KYK # 44
... Art requires talent real talent and not mere literacy in any
medium. I see no substitute for passion, internally generated, and
KYK # 44
FRIENDS OF KYK-OVER-AL NO. 44
A great many individuals and organizations have contributed to the success of
KYK-OVER-AL since it was relaunched in December, 1984. Now we owe a very
special debt of appreciation to the following for their support of this special issue No.
44. Their vigorous assistance, so readily offered, in strengthening an important part
of the cultural tradition of Guyana and the West Indies deserves the thanks of the
Guyana Bank for Trade & Industry
Brass Aluminum & Cast Iron Foundry
Caribbean Molasses Company
Bank of Nova Scotia
National Bank of Industry & Commerce
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 (Editor), do Guysuco, 22 Church Street, Georgetown, Guyana.
In the UK please apply to:- F.H. THOMASSON, 38 Carlton Mews, Wells,
Somerset, BA5 1SG.
In Canada and the United States please apply to:-
AILEEN MORGAN, 219 Woodsworth Road, North York, Ontario M2L 2T5.
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The Editor 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 manuscripts. Submissions may be
accompanied by illustrations and photographs of authors, suitable for black-and-
Copyright (C) 1993. No reproduction by any means, except for short extracts for
review purposes, may be made without the permission of the Editor.
Layout and Typesetting of Kyk-Over-Al #44 by Red Thread Women's Press
in cooperation with Asraf Alli
KYK # 44
Acknowledgements : KYK 44
The Editors wish to express sincere appreciation to:
Stanley Greaves for the pen and ink portrait of Martin Carter
The Heritage Society for permission to reproduce its "Heritage
Abraham Poole for recourse to the Booker News archives
Asraf Alli for typesetting
Joan Gilkes for assisting with proof reading
Bridget Welch for assisting with inputting of data from manuscripts
The staff and volunteers of Red Thread Women's Press
Especially Martin Carter for permission to include his
unpublished poems and prose in this volume.
KYK # 44
Kyk-Over-Al No. 44
Co-Editors: Ian McDonald & Nigel Westmaas
Copy Editor: Vanda Radzik
Table Of Contents)
New Poem s by M artin Carter...... ............................... ......................1
Across the Editor's Desk............................................5
The Guyana Prize............... ........... .....................12
A M artin Carter Prose Sampler........................................................23
Bibliography of Martin Carter's Prose..................................152
Portfolio of Heritage Houses
Pen and Ink Drawings by Kenton Wyatt for The Heritage Society of
#1 Red H ouse................... ............ ...............................42
#2 Georgetown YMCA......................................76
#3 Bovell House & Pharmacy............. ..........................92
#4 Sharpies' H ouse............................. .... ........ ...... 113
#5 The Palm s................................... ... ... ............ 127
#6 High Court Buildings................ ..... ..................... 132
KYK # 44
Very sudden is the sought conjunction.
Sought once over and found once over
and again, in the same sudden place.
It is where the hair grows.
It is where the hand goes.
It is the conjunction
of loin and the rare
possibility of a head
on the cushion of hair and love.
Indeed, I have always wanted
to climb upon a window sill
to climb and compete with the rain
falling down, and rising up.
And staying still, in the promissory
hope of passion's signature
and the returned wealth of a conjunction.
Martin Carter (1989)
KYK # 44
My shoe has fallen off
And the sole of the foot pleads.
As both of my hands.
Why is it I do love horses?
And their hooves
And their very free flanks.
It is because they climb the sky
And are at one with God.
Martin Carter (1989)
KYK # 44
NO EASY THING
I must repeat that which I have declared
even to hide it from your urgent heart:
No easy thing is it to speak of love
Nor to be silent when it all consumes!
You do not know how everywhere I go
You go with me clasped in my memory:
One night I dreamed we walked beside the sea
And tasted freedom underneath the moon.
Do not be late needed and wanted love
What's withheld blights both love itself and us:
As well as blame your hair for blowing wind
As me for breathing, living, loving you.
KYK # 44
THE POEMS MAN
Look, look, she cried, the poems man,
running across the frail bridge
of her innocence. Into what house
will she go? Into what guilt will
that bridge lead? I
the man she called out at
and she, hardly twelve
meet in the middle, she going
her way; I coming from mine:
The middle where we meet
is not the place to stop.
KYK # 44
ACROSS THE EDITOR'S DESK
A Martin Carter Prose Sampler
This special issue of Kyk-Over-Al is deeply indebted to Nigel Westmaas
for his dedicated work of research and editing in preparing this special issue
devoted principally to prose works by Martin Carter. Mr.Westmaas has spent
countless hours delving into the archives to find, so far, ninety nine examples
of Martin Carter's prose. Of these he has chosen forty as a sample to appear
in this issue. If it had not been for Mr. Westmaas' work and his initiative this
invaluable evidence of another dimension in the creative life of a great poet
would hardly have come to light. He has rendered a great service to Guyanese
and West Indian literature and scholarship.
This issue also owes a considerable debt to Vanda Radzik of Red Thread.
She is responsible for the design and layout of this issue, for organising the
illustrations, and in general for shepherding the issue through all its prepara-
tory stages into print. The seriousness of her commitment is exceeded only by
the quality of her work.
Derek Walcott's Nobel Prize
When I heard the news that Derek Walcott had won the Nobel prize for
literature I sat down and wrote the following out of profound delight:
All West Indians will be celebrating DerekWalcott's winning of
the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is an immense honour by far the
world's most prestigious literary prize. It is a measure of Walcott's
stature as a poet that not only does the Prize honour him, but he also
greatly honours the Prize. It is also a measure of the strength of our
literature that there were two other West Indians contending closely
for the world's greatest literary honour V.S. Naipaul of Trinidad &
Tobago and Guyana's Wilson Harris. But Walcott has won and all
West Indians should celebrate. It is the literary equivalent of being
world champions in cricket. I felt jubilant this morning when I heard
KYK # 44
the news and the sun seemed brighter than normal and the trees
greener. And I spared a thought, as I heard the news, forWalcott's old
mentors, Frank Collymore of Barbados and Arthur Seymour of
Guyana, who way back in the 1940s gave Walcott his first chance in
their magazines. They must be drinking a toast now in the Elysian
It is astonishing to think that Derek Walcott has been writing and
publishing poems since the 1940s. His work seems so immortally
young. I remember when I was a schoolboy reading in BIM the
poems As John to Patmos and A City's Death by Fire, written when
he was still in his teens, and knew as I knew it also when I saw Frank
Worrell late cut Lance Pierre at the Queen's Park Oval that here was
As John to Patmos, in each love-leaping air,
0 slave, soldier, worker under red trees sleeping, hear
What I swear now, as John did:
To praise lovelong, the living and the brown dead.
Over the years which have since cascaded through all our
histories he has created for us a special poetic domain, "independent
of the tradition he inherited, yet not altogether orphaned from it." He
belongs to us and to the world through his absolute mastery of words
which has increased and increased and increased the singing lines
emerging, as it was said of Mozart's music, as if an artery was cut and
the flow of the life-blood could not be stopped.
In 1992 Derek Walcott, from small St. Lucia, has become a
towering figure in world literature. Joseph Brodsky, the Russian
Nobel Laureate, has called him the best poet writing in English.
There has been awed acclaim, worldwide, for his full-length narra-
tive poem Omeros; "filtering all sorts of titanic sorrows through a
limpid and ferocious intellect." Walcott himself says of Omeros:
I wrote it primarily for the Caribbean. For me it was
an act of gratitude for St. Lucia, the people, the weather,
the life I have lived there.
And thus, as ithas always been, genius finds universality in lives
and places remote from any mainstream or central points of history.
What will he do next to astonish us? As Edward Baugh of
Jamaica said not long ago, we cannot guess what port his poetic craft
will put into next we must leave him voyaging still, the words of
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Shabine, the red-nigger mariner-poet of The Schooner Flight beat-
ing in our ears:
I have only one theme:
The bowsprit, the arrow, the longing, the lunging heart.
Permission has been sought from the Nobel Foundation to reproduce
Derek Walcott's Nobel lecture in a future issue of Kyk-Over-Al. In a way
every issue of Kyk-Over-Al which has gone before will have been waiting for
such an event.
Poetry and the President
Politics is for now, literature lasts forever but even so we cannot resist
taking note of the elections held on 5th October, 1992, which were vouched
for as essentially honest by a large assembly of observers and which therefore
brought to office at last a Government agreed by all to be popularly returned
and democratically based.
A few days after his inauguration the President, Dr. Cheddi Jagan,
surprised many by finding time to attend readings on October 15th, World
Poetry Day. The following records that event:
World Poetry Day, 15th October, was celebrated in Georgetown
with readings given by a number of Guyanese poets at the Playhouse,
a small theatre in the heart of Georgetown. The opportunity was
taken also to read from the works of Derek Walcott whose winning
of the 1992 Noel Prize for Literature has been greatly acclaimed in
Guyana as no doubt it has been in the rest of the West Indies.
The theatre was packed for the occasion with not enough seats
available and people standing in the aisles and wings. In the last few
years there has been an increasing number of poetry readings in
Georgetown and the numbers attending have been growing impres-
Dr. Cheddi Jagan, sworn in as President of Guyana only a ew
days previously, paid a surprise visit to the Playhouse to attend the
readings. He was given a warm and appreciative welcome. He was
accompanied by the new Minister of Education and Cultural Devel-
opment, Dr. Dale Bisnauth. It was an unexpected boost from
officialdom for those who love literature and the arts.
Among those reading were young playwright/actress/singer Paloma
Mohamed, performance poet Ras Michael and story-teller Michael Khan,
poet and novelist Ian McDonald, distinguished critic and playwright Dr.
Michael Gilkes and poet and playwright Churaumanie Bissundyal. In honour
of Derek Walcott, Dr. Gilkes gave a memorable reading from Walcott's great
poem. The Schooner Flight with its famous line challenging all West Indians
to choose what they will be:
and either I'm nobody, or I am a nation.
When President Jagan was leaving a young lady approached and touched
him on the arm. "Mr. President, thank you for coming. I hope you can release
the creative energy of all of us in Guyana." The President turned and looked
a little surprised. Then he smiled and nodded. It was a good moment on a good
What is a Poet?
In Stephen Gill's excellent biography of William Wordsworth (Oxford
University Press, 1990), there is a passage which brings home vividly the
source and purpose of poetry at its best.
In the Spring of 1802 he prepared a new copy for the Preface to
the Lyrical Ballads, third edition, changing the 1800 one so substan-
tially the two Prefaces ought always to be treated as separate. He
wrote at length on metre and put in an Appendix a defence of his
assertions about "that what is usually called poetic diction." More
remarkable than either of these additions, however, is the answer
Wordsworth gives to his own question: "what is meant by the word
Poet? What is a Poet?"
He is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with
more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness, who has a
greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul
than are supposed to be common among mankind; a manpleased with
his ownpassions and volitions, and who rejoices more than other men
in the spirit of life that is in him; delighting to contemplate similar
volitionsandpassions as manifested in the goings-on ofthe Universe,
and habitually impelled to create them where he does not find them...
Unlike the biographer or the historian, the poet need acknowl-
edge only one overriding imperative that he should give pleasure.
But "this necessity of producing immediate pleasure is not a degra-
KYK # 44
dation of the Poet's art:"
It is far otherwise. It is an acknowledgment of the beauty of the
universe, an acknowledgment the more sincere, because it is not
formal, but indirect: it is a task light and easy to him who looks at the
world in the spirit of love:further, it is a homage paid to the native
and naked dignity of man, to the grand elementary principle of
pleasure, by which he knows, and feels, and lives, and moves.
Finally, with the grandeur matched only by Shelly in his Defence of
Poetry, Wordsworth defines his "sublime notion" of Poetry as the "breath and
finer spirit of all knowledge" and of the Poet as:
The rock of defence of human nature; an upholder and pre-
server, carrying everywhere with him relationship and love. In spite
of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws
and customs, in spite of things silently gone out of mind and things
violently destroyed, the Poet binds together by passion and knowl-
edge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole
earth, and over all time. The objects of the Poet's thoughts are
everywhere; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his
favourite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an
atmosphere ofsensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first
and last of all knowledge it is as immortal as the heart of man.
This is a glorious affirmation, but an astonishing one to make at
the close of the Enlightenment and of the first phase of the Industrial
Revolution. Scientists and engineers, philosophers and political
thinkers, philanthropists and social activists had transformed every
aspect of life from cups and saucers to concepts of Deity, and yet it
is poetry which Wordsworth declares" the most philosophic of all
writing." This is more than a declaration of the importance of humane
learning, more than an assertion of the imagination against the
pressure of a sceptical, scientific, or utilitarian ethos. Wordsworth
confers upon the poet the roles of chronicler and preserver, of
comforter and moral guide, of prophet and mediator. His reference
to the "divine spirit" of the poet is not a lazy one. To the author of The
Dunciad such exalted affirmations would have seemed ravings.
Johnson, who defined the poet as "An inventor; an author of fiction;
a writer of poems; one who writes in measure", would have thought
them nonsense, probably blasphemous nonsense. Even readers
accustomed to place poetry at the highest of the literary arts and
KYK # 44
familiar with the many eighteenth-century disquisitions on the
theory of poetry could not have been prepared for the sublime and
comprehensive credo Wordsworth published in June 1802.
Publications of interest to West Indians are received across this desk in
an unending flow. They all deserve notice and many of them deserve
substantial commentary and review. One of the weaknesses of West Indian
literary life is the dearth of carefully considered and finely wrought reviews
of individual books and magazines of importance. Where would these appear
with any regularity? When will we graduate to anything beginning to approach
the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Times
Literary Supplement or even the better weekend supplements in the Metro-
Here is a sample of the scores of interesting West Indian publications
received recently which we would have wished to have reviewed with the
substance and style they deserve.
The 50th anniversary issue of BIM, edited in chief by John Wickham.
This, surely, is compulsory purchase for any self-respecting West Indian's
Anyone at all interested in West Indian art and literature must make the
effort to get hold of copies of the Callalloo special issues, Volume 15 Nos. 2
and 3, on the literature and culture of Haiti. Callalloo is a journal of African
American and African arts and letters edited by Charles Rowell (Department
of English, Wilson Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903,
USA) and published by the Johns Hopkins University Press. These two issues
there are really two full-scale books are superlatively produced and full of
astonishing creative endeavour. Look what treasures are near at hand and we
hardly know them.
Wasafiri No. 16, Autumn 1992, is a special issue of this magazine,
published by ATCAL Association for the Teaching of Caribbean, African,
Asian and Associated Literatures and edited by Susheila Nasta (P.O. Box
195, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7XB, UK) devoted to the Caribbean. The issue
is "dedicated to the wealth of excellent writing that continues to come out of
the Caribbean." Amidst a great deal more, this issue includes extremely
interesting interviews with Kamau Brathwaite, Andrew Salkey and Jamaica
Kincaid, Ramchand's article Columbus in Chains, Michael Gilkes writing on
the poetry of Robert Lee, and Fred D'Aguiar's long and extraordinary poem
One of the most important books we received is undoubtedly Anne
KYK # 44
Walmsley's The Caribbean Artists Movement 1966-72 (New Beacon Books,
1992). There is an excellent review of it by Stewart Brown in Wasafiri No.
16, and we wholeheartedly concur with his concluding remark : "For
everyone engaged in the study of contemporary Caribbean culture in its
broadest sense this book is an invaluable and indispensable source."
Poetry in the Caribbean is vibrantly alive if one is to judge by what must
surely be a record number of anthologies appearing recently.
Issue No. 14, Spring 1991, of the Graham House Review (Published by
the Colgate University Press, Box 5000, Colgate University, Hamilton, N.Y
13346, USA) is a special issue featuring recent poetry from the West Indies,
guest-edited by Kenneth Ramchand.
Crossing Water, published in 1992 by The Greenfield Review Press (2
Middle Grove Road, Greenfield Centre, N.Y 12833, USA) and edited by
Anthony Kellman, is a very fine collection of contemporary poetry from the
The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry published in 1992 by
Heinemann (Halley Court, Jordan Hill, Oxford, OX2 8EJ, UK) and edited by
Stewart Brown and Ian McDonald. The editors in their Introduction, writing
about their attempt to meet the publisher's brief to make a selection from
"simply the best", had this to say:
After all the worrying and wrangling over the selection, we do
believe that this anthology offers its readers a real sense of the
energy, variety and accomplishment of contemporary West Indian
Issue No. 9 of Offerings, edited and published by Kampta Karran (Bel
Vue Pilot Scheme, West Bank Demerara, Guyana) is a valuable "Celebration
of Guyanese East Indian Poets 1901 1991." It is an anthology of the poems
of 83 different poets of diverse backgrounds and from very different eras. It
is an extremely useful introduction to the poetry of East Indians in Guyana,
whose work is often neglected in writing about West Indian literature.
Perhaps my favourite among all the anthologies which have crossed this
desk in recent times is the Special issue, Volume 35, No. 4, Summer 1992, of
The Literary Review (285 Madison Avenue, Madison N.J. 0794" USA),
devoted to the poetry of women poets of the Caribbean (all, not just the
English-speaking, Caribbean). The issue is guest-edited by Pam Mordecai and
Betty Wilson and they have done a wonderful job. All the poets in this
collection havehad (some are now dead) a home in the Caribbean.. Their work
jumps from these pages cascadingly alive with beauty and sadness and vivid
involvement with life at the grass roots.
KYK # 44
The Guyana Prize
His Excellency Dr. Cheddi Jagan
President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana
Distinguished Guests, Chairman of the Committee for the Guyana Prize
for Literature, Guyanese Writers, Chancellor of the University, Vice-Chan-
cellor, Faculty Heads and Staff Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Leader of
the Opposition, Overseas Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
This evening I am enormously honoured to be here and to address you on
this important occasion of the Third Award Ceremony of the Guyana Prize for
As we arrive at the threshold of change in our homeland, after a long and
arduous struggle, our most urgent question is: what resources can we draw on
in the rebuilding of our country, in the remoulding of the values and
perceptions necessary for the task ahead and in the fostering of a truly national
consciousness. There is a new dawn in our sky and how can we, as a people,
seize upon the possibilities it offers? How do we aspire to debunk our past
experiences and embark upon new beginnings?
Today, in Guyana, a land rich in natural resources, the stark paradox is
the undeniable presence of poverty among the vast majority of our people, not
just economic poverty, but intellectual and spiritual impoverishment, the
deprivation and depravation of our young women, generations of human
potential wasted through oppression, repression and lack of opportunity at
various levels. Translated into facts and figures, today, in this country, at the
most fundamental level, only one out of every seven students can obtain a good
grade in English at the CXC examinations, while only one in every six can pass
mathematics with an acceptable grade, and so on. Infant mortality rate is at
an unprecedented high, the highest in the region, standing at forty-five out of
every thousand, while disease (such as malaria) is devastating our rural and
aboriginal populations. Our present daily minimum wage is approximately
one US dollar per day; all the while the country has been haemorrhaging from
a brain drain by virtue of the exodus of our vital human resource.
