FRIENDS OF KYK-OVER-AL
A great many individuals and organizations have contributed to the suc-
ces of Kyk-Over-Al since it was relaunched in December, 1984. We owe
a very special debt of appreciation to the following for their support of
issue No. 39. Their vigorous assistance so readily offered in strengthen-
ing an important part of Guyana's cultural tradition deserves the thanks
of the whole community.
Associated Industries Limited
Bank of Nova Scotia
Bauxite Industry Development Company
Brass Aluminium and Cast Iron Foundry
C. Czarnikow Inc. (New York)
C.K Newbridge (Guyana)
T. Geddes Grant
Guyana Liquor Corporation'
Guyana National Cooperative Bank
Guyana National Trading Corporation
Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation
Guyana Stores Limited
Guyana Sugar Corporation
Guyana and Trinidad Mutual Fire Insurance
Hand-in-Hand Mutual Fire Insurance
Laparkan (Agent for Canon Copiers and Fax Machines)
National Bank of Industry and Commerce
Shell Antilles and Guianas
Sir Shridath Ramphal (Commonwealth Secretary General)
The cost of printing and distributing a literary magazine is very heavy.
Please help us to strengthen Kyk-Over-Al by sending your subscriptions to
IAN McDONALD, c/o GUYSUCO, 22 Church Street, Georgetown, Guyana.
In the U.K. please apply to:
F.H. THOMASSON, 9 Webster Close, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 4NJ.
Subscriptions per issue (including postage):
G$50 EC$15 4 US$7
The Editors 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 manu-
scripts. Submissions may be accompanied by illustrations and photographs
of authors, suitable for black-and-white reproduction.
Copyright 1988. No reproduction by ny means, except for short
extracts for review purposes, without permission of the Editors.
KYK 39 Edited by A.J. Seymour and lan McDonald
TABLE OF C
Looking at the River
Incident past Midnight, Bucksands
Lost and Found
Three Drawings by Stanley Greaves
Extract from the Novel
The Story of Amalivaca.
Reflections on the
Art of Stanley Greaves
Music in Portuguese Life
in British Guiana
Language and Identity in the
Poetry of Martin Carter
Extract from an Interview
with Wilson Harris
"The Arkansas Testament"
by Derek Walcott
"A Shapely Fire. Changing the Literary
Landscape" Ed. Cyril Dabydeen
CGray / 11
Vibart lan Duncan 15
Vibart Ian Duncan 16
McDonald Dash 17
Cyril Dabydeen 19
Ian McDonald 20
Ian McDonald 21
Gloria Escoffery 22
Sr. M. Noel Menezes
ACROSS THE EDITOR'S DESK
The last two issues of Kyk, Nos. 37 and 38, and this issue, No. 39, were
designed and typeset by Demerara Publishers Limited. This involvement
with that new Company marks a significant stage in the life of the magazine.
In recent years there has been a sad decline in book-publishing in
Guyana. At the same time lack of foreign exchange has cut the supply of
imported books to a trickle. The resulting readers' drought has coincided
with the coming of Television. Guyana is well on its way to becoming a
nation where the young will have no taste for books. The impact on literacy
and educational standards is apparent and the situation is worsening.
Those concerned must do what they can. A few have formed Demerara
Publishers as a non-profit foundation.
The Company was formed at the end of 1987 to undertake "Desk-top
Publishing" in Guyana. It is dedicated to producing and publishing maga-
zines and books (reprints and original work) in Guyana which will be useful
in education and which will make a contribution to the history, culture, and
literature of the country.
In twelve months progress has been made, considerably assisted by a
grant of Can$50,000 from the Canadian Government. Demerara Publishers
has helped in the reprinting of Peter Ruhomon's classic Centenary History
of East Indians in British Guiana, has assisted in producing the last 3 issues
of Kyk-Over-Al, and has played a part in the publication of half-a-dozen
other publications. Major projects now include the publication of Martin
Carter's Selected Poems and A.J.Seymour's Collected Poems, the produc-
tion of a History of the Chinese in Guyana, producing a new magazine for
creative talent in the oral tradition to be called Survival and a magazine for
children, and publishing a volume of Sir Sridath Ramphal's speeches.
Indeed, the danger already is that the submission of valuable material will
Kyk-Over-Al is pleased to be part of this vigorous effort to renew the
availability of good books and magazines in Guyana.
The Saving of Books
It isn't only in Guyana that book-reading is in danger. George Steiner,
an outstanding American intellectual, and Joseph Brodsky, winner of the
1987 Nobel Prize for literature, have both made speeches recently warning
of the death of books. In many cultures, Steiner points out, the reading of
books is neither natural nor native. A lot of the old impulse to write books
came from a thirst for immortality which is now felt to be "not only elitist
but simply embarrassing". Joseph Brodsky agrees, saying that holding a
book in one's hand is a little like fondling an urn already rustling with
Books, Steiner says, need the sort of private space and silence which is
hardly available any longer. Some 85% of American-adolescents "can no
longer take in a printed page if their act of reading does not have an
accompanying background of electronic noise". Steiner fears that people
may revert to listening to words while looking merely at pictures. "The
book today," he says, "is antiquarian, as luxurious an instrument as was the
illuminated manuscript after Gutenberg".
Joseph Brodsky feels that books have simply become too many. Read-
ing them takes too much time. The answer, he suggests, is to abandon prose
and concentrate on poetry which not only teaches "the value of each word"
but, above all, "develops in prose that appetite for metapysics that distin-
guishes a work of art from mere belles lettres". What the modem reader
should do, if his confidence in books is flagging, is to read all the available
works of major poetry in his own language in the last century. Within a few
months the reader's literary taste will be "in great shape".
The cure George Steiner offers for the reading sickness is much the
same. He tells the story of Erasmus, who, "walking home on a foul night,
glimpsed a tiny fragment of print in the mire. He bent down, seized it and
lifted it to a flickering light with a cry of thankful joy. Here was a miracle "
Steiner hopes that a return of "that sense of the miraculous in the fact of a
demanding text"-the virtue, above all, of poetry-may, in the end, be the
saving of books.
The Sandberry Press in Jamaica
We are extremely pleased to note the establishment of the Sandberry
Press in Jamaica. This new press has announced the first three titles in its
Caribbean Poetry Series:
1. LOGGERHEAD by Gloria Escoffery.
2. A TALE FROM THE RAIN FOREST by Edward Baugh.
3. JOURNEY POEM by Pamela Mordecai.
Orders for these books can be sent to DeBrosse, Redman, Black & Co.,
8 College Close, Kingston 7, Jamaica, West Indies.
We have received a copy of Gloria Escoffery's Loggerhead. Gloria
Escoffery is primarily a painter. However, a number of her poems have
been published in such anthologies as the two Caribbean Voices volumes,
Breaklight, and, more recently, The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse and
Caribbean Poetry Now. She currently contributes a regular and outstand-
ingly perceptive art column to the Jamaica Journal.
Loggerhead is a lovely collection of her very painterly poems-excel-
lently produced by The Sandberry Press. The book is a splendid advertise-
ment for this new and very welcome addition to the Caribbean's publishing
arsenal which needs all the augmenting it can possibly get. Readers of Kyk
and lovers of poetry will, we sincerely hope, buy Sandberry publications as
soon as they appear.
Imagination and Poetry
We have been reading an excellent new biography of Alexander Pope
by Maynard Mack. In the Preface to his magnificent translation of Homer's
Iliad Pope writes that imagination, or "invention", lies at the heart of poetry
and is the distinctive attribute of genius in all fields.
Homer is universally allowed to have had the greatest Inven-
tion of any Writer whatever ... Nor is it a Wonder if he has ever
been acknowledged the greatest of Poets, who most excell'd in
That which is the very Foundation of Poetry. It is the Invention
that in different degrees distinguishes all great Genius's: The
utmost Stretch of Human Study, Learning, and Industry, which
masters every thing besides, can never attain to this. It fur-
nishes Art with all her Materials, and without it Judgment itself
can at best but steal wisely: For Art is only like a prudent
Steward that lives on managing the Riches of Nature. What-
ever Praises may be given to Works of Judgment, there is not
even a single Beauty in them to which the Invention must not
"I Shake Hands With You In My Heart"
Harry Chambers, editor and director of the publishers Peterloo Poets in
England (celebrating the publication of its 100th poetry title on November
29th, 1988), has sent us an article, "Poetry Matters", in which he discusses
the triumphs and tribulations of a publisher of poetry. In a concluding
passage he sets out what he seeks in poetry:
What I am looking for in poetry is "heart-rending sense" the
phrase was coined by Robert Graves-or the "shiver down the
spine" described by A.E.Housman in The Fame and Nature of
Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 1933). These come from
an originality of vision and a freshness of language brought to
bear upon the most important areas of common human expe-
rience. I feel that poetry should make us think more deeply
about our lives and our relationships and that it should often,
in Philip Larkin's memorable words, "nudge us from comfort".
I have a preference for poetry that is in touch with the language
of the age. I expect a good poem to move me. Like A.E.
Housman and Philip Larkin, I feel that poetry is a matter more
of the emotions than the intellect. I have no enthusiasm for too
much cleverness or obscurity, unless it is of the kind that Philip
Larkin (Radio Times, 16th August 1973) called "luminous and
wonder-generating obscurity". I am not keen on the poetry
equivalent of abstract painting, and I must confess to a liking
for poems that are peopled. I think good poems can be
complex, operate on many levels, without being difficult.
Leslie Stephen once wrote something like: "The poet's task is
to move our hearts by revealing his own, and not to display his
learning, or mimic the fine notes of his predecessors ..." Such a
magnificent motto-one that Hardy copied out into his note-
books and that Larkin was fond of quoting-is also good
enough forme. Good poetry should be accessible to all who can
read and have feelings. It should provoke the response of the
Old Domestic Servant who found some of William Barnes's
poems in a pile of books that she was dusting and wrote to him
in 1869: 'Sir, I shook hands with you in my heart, and I laughed
and cried by turns'.
That, we believe, is well said.
This is an interesting publication which helps to meet thegrowing need
for home-based Guyanese writers in all disciplines to develop forums to
express their views and expose their work. There have been two issues of
Offerings to date-the first published in April, 1987, and the second in
November, 1987. The purpose of the magazine is crystallised in the second
issue as follows:
The aspiration is to reflect the plural and multi-cultural con-
cerns of the Guyanese society. However, there will be issues
that will feature academic and literary works specific to an
ethnic or other grouping such as women, professionals, etc.
Others, like the present one, will be more general in focus. As
suggested by the title, it is the intention of OFFERINGS to
provide Guyana with popular literature and simultaneously
offer writers a responsible vehicle for expression.
Among other items, the second issue of Offerings contains poems by the
promising Sasenarine Persaud among others, fiction by Rosetta Khalideen,
an extract from the unpublished novel 'DEAR DEATH', also by Sasenarine
Persaud, and articles by Frank Long on Indigenous Technology, Kampta
Karran on Planning, Iris Sukdeo on Hindu Customs, and Roy Brummell on
Folk Lore. One point to make is that in future greater care should be taken
in binding this magazine. The first two copies of the magazine that we
obtained had some pages bound out of sequence and some are completely
Offerings was founded, and is edited and published, by Kampta
Karran. Enquiries and contributions should be addressed to: Kampta
Karran, Offerings Publication, Belle Vue Pilot Scheme, West Bank Demer-
The Cause of Fiction
With his kind permission we reproduce one of WayneBrown's brilliant
contributions to the Trinidad Express. This article, which appeared on
March 23,1988, rang a number of bells. Its relevance and appropriateness
to writing and writers throughout the West Indies (and further) does not
THE CAUSE OF FICTION
I want to write beautifully, create beautifully, not outside but in this
thing in which lam born, in this place where, in the midst of ugly
towns, cities, Fords, moving pictures, I have always lived, must
always live. I do not want even those old monks at Chartres, building
their Cathedrals, to be at bottom any purer than myself.
One of the small but recurring heartbreaks of writing this column is this.
Regularly over the past five years (has it really been so long?) young writers
have brought their manuscripts to my door for discussion; and to me has
fallen the wearying task of initiating them into some of the facts of life, and
watching their gaze cloud over, as I talk, with all the depressing D's: doubt,
dismay, disappointment, distrust, dislike. Few, so far as I know, have ever
left without at least harbouring the suspicion that I was "trying to make
them feel small." (Well, I was). None, so far as I know, has ever acquiesced
in feeling small enough to actually learn anything-beginning with the
notion of service. Indeed, one recent pilgrim left my house, telling me that
he found my line-by-line patience with his excitable prose "funny", since he
was--he informed me tensely-"a better writer than you."
Well, that's fine.
The surprising thing is not that so much of the work is hopelessly bad,
or just plain illiterate; because it isn't. That at least would leave one free to
toss at them the famous Naipaullian quip ("This is absolutely terrible!
Promise me you'll never write anything again. But listen, you have
beautiful handwriting! Have you ever thought of applyingfor a job as a law
clerk?"). But it isn't like that at all. By now I would lay claim to being
something of an authority on the unpublished, and unpublishable, manu-
scripts of young Trinidad; they constitute among them a kind of eerie,
invisible sub-culture in this loud country; and I hope you'll believe me:
there is more "potential," more "promise" for fiction writing in this country
than any population of a million-plus souls has any right to expect.
And yet, at the end of the day, it just isn't happening.
Thinking about this evoked for me the image of a yacht race that took
place in the Gulf recently. The wind was blowing strongly, but it stopped,
as if blocked by a wall, 100 metres or so from the next mark on the course.
The first boat to sail incontinently through that wall was immediately
becalmed, and sat there, sails disconsolately flapping, with nothing to do
and nowhere to go; and the following boats, recognizing this, turned away
to stay on the wind side of the wall. In this way the stragglers caught up, and
soon there were 25 boats sailing up and down along the perimeter of an
invisible semicircle, at whose centre lay the prized mark none dared
approach-not with the becalmed boat sitting there, sails flapping, like a
scarecrow warning: Come no further. So near and yet so far, you might say;
and that is the heartbreak of young fiction writers in Trinidad.
Why is this?
I don't know. I could trot out a dozen academic explanations, but the
truth is, I don't know.
But I know there is always some corruption: some ambition which is
either ludicrously wide of reality, or otherwise well-intended and sad.
Chief among the first is a kind of fiction within the fiction: the young
author's fantasy that the manuscript scalding his hands is destined to be "a
bestseller". Standing between bestsellerdom, and all that implies (money,
fame, money, reading tours, money, movie rights, money!) is only the small
hurdle of finding a publisher.
Who do these kids think they are, and what country do they think
they're living in? Do they really believe that because they can put on
designer jeans and strut around in "malls" and "pubs", they are part of that
world that deals in bestsellerss," that all they need is to find a publisher? Can
they, by no means talentless, only young, really be so ignorant of the
privilege of our poverty, here, as to not know what fate awaits them? And
what will they do when they find out-stop writing, become a lawyer or a
doctor, sell something?
But you cannot argue with this type; cannot begin to introduce the
notion of service, or service to what. (One character told me insultingly in
conclusion that he hadn't really come for my opinion--only to find out if I
would help him find a publisher for his manuscript which, he was sure,
would be "a bestseller"). One should be inured by now to this kind of thing,
to play-play writers living in a play-play of the mind country. But it's
wearying, nonetheless: the same old iconography of betrayal of the gift,
year by year.
There is another kind of betrayal, one that is subtler, and sadder.
A young woman came to me the other day with a manuscript of stories
she'd written. I read them; and, not for the first time, was surprised and
pleased to see the fiction writer's gift displayed on the page. Her stories
were inexperienced and amateurish; they showed every sign ofhavingbeen
written by someone writing in isolation-someone who has had no contact
with older and better writers then herself. But her prose was literate, even
musical; her imaginative grasp was, most times, sound; and she had
shouldered, most of the time, with uncommon character, the double burden
of responsibility to her society (which means to say, to the suffering and the
poor), and to the muse of fiction, the balanced apprehension of felt life.
Apart from her inexperience, her only fault was an intermittent preachiness.
From time to time, betraying the inviolability of felt life, she stepped from
the shadows where every fiction writer belongs to lecture her audience
directly. But when I pointed this out to her, she baulked.
It was true, she said; too true, too true. But then, she concluded sadly,
maybe she shouldn't write fiction. She felt too strongly about certain issues
to have the patience to integrate and subsume them to the arctic imperatives
of fiction. Maybe she should write discursive prose instead.
Her sincerity was obvious, and it was difficult to tell her that her
attitude, too, was a betrayal. I know she will read this, and I hope she will
listen to me; listen to me!
Do you think that your views matter, any more than the President's, or
the gardener's? Do you think that an eye and an ear and a heart like yours
were placed on earth to discuss the Panday-Robinson nonsense, or women's
lib, or the state of the roads in Maracas Valley? What about your characters,
those people you made, and their right to live, with the grave vivacity of
everyman and everywoman? When you talk about being impatient, don't
you mean opinionated-don't you mean, sometimes, lazy and vain? How
will you, a woman of character, shot through the head with the gift-how
will you serve, not man, but God?
What can I tell you.
I remember once, when I was a kid...I used to take my poems, hot from
the typewriter, and zoom down to Derek Walcott's in Petit Valley. One
time, I remember, I grew impatient with his criticisms, and said something
like, "Ah, well, what the hell; I just write for funf' and then was surprised
(and secretly, cravenly pleased) when he flew into a rage, and weeks later
was still inveighing in print against young writers who "did writing for
fun". So I suppose it's my turn now. But I'm older than he was, and frailer,
and weary to the bone of watching the Muse kicked around, by gifted young
writers in this country, for reasons staunch or puerile. So here's what.
Here are a few quotes. I happen to agree with them.
An author should be more than content if he finds he has made a
difference to a handful of people, forgiven innocent pleasure to a small
company. (A.C. Benson).
It is bad to go out and look at things if you wish to write about them.
You must let them look at you. (Henry Ward Beecher).
Allauthentic writing comesfrom an individual;butafinaljudgement
of it will depend, not on how much individuality it contains, but how
much of common humanity. (John Peale Bishop).
Writing is a dog's life, but the only life worth living. (Gustave
Add to these the quote at the head of this column, and the following
(from myself): "You will never write a bestseller."
Now, then. If you're content withall theabove, you can get in touch, and
we'll look at your hopeful moist and shining words together. If any of the
above dismays you and makes you want to frown, if you're even sublimi-
nally resistant to any of them, do us both a favour. Go join a civil rights
movement or a political party. Go get somebody else to help you find a
publisher for your bestseller. Stay away from this columnist. Leave this
AJS at 75
Ian McDonald writes:
"Among other things, I would like this issue of Kyk-over-Al to be con-
sidered as a small but feverently expressed symbolic gift for AJS who
celebrates his 75th birthday on January 12th, 1989. I had hoped to produce
a book of his Collected Poems for the occasion but the considerable work
involved could not be completed in time. It will be done during 1989. In
delving for the poems AJS has written over nearly 60 years more than 100
unpublished poems by him have beendiscovered. It is a treasure trove to
be sorted and edited and made available for the benefit of all those
interested in the literary history of the Caribbean.
To me AJS isa poet first and foremost, but his overall contribution to the
cultural traditionof Guyana and the Caribbean is truly astonishing. I do not
think the younger writers and academics grasp it fully. The AJS bibliogra-
phy compiled by the National Library in 1974 was already 100 pages long
and since then must easily have doubled in length. This amazing man's
work contains poems, historical publications, reviews, essays, addresses,
entries in anthologies, forewords, lectures, talks, pamphlets, memoirs,
sermons, eulogies, magazine work, and books in such profusion that one
would be excused for thinking this was the record of a school, not one man
He has been honoured, yet he can never be honoured enough. Kyk is
hisbrain-child and the child of his heart. Let this issue stand as a small token
of the love and admiration countless people around the Caribbean and the
world feel for him on his 75th birthday."
Islands described as emerald border
this sea where once before piracy was law.
This basin that the present predators
slit with their fins like periscopes once saw
swift rape of gaping children just as green
with innocence. Their awe they gave as welcome,
but when the reek of blood brought cognisance
of guns to make them glutton's prey their staves
and darts in answer fought the wind like straw.
Yet innocence persists like upturned keels
of boats that will not sink: hearts no less ripe
for pickings and invasions open up
to messages of iron on the waves;
tides bear the doctrine of the sharpened claw
in fresh assaults upon benevolence
and television's magic dupes them with its reels
of El Dorado marked with stars and stripes.
It is the age-old decoy for the poor:
the ship of bounty sailing in to shore
before the after-life which comes to strike
uneven distributions from the score.
Meanwhile they learn to emulate the shark
cruising with avarice at their open door
and turn away from socialistic crap.
You can't eat ideology, he said,
and with one swipe wiped Christ off the map.
Was it for them I drove
that clanking street car
down the years
from its terminal of promise
clattering round bends and covers
with the structure creaking
and the bell clanging danger,
scraping along worn rails
bucking at stops
to pick up passengers?
There were so many times
it jerked me so sharply
jumping off was
the only salvation,
but faith was on red.
Was it for them
I held the course
and paid no attention,
thinking I was the rail
on which their wheels were running,
or did tram lines define
the only kind of courage
that I knew?
Bitter coins paid the fare,
what made myth so sweet
to swallow? Myth was the power
that kept the wheels turning.
I spun it well, but I did not know.
All that I knew was
I could not leave them.
I could not manoeuvre
And she must have looked
like a governor's lady
when they flung champagne at her
long time ago; all polished wood
and brass and delicate white
for the tropics.
