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Guyana Independence Arch – Georgetown – Guyana

“Monument to Freedom” unveiled on 22 May 1966, a gift from the Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) to the people of Guyana on their independence.

Source: flickriver.com (arichards gallery)

On 26 May 2012, Guyana celebrated forty-six years as an independent nation. I recall well that night of 25 May 1966 when I stood with my family amidst the crowd in the Queen Elizabeth Park (later renamed National Park), watching the grand cultural performances to commemorate our independence from Great Britain. Just before the big moment at midnight, the crowd gasped in surprise. Our Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and his political rival and former Premier Cheddi Jagan unexpectedly embraced each other. Emotions ran deep.

The lights dimmed and wrapped us in silence. As the band intoned “God Save the Queen,” I watched the Union Jack slip down the flagpole while our new Golden Arrowhead climbed to the top where it unfurled to loud cheers and a gun salute. The sky exploded with the greatest display of fireworks I had ever seen, depicting Kaieteur Falls and the face of our Prime Minister. Great pride surged through my young veins. Our nation was born.

Syble G. Douglas in her commemorative poem “Independence (May 26, 1966)” expressed our joy:

At last Guyana is born / out of travail – strife and tears  / comes the new nation…

She then described the work that lay ahead to build a new Guyana.

Francis Yvonne Jackson in “Garden Paradise” also shared the joy of our achievement:

The Golden Arrowhead symbolic of our nation / Coconut trees whispering songs of hope, / Sending messages to the universe / Grasshoppers are hopping, / And lizards are crawling/… Roaring sounds of Kaieteur Falls awake masacuraman / Scaring the jumbie / Frightening the Canje Pheasant / Awaking my soul.

In the innocence of my youth, I believed that we could all work together and share in the wealth of our nation. I shared Mahadai Das’ dream expressed in her poem, “Looking Over the Broad Breast of the Land I Saw a Dream”:

I saw fields of fertility / Fields fed by the rain / Fields fed by the sun / Chimneys rising to worship the sun… / Children laughing in the sun, / Girls strewing their dreams with flowers;…

But our dream of forging “One Nation, One People, One Destiny” still eludes our young nation as we persist in emulating the errors of the past. Different leaders, same policies of our former colonial masters: divide and rule.

The young poet, Samuel Singh, in his poem “Unrecognized,” lamented:

This I do know; / yesterday’s Elysium is / today’s purgatory is / tomorrow’s underworld. / Heaven or hell / it is Guyana. / The drink / trembles in my hand, / drunkenness / soothes my mind. / I understand this land / less today / than yesterday / unrecognizable tomorrow.

In “My Native Land,” Francis Yvonne Jackson called attention to:

The haves away from the have-nots / a country of ethnic differences / Crime, drugs, political controversy, / The upsurge of violence / Not the Guyana I once knew / The young in a wilderness / Hoping for their Guyana / a better tomorrow…

The words of our beloved and world-renowned poet Martin Carter, in “Listening to the Land,” are still sadly relevant to our times:

I bent down / listening to the land / but all I heard was tongueless whispering…/ the old brick chimney barring out the city / the lantern posts like bottles full of fire / and I bent down / listening to the land / and all I heard was tongueless whispering / as if some buried slave wanted to speak again.

As Guyana celebrates its 46th anniversary of independence, let us remember the struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors – the slaves from Africa, followed by waves of indentured laborers from India, China, and Madeira – who forged our nation. Also, let us ponder on the simple truth of our existence: that regardless of our color or race, we are all the same. Gary Girdhari expressed this well in “Faces”:

Faces / Black, brown, white / All shades / All races… / Faces, faces, faces, faces / Everywhere you turn / The more you learn / There is no real difference among races.

A nation divided cannot withstand the vagaries of time in a world of giants.

 

POEMS CITED IN ARTICLE TAKEN FROM THE FOLLOWING POETRY COLLECTIONS:

Carter, Martin, Poems by Martin Carter, Edited by Stewart Brown & Ian McDonald, Macmillan Caribbean Writers Series, UK, 2010.

Das, Mahadai, A Leaf in His Ear, Peepal Tree Press Ltd., UK, 2010.

Douglas, Syble G., Transition: Poems Old & New, Georgetown, Guyana, 2008.

Girdhari, Gary, if only the gods were awake, Guyana Journal Publication, New York, USA, 2011.

Jackson, Francis Yvonne, Come Walk With Me: From Guyana to North America A Book of Verses, Illinois, USA, 2010.

Singh, Samuel, My Voice, Author House, Indiana, USA, 2007.

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