chairs, and a clothes line which could be taken down
or put up as required. Overall, these simple but imaginative techniques framed
He and She with a sense of space as historical (for focusing the political and
social realities) as well as timeless (for expressing emotions and spirit).
A special mention has to be made of Zena Puddy's interpretation of I Come
From the Nigger Yard. It is usually taken as written for a male voice. Marc
Matthews has given a very original musical interpretation to it, turning it into
a passionate male/female duet with musical backing. Zena gave a fine woman's
solo interpretation of it. Continuing experiments with oral interpretations of
Caribbean poetry, prose, plays and calypsoes give endless scope for individual
by JOY BLAND
With the 500th anniversary of Columbus' making contact with the New
World a mere 4 years away, there is a general resurgence of interest in the
indigenous peoples and cultures of the Americas. Ms. Bland's WOODSKIN,
an illustrated story for children, is a welcome addition to the literature avail-
In the book, the focus of the historic contact shifts to the Arawaks and
the action which is described is filtered through the perception of two young
protagonists, Wakuyando and her brother, Tandie. The author adds the element
of reincarnation, suggesting that Wakuyando and Tandie have been reborn in
the persons of Yolande and Andy, contemporary Barbadian children, whose
story forms the beginning and ending of the book. This is a clever device since
it helps to link the story to the present as well as sustain the interest of young
In the course of the narration a tale of the shock and disbelief ex-
perienced by a small Arawak community on first hearing the news and having
to come to terms with the coming of Europeans to their island world many
items and customs of aboriginal culture are introduced and described : Wakuy-
ando is named after the red-breast bird, cassava is carried home from the farm
in woven backpacks called warishis and later made into cassava bread, Tandie
uses a siba to make his first rock painting, and so on.
The author casually introduces the concept of the sexual division of
labour which still holds true for surviving indigenous peoples. It is Wakuyando
who collects firewood and helps with the cooking and serving of food while her
mother goes to the farm and tends the fires that burn all night beneath her
family's hammocks. A boy's responsibilities, on the other hand, are less mono-
tonous: Tandie goes on hunting trips with the men, he gets to talk to the
stranger who comes to their shores and can learn from him the art of making
rock pictures. "Picture making is not for girls", Tandie retorts when his sister
offers to help.
The confusion of these first inhabitants when they learn of the marauding
expeditions of the Europeans is eloquently mirrored in Yando's reaction to her
brother's warning : "But we do not hide from visitors ... we welcome them and
offer them food and drink". The old leader of the village, the cacique Semchedi,
correctly predicts that things will never be the same again : "I see trouble ..
I see changes. This is the end of our peaceful life here".
WOODSKIN is a very evocative title for a book of this kind though it is
doubtful whether Arawakan tribes ever made these fragile craft. Fashioned from
the bark of the purpleheart tree, they are only suitable for travel in calm waters.
In Guyana woodskins are only made by the Akawaio tribe of the Upper Maza-
runi area though some will find their way into other native communities as a
result of inter-tribe trade. So that when Ms. Bland puts the following words in
the mouths of her characters, she seems to be indulging in a bit of poetic licence:
"They must have made boats", objected Andy. "How would they have
got to these islands?"
"Right again," his father agreed. "They became expert makers of small
boats called woodskins. They made them from he bark of tall, straight trees.
They also made larger ones sometimes, but knew nothing of engines, and not
much about sails." (p. 4)
That caveat aside, WOODSKIN is nicely illustrated and contains many
elements that will appeal to youthful readers. In common with many stories for
children, it also tells of a journey into the unknown which the children, along
with some members of the tribe, will have to embark on in defiance of the
cacique, Semchedi, in order to save their lives.
Ms. Bland is to be congratulated for having written a story which manages
to be both didactic and enjoyable and in which the first inhabitants of the
Caribbean take pride of place.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION IN GUYANA
by ELMA E. SEYMOUR
In 1947 Elma Seymour resigned from the staff of St. James-the-Less School
in Kitty and turned the living room of her home into The Kindergarten which
she then ran successfully for 15 years. Her account of her experiences as pri-
mary school teacher first and then head of her own school as well as the re-
collections of her own early schooling during the first two decades of this cen-
tury make her book a charming reading experience. But EARLY CHILDHOOD
EDUCATION IN GUYANA is not merely anecdotal. Slim though this booklet
is, it relates a small but important part of the history of education during a time
when private, denominational and government schools co-existed in Guyana.
Elma Seymour's book also chronicles the role played by "coloured Guy-
anese women teachers and to the nuns, often foreign-born, who devoted years of
their lives to the task of educating young minds. There is Sister Teresa of Santa
Rosa Mission in the North West District who worked among Amerindian child-
ren, the Sisters of Mercy at Carmel R.C. School in Charlestown and Sister Emma
and her co-workers who set up and ran the prestigious Convent of the Good
Shepherd School in Queenstown. In Mrs. Seymour's words:
It is sad to record that after almost 30 years of successful leadership in the
field of primary education the Sisters had to hand over the school to the Gov-
ernment without any word of commendation from them for the work in teach-
ing and the building of standards educatioaally, spiritually and morally in the
lives of the children they served so lovingly and faithfully.
