IT IS imperative that we use contemporary methods and other resources available to us preserve our literature.
One of the objectives of The Caribbean Press is to reprint rare and out-of-print books. Of the twenty new releases of The Caribbean Press, fourteen are reprints. I am familiar with all but two of the reprints. I am most familiar with ‘The Lure of the Mermaid and other Children’s Stories’, edited by Janet Jagan, because this book has become a source book on children literature, since it was first published by Dido Press, UK, 2002.
In this book, there are thirteen stories written by eleven Guyanese authors. Some of the stories were reprinted from other collections of stories, namely, ‘Iwokrami pantone: Stories about Iwokrama’, edited by Janet Forte, 2001, and ‘Makonaima’s Children’ by Henry Josiah.
However, most of the stories were taken from a slim volume, ‘Stories from Guyana’, which was printed by the Daily Chronicle Ltd. in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
Here is a sample of some of those thirteen delightful stories, many on or about our first inhabitants, the Amerindians, some historical, and others bearing moralistic messages.
‘The coming of Amalivaca’’, by Jan Carew, is the story about what happened when Wind had become lonely. In his lamentations, he turned to mischief, bringing hardship and destruction to humankind. In order to recant his deeds, he was given a task. In the execution of this task, he met Rainbow, and they produced a son whom was called Amalivaca, ‘The child of my searching’. Amalivaca was destined to bring back peace and harmony to the world.
‘El Dorado’s Golden Princess’, by Cecile E. Nobrega, is yet another retelling of the story of El Dorado. This retelling stated that all girls birthed by the king and queen were killed by tossing the children into a river to be eaten by alligators; it was seen as a curse for the Royal Couple to produce a firstborn girl. However, the fifth girl child was different, in that everything she touched turned to gold; from the moment she was tossed into the river, it turned to gold, later she chased down the alligators touching and turning them to gold….She was allowed to live by public consensus, and she became the Golden Princess of El Dorado, the first female to rule over the City of Gold.
‘The Lure of the Mermaid’’, by Evadne D’Oliviera, is another story from the Amerindian folklore. Once upon a time, the land became barren, and there was little to eat. Soon, the people turned to the waterways for food. Eventually, they had to tie their legs together in order to move faster in the water. It is said that they stayed so long under the water, that when they decided to return to land, they discovered that their legs were stuck together by flesh, and were unable to move about on land. And they returned to the water with pleasure, as if it was meant to be.
In ‘The Day the Sky Fell Down’, by Henry Josiah, the trees were complaining how the birds were nesting in their foliage, preventing them from enjoying the sun and rain. The trees complained to Makonaima, asking to be relieved of the duty of holding up the sky. The solution the trees posited was to let the sky fall.
Makonaima, who, after long thought, decided to teach the trees a lesson by sending away the birds and allowing part of the sky to fall in on certain parts of the land, crushing the trees. That’s how Guyana got its plains, and the Rupununi savannahs.
‘How the First People Arrived on Earth’, by Odeen Ishmael, is a story about how the Warrous, who lived in Skyland and through hunting for food, discovered a hole leading to Earth, which was overrun by good game. Some of the people moved down through the hole, but one fat woman got stuck, preventing movement either way. She was stuck for a long time, and when she cries, her tears fall to the earth as rain.
From folklore, ‘Iwokrama’ has now become a symbol of conservation and preservation to the world.
In ‘Samaan’, by Doris Harper-Wills, recreated characters from the past like Fowl Mama, Ole Man Papee, Baccoo, Jumbie, Ole Higue, bringing them to life with appropriate songs.
‘Princess Sunshine’s Golden Necklace’, by Sheila King, is how Earth was made to look beautiful when a necklace of stars broke, and added a twinkle to the drab earth; and ‘By the Lotus Pond’,’ by Rajkumari Singh, tells the story of how a plain little lilac orchard was chosen to become the Queen of the Blossoms Ball.
‘Rima, The Singing Bird’, by Janet Jagan, is a lovely story of how an animal was able to do a humane deed. ‘Kofi Baadu out of Africa’’, by Walter Rodney, touched on the trade of enslaved Africans, while ‘The Laziest of the Birds’, by Krishna Nand Prasad, showed how the bird became lazy, fat, unable to use its wings, unable to feed, and was about to be consumed by a snake. The bird was saved, becoming watchful and careful with its gifts.
‘The legend of the Enmore Martyrs’, by Janet Jagan, related the inspiring but horrific story of the Enmore Martyrs on that fateful day – June 16, 1948.
In closing, I am inclined to return to the introduction of ‘The Lure of the Mermaid and other Children’s Stories’, where the editor, Janet Jagan, expressed the “hope that it [the book] will stimulate other writers to focus on children’s stories and it may, as well, result in the unearthing of children’s stories lost or neglected.”
This is also my fervent hope, due to the shortage of children literature on the Guyanese bookshelf, especially by local writers. (To respond to this author, either call him on (592) 226-0065 or send him an email: email@example.com)