We have to find the road to self-recovery from the onslaught of colonial-
ism, from our more recent experiences and from the cultural penetration
brought to us through the little TV boxes in our living rooms. We have to get
in touch with ourselves as people and plumb the depths of our consciousness
to find our native strengths, reject the discourses thathave labelled us as racial
KYK # 44
and cultural stereotypes and seek freedom from the shackles of our past. As
one regional writer said, where there is nothing, there is everything to create.
What is the role of the Guyanese writer in this pledge we havejust taken?
What is the relevance of art in the pursuit of daily life?...This is why I am
pleased to be here today to share this moment with the writers whose works
have been submitted for the Guyana Prize for Literature because the Guyanese
writer has a major role to play in the rebuilding of our society. Together with
the capacity for thought and reason, man's most valuable, powerful asset is
his imagination and, consequently, his creative application of knowledge and
his creative reconciliation of land and landscape. George Lamming, speaking
at CARIFESTA 1982, on the importance of the creative imagination, said: "it
functions as a civilizing andhumanising force in process of struggle. It offers
an experience through which feeling is educated...The education of feeling
must be at the heart of any struggle for liberation."
For the past forty years I have been close to the working man. Based on
this affinity I want to relay an observation which I think our writers may find
it necessary to consider. People engaged in the arts must see themselves as part
of the development process and relate to all other sections of the population.
This morning, Ian McDonald, over Viewpoint, said this exercise is not for the
purpose toproduce the best literaturein the world- it is an exercise to enhance
our abilities to communicate. I agree. We have to communicate in such a way
that at the end of the day all your creativity would have been purposeful. All
your work should be able to reflect itself in the daily lives of actual people.
This is why it is most important for our young students, in the most
formative years of psycho-social growth and the acquiring of self-knowledge,
to gain a good grounding of the issues addressed in imaginative writing.
Education is not just giving each child a free place in school. It is the material
that comes out of that crucible that forms the fabric of our society, the
perceptions that are born in that process, the inculcation of positive values, to
promote, above all, honesty in human relationships and the ability to recognize
and address, rather than to be clouded by, situations which are inimical to
personal, national and regional growth. Very often, the most perceptive
insights into the human condition are contained in fiction and it is through its
literary parallels and analogies that we can recognize the quirks of human
nature and society and come to terms with our own identity problems; we can
learn how to rid ourselves of inherited and inbred prejudices in our common
pursuit of one destiny.
For those who will be awarded prizes tonight, my warmest congratula-
tions to you and, at all events, I want to encourage our writers who have not
won prizes, not be discouraged but to continue to be the voice, the vision and
the conscience of our people. You have a pivotal role to play in the revolution
of consciousness now crucial to the rebuilding of this country. Itis imperative
KYK # 44
that we allow our imagination to seek new creative possibilities of the El
Dorado dream. I applaud the spirit of your undertakings and re-assert the
promise made in the PPP/Civic Manifesto that this government will give even
more for the development of the creative abilities of our people.
I thank you.
The Judges' Report : Mark McWatt
Chairman, Your Excellency the President of Guyana Honourable Prime
Minister, Honourable Mr. Desmond Hoyte, Ministers of Government, Mem-
bers of the Diplomatic Corps, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honour and a privilege to be here tonight to participate in this
celebration of the Literary arts and recognition of those whose literary talent,
skill and careful craft have caused them to be singled out among Guyanese
writers for this year's award of the Guyana Prize.
I am also grateful for the opportunity to present this report on behalf of
my distinguished fellow judges. These were Dr. Denis Williams, Guyanese
author, artist and anthropologist and Director of the Walter Roth Museum; Dr.
Carolyn Cooper, senior lecturer in English at the Mona, Jamaica campus of
the University of the West Indies; Mr. Alim Hosein, lecturer in English at the
University of Guyana and Dr. Stewart Brown, senior lecturer at the Institute
of West African studies at the University of Birmingham. Unfortunately Dr.
Carolyn Cooper could not attend the adjudicating sessions in person, but we
were able to have discussions with her, via telephone, at her home in Mona,
Jamaica. Despite these long-distance consultations the work of the judges
proceeded with despatch and we were able to reach unanimous decisions
about short-lists and eventual winners without lengthy or embattled debate.
On behalf of the Judges I must express our gratitude to the chairman of the
management committee of the Guyana prize, Vice Chancellor Professor
Dennis Craig, for providing all that was necessary for the smooth progress of
the judging exercise.
The Guyana prize has grown in stature and recognition over recent years
and is viewed with wistfulness or perhaps even envy particularly by young
writers in other parts of the Caribbean. This confirms the value of the prize for
the Guyanese writer and society and vindicates the original decision to
institute it at a time of scarce resources. Mindful of all this the judges were
determined to preserve the criterion of excellence as they approached the
forty-three entries in this the third series of awards of the Guyana Prize.
Forty-three entries in the three genres of poetry, drama and prose fiction:
It was a lot of reading! But very rewarding reading; for a Guyanese it was an
exercise of recognition or self-recognition. Having to read these works in a
KYK # 44
relatively short span of time left a particularly vivid impression of people and
place, of the multiple textures of the lives lived in this country and, at the same
time, a confirmation of an undefinable, but definite common vision or quality
of mind what Jeffrey Robinson has called "the Guyaneseness of Guyana
Literature." In this sense the number and the variety of the entries indicate that
literature is alive and in robust good health here in Guyana; this is not to say,
however, that all entries were of the highest literary quality. There were a few
in each category that achieved excellence and could comfortably be short
listed; there were several which, while not making it into the short lists,
showed promise or potential or were good, solidly entertaining works of which
no author need be ashamed; but there were also several that were weak.
The genre with the largest number of weak entries was poetry, and it is
significant that this is also the genre in which there was the largest number of
entries which were "untested" in the sense that they were self-published works.
They had not undergone the trial by fire of public performance, as would have
been the case with most of the plays; nor were they subjected to the careful
scrutiny and possible revision attendant upon commercial publication. Some
collections were slight, some indulgent, some obscure; but the most common
fault in the weaker entries was the fact that they were insufficiently crafted-
not enough time and thought and work went into their production.
For support in this last point I turn to no less an authority on the making
of poetry than Derek Walcott the first West Indian writer to be awarded the
Nobel prize for Literature. The craft of writing has been an obsession with
Walcott since his youth in St Lucia at high school, and in a recent interview
he denounces the impatience with craft in the young writers of regions such
...the most upsetting delusion that emerging literatures or
cultures have is that the word craft is an antagonistic concept... (it is)
in the apprenticeship stage you can really judge person as an artist.
There's no apprenticeship around, there's instant recognition, in-
stant belligerence, instant arrogance. It's very dangerous...people
don't realize how they're being trapped into a universal idea of what
the latest fashion should be.
These tough words from Walcott are not offered here as a stick with which
to beat the young writers of Guyana, but rather as an indication from someone
who should know of the dangers we court when we neglect to put in the full
quota of those lonely hours of unglamorous and repetitive spadework that are
necessary in the practice of all the creative arts. Unless he's convinced he's
transcribing the words of God, a writer must revise and revise, and resist the
seduction of his own written words. It is seldom the case that anything good
KYK # 44
is lost in the revision of a poem or a story; and even if he has to cut out a
favourite passage or scene, unless he's terminally ill, there's every chance he'll
be able to use it in a future poem, novel, play. A writer mustbe hard on himself:
Walcott served a long and arduous apprenticeship in order to become a poet
in English; this meant (in his own words): "nothing less than ranging over the
entire corpus of English poetry, learning the technical variety of different
epochs and movements..." Hard work, but look where it got him.
But I begin to run the risk of usurping the office of those who are here
tonight to make speeches about literature. My function is merely to report on
the judges' decisions, so let me turn to the short-lists.
The three collections of poetry short-listed were all different in focus and
texture; Season of Sometimes, by Marc Matthews is a mature and accom-
plished collection of the kind of highly wrought poems we expect of him, one
hears the distinctive voice of this great performer of poetry in these works of
wry and serious social comment. Courida Elegies by Sardar Asare is a
collection of poems on an impressive range of subjects and full of echoes of
different voices and languages. The poet has made use of his vast experience
of foreign lands and tongues to create a fabric composed of different textures
of lived experience. Not all the fragments cohere, however, in a unified vision
or aesthetic experience.
The third short-listed collection isEssequibo, by Ian McDonald, in which
one part of the Guyanese landscape, the lower reaches of the Essequibo River,
are hallowed and claimed by the creative imagination in some truly fine
poems. The river itself is a powerful, unifying presence in the collection and
becomes almost a character in several individual pieces. The riverain land-
scape is described with considerable evocative power in day and night and in
several of its different "moods". It bears historical vestiges of past settlement
and cultivation, suggestions of mystery and menace and the traffic of ordinary
humanity; it is the scene of heroic actions by fabled characters; it is the text
in which one reads the fate of a continent and its peoples. The voice in most
of these poems is quiet, but mature and unfaltering, and breathes a kind of
grandeur into the relationship between man and river.
The judges found that there was much to commend among the entries in
drama. It was quite clear and somewhat surprising for those of us who don't
live here that there is a robust and thriving popular theatre in Guyana, which,
despite the sameness of theme and subject, has reached, in the hands of some
playwrights, a great technical sophistication. Harold Bascom's Philbert and
Loraine was the best of the plays of this type, centred around the home and
complicated domestic relationships. The play is well-written and makes
excellent use of the resources of the theatre. A Pleasant Career, by Michael
Gilkes, is a play involving the life and fiction of Edgar Mittelholzer. Through
several interesting devices and techniques television interviews, childhood
KYK # 44
conversations, ghostly presence, the enactment of scenes from the novels -
a compelling psychological portrait of Mittelholzer emerges, amidst multiple
echoes (for the cognoscenti) from the novels and the autobiography.
Children of Two Worlds, by Jay Bunyan is a hard-hitting play by a
Canada-based Guyanese playwright about identity crises that cause the
disintegration of a mixed-race family of Guyanese origin living in Toronto.
Though the play's tough language sometimes seems overdone and might ring
false to the Guyanese ear, it contributes to the impression of power and the
profound feeling that the play's conflicts evoke. The Eleventh Hour, by Harry
Narain, apart from being a suspense-filled thriller about a frantic attempt to
save a man convicted of murder in the last hours before his scheduled
execution, raises philosophical questions about the death penalty and about
parental neglect as the cause of criminal behaviour. The actual writing may
be crude in parts, but the plot and the superb sense of theatre recommend Harry
Narain as an important new playwright.
The works short-listed for fiction were Steadman and Joanna, a novel
by Beryl Gilmore set in 18th- century Surinam about a white European man
and the slave girl he married. The events of this very interesting and unusual
novel take place in the Corentyne/Canje area at the time when the foundations
of Guyanese history were being laid there. The Crying ofRainbirds, by Noel
Williams, is a collection of finely crafted stories presenting a jaundiced view
of life on a tourist-infested Caribbean Island. Guyanese fiction and several of
the writers that produce it continue to be well served by Peepal Tree Press,
which published Williams' novel as well as the next one on the short-list,
Janjhat, by Rooplal Monar. Monar, previous winner of the GuyanaPrize and
an acclaimed master of short fiction, is here venturing into the world of the
novel; his keen observation and mastery of dialect are much in evidence,
although the novel seems to give way to a sermon towards the end.
Finally, there is The Intended, by David Dabydeen, on one level a
marvellous tale of two places Guyana's Corentyne coast and the London of
the West Indian Immigrant; there are other levels, however, in this richly
suggestive novel: there is the complex question of origin and identity as the
Guyanese Indian protagonist finds himself in London among immigrants of
his own race, but from the sub-continent, and who speak languages he does
not understand. At the same time he is rejected by the English, whose
language, customs and racist hostility he understands only too well. The
Intended is a novel that is cunningly aware of contemporary literary theory
and all the shibboleths of post-colonialism and deconstruction, and, on one
level, is playing to this particular gallery. This is a very impressive achieve-
ment for a first novel.
Those are the short-lists anditmustbe stressed that each short-listed work
was judged to be worthy of receiving the prize in its particular category it
KYK # 44
was simply a matter of choosing the best in each case. As it happened the
judges had no great difficulty in separating the prize-winners from the others.
In poetry it was the decision of the judges that there was no work that
merited the prize for first book of poetry, so there is only one prize awarded
in this category: I am delighted to announce that the Guyana prize for Poetry
goes to Ian McDonald for Essequibo.
Next, I announce with great pleasure that the Guyana prize for Drama is
awarded to Michael Gilkes for his play A Pleasant Career.
In fiction the judges again found that, once the winner of the Guyana Prize
for Fiction was decided, there remained no work of sufficient merit in the
category of first book of fiction to be awarded the prize. The judges felt,
however, that a case should be made for the award of a special prize for
historical fiction to be given to Beryl Gilroy for her interesting and original
novel, Steadman and Joanna. This case was made and agreed, and it is
therefore my pleasure to announce the award of a special prize to Beryl
Gilmore for Steadman and Joanna.
We come finally to the Guyana Prize for Fiction. It is a great honour for
me to declare the winner of the Guyana Prize for Fiction David Dabydeen for
Ladies and gentlemen, I feel greatly honoured to have been appointed
chairman of the judges; I was very impressed by the quality of the works that
were short-listed and I regret that it is not possible for all of them to be awarded
prizes. I am satisfied that the winners chosen are writers of the greatest
distinction, and I look forward to reading future works by them. I remind those
who did not win that now is the time to start writing the works that will be
entered for the next Guyana prize.
I thank you very much.
ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: Michael Gilkes
Mr. Chairman, your Excellency, the President of Guyana, Ministers of
Government, Members of the Diplomatic Corps. Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I feel deeply honoured tonight. Not only because it is always reassuring
to have one's work selected for a prize: a kind of public endorsement of one's
private vision, but also because it is the Guyana Prize.
As we've heard, there were nearly 50 entries. The number has grown every
year. The competition has certainly provided an important impetus a focus -
for the literary arts in Guyana.
Guyanese and their governments, in good times and bad, have demon-
strated a healthy regard for the arts. The works of our established writers and
KYK # 44
artists (Martin Carter, Wilson Harris, Jan Carew, Roy Heath, Aubrey Wil-
liams, Denis Williams, Ian McDonald, Stanley Greaves, Philip Moore, Ken
Corsbie, Henry Mootoo to name only some of the best known) are highly
respected and appreciated wherever in the world they are read, seen or
performed. But they do not exist in a vacuum: There is a thread of continuity
running through the arts. Today's younger Guyanese writers and artists
(whether they know it or not), owe something to the work done by other,
established figures. Those figures, in turn, owe something to the ground work
of earlypioneers like Edgar Mittelholzer, Arthur Seymour, Edward Burrowes,
Norman Cameron and others. The artist may be a lonely figure, but never a
loner, a Crusoe startled by strange footprints. He or she is part of a community
of souls: Art is a continuum.
So, in receiving a prize for my play on the life and fictions of Edgar
Mittelholzer, I feel that it is Mittelholzer's spirit, his uncompromising
commitment to his art, that is really being honoured. And that is as it should
I'm especially happy that, in spite of Guyana's troubled political history,
our fall from admired standards of social, intellectual and economic life, a
high regard for the Arts of the Imagination has (like our Guyanese hospitality,
stubbornly survived. Guyana has always welcomed the arts, ever since those
early artists' associations the Assembly Rooms, the dramatic clubs, the
Theatre Guild, the Working People's art groups, the little magazines and
journals like Caribia, the Chronicle Xmas Annual (soon to be re-issued, I'm
glad to hear) and of course, Kyk-Over-Al. Through that first remarkable
Carifesta the brainchild of Mr. Forbes Burnham an event still talked about
(21 years later) with misty-eyed nostalgia by our Caricom cousins (and an
event still to be paid for it is wickedly rumoured by less friendly Regional
neighbours) to the present Guyana Prize, instituted by former President Mr.
Desmond Hoyte, who, I'm reliably informed, can quote Wilson Harris's
poetry, from memory a feat Harris scholars might well envy Guyana has
remained a country where the arts have always been respected, encouraged,
President Jagan and Mrs. Jagan have always been enthusiastic supporters
of the Arts. I still have a newspaper clipping of Mrs Jagan's critical review of
a Theatre Guild Production in the late 70s. Hers was easily the most informed,
the most lucid and the fairest of the reviews on that occasion. Recently, at a
public reading at the Playhouse on World Poetry Day, President Jagan paid
a surprise visit, well, it was unexpected, but no surprise to those of us who
know of his keen interest in the arts. There is a report of this visit in the latest
edition of our Regional newspaper, Caribbean Week, by Ian McDonald. This
is how it ends:
When President Jagan was leaving, a young lady approached
KYK # 44
and touched him on the arm. "Mr. President, thank you for coming.
I hope you can release the creative energy ofall ofus." The President
turned and looked a little surprised. Then he smiled and nodded. It
was a good moment on a good evening.
This may be a good moment, on another good evening, to echo that young
lady's bold-faced but right request. And judging from our President's address
tonight, I think the answer is in the affirmative. But if there has been respect
for the Arts there has also been neglect. This splendid Cultural Centre, for
example, the envy of many of our richer Caricom neighbours, has fallen into
disrepair. This, and other cultural and theatre spaces urgently need mainte-
nance, equipment, major repair or re-construction. Without these, even the
most vigorous and dedicated management will remain a downhill struggle.
Any attempt to provide what's needed, whether privately or publicly funded
(or both) would, I suggest, be an important investment in ourhuman resources,
in the creative potential and development of young Guyanese in particular,
who to their immense credit have themselves helped to keep these cultural
centres alive in difficult times. A popular theatre has sprung up with all the
inevitable, attendant pleasures and problems that that implies. But the talent
and skills needed for the maintenance of high standards, for the training of
young people, for the release of their creative energies, already exists. A solid
framework; well-equipped, well-managed cultural and theatre spaces is all
that is needed.
I must, however, confess to a certain bias. I believe that the Theatre Arts
(Drama, Dance and Music), offer the widest scope for the development of a
use of personal confidence and social responsibility. A strong theatre
movement, supported with services (if not with subventions) would, I submit,
not only enhance our educational, cultural and social climate, but also
encourage personal and national pride through the training, development and
exercise of creative talent for social consciousness. Theatre is, after all, a
community art, requiring all the available skills, employing all the disciplines,
including literature, helping a society to understand itself.
The value of the Arts, as a whole, in promoting Regional thinking, is
inestimable. Even as talk of Regional integration grows louder the artists and
writers of the Region continue to demonstrate as they have for decades, the
reality of Regional Consciousness. Derek Walcott's Nobel Award is not only
the most prestigious prize available for literature it is also more importantly
- the clearest most public acknowledgment of the power and vision of the
For it is Derek's cross-cultural vision, his creole eye, his Janus style which
cuts across racial and cultural barriers an approach which marries classical
and creole, white and black, dialect and standard, craft and caring, that makes
KYK # 44
his work original and great. His is a heterogenous Caribbean identity (shared
by many of our remarkable artists and writers) which powers his work: the
result of a long apprenticeship andpatientmarinading in the cultural diversity
of the Caribbean basin. That cultural diversity is nowhere more demonstrable
than here in Guyana, and it remains our greatest resource: an enormous,
creative potential: the real gold of El Dorado.
The Guyana Prize for Literature, therefore, though it is a national award
(and that gives it a special, personal value) has deeper resonances. It is also
an occasion for celebrating the challenge of the Arts of the Imagination as a
measure of community the cultural life blood of the Regional body politic,
whose health it is the business of us all to safeguard and promote.
