ONE of the last notable public acts by President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham before his death on August 6th, 1985, was the renaming of Murray Street. Donning his shine cowboy boots and losing his voice, he declared in grandiloquent excellence: ‘This year, it is Murray Street, next year it will be Carmichael.’
Guyana’s first Executive President demonstrated the importance of decolonising the names of streets and recognising the contributions of Guyanese. As a consequence, this street that carried the name of a colonial master was given the name Quamina Street to ascribe prominence to the slave who led the 1823 Demerara Revolt. Governor Murray received the undeserved honour of having his name permanently attached to a major street in Georgetown, after overseeing the crushing of the 1823 Demerara Revolt and organising the execution of 27 slaves with their bodies being put on ignominious display at the Parade Ground. With his last presidential breath, President Burnham emphasised the need to ensure an independent Guyana is asserted with symbols and names that evoke supreme patriotism.
The example of Guyana’s first Executive President in his last hurrah should be replicated and advanced in some form every time we celebrate our independence. There are numerous opportunities for there to be the heralding of this patriotic revival. I wish to draw your attention to the first free village in this country, Victoria, which exhibits the name of Queen Victoria. The right honourable Queen Alexandrina Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from June 20,1837, until her death, deserves her rightful honour and praise. However, when a nation aspires to eke out its own personality and values its past, it must glorify its heroes and heroines to induce national confidence. A confident and patriotic people are most likely to be creative and build and preserve their country. It is for this reason and other things considered, we should seek to explore the possibility of renaming the village of Victoria with a name that is consistent with the liberation of the people of Plantation Northbrook (former name of Victoria). In their petition (dated November 30, 1839) to the Queen through the Governor, Henry Light, the villagers submitted: “We would fain band down to posterity some token of our gratitude, and some memento of the emancipation which we have witnessed, partaken of, and enjoyed; and we conceive that we cannot do so more effectually ….than by being allowed to name our plantation after our good and gracious young Queen, Victoria,” entreating the governor to represent them in such a way as to “obtain her Royal consent.” It is evident, these former slaves acted in a context where they felt the need to appease. Today’s context is different. This symbol of high colonialism ought to be revisited to trigger modern national loyalty.
I can see the argument being proferred that people have grown accustomed to these names for decades and it is unreasonable to make such changes at this time. Be that as it may, these discussions should lead us to a place of considering the benefits of national allegiance which can include self-motivation, productivity and selfless service to country and others. These benefits are immense and are also key to independent nation-building. In the same vein, the statue of Queen Victoria towers over the heart of the city in the High Court compound; why can’t we have a Guyanese legal luminary of the Guyanese illustrious past adorn the front of this national building, instead of this colonial edifice? D’Urban Street is a major thoroughfare that is traversed daily by Guyanese; it displays the name of a former British Governor, Sir Benjamin D’Urban. It would do this nation well to have such streets renamed in the honour of someone recognised by the people. The Romans did not conquer all by accident; they placed statues and edifices of their distinguished fellow Romans around their cities to remind the people of their power and abilities. Why should the village of Agricola have streets with the names of Roman Emperors? The people of this village are consistently subjected to an overdose of Euro-centrism. Such a circumstance teems with the possibility to have a patriotic revival with a review of this situation.
Some may suggest that we have numerous examples of Guyanese national heroes already being highlighted in the public domain. To this I say, it needs to be more comprehensive and sweeping. I wish to note, not all things and names associated with the colonial past are bad. Sir Gordon James Lethem deserves to have his name permanently associated with Region Nine.