But when I first saw her
at the selling at Kumaka
-a raw teenager out for kicks-
she seemed excitingly abused,
had taken her licks
from years of men and sea
with her pride and style intact
-or just sufficiently drained
that she could notice the attentions
of a mere boy like me.
When the storm hit
four hours from Waini Point
she danced as in a fit,
nostalgic for her frolic of the past
when she sparkled with polished brass
and with the wit of those
who journeyed for the fun of it.
she plunged and reared,
taking the breaking wave upon her breast
-flat and hard now, and dun,
but comforting, none the less,
especially to a traveller like me,
still young enough to think
that strong women are the best.
Then, in the grey light before dawn
she slipped quietly into harbour,
breathless, mysterious, a little naughty
--like all the "perfect ladies"
of my adolescent dreams.
The male cousins of the compound
roaming with my brother's air gun,
and tired of holed lizards and guavas
and frail, sad bundles of feathers,
came upon the single, stark
flap of white upon the line:
"IookI Aunty panty!", someone said.
My brother aimed, fired;
the garment flipped
as in a sudden whip
and snapped back-a frayed hole
in the crotch.
"Right in the pussy",
my cousin Eric, laughing, said.
We all took turns
until the thing began to shred
on the line,
and thoughts of consequences
suddenly came to mind.
"Wha' dey going say?"
-"Aw, is only Aunty".
As the thing fell to earth at last
"Only Aunty". "Aunty" was all
we ever called that tall,
relative of my father-who had
returned from some far city of snow and trains
because she was sick--" a sickness
of the brain", my mother had explained.
"What she damn-well need is a man",
We'd heard my father say
above the women's protests,
and I've often thought since
that it was this last "truth"
-repeated and respected among us boys-
that pulled the trigger on that day.
I, as the group's hoarder of secrets,
hid the evidence, but
we were never found out:
poor Aunty went to hospital
and died soon after.
Years later, rummaging for something
amidst old scout scarves
and discarded socks and ties,
I came upon the yellowed shreds;
"Aunty panty", my mind said,
But I prayed for the living,
not the dead.
VIBART IAN DUNCAN
Come tek a walk
inside de playgroun
in meh mind
come tek a walk
in dis playground
of another kind
walk cross da board deh
come tek a walk in dis gutter
le we separate
dem people upstairs talking
tek a walk in dis rubbish bin
le we set up we self
wid some tinnin cup
an some mango seed
le we spill up some gutter water
le we get some wringworm and some latta
tek a walk in dis playgroun
leh we chase a fowl, pelt a dog
come le we play some hide an seek
between de bushes
inside de latrine
come tek a walk inside de playgroun in meh mind
come tek a walk inside dis playgroun of another kind.
VIBART IAN DUNCAN
There is a roach
crawling around in my mind.
There is a rat
Gnawing away at my inside.
There is a mosquito
trying to get blood out of stone.
There is a snake
waiting in the bathroom to poison me with a bite.
There is the shaky step
that will not be repaired.
There is the broken windowpane
that will not be replaced.
There is the dust
for breakfast, lunch, dinner.
There is the stink
of this nightmare.
There is where I live.
And there is the landlord
coming to collect the rent.
LOOKING AT THE RIVER
Brown and passive is the river
Save for gentle lap of water
at greenheart piles at wharves
February sun scorches
Sandbanked and rusted wrecks in the
memorials to the treachery
of tide and turning
Terracotta tanker glides upstream
Stack smoking in silent stillness
grey to meet blue sky
Disappear around the turn of mangroves
Thursday is silent river day
as Orinoc's daughter whispers secrets sinister
Fisherboat hurries out slowly
to Atlantic beds; its human
propellor singleted, sunburnt
River runs silently to sea
Under February noonday sun
I gaze on this scurvy stream
wonder about its secrets
that have eddied over centuries
from headwaters far down in the verdant west
River comes past Wappu and Akyma
The Bell, Spring Garden, Agricola
down to once staid Demerary's
Men of war, muskets, scarlet coats
bloody scarves and corsairs
Dead dogs and little children
all have been in and under
Canvas and cocorite
all coming down down
stone and bauxite coming down
beggars and whores to and from
the upcities and holdings
Catching a queriman
Passing by Borsalen and her sisters
swimming tigers in dead of night
Silent secretive stream and scurvy
lifeline and lifetaker
sister to the Essequib'
and monstrous too in her secrets
Silent stream and still in
No one can conquer you
But you are nature's swollen stream of tears
This is my legacy: sugar, sun and topsoil.
A molasses time surrounding since man's evolution
From sugar-cane--and recoiling.
Hear the agony of twenty million from Africa,
Plantation's frenzy. Whiplash, more sun and rain;
Fevered rhythms in the longing to be free.
The edifices rise higher in London;
Europe's walls have ears. Further whiplash-
Bones rattling in wayward galleys;
Upon Atlantic's waters, foam of blood.
Wilberforce, Canning, Caxton. The English Parliament
Lurching forward. Indentured,
I listen on; I am sucrose too,
In the furrowed fields, breathing in the smell,
Half-cowering, this hour of sun-
Land overturned, ground seething,
My hands still on deck, backs welted,
Groin sweating, this meeting face-to-face
With you, as we are together grounded!
INCIDENT PAST MIDNIGHT, BUCKSANDS
The house silent, lampless,
All close to me sleeping:
Deep in the night, alone
I go down to the edge of river.
It is a black night, velvet, no moon,
Only the stars spread like panned gold.
In the middle of the vast darkness of the river
A batteau passes, paddle-chuckle just heard
And a song comes across the pitchy water,
One man singing, not loud, a clear voice:
"Holy is the wide river,
Song of glory!
Holy is the forest tree,
Hear the glory!
Holy is morning star,
Song of glory!
Holy is the forest tree,
Hear the glory!"
The batteau goes down river slowly,
Slowly the song of the man fades in the darkness.
I think of the huge river flowing to the sea
And the sea curled vast around the earth.
I think of the river coming from the great mountains
Where it begins in small streams full of gold.
I look up at the black sky strewn with the incredible stars
And the bright net they cast on the water too.
At my back the immense forest presses
Heavy with the weight of a continent of trees.
Like a dream that came suddenly
The song drifts to silence on the immense river:
The towering forest falls down towards me:
No one wakes and I know myself alone.
I want to talk, fill up time with noise,
Speak with friends how we live everyday.
Something breaks in me, shakes me utterly:
To light the lamps, to regain the ordinary,
I utter oaths and sing and shout and pray,
Cavort beneath the stars, anything to flee
The measureless absurdity of the glory of the world.
The forest dears, socket of silence
In the huge green shout of trees:
Weather-greyed chapel, box-small, closed,
Dogs snarl and snap on long ropes
Round scarlet-blossomed trees.
My voice ripping the noon-day air
Summons the friar, frail as dried leaves.
Old age stoops him like a crescent,
One eye glass-white, skull clean-boned,
Teeth broken-black, his robe of threadbare blue.
He has never come down river.
There is no greater mystery than any man.
I see the old books I have come to see:
Shelves upon shelves in thousands once,
Latin histories, old maps, testaments and laws,
Thick books of traveller's tales and governments.
They all were brought from Heidelburg and Rome:
"A wild, green place for books,"
He gestures in the lustrous air.
"It seemed a good thing to be done.
I meant to write." He shrugs it off.
The books are crumbling, tumbled out of place,
Worm-holed, rat-eaten, damp-decayed.
They will go soon to dust like men.
I am allowed the old priest's journal:
Ten marvellous notebooks two thousand pages long,
Lined, yellowing paper half-a-century old.
I turn to April eighteenth, nineteen thirty-three:
"Rain fell night-long and in the morning
Gold-billed toucans skimmed the trees".
The last note is five year's back,
No more after. The old man shrugs again.
"To see the moon-blaze in the trees
Perfect itself. A clearer sight of God".
The entries end. The rest is blank.
Dust drifts in the warm, illumined air,
The shuttered room is still. He prays.
LOST AND FOUND
Dream people, places and things.
Dark page of hair bobbing in the wind,
A boy of fourteen or so walks downwind
Studying the ground his eyes do not see.
He does not know I exist.
He strides through the dark pages of my mind,
his long brown hands
In a field where packages of rice
are doled out at the turnstile along with the tickets
there are too many people; some receive no picnic packets.
I hand mine over to a stranger who seems lost
without a handout; and return
to the sweet solitude of my studio.
Now they are hastily assembling new mechanical contrivances
So the minibuses can hold more baskets
and people; everyone is looking for something deposited somewhere.
Will the topheavy buses hurtle off the road
at the usual illfated bend in the mountains?
It is too late to choose
not to take one's seat for the journey.
In this maze of darkened streets
I have mislaid my car again,
forgotten where I parked it,
forgotten the licence number.
Have you seen my straying Lynx Escort
sand coloured and discreet?
Wrong lane, wrong colour, wrong side of street for the hour-
I fear the Manhattan cops have towed it away
never to be seen again.
Driving the car for which I'm searching
I'm frantic for directions:
What is the name of this street?
Does it lead to the exit where I dropped off my driver?
Young man discreet with his wild girls
nameless as a pack of clubs with their trefoiled bars.
Oneway streets with no signs,
turnings with no signs or sighs,
signals more confusing than the twinkling eyes of the plain...
in the ascent
to the top of this wold named Stony Hill;
where one could choose to roll off the edge.
No more persons to question or be questioned by as to
where and wherefore.
The drawing on the facing page, done in pen and ink by Stanley Greaves in the
1960's, was made in response to this poem of C.E.J. Ramcharitar-Lalla:
THE WEEDING GANG
I know the girls are coming,
For I hear the gentle humming
Of choruses they're singing on their way;
I hear their saucepans jingling,
And their cutlasses a-tingling,
Which as their music instruments they play.
They fill the silence after,
With their peals of merry laughter
Which float upon the pinion of the air;
And also ease their walking
With some idle silly talking,
With Kheesaz and boojhowals very queer.
Then once again their singing
They resume, until the ringing
Of their voices mingles with the whistling breeze;
I love to see their faces
With their smiles and subtle graces,
And I love to hear their charming melodies.
Extract from the novel
by ROOPLALL MONAR
Maraj crawled out the old iron-framed bed silently and rushed into
the kitchen, built in front the logie.
His heart thumped as though he had suffered a nervous spasm. He
picked up an enamel cup from the shelf and filled it with water, drawn
from a clay goblet. He drank the water in quick gulps, sat on a low
wooden bench, belched and uttered: "Think me stoopid? Me is a brah-
min. Backdam work is not proper fo me caste. Me have to get one
transfer morning time... have to tell overseer Brown..."
Maraj paced the kitchen now as though he had envisioned a
The big Sugar Factory brass bell had announced One. Factory
grinding cane like mad, Maraj told himself. It was dark outside. Crick-
ets and beetles whirred and hummed outside the long barrack range,
divided into twelve barrack rooms called logies. The wind blew in gusts.
Maraj knew whenever much rain fell the Nigger Yard was quick to be
inundated. Malaria and dysentry created havoc. The place turned
gloomy. Death followed. Maraj hoped it didn't rain much.
Maraj felt suffocated. The logie with its dark musty kitchen threat-
ened to strangle him. An eternal enemy ever since his wife and himself
moved in ten years ago.
"Damn bloody matchstick house," Maraj would curse, scratching
his head as if looking for a solution... to escape this cramped living. "Is
like you in coffin. No place to stretch you hand," Maraj would say at
times, watching at his wife accusingly.
His wife, an orthodox brahmin woman, would smack her tongue
perplexedly, and hustle into the bedroom. She knew Maraj would slap
her if only she answered. But her mouth was strong, the words vibrating
in the logie. Can't allow this man to push he finger in me eye, she would
say whenever Maraj was out, then burst into a Hindi bhajan.
Maraj had a terrible temper. In such moments Maraj's temper
would flare like a lighted dry bush in a cow pasture. He would curse the
Estate, his brahmin caste, and wished he had never been born in this
blood sucking Sugar Plantation where the driver and overseer "think
you is some mule. Kicking you like football about the place," clenching
his fist, and felt like cuffing the logie-walls, buff-buff, as though gripped
by a fever. The fever that made him feel divided. "One foot here. One
foot in India," as the elders said.
He paced the kitchen a few more times, then sat on the low
wooden bench, braced to the wall, dividing the kitchen from the dining
room, and began thinking. He wanted a perfect excuse to give overseer
Brown. An excuse that would warrant him a transfer from the Chop-an-
Plant Gang to another Gang until he worked out another excuse. An-
other transfer until his goal, his true calling in life had been realized. Eh-
eh, is what the use living when you can't find you true self?
"Is been a long time now since me wukkin in this Estate. Every day
me turning like packsawal mango. All juice from me body draining out.
If me don't make a move this time, me going to come like dry bamboo.
Empty inside. And me is a brahmin. High caste Hindu. Me na suppose
to work in canefield. Is why me never take up the pundit work? Is
Ramdass pundit cause it. He alone want be pundit in this Estate. Bad-
minded brahmin bitch. They should put two cent-piece on he eye top
when he drop dead. Is tikkay Ramdass pundit throw blight at me? All
brahmin in this Estate cunning like spider. Heh! You could never trust
them shadow self."
Maraj churned over this self-monologue which had increased in
dimension throughout the years. It was like another person speaking
inside him. A person whom he was unable to quell, specially when he
was alone, sitting between the front door of the logie in the evenings,
Soon after, he would burst out with a Hindi bhajan, sweet like
sugar, people said.
During some nights while lying in bed, pretending to sleep, he felt
this person wanted to come out, out of him like a chicken wriggling out
of an egg. Take formlike a man, and do the things he was unable to do:
cut-ass Ishmael driver and Nauth driver. Twitch overseer Brown balls.
Break Ramdass pundit neck, then ascen4 the Sugar Factory and laugh.
Me is the boss now. Me is the big Manager...heh heh heh, feeling like the
Hindu monkey god, Hanuman, flying over the whiteman's compound, a
lighted torch in his hand. Heh heh heh...
Maraj shook his head twice as if to dismiss the person speaking
inside him, aware now that dogs barked in the Nigger Yard, perhaps
glimpsing the Moon in the western sky. Dawn was on its way. He had
to work out an excuse quickly, join his fat snoring wife in bed, and wake
up early. Excuse in his head. Use me brahmin sense.
He scratched his head, ruffling his sparse hair, caved-in his brain,
struggling, seeing himself a weary traveller trudging up a mountain,
ideas rebounded in his head like canepunts clanging against each other.
Crickets and beetles whirred, buzzed among beezie-beezie, and
blacksage bush outside the logie. Maraj felt they were buzzing inside the
musty kitchen. He wanted to scream, shooing away mosquitoes which
surrounded him in a circle droning an incessant chorus. He wanted to
crush the kiss-me-ass mosquitoes, feeling triumphant. But the killing
sound, mosquitoes crushed on his bare skin, would awaken his wife.
"Like you get jumbie in you head man," his wife would say when
she saw him in the kitchen at this hour in the morning. "Is why you na
see pundit? It every two three night this asura jumbie coming in you
Blasty woman can't understand cent from big jill, Maraj would tell
himself whenever such an encounter had taken place. He couldn't sleep
while the other person in him kept on talking. Sitting alone in the
kitchen, drinking cupfuls of water, scratching his head, he would slowly,
patiently quell the voice in him, putting the person to sleep.
His wife, Marajin, believed an asura, a Hindu evil spirit, haunted
Maraj, especially when Maraj woke-up during midnights, complaining
of terrible nightmares, sweating, eyes glazed.
Stoopid woman! Don't know head from bullfoot, Maraj would say
to himself. If me no break me back in canefield to get money, is how she
going to eat? Is me badluck to get brahmin wife. And is shame and
disgrace fo brahmin wife work in canefield. Chu chu chu... stoopid
woman. She ain't know is me god does talk in me?
Maraj became alert. A fat mosquito droned around his head. He
wanted to trap it. Crushed it. The dank musty smell emanating in the
kitchen invaded his nostrils. He wanted to vomit. The mosquito kept
threatening, buzzing, bent on the kill.
Like you get jumbie in you head man. The words echoed in his
head. He relaxed himself and shooed the mosquito, using his hands.
The excuse, the plan kept developing in his brain. Yes! Yes! He smiled
by himself. The excuse assumed a form. A body. Maraj's twin brother.
Good, he uttered silently, then jumped as if stung by a marabunta. He
He picked up the cup, refilled it with water from the goblet and
drank it as though he had not drank water for days. He belched quietly,
and felt a crawling sensation in his stomach. He hoped he wouldn't
have to visit the latrine at this time in the morning. He knew of the
many jumbies, evil spirits of dead people, which prowled the Nigger
Yard at this time in the morning. He knew that many of the evil spirits
were looking to extract revenge. He knew that sometimes the innocent
paid for the guilty. But me never push me finger in nobody eye, who
dead and gone, Maraj consoled himself as though exonerating himself
Maraj constricted his bowel, the excuse forming into a person quite
like his own twin brother. He shooed away a mosquito, loitering by his
ears, and said quietly: "Me get overseer Brown in me hand. Me get the
bitch," doing a little dancing.
He crawled into bed quietly, covering from head to his feet with a
floursack sheet. Mosquitoes droned. Me get overseer Brown in me
hand, he repeated in his mind until sleep dawned in him.
Ouch ouch! "Like this back want kill me," he told Marajin in the
dew-mist morning, watching at her like a sly mongoose.
She wrestled with the iron cooking pot, and canaree, in the smoke-
filled kitchen. She had finished cooked the rice and the boulanger curry.
It had not dawned fully as yet, but sugar workers had already awak-
ened. Their musty, dingy kitchen buzzed with activities. By the time it
was daybreak most walked out their logies: cutlasses, shovels, forks,
hung across their shoulders, bags with working clothes and lunch sauce-
pans slung on them.
Maraj flitted about in the logie, the excuse taking a shape. Ouch
ouch! he moaned, eyes darkened, watching the logie-walls which housed
cockroaches and ants. He had already changed to go to Order-Line. As
he ate roti and curry, sitting on the low wooden bench, his wife packed
his bag, a daily morning ritual enacted for years. How he hated it. But
me time going to come, he reminded himself, aware of the other person
inside him. Is one-one dirt does build dam.
Ouch! he moaned again, seeing overseer Brown in his mind. Damn
bully! Feel he own the Estate. Own the people. Me going to show he
who is sense man. Smart fly. Me is a smart brahmin.
Maraj didn't want to alarm his wife by saying: "Me going to ask
overseer Brown fo one transfer "
She would rile, then sulk into a corner, cursing her fate to be born
a woman. Her previous karma ought to be blamed, she would tell her-
self, vowing to extract the answer from Lord Shiva when she did her
puja the coming Sunday morning.
Is damn lazy he lazy, she would tell herself, impotent to voice her
views in such a precarious matter where their future was concerned.
Maraj had a presentiment of his wife acting in this way. Deem him
a lazy man. Chut! Is me have to bring in the money. Not she, Maraj told
himself, eating quickly. He decided to kep his mouth cose. He
owned behind the facade, moaning frequently.
She threw him a sharp look. It stung him like a followme insect.
O Gaad Shree Bhagawan! like this woman know the inside of me mind,
Maraj told himself. He washed his hands quickly, gargled through the
kitchen window, belched, then hustled to pickup his working bag and
"See you Marajin," Maraj said sweetly as he passed through the
logie front door. He trotted to the main walking path dampened with
morning dew, feeling released. Like the woman know me up to some
trick, he asked himself, unsettled. Brahmin woman proper smart. But
me is a smarter brahmin, he reminded himself, imbued with pride.
Think backra man more sensible than me? Is now me eye open to the
real thing. Is me and overseer Brown now...
He walked quickly, concentrating on the backbone that would
make the self-induced backache look serious, critical in the presence of
Something in that man mind, Marajin's instinct told her as she
dusted the kitchen flooring with a coconut branch broom. He up to
something but Shree Bhagawan going to tell me. True! Soon after, she
would tend the vegetable garden, cultivated behind the logie, examining
each plant, their roots, to ensure that nobody's fowls, or a rat, had dug
up the root during the previous night. Neighbouring fowls usually cre-
ated havoc to the plants. She had seen herself on many occasions, pin-
ning one of the fowl on the ground with her feet, slicing out the fowl's
claws with a cutlass until it bled, uttering "damn badmass" in Hindi.
Something in that man mind, Marajin told herself again, per-
turbed, heading in the small, stuffed-up bedroom to make-up the bed.
By now the morning looked pale, colourless, the wind blowing
slightly cold. Overnight drizzle had dampened the Nigger Yard. Dusty
dams dotted with muddy lumps. Morning dew had still clouded above.
Mist like smokestalks settled on cork tres, and on logie roofs.
Maraj experienced a slight chill as he clambered up the creaking
wooden steps, wedged-on to the High Bridge, which acted as a gateway
that led into the Nigger Yard' It was an old bridge something like an
antique, still sturdy, bearing the weight and frustrations of countless
footsteps, that had daily traded on it throughout the years, echoing with
footprints of cringing, indentured immigrants.
It spanned a blackwater stream... the water always cold, iridescent,
tempting to little boys. Moss was perpetually seem in both corners of the
stream. Silverbait fish and shrimp teemed in the water. The stream
began from the deputy Manager's yard in the east, and snaked into the
canefields, joined by other smaller streams, running in different direc-
tions passing through mango-walks, coconut fields, bramble fields, and
further down into more canefields, and the Lamaha Canal.
