WE MUST EMBRACE ALL OF GUYANA by Dave Martins – Credits Stabroek News.
In a recent column I made a passing reference to a comment from Stabroek News writer Alan Fenty who had posed the question in his column whether “one could be Guyanese – spiritually and culturally – without being Indian, African, European or Chinese?” I answered Alan at the time saying the answer is “no, because we are made up of all these strands from other places, plus the Amerindian one, so to be truly Guyanese you have to see all those strands as part of you.” However, I felt at the time that his comment called for more elaboration, hence my effort today.
I would widen the comment above by saying that if we are truly Guyanese, and to be “one people” in fact and not in rhetoric, we should be abandoning these ethnic divisions we so rigidly practice and embracing instead the astounding variety of strong powerful expressions that make up the Guyana mosaic. We should see our diversity as values to be embraced with all the ingredients coming under one umbrella, the one called Guyana, instead of positions dividing us by origins.
We have in Guyana our own version of the Caribbean (Trinidad) invention of steelband as well as calypso, soca, reggae, zouk, etc. that reach back into our history from the beginning. Guyana has dipped into a cultural reserve going back many decades and we have produced a number of highly respected performers in those areas. In very recent times, listen to the level of steelband music being produced in our school programmes. The standard is exceptional, the discipline of the performers is outstanding, and the invention in the arrangements is impressive. I cite that steelband example as a recent one that we should see as the resource it is, particularly when we’re talking tourism expansion and the need to employ young people in the same breath. Similarly, the spin off from Caribbean carnivals in our own Mashramani (examples in the current CPL cricket events pertain) constitutes another attribute of this multi-cultural house we live in that we should gladly embrace as our own if we are sincerely beating the “one Guyana” drum.
The parallels in our cuisine are obvious, with metem fom Africa, mutton curry from India, garlic pork from Portugal, chow mein from China, pepperpot from our Amerindians – all of them together as delicacies we embrace as our own with a fervor that we carry with us wherever we migrate. Similarly in the various styles of dress thriving in our culture – Indian, African, European, Oriental – we are in possession of another attribute in our cultural display. It is something that visitors remark on when they come here; we shouldn’t be waiting for visitors to tell us; we should be proclaiming our variety instead of looking for a basis to differentiate.
In our European system of jurisprudence, when properly applied, and our reverence for the arts, even though we have sometimes borrowed them from elsewhere, we have another source of national pride that is our own. Guyanese culture shows evidence of the Chinese presence here going back to the “cook shop” and the neighbourhood “Chinee man” selling everything under the sun. Even though we may have had suspicions of the shopkeeper’s dexterity with the scale, that Chinese ingredient is now part of who we are, so that we can rightly claim the best Chinese cuisine in the Caribbean – we should see that as another contributor to our national glue. As a Guyanese, I lay claim to that.
Consider our reverence for nature, especially in the animal kingdom, that we have drawn from the Amerindian culture that surrounds us. Within their own environment, the Amerindians are renowned for their unusual prowess with bow and arrow, as hunters, as well as their techniques in creating matapee, canoe building, boatman prowess, and physical endurance on the trail. In another country, those skills would be the subject of documentaries. We should be claiming them as unique to Guyanese in the Caribbean. They should be part of our “one people” talk.
If you’re the Guyanese that Alan Fenty envisages, you should proudly proclaim your right to all those things and many do. It’s perhaps something that takes time to dawn; it did for me, when I was living in Canada, originally writing North American mainstream music for a music publisher, but somehow in there, away from Guyana for 10 years, I decided to form this band to essentially play Caribbean music for Caribbean people. It was a complicated process and I’m not sure I understand it fully, but I just know that I got there. Once I made that decision, however, I can look back now and see that I was drilling down into the culture for the various things that led to songs. It wasn’t a conscious thing; more or less instinctive. From all those years when I was subsconsciously observing notions around me, material, in the form of ideas, was now coming to the surface
From that process, in the two houses I’ve lived in – one in Grand Cayman and one here – there are two carvings I acquired many years ago done by Gary Thomas in African modern style; I have a small carving of an Amerindian hunter with his bow and arrow, and there are several examples of Amerindian artifacts; I own two original paintings and several reproductions of the work of the late James Boodhoo of Trinidad, and a couple by Guyanese Bernadette Persaud. I have recordings of the work of Mangal Patessar and of chowtal performers here, and a wide range of calypso, soca, reggae, and zouk music.
I claim all those things as part of my heritage and I contend it makes me a more rounded person as a result. I claim all those things as part of what it means to be Guyanese; in answer to Alan’s moot, turning my back on any of them, whatever the propulsion, only means that I am diminishing myself.
Perhaps it can be argued that each of those strands also comes with some negative aspects, but such is the composition of all things in life; nothing is perfect. Every rose has its thorn, that doesn’t mean you therefore discard the flower.
The Tradewinds- Guyana Medley