So, it is with a keen sense of occasion, and with the greatest pleasure that
we, theprize winners, accept with thanks the awards you havemade to us here,
.THE HOUTHE HEN O1F OCR TIfHEWE ARE
THE HOE OA1 WHE rs.
A H1~*t~ &4z~e4 P~d4e
KYK # 44
Introduction............................................. ............................ 27
A Free Community of Valid Persons......................................... 30
M accabee at Sea...................................... ............. 33
Out, Out the Fire.............................. .................... 36
Selected Articles/Editorials from Thunder
Non-Co-operation............................ ....................... 43
An American Oracle............................................... 45
Politics and The Individual....................... ...... ................ 49
No Separate Salvation ................................ ....................50
What is a Politician..................... ... ...........................52
Portrait of Churchill................... ... ..........................55
A Dark Foundation.................. ... .......................... 57
From Babylonian to British........................ ...... ............... 60
Bribes for What?................. ... ...........................62
Our Newspapers and What They Stand For..............................64
This Race Business.......................... ................... 68
But Where is Burnham?............................. .................... 70
Wanted: A Great Obeah Man.................... ..................72
W here A re the H eroes?............................... ......................... 74
Other Newspaper Articles
Sensibility and the Search....................... ..................... 77
Recent Events Spring from Deeper Social Undercurrents..........82
If a Man Lies to Himself The World Will Lie to Him.................84
Open Letter to the People of Guyana.......................................88
A Note on Jagan....................................... ..................... 90
KYK # 44
Essays/Features in Journals/Magazines
A Note on Vic Reid's New Day.................................................93
Power Race and Trouble...................................................95
Why Guiana Needs Independence......................................97
Sambo at Large ....................................................... 100
Apart From Both.................................................................... 102
A Religious Interpretation of Guyanese Proverbs..................... 105
The Location of the Artist................................................... 111
Question of Fiji............................ ......................114
The Freedom to Choose........................... ..................... 118
The Changing Context of Arts and Artists in Guyana Today.....122
Notes on Artists
Artist as Artist....................................................... 128
The Paintings of Stanley Greaves.................................129
The Poems of Christopher Aird.............................................. 130
The Paintings of Bernadette Persaud....................................... 131
In Contradiction.......................................... ..................... 133
On the Reality of Independence........................................... 142
Interview with Martin Carter by Peter Trevis......................... 145
Bibliography............................................ ................................... 152
KYK # 44
In his foreword to the 1989 publication of Martin Carter's Selected
Poems, Ian McDonald wrote:
...He is also, without reservation, one of the finest poets to have
emerged in the Caribbean Region. And the varied subtlety and
strength of his poetry carries him without any doubt into the front
rank ofworldpoets. Long afterthe politics whichprompteda number
ofhispoems have been forgotten and long after the society which he
so often scathingly indicted has been "changed utterly ", the poetry
will continue to strike a chord among new generations.
The same chord will be struck among readers far andnear with this special
issue of Kyk-Over-Al which unveils for the first time, a collection of Martin
The invitation to co-edit this special issue with Ian McDonald was a great
honour. Working with him and Vanda Radzik on the issue enabled me a close
look at how much work is involved in producing the evergreen and valiant
"Kyk". The accumulation of these pieces and the overall collection was the
result of many years of random then serious collection. The piece that heads
this section A Free Community of Valid Persons was my original inspiration
in the quest for Martin Carter's prose. It stands as the touchstone for The
Martin Carter Prose Sampler offered here which we hope to be widely
circulated within and beyond the confines of this country.
Martin Carter has subjected the society in which he lives to deep, varied
and often unnoticed study over the years. In more recent times, tempered some
say by an inner censorship, Carter has not volunteered new public work. But
what is consistent with and connects the prose of earlier days and the rare
public presentations in whatever form, of the present, has been an unyielding
depth of approach to whatever subject he turns his gaze on. That approach has
invariably focused on the "spiritual" condition of existence perhaps best
summed up if one can sum it up in a phrase, in his often cited belief that this
society is a victim of the "paralysis of the spirit" that has succeeded in
- 27 -
KYK # 44
producing as one consequence, an "aggregation of subsistence seekers."
Reviews, short stories, speeches, interviews, articles and editorials are all
included in the overall prose collection. Ninety nine known pieces have so far
been uncovered. No doubt there are many more waiting to be found. The
Guyana National Archives notwithstanding, all these valuable pieces were
discovered in institutions like the University of Guyana (UG) Library, the
National Library and a few from personal collections; for that matter all of the
places where Guyana's prose works can be located with relative ease.
Due to space, this special edition only contains a selection of his works.
From what might well be his very first piece of public prose a piece
written in the school magazine when he was president of the Queen's College
Beekeeping Society to more recent time Carter's prose has encompassed not
only a generation but has been firmly connected to his personal concerns as
student, as political activist, and later as apoet of distinction living in Guyana.
Consequently, his prose varies from his political insights in the Thunder
articles of the 1950s,to reflections on the state of art and literature, and even,
as in at least one case, his interpretation of the impact of television technology.
The depth and variety of workhereinmay well surprise many since Carter
is largely known as a poet and that Muse has brought forth a few volumes of
Carter's method of analysis of the political is no different from the way
he treats art and literature. All fall under a humanist truncheon and is spelt out
with extraordinary craft of language. The language flowing with such rhythm
and finesse of argument that one almost ventures to suggest that it is poetic
in form. One cautions "almost" since T.S. Eliot warns in 1933 in his Uses of
Poetry, "if poetry approaches too close to prose it ceases to move us in the
way we expect verse to move us and ...it tends to come under the dominance
of the logical, reasoning part of the brain."
In his treatment of the race question, an issue greatly bound up in the way
we live with each other, and a theme that he turns to again and again, Carter's
prose betrays deep concern that wounds of the psyche born in part of our
peculiar history and struggle, persist in varied form and hinders free develop-
ment of the personality. Throughout his varied examination of race and its
deformations and consequences, the same logic and humanism prevails.
Carter's prose presentations can appear complex and laden to audiences,
who are at times unsure of his drift and intent. But he forces thought and
speculation on their part.
After his memorable address at the UG convocation, A Free Community
of Valid Persons, Carter was asked about his reference to AXOLOTL
(biological creature) in the speech. The questioner enquired whether he was
speaking as a scientist. His reply was devastating, but typical. "You know one
day my eldest son came home and said that his friends asked,'Is your father
KYK # 44
a poet or a biologist?' I asked him, 'Would they know the difference?"'
And there is also an interesting story behind the article Wanted: A Great
Obeah Man. Written in Thunder in 1955 when he was an executive member
of the PPP, Carter was at the time defending his party from attacks from hither
and thither calling for great leaders to emerge to satisfy all and sundry -
sometimes required to perform opposite requests at the same time. The
columnists of the colonial press so intent on discrediting leaders of the day,
failed to recognize their own contradictions.
The article, in a fit of brilliant irony, requested a faith healer to help the
authorities create the miracles apparently required. Unfortunately for Carter,
the spirit of the article was taken to its literal extreme and soon after its
publication a man approached him at headquarters and introduced himself
with great confidence, "I is the man yuh want!"
Carter's political writing, as the foregoing anecdote illustrates, under-
scores the descriptive prowess evident in most of his work. Witness the
following which flowed from his pen from among the political pieces of the
Subsisting on a diet of Hollywood films, true detective maga-
zines and other such trash; bounded on one side by the sugar estates,
and on the other by the waterfront, the people of the city are like
creatures in a cage. Pressed down into the mud under the weight of
a hopeless sky, thepeople live like ants in an ants nest, biting at each
other because there is nothing else for them to bite at. And when a
voice emerges out of all this muck all the little lap dogs bark infurious
excitement, defending the master, who from time to time will
administer a well aimed kick for remembrance.
So here is a Prose Sampler, a selection of writings from a master in the
field of language. Let us hope it can inspire passion and attention to method
now that so many submissions of new writing are coming forward for
publication and a Guyana Prize for Literature has been established As for
encouragement of young people in the arts and literature Carter warns in Kyk
...Encourage young composers or novelists? I am a' avs
worried by the word 'encourage'. Too often it means that with the
best intentions we praise what is third rate and omit to point out that
Art requires talent real talent and not mere literacy in any medium.
I see no substitute for passion, internally generated, and hard work.
The responsibility rests with us.
KYK # 44
A Free Community of Valid Persons
Address to the the University of Guyana's
Eighth Convocation Ceremony
October 19, 1974.
In the year 1865, in the Jardin des Plantes,in Paris an event of more than
ordinary biological,for biologists, but for us, symbolic significance occurred.
Certain creatures known by their Aztec name of AXOLOTL, long held to be
sexually mature adults, metamorphosed and took on what in the common
process of growth would have been their expected physiological configura-
Symbolically significant for us here is that these creatures, in their native
habitats in certain lakes in Mexico, attain sexual maturity in larval form, which
is aquatic, and apparently in that habitat never metamorphosed beyond that
According to investigators of this phenomenon, the permanent aquatic
larval form of the creature it is terrestrial when completely metamorphosed
- is brought about by a suppression of the thyroid gland, the secretion of which
is responsible for metamorphosis in AMPHIBIA; and that treatment of
AXOLOTLS with thyroid secretion, at any stage of thathalted growth, would
bring about metamorphosis; would bring about, that is to say, transformation
from the aquatic larval form to the terrestrial adult form, as is the normal case
with creatures we are all familiar with the frog or the crapaud.
What in this phenomenon fascinates me and makes me pause relates to
the whole concept of transformation and the startling possibility that, in some
ways, I believe we are somewhat like AXOLOTLS, which is to say that, for
some reason or other, something seems to have gone awry with that process
of metamorphosis, which, if we are to accept what our leaders tell us, should
work to transform us from what we function as an aggregation of begging,
tricking, bluffing,cheating subsistence seekers and assorted hustlers into a
free community of valid persons; each of whom has existed in a way we have
come to conceptualise as, at least one, among other, higher modes of being,
where the essence of staying alive means fulfilment of self and self-
realisation: which when achieved ceases to remain merely the accomplish-
ment of a competence but goes onward to the acquisition of the status of a
KYK # 44
function of the personality; a function which consummates itself in the
enrichment of every self that participates with it in the creation of a free
community of valid persons.
You may well want to ask Is not every person a valid person? And I say:
Yes. I say yes only if that person's person outweighs his babble in the war
against the reduction of himself, because every word or deed a person utters
or commits which fails to recognize or increase the value of another ends up
by effecting a reduction of the provenance of the intention.
So that is why when we look at the contemporary condition, nationally
and internationally, we want to mutter "All gone", acutely aware of our
victim's role in a ruthless world; profoundly critical of what to only too many
of us seems to be serious malfunctioning on the part of those who decide how
we should live; self-righteously indignant at what is considered the
demoralisation and apathy of the so-called masses and that out-look which
exposes itself as one that sees as irrelevant anything which does not serve its
own and immediate crassest self-interest; and these all combine to make our
contemporary and civic behaviour an ungodly scramble, where each one of
us is prepared to exploit the other. It may be, I would like to suggest, the
perception of this, accidentally or unconsciously, which causes ministers and
official spokesmen, whenever they say anything, to find it necessary to resort
to caustic admonition, and also to seek, at almost every opportunity, to
describe some one or other individual or section of the community as anti-
Guyanese, as though indeed there is some holy text somewhere which spells
out what being pro-Guyanese is.
But the truth is that every society is made of conflicting interests: the
interests of the rulers and the interests of the ruled; competition within the
ranks of the rulers and competition within the ranks of the ruled; and it is from
the creative encounter of these interests, from the clash of all these forces that
a valid hierarchy of values emerges to challenge the very premises that
Nor can this encounter be abolished. It may be obscured and take perverse
forms of expression, in which eventually the individual personality suffers
erosion and ceases to function in a creative way, until, inevitably, general
paralysis of the spirit overcomes.
This is the war we have to fight, the war against paralysis of the spirit, for
I am tempted to think in a metaphorical way, that just as the suppression of
the thyroid gland in the AXOLOTL could have halted that creature's
metamorphosis, just so this paralysis of spirit ifnotitself overcome, can delay,
if not corrupt, our transformation into a free community of valid persons.
Greater and greater daily seems to grow this paralysis as the individual
person is confronted with the sometimes inscrutable workings of political and
bureaucratic power; when faced with the crises which present themselves in
KYK # 44
the form of seemingly unresolvable problems of conscience, dilemmas
created by a lack of courage or conviction or situations in general about which
he feels he can do nothing a condition of being which hobbles the mind,
induces varying degrees of hysteria and provokes adventurism, especially
among the young.
In the Caribbean and Guyana we have a sufficiency of historians, political
scientists, sociologists, economists and politicians who, from time to time,
depending upon the occasion, or conditioned by the audience, go to great
trouble to speak learnedly or rhetorically about the historical, social, eco-
nomic and political backgrounds of these territories and who also, sometimes
tentatively, sometimes dogmatically, seek to lay down guidelines for the
In nearly all of the prescriptions, in addition to the often mechanical
recital of moral imperatives, there is to be found a pre-occupation with the
concept of systems and institutions a pre-occupation which communicates
that there is, in the minds of these savants, conviction that the solution of most
of our troubles lies in the construction of adequate systems and institutions.
And no one would dare to question the legitimacy of this pre-occupation
if in what is proposed as its consequence, the adjective, "adequate",
necessarily connoted the inclusion of informal social and psychological
elements, elements thatdefy codification, like commitment to the name but
not the substance of some one or other political ideology; or the prejudices
associated with skin-colour; or the failure of communication that accompa-
nies racial cleavage; or, most important of all, the exercise of state power
which brooks little interference and distorts men and laws in the overt and
covert processes of its consolidation and hegemony.
It is the action of these informal elements in their many combinations,
which can and does bring about the perversion of creative strategies and
exacerbates those very ills these strategies were originally planned to control.
In all of what I have been saying I have attempted to bring to your attention
some considerations, which in a world shaken by economic and attendant
crises, people like housewives and politicians may want to deem less urgent
than their own immediate concern with pragmatic issues.
But I am afraid in certain circumstances such concern can be manipulated
and used, if not to justify, then at least to conceal transgression. On the other
hand, it is precisely in times of crisis that we must re-examine our lives and
bring to that re-examination contempt for the trivial, and respect of the riskers
who go forward boldly to participate in the building of a free community of
KYK # 44
Maccabee at Sea
Circa 1965 : Unpublished Short Story
All around him the dark sea stretched, shining in those places where the
water lumped into waves like the backs of black fish. It was the first time since
he had come out of prison that he had gone fishing at night. Far away, and
slightly below him, he could see the lights of the city blinking like artificial
stars. And a glow was in the sky like a low and shifting mound of light.
Maccabee sat in his gently rocking boat and stared around him. From
where he sat the city looked tiny and quiet like a little house with all its
windows closed down. Between the city and himself the tops of the poles that
pinned his seine into the sea floor projected upward, interrupting the low stars
and the flat sea brink. He was waiting for the tide to fall before hauling up his
It had been more than a year since he had been out fishing at night. And
as he sat waiting he remembered that night again when he hadheard something
calling his name, and the face emerging from the sea and looking at him over
the side of his boat. Remembering, he twisted uneasily and gazed around, half
afraid that he wouldhear his name being called again, and see the strange water
But everything remained silent, save for the low sound of the secret wind
slapping the waves. With a grunt he dismissed his memory aid pulled up to
The seine he had set in the sea was shaped like a bag. The poles which
were stuck in the sea bottom pinned it in place with its mouth open, facing the
falling water. As the tide fell, the fish drifting out would swim into the open
and waiting gap and be trapped in the mesh of the bag. Then all he would have
to do would be to pull the seine up and empty it into his boat. He leaned over
the side and heaved at the seine. As he pulled he felt something tug violently.
The seine was snapped out of his hand.
"Something big", he muttered to himself, leaning over again and
grasping the tug. This time he held it firmly and pulled. But as he pulled he
felt a sharp and even more violent tug, wrench the seine clean out of his hands.
"Really catch something big, big," he muttered in excitement, frowning.
"Biggest thing I ever catch."
Then he pulled around to the other side and positioned himself. Quite
KYK # 44
clearly he had caught something big. He knew he would have to be very careful
lest he damaged the seine in pulling it up. He should have had somebody to
help in the boat, he realized. To handle a normal catch alone was easy. But
this was something different. And yet somehow he felt glad he was alone. To
pull the seine alone with a big catch was something worth doing, something
that would give him a special satisfaction. It was as if he were making up in
one catch for all the catches he had not made while in prison.
He locked his feet beneath the seat of the boat and leaned right over. Both
hands were clutching beneath the water. Then his fingers caught hold and he
gripped firmly and pulled. As he started to pull he felt the seine shake and
twist again. But this time he was expecting resistance and he held on firmly.
Slowly he pulled, feeling the seine getting heavier, and yet heavier, as it
came up. The weight was most unusual. He wondered what kind of fish he
had caught. For a moment the idea that he had caught the creature which had
once appeared beside his boat flashed into his imagination. He paused,
startled. But he shrugged away the thought and he pulled again. As the seine
came out of the water he brought himself erect, sitting rigid again and fixed,
holding against the weight.
Suddenly, as the seine came out, the thing which was inside jerked
violently and pulled him right over. The sharp and exceedingly violent tug
was so sudden thathe fell forward striking his chest against the side of the boat.
He held on to the seine fighting to recover himself. But, as if coming to the
surface had only made the creature in the seine more violent, he found that he
had to fight madly to keep himself from being pulled over the side and into
the sea. He held on strongly, feeling the seine wriggle in his hand. With an
effort he pulled again, only to groan suddenly and relax, loosening the seine.
A sharp terrible pain in his groin paralysed him, and he lay limp, athwart the
boat with his hand trailing. He felt his whole belly fill with pain like a heavy
liquid gushing up from his groin. Slowly he felt the pain drain out of his belly
and collect at his groin. He held his groin in one hand to ease the pain, while
with the other he inclined himself into a more comfortable position in the boat,
where he lay on his back staring up at the sky, but seeing nothing. The pain
had driven sense from his head, and he was afraid to move lest the pain come
back again as terribly as it had begun, and invade his belly again.
The seine had fallen back into the sea and the boat drifted away from the
tall poles. With his face turned to the sky he lay on his back. He found that
holding his groin was a relief and he held it just as he had held it that night in
the prison hospital when the murdererhad spoken to him. The memory twisted
and shaped itself in his mind, and he wondered if the man had already been
hanged. As he stared up from his prone position in the boat he saw, as in a slow
dream, arope hanging from the beam of night, and the shape of aman dangling
with bent feet kicking. He groaned as a line of pain tightened from his groin
KYK # 44
to his belly like a noose. He sat up slowly and started to fit the mast in the hole
like someone else. As he worked at it, the pain came, then went, and he pushed
and groaned, jerking and grasping. Every action started a current of pain
running through him. Slowly he worked, pulling up the sail and turning the
bow of the boat toward the city. The pain inside him was now like a load that
slowed the boat in the water, like a weight thatanchoredhim in one place under
the vast sky of the hanged man and the dangerous sea of the naked creature
which had come to him and called to him, a long, long time ago.
