Remembering Martin Carter as Guyana is dying

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AS a boy growing up in Buxton, I participated in almost every facet of village life—from sports to drama to politics to religion. Looking back, I have come to realise I was part of something bigger than my community. Growing up and coming of age in the 1970s was indeed a rare experience.

I was growing up amid Bob Marley’s revolutionary music and the dominance of Clive Lloyd’s revolutionary cricketers and Mighty Chalkdust’s political calypsos and Louise Bennett’s folk poetry and Walter Rodney’s brazen, radical, political intervention. It was a time of hope and beauty—the Caribbean was in motion.

Suddenly, Martin Carter’s “dark time” was giving way to his dream to “change the world.” And there we were, teenagers and young people, owning our country and our Caribbean like Carter’s “sweepers of an ancient sky/discoverers of a new planet/ sudden stars.” We thought we were Carter’s “world’s hope.” My generation of teenagers was discovering Martin Carter’s poetry and using it as “a banner for the revolution” of which we were a part.

You see, Walter Rodney had returned to the Caribbean in 1974 after six years—the same year Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Andy Roberts were beginning their careers on the eve of West Indies cricket glory. It was that same year that Bob Marley released his first solo album, Natty Dread, and here in Guyana, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) came into being as the radical hope for a better Guyana. We were little boys and girls, barely teenagers, but very aware that something dramatic was happening around us.

I attended an event this past week to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Martin Carter’s death. As I sat in the audience, Carter’s words and images and politics flooded my memory. It was an audience of mostly older people, seemingly middle class. Our young people were not significantly represented. It occurred to me that Martin Carter’s poetry means nothing to them. I wondered how could this be—how could those foundation words and thoughts and images of our collective self have no resonance with the generations of our future? But, this is a different Guyana—a Guyana that is fast losing what is left of its soul.

My mind went back to when, as a teenage boy, my introduction to the political platform was as a reciter of Martin Carter’s poems. Karen De Souza and I were the chanters and reciters of Carter’s poems on the WPA platform. Our task was to prepare the audiences for the political titans—Rodney, Roopnaraine, Andaiye, Bhagwan, Thomas, Kwayana et al—with folk chants and Martin Carter’s poems. I knew Poems of Resistance by heart—from cover to cover. I still have the green Poems of Resistance that I got from Kwayana and the brown Poems of Succession which I appropriated from Karen—treasures of a time gone, never to be seen again.

I sat in that audience and watched and listened to Ian McDonald and wondered if our young people know him or care to know him. I watched as one of my heroes, Rupert Roopnaraine, still the eloquent wordsmith, but now evidently broken by time, paying homage to Carter. I shed a silent tear, because I have known Rupert since I was a child and retain a soft spot for him. But I hardly know him these days—he seems distant.

I have come to learn how politics can distort the “heart of things”, to borrow from Carter again. Guyana’s politics has worn down Rupert Roopnaraine. I hope Guyana still has some stomach to recognise this soldier of our recent struggle. Maybe wishful thinking, but as Martin Carter wrote “only hope/hope only.”

Martin Carter is long dead. He had written poems about a decaying Guyana—our decaying politics in turn decaying the society and the society decaying the politics–the poet interpreting the realities of life. Perhaps we of the WPA’s time were trying to prove Carter wrong. “The banner for the Revolution” is still my favourite Carter poem. And I still dream of that day –”Like a tide from the heart of things/Inexorably and Inevitably a day will come/ If I do not Live to see that day/ My son will see it/ And if he does not see it, his son will see it.”

But in the same week we remember Martin Carter, we witness the “carnival of misery” in parliament. We endure the pain of a government hiding money from the public when there was no need to hide it and cannot sensibly say why it hid it. I squirm at what passes for political intelligence in high places these days. The news of gruesome murders of young women fill the air. Sugar workers are being laid off and their party think only of the political loss to the party, while the government thinks only of “profit and loss.” We reach—yes, we reach where we going! Guyana is dying a slow but inexorable death. Martin Carter saw it coming. Rodney led us in the fight to turn it back.

I have never in my time heard and read so much political nonsense. I struggle to read the newspapers these days. Sensible and educated men and women are reduced to repeating empty slogans like “The president acted lawfully; he did not break any law.” Others who aspire to lead this land again holler “Rape! Rape!” at the sight of a group of Black policemen, knowing full well the racial undertones and overtones of such behaviour.

The PNC is glad to be in power and nothing else seems to matter. The PPP is beyond redemption. The AFC and WPA are helpless. The APNU is a bare acronym. The coalition is floundering. Oil is coming to Guyana, but it is bringing with it fresh decay. “I feel it in my bones/I feel it in the sun”, to quote another Caribbean poet, Surinamese Robin Dobru.

Guyana is dying. Martin Carter is dead—he is not coming back. They have failed us—they keep failing us. And we fail ourselves every time we shut our mouths or open them to repeat their excuses.

More of Dr. Hinds ‘writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com. Send comments to dhinds6106@aol.com