“Guyana, Guyana, this fair land of ours
Has broken the bondage of far distant powers,
We love you Guyana from high land to sea,
And pray God make worthy your children to be.
All hail to Guyana, our country now free,
One people, one nation, one destiny,
We pledge every effort, we’ll cherish this earth
And make here a paradise – Land of our birth.
No rich El Dorado has ever been found
Though many have ended their lives on this ground,
Our labour in factory, in office and field
Will give us the wealth and the full harvest’s yield.
With purpose and vigour we’ll carve our own fate
Unmoved by distraction, prejudice and hate,
Together we’ll strive for our new nation’s goal,
Inspired by goodwill, a kinship of soul.”
– “Guyana the Free” by James and Valerie Rodway
One does not have to wonder what James and Valerie Rodway were thinking when they wrote the words and music to this song or from where they got their inspiration. Though Valerie Rodway’s name is the only one usually associated with this song, according to Dr Vibert Cambridge, in an article he wrote for this newspaper back in 2006, it was written and composed by the couple. Of course, Valerie was the well-known composer which most likely accounts for her name being solely attributed.
Nevertheless, patriotism and national pride ooze from every bar and line. That these artists loved their country is obvious. That they chose to honour it and to show that love through lyrics and music that will forever endure was their gift to their country and to posterity.
So how have we handled this gift? How have we maintained this legacy? Not very well – and we say this without fear of contradiction.
Those of you who went to school in the 70s and 80s would be totally familiar with not just this song but all of the national songs like: “Song of the Republic,” “Hymn for Guyana’s Children,” “Arise, Guyana,” “O Beautiful Guyana,” “My Guyana, Eldorado,” “The Song of Guyana’s Children,” “To Serve My Country,” “Let Us Cooperate” and of course our National Anthem among others. In those days, learning national songs were part of school life. Whether or not it was actually on the curriculum would be hard for us to say, but what we have learned is that children were given a special exercise book in which they would copy the words to national songs. They were taught them at school and then they went home and practiced some more.
The result was that the words became part of them and this served to engender in them the same national pride that the artists would have felt while writing them. Amazing huh?
But then came the relentless shift to academia – some believe this was a desperate but failed attempt to ‘make dew fill what the rain could not’. There was an obvious decline in the educational system and the response was to slash activities that could be deemed extra-curricular and replace them with more school work and extra lessons.
There is no doubt that this has paid off in part; we only have to look at the examples of the recent past where local students have topped the region at the Caribbean Examinations Council’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination. But if we look at those in isolation, we lose the bigger picture. We would be forgetting, for example, all those students who excelled at the London-based exams in years gone by and then went on to wow the world. They went with the music of the national songs they had learned humming in their minds and they never forgot them, never lost that pride.
We would also be forgetting the vast majority who don’t make the CXC Honour Roll, but still want to give of their best, though lately they seemed to need a reason to do so.
As we all celebrate Guyana’s 49th year of independence and look ahead to next year’s important milestone, let us learn and re-learn what the Rodways have taught us; to “carve our own fate, unmoved by distraction prejudice and hate.” In nation building it’s all or nothing. What are you prepared to give?