It was a favourite stream to sugar workers, the water being used
for religious purposes. It was called blackwater-trench by them.
Maraj was joined by a batch of sugar workers as he descended the
Bridge, and landed in the redbrick road. It was dampened. The big, old
wooden Hospital was on the opposite side of the road. An aroma of
disinfectant, tablets, iodine, and putrid cotton wads emanated from it.
Maraj felt the smell in his nostrils. He coughed. The Hospital looked
frightening. Maraj avoided becoming a patient in that Hospital.
That going to drive me to me grave, he reminded himself anytime
he was plagued with either fever, chest cold, acute bellyache, or head-
ache. He preferred consulting Miriam, the African woman, whose herbal
remedies always arrested his ailment.
The workers discussed the inhuman treatment meted out to them
from the hands of Ishmael and Nauth drivers. The low wages being
paid for years now. "Is only a proper cut-rass on Ishmael and Nauth
could stop this blasted eye-pass."
"We should do what them Non Pareil people do," a canecutter
named Seeram talked, eyes reddened. "Is how long we able tolerate this
Maraj agreed wholeheartedly, willing his backbone-structure to re-
spond to his emotion. Have to get this transfer, he reminded himself.
Chop-an-Plant going to swinge me like ripe mango in hot weather.
Backdam work ain't fit fo me brahmin caste. Me is a high nation Hindu,
and is time me use me sense now. Maraj chuckled, conveying the im-
pression that he was laughing at a joke, just cracked by one of the cane-
The joke concerned Nauth driver. Two weeks ago on the Tuesday
night, Nauth nearly killed himself with fright, running towards his logie,
cursing on the way. Nauth driver nurtured a deep belief that Baizee's
ghost-the spirit of Baizee's dead body, wanted revenge on him. He
lived in constant fear.
While being a shovelman in Nauth driver's gang, Nauth used to
make it hard on Baizee due to Baizee's rebellious temperament. Baizee
felt the shovelmen were being robbed of their true value as shovelmen.
There was always an outburst, heated arguments between Nauth and
"Sixty cent a day can't pay,"Baizee would shout, stamping his feet
on the ground, tone harsh, eyes furious.
One hot midday in the canefields during an argument, Baizee told
Nauth: "If me dead before you, me going to haunt you, and you family
til coffin catch them."
Nauth shivered. Felt a chillyness in his spine. He knew such a
threat could be dangerous. Notebook and pencil trembled in his hands.
Should Baizee ponder on those words constantly, and say it aloud, dur-
ing the time his death was drawing near, the words could assume a
spectral form, bent on creating havoc to the living victim. Nauth be-
lieved such things happened. It occurred to others. Ghost coming back to
A year ago, after issuing the threat to Nauth, Baizee died due to
the ravages of T.B. Since then Nauth was not the same. He imagined
seeing Baizee's ghost several times. The mule-boys knew of Nauth's
fear. They exploited on it whenever the opportunity arose.
On this Tuesday night it was dark and gloomy, tinged with a
silence that was frightening. Nauth was returning from overseer
Stanley's bungalow, found in the Compound. He was walking on the
redbrick road, heading towards the High Bridge. A grove of big, flowing
fig trees with the Hospital further in, lined one side of the road. Blackwa-
ter-trench ran alongside the other side of the road. Across the trench a
few cakeshops and the Masjid were seen. Further in, rows of barrack
ranges ran alongside each other.
Every object in and around the road was capped with a darkness,
compounded with a lurking silence likened to a deadly, alert snake in
Nauth shivered as he walked, cautious, peering his eyes among
the still'd pregnant trees. Crickets and beetles whirred, hummed. It
broke the monotony of the silence. In such moments Nauth always
recalled Baizee's words: "If me dead before you, me going to haunt you,
and you family til coffin catch them..."
This man Baizee like a pest in me soul, Nauth told himself. He
never fathomed that the night, yet early would have changed into this
eerie, frightening state... "like a damn jumbie behind you shadow."
He kept on walking, uttering a mantra from the Hindu Puranas.
Why this man Baizee don't go and rest in peace, Nauth told himself,
walking quickly, still peering his eyes.
Dinki and three mule-boys held conversation under the big cork
tree, growing by the edge of Blackwater-trench in the Nigger Yard sec-
Two hours before, as evening was turning into night, Dinki and
the mule-boy had seen Nauth as he crossed the High Bridge, landed in
the redbrick road, and headed east. They suspected that Nauth was on
one of his nightly visits to overseer Stanley.
"See the dog? He going to take news to overseer," one of the mule-
boys had said, spitting in the trench. "People like them is leech."
"Hold on. Rain don't fall at one man door," Dinki talk. "He own
rope going to strangle he. Remember madman Rusty? How he slice-off
Sambo driver cock, and put it in Sambo mouth like sweetie?"
"Ha boy! Man don't see, but Gad seeing. How long you believe he
going to get sugar in he mouth?" the second mule-boy talked, and spit-
ted as if the spittle was a thorn in his flesh. He eyes blazed with hurt and
Dinki and the mule-boys eyed at Nauth until Nauth turned into
the smooth, redbrick road, lined "with sweet-smelling flowers, growing
on both sides. The road led into the fenced-in Compound, filled with
electric lights, beautiful bungalows, well-kept lawns. A Compound inac-
cessible to Dinki and the mule-boys, except on business. A world where
God-blessd people lived, Dinki and the mule-boys always said. Nauth
disappeared in there.
Dinki and the mule-boys resumed their conversation: mules, man-
agers, struggle of the Indian people in India, wedding-houses, weeding-
They were about to go to their respective logies when they spotted
a man, coming out from the Compound. They recalled Nauth. Dinki
mounted the High Bridge. He peered at the walking figure. "Is Nauth
self," Dinki said, and vacated the Bridge quickly.
They knew of Nauth's fear. Baizee's ghost. It was still rumoured
to be around. Elders claimed seeing it, prowling the Nigger Yard in
quiet moonlight nights during the early morning hours.
"Baizee jumble want something," elders would say, hardly ventur-
ing outside until four o'clock in the morning "when all jumble gone and
Dinki and the mule-boys, also, believed Baizee's ghost wanted
Nauth, after hearing of Baizee's threat to Nauth while Baizee was alive.
"Ahwe play Baizee jumbie pon Nauth," Dinki said, smacking his
tongue as though he had eaten a delicious mango.
"You damn right. Let he shit cut," one of the mule-boys said,
mischief abound in his eyes, memory opened to past encounters which
took place during moonllight nights in the Nigger Yard-people playing
ghost at people.
"You hide under the bridge," Dinki said, anxious, watching at
The mule-boys scamperd under the Bridge, uttering quietly:
"Good if he rass could fall down and dead."
Dinld was slim-built and darkskin in his late teens. He took out
his shirt and fitted it around his head. His shirt was whitish in colour.
Across his head it looked like a loose orhni. People in the Nigger Yard
sometimes described a ghost, looking the way Dinki's head looked now.
Dinki hid behind the big cork tree stem, waiting on Nauth to cross
the High Bridge, and entered the Nigger Yard. Dinki's body from his
neck downward hardly showed. He was dark. The night was dark. He
looked like a terrified ghost with a white-white head, the kind of ghost
elders told their children about, seen mostly in the canefields during
"White-head jumbie!" elders pronounced, fright showing in their
eyes. The children huddled in a corner, eyes tight-shut, kerosene lamps
flickered like candleflies... logies eerie and silent.
Dinki waited, caught in suspense, heart thumping, eyes flitting at
Nauth, laughing inwardly.
Nauth avoided looking at the Hospital. It drove more fear into
him. He quickened his steps, and clambered up the High Bridge.
The mule-boys heard Nauth's footsteps. They crouched, subdued,
enduring black ants which stung their skin, mosquitoes which menaced
their faces. They were anxious, hearts palpitating.
Dinki felt the same way. As he looked around no one was spotted
in the vicinity. Good! Dinki told himself, aware now that Nauth was
coming down the steps, entering the Nigger Yard.
He squeezed his nose, and emerged from behind the tree stem, tip-
toeing in the manner a ghost was seen walking.
"Nauth driver is you me want." Dinki's tone sounded nasal. The
words slow and drawling. He walked up to Nauth.
Nauth was taken by surprise. He halted, felt his feet heavy. His
heart pounded, perspiration gathered on his foehead. Fireflies flickered
Dinki tip-toed slowly towards him. "Is you me want Mister
Nauth." Dinki's shirt flapped now like a flag after being slackened from
"O Gaad! this is Baizee jumble self-self," Nauth screamed, devi-
ated from Dinki's approach, and ran screaming on top his voice, acceer-
ating more speed on the dry mud dam, running alongside the Blackwa-
ter Trench. His instinct led him to his logie.
Half the sugar workers were out their logies when Nauth landed
in his logie, and fell down frothing.
Next morning Nauth's neighbours reported they heard Nauth tell-
ing his wife that he planned to enlist Ramdass pundit in his plan. Him-
self, and Ramdass pundit would visit the burial ground one dark night
and pin-down Baizee's grave. Tie Baizee's jumble in the bloody coffin,
spiking the grave-top with seven nails, and bury a bunch of garlic leaves
in the grave.
"Is only that going to cool Baizee jumbie forever. Pin he ass in the
grave until he bone rotten," Nauth told his wife Beti after he regained
his senses. It was around ten o'clock the very night.
The neighbourhood heard everything.
Nobody know Dinki and the mule-boys had staged this act. They
never divulged it. They knew the consequence of such a disclosure.
Nauth driver would take them up to the Head Manager.
But it was news the next morning. Baizee jumbie scared the shit
out of Nauth. "Next time he going to break Nauth neck..."
"Baizee jumbie should break Nauth neck the same night," one of
the cane-cutters talked, tone heavy with contempt.
"You damn right," Maraj said, beginning to display a slight stoop in
his walk. Me action to overseer Brown must be clear like daylight, Maraj
said to himself, keeping abreast with the canecutters.
Maraj and the canecutters walked past the Hospital mortuary, the
Head Manager's white painted bungalow, and the lawn tennis court. On
the other side of the redbrick road, across a blackwater stream, were
crumpled little cottages which housed the African sugar workers. Fur-
ther ahead was the Pay Office, the Foundry, and the Engine House.
Further inland, behind the Storeroom was the big sprawling Sugar Fac-
tory, and the Workshop.
Maraj and the canecutters crossed over a wooden bridge, the mule-
stable seen opposite, and swung into a broad, grassy muddam. About
twenty five yards ahead sugar workers clustered in different groups
around their respective drivers and overseers.
This was Order-Line. Here the sugar workers were given orders
for the day. After, they would head into the canefields, walking in
The morning mist was dying away like ice in water. The sun
peeped between thick, puffy clouds. Mule-boys' voices echoed in the
stable. The claybrick factory chimney kept belching out thick, blackish
smoke which sailed away in a western direction.
Maraj and the four canecutters joined the big gang of canecutters.
Marajs backbone responded to his self-induced emotion. He felt burn-
ing pain in the back.
Have to get this transfer he told himself, watching at Ishmael
driver and overseer Brown. Is me and overseer Brown...me know he is a
by RAS MICHAEL
Nancy story ain't got bad word. Nancy story is what come out of Nancy
mouth. Wha' Nancy see with Nancy eye.
You been dey? Well Nancy been all about. Even when Georgetown was
a small small town and people use to send to the ice factory for ice and only
Putagee girls use to work in them store in Water Street, Nancy use to spin
he web wherever he see they going have story. That is how Nancy get to
know about Hector. He went home that night in Hector pants fold. The
same night that Hector did brace he self againstt Beth behind Beth front door,
running he hands all over she.
"Oh God Beth. I got to see you again. Igoing pick you up tomorr... nah,
nah not tomorrow.........Oh God Beth but I got to see you again."
Right then Nancy climb down a web and crawl up Hector pants fold,
entered the new model Datsun and when Hector foot mash the accelerator
to drive out the Ghetto, Nancy been dey with he.
'Well I would of never believe it,' Nancy say to herself when he investi-
gated Hector's house next morning. All these years of Nancy life, Nancy
never live ina house like this yet. But Nancy smart,Nancy investigate every
drawer and cupboard and corner from the minute he dropped out Hector's
pants fold that foreday morning.
Living with Hector was like living in a different world to how life was
in the ghetto in the room with Beth and the children. At first Nancy was
astonished by the amount of rooms the house had and the amount of beds.
Everybody had a room with bed in the ghetto but these beds... Nancy just
up and climb all over and feel the softness. Nancy tour the whole place but
take up residence inside the toolshed under the 'downs tree' since it remind
he more of ghetto life inside there where you had odds and ends. He spin
a web over where some 'downs' fall through a hole in the side of the wall
and start rottening. They had some fat fly down there.
Is not that Nancy didn't appreicate the comforts of Hector's house,
Nancy usetospend hours in front of the T.V.each day and Nancy had a web
right under the telephone table where he use to listen in on quite a few calls.
Is not inside the house Nancy use to be whole day?
(The reader got to shout...) TORY!
Right! Is not that Nancy didn't appreciate the comforts of Hector's
house but he did notice in the kitchen that Hector had a maid, two cob-web
brooms, two tins Baygon plus a tin of Shelltox in the up-stairs bath room
where Hector wife use to bathe. Hector does bathe in the downstairs
bathroom. However, Nancy make 'Heights' and set up herself right where
he was dining. Hector's kitchen he left to Hector, Hector's family and
Hector's family consisted of Hector's wife who Nancy got to know quite
well on distant terms, she had her own bedroom. Hector's teenaged
daughter (Nancy couldn't take she at all but he used to check she out for
kicks), she had her own roon.
Hector's son had his own room too. He was cool with Nancy. Nancy
had a web in there too. And Hector. Hector was forty-seven and an
important man. Hector's runnings was confidential. Being an important
man Hector sometimes use to get a telephone call from the Minister's
Secretary and Hector use to got to go and talk at meetings with the Minister
and with committees and the Bank Manager, sometimes for hours, then the
newspaper would publish that Hector going away on a 'Government
Mission'. At that time a lot of people use to phone Hector and some use to
come and see Hector at the house and talk to he quiet quiet in the study.
Nancy would overhear them enoughh time whilst he up on some shelf
running through a volume of Selected Poems which was a favourite of his
or "Capitalismand Slavery" by Eric Williams which wasequally delighting
to him. Nancy would sometimes overhear them and on a few occasions
Nancy had noticed people giving Hector some small squarish packages
before going to their cars and driving away.
Hector use to go away for a week or two weeks but Nancy didn't go as
he did pick up reasoning in the ghetto about foreign travel 'bout how Bob
Marley did pass out there and that Bunny Wailer don't travel by plane.
Nancy was a original 'Wailers' fan. As a matter of fact was some of these
same reasoning from the ghetto and Nancy experience as a ghetto spider
that save Nancy life enoughh time in he fight for survival.
Reader shouts ....... 'TORY!
Nancy and the maid had a constant battle for survival. Nancy and
Hector wife had a constant battle for survival. Even Hector and Hector's
daughter used to test Nancy skill. Everyday Nancy had to rebuild or repair
a web. Only Hector son didn't use to'dig nothing'. TheonlywebthatNancy
never had to worry about was the one in the T.V. room. Hector house had
a special fancy room with lacquered walls, trophies, fancy furniture and
plenty Ivy plants running up the walls.
Nancy build a house between the ivy and the wall and he call that he
tropical residence. From up there Nancy use to watch the twenty-one inch
T.V. and any other thing that taking place inside the room. Like when
Hector gone away and the children out, Nancy use to enjoy the sex films
with Hector wife and she special friends. Hector daughter use to have she
own runnings in the T.V. room too, but that use to be when she was alone
by she self. Sometimes she use to do it in she bedroom in front the mirror
or when she lay down in the soft single bed. These things use to amaze
Nancy cause they was different to what use to take place in the ghetto.
Hector son was normal. He use to smoke marijuana like everybody else.
It happen sudden. Everything in Guyana does happen sudden. Since
January everybody does belooking out for the May-June rain and yet when
it fall it does fall sudden. It come as a sudden shock to Nancy. No not a
shock, Nancy don't feel that, but like a surprise. Was only the night before
Nancy was watching late night T.V. with the whole family. Some friends
did even drop in and up in he web Nancy did hear when Hector did say
quite vehemently "They should jail that bitch!"
Well Nancy look down to see if was because the Minister was rubbing
up Hector wife leg in the dark that make Hector say that but was the T.V.
Hector did talk to as they was broadcasting Col Northe testimony and
showing Reaganface pon thescreen. During the rest of the night everything
went alright. They was drinking and smoking and eating and the Minister
who did drop in with a few friends was joking with Hector and slapping
Hector's back whilst Hector wife was pouring the Minister a fresh drink and
fulling up the Minister plate with corn-beef and chow-mein. Everybody
was happy until next morning.
Well it was Nancy who first read it in the Sunday Papers. Nancy had
another web in the letter box from which he use to read the daily papers
whenever the daily papers come early. Nancy saw it on page 3. "Hector
Under Government Enquiry". It had a photograph of Hector and the story
though brief was that the Government wasn't too happy 'bout how Hector
use to conduct the Government business. They even say that they was
taking a careful look at Hector's salary and Hector bank account. Nancy
burst out a laugh, if they was looking for Hector runnings they would have
to look for it in the other house that Hector did buy and not even Hector wife
did know 'bout that. Hector did make the carpenter build a special hiding
place and Hector did hide a whole set a square purple paper there. Nancy
did get to know that these was money from since he days in the ghetto cause
it was quite popular and people called it inflationary. However, was the
smaller gray-coloured foreign ones that Hector did like most.
Well, whole day the telephone ringing. Nobody didn't come to the
house but the Minister and all phone and he tell Hector wife not to come by
the office or check he out right now as he was busy. The Minister and all was
in the news-papers. On page four the papers did read that the Minister was
to turn a Senior Minister and that the Government was sending he to Africa
on a mission. Is not that these events that was playing out was anything big
to Nancy. Nancy born and grow in the ghetto. Nancy know 'bout runnings.
When Papa did snatch the payroll by the Bank of Guyana, Nancy been right
pon the corer gutter plaiting one another hair; same time Papa burst the
corner, clear the gutter, the payroll sail through the air; it land on sister Benji
step; Papa dear the six foot pailing-Nancy been to the party in the ghetto
These things was no big things to Nancy. Hector worries was small
potatoes to Nancy. As a matter of fact Hector didn't have no worries
compared to Beth neither. Beth had three young children, she self and the
house rent Hector had he own house, he salary, he runnings plus he had
he family. But Hector had problems. He certainly had problems because
Nancy did see he wrinkle up he forehead when he had to take off some of
the small grey money from off a pack in the new house he wife didn't know
A few days later it come over the news that the enquiry against Hector
get dropped, and Hector resign the job. He did even go to the embassy and
talk to some body there to get a visa. That is how Hector begin travelling.
He didn't become a trader. He was just a traveller. Nobody never see he
carry anything or bring anything. Ask Nancy?
Reader shouts....... "TORY!
Nancy notice the small packs in the hiding place in the new house
growing fast. How Hector got them Nancy couldn't say. Nancy herself
never went overseas with Hector. He had recently read that scientist had
made a fly and fishermen use them on hooks to catch fish. Nancy say not
me. He never went.
Hector put on more weight now. He voice get more gruff too. Nancy
got a new web too, right under the passenger front seat of Hector's brand
new Mercedes one-eighty. Is anybody's guess as to how long that residence
going remain. The Mercedes got a mini vacuum cleaner. Hector wife and
the Senior Minister is even better friends now. The two of them start go up
to the new house together after Hector give her the key. He building another
one. Beth? Well Beth is another story.
Shout 'TORY nuh.
~. ~Y~ -~c` ".
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t~::;I: 2;~i~zrrI.:~"-~.?'::ii .
. r::l --~i I:li
THE STORY OF AMALIVACA
by AJ. SEYMOUR
Dear Ann & Joan & Margaret,
Your faces were full of a wide-eyed and shining wonder when I
told you the beginning of the story months ago, and I think it was that
wonder that made me imagine how an old blind poet John Milton who
lived some three hundred years ago might have begun it. To match that
wonder in your eyes, he might have said:
No one can tell from what far land he came
Amalivaca, or by what intent
Or whether accident. It is the same
Sometimes, chance or design, when Heaven is bent
Upon her purposes for mortal men
And shapes them as blind instruments of ill
Or good just as the pattern warrants them.
So whether it was chance or his own will
It was a very long time ago, because all the stories seem to agree
that Amalivaca came to the land of the Caribs at the time of the Flood. I
suppose you know that there is some story of waters covering all the
earth to be found in the early history of nearly all nations, and it is fitting
that Amalivaca should come in his ark or canoe while the waters were
returning from off the earth; because the very name of our country,
Guyana, is an Amerindian word meaning "the land of waters" and his
story is mixed with our history that depends on too much or too little
water on the land.
I would say that he came in the afternoon. You could have seen no
land anywhere at the time of the flood-it was all sea and then gradually
the level of the waters fell and the mountains of Guyana began to show
Our friend the poet would probably write:
The circling sun had not yet swung his wheel,
Leaned still his light out of the eastward sky,
The day the fabled spate came to an end
And the mantling flood contracted from the earth.
First King Roraima brought his forehead cear
Towering behind with seaward-looking eyes,
And his broad shoulders emerging from a waste
Of seething waters steel-faced like a shield
Which slowly sank!
And next Wei-assipu-they caught the sun
And Ayanganna, so splendid in its pride
And many a mountain more, whose name to tell
Would make a hoarse deep music and would beg
The storm for thunder.
