Culture and politics from my experience


EVAN Ellis, an American and an associate at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS] in Washington threw a gauntlet at us when he indicated that Racial Division is as great a threat to Guyana as the Venezuelan aggression. The [my] home-grown opinion agrees in principle, but points to another conditioning, based on personal and rational experiences, on difficult to dispute facts, to initiate a discourse.

I express a conclusion derived from experiences that ‘I am’ more than just an ethnic religion and deified political leader, which I found among the youth of my youth, whom I engaged whose parents were PPP supporters while growing up with my god parents at Mahaica. To engage their phenomenon with optimism constituted rules that I would have to surrender and express contempt for what I was ethnically and culturally.

The PPP and I were from my early teen’s incompatible, they represented no values that I could culturally identify with; though, I must stress that it’s a myth that the PPP envelops all ‘Indo Guyanese’ as easy stereotyping would imply, and I implore the reader to separate your thoughts from Indo-Guyanese and the PPP in this article. I have had lifelong friends that none of the mentioned were important enough to possess them. This is a ethno-cultural dialogue that needs to be explored. Read this article before you judge me, and honestly point to where you find me wanting.

I met the late Dr. Jagan sometime in 1988/89, at NBIC, we were both viewing the exhibition of the competition challenge on paintings capturing the mythical city of El Dorado. I asked him after exchanging introductions what he thought about the exhibition, he brushed it aside with a hand movement and said “All this is fantasy” I tried to debate that fantasy heralded many a great idea, it didn’t work, and we both moved on to mingle elsewhere. The year 1992 started for me as an opportunity high end, I had self-published ‘The Shadow of the Jaguar’ as a comic book trilogy from 1988, and had written the play as requested by Archie Pool. Norman Beaton came home to do the role as ‘Manoa’, the comic book was featured in the Sunday Chronicle.

The elections came in Oct, 1992 and went, the PPP became the Government, and before January 1993 the Jaguar was kicked out of the newspaper, labelled as a Black Super Hero. Plans to take the play abroad, with the support of then Minister of Education Derek Bernard in collaboration with R.A.A.P, a UK group, fell apart with the new government Minister of Education who declined any support. I had unknowingly begun two decades of struggle.

One of the last articles I had done in the Chronicle in 1992 featured the Mighty Sparrow, and I had included the creole term ‘Gift Child’. This had prompted a call from a Canadian of Indo-Guyanese origin named Azeem. He liked the article and had come home to develop a music studio. He invited me to his home which I visited in Bel Air, I had accompanied him to a meeting with some people of the new government and we parted. I saw him two days later and he blew my mind, he was returning to Canada, he gave me an ominous warning “These people will break up this country”. This very warning was made by Roy Shaw who spoke to an audience some weeks before at the USIS building on Main Street, I was there. We [Azeem and I] communicated by Christmas cards and letters after that.

Next was the news that Madam Texeira was recommending the closure of the Burrowes Art School, Denis Williams was still alive and it was resisted. The same Madam wanted to know why Africans had a museum, until she was informed that Dr Nicholson had dedicated his home and his extensive collection of African art and books before his demise, to be that museum. Guyana was experiencing a rush of TV stations from the mid 80’s they were mainly supported by pirated content. The cinema owners appealed to the new government for some regulations to protect them from the piracy of the TV stations.

I assumed that since Freedom House was situated in Robb Street opposite the Metropole cinema, that they would know that the cinema was a source of employment, that it served as a vaudeville stage for talents back in the day, that famous artistes like Mahalia Jackson, King Floyd and Sam Cook visited BG as cinema stage acts. The government did nothing, the cinemas finally died after their final group appeal in 2001. Guided by their consultant the late Kester Alves, the cinema workers even protested the Office of the President, but the indifference and ineffectiveness of the State to the arts prevailed.

The most insensitive symbolic cultural violation was the attitude of the after 1992 government to the 1969 naming of the old 1940’s Atkinson airport to Timehri Airport, in honour of the Amerindian peoples and the Amerindian legend of the creator God ‘Amalivaca’, whose legend is the author of the Timerhi rock petroglyphs. Brushing all cultural symbolism aside, the PPP renamed the airport after Cheddi Jagan, though Dr. Jagan had nothing to do with the airport. I loathed this, and came to understand the PPP’s disdain for the arts as a sickness contracted from the experimental Stalinist cloak they wore, after I read ‘Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism’, and like the Russian oligarchy, the PPP’s materialism and corruption is evident, and the attitude that every natural state service extended to a citizen and must be rewarded by political homage to the party, and to be used as public references of political benevolence.

What was at play with the PPP and PNC was cultural and philosophical incompatibility, not as much Indian against African, but that cultural dictate with the PPP that demanded control from the position of political god on earth, borrowing from the caste system, versus the PNC’s tribal egalitarian structure that permitted performance on the pretext that ‘from his deeds shall a man be known’ thus criticism of leaders and open disagreement. With the PNC, the conceptualising arts were permitted and allowed the expression of ethereal imagination becoming form and an icon interpreting anew the sacred and the mundane, in defiance of the fossilised.

The arts in Guyana after Independence, in comparison, flourished under Forbes Burnham. CARIFESTA, The Burrowes School of Art, National Dance Company, National Cultural Centre, and based on the activities of creating a local film industry and the lobbying of pundits like Hamely Case, Len Beharry and Freddie Sanichari, the current NCN was born. The business of the arts and the political ideology of the day were however incompatible.

I cannot reconcile with the PPP’s contempt of the livelihood of Guyana’s artists, I am constantly reminded by Sam Hinds statement “we cannot engage copyright; too many of our constituency own their livelihood to piracy”. Guyana is the only country in South America and the CARICOM states that have denied their creative people this ‘Human Right.’ Any political party that advocates plagiarism, an existence of a parasitical means to an end, a permanent provincial hegemony world view with itself as deities, is detrimental to the well-being of that nation.

I remember sitting on the other side of Carl Blackman [Editor of Chronicle] in the early 80’s, with my not too state-of-the-art illustrated story as he looked at me and remarked, “we’ll give you a chance to do some corrections and we will publish you, Mr. Burnham wants the cockroaches to crawl from under the bridge and become men.”

I looked at him with hostility for a while, on the ‘cockroach bit’, but there was no mockery in his expression and that youth came to understand metaphors much later. The PPP, except for family and chosen sycophants, would make the metaphoric cockroaches permanent insects then worms, with their sinister hostility to the copyright law and any principled creative procedures of development to emerge without bungling interference.
“On a recent meeting with the Opposition Leader, he proposed changing the mindset of his party, who knows?