KYK # 44
Out, Out the Fire
(Extract) Kyk-Over-Al Vol. 8 No. 23, May 1958
Outside, in the city the sun burns madly upstairs in the sky. The streets
blaze white near green grass, and galvanised iron roofs shimmer like vapour.
When the sun is high the city lies rigid, tense and trembling in the stark light.
And the sky is far away like a foreign country, and the clouds are like new
sails on old ships sailing forever.
Every street is straight and white like a chalk line. On either side houses
stand up on stilts like angular insects, reaching for something to eat. The fronts
of the houses are separated from the green parapets by fences made of wallaba
paling staves. But some are broken and jagged like splintered teeth, dirty and
discoloured. The fronts of the houses are like open mouths and the stumps of
the paling staves are like the strained stumps of broken teeth. And just as down
a human mouth, the food of life goes everyday, just so into the broken mouth
of the houselot, life goes everyday, passing forward and backwards as if some
giant face were eating with a morbid relish, spitting out the more tasteless
morsels and swallowing all the rest.
The street is wide and full of dust. In the white sunlight it lies down
passively. From the wide world come motor cars, lorries and vans, making
a lot of noise, shaking up the white dust and leaving the air full of the smell
of fume. Wooden donkey carts, creaking and shaking, rattle over the pieces
of white marl lying all about. Dogs fight in the grass, snarling and snapping
angry white teeth until they lock into each other, twisting violent muscles.
And little naked black children, with rags for shirts, run about with discarded
bicycle tyres, jumping over the furious dogs, the grass and the stones.
Sometimes, but sometimes only, the whole street goes suddenly quiet, as
though everything has stopped for a moment to listen to itself. But then it
begins all over again, iron wheels turning, sun wheels turning, sky wheels
turning, hub and rim, centre and circumference, point and limit, core and
And when the sun goes down the whole yard becomes a slab of darkness,
like a block of black ice. In the night-wrapped city, where the streets intersect,
the light from lantern posts falls into yellow pools on dust and pebbles. Trees
grow tall above the roof tops and some of them look as if they were trying to
go to sleep.
Crapauds in the damp grass begin to rattle and whistle like birds who can
fly. And even the dogs bark with a different meaning. The night is like a door
that closes in the afternoon locking everything into a black room. And as it
KYK # 44
comes down, the sky seems to rise high up into space, only to come down
again. Below, in the streets, boys and girls on bicycles ride past men and
women walking. And a donkey cart would appear around the corer moving
slowly. The cartman droops over the donkey's rump, half-asleep. In his fist
he clutches a bottle fom the narrow spout of which protrudes a tongue of
yellow fire. And as the donkey walks, the cartman rolls fowards and
backwards in rhythm with the hooves. And in the yards, the women sit on their
doorsteps looking out at the street, spitting at the night, gossiping with their
neighbours and laughing at themselves, in strange and secret amusement.
Miss Agnes always sat out on her front steps watching the street after dusk.
She would sit down and look at the people passing for an hour or two before
going to prepare for sleep. But as somebody from the yard would come to look
out too, she invariably had a companion to talk to.
That night she was sitting on her front step in the dark as usual when
suddenly she heard a voice from the shadows behind her.
"Like you looking out," the voice said.
"Eh heh," Miss Agnes replied, turning her head to see who it was.
Recognised Old Katie's voice and repeated, "Eh heh, ah looking out lil."
Old Katie came up and stood beside Miss Agnes.
"But wait! Was to ask you. Is wha' kind of strimp shells you throw away
in the alley dis morning."
Miss Agnes started. The sudden question surprised her. She did not reply
at once but wondered why Old Katie had asked the question at all. Before she
could say anything else Old Katie continued:
"If you only smell the place now. It smell like some dead ramgoat bury
with rotten eggs. I never smell nothing so bad in all my life." As she spoke
she grimaced as though something was stuck up in her nose. In the dark her
flabby face twisted around her nose like a mask of soft rubber.
"But is wha' you mean at all" Miss Agnes asked her after a moment. "Is
only today I throw way' dem strimp shells in de alley. You never smell shells
before?" She demanded, turning fiercely on Old Katie.
Old Katie sighed. She was not a quarrelsome old woman so she said
quietly, "I custom to smelling strimp shells yes, but I ain't custom to smelling
strimp shells like dem at all. I telling you Miss Agnes, dem strimp shells really
smell bad. But you must come with me and tek a smell for yourself."
Miss Agnes did not reply. She was wondering how the few shrimp shells
she had thrown away that morning could ever smell as bad as Old Katie was
"You sure is strimp shells you smelling in de alley," she asked quietly,
looking at Old Katie.
"Is wha' den'," the old woman replied. "Is only you use strimps today
and throw way de shells in de alley. It didn't smell so last night, so it could
KYK # 44
only be you strimp shell that got de place smelling so nasty."
"Well", said Miss Agnes. "Well ah really don't feel like smelling no
nasty thing tonight. But if you sure is me strimp shells smelling so high in de
alley, I going to come down in de morning and tek a smell foh myself."
Old Katie turned away grumbling to herself. "Just fancy, she don't feel
like smelling no nasty thing tonight! But I who living in de backhouse got to
sleep with it, and bathe with it, cook with it, eh!eh?"
As she walked back through the yard to her house at the back she
continued grumbling in her mouth.
"But look at me trial" she grumbled. "Dey come and dey throw away
dey nasty things all about the place and when you talk to dem about it dey bex.
People like them should live in de pasture where dey could do what dey like."
She walked up her steps and entered her shaky house. Across the
alleyway she could see the lights in the other houses giving off a sickly yellow
glow as though the lights was weak and anaemic with living in all the darkness.
And when midnight comes and every light is out except the street lights,
all is quiet as a grave yard. In the silence the beat of the wind on the sea comes
gently, floating over the sleeping roofs. In the grass near the land crickets and
candleflies exchange places on hidden leaves. Dogs snarl and bark out
suddenly. And somewhere in the world of night, man lies on top of woman
closing his eyes and emptying himself into the invisible depths of her body.
And then when he is quite empty, he becomes light like a feather and floats
through the black silk cotton of sleep like a seed on wings. And far away to
the north of the city the sea surrounds the world, dark under the keen stars. Up
and down, forever and forever, the broken waves run from shore to shore, from
night to night and from man to man.
In the morning, bright and early, Miss Agnes went down to the alleyway.
The sun was lifting itself over the city and the sharp light made clear shadows
on the earth. The wind was fresh andmoist and the sky sparkling like wet grass.
"Ah come foh smell de thing you was telling me about last night," she
called out as she came up to Old Katie's house.
Old Katie looked through the window.
"Wha' happen" she asked, "you mean to say you ain't start smelling
yet." She looked at Miss Agnes suspiciously.
Miss Agnes took a noisy sniff, holding her nose to the air.
"You ain't got to do all dat," Old Katie cried out, "just come round by
the back step and you gin know."
Miss Agnes walked around and took another loud sniff.
"Oh Jesus Christ!" she exclaimed suddenly, "Oh Jesus Christ, but is
true. But is wha got dis place smelling so bad!"
As she stood up there she could see the shrimp shells she had thrown away
lying on the ground. Surely those few shrimp shells could not be giving off
- 38 -
KYK # 44
that smell. And yet, she reasoned, it had to be the shrimp shells. There was
nothing else lying about that could possibly give off such a cloud of stink.
Miss Agnes stood up looking about her. She couldn't say anything to
defend herself. And all she did was to cry out again and again about the smell.
Behind her at the window Old Katie was waiting to hear what she would
"You believe now?" Old Katie asked, "you believe now about what I
was telling you last night. And you only smelling it now you deh here standing
up. But if you was like me living in dis house you would dead long ago. Last
night the smell was so bad that I dreamed I was living in the latrine, not no
clean big shot latrine, but them brum down nasty latrine some people got in
the yard where dey say dey living. And dis morning ah wake up and smell the
smell, ah know de dream was not no dream at all. Because up to know ah got
one splitting headache."
Miss Agnes turned around sympathetically.
"Ah know how you must be feeling wid dis nastiness so near you." She
walked away slowly wondering what she should do. As she turned around she
noticed a piece of cloth sticking out from under a pile of old boards lying half
in the yardandhalfin the alleyway. She walked over and looked at it curiously.
As she bent down to inspect it, the smell rose in her face like a dense spray of
water. She put her hand over her mouth and bent lower.
"But is wha dis?" Miss Agnes asked again. She looked around on the
ground and picked up a short piece of stick and started to probe at the half-
As she probed at it a piece of pinkish fabric broke away.
"Eh Eh" she remarked aloud. "But this look like blood." The smell was
stronger than ever and Miss Agnes kept her mouth tightly closed so as to
prevent any of the bad smell going down her throat.
Suddenly she jumped back as though something had leaped from the
ground straight into her eyes.
"Oh Gawd" she screamed, "Oh Gawd." She spun around to face Old
Katie. "Is a dead baby, is a dead baby." She bawled, "come quick."
"An was dat got the place smelling so bad an' got me blaming Miss Agnes
strimp shells," Old Katie told Policeman, Policeman was writing in his
notebook standing near the spot where the bundle showed under tl ; wood.
Around his black uniform the women from the adjoining houses were
discussing the pitiful discovery. They had all come running when Miss Agnes
gave the alarm, leaving their pots cooking on the fires in their kitchens.
"But why you all people don't go home and cook you husband food?"
Policeman asked them nudging one of the women with his elbow.
They were all grouped around him listening as he spoke with Old Katie, and
from time to time they interrupted him.
KYK # 44
The woman he nudged sucked her teeth loudly.
"But like you is a anti-man nuh?" she asked cutting her eyes at
Policeman. All the women laughed out boisterously, and Policeman looked
back into his book writing industriously so as to appear as busy and official
as possible. He knew he dared not attempt to exchange remarks with the
women and so he tried to ignore them.
The policeman was a young man with a dark brown skin and a very serious
expression on his face. The women knew that he was very young in the force
and that he felt he had one of the most important jobs in the world and that he
meant to live up to the dignity of it. Hehad been sent out from the Station when
old Katie went and gave a report. And now he was taking a statement from
Miss Agnes, who all the time had remained on the spot watching the bloody
bundle that showed under the wood.
"Is somebody living around here throw away dat thing," one of the
"But ah wonder is who," another asked, leaning forward as if to inspect
anew and discover some clue as to its origin.
"Is somebody living round here," the woman who had spoken first
repeated again, emphatically.
"Like you know is who," Policeman said suddenly, turning to look
directly at the woman. -
"Oh me Jesus," the woman cried out in alarm, "What I know about
anything like dat. And to besides leh me go and see what happening to me pot
before it boil over."
She bustled away hurriedly, leaving Policeman looking behind her
He turned back to face the women.
"Now listen" he said "if anybody here got any information about who
throw away that ting in dis alley, dey bettah come forwardright away. Because
if you know and you don't tell is an offence."
He spoke proudly, aware of his authority. But nobody answered.
"Alright, alright," he warned. "You all people know to lie down wid
man when the night come and enjoy yourself. But when you get ketch you
don't want to mind pickney. You don't think about the consequences. All you
want is the sweetness. Ah know, ah know, but we going to see what is going
to happen. Somebody looking for trouble and is one of you."
As he spoke he frowned. The women, who a few minutes before were
laughing at him, now watched at him with troubled eyes.
"And this is a serious offence" he continued. He saw that he had them
frightened and he was happy.
"Last year in the country," he said, "a woman get baby and when the
baby dead she wrap it up in an old newspaper and throw it away in the alley.
KYK # 44
And you know what happened? Was only because the Magistrate sorry foh
her that she didn't get jail."
"Is true," one of the women said. Every eye fixed on Policeman.
Standing in his black uniform stiff and erect, he seemed to tower over them.
Suddenly Miss Agnes took a step forward.
"But boy," she said, without warning "But boy, is what you name?" She
had been listening to Policeman while he was speaking and her sudden
irrelevant question fell like a bucket of cold water over him.
"Constable Cecil Joe No. 4914" Policeman almost shouted, almost
saluting. But quickly he caught himself and relaxed.
He glanced at Miss Agnes.
"Like you is a botheration woman," he said softly with cold anger in his
eyes. The question had really caught him and his immediate parrot-like
recitation of rank, name and number made him feel ashamed. He realized how
stupid he looked and he knew that the women who only a few moments ago
were looking at him with awe, were now more or less normal again and ready
to laugh at him.
Just then another policeman came up to the crowd with an old toffee tin
in his hand.
"You tek down the statement and everything?" he asked constable Joe.
"Yes a got it."
"Well alright then, leh we pick up dis thing and carry um down to the
police station one time."
The second policeman picked up the bundle and put it in the toffee tin.
"I am going to have to ask some more questions," Constable Joe told Miss
Agnes as he started to leave. "This investigation only now start."
Miss Agnes stared at him for a moment, then she laughed out, with a
"But hear he!" she shouted at his back. "But hear he! You could start
anything like investigation!"
She turnedto the women. But they had all begun to walk away and so Miss
Agnes went back alone through the yard to her room. And on the grey ground
beneath her feet as she walked, the hard little brown ants journey through the
dust leaving no trail. In the yard the lean chickens scratch with impatient feet
at mounds of dirt, searching for a worm, a shrimp shell, a grain of rice. Green
blades of grass choking beneath weeds, lean back their clean points to the land
in a mute repudiation of light and sun. Only the winged marabuntas and the
slender-tailed pond flies dance through the air, flitting from earth-floor to
roof-top and darting from cool shade like memories seeking a place to rest.
And high above, beyond the tall interruption of coconut palm heads, the
unsympathetic sun bums out its white insistence, contemptuous of ant or
chicken, grass or weed, roof top or dust, memory or wing.
THE RED HOUSE, 65/67 High Street, Kingston, Georgetown
Drawing by Kenton Wyatt, after
photograph by David Ford
KYK # 44
Selected Articles/Editorials From THUNDER
Thunder Editorial, May 1, 1954
The enemies of the people, the ideologies of the rulers, the propagandists
of reaction have all come out with the flaring trumpets against the People's
Progressive Party's initiation of the programme and campaign of non-
cooperation with the interim government. Angrily the mouthpieces of the
oppressors seek to minimise the support given to the party by the people of this
country. In vain the reactionaries try to revile the ideas advocated by the party
in this period of national misfortune. Always in repeated attacks, do they seek
to create the impression on the minds of the people that the party' s programme
of non-cooperation is immoral and untenable.
For any people the ideal government is government of the people, by the
people and for the people. The present interim government is neither of, by,
nor for the people. And the argument that a community must have a body of
legislation and administrators to see to the smooth running of things, does not
have any cogency in this context, since any such argument presupposes the
given consent of those who are to be governed. The nominated interim
government therefore, far from having any claim for loyalty, from the people,
has in fact, by its existence, brought about a situation in which, in order to
make clear their unequivocal repudiation, the people are forced to take some
form of action consistent with a disavowal of all those things the Interim
government stands for.
Non-cooperation does not mean passivity. Indeed, in its own right, it is
an aspect of resistance and not an isolated form of activity. Together with
demonstrations, processions and other forms of resistance it contributes to the
whole movement of resistance in a special way. Where other forms may be
indirect, or more or less diffuse or spasmodic, non-cooperation is direct,
concrete and pointed. And non-cooperation has been carried on in other
countries for the same purpose as it is now being carried on in this country.
In India, during that country's struggle for independence, which by the way,
is not even yet completely won, non-cooperation helped to break the backs of
the British sahibs there. In France during occupation by the Nazis during the
last war, non-cooperation with the 'master race' was an essential part of the
underground resistance movement. As a matter of fact, however far back in
history wemay go, wherever occupation by foreigners has oppressed a people,
non-cooperation has been practised. It is a method of resistance universal in
Today, in Guiana, where another master race is oiling guns and sharpen-
ing bayonets, the principle and practice of non-cooperation with the "Gov-
ernment" which owes its whole existence to the foul processes of imperialist
oppression, can neither be immoral or untenable. Instead, the degree and
extent of its practice is one sure way of measuring how much of imperialist
mind-poisoning propaganda has been rejected by the people.
Let the Guianese people therefore maintain and develop its programme
and campaign of non-cooperation with the present fraudulent government.
Let the campaign continue until the assembly of nominees, that collection of
puppets called a "Government" only by those who made its appearance
possible, or those who belong to it, is thrown with all its ignominy into
oblivion. Until that time, the slogan of non-cooperation, the principle of non-
cooperation, the practice of non-cooperation remain honourable and correct.
An American Oracle
Thunder, August 28, 1954
Every few weeks or so, some official or expert or advisor arrives in British
Guiana, and, after spending a few days in the company of assorted reaction-
aries, completes the visit by making oracular disquisitions either about the
Soviet Union or "the communist conspiracy to rule the world," or some such
thing, all very much in the manner of the character Shakespeare parodied by
crediting with the lines: "I am Sir Oracle, when I open my mouth let no dogs
Significantly enough, it was particularly only after the P.P.P. victory in
the 1953 elections that British Guiana became so popular with American
assistant professors, research workers and others who came like a line of
acushi ants, each with their own task to perform, each with his own assignment
to discharge. During the period when our Party was in office, the Ministers
were pestered with siege investigators, who behaved more like a pack of
trained spies seeking information, than anything else.
But now however, when our country lies at the mercy of imperialist
benevolence, the officials who come here in connection with the various
financial, economic or frankly political schemes, do not merely concentrate
on the specific tasks with which they are concerned, but on the contrary,
precisely because inmost cases they represent governments as reactionary and
aggressive as the U.S. and British Governments, are always very anxious to
give tips and hints to the people of Guiana on the trends in the world situation,
and how Guianese natives can best direct their energies to life and their own
Apart from the fact that we cannot help viewing with the sharpest
suspicion anyone who consorts with our enemies, we are still forced to take
some notice of the pronouncements these people make, inasmuch as some of
us fall easy prey to the blandishments and verbal tricks of these ideological
tourists. And one such visitor who graced us with his presence not too long
ago is the Public Affairs Officer of the U.S. Information Service, Ar. L.E.
Norrie, who arrived on Tuesday, August 10th and left on Saturday the 14th.
On Sunday 15th the Daily Argosy printed in bold headlines: "Russia-
Greatest Colonial Power on Earth Today" above an article made up for the
greater part of the statements by Mr. Norrie about Russia's "armed aggres-
sion" and "domination over millions of people who now enjoy nothing more
than colonial status."
Mr. Norrie, the man from whom the headline is quoted, works with the
KYK # 44
U.S. Government and as such, is a representative of the most predatory
imperialism ever. Wall Street and the U.S. Government control one of the
most powerful countries in the world today. This is the country of McCarthy,
Hollywood, Negro Lynching, witch hunting and other aspects just as pleasant
as those mentioned above. And because this country is a capitalist imperialist
country, controlled by a class which derives its very heart beat from the
exploitation of human labour power, then, in the eyes of the same ruling class,
all the things in the world that sustain it are good. A man who is a
representative of the rulers of America must therefore be aman whose outlook
on world affairs is conditioned and determined by these very principles.
On the other hand, the Soviet Union, about which Mr. Norrie speaks so
bitterly, is a socialist country. There, in 1917, the people led by Lenin
overthrew the capitalist state and instituted a system of Soviet Government
which guarantees to the people a real chance to live like human beings.