And while these islands stood
On ocean-hooded, resurrecting land
I can imagine the great canoe coming steadily and powerfully
across the sinking waters from the direction of Trinidad. Perhaps Amali-
vaca wore a towering headdress but I want you to have the sense of his
power as he drove the canoe along.
By this time the waters had not dropped sufficiently to discover
the channels of the rivers and he had passed over the length of what is
the Essequibo, before he came to one of these rock islands we have
named as mountains. And he stopped there and did a peculiar thing.
He had on his finger a ring with a stone in it that is harder than
rock and to mark his first sight of land again, he took the stone-we
would call it a diamond nowadays-and scratched upon the rock. Any-
one of us would have cut our names perhaps but Amalivaca carved out
upon the rock a symbol of the sun which makes things grow upon the
earth and of girls dancing to show their pleasure at the fertility of the
Men call the place Amalivaca stayed
The Tramen Cliff above Imbaimadai
And there he carved upon the mountain rock
Strange figures of maids dancing in the sun
Shining above them.
And from time to time Amalivaca would stop his canoe and carve
these figures and strange emblems upon the rocks. They are still to be
seen to this day and men call them "Timehri" but the message he wrote
is not always clear and writers are still trying to say what Amalivaca
meant. But Amalivaca was not only an artist and he did not spend all his
time writing poetry on the rocks, because that is what he made, a special
kind of permanent poetry. He wanted to apply his thought to his
I hope you will not ask me to tell you where the other Amerindians
came from, after the Flood, because the records are not clear on that
point. There are different stories, one that four Caribs climbed to the top
of a kornoo palm and these the Flood did not reach. And yet another
says that Louquo, the God of the Heavens, or Makonaima, the Great
Spirit, took pieces of cassava and threw them backwards over his shoul-
ders and a marvellous thing happened. Those pieces of cassava, he
threw over his right shoulder changed shape and sprang up as men, and
those he threw over the left shoulder became women-perhaps because
that Is nearer to the heart.
Anyway, the Carib story goes on to say that the world was peopled
again and lived in their villages and Amalivaca came among them.
He did many things to help his people. For instance, when the dry
land was to be seen, it was found to be very rough, so Amalivaca made
the sides of many hills smooth and also the land at the bottom of the
hills. And Amalivaca said "What's the good of having a community
here and a community there and keeping separate. You must not stay
apart. You must visit one another and learn what the other tribe is
doing. The best way is always to have a path leading from your village
to the river, because the river is your road and for centuries and centu-
ries the rivers will be the only roads in this land. So make your clearing
by the banks and the rivers will bear you one to another. You have no
future as a people unless you come together and I shall teach you a new
word, federate. You would grow apart and think you lived in separate
worlds instead of separate rivers, unless you had communication and
shared your good id4as one with the other."
One day Amalivaca went out to the edge of the shelters that the
tribe used as huts and he saw men planting and asked them what it was
they were doing. They told him they were planting arrow wood, to
make arrows to protect themselves when another tribe came.
Amalivaca was angry. "How many nights have I not spent talking
to you and your wives out in the light of the stars and telling you of
Makonaima who made the stars that they should live like sisters in the
sky and men that they should live like brothers on the earth. Don't you
see that you are encouraging yourselves to war and to fighting by plant-
ing this wood. Plant more cassava, you would be planting food to eat,
not arrow wood. Arrows will never protect you from the way you feel in
your hearts whether or not you win the war with another tribe. You
must learn to protect yourself inside, from your own self, not from the
outside, with arrows. Your real enemy is inside of you, not without."
He warned them too about keeping themselves in close touch with
Makonaima, the Great Spirit A people without religion would always
disintegrate, he said, they no longer became willing to make the sacri-
fices that were necessary for a people to become great and to endure.
Because it was only when a tribe or a community cared for him the
individual, that a man gained a sense of purpose and faith in belonging
to his tribe.
Amalivaca-what did he look like? I would say that he was not
tall, but broad in the shoulders, like that other figure in stories who re-
sembles him, that old Greek, bald-headed and talkative sailor we know
as Ulysses. He was very strong and had great powers of endurance. He
could go for days on a small meal of cassava and meat or fish.
But I would be sure that he had remarkable, penetrating eyes, the
kind of eyes that would be looking at your mind and how it worked
through the windows of your own eyes and then, suddenly, you would
know that he was not seeing you anymore, because he was thinking
deeply on what he saw there.
I told you this story of Amalivaca once before when we were sit-
ting around the dining table but later I found myself wondering whether
I shouldn't write the story all down and give it to you as a Christmas
present. You see, other girls and boys may want to read it too and there
is one reason why this story of Amalivaca belongs to all the children in
Guyana and to children living in other places too. The men who study
these matters and who have written great heavy, brown-covered books
with gold lettering on them, tell us that the name Amalivaca is found
sprinkled all over the Caribbean sea, an area of some thousands of
square miles. It keeps cropping up in the legends of the Caribs that a
mother tells her children while the sun is going down to put them to
sleep, and now and then she would add, "Now dear, go to sleep and
Amalivaca will watch over you."
So perhaps Amalivaca did exist long, long ago and we're taking
scraps of stories that the Caribs have left, perhaps some in Antigua and
some in Belize and knitting the fragments together. This is just another
piece of unrecorded history that the Amerindians have given to us here
in Guyana. It has come down by word of mouth and been mingled with
so many children's dreams.
While Amalivaca was with the Caribs in Guyana he was asked to
help with the tides. As a result of the great flood, the rhythmic action of
the tides had been affected and there was only the current of the river
flowing down to the sea.
Amalivaca taught them how to make canoes, how to select certain
trunks of trees and hollow them, mainly by fire, and then shape them
into instruments of grace and power upon the water.
Then certain men complained to him how difficult it was to paddle
against the current of the river. Could he not make the current to flow
up river on one side while it was flowing down on the other. They say
that Amalivaca toiled mightily but for all his skill, he could not do what
they asked. Then he remembered the sea and he caused the tide, so the
story goes, to flow up the river many miles and as it does to this day.
But the rivers said "Should the tide go higher, all will be covered again."
So Amalivaca ceased from his labour. There is a picture I have in
my mind of Amalivaca brooding upon Kaieteur Fall. I don't know
where the picture has come from. Perhaps it's a legacy from the Amerin-
dian blood that is mingled with other blood in my veins-a sort of racial
memory-that suddenly finds expression in me after many silent genera-
tions. But here is the picture. He had gone up the rivers from near the
sea and the land had gradually changed its complexion. All had been
flat unbroken waste of trees standing sentinel upon the river's banks and
then after days the land began to swell gradually into slopes and hill-
And then suddenly Amalivaca was in the other Guyana where the
huge cliffs clad in green trees stand at attention on either side of the
narrow river ribbon that winds in and out among tall green walls. Every
now and then, there would be a crack in the mountain walls and through
the cracks, Amalivaca could see a second rank of mountains, green clad
and standing on parade and behind them again more mountains.
Up the narrow river bed Amalivaca travelled and then, with a
twist in the ravine, there was Kaieteur, falling in ceaseless flood with a
continuous white foam breaking like modern gun-fire smoke at the bot-
tom of the fall.
In the picture that my Amerindian racial memory paints for me,
Amalivaca has climbed to the top of the fall and is on the plateau looking
down at this ceaseless vast plunge of water that has continued until the
plunge seems an almost stationary act through the centuries.
And brooding upon Kaieteur, Amalivaca is moved. Not many of
his sayings have come down to us but his sole companion on the Kai-
eteurean escarpment has left enough for us to realise that Amalivaca,
looking upon Kaieteur was moved to a sense of the littleness of man
before his Maker, and the futility of existence without Him. The few
fragments we possess of this part of the sayings of Amalivaca bear some
resemblance to the sermon on the Mount given by a Greater than he.
Amalivaca seems to have referred to some great sin that the Amer-
indian nation had committed in pre-history days-mention of which is
carefully removed from the sayings-and he prophesied how the nation
would gradually decline and sink into the position of an universally
inferior people. The land of waters, Guyana, would become the home of
peoples from all the continents of the world, some coming as conquerors,
some as slaves. And Amalivaca prophesied that for hundreds of years
these different races would live side by side until they learnt, through
joint disaster and catastrophe, to live together.
Proudly the sayings went on to tell of the fact that in the very dim
future the whole world would look at Guyana and its races living to-
gether amicably and take a lesson from the country to apply to its own
war-torn breast. Then and then only, said Amalivaca, would the Great
Spirit wipe out the sin that the Amerindians had done and that had
driven them out wandering from their original home in China, near the
Russian borders, to this Caribbean sea.
This part of the sayings of Amalivaca has come in for much criti-
cism from all as being the utterance of a visionary and some have called
it worse, but it must be set down with the others in this story.
Amalivaca also knew about music, it is claimed. To this day, there
is a large hollow stone on the plains of Maita outside a cavern where he
lived and the older Amerindians used to call it an instrument of music-
the drum of Amalivaca. His brother Vochi has also left some tales of the
wildwood wisdom of Amalivaca and the knowledge he had of stars to
guide through the forest and across the sea and of herbs to help sick ones
that he knew the magic of, in the forest ways.
Finally, there is the legend of his growing wisdom in the Guyana
region, for he knew all things, and how one day some Amerindians came
to him in a strange approach and said that they wanted to worship him
as one of their gods. This made Amalivaca very angry and then very
sorrowful and he told them that they had not understood what he had
told them. So he would have to go on to another place and teach the
same things to the people there. So one evening at sunset the Amerindi-
ans in the villages nearby came to the edge of the river to bid him good-
bye. They knew they would see Amalivaca no more and their hearts
were heavy as he climbed into the great canoe and began pulling power-
fully away from the bank out to sea, out to where the sun was setting,
down in the west.
His headdress waved in rhythm as he bent forward and back at the
paddle and the canoe steadily grew smaller. Then it seemed to them on
the bank that the canoe was heading right into the sun and it became a
mere black speck against the huge red gold disk of the sunset. Then,
suddenly, the speck was gone and the gathering darkness thickened
slowly over the empty heaving waste of waters.
And that is why to this day Amerindians say that Amalivaca went
back into the sun, from whence he had come.
REFLECTIONS ON THE ART OF STANLEY GREAVES
by RUPERT ROOPNARAINE
In real art theory does not precede practice, but
follows her. Everything is, at first, a matter of feeling.
I remember almost to the day when a painting of Stanley Greaves'
first burned itself into my mind. It was a late afternoon in August 1960,
over a quarter of a century ago, when I first encountered "Evolution", a
painting in the collection of Dr. Frank Williams, a discerning and early
supporter of young Guyanese artists. Unframed, it was affixed to the
Northern wall of an airy, elegant drawing room in an old plantation
house at Cove and John on the East Coast of Demerara. I recall having
been told that it rep-
resented the painter's
response to H.G.
Wells' Outline His-
tory of the World. I
may even have been
told even then that it
was a response to a
particular page of
It could have
been the big green
eye, innocent of ex-
pression with its per-
fectly curved lashes,
looking back at me
from the head of the
foetus in the exact
centre of the picture.
Or the single giant
leaf, going dry and
brown at the edges,
supple strength of its
stem curling like the
neck of a bird from
out of the white lips
of a smooth, round, EVOLUTION
green seed. But it was not the eye of the foetus nor the leaf of the seed
that I remembered, but the long curving column of human figures, in
perfect perspective, tiny in the distance, tall and looming on the crest of a
rock in the left foreground. The column originated out of a hole in the
side of a craggy mountain: slash of bright red deep in the dark. The fig-
ures are in simple yellow outline, without detail, except for the first two
where there is detail enough to distinguish man and woman. And in the
top left of the picture, three orbital rings each with an astral body in
motion. The largest of the rings loops around the sharp tip of the leaf.
The rings are white, as is the outlined curve of the back of the foetus that
is the segment of a fourth inter-locking ring.
It is Greaves' meditation on a page of Wells. And it is very much the
young painter's enthusiastic homage to Salvador Dali and Hieronymus
Bosch. And over the years, Dali has remained for Greaves the grand-
master of technique under whose hand everyday objects were trans-
formed into luminous symbols. In the work of Bosch he was to make
contact with the power of the sense of dread and to understand its regu-
lation by the phantasmagoric image.
In all the years of remembering Guyana away from Guyana, it was
this painting, first seen on an August afternoon in the countryside, that
would bring the old house and much of the essence of Guyana back into
my mind. I was to see it again twenty years later-it is still there, grac-
ing the Northern wall of the old house-and I have come to realise that it
had been, that afternoon, the first time that any painting at all had had
such an effect and was to lodge such clear traces of itself in my mind.
"Evolution" was painted in 1955, during the period of Greaves' appren-
ticeship and earliest investigations. Looking at it now, in the company
and the context of his other works of that period, I am struck by the
extent to which all these works, and indeed all the subsequent works in
the full variety of their subjects, forms and materials, can be seen to
constitute a world, an imaginative universe with its own internal laws
and rhythms, its own codes, its own distinctive aura. An imaginative
universe renewing and enlarging itself in a restless dialogue with the real
world of men and women and nature. Every exchange recomplicates the
disposition of the elements of the imaginary world. The really important
exchanges-and some are far more important than otheM-alter the very
bases and parameters of the enquiry. On those occasions a kind of leap
takes place, and a seminal work comes into the world.
Taken all together, his sculpture, ceramics, carving and painting,
from the early 1950's to the present time, are best understood as mo-
ments of one global project, aspects of one imaginary world. In this
sense, an artist's world is something more than the accumulated output
of work. It is not in the first place a matter of quantity: a painter of a
hundred paintings, by virtue of that impressive volume of production
alone, has not necessarily created a world; whereas, in their complex of
inter-relations, the 20 pieces of another may constitute just such a uni-
verse. Although, in the case of Greaves, it is worth noting that we also
happen to be discussing a large volume of work produced consistently
over more than thirty years. Greaves' work invites us to view it as a
totalised unity within which variety and difference abound, but always
inside the boundaries that circumscribe and enclose the world. With
seemingly infinite scope for internal experimentation and refinement, its
investigations unfold within a specific space of enquiry which may ex-
pand or contract, but which exists always in strict relation to a fixed
centre. Open to external influences, whether formal and artistic (like the
Mexican Jose Clemente Orozco) or psychological and philosophical (like
CS. Jung), it draws these into its system to be absorbed or rejected as its
laws allow. The Greaves world is a particular world with its own
compulsive theoretical and technical preoccupations, its own atmos-
phere, its distinctive fauna and flora that are ruled over by its own black
sun. It is systematic, this tight network of mobile elements at home and
at play with all the other elements of the whole. It is a zone that is
immediately recognisable on entry. His is the art of totalising impulses,
powered by a narrow yet inexhaustible range of obsessions. The world
of Greaves is marked by seriality and repetition, by reflexivity and self-
allusion, and by the restless pushing outwards of frontiers from a centre
that is fixed and still.
"Askari", ("Ancestral Images No.4"), a 20" x 16" colour woodcut, is a
reduction print, one of a series that Greaves executed in 1979-80 during a
period of formal study at Howard University.
A boy is sitting in the middle ground, slightly to the right of the
print's centre. Around his head enigmatic shapes hover and swirl,
shapes of masks/faces/shields/spears/leaves. The shield-faces are
heart-shaped and anticipate the explorations of the late 80's. There are
six of them, grouped in three pairs. Another pair of faces looms in the
left foreground. These, like the small boy's, are depicted in considerable
detail, amounting even to expressiveness in the face closest to the specta-
tor, as it watches over the scene, protectively. It is the figure of the
mother. The other face, her companion's is in sharp profile. Mother,
companion and child are the only figures depicted in a naturalistic way:
the head-tie of the mother is one such naturalistic detail. These three
humans exist on the plane of reality. They are of this human world. The
other three pairs that occupy the entire space above the boy's head are
abstracted, sexless, and are not of this world. They are organised in as-
cending order, each pair larger than the one preceding. While the first
two pairs are the same way up with the points downward, the final pair
are head to toe: the second of the two, or the last of the six, is inverted
and more like a leaf/spear. In a picture full of eyes, the boy's face is
eyeless. Instead, two eyes are off to the left and right of his face, one
brown, the other green. They are closed, with teardrops falling from the
The picture is muted in tone and colour and it has a strange, other-
worldly aura. For this ancestral study Greaves has chosen yellow ochre,
green and brown. Brown, the darkest and last to be applied, tinges eve-
rything. -The final brown- asserts the relation of this colour with the
yellow and green. As we shall see, it is entirely in keeping with the
integration of Greaves' world that it is the identical palette used three
years earlier in the "Canecutters" of 1977. The mysterious power of
"Askari" is partly accounted for technically by the tension between activ-
ity and passivity, business and repose, experience and innocence, that is
the informing principle that structures the print. It is a picture about
receptivity, about receiving and absorbing from the forces of knowledge
the energy and guidance human beings need if they are not to flounder
in the confusion of the world. The picture dramatises the externalisation
of the desires of the self and the journeying inward of the self's experi-
ence. The figures, some of which appear stern and menacing, that hover
around the head of the small boy are the ancestors, the truth-bearing
spirits through which we connect
with all we have been, all that we are
and all we can become. The mother-
figure draws her power and authority
from them, graphically expressed in
the sweeping lines that connect her to
them. It is a small boy who is receiv-
ing the ancestors, not a grown man.
The young boy, innocent, open,
usually at the foot of an elder, is a
recurring figure in the early paint-
"Askari" expresses and celebrates
the guardian aspect of the ancestral
spirits. It is a study on the theme of
PREACHER (Detail) guardianship. These wraiths are one
with the forest, arising out of it and
ready to melt back into it in the twinkling of an eye. They are at home.
Where the ancestors dwell, all is harmony and immanence. Theirs is that
epic place that was before the fissure of self and world. This idea of a
complete fusion with the environment of life, the dissolving of lines of
separation, is central to many of Greaves' most important paintings. It is
dramatically expressed in the seminal "Canecutters" of 1977: the labour-
ers are themselves smudged with the ash of the burnt cane, subhuman
stalks emptied of individual identity, indistinguishable from the burnt
out cane they have produced and become. "'Fore-day morning' on 1 De-
cember (1905) found the Ruimveldt factory grinding. It began to consume
coals, cane, and human labour from 4.00 A M...." Thus Walter Rodney,
writing on the 1905 Riots and expressing in that play on "consume" a
similar idea and understanding.
It is not surprising to find the signs of so many of Greaves' estab-
lished themes and permanent interests inscribed in "Askari". We have
not mentioned his deep and long-standing interest in African origins nor
sought to explain the significance of the Askari's curious social location
in the activities of penetration and conquest. Who were the Askaris?
They were the African tribesmen who accompanied the white hunter on
his safari, first guiding him to the quarry and then providing the ulti-
mate protection, even at the cost of their own lives. Should the white
hunter come under attack, his Askari would if necessary place himself in
the path of the charging animal. The Askari was the white hunter's
hunter, his eyes and ears and right hand. He was in fact his guardian.
Importantly, "Askari" is a reduction print, end result of a process of
production uniquely well-suited to Greaves' interest in the ethics of pro-
duction. The printing of each successive colour means a reduction of the
actual printing surface of the block. The first colour established will
therefore establish the number of prints that can be made. Once com-
pleted, the edition cannot be repeated. Because the printing block is pro-
gressively emptied/consumed/destroyed in the process, the final prints
are the only prints. It is, from within the very process of production and
reproduction, the assertion of the authority of the original, of its "aura",
in the age of mechanical and electronic reproduction. The print of "As-
kari" which is before me as I write is number 8 of the 10.
It is easy to understand Greaves' attraction to the reduction print as a
process of labour, with its delicate wood-carving and the sensual contact
with tools and materials it requires. The streaks in some areas of the
picture and the sharp, hard angularity of the edges are accounted for by
the particular type of block that was used. Unlike the "Ancestral Images
No. 3", another reduction print of the time, which was made from a
linoleum block, "Askari" was printed from a plywood block. The
streaky effect and the hard, sharp edges (even of the circles and curves)
were imposed by the grain of the plywood.
He would have been drawn also to the restricted colour possibilities
that brought the exacting monochromatic ideal closer. It would have
been no less a question of rigour and limits. Most importantly, with its
built-in immunity to commodification (mass-production), the reduction
print "Askari" raises the question of artistic morality and takes a stand.
In the terms of political economy, the reduction print confronts the ex-
change-value of the commodity with the use-value of art. It does this by
setting limits to its own reproducibility. Reduction prints like "Askari"
invite consideration of the antagonism between the abstract labour that
produces commodities for the market and the concrete labour that pro-
duces art for human fulfilment. From the standpoint of classical political
economy, "productive" and "unproductive" labour, respectively.
Greaves' versatility is for me a source of constant wonder. Academi-
cally trained in sculpture, he has given free play to his curiosity and
delight in adjacent and not so adjacent disciplines: steel welded figures
("Ancestral Figures", "The Cage is the Bird", both of 1980); wood carv-
ings ("Little Man", 1970, "Orissa", 1976); ceramics, pottery, prints,
mixed-media objects ("Amatuk Waterfall", 1967-mahogany, aluminum
and formica; "Flayed Culture God (Xipe Toltec)", 1970-mahogany, can-
vas, wool and wire; "Diamond Box", 1970-mahogany, glass, plaster and
paint; "Timehri" and "Dancing Figures", 1974-wood, painted tin, and
wire; and so on). In the mixed-media pieces, he is drawn to the idea of
tension produced by the interaction of the different materials. It is, in the
realm of material, a proposition about the unity of opposites. We will
see how, at certain key moments of his investigations, the resolution of
some sculptural problems will demand that particular equilibrium of
forces exerted among different materials when they are brought into
relation one to the other.
