OP-ED A | Tribute to Cleveland Hamilton

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…A Visionary Guyanese and Author of the Song of the Republic

By Jasmine Hamilton
I was sitting in the living room in a house in West Ruimveldt on February 21st, 1991 when my family received the news that my grandfather, Cleveland Wycliffe Hamilton, had died. Silence invaded the house. I saw my father’s tears for the first time. While I was too young to understand the contributions grandad had made to Guyana, I knew that he was a pillar in my family, a source of strength for my mother and a firm believer in the good destiny of his grandchildren.

He was the first experience I’d had with what I now know to be a good, honorable man. He was gentle and stern, kind, and hardworking. He smelled like Old Spice.

I would learn later that his voice was a powerful tool that he used to encourage the people of Guyana to recognize their agency and responsibility in charting the future of the land which gave them birth. My family, like the rest of the nation, mourned the loss of a giant, a powerful orator whose words still give me chills these 29 years later.

Among his many literary contributions, this Grandfather Extraordinaire, teacher, lawyer, poet, deputy mayor, journalist, and World War II Royal Air Force veteran, wrote the words to the Song of the Republic in 1970. I learned the words during my years at St. Margaret’s Primary but I understood their meaning much later.
From Pakaraima’s peaks of pow’r To Corentyne’s lush sands, Her children pledge each faithful hourTo guard Guyana’s lands. To foil the shock of rude invaders
Who’d violate her earth, To cherish and defend forever The state that gave them birth.

We’ll forge a nation’s mighty soul Construct a nation’s frame, Freedom our everlasting goal
Courage and truth our aim. Unyielding in our quest for peace Like ancient heroes brave, To strive and strive and never cease With strength beyond the slave.

Guyana! climb that glorious perch
To fame prosperity.
Join in the universal search
For world wide comity.
Your people whatsoe’er their breed,
Their hue or quality.
With one firm never-changing creed;
The nation’s unity.

From the first line of verse one, we glimpse the admiration Grandad held for Guyana’s rich, natural beauty. He conveys the relationship between country and citizen gently, using the image of a parent and her children. He follows with a petition for unity among Guyanese, a reminder that Guyana’s precious earth needs defence and that those most suited to the task are those who sprung from its loins. Most striking in this verse is his use of the phrase, “each faithful hour,” which implies that there is not, nor will there ever be a time that Guyana’s children can relax from their duty to defend her.
In verses two and three, the emphasis moves inward toward defining and developing the values and soul of the country. The verse is punctuated with an invitation to each Guyanese to participate in the building of a nation that has a soul, a soul that values courage and truth.
Fifty years later, as Guyana sits on the brink of momentous economic, social and environmental change, these words are as potent and relevant as they were in 1970. He could not have precisely predicted that this beautiful country would be on the brink of such irreversible transformation, that within her loins would dwell riches which held the potential to elevate people and nation, while also attracting large powers from beyond its borders who would seek to exploit its riches. Nevertheless, it is clear that he understood the inexhaustible riches which could be present in a country which, in his day, had already revealed itself to be decked out in the finest gold and diamonds, overflowing with geological and ecological wonders. It is said that he who knows his history knows his future; this certainly appears to have been true of Grandad.
In the last verse, Grandad casts his net for unity wider and explicitly addresses the ideological problems which can hinder progress. It is worth reviewing here,
Your people whatsoe’er their breed, Their hue or quality With one firm never changing creed The nation’s unity

Here he invites all Guyanese to work to move beyond racial differences to build unity. It is clear that he does not leave this work to the leaders, that he sees a role for every person and that he envisions a future in which the small-mindedness of racism has no place in a nation that values courage, truth and freedom.

As we celebrate Guyana’s 50th Republic Anniversary, as we stare down this barrel of momentous change, each Guyanese at home and abroad would do well to reacquaint herself/himself with the words and meaning of this great National song. We should take it to heart because while there is much opportunity for growth in positive directions, the sons and daughters of Guyana must act to make a good future a reality. They must act in order to continue moving forward. Moreover, this action must not come from selfish ambition, which can so quickly derail progress. This action must be rooted in our commitment to a future in which old, useless ideologies are deracinated, sincere respect for each other, and a deep value for the beautiful country that gave us birth.