Because control of the means of production is in the hands of the people who
decide how production should be organised, unlike the U.S.A. where the
minority class controls everything, the Soviet Government is able to lead the
people ever forward to a better life. And because again, the Soviet Union is
a socialist country, a country which leads the world in a fight for freedom from
imperialism and therefore from colonialism, it follows that Mr. Norrie's
statement is viciously false and is cunningly calculated to deceive and mislead
the people to whom it is directed.
So then we must ask why Mr. Norrie came to B.G. which after all is a very
small country in a very big world, and then upon his departure take upon
himself the job of denouncing the Soviet Union just off-hand like that.
According to theArgosy Mr. Norrie was here to see after arrangements for the
setting up of an U.S. Information Service in Guiana, which will help to explain
U.S. foreign policy andhelp to give an insight into U.S. cultural and social life.
Now that the mere fact that that U.S. proposes to set up an information
service in this country reflects certain realities of U.S. foreign policy. And one
of the most important of these features is that U.S. imperialism is getting down
vigorously to the job of taking over the British Empire not excluding Great
Britain itself. Andjust as the British rulers have their British Council here so
too will the U.S. Government have their own Yankee indoctrination centre.
Between these two the people of Guiana will be sandwiched, cut off from the
world as it were and left like gaping fish ready to swallow whatever these
imperial powers have to offer. Thus in addition to the existence of a law which
seeks to keep certain types of information and progressive ideas outof Guiana,
we will now have with us another barrel full of imperialist propaganda,
specifically geared for local conditions and consumption.
As a result of all this, how should we take Mr. Norrie and his statements?
Firstly we must recognize him as a spokesman of American imperialism and
KYK # 44
therefore an enemy of colonial people fighting for freedom. Secondly his
statements about the Soviet Union which are false and pernicious must be
recognized as a smokescreen set up to obscure the real motives of the
aggression in colonial territories and in the fomenting of a Third World War.
Finally we must let Mr. Norrie know that our fight here is for national
liberation and thatif he finds it necessary to tell lies about another country only
in order to distract our attention from the situation as we know it in our life,
we in turn find it necessary to reject him and his ideas in totality. For
experience has taught us to search diligently for the poison hidden in
everything the imperialists have to offer to our people.
KYK # 44
Politics and the Individual
Thunder, February 12, 1955
Every human being is born into the world completely naked. While this
is obvious physically, it is not always taken into account when people start
arguing about politics and the individual. For some people give it out that
politics implies a surrender of individuality, an assumption of a robot
existence- an existence in which all the distinctive individual qualities of the
human person involved, are submerged and lost in the general mass of activity
From the moment a human being is born, however, he enters into certain
relationships with the social pattern which surrounds him. This social pattern,
with its institutions, customs, laws etc, mould him into one of its own
creatures. And in a colonial territory, if this human being, this individual
happens to be a child of working class parents, then he finds himself locked
up in a huge cage of poverty where hardly any opportunity for real individual
development exists. Any kind of gift or talent must be immediately sacrificed
to the job of putting something in his belly from day to day. And, after a while
the grind of life takes over, bright dreams become a bolt in the sugar punt-
bent and rusty with the years.
If this is true to experience, then it follows that long before an individual
even begins to talk about politics, the social pattern begins to attack his
individualistic potentialities. For it is clear that an individual can only become
what his social environment allows him to become. Thus the limits to his
individual development are imposed by the society in which he is born and in
which he grows up. And if he wishes to push back the boundaries created by
the social pattern in which he finds himself, he will then have to do something
to bring about the change in that very social pattern. It is then that he enters
consciously into politics.
Of course, it must be statedhere that whether the individual likes it or not,
he begins taking part in politics from the day he is born. Here it is only a matter
of direct or indirect, positive or negative, conscious or unconscious activity.
For the sake of clarity however, the word politics is used in a direct, positive
conscious and purposive sense.
But to return. From the argument above, it can be seen that far from
politics being an hindrance to individual development, it is in fact, the means
whereby the individual may release himself and others from a crippling social
environment. For political activity is not an end in itself, but only a means to
an end, the end of social change.
KYK # 44
Of course people can corrupt anything and politics is no exception. As
a matter of fact, because of its importance, politics attracts the best and worst
of men. What is necessary then, is that no one should confuse politics as a
social instrument for politics as a social disease.
In the long run, the individual simply does not have the choice of merely
remaining an unattached individual. He may remain unconscious or negative,
a piece of wood floating on the tide, changing position as the tide changes. He
may thus share the same individuality as a piece of sea wood.
The following analogy may help to clarify the idea. When a child is born,
he is absolutely helpless and his parents have to do everything for him.
teaching and moulding him into humanity. When this child grows up, he too
will marry and beget children. In turn he will have to do everything for his
children, teaching and moulding them as he was taught and moulded by his
But now let the child take the name of Individual and his parents and
children the name of Society. It is easily sc en that just as Society moulded the
Individual, so must the Individual mould Society, transforming it into the
shape and the structure he desires. It is only through political activity that he
can do this.
KYK # 44
No Separate Salvation
Thunder Editorial, March 5, 1955
Everybody living in this country ought to know that people of African,
Indian, Portuguese and Chinese descent dwell here only because in the past
sugar lords found it necessary to bring their ancestors to this part of the world
to work in the cane fields. While Indians, Chinese and Portuguese came as
indentured immigrants, the Africans came as slaves. All of this is well known,
but some people behave nowadays as if they simply do not know these facts,
or that even if they do know them, they still do not realise what these facts
There are some people who are using the split in the P.P.P. as an
opportunity to foster racial feelings among the mass of people. Some of these
people claim that the Party has broken into two sections an Indian and an
African. And some on the one hand call upon the African element to support
that wing of the movement led by Mr. Burnham while others call upon the
Indian element to support the wing led by Dr. Jagan. Presumably both of the
groups of racial mindedpeople believe they are acting in the best interests of
the particular racial group to which they belong. But far from acting so, these
people are only acting in the interests of those who brought them here and who
have kept them down ever since. All of this without being understood, in the
same way as people may know a man is dying without understanding what he
is dying from.
Before going further let us see the racial composition of the leadership in
the two Wings. On the one wing we have Mr. Burnham, Dr. Lachmansingh
and Mr. Jai Narine Singh and on the other Dr. Jagan and Sydney King.
Looking at it we can observe that on both sides are Indians and Africans
working together, unless of course Sydney King moulted overnight like some
grass bird, or Dr. Lachmansingh has suddenly been transformed into another
When we come to the broad masses of people the situation is somewhat
different. For example, among the people of African descent there has been
a history of a feeling of superiority over the Indians because it was felt the
Indians came to Guiana to do the work the slaves refused to do after
Emancipation. On the other hand there has also been a history of feelings on
the part of the Indians that the people of African descent were inferior because
at one time these people happened to be slaves. Further the cultural position
of the two groups is important in this matter. Indians proudly retain certain
ties with India in religion, custom, etc. while the people of African descent torn
KYK # 44
from Africa as they were with bleeding roots had to build right up from the
ground. These positions give confidence to the Indians while to the Africans
they lead to a certain self-pitying attitude and consequently to.an emphasis on
rather than to a resolution of the problem.
Further to all of this is the social and economic grudges which exist. It
is claimed for instance that Indians occupy all the big positions in commerce
and the professions. So therefore, the argument goes, Indians are getting on
while those of African descent are stagnant. This argument seems to ignore
the fact that Indians are the majority in this country and though some seem to
be doing well, thousands are seeing hell. Nevertheless because Indians
happen to be in the majority there is a tendency for some of them to believe
that of necessity they must assume the dominant role in everything. While
little argument can be brought against the fact of numerical strength, Indians
must realize that under colonial rule only the British Government dominates.
Indians complain that on the other hand Africans dominate the Civil Service,
the police force and the teaching profession and that appointments are limited
where Indians are concerned. Witness the appointment of all Negro interim
ministers and realise the trick in the thing.
But repeating these facts is one thing. We can see quite easily as shown
above that historical circumstance and social accident have more or less laid
a foundation out of which serious racial antagonism could emerge. Instead
of contemplating this reality we must master it. And the achievement of the
P.P.P. in the past gives us hope for the future.
The P.P.P. succeeded in uniting the people of Guiana because it showed
that only unity among themselves wouldmake them strong enough to fight the
imperial government effectively. This was demonstrated at the General
Elections when P.P.P. candidates of African descent won seats in decidedly
Indian constituencies against Indian candidates. That means if the people
would only understand the major issue of the people's struggle against
imperialism some good will be done. Thus it would be better for a person of
Indian descent to support Mr. Burnham for ideological reasons than for the
same person while agreeing with Mr. Burnham to support Dr. Jagan only
because he happens to be an Indian. The same holds good for a person of
African descent. For this would mean that the action was dictated by reason
and not by racialism. In the long run reason would lead to the truth while
racialism would lead to a disaster.
There is no separate salvation for Indians in Guiana, no separate salvation
for Africans. There is only salvation for a unitedGuianese people fighting as
a people against imperialism for National Independence. Let those who
advocate racialism in any form among the people confute this.
KYK # 44
What is a Politician
Thunder, March 12, 1955
As we can see in our political situation here, most people, when confused,
usually do one of two things. Either they regress to some previous belief, some
previously held principle of understanding, or they move forward, eager and
anxious to learn. This is true for the majority of human beings, whether they
live in Africa or in China or Greece, whether their colour of skin is black or
brown or white. That is why we must not feel that our people are the most
backward in the world when we hear some of them saying in this period of
stress that, "this is white people country and we can't do nutten about it,"
"what is the use of struggling and suffering, things will always be bad," and
other bits of wisdom in the same strain. On the other hand, there are some who,
feeling at a loss over the confused state of affairs, do at times honestly and
sincerely attempt to understand and come to grips with the tangle of things.
But a lack of information, inaccurate thinking, insufficient knowledge and
little experience of certain types of activity, land them right back in the suck
Because politics concerns everybody, everybody has something to say
about it. One very popular idea in this country, as in other countries, is that
to be successful, a politician must be dishonest, must be tricky, smart, slick,
must know to say one thing and mean something else, and do something
absolutely different from what is said or meant. No one can deny, of course,
that politicians by their words and deeds have done everything to create such
an attitude of suspicion among the people.
Now what is it that causes politicians in particular to acquire such
unpleasant reputations? It cannot be merely personal or individual attributes,
since as we know every human being carries within himself the germ of every
human quality and also, that no man is an angel. It is necessary then to go
beyond the personal and individual level if we are to understand how
politicians act and why they act as they do.
In our time politics has come to have many meanings. But there was a
time in human history when nothing like politics as we know it ever existed.
At one time among the American Indians for instance, there was social life
based not on the conflict of economic classes but on the principle of communal
cooperation, in which the leaders of the people were like real fathers, because
the people they led had common interests and common aims. Difference
among leading members of the group would not be difference in interest but
difference in tactic, difference only in the ways and means of achieving an end.
KYK # 44
This could be so only because the long term aim was fully accepted as the end
to which everything and everybody moved.
With the arrival of slavery, the first form in which class society appeared
in history, the human grouping is broken into two classes, master class and
slave class. And it is here that politics as we know it begins. From then on
to now class struggle has been going on incessantly taking different forms
at different stages of development. Politics then can only be one of the forms
in which class struggle manifests itself, and politicians only the symbolsof this
manifestation. Politicians then are symbols of the class struggle.
In Guiana we find ourselves engaged in political activity, precisely
because the society in which we live is class society. And our political outlook
is determined by our class interest. For if we happen to be company directors,
our political deeds in the long run will be directed to the strengthening of our
business interests, to the strengthening of our class interest as company
directors. This is the key to open the door of understanding why people as
politicians behave as they do. Forjust as at Christmas time masquerades put
on painted masks, so too in politics do politicians put on false faces to hide their
faces to hide their real motives, to fool the lookers on, to pass in the same way
as well made counterfeit coins are passed. Because this type of thing has been
going on for so long people are always suspicious of politicians.
But why is it that politicians find it necessary to hide their real motives
and intentions? Certainly not because they are ashamed of them; not because
in themselves they are repulsive. Politicians hide their real motives and
intentions because they want people whose interests may be different from
theirs to support them, because they dare not show the cards in their hands, lest
the people reject them. So rather than being open and clear, or unrealistic as
they say, be smart and tricky and realistic as they say, and success will in
Such ideas about politics emerge from the bowels of capitalistic and
colonial society where the binding tie of human relations is the profit motive,
the exploitation of man by man in economic, moral and social life. In such
surroundings moral principles are as stray dogs in a butcher shop. So now if
all this is true how will it be possible to produce honest politicians, politicians
who are not smart and slick?
In the first place it will be necessary to find some standard of value which
is independent of personal and individual desire, a standard which cannot be
challenged anywhere by anybody.
In this Guiana it is easy to find the standard. The standard is national
independence, not so-called personal independence, not the independence of
one class at the expense of another class, but of all the people from something
outside of them. That something of course is British Imperialism. And even
if one of the classes in the colony has to suffer a little, has to swallow a little
KYK # 44
of its pride, then that class will have to abide by the greater good. In any case,
however, every class in the colony suffers in some way from alliance with
other classes. But what is gained outweighs what is lost. Therefore what
counts more than anything is not the tiny gain, the temporary victory, but the
final gain, the final victory. If at any time the tiny gain, the temporary victory
becomes more than the final gain, the final victory, then clearly everybody is
no longer working on the generally accepted basis of struggle. Clearly
somebody will be agreeing in thought at least with Omar Khayyam's verse:
Oh take the cash and let the credit go
Nor heed the rumble of the distant drum
In order to produce ordinary straightforward politicians it is necessary to
get a principle accepted, a principle of action which holds it that the final aim
of struggle must never be sacrificed to the success of the moment. For the
sacrifice of the long term aim is the tactic of the politician whose real interest
lies not in the people's liberation as such, but only in the temporary progress
of some one class in the alliance of the class forces fighting for National
Independence. That is all.
KYK # 44
Portrait of Churchill
Thunder, April 16, 1955
If Shakespeare happened to be alive nowadays and had to read all the
eulogies of Winston Churchill presented by certain newspaper editors,
historians, columnists etc. he might certainly feel like revising those famous
lines: the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their
bones. For although Churchill is not dead, not physically dead at least. the
uncritical outpouring about "his greatness and eminence" would put to
shame many a long drawn out, space filling obituary.
After 60 years of politics Winston Churchill resigned on Tuesday, April
6, as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Starting off as a young war correspon-
dent he ended up as an old war monger, betraying a consistency in this field
which no one can deny. But by living in the era of the colonial liberation
movement and the disintegration of world imperialism and by playing such
an important part in the fortunes and misfortunes of the British Empire,
Churchill has come to be regarded as the very personification of all that
imperialism stands for.
In dealing with the political personalities, writers customarily trace
careers, furnish purple patches from writings and speeches, point out intellec-
tual strong points and so forth, then conclude with high flights of flattery. We
however cannot do that since what we want to know is how Churchill stands
in relation to us and the colonial people in the worldwide struggle for national
Nevertheless for purposes of information, it is important to know that
Churchill entered politics at the age of 24 and that he was defeated in a by-
election in 1899. The next year he ran successfully as a Tory candidate for
Parliament. By 1904 however the Tories were losing out so Churchill became
a Liberal. In 1922 he losthis seat for Dundee as the Liberals were being moved
out of the front seats, Churchill decided to become a Tory again in 1924. When
the Baldwin Government was defeated in 1929 Churchill went out of office
and stayed out for ten years. Everybody knows of course that he w..s British
Premier during the Second World War which began in 1939.
During all this time Churchill practised with enthusiasm the politics of the
imperialist, whose attitude to his countrymen and to colonial people is one of
suppression, repression and oppression. It was only during the war that he
could find a common cause with all of these people and this was so because
Hitler was everybody's enemy including Churchill's.
Other than that, Churchill looked upon the working class of Britain with
KYK # 44
hatred and fear. In 1911 for example the railway workers went on strike. As
Home Secretary, Churchill demanded that 50,000 soldiers be called out to
smash the strike. When the soldiers attacked a demonstration, two railway
men were killed and several others wounded. During the 1930s when the
struggle of Indian people for National Independence mounted in intensity,
Churchill was among the wildest of the wild in calling for the suppression of
the Indians by raw brute force. "Give me a ship, a few hundred men, some
guns and I will quell those rebels in India" cried Churchill. On another
occasion Churchill said "I did not become Premier to preside over the
liquidation of the British Empire", all of which is in character.
Where Churchill really excelled however was in his hatred for the Soviet
Union. The triumphant revolution of the Russian people led by Lenin in 1917
roused in Churchill his most bellicose instincts. Churchill realized only too
well that the worker triumph of the Russians wouldinspire the working people
of every country in the world and would show to everybody that socialism was
possible and could be won. In his anxiety to hold back the tide, Churchill
helped to organise expeditionary force which he hoped would go into Russia
and crush the Bolsheviks. Thanks to the heroic residents of the Russians and
the support of their allies among the working people in Britain the expeditions
failed. Churchill had to swallow his bile. This was in 1919.
During the thirties Hitler rose to power in Germany. The Tories were all
for him because they felt that Hitler would wipe communism off the face of
the earth. But Churchill was sharp enough to see that Hitler would not stop
at the Soviet Union. Yet the war was no sooner over than Churchill was at his
old games again, this time ordering Montgomery to prepare to arm the Nazis
to fight the Soviet power. And in 1946 Churchill made his famous speech at
Fulton, in the U.S.A. demanding united action against the Soviet Union. This
was an official declaration of the cold war which today keeps the world in
We can even see from these few selected points that Churchill's career
was determined not necessarily by some innate quality but rather by the
circumstances of the times in which he lives. Standing as symbol of the rotten
past in the constantly changing world Churchill appears to us a figure
representing that social element which burst into power after the bourgeois
revolution of 1688 in Britain, and which since then has maintained itself by
strangling the working people of Britain and the subject people of the Empire.
Our experience of 1953 bears the mark.
Although Churchill has resigned, those forces which he represents are
still very much in power and are still hankering to use war and death in order
to survive. This is what we who live in Guiana will always remember.
KYK # 44
A Dark Foundation
Thunder, April 16, 1955
Following in the wake of our political confusion, what can be described
as a general bad-talking of black people has become quite a regular feature of
street corner gossip Statements like "black people can never lead anything"
and so on are quite popular. People of African descent are sinners in this
respect just as much as anybody else. We know of course that this sortof thing
has along history in Guiana, deriving in part from slave psychology and in part
from the disgraceful behaviour of some of our own leaders in the past.
On the other hand among some sections of the middle-class community
like school teachers, civil servants (lower bracket type) of African descent a
peculiar tendency is developing. Some time ago for instance member of this
section was heard saying that the black race is a master race. Since there is
nothing in Guiana's history to show that anybody other than the European
ruling caste and class has ever been master here, this statement can serve either
only to expose the fantastic complexes resident among some of us, complexes
which seek to mask themselves in their opposites, or to lay bare the secret
wishes of some people, whose class interests find reflection in such utterances.
For it is quite likely that the person who made the statement quoted
above is really wishing the class to which she belongs will some day become
the master class in Guyana. By deliberately confusing race with class this
person seeks to give all people of African descent a middle-class identity and
ambition. By using racial argument a given class attempts to masquerade as
a racial champion while low down in reality only the sordid selfish intention
is the motive power behind everything. This applies to every racial grouping
in this country.