We can do little more at this stage than take note of Greaves' range
of skills and his mastery of many modes and processes. For the pur-
poses of this paper, I will confine my remaining observations to the
paintings. I have used the word "investigation" on more than one occa-
sion to indicate the intellectual curiosity, that sense of theoretical restless-
ness that is at the heart of Greaves' project. Note the tenacity with which
he sets out, in the paintings of the 1950's, of which "Preacher" and "Beg-
gar and Urchin" are typical, to resolve certain problems which begin, or
at any rate which propose themselves initially, as problems of technique.
I have in mind here the problem of the outlining of the figures. In a
practical sense, this is the challenge Greaves sets himself in these early
paintings. In one of the few commentaries on Greaves' work, Basil
Hinds, that diligent servant of art, called these paintings the "People of
the Pavement" series.
In painting after painting, notwithstanding the undoubted variation
of scene, action and characters, nor the differences of strength and tone
and emphasis, the essential and original problem of the outlining of the
figures is pursued with what we have come to recognize as Greaves' un-
usual persistence. This problem will eventually resolve itself in two
ways, or better, in two forms: into considerations of the edge, as in
"Canecutters", "Black Beetle" (1977), "Channaman" (1978). And, sec-
ondly, into propositions about the inter-connectedness of people with
the space they inhabit, about the dissolving of the lines of separation and
difference that stand in the way of oneness and community. So what
began as a matter of technique has revealed itself a matter of vision. In
the best sense, Greaves is a painter of ideas. Not a thesis painter. Be-
cause the intellectual investigations are rooted in the soil of form and
technique and spring from it. And because nothing is forced.
A brief and preliminary observation on his use of colour. It was not
until his second period-through the sixties and early seventies, up to
the decisive "Mazaruni" of 1976-that Greaves began to seriously en-
gage the problems of colour. The early paintings, with their bold reds
and greens and blacks, show little evidence of interest in the expressive
use of colour. The main problem then, we recall, was the place where
colours met, not the colours themselves. Since then, however, colour has
played an increasingly important role in his work. He is today working
with fewer and fewer colours. It is as though, for reasons of artistic
scruple and rectitude, he is in rebellion against the lack of necessity, that
terrible anarchy of possibilities which confronts the painter who is free to
paint a human face green, yellow, acquamarine. There is even a witti-
cism along these lines in his "Channaman" of 1978, where the Indo-
Guyanese channaman's face and hands are bright blue, the colour of
Lord Shiva's throat. Currently, in the "Hearts and Diamonds" series,
Greaves is experimenting further with the freeing of the colours, allow-
ing them to blend and flow, nudging them here and there, guiding them
to mingle and separate as they will. These are no action paintings. More
than technique is at stake. Greaves has expressed to me in conversation
his ambition to make use strictly and only of the colours of nature-the
browns of mud, the greens of ferns, the perfectly modulated greys of a
moth's wing. He believes that purely monochromatic paintings are his
eventual destination. As in the case of the reduction print, the matter of
colour raises questions that go far beyond technique, questions that go to
the heart of the artist's relation to his art. The consideration of colour
leads to the fundamental issue of the relation between artistic freedom
and aesthetic necessity.
His current researches, being pursued with extraordinary single-
mindedness in the ongoing "Hearts and Diamonds" series, show that the
informing intelligence is more restless than ever. The rhythm of enquiry
is quickened by the urgency of the quest for repose. To date, March
1988, there have been nineteen paintings in the series. In 1986 he began
to explore the themes of hearts and diamonds in sculptural forms.
That year he executed 3 Hearts and Diamonds stoneware pieces-2
bowls and a pedestal dish. Also in 1986, the first of the two mixed-media
pieces on the theme-a vase with wooden plugs. He continued the
following year with several pieces in earthenware-4 dishes and 2 pairs
of loving cups. And then, the second mixed media piece-"Pyramid of
the Heart" (wood, velvet, mirror glass and coral), proposing a summary
and a resolution of problems that had arisen in the course of the sculp-
tural investigations. He had called on the pyramid before, in 1980, at
PYRAMID OF THE HEART
Howard University, the season of "Askari": "Pyramid of Power" (glass
and wood) draws together wood and crystal to celebrate that glory of
symmetry that the pyramid enshrines.
From the first of the "Tantric Landscapes" of 1985 to the "Mountain
of Hearts and Diamonds" of 1987, these are the paintings of Greaves'
maturity. There can be no mistaking the mastery of technique, including
now the control over the paint. In work after work Greaves expresses his
"fascination" with what he identifies as an aesthetic as well as a mathe-
matical principle: "the principle of symmetry (which is) an aspect of
harmony." (These quotations and those that follow are taken from the Cata-
logue Notes of the joint exhibition of work, HEARTS, DIAMONDS AND
FLOWERS by Greaves and his wife, Alison Chapman-Andrews, held in March
1988 at the Barbados Museum in Bridgetown). Greaves sees these re-
searches extending to related principles: "reflection, refraction, inversion,
progression, chance and inferences of infinity." The paintings search out
the forms that express "man's need for order and for transcendence."
They are to be "looked into", not only "looked at." For all that, these are
strange and troubling pictures. The symmetries of Hearts and Diamonds
may be grids of order brought down on chaos. Yet the chaos overspills
the templates of order. Nor can all their joy of design conceal the spirit's
desolation at their heart. In "Mountain of Hearts and Diamonds", high
over the radiant mountain side the black sun that held dominion over
the landscapes of yesteryear is today's black heart
YELLOW HEARTS/WHITE DIAMONDS
What is the source of this dread that haunts canvas after canvas in
this extraordinary series of paintings? Take the painting named "Yellow
Hearts/White Diamonds". It was painted in March 1985. It is a seminal
Intricate patterns of blue lines of an even thickness stand out boldly
from a background of colours used in different tonalities and hues, mov-
ing from deep orange to yellow and orange red, and from white to neu-
tral shades of orange. It does not take us long to realise that this is no
innocent background. It is nothing less than the depiction, entirely
through the use of colour, of the vertiginous space of chaos and contin-
Whereas the blue of the grid is stable, as befits the primary instru-
ment of order, the orange ranges vertically along the black and white
tonal axis, and horizontally along the hues axis from yellow through red
to red purple. This is readily seen as soon as we refer to the Newtonian
This mobility of the secondary orange along the vertical (from
patches of white to neutral shades) and the horizontal (from yellow to
orange red) is in marked contrast to the fixed and primary blue. Orange
is taken through a range of hues and tonalities: in its movement along
the hues axis to red purple, it stops at a point where red is a kind of
burden of the past and purple a promise of the future. Most significantly
of all, orange in its true spectrum aspect is absent from the painting. Or-
ange is implied in the tension between yellow and red. It is the occluded
middle between yellow and red. It is an orange of the mind. We are in
the midst of a methodical exploration. Even as this background of mo-
bile orange signifies the zone of contingency it does so by means of
systematic method, raging against disorder within its very articulation.
The grid of blue is brought down on to the pulsing orange. It is not a
true spectrum blue. It is a blue whose intensity is held in check by the
patches of neutral shades surrounding some of its sections. It has also
been lightened by the admixture of yellow. We will return to the dy-
namics of this blue/yellow discord.
At the level of pure form, the blue lines are both straight and curved,
now meeting at acute angles, now describing segments of incomplete
circles and ovals. The entire structure rests on the point of a triangle
enclosing two smaller triangles with which it shares a base. A parabola,
a perfect semi-circle, meets the apex of the large triangle exactly at its
midpoint. This point is also the mid-point of the slightly curved segment
of the parabola which is the base of another triangle. From the apex of
this smaller triangle, two triangles fold outwards to form a diamond.
Four hearts, right side up, are blocked in various tones of yellow. Each is
outlined or partly outlined in a fine white line that runs along the centre
of sections of the blue lines and curves, forcing these sections out further
from the canvas. This has the effect of introducing an additional dimen-
sion to the blue plane. One heart, blocked in white and upturned, fills
the apex of the first large triangle at the bottom, balancing the large
yellow heart at the top. Three small diamonds are blocked in white and
again are variously outlined in white lines running through the blue. At
the centre of the pattern, structuring it, is a cross, its vertical running
from top to bottom and dividing the painting exactly in half; its horizon-
tal, interrupted at the intersecting right angle to accommodate the central
diamond, runs straight across the canvas from left to right. The bottom
of the picture is a straight line of colours meeting the white of the canvas.
The other three sides are unfinished, smudges of colour untidy on the
white. The painting, which is four feet high and three feet wide, is a
maze through which the eye hunts for pattern and the mind for mean-
ing. The eye comes to rest in relief on the perfect semi-circle crowning
the perfect triangle at the base.
"Form alone," Kandinsky has written, "even though totally abstract
and geometrical, has a power of inner suggestion. A triangle (without
the accessory consideration of its being acute or obtuse-angled or equilat-
eral) has a spiritual value of its own."
As we have seen, the painting is framed on its four sides by a border
of the unpainted white of the canvas. And we have seen how arbitrarily
the paint meets the canvas at three of the four sides, marking that "ero-
sion of the contours" that has haunted the modern philosophic mind
from Nietzsche to the existentialists. But this framing is important for
another reason: it establishes the plane (the empty canvas) above and
below which the two other planes of the picture exist. The significance of
this assertion of the three planes of the picture becomes clear as soon as
we see that the painting itself consists essentially of two planes separated
by a volume of space. Of what do these planes consist?
First, there is the blue plane, the plane of the grid of order. At the
top left and right of the picture, arcs of the blue grid are haloed in white
and white tinged with blue and purple. These haloes exist on the same
plane as the blue arcs which they surround. So too do the white and
yellow hearts and the white diamonds. Two of the yellow hearts and a
single white diamond are "complete" as forms of yellow and white. The
other hearts and diamonds are intimations, rendered incomplete by the
blue lines of the grid that mark them off and divide them.
Then there is the orange plane, the plane of organised chaos. Both
the yellow of the hearts and the white of the diamonds are among the
colours mingling and spreading on this plane. It is as though the white
and yellow have been drawn up through the volume of space that hangs
between the planes, to be caught and held in the blue grid of the first
plane. A similar movement between the two planes occurs in sections of
this second plane, where the dark shades of orange-purple are not al-
lowed to "bleed over" into the adjacent sections. Instead, a discontinu-
ity: patches of light yellow orange, where the light yellow orange is on
the first plane. This movement across the space that separates the two
planes is the essential dynamism of the picture. It is also the source of
anxiety, the space of vertigo. Hence, the reassurance of the borders of
white of the original canvas. It is after all only paint on a canvas surface.
We can anchor here. Another important relation between the two planes
is that of conflict, expressed by the juxtaposition of discordant colours.
Areas where the blue of the grid is adjacent to the red of the background
establish one of the two major discords in the painting. The other is the
blue/yellow discord, this time occurring at the level of the first plane.
The yellows, like the blue, are reduced in intensity. Hence, they are less
"disturbing". (Kandinsky: "Yellow, if steadily gazed at in any geometri-
cal form, has a disturbing influence, and reveals in the colour an insis-
tent, aggressive character. The intensification of the yellow increases the
painful shrillness of its note.")
Of blue and yellow, the visionary Wassily Kandinsky has further
Two great divisions of colour occur to the mind at the
outset: into warm and cold, and into light and
dark...Generally speaking, warmth or cold in a colour means
an approach respectively to yellow or to blue... The movement
is an horizontal one, the warm colours approaching the specta-
tor, the cold ones retreating from him....
Yellow and blue have another movement which affects the
first antithesis-and ex- and concentric movement. If two
circles are drawn and painted respectively yellow and blue,
brief concentration will reveal in the yellow a spreading move-
ment out from the centre, and a noticeable approach to the
spectator. The blue, on the other hand, moves in upon itself,
like a snail retreating into its shell, and draws away from the
In the case of the painting under discussion, the blue is not permitted
to recede. It is held in check by its linearity. Large swathes of blue
would have had a tendency to retreat, but lines of blue reduce the move-
ment away and into itself. The blue is held even as it strains to leave.
This is a point of tension in the picture and resembles in its function the
zones of strife where discordant colours meet. This tension is most dra-
matically expressed in the yellow hearts and white diamonds glowing on
the plane of the grid. As we have seen, two of the hearts and one
diamond are complete forms of hearts and diamonds. They bear no
marks of the grid. The other three hearts and the other diamond are
caught and held in the grid, as yet unfree to emerge as final forms. The
movement of the yellow began in the depths of the lower plane and
moved up through the illusionary space to the upper plane where it is
partially held and partially free.
Finally, of the pairs of complementary colours, blue and orange have
for Greaves a particular and transcendental resonance. Characteristi-
cally, nature is the point of departure: the colour harmony of this paint-
ing was supplied to Greaves by the colours of the macaw, with its bril-
liant blue back, its breast of brilliant golden orange and the neutrals
(black and white) of its head.
The yellow hearts and white diamonds are jewels come up from the
deep. The painting suggests that victory over the fear of the abyss may
lie in a kind of surrender to it. Within itself, the painting indicates the
paths of future exploration: they begin precisely at the points of strife
and discord. It is for this reason that I have called this painting seminal: it
contains its own future.
It would be instructive to trace the evolution of motifs that recur
throughout the paintings: the potted plant, the cage, the bird, the foot,
the leaf the simple things of this world which accumulate a radiant
power from painting to painting. See how the leaf grows, now alone on
a branch, now multiplying, now magically sprouting from a staff. In
"Magic Pepper Tree" (1976), leaves spread open like fans, trinities of
leaves and branches, and are mysteriously unattached to their branches.
Where leaf should meet branch, a hot space, a field of force. In "Big
Bread" there are five plants whose stems and leaves are haloed with the
same light that glows around the great plaited loaf from which they
sprout. In different paintings (sometimes separated by years) each motif,
each recurring element, is explored for shape and texture, for colour and
pattern. The single bird flying under the great kite, its companion of the
air, multiplies into the four graceful spurwings stepping daintily across
the water lilies floating in a trench. Then a birdless cage full of the
absence of bird. And in "Blackbirds" (1981) there are seven blackbirds
sitting in a tree. The seven leaves are caught around the edge of the
segment of a circle. Seven leaves to equal seven blackbirds. Or is it
seven trees, each with its resident blackbird? In any case, the many
leaves in the top right of the picture can stand for all the trees in which
blackbirds might sit. It is a cold picture, all greens and black: blackbirds
under a black moon, forming patterns, establishing symmetries. Lines
from a famous poem of Wallace StevLns' come to mind:
I was of three minds
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
Greaves' concerns in paintings like "Swamp Birds" (1978) and
"Blackbirds" (1981) are no less about ways of seeing and imagining and
knowing. Again Stevens:
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.
This flight into the infinite comes immediately after the stanza that
speaks of the blackbird's implication in what the poet knows:
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
The lines are from Wallace Stevens' 1917 poem: Thirteen Ways of
Looking at a Blackbird.
BEGGAR AND URCHIN
It would also be useful to examine the pictorial representation of
self-consciousness within the paintings, places where the picture reflects
on its own processes. Certain of Greaves' paintings are self-reflexive in
this sense. This can be seen in the early observer figures.
In "Beggar and Urchin" (1958) he is standing off to the right, hands
clasped behind his back, not of the scene, but its essential witness.
In a later painting of the same period, "Beggars", he becomes in-
volved in the scene, an actor in the drama of the street. And see how at
the very moment that he stops being a mere witness and joins in the
activity of the world, another figure from within the group stares out of
the picture, directly at the viewer who in turn is drawn closer to the
In the process, the viewer has changed places with the former wit-
ness to become the street's latest spectator.
The self-reflexivity is there, in a surprisingly whimsical way for such
a serious picture, in the little loaf lying quietly and out of sight under the
baker's table where the big loaf is laid out, a perfect little replica of the
grand original. "Big Bread", with its religious allegory and private sym-
bolism, was painted in 1971 out of Greaves' experience of his father's
dead body laid out on the mortuary table. In its most abstract form, the
representation of self-consciousness is there in the white L marking a
right-angled intersection in "Jasper Hearts and Diamonds". The white L
flaunts the sign's freedom to be a sign in and for itself. It asserts its right
to signify nothing beyond itself. Such flashes of defiance from time to
time light up the dread zone of perfect form where hearts and diamonds
I have said nothing about Greaves' writing. He has written poems
and important essays on the historical development of Guyanese art. He
is currently at work on a History of the Guyanese Art Group, having
completed the final draft of the History of the Working People's Art
Class. I have not spoken of his keen interest in calligraphy and in the
making of musical instruments. In this last area, he was a respectful
student of the old master, Louis LaRoche.
Greaves' is an exceptional art, passionately committed to the truth of
form that is at once the truth of vision.
THE WEEDING GANG
I end by venturing this: if all other records of modern Guyanese life
were to disappear, a study of Greaves' paintings of compassion of the
fifties and sixties wquld be enough to tell us how we lived, what yards
and houses we inhabited, what tools our hands held, what musical in-
struments consoled us, what forms of commerce we engaged in, what
hats and pants and dresses and shoes we wore, what leaves and birds
and flowers lit up our lives.
It is a splendid human achievement from an artist now at the height
of his powers.
And the abstract paintings? Kandinsky, finally:
The more abstract is form, the more clear
and direct is its appeal. In any composition the mate-
rial side may be more or less omitted in proportion as
the forms used are more or less material, and for them
substituted pure abstractions, or largely dematerial-
ized objects. The more an artist uses these abstracted
forms, the deeper and more confidently will he ad-
vance into the kingdom of the abstract. And after him
will follow the gazer at his pictures, who also will
have gradually acquired a greater familiarity with the
language of that kingdom.
1. Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Translated with
an introduction by M.T.H. Sadler (Dover Publications, Inc., N.Y., 1977).
Quotations are from this edition. They are all drawn from Part II, Chap-
ters V and VI: "The Psychological Working of Colour" and "The Lan-
guage of Form and Colour."
2. In the order in which they arise in the discussion, these are the paint-
ings and objects of Stanley Greaves I have alluded to:
Evolution ................................................Hazel Williams Collection, Guyana
Askari ............................... Aubrey Williams Collection, Washington, USA
Preacher .........................................................National Collection, Guyana
Ancestral Images No. 3 ..........Dorothy Taitt Foundation (DTF) Collection
Canecutters .............................................................. DTF Collection, Guyana
Ancestral Figures ..........................Howard University, Washington, USA
The Cage is the Bird....................................................... Howard University
Little Man .................................Andre Greaves Collection, New York, USA
Orissa ...................................................................... Artist's Collection, DTF
Amatuk Waterfall................................................................... DTF Collection
Flayed Culture God (Xipe Toltec) .........................................DTF Collection
Diamond Box .......................................................................DTF Collection
Timehri .................................................................Artist's Collection, DTF
Beggar and Urchin............................................National Collection, Guyana
Black Beetle ......................................Wilson Harris Collection, London, UK
Channaman ............................................................................. DTF Collection
Mazaruni .......................................................National Collection, Guyana
Pyramid of the Heart...................................... Artist's Collection, Barbados
Pyramid of Power ........................................................Howard University
Mountain of Hearts and Diamonds.................................... DTF Collection
Yellow Hearts/White Diamonds ...........................................DT Collection
Magic Pepper Tree ..........................Casa de las Americas, Havana, Cuba
Big Bread .......................................................National Collection, Guyana
Blackbirds .......................................................................... Artist's Collection
Swamp Birds ........... ....................................National Collection, Guyana
Beggar and Urchin...........................................National Collection, Guyana
Beggars ..........................................................National Collection, Guyana
Jasper Hearts and Diamonds .................................................DT Collection
The Weeding Gang ..........................................National Collection, Guyana
MUSIC IN PORTUGUESE LIFE IN BRITISH GUIANA
by SR. M. NOEL MENEZES, RSM
As one writer noted: "The Portuguese are a small nation with a vast
history". This vast history embraced the most renowned achieve-
ments in navigation and it is not too far-fetched to observe that Portu-
guese navigators could be considered the astronauts of their day. One
fruit of their discoveries was the wooded island of Madeira, 535 miles
from Lisbon, discovered by JoAo Goncalves Zargo and Tristao Vaz in
1419. With Portugal in the fifteenth century enjoying internal peace and
stability, a nation on the tip-toe of adventure, outward-looking and dy-
namic, Prince Henry the Navigator gave Goncalves and Vaz full support
in carrying out the povomento -the peopling of an uninhabited island,
which by 1500 became one of the most productive sugar producers in the
Since the legendary history of Madeira began with a love story, an
adventurous tragic drama, drama seemed to become an integral part of
the life of the island. Every writer of Madeiran history portrays that
fascinating story of Robert Machim and Anna d'Arfet who, after eloping
from London and driven off their course to Normandy by a storm,
landed on the wooded island where they eventually perished. The Eng-
lish connection was more firmly and historically established by the
Treaty of Windsor in 1386. There was more drama in the 17th century
when Madeira almost became part of Britain's possessions in Catherine
of Braganza's dowry on her marriage to Charles II. From then on special
facilities were granted to English settlers on the island; by the end of the
seventeenth century British factories, mostly wine, were established on
the island. More exciting drama was played out in the early nineteenth
century with the occupation of the island by British troops during the
Napoleonic War as the island had gained much strategic importance.
