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Remembering Independence
Six weeks of sleepless days and nights
The last salute: The Duke of Kent (third from left) says farewell to British rule. Also in photo are from left: Lady Luyt, the Duchess of Kent, Prime Minister Burnham and Governor Luyt.

Cicely Robinson recalls the mounting of the independence pageant on May 27 at Kelly Dam and chasing her brother Frankie (the late Frank Pilgrim) and Arthur (the late Arthur Seymour) for the script.

'Ours the Glory' was the grand pageant which was put on by the then National History and Arts Council to welcome the birth of an independent Guyana in may 30 years ago.

The task of coordinating the pageant in time for the day was placed on the shoulders of then Bishops' High School teacher Cicely Pilgrim Robinson who had exactly six weeks to get the show on stream.

Robinson who was am active member of the Theatre Guild Playhouse and who had performed in several theatrical roles told Sunday Stabroek that she had never mounted a pageant before and took it up as a challenge.

When she heard that Guyana was to gain independence she felt absolutely exhilarated and was looking forward tremendously to Independence Day. She did not think that she would have been playing such a big part, she said, until she was summoned to a meeting by then chief education officer Mr Thom. The Ministry of Education convened the meeting, which was to plan for the independence celebrations.

"It was six weeks of sleepless days and nights," she continued , "we worked as the work demanded." The pageant, which "was quite a big event," involved some 1,041 participants with 200 people executing functions. At no time did she entertain the thought that the programme would flop, although now she expresses amazement "at the magnitude of the challenge I had accepted."

So many played important roles she said, especially choreographer Trinidadian Beryl McBurnie, "who was invaluable, without whom , I do not know what we would have done" and Arthur Seymour and Frank Pilgrim - who were the authors of the script 'Ours the Glory'. She also added Phyllis shepherd who was the assistant pageant director and master of the arena Lawrence Thompson to the list.

Robinson said that she handpicked all the narrators, with whom she had previously, for the most part in the Theatre Guild. One of them was Rajkumarie Singh, whom she described as possessing " a beautiful resonant voice."

Participants in the pageant were drawn from the Bishops' High School, Carnegie School of home Economics, Central High School, Charlestown Government Secondary, Christ Church, East Ruimveldt, Frederick School of Home Economics, Government Technical Institute, Indian Educational Trust College, Richard Ishmael, Queen's College, St Joseph, St Roses, St Stanislaus, Tutorial, University of Guyana , Members of the Sea Scouts and Theatre Guild Junior Workshop.

Before rehearsals could begin, in fact for there to be a pageant at all - "there had to be a script". She sought out author and poet Arthur Seymour and her brother frank Pilgrim. They agreed to do the scripting although she said, "I had to be on their toes day and night" to get it completed quickly. According to her getting the script was probably the hardest part. She said that whenever "Frank or Arthur saw me coming they'd turn the corner and would go the other way to ensure I caught up with them. Frank would say 'Alright Sis, Alright Sis, soon, soon.'"

The pageant was organised in episodes and the day itself she remembered as a "beautiful day although we were into the rainy season."

Episode one was called 'the Amerindians'. She recalled that the students of East Ruimveldt who played the role of the indigenous peoples were given the task of collecting feathers. "They collected feather of all descriptions... turkey feathers" she said adding that "their costumes were simply fantastic."

Episode two was 'Court of Queen Elizabeth' and it featured a discourse between Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth on a king they called El Dorado - the Gilded Man.

Episode three was 'Settlers and Slaves' and Episode four ' the Cockpit of Europe'. Episode five was entitled 'Settlers and Citizens' and Episode Six was 'the Immigrants' followed by the Finale.

The essence of working on 'Ours the Glory' was team spirit, she said hinting that much of that is lacking today. "The teachers working with us were seconded for the period," she said.

Apart from Frank and Arthur who were very supportive and collaborated to ensure that it was a success, Robinson said that after efforts failed to get the Georgetown Cricket Club Ground and the Georgetown Football Club Ground to stage the pageant, "Frankie suggested that Kelly Dam and the Golf Course next to the old 'Golf Club' in Queen Elizabeth Park, now the National Park be used as a venue."

The Golf Club house was an empty building. "We had nothing to start with, but friends rallied around," she said. And within a short space of time "we had two telephones, desks, and chairs, mirrors and even a sewing machine was loaned to us and we got moving."

Two days before the show "we had a snag with the electrical arrangements." her brother-in-law Leon Robinson then employed with the then Guyana Telecommunications Corporation took time off his job and worked round the clock for 38 hours to get the electricity into the area. "The success of the pageant came from offerings and devotion like that," she said.

It was after the independence celebrations that the building was turned over to the History and Arts Council, which has since been renamed the Department of Culture.

Stabroek News
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