Apart from all this however, it is high time for us to wrest from history
what history has for us. Having been brought here like cattle bereft of the
significant relations of our cultural patterns, we had to face a hostile and alien
world without any weapon other than sheerphysical life and strength. We were
born in slavery raw and wounded, borrowing everything from the very culture
that tortured the Light out of our life. Our position then and now is somewhat
similar to that of prisoner who on entering prison has to fit the clothes handed
to him by a prison warden, consequently there is still a lot of space between
skin and garment, space which only self knowledge can fill out and round off.
And all that we have to work with is that which we have created right here in
this country. The history of our existence from the first days of slavery is the
very earth on which we stand in this world. Dark is our foundation.
KYK # 44
Instead of abusing each other therefore, instead of giving ear to absurd
claims of racial superiority, let us rather examine our background and pick
some sense out of it. The two passages quoted hereunder should be useful as
a start. This is from John Smith who saw slavery with his own eyes.
The plantation slaves, are of course employed in the cultivation
of the ground. The field then, is their place of work. At about six
o'clock in the morning the ringing of a bell, or the sound of a horn
is the signalforthem to turn out to work. No sooner is the signal made,
than the black drivers, loudly smacking their whips, visit the negro
houses to turn out the reluctant inmates, much in the same manner
as you would drive out a number of horsesfrom a stable yard, now
and then giving a lash ortwo to any that are tardy in their movements.
Issuing from their kennels, nearly naked, with their instruments on
their shoulders, they stay not to muster, but immediately proceed to
the field accompanied by the drivers and a white overseer.
When a slave commits anything worthy of punishment, he is
ordered to lie down with his face to the ground. Should he show the
least reluctance, a couple or four negroes are called to throw him
down, and hold his hands and legs, stretchedout atfull length. In this
posture a driver flogs him on his bare buttocks till his superior tells
him to desist. In punishment no distinction is made between the men
and the women; the latter being forced to strip naked are held
prostrate on the ground by the men.
Against this let us place the achievement of 1763 when the slaves in
Berbice rose up in rebellion and drove all the slave owners and overseers and
rulers clean out of the county of Berbice. The Governor of Berbice wrote thus
of this matter:-
Today now (sic) the 4th of October andwe see no appearance
of our deliverers as yet; nor do we receive word or sign your honour;
what will become of us all, should your honours have entirely
forgotten us? We have come to the end of our tether here, and are at
our last gasp. If within a short time there is no deliverance, Iwill be
forced according to he-advice of the Court and the Sentences ofthe
War Council, to make arrangements to abandon this post and again
return to the extreme boundaries of the sea coast.
These words indicate the position of the Dutch rulers in Berbice at that
time, and illustrate the power wielded by the slaves in unity. The heroes of
KYK # 44
these years were Accabreh, Atta, Coffy and Accara who were the leaders of
the insurrection. Needless to say when the insurrection was put down they
were all executed.
From these two very brief quotations covering the misery and revolt of
the slaves at different times, we can see how very much there is for us to learn
about ourselves, how very much there is that requires attention if we are ever
to stand erect in this world.
And the present state of things makes such attention an urgent necessity
for all of us.
KYK # 44
From Babylonian to British
Thunder Editorial, May 21, 1955
After a week or two spent in drill and marching practice, hundreds of
innocent school children turned out on May 23rd, the day before Queen
Victoria's birthdate, to sing songs of praise to the British Empire, the "empire
on which the sun never sets etc. etc."
If these children could have witnessed even in imagination, what torture
and pain the founders of this very Empire inflicted on their ancestors in Africa
and India, they may perhaps have gone to sing but remained to wail. For
beneath all those platitudes and cliches uttered by the officials representing
the rulers of this Empire, bullets and skeletons are scattered in profusion.
About seventeen years ago, by the old fish koker in Kingston, a fisherman
was once overheard saying that just as the Babylonian, Greek and Roman
empires fell,just so would the British. That was a time when the Second World
War had not yet broken out, at a time when the liberation movement in these
parts was as yet a spasmodic and unexpressed flickering in the hearts of the
people. And while the fisherman's wish might well have been the father to
his thoughts, nevertheless, his thoughts were true to the direction of history.
Because today, seventeen years after the fisherman spoke his piece, there are
visible and definite signs that the British Empire is on its way out.
Just as a house has to rest on pillars, just as a man has to stand on his two
feet, just so do Empires have to rest on specific human, social, political and
economic relationships. And speaking about the British Empire, Lord
Roseberry, a noble imperialist, once had occasion to say "some empires have
rested on armies, some on constitutions; it is the boast of the British Empire
that it rests on men," endeavouring by this word play to obscure the realities
involved. Because, in truth, everything rests on men, but it is another matter
when men are uniformed soldiers committed to the job of holding down other
men, and killing them too in the bargain as in Malaya and Kenya, those ever
quoted examples of modern British imperialism. As for Lord Roseberry's
reference to "some empires" resting on Constitutions, the case of Guiana is
a case of the British stamping down a constitution, which is much worse than
resting on it.
But let us consider the relationships that the British Empire really rest on,
using Guiana as an example. Politically it is a relationship of controller,
something like commodity controller, where Guianese men and women are
commodities. Socially it is a relationship of superiors and inferiors, of
advanced and backward, developed and underdeveloped, or so they say at
KYK # 44
least. Economically it is a relationship of plunderer and plundered, robber and
robbed, cheater and cheated, profiteer and helpless consumer. And in human
relationships it is a case of cultural serfdom, and ugly indignity.
So far, so good. However, as we have seen here in this country since 1953,
the very imposition of total misery has brought about a searching in the minds
of thinking people for the real meaning of freedom. The lack of freedom has
convinced nearly everyone how great and precious a thing is freedom, how
worthy it is of effort and sacrifice. And similarly, as the fisherman said about
the Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires, reaching insidiously into every
crack and crevice like some gross spider, it has brought about in every one of
its colonies a searching and quest for new life, a life on which nothing like an
Empire can rest. Because the searching and the quest, the intentions and the
acts of millions of British colonials in different territories is simultaneous and
continuous, we can say with the fisherman, mending his net over seventeen
years ago on the fish koker, that the British empire like every other empire is
bound to fall. And here it is not the case of a wish being father to a thought,
but rather historical necessity being a process.
- 61 -
KYK # 44
Bribes for What?
Thunder, July 2, 1955
How much talk has there been since the proposed payments recom-
mended by Hands-Jakeway became public knowledge. From different
quarters havecome different comments, all expressing resentmentand disgust
over the whole affair.
Now, in any part of the world, the payment of a large sum of money, as
in the Hands-Jakeway context, is either made as a loan, as a gift or as a bribe.
Since the payments under Hands-Jakeway are neither loans nor gifts, they can
only be bribes. This is clear. But the question that still remains to be answered
is Bribes for what?
The intention of the British Government in making these payments is to
create in this country a super class, a class of colonial aristocrats who will be
living examples of the benefits that can be gained by all well behaved natives
in due course of time.
The idea is that this class of car-driving supermen will serve as an
inspiration to the non-car-driving ordinary men in the service who will
become so obsessed with the idea of getting on in life that they will do anything
and sooner or later acquire absolute immunity from any infectious idea
relating to politics or national liberty. The deep tide of national feeling that
flows so powerfully throughout this land has frightened the British Govern-
ment into making those payments. And while these things may serve the
intention well enough in a limited sphere, the proposed payments have served
also to increase among the mass of people, feelings of deep and intense
hostility. As the saying goes "monkey mek he pickney till he spoil un".
But what has been the source of even sharper resentment is the proposed
payment of increased salaries to the members of the Interim Legislature
retrospective from January 1954. These nominees are not like the Civil
Servants discussed above, as you cannot very well make a silk purse out of a
sow's ear. But it certainly does appear that even these have to be bribed. It
is difficult to believe, but the Administration surely knows what it is doing.
And there seems to be some urgency involved too; when it is remembered that
the Bill to make these payments possible was hurried through at one session.
There is a desperation somewhere along the line.
Never before have the local rulers of Guiana found themselves in such a
happy circumstance. The rule of force, the emergency, the suppression of
large scale protest by the people is a condition they once dreamed about. And
now they have it, they do not want to let it go. So they must keep their own
KYK # 44
interim servants in cotton wool, lest somebody get out of hand and attack. The
U.D.P.'s call for lifting of the Emergency was a warning. Soon perhaps, who
can tell, the U.D. P. will make one of its members like Mr. Kendall or Miss
Collins demand the lifting of the Emergency Regulations, not on paper as done
before, but in the sacred midst of the nominees, at a session of the Interim
KYK # 44
Our Newspapers and What They Stand For
Thunder Editorial: July 16, 1955.
The first newspaper ever published in Guiana was in the year 1793. On
Friday July 8, 1955, however, with the publication of Bookers News, the
number of publications now available comes up to a round dozen. And these
are: Thunder, P.P.P. Thunder, Torch, Labour Advocate, Clarion, Sandesh,
Sunday Times, B.G. Bulletin, Bookers News and the Graphic, Argosy and
In a country with a population of only half a million, this is truly a
remarkable thing. And there must be some strong necessity operating to bring
about this journalistic bombardment. It is as if a crowd of people were
collected at the bottom of a hole in the ground, on the rim of which are poised
the snouts of cannon, discharging simultaneously salvos of opinion, comment,
lies and facts.
The publications named above may, for clarity of understanding their
positions, be classified in the following manner. On one extreme, the extreme
of the ruling force, supporting the local and imperial rulers stand the Graphic,
the Argosy, the Chronicle and the B.G. Bulletin, broad-sheet of the Govern-
ment Information Service. Playing a special role in this line-up is Bookers
News, of which more will be said.
At the other extreme, the extreme of the ruled population, giving
representation at different levels stand the Thunder, P.P.P. Thunder, Torch,
all organs of political parties. With these must be included the Labour
Advocate, which is a Trade Union publication (M.P.C.A.).
In the no-man's land between the ruling and ruled, stand the Sunday
Times, Clarion and Sandesh, or so it appears to be. The Editor of Bookers
News was once the Editor of the Clarion, as everybody knows.
But now let us look at the condition of the people to whom all these
publications are directed. Even apart from the all too obvious, political-
economic misery and strangulation, although a consequence of same, there
does exist here among us a gross overburden of corruption, social injustice,
cultural sterility, racial friction, dishonest practices in industry and com-
merce, flagrant police frame-ups and all the rest of the vile filth that bubbles
so happily in this colonial backdam. With so much material that needs airing
out and bringing to light, there can never be too many newspapers, publica-
tions and so on.
What do we find however when we examine the twelve publications? The
organs of the political parties and the trade union are necessarily unavoidably
KYK # 44
critical to matters of specifically political and trade union significance. The
organs of the rulers like theArgosy, Graphic and the Chronicle are always too
busy trying to keep the population in a state of intellectual vertigo. Bookers
News, organ of Bookers is dedicated to the impossible task of trying to make
capitalism look virtuous and cannot therefore find time to talk about anything
else. So what are we left with? Only the denizens of no-man's land, that is
to say, the Clarion, Sandesh and Sunday Times.
When we come to these hopefuls, in keen anticipation of some long
overdue exposure, some breath of disinfecting air, all we meet up with is a
shallow cynicism keeping company by and large, with sensational tidbits and
trivialities. Making out to be free- lance, these publications at bottom, only
echo the political line of the ruling class newspaper. All that makes them
different in effect is a question of approach, just as burglars may differ in
approach, one going through the open front door while the other creeps
through the kitchen window.
The fact that these newspapers have come into being at this time in
addition to such reactionary stalwarts as the Graphic, the Argosy and the
Chronicle gives some insight into the political situation.
Even after all the guns, the people are still thinking. And so the
newspapers are out to confuse issues, to divert and canalise the people's
furious disgust. By distorting information, telling fantastic lies and uttering
contemptible slander, some of these editors and publishers hope to succeed.
But what they seem to forget always is that the people do not necessarily have
to read to see oppression. For it is like the sky-- always visible. And when
they do read, the people want facts, for facts are the best propaganda and we
always stick to them in Thunder.
KYK # 44
Thunder, August 20, 1955
The production of Shakespeare's Hamlet last week by a group of English
and West Indian actors, was culturally significant but artistically weak. It was
significant in so far as it brought home to us the possibilities of a West Indian
theatre. It was weak in as much as the actors, save for a few at times, seemed
to be only now learning the techniques and finesses of acting. Of course drama
is something new to the West Indies and we are accustomed to seeing some
of the best actors in the world like John Gielgud on the cinema screen. So we
must not be too severe. Queen's College of course is not a theatre. Stage
property and acoustics were at a minimum.
What seemed to be lacking especially among the West Indians was, what
I would call a sense of theatre using "theatre" in a special way. This indeed
is understandable in our context. Errol Hill, who played Laertes at one time
appeared to be representing rather than creatively interpreting. And it is
certainly embarrassing at times to hear an actor saying his lines in the tone of
a school boy reciting "The boy stood on the burning deck", something which
happened all through the course of the play.
John Ainsworth, who was not only the leading actor (Hamlet) but also the
producer of the play seemed to be over burdened. During the first act he was
straining for effect. He hardly modulated his tone at all, and some of
Shakespeare's most beautiful lines were lost in the general imprecision. He
recovered in the second and third acts, but did not seem to capture the essence
of Hamlet. There was too much gesticulation and too little contemplativeness
in his portrayal. The flash of brilliance from time to time makes one believe
that Ainsworth could only grasp as an actor, some of the facets of Hamlet's
extraordinarily complex character.
Graham Suter (Claudius) was effective andat times quite convincing. He
did not maintain this standard all through the play though.
James King, (Polonius) aWest Indian, was rewarding. As a foil to Hamlet
he had a good part to play. Perhaps Ainsworth's interpretation of Hamlet
assisted him here. At any rate he succeeded in capturing the spirit of the old
busybody, the "wretched rash intruding fool" and was perhaps the most
successful actor. Barbara Assoon (Ophelia) was fairly good, with a clear voice
and good enunciation standing out above the rest. But as she was brought in
late to take Greta Mayer's place, we may not have seen her at her best.
The sword play was good and both Ainsworth and Hill deserve commen-
dation for their handling of the rapiers.
KYK # 44
All in all, remembering the intention behind the production, this presen-
tation was valuable. It shows us where we are and how we are in the West
Indies in this respect. Because we are in a void, however, we should not let
sheer novelty and strangeness blind us to the shortcomings we observe. And
that is why we must criticise as accurately as we can, so that we may set up
our standards and maintain them. Among us, as we know only too well, there
is far too much gushing and uncritical acceptance of anything novel or well
publicised. We must attempt to transform such an attitude into one of serious
appraisal, giving credit where credit is due and vice versa.
May I add that the applause at the end of the play on the first night served
also to awaken some of the members of the audience.
KYK # 44
This Race Business
Thunder, September 10, 1955
Imagine a community of people, in which everybody is of the same racial
stock. Everybody let us say has a green skin, purple hair and lilac eyes. Let
us say that this community lives in the Western world, the world in which we
live. Now if this imaginary community is like all the communities we know
about, then we will find in it people who are greedy, envious, rich, poor,
employed, unemployed etc. There will be also, distinctions of class, occupa-
tional and educational differences and the rest of it. So then, in spite of the
racial sameness in our imaginary community, there will be a whole network
of conflicts, a network of antagonism between everybody, those in the ranks
of the unemployed, those in the ranks of the employed, those in the ranks of
the rich and those in every single rank. This is given.
We can see that even without introducing the elements of racial dissimi-
larity, all human beings who live as we live, are always in conflict.
If what we are saying is true, then the racial richness in our particular
Guianese community makes our story a very complicated one. Because if in
our community where everybody is of the same racial stock there is already
cause enough for conflict, what is to happen when in addition to this the
quarreling parties are of different racial origin?
Take an example. A man of Indian descent was driving his car down one
of the streets of Georgetown one morning. A little child of African descent ran
across the road in front of the oncoming vehicle. The driver pulled hard on his
brakes and barely saved the child. Immediately from a yard the child's mother
and neighbours poured out into the street.
"Al you want to kill out black people nuh?" shouted the child's mother.
"you all coolie b_ want to kill out black people nuh?"
"You black a the driver shouted back, "why al you black people
don't keep your children off the road? Like you don't live nowhere, always
got your children on the road."
In this case, it can be seen that the incident only served to release attitudes,
to provide symbols whereby each of the two persons involved fell back upon
a system of belief. This system of belief, has its origin, not in the barely
avoided incident, as is obvious, but in the whole social,economic, cultural
reality of the life lived by both car driver and the mother of the child.
Now take the child's mother. Terrified by the danger her child was in, she
immediately sought to give protection. But to protect her child in this instance
KYK # 44
meant to attack the source of danger, as she understood it. Thus, picking out
the most obvious thing the racial origin of the car driver she blames
everything on that. Had the car driver been a man of African descent, she
would most likely have said, that because he could afford to drive a car, he (the
driver) believes he could do whatever he likes, putting the blame in this case
on economic fact.
As for the car driver, his knowledge of the conditions under which most
of the people of Guiana live, whether Indian or African, gives him a defence,
which although economic in origin, ends up in expression as racial abuse.
This very much over simplified example gives an idea of the complexity
of the problem we are dealing with. What we can very easily see however, is
that the racial antagonism usually expressed is not just due to what is
sometimes called bad-mindedness. This instance cited above is only an
accident that nearly occurred. How much worse must it be when things like
property and jobs are involved?
With all this burden in front of us, we tend to become pessimistic and
retreat into silence. On the other hand, realising that the only profound
solution is the creation of an equitable social order, we tend to repeat wornout
cliches, until even we ourselves stop believing in their value. Preaching is not
going to help us very much, when all the raw causes remain. Be that as it may
however, one thing we must remember. Without racial cooperation in the face
of imperialist menace, we go nowhere. And that is the most significant point
at this moment in our history.
KYK # 44
But Where is Burnham?
Thunder Editorial, September 10, 1955
The Right Honourable Patrick Gordon Walker, Member of Parliament,
is a man well versed in what some people describe as diplomacy, but what we
denote by using a much more offensive word.
This Member of Parliament visited us some time ago, and since his return
to Britain has been writing articles on the Caribbean. One of these articles,
reprinted locally, created something of a stir in local political circles. And we
are not thinking now about Mr. Walker's opinion of the Interim Legislature.
We are thinking about what he said about the political situation in Guiana, and
of Mr. Burnham's position in this situation.
From Mr. Walker's position as a British politician, whose political
philosophy so far as colonial people are concerned does not differ from that
of Sir Winston, Lyttleton, Lennox Boyd and other philanthropists who control
the British Empire, we can only expect one thing. Whatever contains within
itself any support for British imperialism is blest. That is all.
In the article we are talking about, Mr. Walker announced that Mr.
Burnham is the key to the whole problem of British Guiana. What does this
mean? It means that if Mr. Burnham so desires, he could become the darling
of the British in Guiana. What must he do? "Break openly with the Jagans
and declare his readiness to work a Democratic Constitution." How easy?
Mr. Walker knows very well that in February 1955, the Party broke into
two pieces, one led by Dr. Jagan and one led by Mr. Burnham. He also knows
that both Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham would welcome with open arms anything
like a really Democratic constitution in place of the present monstrosity. So
what is he making all the fuss about?