The repercussions of the constitutional struggles in Portugal, the de-
cline in the sugar trade with the consequent increasing poverty made
emigration for the hard-pressed Madeiran peasant a necessity. In the
1830s and 1840s emigration to the Madeiran seemed the key to livelihood
and possible prosperity. The movement of these people from their small
island home across the ocean to many distant lands was the main drama
of nineteenth century Madeira. The outward-looking nature of the Por-
tuguese had been nurtured by their history of maritime enterprise and
high adventure into the unknown, a movement immortalized in the epic
poem of Luis de Camoes, The Lusiads, published in 1572-a saga of
Portuguese discovery, exploration, expansion and dissemination of cul-
Yet in the 1830s the Madeirans, descendants of these adventurous
explorers, were pushed more by necessity than by romance to seek the
shores of far-off British Guiana to work on the sugar plantations soon to
lose their cheap, steady and continuous labour. Early reports of these
Madeirans high-lighted their industry and their cheerfulness. Too
"imprudently laborious" they soon suffered from sickness and death
through fevers, dysentery and diarrhoea. As better and more sanitary
accommodations and improved medical assistance were provided,
deaths decreased as one gets a more delightful picture of these emi-
grants; they dance and sing as the vessels dock in Georgetown and "on
their arrival at the dep6t of Plantation Poaderayen [Pouderoyen] they
begin to tune their guitars, and a general dance follows...." The inher-
ent love of music, which later became expressed in the establishment of
musical bands in the colony, was one of the characteristics of the Madel-
rans, unfortunately down-played and mostly ignored.
Historical accounts of the Portuguese in British Guiana over-empha-
sized their economic prowess; they became labelled as the notorious
rum shop, provisions shop and dry goods shop owners who carried on
cut-throat competition which severely undermined the economic growth
of other ethnic groups. Mannie, the ubiquitous shop-keeper, became a
term of opprobium. It is hoped that this article will offset this long-held
view and indicate that the Portuguese played their part in the develop-
ment of aesthetic life in British Guiana, side by side with other Europe-
ans and coloureds.
FOLK CULTURE OF MADEIRA
Bronkhurst noted that "The Portuguese, not only made British Gui-
ana, a SECOND HOME, but a SECOND MADEIRA." This was par-
ticularly noticable in the transmission of their culture, especially in the
line of music and drama. As a Madeiran historian noted, "...music gives
a certain polish to the most inferior stations in life". Most Madeiran
peasants played a guitar of some sort, the machete or the rajdo. It was
their custom to sing while labouring on the sugar plantations and crush-
ing grapes in the vineyards, composing the words of the songs as they
went along. Many of the soiigs were imbued with a saudade, a state of
longing, nostalgia for a person or place-an attribute which would be
most noted in the songs and music of the emigrants. In Madeira, "all the
trappings of a fully developed high culture" co-existed with a vibrant
folk culture, expressed, above all, in folk literature (contos-tales) and in
folk songs (ballads) together with folk music, involving folk instruments
and dances performed in bright coloured costumes.
This folk culture of the Madeirans--an outpouring of song and
dance -became an integral part of their religious celebrations, their fes-
tas, in their adopted land, so much so that the English priests, unused to
that type of exuberance in church, branded their faith as a "Madeiran
type of Catholicism". This love of music, in song and dance as well
as their penchant for drama, did not remain confined to church celebra-
tions. Not long after the Portuguese had secured some economic stabil-
ity they turned their attention to the arts. The desire to launch out in the
fields of drama and music would have been stimulated by a social need
to form closer links within their ranks, the need to play together, not
only work together, a need that is always the more acute when people
find themselves in an alien land with an alien culture. In 1854 they
formed a group of Portuguese Amateurs and gave an Amateur Dramatic
performance in aid of the Girls' Orphanage run by the Ursuline Sisters.
The press noted that this was the first effort of the Portuguese in this
It was by no means the first effort of the Madeiran Portuguese in the
field of the aesthetic and fine arts. Since the eighteenth century acade-
mies of various types had been established in Madeira-the Academia
Real das Sciencias (1779), Sociedade Funchalense dos Amigos das Sciencias e
Artes (1821) mirrored on that of the Acadmia Real Sciencias de Lisboa.
Nineteenth century cultural life in Madeira became a microcosm of
The Madeirans in British Guiana introduced their culture into a very
Anglo-Saxon milieu. By the mid nineteenth century a number of Portu-
guese had made their fortune in the colony. Some of them returned to
their island home to spend it; they lavishly distributed charity to beg-
gars in Funchal and the villages, and donated large subscriptions for a
feast or public entertainment both in the city and in their own parishes.
They were termed by their Madeiran compatriots-"Demararistas". The
novel life of the Madeiran retornado intrigued the famous dramatist/
writer Snr. Dr. Alvaro Rodrigues de Azevedo. In 1859 he produced a
drama, A Familia do Demerarista, loudly acclaimed in the Madeiran
press which stated that the name of its scholarly author was sufficient
recommendation for the work. When the play was produced in
Funchal in 1860 it was considered "um triumph certo ao autor e ac-
It would be no exaggeration to state that the expansion of the Catho-
lic Church in British Guiana contributed to the growth and development
of the cultural activities of the Portuguese community. At the same time
the success of the cultural performances contributed very financially to
the growth of the Catholic Church. It was already noted that the pro-
ceeds of the Portuguese Amateur Dramatic group were for the benefit of
the Girls' Orphanage. The majority of performances was in aid of some
charity or church. Joel Benjamin, quoting Holmes writing in (1831) and
Schomburgk in 1840, indicates that though theatres had been in vogue in
British Guiana in the early part of the nineteenth century they did not
play a vibrant role in Guianese cultural life. There seemed to be a
turn in the tide in the late 1850s and in the 1860s, which saw the estab-
lishment of the Anthenaeum where a number of plays was performed,
the Assembly Rooms and the Philarmonic Hall. Cultural societies, both
musical and dramatic, mushroomed and the latter half of the nineteenth
century was marked with a rash of plays, balls and concerts both sacred
and secular. Side by side with other amateur and professional groups
the Portuguese entered the cultural stream of music and drama in the
In 1869 the Georgetown Philarmonic Society secured the services of
Dr. O. Becker as their conductor and encouraged him to open under their
auspices a music school, the Demerary Musical Institute, similar to the
conservatories in Europe and America. Before this Institute got
under way, a Portuguese artiste, Miss Mary Christina De Vasconcellos,
held a Grand Concert of Sacred Music in the Assembly Rooms, built in
1857, which became the scene of innumerable concerts, theatrical per-
formances and balls until its demolition by a disastrous fire in 1945. The
second sister, Mary Amalia De Vasconcellos was also a noted singer and
featured on the programme of 8th March 1869 together with Dr. Becker.
The items on the programme illustrate the classical type, mostly Italian
works, of their selection, viz.:
1. Introduction by the Band
2. Qual Giglio Candido, Solo from Mercadante
(by Miss Mary Christina De Vasconcellos)
3. Loetantum Coch Solo Offertorie
(by Miss Mary Amalia De Vasconcellos)
4. Duo, Flute and Piano -
(Mr. Vieira and Dr. Becker)
5. Ego Sum panis, Duetto Battorglia
(by the Two Sisters)
6. Finale of the 1st Part by the Band
1. Introduction by the Band
2. Cujus animan, Solo from Rossini
(by Miss M. C. De Vasconellos)
3. Quittolis, Solo Capocci
(by Miss M. A. De Vasconcellos)
4. Duo, Flute and Piano
(by Mr. Vieira and Dr. Becker)
5. Qui Sedet, Duetto Terziani
(by the Two Sisters)
6. Finale of the 2nd Part by the Band
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN
Admission 4 shillings
To commence at 8 
The concert was all De Vasconcellos; indeed Mary Christina De
Vasconcellos was considered the leading artiste in British Guiana, the
"prima donna" of her day. The Colonist, reporting on Dr. Becker's
Second Grand Vocal and Instrumental Concert in the Assembly Rooms
later in 1869 noted:
Although it is not usual to name amateurs and criticise
their performance, we feel bound to say that Miss Vas-
concellos quite sustained her reputation as a singer in
the piece ("Miserere" from Trovatore) which, too, was en-
ESTABLISHMENT OF BANDS
With Miss Vasconcellos blazing a musical trail in Grand Concerts the
Portuguese decided to establish a musical band. Here again they were
carrying on a Portuguese/Madeiran tradition. In Portugal band stands
were as ubiquitous as churches. They arose primarily in the Passeio
Public where royalty rubbed shoulders with commoners and bourgeois
on Sunday and the innumerable public holidays. Symphonic concerts,
sacred concerts, charity concerts, performances by military bands were
all heard in the shade of the garden where stood the band stand. Even
after the Republican Revolution changed much of that life style the band
stands remained in some cities and provincial towns.
On holidays and festival days, rival bands, often
perched on improvised stands, strove to outplay each
other, frenziedly egged on by groups of supporters who,
as often as not, ended up in physical combat, with the
wielding of sticks and the eventual transportation to the
local hospital for first aid treatment; and the interven-
tion of the Republican Guard to restore peace to its fes-
Scenes around the stand were not always so turbulent for it was a
famed setting for the arrangement of marriages and, as a Portuguese
writer so aptly deduces: "Perhaps we would not be here today if our
grandparents had not fluttered an eye, had not exchanged an acquiescent
smile, while up there on the band-stands the bands played on..."
Madeira also had its Passeio Publico as well as its PraCa da Constituicgo
where on Sundays and holidays the bands played, "the people listened,
promenaded, talked, debated and flirted from afar." Though every
village did not have a band stand every village had its band of local
In this tradition "an influential body of Portuguese gentlemen" in
British Guiana founded on 1st December 1876, a musical band to which
they gave the name of the Primeiro de Dezembro in honour of the anniver-
sary of the day on which Portugal threw off the Spanish yoke-1st De-
Its members were already members of a charitable association and it
seemed that one of its aims was to develop a more "useful and beneficial
organization." They promptly sent off the Europe an order for a
batch of musical instruments. This band grew and flourished, at one
time having over 200 subscribing members and 30 bandsmen. It played
at every known festivity in the colony. No church celebration was com-
plete without the sweet music discoursed by the Primeiro de Dezembro
band. It played on the Sea-Wall, in the Botanic Gardens, the Promenade
Gardens, the City Hall, the Assembly Rooms, the Philarmonic Hall, at
weddings, galas, bazaars and balls; there was no excursion organized by
the Portuguese without the attendance of the Band. One of its most
renowned bandmasters, Senhor JoAo Nobrega de Noronha, a former
bandmaster of the "Recreio dos Lavradores" band of Camara dos Lobos,
a fishing village in Madeira, was a talented musician who played the
flute, clarinet, violin and piano among other instruments. 
The Band always observed their anniversaries in grand style. On
their eleventh anniversary postponed one month later they celebrated at
Belfield at the home of the well known Portuguese racing enthusiast, Mr.
Luis Fernandes. "After a sumptuous dejeuner," reported the Daily
Chronicle, "and some lively airs were discoursed the band marching
through Victoria Village at intervals of about an hour... gave the people
the full benefit of their musical skill". 1888 seemed a red-letter year
for the band; they came under a new baton, that of Mr. John Miller of
the Militia Band, and for the first time appeared in their new uniform.
These uniforms were quite arresting and made the news:
The tunic and trousers were made of blue-black cloth. A
small red seam is on the outer side of each leg of the
pants, and the tunic is braided after the style of the tu-
nics worn by the Police Inspectors. On the upper side of
the collar band, which is of gold lace, there is a red seam,
and the sleeves are also adorned with gold lace. They
also wore a peakless cap of the same texture of cloth, the
front being marked by a silver ornament plated in
On Easter Monday the smartly turned-out band entertained a large
crowd in the Botanic Gardens from 4 to 6 p.m. with the following pro-
gramme of music:
1. Quick March...."101" ........ STASNY
2. Polka.... "Kirmess" ...... FAUST
3. Potpourri ...."Les Huguenota".. MEYERBEER
4. Waltz..... "Nach des Tages last" FAUST
5. Quadrille.... "Le Mirror aux Belles" BLEGER
1. Overture..... "Wallace"...... BISHOP
2. Mazurka....... "Constance" ... ZIKOFF
3. Selection .... "Robin Hood" ... BIRCH
4. Polka ........ "Un Ballon d'End" FAUST
It will be noticed from their repertoire-their selections of pieces and
composers-that this Philarmonic band was European-oriented in their
musical taste. Here was an example of the high culture of their Portu-
guese heritage. At the same time the folk culture expressed in the render-
ing of their simple, tuneful and meaningful songs, an integral part of
their village life in Madeira, existed side by side with the European
adoptions, and could be heard in the strumming of the rajtos outside the
shops and in the hodses.
Possibly to express this other side of Portuguese culture another
band was established in 1892--the Estudiantina Resauracdo de Demerara.
Its concert given in the Town Hall in September 1892 was hailed as "an
It seems that a few years later in 1898 this band was re-organized
under the title of the Tuna Unido Recreativa Portugueza composed of
twenty young Portuguese under the baton of Mr. A. Serrao. The band
consisted mostly of strings, the flute being the only reed instrument em-
ployed. There were mandolins and braggas (a kind of small Portuguese
guitar), guitars, cellos and lighter instruments. Such a band was
typical of the many bands of young musicians found throughout the
island of Madeira, particularly in the villages.
The Estudiantina String Band seemed to have been newly organised
in 1898 to correspond with the lavish celebrations planned by the Portu-
guese to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the sea
route to India by the famous Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama.
1898 was a memorable year for Portuguese all over the world and the
Madeiran Portuguese in British Guiana joined with their compatriots in
honouring the achievement of da Gama in a number of activities. The
Primeiro de Dezembro Band played a major role in all events. At a concert
held on 15 July-the day of celebration-in the Promenade Gardens, the
B.G. Militia Band joined their fellow badnsmen. On this day all Portu-
guese businesses, even the rum shops, were closed, as the day was ear-
marked for festivities. It was reported that the performances of the
Primeiro de Dezembro Band attracted a large audience; on that day they
must have excelled in their playing.
This year also the Primeiro de Dezembro Band celebrated the twenty-
second anniversary and was joined by both the Estudiantina Band and
the B. G. Militia in giving a moonlight concert in the Promenade Gar-
dens, At this concert the perfromance of the Estuidiantina Band was
"deservedly applauded"; even more noticeable were their pictur-
esque costumes, typical of the Madeiran folk dress. In British Guiana
moonlight concerts were a great favourtie among the people and these
were held in the Promenade and Botainic Gardens and on the Sea Wall,
the entrance fee being the princely sum of four cents!
For the String Band the new century brought a new look-the intro-
duction of young ladies who played the bandolins, violins and piano.
They were considered the big feature of the vocal and instrumental con-
cert given in the Town Hall on 1 June 1900. They received "unquali-
fied applause" by a large audience. It was especially noted that "The
Waltz music by the bandolins was perhaps the most popular item of the
evening, the young bandolinistes being Mrs. M. L. Da Costa, Miss. E.
Serrao, Miss. V. Teixeira, Miss. M. A. Teixeira, Miss G. Henriques, Miss.
M. C. Serra, Miss. J. De Souza and Miss M. P. Gonsalves, piano. A
few days later the band, fresh from its success, was again in demand
giving a patriotic concert in the Promenade Gardens, this time for the
government commemorating the entry of Lord Roberts into Pretoria.
Through the first decade of the twentieth century the band played
on. On 1st December 1901 the Primeiro de Dezembro Band celebrated its
twenty-fifth anniversary. A letter to the press gave great praise to the ac-
complishments of this band, showing that over the years its playing
powers had been generally recognized and appreciated. However, it
seemed that in the last few years, absence from the colony, death and
lack of both interest and funds had thinned out its ranks. In 1901 only
sixteen playing members remained of whom Mr. V. X. de Silva, the
President and Conductor of the Band, was one of the original members;
Mr. A. Angelo de Nobrega, the Secretary and Treasurer, had joined in
1881. It was very much hoped that financial help would be forthcoming
to purchase new instruments, new uniforms, and new music. Above all
the band, claimed to be "the oldest Portuguese institution in the colony,"
stood in need of new blood.
Although the band did not really return to its original complement it
was still in action, especially delighting the crowds at moonlight concerts
and on special occasions. One reads of their performances at a grand
Moonlight Coronation Concert in August 1902 on the Sea Wall to honour
the coronation of their Majesties, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra
at which they played a medley of popular English patriotic airs, includ-
ing "Rule Britannia" and "The British Grenadiers". Although they
honoured the British patriotic events they never forget their own and on
such occasions the band would entertain the Portuguese Consul or Vice-
Consul at his home.
One would have noted throughout the text the observations that the
bands played to large audiences, while some reports espeically com-
mented on the fact that those large appreciative audiences were com-
posed mainly of the Portuguese community. However, it must not be
concluded that only the Portuguese enjoyed those musical entertain-
ments. The moonlight concerts held in the Gardens and on the Sea Wall
on special occasions or on public holidays were frequented by the Geor-
getown crowds, a mixed ethnic group. Comments of a crowd in a
happy, holiday mood summed up the merits and de-merits of the Portu-
guese band as illustrated in this delightful dialogue overheard on the Sea
Wall on a public holiday morning. The trams were running fully
packed. The scene was described as "a disturbed ants nest but with all
the ants in excellent humour". A donkey cart had brought the musical
stands for the band and the men had arrived in ones and twos. Shortly
after six o'clock the music began and the crowd gathered round to listen
and to criticise.
"Dey is not like de Militia," said one. "Dey will neva reach de Mili-
"Oh, dey do very well," said another. "You tink is a easy job fo' play
music, no? Wha' instrument you can play at all?"
"'E can play de fool very well," suggested a third; and there was
laughter at the expense of number 2.
The bandsmen also came in for their share of bantering criticism. It
was conjectured that the thin one had come "widout 'e tea", while it was
agreed that the bass had been made for his instrument.
Whether it was the classical music of the Primeiro de Dezembro Band
or the popular music of the Estudiantina String Band; whether the music
was played at the Town Hall, Philarmonic Hall, Assembly Rooms,
Promenade or Botanic Gardens, or the Sea Wall, the Portuguese bands
were very much part of the musical scene in the colony and contributed
in no small way to the social entertainment of a wide cross section of the
1. Sarah Bradford, Portugal (London: Thames and Hudson, 1973), p. 7.
2. Francis Rogers, Atlantic Islands of the Azores and the Madeiras
(North Quincy, Massachusetts, The Christopher Publishing House,
1979), p. 49.
3. Governor James Carmichael Smyth to Earl of Aberdeen, 25 May
4. Monthly Returns of Portuguese Emigrants-enclosures in Governor
Henry Light to Lord Stanley, No.55, 22 November 1841.
5. Mr. James Hackett to Gov. H. Light enc. in No.4, 5 July 1841-Papers
Relative to the West Indies. British Guiana, 1841-42.
6. Rev. H.V.P. Bronkhurst, The Colony of British Guiana and Its
Labouring Population (London, 1883), p.101.
7. William Combe, A History of Madeira. With a Series of Twenty-
Seven Coloured Engravings, illustrations of the Costumes, Manners
and Occupations of the Inhabitants of That Island (London: R. Ack-
erman, 1821), p.77.
8. The machete resembles a small guitar, though it has but 4 strings all
of catgut. The most difficult and classical music can be agreeably
played on the machete. See Anthony Drexel Biddle, The Land of the
Wine, being an Account of the Madeira Island at the Beginning of
the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia and San Francisco: Drexel
Biddle, 1901), n, 62.
The rajAo consisting of five strings is a well-known musical instru-
ment of the Madeirans. It was known as the local guitar in Ma-
deira-"similar to the cavaquinho of the Minho-which was taken to
Hawaii where it was adopted as the ukelele. See Emesto Veiga de
Oliveira, "Portuguese Folk Music Instruments", Atlantis, Vol. 7,
No.3 (May/June, 1987), 33.
9. Rogers, p.391. Over the years high culture penetrated folk culture in
what Rogers called "a see-saw movement", p392.
10. B.G./15 Fr. Walker to Fr. Provincial, 6 November 1861, f.481. Jesuit
11. C.O. 116/16. The Colonist, 5 April 1854.
12. O Direito, No.l Quarta Feira, 2 de Novembro 1859. Archivo de Re-
gional, Funchal ...- -...
13. Ibid., No.22, Sabbada, 7 de Abril 1860. No evidence has yet been
found of this play being produced in nineteenth century Demerara.
In May 1985, however, as part of the 150th Anniversary celebrations
of the arrival of the Portuguese in British Guiana, the drama, trans-
lated by Sandra Grainger, Moder Languages Department, U.G., and
produced by the U.G. Drama Group under John Rollins, Division of
Creative Arts, waspresented over Radio Demerara.
14. Joel Benjamin, "The Early Theatre in Guyana", Kyk-Over-Al, No37
(December, 1987), 30-31.
15. The Colonist, 5 February 1869.
16. Ibid., 2 March 1869.
17. Ibid., 28 July 1869.
18. Roby Amorim, "While the Band Played On", Atlantis, Vol. 6, No.2
(May/June, 1986), 17.
20. Luis de Sousa Melo and Susan E. Farrow, Impressions of Madeira
in the Past (Funchal: Patio-English Bookshop, 1983), p.29.
21. The Watchman, 8 December 1876. N.A.G.
23. The Daily Chronicle, 25 January 1893. N.A.G.
24. Ibid., 31 January 1888.
25. Ibid., 4 April 1888.
26. Ibid., 1 April 1888.
27. Ibid., 14 September 1892.
28. Ibid., 9 October 1898. The bandmaster, A. SerrAo, was a composer in
his own right, conducting five pieces of his own composition. The
braggas were played quite admirably by small boys.
