I recently had the pleasure of reading the book, Hendree’s Cure, written by Moses Nagamootoo, Guyanese attorney and politician. After all, having been born in the same village, Whim, having been his classmate in the same primary school, Auchlyne, and cognizant of the invaluable contributions Moses has made to Guyana in, too often, adverse circumstances, I feel proud that someone I know so closely has achieved that unique distinction of having his name added to the revered ranks of published writers in Guyana. And what makes it even more interesting is the unique subject matter of the book – the common practice of healing by non-medical ‘practitioners.’
I know that the book, a work of fiction, was inspired by actual events – events that took place in Whim and surrounding villages in the Corentyne, most likely in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact the protagonist, Hendree (a variation of his actual name, Henry), was a known bosom buddy of my father’s eldest brother, Victorine Peters, popularly known as Buddy Vick. There are myriad stories of this twosome engaging in practices not dissimilar to the eventual denouement in the last chapter of Hendree’s Cure, whereby an individual underwent a ritual performed by Hendree, upon suspicion that someone had cast an evil spell on him.
What has left me rather bewildered, however, upon reading Hendree’s Cure is the fact that Nagamootoo described Joe Peters, Buddy Vick’s father (and my grandfather) as a descendant of African slaves. And this, coming from someone to whom there should be no doubt as to the origin of the Peters extended family in Whim.
I must make it clear that I harbour no negative views regarding my fellow citizens of African descent. A few of my past letters to editors can attest to this. Moreover, my extended family has welcomed to our fold, as in-laws, persons of African descent, whom I embrace as my Guyanese brothers and sisters.
Was the inaccurate information an oversight or simply a mistake?
Victorine Peters and his ten siblings, including my father, were actually descendants of indentured laborers brought over from India to then British Guiana by the British, in the nineteenth century. He was the only one that stuck to his south Indian roots, refusing to be converted to Roman Catholicism, as were all of his ten brothers and sisters. Everyone in the village of Whim was familiar with Buddy Vick, who, following on the practice of his forefathers, inculcated in him by his father, Joe Peters, maintained the rich musical and cultural traditions of the ‘Madrasi’ way of life. He excelled at staging the cultural pageant called ‘Madras Dance’ at various locations in Whim and throughout the the Corentyne, Berbice and Demerara coasts. And whenever one of his children got married, on the night before the wedding, the entire village would gather in his yard and ‘bottom house’ to behold the spectacle of the aforementioned ‘Madras Dance.’ (I would be surprised if Moses Nagamootoo was not in attendance at any such event.) Buddy Vick may have had just an average education, but he had that unique, unmatched (locally, at least) talent to stage a well choreographed musical event. His brothers, including my father, and Hendree were all part of the act.
Another side of Victorine Peters, one often subject to ridicule by his detractors, was his practice of ‘treating’ folks who, as is common in rural Guyana, felt that people had cast evil spells on them, or simply could not get over an illness despite seeking medical attention. His unconventional prescriptions, not including any type of medications, were enough to raise eyebrows, even with law enforcement authorities, though he was never subjected to legal action. However, what was amazing about Buddy Vick’s ‘practice’ was that quite a large percentage of his ‘patients’ felt cured upon following his instructions. It’s been said that psychology played a major role in the way he administered advice to his clients, hence so many satisfied customers. Often, his home on a weekend late afternoon would look like a clinic, with many clients patiently waiting their turn, often for hours, to be seen.
Despite the obvious hiccup in Hendree’s Cure, I would give the book a highly positive review and urge all Guyanese to read it, despite the tiny inaccuracies and obvious smearing. Also, my high regard for Moses for his invaluable service to Guyana remains intact. But I would hope that in any future literary endeavour, he would exercise the utmost care and avoid statements provoking the type of indignation that gave rise to this letter.