Apparently, what has Mr. Walker so unsettled is this. The behaviour of
Mr. Burnham after the split in February is not at all satisfactory. Mr. Walker
is not at all sure about Mr. Burnham, so while he calls him an opportunist with
one breath, he kisses him with the other. Not exactly blackmail, but certainly
not surface mail. And so, as we think a li title more, we are forced to invest with
a meaning those words of Mr. Walker: "Break openly with the Jagans and
declare his readiness to work a Democratic Constitution."
For this is a statement in code. In ordinary English it means, sell out, start
witch hunting and all the other practices that go so well with imperialism.
Why, Mr. Walker almost says it point blank by alleging that Mr. Burmham said
he had split with Dr. Jagan because he (Mr. Burnham) was anti-communist,
KYK # 44
while Jagan was communist. If Mr. Walker's allegations are true to the facts,
then Mr. Burnham certainly has to explain. Because in P.P.P. Thunder June
18, 1955, in dealing with that startling young man who votedagainst his own
party, Mr. Leigh Richardson of British Honduras, Mr. Burnham wrote: "The
P.P. P. reiterates that it is not a communist organisation but it refuses to start
witch hunting." And in the same articlehe wrote that it is adull intellect which
cannot distinguish between a Party or movement being non-communist and
We are not prepared on principle to use the assessment of Mr. Burnham
given by Mr. Walker. Because if we do that, the next thing we will do is to
quote from the Robertson Commission and the speeches of Sir Alfred Savage.
Of course we know that some people are already doing that. But that does not
mean we will do it too.
But where is Mr. Burnham?
KYK # 44
Wanted A Great Obeah Man
Thunder, October 22, 1955
From time to time over the past two years we have been hearing laments
over the absence of great leaders in this country. These laments have come for
the most part from the editors of certain newspapers, visitors from Britain and
America and various others who either do not understand what is really going
on around here or in the world at large, or who deliberately shut their eyes to
On Sunday, theArgosy published an Editorial under the caption "Wanted
Now: Leaders", as though leaders were things like stamps or coins, only
waiting to be collected. Written in round Victorian style, this Editorial
contains the following interesting statement: "There is as yet in British
Guiana no one at least we do not know him who speaks with the voice of
the people, whose words find an echoing thrill in the hearts of the people,
whose leadership and magic personality are acknowledged by the people."
If by the word "people" the writer of the Argosy's editorial means
everyone in Guiana, that is to say, from the most humble fisherman to the most
arrogant Police Inspector, then the search will never end. For the words that
bring hope to the unhappy cane-cutter are words that terrify estate managers.
And ideas that lodge in the hearts of the weary masses are ideas considered
subversive by those who conspire and intrigue to suspend constitutions,
victimise fathers of children and hold the whip of starvation over their heads
like a curse. Can any man who understands all this and takes his place among
the little men, the wretched and the poverty-stricken, be a great leader in the
eyes of the privileged or in the eyes of one who occupies the position of editor
in a local capitalist newspaper? Quite obviously not.
All this argument has appeared in Thunder before. It's necessary to
repeat it now so as to prevent ourselves being taken in by myths.
The history of the human race is full of great men. But these men had a
very hard time of it in their own lives, and some of them were even crucified
as Jesus Christ was. One of them, Giordano Bruno, a scientist in feudal Europe
was burnt at the stake as a heretic. Another one, John Brown, the friend of the
slaves in America, ended up with a rope around his neck. John Smith, the
Demerara Martyr, was imprisoned right here in Guiana. And the great slave
rebels like Accabreh, Accra and the others were burnt to death in Berbice. For
the truth of the matter is that it is a dangerous thing to be great in this world.
Those who are great are loved by some and hunted by others. Unfortunately
KYK # 44
for our generation at the present moment in the Western World, the hunters
occupy powerful positions. And that is why they bark so coldly and bite so
The Editor of the Argosy can continue calling for the great leaders but
none will rise to fithis measurements. Because what the Editor and others who
think like him really want is not a great leader, but a great obeahman, one who
can defend the interests of the people without affecting the lords of the land.
Messrs. Sugar, Bauxite and Chamber of Commerce, the strangers of freedom,
the authors of misery and despair. And we have not even mentioned the
KYK # 44
Where are the Heroes?
Thunder, November 26, 1955
Speaking at a meeting held at the L.C.P. hall in Third Street, at which the
Hon. E. Williams and M.E. Cox of Barbados were guest speakers, Mr. Cox
said that Sir Alfred Savage was a Christian who has done much for Barbados.
In using the term Christian, Mr. Cox, like many others in the West Indies
today, was attempting to forestall criticism by erecting a barricade of religion.
The reference to the instance quoted above is made only to draw attention to
this practice of certain newspaper editors, politicians and others, who,
whenever they are faced with unsavoury facts, try to escape from answering
by calling upon Christianity.
But as a man in Water Street said the other day, if Jesus Christ himself
was to come down on earth, there are some people who will be only too anxious
to crucify him. In speaking like this the man was drawing upon his experience
of the world, with all its corruption, dishonesty and indecency.
The moral tenets of Christianity are of course held to be unchallengeable,
inasmuch as they crystallise the best feelings possible in men. But the
conditions under which men have to live in a world like ours, make it difficult
for them to uphold these things which they so profoundly believe in. We have
innumerable examples of men who go to church on Sunday, full of piety, and
who on the other days of the week practise all sorts of dishonesties and
injustices. And it is not so much that these men are born with bad minds or
anything like that, but rather that the world they live in forces them to behave
as they do. Those who can lie and deceive the best are considered the smart
ones, while those who attempt to play fair are considered fools. As a matter
of fact the whole situation can be summed up in an equation: Decency equals
This kind of thinking is not only confined to commerce. It permeates
politics and leads people to the conclusion that to be a politician the man must
be a damn scamp and a villain. Who has not heard people saying that if the
P.P.P. was a pack of rascals, willing to accept bribes and so on, no suspension
of the constitution would have occurred? And some people go as far as to say
that the P.P.P. was foolish not to accept bribes, secure itself in office, and do
what all the politicians do all over the world.
Subsisting on a dfiof Hollywood films, true detective magazines and
other such trash; bounded on one side by the sugar estates, and on the other
by the water front, the people of the City are like creatures in a cage. Pressed
down into the mud under the weight of hopeless sky, the people live like ants
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KYK # 44
in an ants' nest, biting at each other because there is nothing else for them to
bite at. And when a voice emerges out of all this muck, all the little lap dogs
bark in furious excitement, defending the master, who from time to time will
administer a well aimed kick for remembrance.
Those who really attempt to practise Christianity will be heroes in an
environmentlike the one describedabove. But where are theheroes? Are they
hiding their lights under a bushel? For at the moment they are invisible.
GEORGETOWN YMCA, Camp Road.
Drawing by Kenton Wyatt, after
photograph by Edward Rodway
KYK # 44
Other News aer Articles
Sensibility and the Search
Argosy, January 26th, 1958
There being no such thing as society in general, or a reader in general, I
propose to introduce our subject by dealing first of all with ourselves, who, as
we must agree, are particular people in a particular place.
By dealing with ourselves first I think we would be putting ourselves in
a better position to deal with the writer, the reader, and society today, in as
much as, having started with ourselves, we would have taken up a particular
position, a particular vantage point. And from this vantage point I think we
will be in a better position to assess the meaning of writing and reading as
activities having relevance to the human condition.
To recognize and accept a standpoint in this connection is of special
importance. For just as the man on the peak of a mountain sees a different
world from the man in the valley, just so should we, from ourparticular context
of being, see something more and something different from anybody else.
And yet I do not propose here to offer any detailed study of society. All
I will try to do is delineate the experience of the people from whom we spring.
And in doing so, surely it must be unnecessary for me to trace the chronologi-
cal development of life in this territory to an audience such as this.
For a long time the pattern of experience I am talking about has been clear
to me, and I have written about it time and again the institution of slavery
which remains for us the unknown land, the source of our sensibility. And of
course colonialism and the status colonialism connotes is an ineluctable
concomitant. Thus to live here and have our being here denotes immediately
a particular kind of sensibility, derived from the actuality of slavery, and a
particular kind of status, derived from the actuality of colonial life. I contend
too that the sensibility of the slave and the status of the colonial combine to
make us what we are. in the innermost meaning of the term. Thus our status
as colonial will change when our sensibility is transformed, and with the
transformation of our sensibility will come the birth of a people. I hesitate to
use the word 'nation' for a variety of reasons, chief among which is the
possibility of controversy arising as to meanings.
Professor J.H. Parry of the University College of the West Indies, in an
article in one of the issues of Caribbean Quarterly, a publication of the
U.C.W.I (University College of the West Indies), wrote as follows:
KYK # 44
Experience in the West Indies has shown the importance of
facing squarely and objectively the history of an institution (slavery)
which affected all the Americas in some degree and which in some
countries left deep scars in the social memory.
I agree with Professor Parry. I know at the same time that many West
Indians shift about unfortunately when slavery is brought up as an item of
discussion. Nonetheless, I insist on facing "squarely and objectively" the
reality of slavery. What actually is the essential meaning of slavery in human
terms? Dom Basil Matthews, the Trinidadian sociologist, in his book Crisis
of the West Indian Family has put it this way:
In the earth shaking upheaval, the strange new world surround-
ings, the new economic occupations, the African, bereft of his social
controls, was lost not only to his kin but to himself.
I wish to stress here the last phrase of this quotation:
lost not only to his kin but to himself.
Basil Matthews continues:
The backbone of social control in West African society, namely
the tribal religion, was badly broken. No alternative religion or
moral system was as yet effectively introduced. The social function
filled by the old tribal religion remained vacant. The results on
society and the individual were disastrous. Turn to any sphere of
slave activity, conduct, work, crime, folk literature, folk music,
educational outlook, the reading of the cultural barometer is the
same anarchy, with a strong suggestion of cultural frustration.
In a symposium on whether a West Indian way of life exists, published
in the 1955 Mid-year issue ofKyk-Over-Al, I wrote that emancipation in the
1830's took the chains off the hands and the feet, but that the psychological
constitution woven in the gloom of the plantation remained. And I went on
to say that, to me, the essential meaning of slavery is the loss of self, the loss
of identity and its inevitable consequence, the most shattering self concept.
What I mean by the loss of self and the loss of identity is the loss of those
relationships which allow of choices, the loss of those equivalences between
inward necessity and external situations. And I mean too the disruption in
which integration and action remains action, remote from any possibility of
being transformed into destiny. That I contend is what slavery means in
KYK # 44
After the abolition of slavery the social process took a certain direction.
This direction and the results of this process are summed up very well by Dr.
Raymond Smith who in his book The Negro Family in British Guiana writes:
Since the white group is the apex of the social pyramid and
extremely close to the cluster of positively evaluated elements it
forms the most isolated and solitary sub-group. Numerically small
and culturally homogeneous (at least within the colony) its members
participated solely at the executive, managerial and administrative
levels of the occupational structure... it preserves its social distinc-
tions vis a vis the rest of the population by means of an intricate and
usually covert mythology of racial purity and superiority. But it is
equally true that the black group retains a good deal of social
solidarity, not so much as a large cohesive group extending all over
the colony as in small territorial clusters such as villages. Once
again this solidarity is maintained by an elaborate mythology, this
time of inferiority... Portuguese, Chinese and East Indians all came
to British Guiana after the foundations of the colour class system had
been laid and all are in a sense marginal to it.
The quotation I have used from Dr. Smith refers to the "colour class
system", but I wish to confine them to the slave actuality, in which the social
pattern is bounded at one limit by the "nigger yard" and at the other limit, by
the "Big House", to use Gilberto Freyre's terminology. And if we examine
our experience in this context many things seem to emerge.
What stands out most forcibly during slavery and at the abolition of
slavery? The flight of the slave from the plantation. Who has not read of slaves
escaping from estates and attempting to set up homesteads in thejungle? Who
has not heard of the desperate flight of the slaves from the plantation and the
hunting down of these slaves by Amerindians hired for the purpose by the slave
owners? And after abolition too we see porknockers leaving the estates in
haste and going to the jungle in search of precious minerals. Some may say
this is something natural and to be expected. I suggest that this general flight
from the plantation is not only a simple flight but also a profound search. it
is, I contend, not only a search for identity as such, but indeed a search for the
self lost in the circumstances of slavery. I go further and say for example, that
the emigration of West Indians to Britain is not purely and simply an economic
affair. I suggest that here too at a certain level, a search is implied, although
of course by now this search has lost the marks of its origin and assumed new
masks and disguises, even as the slave who was taught carpentry by his owner
makes out in due process of time that it was always his ambition to become
KYK # 44
a carpenter. Purely for illustration and with no claim to argument I refer to
the Freudian concept of childhood conditioning and its relation to individual
"The Flight of the Slave and the Search" is the essential meaning of West
Indian life, I believe. I invite your attention to the music and the poetry we
call West Indian. What actually is the secret of the music, the native music?
All I can find is the rhythm. But even this rhythm is not our own, in the sense
of having been created by us. For are these rhythms not actually the germ
motifs of African music? We certainly didn't create these rhythms. Far from
it. All we have done, so far as I can see is to batten or hem and repeat them
over and over again without developing them; without allowing them to
challenge us to creation. I am not, of course, by any means, trying to argue
away their value or any such thing. All I am trying to do is to put them in
perspective. Again, lookat thepoetry we call WestIndian. What has the larger
part of it been, other than a series of poor imitations of English models? If,
for instance, at a given period Tennyson is the leading English Poet, then the
poems written are poor copies of Tennyson. If Swinburne is the leading
English Poet, then the poems written are poor copies of Swinburne. It is, of
course, true that all artists go through a pastiche period, and further that the
world of the arts must have its great family spirit and resemblances: Dylan
Thomas for example and Gerald Manley Hopkins are remarkable poetsin their
own right, though the influence and background of Hopkins and Thomas is
plain. It is well known that the French Symbolists were heavily influenced by
the literary theories of Edgar Allan Poe, the American poet. But this certainly
is a family spirit a kinship not a relationship between master and slave.
The vantage point spoken of therefore at the beginning of this introduc-
tion is the standpoint of the slave which we must learn to accept as a reality.
Acceptance of this reality will be the first step to self identity, the first step on
the journey in search of ourselves. But this is no easy task. It will call for the
emergence of men of genius, men who by a gift of nature are able to assimilate
the experience of their heritage and transform it into meaningful symbols and
images, so that all of us, on looking at those symbols and images, will be
looking into a mirror and seeing ourselves for the first time.
In this connection we can prepare ourselves by considering the words of
Salzberger who in an essay on Holderlin, the German poet, wrote:
Genius, the agent of the dialectical process of history, has to
transgress against the laws of moderation which govern the lives of
ordinary men, in order to bring to a crisis the conflicts of his age and
restore a healthy equilibrium.
Unfortunately, however, the circumstances obtaining here and now do
KYK # 44
not give rise to feelings of optimism in this respect. For the slave is still in
headlong flight and the flighthas not yet consciously become the search. And
that is one aspect of the human condition in the world today.
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KYK # 44
Recent Events Spring From
Chronicle March 23, 1962
Many people are writing and speaking of recent events here as though
B.G. is the first country in the world to have had a massive strike, or
widespread rioting, or arson, or looting. But this is precisely the state of man
in our time, and rather than taking up self-righteous positions, we should at
least try to understand what is really going on among us. And let no one think
that he is exempt. For all are involved and all equally responsible, guilty and
The history of this country began with slavery and from then until
Emancipation the slaves carried on a running fight with the plantocracy and
the administration. After Emancipation, as we all know, the former slaves
refused to work on the sugar estates and indentured immigration had to begin.
But before the indenture system came into full swing the pattern of Guyanese
society had already been down. And that pattern was founded on the master-
slave relationship. Every facet of life organised around this relationship, like
iron filings around a magnet.
As time went on and the indenture system began in earnest, all the
newcomers to Guiana the Portuguese, Chinese and East Indians had to adapt
themselves to this relationship. And while the Portuguese and Chinese were
soon assimilated, the scope of East Indian immigration, and the fact that these
immigrants were concentrated on the sugar estates, made them a group which,
for other important reasons too, remained on the periphery of the society,
outside, as it were, the direct master-slave relationship and, consequently,
beyond the pale in many respects.
Now, between Emancipation and the turn of the century, two riots of
considerable relevance to the present situation occurred. The first was the
Angel Gabriel riots of 1856 and the second the Cent-Bread riot of 1889. In both
cases these riots took the form of clashes between the people of African
descent and the people of Portuguese descent. My contention is that these riots
occurred because members of the Portuguese community had become well
assimilated into the master-slave relationship, and on account of various
factors, had moved up the scale of relationships in the direction of the masters.
And it was the resentment of the descendants of the slaves at the appearance
of what seemed to be a new ruling group that smouldered beneath the surface
and found subsequent expression in rioting and violence.
KYK # 44
Meanwhile, on the sugar estates, the indentured immigrants and their
descendants were beginning to rise up against the planters and the adminis-
tration, spasmodically it is true, but vigorous none the less. The passing of
years brought about a stronger solidarity within the ranks of this group, which
as I have said before, had not been assimilated into the essential relationships
obtaining within the society.
It is my further contention that our present situation had its beginnings
in the emergence of this group as a power in its own right. Challenging the
whole traditional structure of Guianese society by its mere existence, this
group, isolated as it was by social circumstance, developed on the sidelines
of the traditional fabric of relationships andmade its entry into the society not
as emancipated slaves or indentured immigrants, but as a possible ruling
group. And the process which led up to the events of February 16 is the same,
in character, as that which brought about the revolts of the slaves, the Negro-
Portuguese riots and the sugar estate disturbances, all of which stand like mile-
posts in Guiana's history
One conclusion to be drawn from the above is this: None of the groups
in Guianese society is prepared to have any other group ruling it. Not until each
group is confident that no other group will rule will there be real peace in this
country. Thus although recent and contemporary events manifest themselves
in political terms, we should try to understand that they spring from even
deeper social and psychological undercurrents. For what we are witnessing is
the transformation of a whole society. And the apparent complexity of local
politics, expressed in what passes for ideological combat, serves to obscure
rather than explain the factors at work beneath the surface of things. While this
may sound strange in the local context, an examination of international
political activity, with special reference to the cold war as it affects underde-
veloped territories, will make it clear why, although irrelevant to the issue at
hand, Communism plays such a big part in the give and take of local political
It is now that, for the first time in the history of the country, we have a
chance to initiate things, and to fashion them to our own purpose. And without
in the least condoning the tragic events of February 16 and their unhappy
consequences, it may be, after all is said and done, that what happened on that
day is certainly not the worst that could have happened to us in this time and
age. For now at the very least we know what can happen. And also that the old
days have gone forever.
The new days are for us to make. Are we good enough?
KYK # 44
If a Man Lies to Himself,
The World Will Lie to Him!
Guyana Graphic, April 1973, Radio Broadcast, April, 1973
It was the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca who said and I quote: "The
light of understanding makes me very careful."
Living in a world distinguished by its capacity for producing lies, personal
experience and theoretical reflection combine to elevate Lorca's self-advice
to the status of serious wisdom. For one can as well believe in a lie as in a truth;
and the real problem seems to be not so much what one believes in, as why
does one believe in anything at all.