29. The Daily Chronicle, 16 July 1898. One writer signing himself
'Luso' expressed the hope that Portuguese employees in English
business places would also be given a holiday. For said he: "I am
almost certain that the English gentlemen will not deny this request
knowing especially how England benefited in the discovery of the
sea route to India by this illustrious Portuguese sailor".
30. Ibid., 2 December 1898.
31. Ibid., 3 June 1900.
33. Ibid., 12 June 1900.
34. The Argosy, 30 November 1901.
35. The Daily Chronicle, 17 August 1902.
36. Ibid., 14 March 1888; The Daily Argosy, 17 November 1908.
37. The Daily Argosy, 17 November 1901.
LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY
IN THE POETRY OF MARTIN CARTER
By STEPHANOS STEPHANIDES
The work of Martin Carter, foremost Guyanese poet and no doubt
one of the most distinguished writers of the English speaking Caribbean
to date, has been acclaimed both regionally and internationally by critics
However, for most readers of literature in the industrial countries of
the north, the literature of the English-speaking Caribbean begins and
ends with the Trinidadian V.S. Naipaul. It has now been agreed among
many critics that a good part of Naipaul's distinction internationally,
among equally meritorious Caribbean writers, is due to his negative
evaluation of the Caribbean experience. His writing confirms prejudices
of the industrial countries of the north regarding the south. Interestingly,
his lesser talented brother Shiva, has gained a readership in North Amer-
ica and the United Kingdom but not in his native region. Paradoxically,
his novel A Hot Country, in which Guyana serves as a model for the
fictional country Cuyama, a paradigm of a failed post-colonial society,
has never been mentioned to me in Guyana. Shiva Naipaul's novel does
little to evaluate the nation's experience through colonialism, slavery, in-
dentureship, and the post-colonial struggle for survival as an independ-
ent nation. Perhaps the difficulties and upheavals of transition from
colonialism to independence have been felt more deeply and are more
visible in Guyana than in the other English-speaking Caribbean nations
making it easy prey for Shiva Naipaul's political satire. Martin Carter
offers a radically different perspective on the Caribbean experience to the
Naipaul brothers. The approach to language and identity separates Car-
ter from the Naipauls. For the Naipauls, man's identity is defined by the
negative verdict of his history. They seem ashamed of their Caribbean
identity. In antithesis to this attitude Carter explores identity in the
ceaseless tension between man's Desire and man's fate, which is repre-
sented by Time. For Carter, language is man's key of access to the
Desire-Time polarity. In its artistic expression language can articulate
man's quest for identity. Carter's work represents a quest for life within
and without to reintegrate the individual in a divided social nexus and a
fragmented historical experience.
2. Caribbean Identity Viewed in A Hot Country by Shiva Naipaul
The novel opens with reference to a history lesson taught in
Cuyamese schools, which as in V.S. Naipaul's The Loss of El Dorado,
depicts Guyanese history as a disappointment from the arrival of the
It was told how Sir Walter Raleigh had come to this
wilderness. But he had found nothing worth finding-
only the overwhelming forest and tribes of miserable
aboriginals; men barely progressed beyond the Stone
Age; who painted their bodies; who lived off roots and
small wild animals; who shot fish with poisoned arrows;
who, occasionally, hunted each other's head. He came
and went away to be beheaded in the Tower of Lon-
Later a teacher describes the ethnic variety of Cuyamese. Rather
than a sense of the potential of a varied cultural heritage, this causes a re-
sponse of bewilderment among his students:
So it was that all the people we call Cuyamese came,
creating a blend of many peoples, many religions, many
cultures. All different and still all Cuyamese.
They looked at him and at each other and did not
know what to think or how to respond. (HC. p. 5)
The conclusion of the novel defines the Cuyamese as having no self
or soul and no creativity:
But, down deep in their hearts, the mob did not
want to create. Creation was not possible for them. (HC.
A void. Darkness. Unspecified hunger. That was all
they had-their darkness, their hunger. They did not
have a self, a soul, to call their own. (HC. p. 184)
Carter is in antithesis to the above view, not because he embraces a
facile nationalism or social optimism in the face of the negative legacy of
the colonial past and the uncertainty of no straightforward path into the
future, but because for him language is a living thing. For the Naipauls
language is a dead thing defining a static reality that has no possibility of
change. For Carter, language is a means for transformation and an at-
tempt to rescue the human being from a language that institutionalizes
its own fragmented subjectivity.
Carter puts language under scrutiny as part of his moral and artistic
concern to distinguish between a language which fosters the centering
and growth of the human being in the community and the world, and a
language which consolidates a world inimical to his fulfillment in con-
spiracy with time, 'the time', 'our time', the negative verdicts of history.
Language is a valuable tool as it is able to open up the individual's
scale of choices. But at the same time it is not innocent; by its very nature
it selects, combines, and excludes, creating its own mythic figurations to
serve its conscious and unconscious purposes. Carter draws attention to
this, beginning his most recent anthology, Poems of Affinity with a
quote from Heidegger quoting Holderlin "language, the most innocent
of all occupations, is the most dangerous of all possessions. " In one of
the poems in the same anthology he warns:
As when, as out, and as when as
in, I walk decidingly about
disappear. Watch my language. (PA. p. 75)
Similarly Carter expresses in "Proem" the problematic relationship
and dissociation between the speaker/poet and the words/poem and in
turn the poem's relationship to reality. The 'rule breaking' device in the
poem/proem contrast underscores this and shows poetic language to be
endlessly moving from one level of meaning to another as soon as it is
Not, in the saying of you, are you
said. Baffled and like a root
stopped by a stone you turn back questioning
the tree you feed. But what the leaves hear
is not what the roots ask. 
The art of Carter, and also the art of Wilson Harris as I have dis-
cussed in another essay, embraces the idea that language is a dialogue
between two polarities-desire and time, self and history. Implicit in the
dialogical nature of language is the possibility of transformation through
dialogue with itself and others. In the poem "In a certain time" this
dialogue is portrayed by Martin Carter as the hoot of an owl defying the
eye of a toad, an animal that is an instrument of black magic and, there-
fore, spiritual death:
In a certain time I have lingered.
But as an owl hoots
to startle the vile eye of a toad
and initiate its own defiance of dark:
I also speak. (PA. p. 27)
In this context impoverishment of speech comes to signify a breach
of faith in one's experience. Carter establishes a link between man's con-
struction of self, his perception of world, and language:
So now/ how come/ the.treason of thespirit? -
So now/ how come/ the bafflement of speech?
How Come? (PS. p. 94)
An intimate link is suggested here between language and historical
memory. Impoverishment of speech is an expression of a sensibility
plunderd by the negativity of historical legacy. In Carter's "Our Time" a
muttering at the bottom of trenches expresses man's incapacity to come
into harmony with 'our time'. Our perception of world and identity
depends on the struggle between time and being which is paradoxically
expressed in the following lines:
The more the men of our time we are
the more our time is. But always we
have been somewhere else. Muttering
our mouths like holes in the mud
at the bottom of trenches (PA. p. 15)
The language of the poet in his affinity with the human spirit is a
negative/affirmative dialectic to subvert the jaws of time by a loan of its
tongue. In its negation of time, language becomes an affirmation of life:
this world time is a snare
and I am, masticated
by its jaws. All I could have
and have done was to borrow
its tongue. With that loan
I have gained a mastery
of the language of our negative yes. (PA. p. 31)
Hence the object of the poetic quest is to uncover the potential for
being. I say potential because it is a desire in language which is in
process. This is attested to by the use the conditional in the title of the
poem "If it were given":
If it were given to me
I would have had a serious conversation
with the fertile dial of the clock of the sun.
But then, I admit, I would have had to change
the language of the dead
I would have had to haunt the cemetery where the living
believe they put away the varnished coffins
which mock them into making
wreaths for themselves and graveyards for their passions
and victories that mean nothing to them
though they win the trophy of life:
that cupped hand of anguish
open for love (but scattering pain
like seeds of padi) in the murdering drought. (PS. p. 90)
The death/sun opposition intrinsically links the nature of language
with the nature of consciousness and reveals the poetic quest to be a
quest for integration and wholeness whose objective is victory over time.
The poet is thus potentially a healer for the individual who becomes
locked in his journey towards death through experience of loss and de-
feat. The sun clock is a counter clock to the time of historical duration or
conventional time which leads to death. The operative verbs are
"change" and "haunt" making the poet's dialogue a counter dialogue
subverting the buried past in an attempt to restore man to his original
potentiality. The fertile dial of the clock of the sun, like the Heraclitean
flux or the Indian mandala, here becomes a symbol of the wholeness of
the inner self which can recreate the fragmented individual or commu-
nity identity. Carter's is not a poetry of mystical participation, for the ego
is not set adrift, but oscillates in its dialogue between polarities-ertile
dial, sun clock, life, victory, love versus language of the dead, cemetery,
coffins, graveyard, nothing, pain, drought. This tension, often imbued
with anguish and torment, is the propelling force behind man's potential
to think, feel, and grow. It is the paradox of man's existence that death,
which negates life, thus mocking the individual, also gives significance
to the act of creation, making life a trophy and victory for man.
"If it were given" in theme and structure can serve as a model for
understanding the whole span of Carter's work from the '50's to the
'80's. While there is an evolution in Carter's poetic form, there is also a
continuity in his underlying concern to explore the potential of poetic
discourse to challenge or subvert the compelling pressure of time or the
time. This is true whether the oppressor is portrayed as an external
agent as in "This Is The Dark Time My Love":
Whose boot of steel tramps down the slender grass?
It is the man of death, my love, the strange invader
watching you sleep and aiming at your dream. (PS. p. 42)
or as our own demeaned sensibilities as in "Our Time":
Is it only just a misfortune
to be as we are; bad luck
carefully chosen? (PA. p. 15)
I am not suggesting that there is a clear cut division in Carter's work
or in reality between external agent of oppression and demeaned sensi-
bility. Poems may refer to specific political events, the condition of Car-
ibbean man, or universal man. Oppressors may be removed, new ones
may emerge, and history may continue to plunder our sensibility; but
the main concern remains man's capacity to tap a source for the renewal
In his poem "They Say I Am", Carter indicates the source of poems
to be in man's cosmogonic yearning; the process of creating true poems
means death to the intrusive individual ego:
Poems are written either for the dying
or the unborn, no matter what we say.
That does not mean his audience lies remote
inside a womb or some cold bed of agony.
It only means that we who want true poems
must all be born again, and die to do so. (PS. p.61)
Carter is often referred to as a "poet of revolution". He is that in the
broadest sense. In his conception of the wholeness of the human person,
Carter's art does not involve a commitment to an unchanging world but
explores man's identity as a continuous coming-into-being in the whirl-
pool between self-destruction and self-creation. In his concern with the
paradoxes of language and the imagination, he conceives of poetic lan-
guage as a catalyst capable of raising man's awareness of his place in the
universe and his courage to overcome the contradictions of his time.
1. Shiva Nalpapul, A Hot Country, (London: Abacus, 1984), p. 1. Hence-
forth referred to a HC.
2. Martin Carter, Poems of Affinity 1978-80, (Georgetown: Release Pub-
lications, 1980), p. xiii. Carter refers to this quotation as being from
Heidegger on Holderlin. In effect it is Holderlin's own words quoted
by Heidegger in his essay on Holderlin "Holderlin and the Essence of
Poetry". Furthermore, it is two quotes from Holderlin combined into
one. The first "language the most innocent of all occupations', is an
extract from a letter to his mother of January 1799; the second that
language "is the most dangerous of all possessions" is a quote from a
study of 1800. See "Holderlin y la esencia de la poesia" in Martin
Heidegger Arte y Poesfa (Mexico: Fondo de cultural economic, 1958.)
p. 126, p. 128, p. 129. Poems of Affinity is henceforth referred to as
3. Marter Carter, Poems of Succession, (London and Port of Spain: New
Beacon Books, 1977), P. 9. Henceforth referred to as PS.
Extract from an interview with Rovin Deodat
shortly after being awarded the 1987 Guyana Prize for Fiction
on December 8th 1987
(This is part of a longer interview given by Wilson Harris interpreting
various readings which he gave at the same time.)
Rovin Deodat -We are very happy to have you with us and to be able
to discuss your idea of the novel and your concept of the use of literature
in places like Guyana at their particular stage of development. One of
the concepts we have been hearing from you is this idea of "marginal-
ity". Wilson, you did mention this even at the Guyana Prize presenta-
tion. Could we ask you now to give us another look at what you see as
"marginal" and the "marginal society"?
Wilson Harris -Marginality is something one can pursue at many lev-
els. But I want to seize on something that people would relate to imme-
diately. Let us take a figure like the porkknocker.
The porkknocker is a figure I encountered in the interior of this
country. I don't know if porkknockers still move around in the interior,
they used to do when I was a young man. In those days porkknockers
could mine on the creeks, they could mine on the banks of a river, whereas
now they would need machinery to go deeper inside. There may still be
a few floating porkknockers around.
One of the things which interested me about the old time porkknock-
ers was that they would sometimes have names such as "Caesar Augus-
tus", or "Byzantine Emperor", or "the Pope".
I think this came out of their isolation, the profound necessity to
create a fiction. But it is curious that they should adorn themselves with
the apparatus of major figures of the past and of the present. I don't
think that they understood what they were doing but for me it was like a
kind of signal coming out of the unconscious of the society.
So, first of all, we see these figures playing these tremendous roles
without necessarily understanding the implications of what they were
doing, and virtually to no audience because they were living in the inte-
rior with perhaps only Dne or two companions. The next thing is that
these porkknockers were living on "the edge" and they lived on a shoe-
That is what the word pork-knocking implies. You take the barrel
with the salted pork and turn it over and you knock out the last scraps of
meat because things are bad. Things are hard and you have to go on
digging in the creeks but you have to have food, you must scrape all the
time. You may have caught some fish in the river, you may get some
wild meat, but it is always scraping.
In the midst of this one could have the most peculiar and strange
conversations with these porkknockers in which one sensed a gnawing
within. Something was eating away at them. Without fully realising it
they were asking questions about why they were here? Why were they
doing something like this? And, was it gold they were looking for, or
was it something else? There was an element of hallucination, because it
can be terrifying to live alone in the Bush. You hear all sorts of whispers
and sounds in the Bush. Sometimes the rain is falling far away and just
that light drizzle from afar infuses the atmosphere of the Bush with a
misty smoke and a misty sound as if fire were running through the
leaves. You would hear strange sounds in the forests. I have known
men who were unable to remain in the forest even for a single day.
There is the case of a man who was left behind in camp when the party
went out deep into the forest. Suddenly we heard a terrible drumming.
This man had taken up a bucket, climbed a tree and was beating fiercely
on the bucket to bring us back. The isolation had gotten to him.
So you have this figure of the porkknocker, and it dawned on me
even in those younger days-I could not intellectualise it then, but it was
a deep intuition I felt-that this marginal figure was in myself, part of
the everlasting stranger in myself. The everlasting stranger in oneself is
always a figure out there who has to address one from a position of ex-
Not only those one sympathises with, but even the people one does
not sympathise with! They are all marginal figures, because one could
be in their skins at a certain extremity. The point is that when one begins
to look at all these complications, suddenly one realises that one has the
chance of revising the premises of the great voyagers- Magellan who
circumnavigated the globe, the Portuguese navigators who came into the
Caribbean. (There were also porkknockers of African descent, Portu-
guese descent and others). These voyagers, therefore, suddenly seemed
to me to become a kind of strange porkknocker.
Remember, these voyagers would be becalmed at sea, their provi-
sions would decline, they would be at "the edge", they would look for a
shrimp in the sea or a fish or something to survive. And suddenly it
occurred to me that these great museum figures in Europe, these voyag-
ers who had circumnavigated the globe had another value. I began to
ask myself what was the value residing in these voyagers? I couldn't
answer it by going to the museum and reading the chronology there-I
would get a good historical chronicle but that didn't satisfy me because
in those histories these voyagers appeared to be simple technicians-as a
man drives a car a man could sail a ship-but is that all that the voyagers
were? Then it dawned on me that the concept of the marginal figure, like
the porkknocker, could infuse Magellan and others with a new density,
with new roots. The ocean was part of the forest of the mind, just as the
forest was part of the ocean of the mind. And you could suddenly sense
that these great voyagers would acquire new roots and new density-
that is the subversive strategy of The Infinite Rehearsal, in that the voy-
ager can no longer sit comfortably on the premises of history. These
premises have to be revised because the voyager has been out away from
his roots, his roots in which nature had elements in it which could bring
disease and malaise. But Nature also has a therapeutic thread running
through it, a visionary and therapeutic thread that becomes more illumi-
nating and luminous when one realises the very critical position one
finds one self in. Then one has to relate to that thread, as a thread which
charges one's civilisation with meaning. Otherwise you will simply suc-
cumb to the disease, to the malaise, to the deformation. That could easily
happen if people are pushed into a marginal situation where they seem
irrelevant to the civilisation.
People do become irrelevant and the fodder for authoritarian re-
gimes which may harness them to do this job or that job or which may
imprison them or treat them as doomed creatures. But the civilisation is
impoverished when it does that.
On the other hand, in a more positive sense, you begin to imbue the
great voyagers with a new density and new roots. One interrogates the
building blocks of a civilisation. Those voyages were immensely impor-
tant. It does seem to me if we are to understand their value we may
paradoxically do this from an extreme or marginal position.
Rovin Deodat -Wilson, I think one can take this one step further, but
before I do that let me ask you something that has been bothering me. I
think I now understand this concept of marginality and as you said
maybe here we have the building blocks of a new civilisation, maybe
another movement in the history of mankind. But how conscious must
the people who are involved in this new movement be of their own roles
as marginal people for that to succeed? You were saying for example that
the porkknockers were unconsciously so, the voyagers were unconsciously
so. Is there an imperative in history which would push them towards
something new or must they themselves recognize their role before this
newness can begin?
Wilson Harris -Well, that is where the community is challenged. If it
brings together the diseased parts and says that is the whole of society,
as many of the intellectuals are doing, then there is no hope. But if the
society realises what is happening then it may become extremely impor-
tant as we move into the 21st Century.
These societies could become a storehouse of creative conscience. For
example, in Carnival you may remember the man who had a donkey-
cart called "Orion Chariot". In my boyhood I used to see buses running
on the East Coast of Demerara with all these names-names which had
to do with Constellations, with Emperors and others, but why should a
man call his donkey-cart "Orion Chariot"?
We discovered not long before that, in Carnival, that something hap-
pened to a man as he was looking into a creek with a torchlight. He
shone his torch into the creek and illumined the eyes of the crocodile
which was below the water. At nights if you shine your torch into the
creek the eyes of the crocodile glow like stars, like coal. Not in the day,
only at night.
That is how we knew when crocodiles were lurking in the creeks. I
used that image to suggest that the denizens of the inferno were pulling
their weaponry, their cannon, along. The eyes of the crocodile also may
relate to a constellation within the folk imagination.
Therefore, the constellation has roots in the eyes of the crocodile and
it appears that this is a wounded apparition in the novel because earlier
the young boy who was playing on the beach was playing "crab-nebula"
and he had suffered a wound.
Once again vulnerable humanity, wounded humanity, within the
masks of Carnival, becomes imaginatively capable of grasping what is
happening to it, that it not only transfers its wounded selfhood into the
heavens, but in doing so it suddenly becomes aware that all the creatures
around it are vulnerable, even the terrifying crocodile is vulnerable be-
cause once you put that light on its eyes then you could aim a gun there
if you wanted to kill the creature.
But the point I wish to make is that these societies are plagued with
violence. You can see it right through, from Haiti through the West
Indies, into this area and further in South America. How are we going to
repair that violence unless we have a very deep-seated concept of self-
judgement? Self-judgement comes partly from the excavating of biases.
It also comes from finding new density to formidable themes-the
great Orion Constellation-you know Orion has the sword, but if you
look closely at Orion you will se one wrist is severed. Orion has suf-
fered a wound and therefore Orion relates to inner as much as outer
space, to a wounded yet implicitly transfigured humanity in the margins
I return to what I said before, History is not pure. You would think
that the burden of such enquiry would fall upon Europe. After all,
Europe has the equipment, and the institutions. But it is not falling on
Europe because Europe is prosperous. And prosperity shackles people.
Understandably it makes them less inclined to take risks. I know this is a
complex irony, an irony rooted in materialism. Prosperity should liber-
ate. Except when it becomes an absolute kind of materialism. In other
words freedom of ideological choice is becoming inhibited. But we who
live here (in the marginal societies) are so challenged that we must be
involved in this kind of enquiry. It is an unfair burden. But that is the
burden which history has placed on this community. Either this commu-
nity will become nihilistic, it will group together all its diseased parts
and say the whole society is diseased, or it will start to read these differ-
ent levels I bring in my novels. It seems to me that the fiction I write is
deeply rooted in the pysche of the marginal man and woman. Paradoxi-
cally such fiction possesses universality for that reason.
It does not possess universality because of some sophisticated com-
edy of manners narrative which you can compare to Jane Austen's works,
where people reflect on refinements of behaviour-who is good and who
is bad; and who is the hero. I do not, however, dispute that this type of
fiction has its value and importance.
