The Big Jubilee Party is Over – by Francis Quamina Farrier
Yes, Folks, I proudly admit that I was one of the older Guyanese who became emotional and did shed a tear at mid-night of May 25/26, 1966 when Guyana gained its Independence from Britain. However, I have to say that it was not quite the same, fifty years later, as I was seated in one of the stands at Jubilee Park in Georgetown, for the Flag Raising Ceremony, celebrating Guyana’s Fiftieth Independence Anniversary. The Big Jubilee Party which so many travelled so many miles to be part of, is now over. The memories are varied; “Enjoyable”, “Not so enjoyable”, and “disappointing”.
We who were there at the National Park in Georgetown, FIFTY YEARS ago, had the privilege of witnessing the Union Jack (the British flag) slowly coming down, as our brand new Golden Arrowhead (the Guyana flag) was slowly hoisted officially, for the very first time, by the then 21 year old GDF Officer, Desmond Roberts. (Desmond Roberts who is now 71 years of age, looks more like 51).
The experience at the National Park in 1966 was like magic; like a dream come true: Our hearts pounding in our chests. The pride! The joy! The emotion! The sense of achievement! It was not quite the same on the night of May 25/26, 2016, when that jumbo Golden Arrowhead was being hoisted to the top of the tallest flagpole in the history of Guyana. On Jubilee night, 2016, it was the sole flag as it was at the forty nine other Official Flag Raising Ceremonies in the drama of Guyana’s Nationhood. At Jubilee 2016, it was also the LARGEST Golden Arrowhead, in the Nation’s history.
To tell those who were not around in 1966 what it was really like at that first Flag Raising ceremony, is almost like trying to describe how awesome the Mighty Kaieteur Falls is, to someone who has never even seen a rapid. It is so difficult to explain to those born after May 26, 1966, how we the Privileged Citizens of that time, cherished the granting of INDEPENDENCE to British Guiana, after being ruled by a Foreign Master for well over a century. It was very emotional as we witnessed colonial British Guiana being transformed into independent GUYANA. We were told by our new Guyanese Government that we had “A DESTINY TO MOLD”, for us and for our children and their children. One the night of May 25/26, 2016, we reflected on how much we have moulded our destiny in a positive way. How much are we living out our National Motto of, “One People. One Nation. One Destiny.”
Fifty years ago, as the sun rose majestically on the morning of May 26, 1966, Guyanese felt like a bride on the morning after her wedding; a wedding which took some time and effort to become reality. But there she was, “Oh, Beautiful Guyana, Our Lovely Native Land, more dear to me than the entire world”, now going off on her honeymoon. There were not thoughts of what would unfold fifty days, fifty weeks, fifty months and fifty years ahead. We were now free to run our own affairs, and so we were happy, Extremely Happy, Deep emotions within our hearts.
Now, in this Jubilee Year, those of us, like a Married Couple who are celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary, there is much to look back to and access how successful those fifty years were, and whether the ‘marriage’ has worked for the betterment of both of the partners; the citizens of this great Nation, irrespective of the many pitfalls which we have all endured. Yes, there were the good times and there were the bad times, but there we were at the Jubilee Park, “JUBILATING” in fine style. Sadly, a large chunk of the Guyanese Citizenry stayed away from that Flag Raising Ceremony. What a shame! What a disappointment!
It is not possible for me to know how many of us who were at the Jubilee Park on the night of May 25/26, 2016, had any such deep emotional feelings as was the case fifty years ago at the National Park in Georgetown, when the National Flag was hoisted officially for the very first time. The two events had their own dynamics; one, a NEW beginning, the other, a CONTINUING journey along the Highway of Independence. It is a ‘highway’ filled with many pot-holes.
Jubilee Year is still with us and there are still other events in the pipeline; some official others private. Meanwhile, a few of us are already setting our sights on Guyana’s 75th. Independence Anniversary, and hoping that it will be a much greater success than this Jubilee Flag Raising ceremony was. Oh, there were just too many unnecessary flaws! The dramatic walk-out by the Opposition was the worst. I’m not pointing any fingers, but one can safely say that, “All were (NOT) involved” and “All were consumed”, to paraphrase our National Poet Martin Carter’s poem “All are Involved”, which he wrote over fifty years ago.
There is a real FACT, however. That fact is, that with the passing of every Guyanese born before May 26, 1966, the number will continue to dwindle to the day when there will be NOT ONE citizen who is now Guyanese, who was once a born British citizen, in the then British Guiana.
During the fifteen years when I produced my Radio programme series, The Eighty Plus Club, I interviewed persons who were born in the 1800s. I also interviewed quite a number of persons who were born in India and came to British Guiana as Indentured labourers or children of those Immigrants. I had the honour to interview three of the remaining World War One Veterans at that time. I also interviewed a few persons who lived across THREE CENTURIES – the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The most celebrated was Georgetown-born Matilda Lewis who lived up to 113 years of age. They are now all gone to the Great Beyond. In like manner, those of us born in the colony of British Guiana, will someday, be all gone.
During the past few months, as the fiftieth Independence Anniversary drew closer and closer, many of us who were old enough to understand what was going on fifty years ago, made plans to do what we felt was appropriate for this very special anniversary. Many residing abroad, made plans to be back home; and back they came. They wanted to be in the Motherland and to be an active part of the Jubilee Party. And what a party it was!
However, it has to be said, that there were many things which did not happen, which could have made the celebrations even greater. For example, could you imagine President David Granger and former President (now Leader of the Opposition) Bharrat Jagdeo standing side by side as the super large Golden Arrowhead was hoisted at Midnight at Jubilee Park? Could you imagine President David Granger making a short rousing speech just before the flag was hoisted? And how about Retired Col. Desmond Roberts who hoisted the Golden Arrowhead in 1966, who is now 71 years of age but looks more like 51, also standing proudly at the side of the President and the Leader of the Opposition as the flag was hoisted at Jubilee Park?
And what about those FIRST GUYANESE? – those citizens who were born on May 26, 1966! How wonderful it would have been if they were also recognized at the Jubilee Flag Raising ceremony, with a brief moment in the spotlight as Guyana’s greatest bass baritone, David Dewar, sang “Born in the Land of the Mighty Roraima…”? How wonderful that would have been! As a matter of fact, those FIRST GUYANESE were treated very shabbily by the Ministry of Culture. They were initially told that they would be a part of the ceremony, but got the royal push around by the Ministry – “goh back, come back, come back, goh back” – so shameful and disrespectful of these very special Guyanese citizens! After some visits to the Ministry, they realized that their efforts were futile, and so they just maintained their dignity and never went back.
With people living much longer now, there is that possibility that some of those FIRST GUYANESE who were born on May 26, 1966, may still be around in 2066, and would probably join in the Centenary Celebrations, as they themselves celebrate their 100 years of life. Hope that they will be treated much better then by the Ministry of Culture of 2066, unlike the Ministry of Culture of 2016. Our FIRST GUYANESE must be treated much better at age 100, than they were at age fifty, at Jubilee Year.