The late Ms Stella Williams was an oral historian
Dear Editor ,
Mrs Stella McRae Williams was ninety when she left us, in Maryland, USA about a month ago. During her last years in Guyana she lived in a cottage off the Railway Embankment and south of it. I did not see her ‘grow up’ as she was my elder, by just under five years. She was born McRae and her sister was Ms Cora McRae, who married Mr Samuel Aaron and became the mother of the famous professional woman soldier, GDF Officer Brenda Aaron, well known for her work in world spirituality.
Ms Stella McRae Williams had a short and happy life with her husband, the cricketer Mr Vernon Williams, who played for Casual Cricket Club along with Clayton Castello; Oscar Spencer; Telemacus Wills, known as B opening bat and wicket-keeper; Inky Simon; Fred Seaforth and others, including the much younger member, Martin Stephenson, now a Georgetown resident.
The name Stella Williams would have appeared in Buxton-Friendship In Print and Memory (Red Thread Press), but it appears in a precious light for a reason. I was finding out about Buxton’s most outstanding leader of all time. Her story appears in that book under the caption, ‘A Towering Matriarch.’ I asked her what she remembered about Nana Culley. Then I found that Mrs Williams, Sister Stella, had grown up with Nana Culley for a number of years and understood her politics. She described Nana Culley, her grandmother, an organic political woman, although she never ran for a seat or ever wanted to. According to her, Nana Culley carried justice for the people at the mercy of the powers always in her heart.
What were Nana Culley’s qualifications? She had a sound primary school education, could read and write perfectly. She was a farmer and a vendor and a citizen ready to speak truth to power. She died in 1937.
The recently departed Buxtonian, Stella Williams, was in fact an oral historian, who kept her knowledge about one of the most remarkable figures in village history and Guyanese history. I do not say one of the most remarkable women, but one of the most remarkable citizens. A whole village, except a few, looked to her for leadership and responded to her cultured militancy. Her grow-matches (age mates) who outlived her spoke of her with reverence decades later. She challenged authorities in Church and government, whether village council or central government. She led resistance to plantation managers who disrespected the rights of villagers. She held the feet of representatives to the fire. She educated her granddaughter about some class and power relations affecting women and family life in society, and how in such cases consent was often assumed by the male.
The Buxton website recorded some of the oral historian, Stella Williams’s, biography, placing her as born in 1919 and as having two offspring, Ms Paula Williams and Mr Oswald Williams. It described her as a seamstress and weaver by profession, and as related to the Culleys, McRaes, Seaforths, Cockfields and Alders. It credited her with having a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Her uncle, Mr James Culley, also survived her and he was a good informant of that part of her life her grand-daughter was too young to experience. From his testimony, he approved of her actions.
Stella Williams must have been all those years a citizen walking quietly in the political storms of Guyana, who all the while understood the true substance of politics and could be amused at people without her grandmother’s depth and gut feeling offering to be her representation. She perhaps smiled at them as she smiled at everything.
Apart from all of this Ms Stella Williams was a loving and responsible mother who left a young woman and a young man who are alert, creative and confident about their world.
May her memory be honoured.