Funny how the spoken or written word can trigger memories which may compel us to take excursions into history. I read Mr Fenty’s fascinating feature of Friday, February 20, titled ‘Rebellion, Republicanism… Mashramani,’ presumably speculating about how February 23 was chosen as “the nation’s Republic Day.”
The 1763 Berbice Rebellion was mentioned and the part Kofi (Coffy) played in leading the slave rebellion. I have always wondered how Coffy died, and immediately put the most popular internet search engine to work. It found the condensed version of The Guyana Story by Dr Odeen Ishmael which provided the answer. Coffy shot himself.
As I continued to read, I was surprised to find that British Guiana had connections with so many administrations − I always thought ‘Dutch, British.’ But there was mention of French, German, Spanish, all with fingers in the pie. Moreover, among workers brought over from Europe were Maltese! A colourful, interesting history, which had me totally absorbed for a long time − I left off at Chapter 31.
As a very young child, I always paid close attention to ‘briefings’ from my (half-Portuguese) grandmother. One day she and a neighbour were discussing various aspects of everyday life. She compared the Madeira Portuguese with those from Lisbon. She said one group had a fairer skin than the other but they aged faster and then their skin became “leathery.” She went on to compare Irish potatoes with English potatoes − one type was “more floury.”
She then touched on the ‘Cent-bread riot’ and what followed. The neighbour rejoined with her experience at that time, as a cook at the home of a British expatriate. The family gave a dinner party during the unrest. In the kitchen, she helped herself to “doses” of unfinished liquor, with the result that she became tipsy and sat down to “cool off.” The mistress came into the kitchen, saw her, called the master, who berated her in very strong language and finished up by telling her to bestir herself or “I will kick you down the stairs.” This was a two-storeyed corner house in North Road, Bourda, so she moved pretty quickly. Even at that young age I was shocked. In today’s independent Guyana can that happen? I think not.
Apart from reading, travel is something I find enlightening, by observation and by the briefings of tour guides. In Portugal I learnt from our guide that the Portuguese tend to use the letter ‘h’ as an aspirate. As a colleague used to say “drop the h at Harrow and pick it up at Oxford.” In Hawaii, I learnt that the Chinese language did not have the letter ‘r’; the letter ‘l’ was used instead. Then in Jericho, Israel, where, in September, it was boiling hot, fellow tourists were minimally dressed and we had to stand under a shed for our briefing, the guide told us it was around 115 degrees F and to “remember temperature is always measured in the shade.” I did not know that.
We live and learn.