Elma Seymour's book also chronicles the role played "coloured Guy-
anese young ladies (light skinned people)" in setting up private Kindergartens
for upper middle class children in the 1940's. At the same time she names many
of their poorer sisters, often "uncertificated", who built up the denominational
primary schools which catered to working class children of all races. Elma
Seymour also documents the work of Mrs. Josephine Selman-Fraser and the
Guyana Voluntary Workers Association:
Mrs. Fraser saw the need, and very often the plight of mothers in the lower
income group with children and no one to care for them, so in the interest
of helping these mothers, most of them working mothers and very often
unmarried, she spear-headed the committee of the Guyana Voluntary Workers,
and founded in 1942 the Nursery School attached to the Creche.
Certainly there seemed to exist a strong civic sense, one might even say a
moral force, operating in Guyanese society in the post World War II period.
Elma Seymour talks of "the advent of Dz. Giglioli", a phrase certainly not too
dramatic to describe his impact on the malaria-infested coastlands and interior
of Guyana. Elsewhere she describes the Government's Breakfast Centre on St.
Philip's Green where hot meals were served to school children for 2 cents daily
or free "for those so recommended" by the nuns. Later when she was trans-
ferred to St. James-the-Less, Elma Seymour herself was instrumental in organis-
ing a similar soup kitchen for malnourished children. Even later at The Kinder-
garten, the one annual feature of her school was to have a Children's Concert
to raise funds to help needy children.
The vignettes presented of children from the poorest homes are memor-
able. In teaching the concept of subtraction, at St. James-the-Less school ". we
found that some of the brighter East Indian boys and girls who attended school
barefoot, had developed the habits of using their toes as well as their fingers, for
arriving at the answers, and this actually gave them an advantage over pupils
who wore shoes" or again at this school:
"The children who came from the nearby rural areas, were very often
suffering from malaria, especially the East Indians. They brought their lunch
to school in saucepans and would eat it at the lunch break, wash their sauce-
pans and await the afternoon session. Sometimes many of these children would
be taken with fever and ague and there would be quinine to be administered
to them; and they often had only a bare bench and desk to lie on until they
felt better to return home. There was no transportation for these children;
they had to walk to school and back home again in the afternoon; but be-
cause they were early risers they were generally on time for school."
As Elma Seymour feelingly declares two paragraphs later: "It was a
blessing for these children when the School's Medical Service came into being
and the school was visited regularly by a team of nurses headed by Dr. C. C.
Nicholson, Schools Medical Officer. Their teeth were also examined for cavities
and their general health assessed".
Were this book to be widely read in Guyana, I am sure it would evoke
many nostalgic memories from old and young alike. It is a pity that Elma Sey-
mour does not often bother to put in the dates of her own schooling and so
on but one can generally work such details out. Again, an insertion of little
details would have helped those readers who are not Guyanese and who may
not know the distance Father Salmon covered when he rode his bicycle from
Plaisance on his inspection visits at the Kitty School.
The dedication and discipline of school marms and masters alike which
Elma Seymour describes in this bcok have all but disappeared from Guyana.
So, too, have her charges. Her book closes with a Directory of 29 former pupils
of the Kindergarten : of these only 6 were resident in Guyana in 1982. The
others have joined the Guyanese diaspora. As Elma Seymour says of her
charges : "These children are filling today very responsible positions in higher
echelons of the Society in the countries in which they find themselves."
FRIENDS OF KYK-OVER-AL
A great many individuals and organizations have contributed to the
successful re-launching of Kyk-Over-AI. We owe a special debt of gratitude to
the following for their support of this issue of the magazine :
Guyana Refrigerators Limited
Guyana Stores Limited
Bauxite Industry Development Com-
Guyana Rice Milling and Marketing
Shell Antilles and Guianas Limited
SUBSCRIPTIONS AND CONTRIBUTIONS
The cost of printing and distributing a literary magazine is very heavy.
Please help us to keep Kyk-over-Al going by sending your annual subscriptions
(two issues) to either of the Joint Editors as follows :
A. J. Seymour,
23 North Road,
Tel. No. 63170
OR Ian McDonald,
22, Church Street,
Tel. No. 67329
In England please apply to:
F. H. Thomasson,
Deeping St. Nicholas,
Lincolnshire PE11 3ET.
Tel. No. (0775 88) 404
Annual subscription rates: G$40 (including
postage), 10 (including postage).
postage), EC$32 (including
The Editors of Kyk-over-Al would welcome the submission of poems, short
stories, articles and reviews to consider for publication. Publication of course
cannot be guaranteed and because of expense it will not be possible to return
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