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Set like a gem in the crown of South America, nestled on the North-Eastern shoulder, defying the raging Atlantic Ocean, Guyana's many waterways reflect the source of it's name "The Land of Many Waters"
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Wednesday, May 03, 2006
A sense of our history

"And here we are now on our feet, my country and I,

my hair flying in the breeze, my small hand clasped in

its massive fist.

And the strength is not in us but above and beyond us,

In a voice which soars through the night like some winged

harbinger.

And the voice announces

that over the ages Europe has pumped us with lies and

inflicted the plague on us

For now we know in truth

that man's work is by no means complete

that we have not nothing to contribute to the world

that parasites we are not

that no more need we squat at the gate

but that man's work has only just begun

and that he has to release his energies and conquer

and that no single race has a monopoly of beauty,

intelligence and creativity

and that there is room for all to conquer.

And now we know that our land too is within the orbit of

the sun

which shines on the little plot we have willed for ourselves,

that without constraint we are free to move heaven,earth

and the stars."

Aime Cesaire

The hopeful, nationalist spirit in this translated extract from the poem by Aime Cesaire "Notebook of a Return to my Native Land" printed on the cover of the first issue of the New World Quarterly in March 1963, strikes little resonance in Guyana today, shattered as it is by stagnation, alienation and emigration. Forty years after independence the problems of nation building threaten to overwhelm us. Political analyses can be offered of how we got where we are - the ethnic divide, the ideology of the early PPP, the cold war, destabilisation and its aftermath - but one also senses that part of the problem now is that we have little sense of our own history or do not believe that we have a history of any value. We suffer from memorylessness.

That is why it is important to look at writers like Edgar Mittelholzer who in his Kaywana trilogy, which covered a period of over 300 years, went back to the Dutch settlement in the beginning of the seventeenth century, slavery, emancipation and so on right up to the beginning of the modern era. One seeks to arrive at a wideness of vision which can embrace the past with all its suffering and brutality (the plantation) and can try to make sense of where we now are. In pursuit of that exercise a series like that of Dr. Vibert Cambridge in the Sunday Stabroek and of Mr. Petamber Persaud in the Sunday Chronicle are valuable, reminding us of our past entertainers, helping to refresh our memories and in the case of the younger generation to inform them that our ancestors have indeed not contributed nothing. The achievements of Dennis Williams, Aubrey Williams, Martin Carter, Lloyd Searwar and many, many others need to be recorded and to become a part of our national heritage. The writers, the artists, the singers, the leaders of slave uprisings, the politicians, indeed the settlers and the planters must all become a part of that kaleidoscope that made Guyana what it is today.

Emigration and internal discord have sapped our energies and creative writing is yet to emerge which seeks to give a panoramic view of our modern history. The present is too much with us and ethnic distrust stifles us and breeds backwardness. We have indeed been free for forty years to "move heaven, earth and the stars" but we have only succeeded in squabbling. Guyana is at the moment a difficult place in which to live with optimism. One needs a sense of the past and profound patience.

But all is never lost. An imaginative recapturing of our past can help to reduce the current sense of the void.

Let us end with another quotation from Cesaire's lyrical masterpiece:

"And now, may rot away the splashes of our ignominy,

by the clicking sea of noon

by the budding sun of midnight

listen you sparrow-hawk who hold the keys to the Orient

by the disarmed day

by the stone's throw of the rain

listen squall who watches over the West

listen white dog of the north, black snake of the South

who complete the girdle of the sky

There is one more sea to cross

oh, one more sea to cross

before I invent my lungs".

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