But many black writers, who do not like to admit it, write comedy of
manners. Their fiction is protest, protest all the time. But when you
protest against something and that is all you do, you are conditioned by
the thing you protest against. You have to find a different way of charg-
ing the thing you protest against with a different density and different
roots. Then you begin to create questions which cause the premises on
which that thing stands to yield a capacity for revision.
Rovin Deodat -What seems to be coming out here is that, if you take a
writer like V.S. Naipaul, there you have someone with a very nihilistic
view of the Caribbean, and lately of the entire world. It seems to me that
you are at one end and someone like Naipaul is at the very opposite end.
Naipaul seems to provide a very good demonstration of your thesis of
bringing together the diseased parts and labelling it the whole-hence
reflecting a diseased world, a diseased Guyana and the Caribbean.
Wilson Harris -I have to leave that kind of comment to you.
Rovin Deodat -Is this the first time, from your point of view, that a
civilisation has had to look at the question of marginality as we have to,
or has this happened when Europe was unsettled before it moved into its
current prosperity, or the Romans or Greeks?
Wilson Harris -The Roman and Greek worlds were overturned by mar-
ginal figures-the early Christians, who were they?-at the very fringes
of the civilised world. But they were to raise questions that were to
stagger the civilised world. Those question .vere not raised by great phi-
losophers. They were not raised by the men who were at the centre of
the court. They were raised by marginal figures.
Marginality has not been properly explored. Marginality means that
you relate to a civilisation at a level where the civilisation has to question
itself and revise its premises, and that brings about an element of pro-
The violence we experience in this part of the world is not simply
violence which comes out of the Imperial world. We are continuously
blaming the Imperial world-this is not to say that the Imperial world
has not left legacies here which we have to deal with-but at a certain
level we have the authority, not the authoritarianism, the authority to
understand that our freedom is an immensely precious and valuable
asset and that freedom speaks eloquently to the world, because then you
are saying that the human person cannot be discarded, the human per-
son is not irrelevant. This is something we have to understand ourselves.
So we have to look at these forms which we have tended to accept with-
out appreciating the fact they need to be profoundly revised in the way I
Rovin Deodat -In this exploration you have used memory and the
Jungian theory of the collective unconscious. How does that work for
Wilson Harris -Why I tend to think that the Jungian theory of the un-
conscious does work is that over the years I have proven it for myself. I
revised my work ... but I can't go into it in detail. Let me just say that
behind this book Carnival, 172 pages, lies about 700 800 pages of draft.
As one revises, one discovers clues in the work which seem to be
planted there by someone else. I call them intuitive clues. So they come
out of the unconscious and you revise through those. Now as you revise
through those clues, you are throwing light backwards and forwards.
Very often you have to discard areas of your manuscript which seem
precious and nice. They have to go because of a kind of inner command.
Then the momentum comes. You might write 300 pages before the key
turns in the lock. Then these clues begin to come together. And a mo-
mentum is born which drives the work, in which the work seems to
Rovin Deodat -I am glad you said that because I always thought that
you deliberately set out to write short novels. Most of your books are no
more than 200 pages, but behind that as you have said is an enormous
amount of work.
Wilson Harris -That is true. If I had retained all the original draft of
Carnival it would have been a much longer novel but a betrayal of the
The drawing on the facing page, done in pen and ink by Stanley Greaves in the
1960's, was made in response to this poem of Wordsworth McAndrew:
LEGEND OF THE CARRION CROW
They call you Carrion Crow
scorn to eat your flesh
spit when they see you administering the last rites
call you Cathartes, the Clean-up,
yet if they only knew
the secret of your strange religion.
Once you were the silver bird of the heavens
once you flew as high and as free
as only a bird can. The sky was yours
for you were king of the air
was the secret of your discontent:
it was not enough to just live and die,
not knowing. You kept asking, whence came 1?
whither go I, and why? The sky
must hold the answer, you thought,
and sought long and desperately
to glimpse what lay beyond it.
Relentlessly you fought
pitted bone and tendon
against the blue barrier that mocked you, locked you off
from the secret world behind its curvature.
But you were more determined than it knew
and could fly higher.
So you perspired at your quest
until, one inspired day, you flew
so hard and so fast against the blue
closing your wings at the last
minute for penetration
that at last you had a look at the other side.
Nobody knows what you saw
when you passed through
but you burned in that sacred blue fire
and returned, black as coals, dumb,
numb from the experience
to become this mendicant preacher
minister to those souls who die without sacrament
trading blessings for food
a saved soul for a full belly.
And now when I see you
crowding a carcass for the unction
or nailed against the sky like a crucifix
with the two spots of tarnished silver
beneath your wings where you'd closed them
I long to have you say a De Profundis for me,
when I die, and I wonder:
Was yours a punishment or a purification?
Derek Walcott, The Arkansas Testament,
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 112 pages.
Review by Anthony Kellman
Webster's New World Dictionary describes a testimony as "any
affirmation or declaration". The Old and New Testaments in the Bible
are considered affirmative covenants between god and man established
through the mediation of prophets. A will is also a testament, a declara-
tive "last will and testament". This preamble of definitions is not merely
the ramblings of an undisciplined reviewer, but is motivated by issues
raised in The Arkansas Testament (Derek Walcott's latest book of po-
etry), and is an attempt to find an adequate context for the discussion of
Divided into two parts-"Here" and Elsewhere"-the poems con-
tain subjective/objective declarations concerning the poet's place in his
homeland, the Caribbean, and other northern places where he often so-
journs. Walcott's two testaments are both Old and New, underlining the
book's structural parallel with the Bible. "Here" can be seen as an Old
Testament-the poet's origins and past life in the Caribbean; while "Else-
where"-a New Testament-articulates his current experiences in the
United States where he works.
What links the two geographically disparate parts of the book is
the poet's sense of personal invisibility, and his disappointment, even at
times despair, at the human condition. Walcott's is a continuing quest to
integrate two selves fashioned by his African and European ancestries.
Because he is neither and always "Here" and "Elsewhere", Walcott, time
and time again, finds himself an outsider, an Everyman figure, "schizo-
phrenic, wrenched by two styles" ("Codicil", The Castaway, 1965).- -
From his sense of historical alienation in The Castaway and The
Star Apple Kingdom (1979); through The Fortunate Traveller (1981),
who is fortunate only in the sense that he is in a position to escape places
when they become unbearable, but who is hounded by guilt complexes;
through his penultimate collection Midsummer (1984) where in
"Gaugin" he concedes his regret that "I left [The Caribbean] too late",
Walcott in The Arkansas Testament still seems to be wrestling with his
Janus double-sided vision and uses this schizophrirenicality of Carib-
bean Man to testify to the failures of regional Independences to sustain
artists there. In a bid to find his place/the poet's place in a world of
arrogance, pride, upside-down-values and racism, Walcott presents a
personal Testament which is universal in its implications, and which
challenges the reader to be more open in terms of relationships, racial
As recently characteristic in the openings of his books, Walcott
returns to the Caribbean in the poem "The Lighthouse", to his island
home St. Lucia where "Stars pierce their identical spots/over Castries..."
Nothing, apparently, has changed. The domino-slamming men in the
rum shops share the same ribald jokes, while "Unaging moonlight falls/
on the graves". The tightly-structured metre of this long poem suggests
the tenseness and apprehension the poet feels on returning home. The
imagery of the poem also reflects his psychological precariousness. The
full moon is described as "A coin tossed once overhead,/that stuck there,
not heads or tails".
The personas in this poem, very reminiscent of V.S. Naipaul's
hopeless characters, are the dispossessed, men who have become victims
of historical legacies of attrition and post-Independence victimisation.
There are drunks; an actor "lost in the post office! Stripped/A superflu-
ous character written out of script"; children running down crooked
streets, some falling, most taking "the straight/road from their galvani-
In "The Three Musicians", a parody of the tale of the Biblical wise
men, three down-and-out musicians go house to house on Christmas day
serenading neighbours for food and drink. These men who "eat in
silence...belt out two straights,/ then start singing like shite..." are pitied
by the master of the house who "feels/that this heart will burst" at the
sight of these three "kings".
Another character, the persona in "A Letter From The Old Guard"
who has served with Lord Alexander in the Sudan, is reduced to an
arthritic night watchman. It is Remembrance Day, and the elderly man
reflects proudly on his days in the colonial army. Today, he has very
little to show for his heroic exploits and attributes his fate to the failures
of the new Independences. He states with some bitterness: "Then we get
Independence all of a sudden/and something went. We can't run any-
thing/... we black people".
The dots of stars that mottle the sky in "The Lighthouse", suggest-
ing ellipsis or incompleteness, is the point where the poet resumes his ex-
ploration of his island/history/self with each return. The fact that Wal-
cott consistently makes this effort at coming to terms with his heritage is
a hope in itself.
Not only does Walcott have a stubborn love for his homeland, but
he is extremely courageous in his quest for stability and wholeness con-
sidering that his responses to the region are often tinged-sometimes
laced-with terror and dread. In "Cul De Sac Valley", he notes that "the
forest runs/sleeping, its eyes shut", and that "Pigeon Island/pins the sea
in its claws". This disturbing imagery underlines the poet's fear of Car-
ibbean leaders bounding into the twenty-first century through the
dark- the blind leading the blind (?)-and is articulated, I think, out of a
sense of responsibility and concern for his homeland.
In "Gros Islet", the poet's bitterness (or perhaps it is more disap-
pointment) reaches new intensity and outspokeness. Here, "There is no
wine..., no cheese, the almonds are green,/ the grapes bitter, the lan-
guage is that of slaves". And in "White Magic", white myths are praised
for their authenticity, whereas the local ones are denounced as being
unoriginal, based on ignorance. Walcott writes:
...the deer-footed, hobbling hunter, Papa Bois,
he's just Pan's clone, one more translated satyr
Our myths are ignorance, theirs is literature.
The last poem in Part 1 of the book, "The Light of the World",
highlights Walcott's guilt feelings for having "left" the Caribbean. He
says: "I had abandoned them,...left them to sing Marley's songs of sad-
ness...". Yet, he loves his people's warm neighbourliness, and feels as
though he "might suddenly start sobbing on the public transport" in
which he is travelling. He thinks that he has abandoned them and also
that they have abandoned him. He feels that he should have given them
something more tangible, but all that he can give them is "This thing I
have called "The Light of the World". Earlier in the poem, he refers to a
female muse as the Light of the World, so that it seems as though Wal-
cott is implying that what he will give his people (and perhaps this is the
best possible gift that he can truly give) is his poems, his art.
There are some beautiful poems in Part 2 of this collection as well.
This section's title poem "Elsewhere" takes a look at the effects of war. It
is really a parody of a pastoral. Children waddle in streams, there are
nearby old men, women squatting by a river, and "a stick (stirring) up a
twinkling of butterflies". Above this scene, in contrast, "flies circle their
fathers". "Salsa" is a satirical comment on the New York-izing and
Miami-izing of San Juan; "The Young Wife", an elegy written to a man
whose wife has died of cancer; "For Adrian", a fresh poem about an old
subject-departures. All these poems are tightly structured, using
Walcott's innovative ballad metre.
While there are these fine poems in this part of the book, the sec-
tion, overall, is not as assured as Part 1. Too often, it seems as though
Walcott has not fully assimilated the nuances of the northern cultures
which he writes about. Although always skillfully crafted, several of the
poems here are half-glimpsed cliched sketches. In this section, one gets a
sense of travelogue writing, mere reportage, particularly in the disap-
pointing title poem, The Arkansas Testament.
This thirteen-page poem describes the poet's sojourn in Arkansas, a
racially segregated state. He feels himself "homesick/for islands with
fringed shores", and although very acute in his observations of the
physical surroundings of the place, he lacks an authoritative tone.
The main point of this long poem, though, and one which makes
the link between the two sections, is that "I was still nothing". The poet
is exiled both "Here" and "Elsewhere". In the Caribbean, he is alienated
as an artist; in Arkansas, because he is a black man. Once, in a cafeteria
"I looked for my own area", he writes. "The muttering black decanter/
had all I needed; it could sigh for /Sherman's smoking march to At-
lanta/or the march to Montgomery". The sunshine in Arkansas is cold.
Fearing rejection, the poet asks: "Will I be a citizen/or an afterthought of
It is the fear of regional rejection which drove Caribbean writers to
the Metropolis in the 1950s and 60s, and which is still driving New
Generation writers to the U.S.A. and Canada-those who can leave. It is
this sense of rejection at home which is at the heart of Derek Walcott's
disappointment in the Caribbean. When Bruce King in his introduction
to World Literature in English (Chelsea Associates, New York, 1987)-a
new anthology of Third World poetry and fiction featuring such West
Indian writers as Edward Brathwaite, Andrew Salkey, Tom Clarke and
this writer-says that unlike Walcott, New Generation writers in the
Caribbean no longer have to self-publish, I wonder which Caribbean Mr.
King is talking about. Scores of younger writers-certainly in St. Lucia,
St. Kitts, Grenada, St. Vincent, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago-are
still forced to publish their own chapbooks because of the lack of outlets.
Have things in this area really changed so drastically since Walcott's
day? In a sense, The Arkansas Testament suggests that things have
The hope in The Arkansas Testament is that while the wandering
poet may be nothing, by that very nothingness he has the potential to
contain and be everything. The book is also a testament to the need of
people whether Caribbean or North American-to be less parochial and
provincial in their outlooks on life. As Walcott states in "Tomorrow,
To have loved one horizon is insularity;
it blindfolds vision, it narrows experience.
A Shapely Fire. Changing the Literary Landscape.
Edited by Cyril Dabydeen. Oakville, Cedar Press, 1987.
A Review by Alim Hosein
The increased migration of people for various reasons this past cen-
tury has had a number of implications, not the least of which, to the
student of Literature, are the implications for the Literature that such
people produce in their new countries. In some countries, for example
the United States of America, the existing Literature has been considera-
bly added to by people who are migrants or whose parents were mi-
grants. But sizeable proportions of such Literatures have received dis-
tinction as Literatures in their own right. Hence, we have such additions
to the Literary dictionary as "Black American" and "Jewish American"
Literatures. But some people still ask the question: "Why isn't 'Black
American' Literature simply called 'Black' Literature, or why isn't Jew-
ish American' Literature referred to as 'Jewish' Literature, or why aren't
both simply called 'American' Literature? The question, perhaps has
some force. The tendency to create such hybrid names may be abused
by persons who are partial to labels. Such labels, too, may mean nothing
even to the writer who is so described. On the other hand, they may be
valid descriptions of new currents in Literature.
A recently-published collection of short stories, a play and poems
provides fuel for such consideration. Entitled A Shapely Fire. Chang-
ing the Literary Landscape, this collection not only pulls together some
writing done by West Indians living and writing in Canada, but it also
proposes that such writing constitutes a new category in Literature: Car-
ibbean Canadian Literature. The editor, Guyanese Cyril Dabydeen, sub-
mits that a Caribbean Canadian Literature is in evolution in a quiet man-
ner ("in the closet") but he also points to the fact that a growing number
of Caribbean emigre writers are appearing in regular journals and maga-
The subtitle, Changing the Literary Landscape, makes such a strong
claim that it must be the essential thing to consider. The only definition
of this Literature that Dabydeen offers is that it is a "significant manifes-
tation" of a "vitality f ose and poetry by Caribbean writers who have
made their home in a .. continually shaping and being shaped by
the spirit of place". Morev r, in his Introduction, he suggests a clear
distinction between Caribba Literature or even Caribbean writing in
exile, and Caribbean Canadian Literature when he relates the essential
effect of the Literature heroposes to the strengthening of Canadian
In this context, a real shaping is constantly taking place;
the collective Canadian spirit is enhanced and enriched
by the varied cultural streams and in the fusion of old
and new traditions towards a vital celebration of the
oneness of the evolving Canadian consciousness.
Indeed, there are pieces in this collection which elaborate instances
of intersection of Caribbean and Canadian values, or in which the Carib-
bean mind brings together Caribbean and Canadian images as it muses
in the Canadian context. Daniel Caudeiron's "Day Shift/Night Shift":
At Queen and Spadina
the traffic thunders on, squeezing left
for road repairs, Babylon and Babel converge,
near misses, kissing fenders aqui se habla espanol.
Chinese varieties, Jamaican groceries ...
Karl Gordon's "Strangers at a Glance"
It will be spring
Life begins anew
In its hopeful struggle
To find the promised warmth
This strange new clime.
Across the ocean, Atlantic's swell
And billow. I taste cod
In Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad
and Demerara-more trade. In Newfoundland
Later, I lie drunkenly-
... all explore the dialectics of context, the areas of possibility for authen-
ticity through the connection of Caribbean spirit and Canadian land-
The stories continue the theme. Together, they map the various
ways in which the West Indian responds to the nuances of his new
physical and spiritual context. Thus, sometimes we see him caught be-
tween Canada and the Caribbean (like Sylvie is, in Dabydeen's "Ain't
Got no Cash"); as a total outsider without hope of achieving accommo-
dation (like Marie-Ann in Gerard Etienne's "Deaf Woman") or as a po-
tent, if quiet, catalyst (like the Jamaican in Austin Clarke's "Give it a
But while these examples signal some of the new directions which
West Indian writers are taking, whether this constitutes even the begin-
ning of a new branch in Literature is still questionable. Is this a new
Literature or is it part of the natural development of Caribbean Litera-
ture? The inclusion of the play, Roderick Walcott's "Cul de Sac", some of
the stories: Samuel Selvon's "Zeppy's Machine", Madeline
Coopsammy's "The Tick Tick Bicycle", Neil Bissoondath's "Insecurity"
and some of the poems such as Lilian Allen's "Belly Woman's Lament"
and "Marriage", Dionne Brand's "P.P.S. Grenada" to name a few, which
are all retrievals and evaluations bearing on Caribbean life, does not help
the case either. Dabydeen includes these as examples of what he calls
the "there" aspect of Caribbean Canadian Literature, the experience of
the immediacy of beginnings in what has been called the
there, the place where one came from, seen in terms of the
palpable residues of the spirit manifested in powerful feel-
ings, often of nostalgia, or seeking an enduring identity ...
But this is not very useful. It is difficult to see how such pieces may be
called Canadian in any sense. Much literature about the Caribbean has
been written outside the Caribbean-for example, in Britain-without
claims being made for, for example, a "Caribbean British" Literature.
Does the fact that a story or play or poem was written by a West Indian
living in Canada create a new Literature? Does the location in which a
story was written override the importance of the location about which it
is vitally concerned? Or should the claim for such a Literature be based
on the preposition that an exceptional imaginative process is happening,
resulting in the creation of a unique Literature? In relation to the par-
ticular type of Literature being proposed in this collection, should the
reader not expect it to be perceivably different from both Canadian
Literature and Caribbean Literature even though it may be powerfully
informed by both these traditions?
Yet, A Shapely Fire, including Guyanese, Trinidadian, Barbadian, St.
Lucian, Haitian and Jamaican writers, does justify itself by giving notice
of the many not-so-well-known Caribbean writers working in Canada,
and by showing that these writers handle their material with self-assur-
ance and skill.
CYRIL DABYDEEN Guyanese and Canadian poet and short story
writer; Poet Laureate of Ottawa, 1984-86; book of poems Island Lovelier
Than A Vision was published by the Peepal Tree Press in 1986; his work
has appeared in over 100 publications.
MCDONALD DASH Guyanese journalist and editor for many years;
playwright and producer; now lives in New York.
ROVIN DEODAT- Guyanese journalist and commentator.
VIBART IAN DUNCAN- Guyanese performance poet and story teller.
GLORIA ESCOFFERY Distinguished Jamaican painter; outstanding art
critic for Jamaica Journal; poet.
CECIL GRAY Noted Trinidadian writer, editor, and lecturer; now lives
STANLEY GREAVES Outstanding Guyanese painter; poet; for many
years lectured on art at the University of Guyana; now lives in Barbados.
WILSON HARRIS Guyanese by birth; among the most original thinkers
and novelists in modern literature; his numerous novels include The
Guyana Quartet and The Eye of the Scarecrow; his novel Carnival won
the 1987 Guyana Prize for Fiction; his latest is The Infinite Rehearsal.
ALIM HOSEIN Guyanese art and literature critic; lecturer in the Depart-
ment of English, University of Guyana.
ANTHONY KELLMAN Barbados poet and short story writer; his collec-
tion of poems include: The Black Madonna and Other Poems (1975), In
Depths of Burning Light (1982), The Broken Sun (1984); at present
studying at Louisiana State University.
MARK McWATT Guyanese poet; senior lecturer in the English Depart-
ment U.W.I., Cave Hill; editor of Journal of West Indian Literature; first
book of poems INTERIORS recently published by Dangaroo Press.
SISTER MARY NOEL MENEZES, R.S.M. Distinguished historian; au-
thor of many books particularly on the Amerindians and Portuguese in
Guyana; Professor of History, University of Guyana.
RAS MICHAEL Guyanese performance poet and storyteller; collections
of his work include Black Chant and Church and State; editor of new
ROOPLALL MONAR Guyanese poet, short story writer and novelist,
Peepal Tree press has published a collection of short stories, Backdam
People, and a volume of poems, Koker; two further collections of stories,
High House and Radio and Estate People, and a novel, Jhanjat, are due
to be published in 1989.
RUPERT ROOPNARAINE Guyanese critic and poet; lecturer in English,
University of Guyana.
STEPHANOS STEPHANIDES Native of Cyprus; 1978-1985, Senior Lec-
turer in English in the University of Guyana; currently works in Wash-
ington; recently completed a translation from Portuguese to English of
the nineteenth century work British Guiana by Adelino Neves e Mello.
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