Believing in anything is having a certain kind of relation with that thing
- be it a concept, value orelse. And depending on the position ofthe observer,
this concept or value or else can be a good thing or a bad thing. What for my
purpose is more important here, concerns what believing itself means: what
meaning it establishes in connection with life.
A man who habitually tells lies is also habitually presenting a truth, which
is that lying is one of his habits. But we can only know this when we find out
that a certain kind of discrepancy exists between what he is telling us and what
the truth is, in so far as this can be ascertained in the environment of his
utterance. And while such a case may be pathological or existential, the point
the example makes is that when sufficient information is available, the telling
of lies becomes the presenting of a truth.
In like manner, what a man believes is contained within the significance
of what he consistently does; so that though his declarations of belief may
point in one direction, the belief-meaning of his consistent activity may well
point in another. While the latter may make clear what he really believes, the
former may just be a habit of expression of the codification into acceptable
terms of practices that are indefensible.
Again, it is often claimed that circumstances prevent men from doing that
which they feel they ought to do in keeping with what they claim they believe.
But when we examine this carefully we will see that we are not in fact dealing
with a conflict between circumstance and belief, but rather with a conflict
between doubtand belief- that is, doubt as to the soundness of the held beliefs.
When such doubt increases beyond a certain point belief ceases to be
belief and becomes something of the order of the truth that lying presents. In
a word, doubt is the belief.
I believe that if a man does not lie to himself, the world will not lie to him,
KYK # 44
and he will then be in a position to try to find out what the truth of the world
is. On the other hand the man who lies to himself will find the world lying to
him; and he will not be able to find a position from which the truth of the world
may possibly be apprehended. When this happens, lies wouldbe the only thing
available for him to believe in.
What is important here is that the man who does not lie to himself would
know that he sometimes lies; while the man who lies would not even know that
he is lying. The question that leaps at us here is not simply: How is it that some
men manage to fail to lie to themselves; but, how is it that some men find out
what are the things they should not lie to themselves about?
The crude answer to this question is that a man may lie or not lie depending
upon whether lying or not lying serves to accomplish his purpose. And are
there purposes such as can redeem lies? Only actual life and living can provide
answers to this question. And imagination affirms that life does, positively
About ten years ago during what we have come to call our political and
racial disturbances, I happened to be on a street in Georgetown when I noticed
what seemed to be a tugging and scuffling among a group of young people a
little distance away.
In the context of the crisis at that particular time and place, such behaviour
could only have racial implications; and the facts indeed were that a group of
young men of one racial origin had come upon another young man a boy
really and were attacking him with fists and feet.
For some reason the attack ceased rather suddenly with the group of young
men going away in one direction and the boy running in another. Subse-
quently, in a conversation, I mentioned the incident and was told of another
one in which a boy from a coastal village had come to the city an,' 1-d with
misplaced confidence gone walking as though the quiet disposition of the
roadway and dwelling houses was all there was to the city.
An attack like the one I had witnessed ensued. The boy this time,
however, recognizing the racial character of the event, had instinctively
claimed to be of the same racial strain as his attackers. But his attackers,
suspicious, removed his hat to look at the kind of hair growing on his head.
Upon noting it, one of the attackers had challenged the boy's claim of racial
And upon his admitting thathis parents were each of different racial origin
the attack had commenced to the accompaniment of the attackers stated
intention that they would "beat out" that part of the boy's existence that owed
its origin to the in the eyes of the attackers wrong racial strain.
Thus, beating tookplace. With haton, his appearance wouldhave saved
him. With hat off and his hair's evidence of a relationship with the existence
of a human being of a certain racial strain, he was trapped. What was being
KYK # 44
attacked was not just the racial origin of the boy, but human existence itself
in the shape of a parent possessing certain characteristics.
And if this is indeed the reality behind this example of racial antagonism,
then what is at stake is not just political, economic, social or cultural issues
as such, but rather the very basis upon which these are built, that is, that taken-
for-granted belief which includes the human as an animal species, a species
governed as a species by ways of behaviour that work for species preservation.
But let this pass for the time being, and let us consider if, say, someone
had asked one of the attackers why he had beaten up the boy. A sure reply
would have been, because other people had beaten up other people on racial
grounds. But this could only be accurate if all the victims hadhad the identical
racial composition as the boy, which would have not in fact been the case.
To seek further, what would the position be if the attacker himself had
happened to be a person of mixed racial composition? Would his attack on
someone be carried out by only a part of himself, that part which did not match
his victim's racial composition? The apparent absurdity is far from absurd.
For it discloses the nature of the void that can exist between whatmen actually
do and what they believe they do and in that believing, proceed on their
journey of lies.
In may be argued, of course, that what I am calling lies are only the
unfortunate consequence of ignorance or a lack of understanding. But this
really is not at issue, since I am talking aboutpositive, notnegative, ignorance.
And positive ignorance is a dangerous thing. That it is, may be readily reduced
from the implications of the example of racial conflict I have cited. For if
racial grounds are presented and accepted as reasons for certain actions when
in truth the real grounds are elemental and not reducible to attributes, then
what really is at stake is not likely to be taken into account at all; as can well
happen if, and, or when political, or economic, or social, or cultural targets,
which are meant in the same way as race is accident, become confused with
what creates them human life.
It is most often in times of crisis that some beliefs, uncritically accepted
in their self-presentation, come to be exposed for what they really are. This
is why it is possible, I think, to suggest as I have done in the example I used,
that the conflict was notjust a matter of a local aberration but rather one which
directly connects with the universal condition; with the fact of human conflict
itself, which derives from the clash between what human beings have and what
they want; from the tension between what they are and what they want to
Inheriting by birth the human way of dealing with this conflict, together
with the triumphs and disasters that have accompanied this way, we fail, I
think, to realise that these triumphs and disasters have their origin in the same
thing, that is, the human cause.
KYK # 44
And when in the pursuit of any purpose, men find it necessary to resort
to challenging the very right of the human existence of any human, it is the
body of belief which leads to such a position that must be examined, because
the meaning of these beliefs is self-destruction. And destruction of the human
as we know it in human life, does not connote regression to the state of the
animal as is asserted. It connotes rather a departure into the realm of the
Over twenty years ago, in a different yet similar vein, I wrote this poem:
This I have learnt:
today a speck
tomorrow a hero
hero or monster
you are consumed!
Like a jig
shakes the loom;
like a web
is spun the pattern
all are involved!
all are consumed!
KYK # 44
Open Letter to the People of Guyana
Dayclean Special, 1979
Like other regimes of similar character, the PNC's main preoccupation
is self-perpetuation. In principle the pre-occupation with self-perpetuation is
understandable, since it accords with the fundamental idea of self preserva-
But while a truly democratic regime would try to ensure self-perpetuation
by acting in a way such as would make it acceptable and needed by the people,
what does the PNC, which poses as socialist, actually do?
The PNC's method of ensuring self-perpetuation consists of indulging in
a deliberate policy of degrading people. And the reasoning behind this is that
degraded people are incapable of effective resistance.
Hamilton Green's statement, published in the Chronicle of August 4, to
the effect that a certain unnamed Roman Catholic priest was responsible for
the death of Father Darke, is the latest flagrant example of this deliberate
policy of degradation. It is so because it expresses contempt for the
intelligence and humanity of people.
Green's statement is in character with the PNC's deliberate policy of
degrading the people.
Of this policy, the following examples should be kept in mind:
Item: In the rigging of elections in which many ordinary and by no means
vicious people were cajoled into doing indecent things, and were thereby
Item: In corruption as a way of life, in which people were made to accept
that stealing, cheating, lying, bearing false witness, informing on each other
was a positive sign of loyalty to the regime; was what was expected of them,
and were thereby further compromised.
Item: In the budgetof informationpresented to thepeople by the regime's
rigidly controlled mass media, in which the very language used is perversion,
facts falsified; threats against individuals and groups openly advertised;
internal events of significance ignored; local events of significance sup-
pressed; all contributing to the whole process of moral and intellectual
honesty, one end of which is to make mental independence a crime, and mental
subservience to the regime the highest qualification in the land. And the
greatest damage done in this area is to young people who are led to believe
that they can do anything, no matter how selfish, how intolerant, how
mindless, how coarse, since they identify this attitude with the attitude the
regime underwrites. The result is the warp of personality, the degradation of
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KYK # 44
the spirit that is so much abroad in the society.
Item: In the militarisation of the people in which poorly fed children are
made to march in the sun like soldiers, playing militia at the expense of their
lessons; in which paramilitary forces enjoy a spurious social prestige at the
expense of the rights of their fellow citizens, thereby putting a premium on
authoritarian bullying in clear mirror image of the behaviour of the leaders of
the regime, all serving to bring about in the consciousness of people and their
children that parading is more important than learning, and uniforms more
important than respect for law.
These are but a few examples, but for the people they have come to
constitute to some extent what socialism, as the PNC endorses it, signifies to
Socialism is a system based on lofty ideals and its end is the liberation of
man: the enloft of being.
What the PNC regime has brought the people to experience as socialism
is a system based on degradation, the end of which is the regime's self
The ideology of the PNC is not based on a philosophy of man. It is based
on disrespect for people. The only way to deal effectively with this process
of degradation is by example. The example required is the example of
resistance, the very things the degradation is designed to prevent and to
Resistance has to be on two fronts. Resistance to the brute fact of
degradation itself. Resistance to the exploitation of this degradation by the
The first front is refusal to be further degraded, as individual and as group.
One goes with the other. Thus individual repudiation and civil disobedience.
The second front is exposure of the PNC's ideology of self-perpetuation.
as this ideology can be perceived to have its base on the degradation of the
people. Thus the waging of the psychological offensive, the continuous "war
Who do we think we are?
I sign my name,
KYK # 44
A Note on Jagan
Stabroek News, December 1 th, 1987
When in 1947, Cheddi Jagan was first elected to Parliament, the
prevailing state of mind of sophisticated and unsophisticated Guyanese alike,
was marked by an inherited subservience to white colonial officialdom and
uncritical acceptance of the labels posted on people.
By the time of his election, Jagan had already spent six years in the United
States, had studied dentistry, had married Janet and had become acquainted
with the ideas associated with Marxism. The effect of these ideas on the
content of his thinking and the substance ofhis activity he has openly affirmed.
Chief among the ideas associated with Marxism is that which relates to
class struggle as the force that brings about really important social change.
Given the specific social stratification obtaining in Guyanese society it would
be no accident that Jagan's insistence on the primacy of class struggle in
political thought and action, would, in the minds of supporters and opponents,
acquire the status of superstition, in the sense of a questionable applicability;
a superstition displacingsuch other superstitions as the political responsibility
of the native educated stratum or the political benevolence of colonial
The events leading up to and following the suspension of the constitution
in 1953, showed however, how little the two latter superstitions had been
displaced. By which time the notion of class struggle had itself been displaced
by another superstition, that is to say, race struggle again a superstition, in the
sense of questionable applicability.
It was even as this transition took place that another one did; the transition
in emphasis on Jagan's part from the notion of class struggle, as rallying call,
to the advocacy of socialism and its economic doctrine, public ownership of
the means of production. Already branded communist, he would now be
baptised Russian, the intended manipulation being that in as much as
socialism was something Soviet, the absurdity followed that to advocate
Socialism and be a socialist, was once to be Sovietist.
Under the burden of these accumulated confusions Cheddi jagan's
political work strained for resemblance to the work of other English speaking
Caribbean leaders. Yet, even before the careers of Jagan and his contempo-
raries had begun, there was already a particular difference in place, and this
had to do with the fact that while the other Caribbean leaders' critical years
in political education had been British oriented, Jagan's had been American,
a comparatively unusual thing for any kind of education in those times.
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KYK # 44
Jagan's own memorials of his life as a child of, and on a plantation, depict
a privation and remoteness which could not be less of a preparation, although
possibly more ofa differentiation than a childhood in a town or city would have
inured. The urban and British, rural and American contrasts involved here
must have much to do with the difference in political style between Jagan and
his contemporaries; that style that so many have commented upon, and so
wrongly interpreted as a function of ideological orthodoxy.
It was in keeping, offensively, with the anxiety to find some reason that
would disparage, that, in the earliest of Jagan's political days, it was to the
white American lady's, Janet's, Cheddi Jagan' s wife's incitement that many
of Jagan's opponents would attribute what they saw as Jagan's intransigency.
The antecedent implicit in both of these instances of refusal was and
remains a commonplace of colonial psychology, that inversion of the accep-
tance of domination. Of the latter, it remains to Burnham's credit that he did
not countenance or exploit such and like canard.
It was after Cheddi Jagan again became Premier in 1957 that the nature
of class struggle as such manifested some of its more intractable demographical
and productional contrarities. The observable partition of urban as against
rural interests that hardened after the split in 1955, was a confirmation of
partisan resolve to rectify that disappointment of the prospects raised by the
PPP victory in the election of 1953; that, rather than a consequence of
thorough-going ideological conflict as made out at the time by thesis-
contriving experts and colonial office spokesmen.
The point was that ideological affairs by then had become things that
leaders argued about which would then also have to mean that it was not
ideology that made leaders, but leaders who made ideology. But even such a
formulation would be inadequate. For, with the advent of what, in the crass
idiom would be called Jaganism and Burnhamism, had come the imprison-
ment by mentality of whatever aspects of ideology might have happened to
With accession to virtual parliamentary control following the elections
in 1964, and with accession to actual State control following elections in 1968,
the PNC and Burnhamism would fuse into leadership paramountcy. This in
turn would conduce to a demand from Jagan's supporters that, above all, he
should look out for their interests, since the paramountcy in place would
dispossess them. And political struggle, such as it was, would dissolve into
rampant opportunism, impenetrable and self-justifying.
Intimately bound up with political activity over forty years the outstand-
ing characteristic of Jagan's involvement has been a singlemindedness
commanding admiration. It is as a pioneer in a community's education that
Jagan has come to be accepted. The dismissively intentioned cliches borrowed
from an obsolete reactionary vocabulary and wantonly applied cannot dimin-
ish the value of what he has done.
BOVELL HOUSE AND PHARMACY, Skeldon, Corentyne
Drawing by Kenton Wyatt, after
photograph by David Ford
Essa sFeatures in Journals
A Note on Vie Reid's New Day
Kyk-Over-Al, No. 24, December, 1958
When Vic Reid's book New Day first appeared it was warmly greeted by
some andrudely challenged by others, in both cases for extra-literary reasons.
Those who greeted warmest were those who felt that Reid had created or at
least led the way to the creating of a "West Indian literary style", whatever
that may mean. As Arthur Seymour expressed it: "Reid's adaptation of
Jamaican dialect points the way for a distinctive West Indian style".
Now it seems to me that the idea contained in the term "West Indian
style", derives from a preoccupation with something other than literature.
For the term "West Indian" presupposes of course "West Indies" and the
term "West Indies" presupposes a community. Thus "West Indian style"
must mean a style informed by the communal life of those who live in the West
Indies. While this is so anthropologically speaking, I do not know if it is in
terms of literature. So far as I know, a book, a piece of literary art, is produced
by an individual, who no matter how much influenced by the life around him
is still an individual, before, during, and after working on a book. The life that
exists around him is material to be taken and transformed into art. It is his raw
material. It cannot dictate what he must do. It yields to him even as he yields
himself to it. Thus what he created is the particular irreducible un-analysable
consequence of a process in which what is external and what is internal
combine to make something new. And whatmatters most in the process is the
artistic power of the writer, the individual at work. If in the process of working
the writer stops to worry about whether he is creating a West Indian style or
anything like that, it seems to me that he will be interfering in the very nature
of the process, which has nothing to do with what people want but rather with
what people are going to get. But perhaps what is meant by the word "style"
in this context is really language, literary language, and what Reid's admirerss ,
seek is a West Indian literary language.
If this is so it is perhaps time to take a look at a sample from the book. I
quote, quoting a sample used by Arthur Seymour in one of his essays.
All of us are waiting to see Father strike Aaron Dacre. You can
see shoulder muscles a-talk to my father's arm underneath his coat;
worry rides Mother and Manuel; Naomi's mouth opens wide, a
KYK # 44
mecca back fish being shored in net. Fora long time myfather's hand
stayed on the Bible he was carrying. Then his head shook a little, the
shoulder muscles stopped talking. All this time Father's and Aaron
Dacre's eyes were making four with each other...
Good. As Arthur pointed out, it is an "adaptation of Jamaican dialect".
So now we must look forward to adaptations of Barbadian, Trinidadian, St.
Lucian, Grenadian, Guianese, Berbician, Buxtonian dialects, and when all the
adapting and writing is done we will have our body of "distinctive West Indian
styled literature" (which even those who speak the dialect from which it is
contrived will not be able to read, if that is the hope and intention). Then the
main problem will be to decide which is the most West Indian of all, which
is the most distinctively West Indian.
Quite obviously this hankering after a "distinct West Indian style" is a
throw-off from nationalism, West Indian nationalism. The idea is well known
and popular a nation must have national things. But many people seem to
forget that even poverty can have an adjective before it, for example. That
doesn't make it different though, qualitatively, from poverty in general, as a
So what is Reid's contribution? It ishis style created for a special purpose,
for the purpose of making his book as he wanted it to be made. It may have
significance outside of literature, no one denies that. But to deal with that
significance is to deal with something else, something extra-literary. The
problem is to avoid importing extra-literary considerations into these things.
KYK # 44
Power, Race and Trouble
Unpublished, Circa 1965
In nearly all the more illuminating reflections on the Guyana situation,
the word POWER is mentioned and mentioned so often that a danger exists
of it becoming accepted as just another used term, another inevitable unit of
the political language of the day. For everyone knows what is generally meant
when someone says, for example, that "politicians fight for power". Yet how
many fail to realise that, in saying so, or in understanding what is said, they
are, in fact, including themselves and making a judgement about the form of
activity with which they are intimately concerned.
For to say or to understand that "politicians fight for power" is, firstly,
to admit that a certain thing called power does exist, and may well be worth
fighting for. To say, or to understand the same, in derogation, is either to reject
the value of this power or to disapprove of those who seek to obtain it. The
very same sentence therefore acquires differing meanings in the mouth of the
same speaker when directed toward a politician occupying a friendly position
in the structure of power, as against a politician occupying a hostile position
within the same structure. And when the politician who is fighting for power
retains a friendly relation to a given observer then that politician is, for all
practical purposes, fighting for power on behalf of this observer. And when
he is in a hostile relation, the opposite is the case. The dynamic pnnciple of
power alignment illustrated by this system of relationships extends through all
aspects and levels of human experience. In an inverted manner, as Martin
Buber puts it,
...what has a pathological character in personal life is normal
in the relation between the historical representatives of the nation
and the nation itself (Between Man and Man, p. 186).
But what makes a structure of power capable of being evalu-:ted as a
structure in which both beneficial and harmful capacities reside? Time, I
suggest, is the question here, since in all instances, two quantities of power
exist. One, power as available capacity, here and now The other, power as
available capacity, anytime in the future. In our local context, racialism, in
the crude sense of Indians against Negroes, is made to explain away the causal
elements of this universal situation. And it appears to do so because it is a form
of behaviour not amenable to treatment by the accepted procedures of western
parliamentary democracy, the only tools which local political leaders so far