The Americans have Kennewick Man, the Chinese, Peking; the Indonesians, Java, but the Africans are most blessed as the indisputable cradle of mankind, with a breathtaking range of choices from the legendary Lucy and Ardi in Ethiopia, to the Black Skull of Kenya, Toumai in Chad and Twiggy from Tanzania. These are legendary fossil finds that have helped chart and change our understanding of human evolution over millions of years.
Guyana? Well, we only have Eve. She is from the distant Neolithic time line of human history, roughly 10 000 to 5500 years ago, before the Bronze Age. And she is entirely ours. A more than 7 200 year-old young woman, forever frozen in time, her full term baby fatally caught in the breech position. Laid to rest with Adam, probably and two others.
I can still remember the excitement that swept through our Guyana Chronicle newsroom, and then the entire country, decades ago, when word of the carbon dating confirmation came through, and we all tried desperately to understand the significance.
When Eve existed, settlements were now springing up in the Middle East, early farming had hardly started in what is now Malta, the Mehrgarh civilization was not even conceived in the Indian subcontinent, and the Jiahu culture in China had just 2000 years more to launch.
No wonder that momentous day, I slipped away at the first opportunity, and dashed off to the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, in Main Street, to see for myself. I loved the genteel old wooden colonial houses that dotted our capital Georgetown, and the building, was and is, an elegant charmer. Then, though I had no time to admire the lovely lines, nor stop to ponder whether famed Guianese architect, John Sharples really designed the sweeping façade, the slender columns, the divine Demerara shutters.
Exhibit B45 made my heart leap into my throat. Tears welled up. I stood transfixed by the most beautiful 18 year-old woman, her shapely skull, her fine teeth, her classic jawline and oh the poor little baby – with the three other figures, one clearly an adult male – and considered the concept of this our very fascinating first family.
Eve and her story quickly captured the fevered imagination of a nation. She and the others were excavated by world renowned archaeologist, Dr Denis Williams and his assistant and partner, Jennifer Wishart. Williams, an artist and polymath, rightfully appointed in 1974 as the Director of the newly created Museum, concentrated at first on petroglyphs but switched to intensive investigations of the prehistoric shell middens in the rich North West District, where the team made the once in a lifetime discovery at a site in Barabina.
Williams concluded the four figures are Warrau, one of Guyana’s four main Amerindian tribes and very likely its oldest inhabitants. Christened the “Water People” they were excellent fishermen and boat builders, inventor of the dugout canoe or “corial” living off the endless bounty of the low-lying coastlands between the Barima and Pomeroon Rivers and their tributaries. The “shells” or waste food material they left behind at select spots created the huge mounds that are today a natural hunting ground for modern archaeologists. They worshipped their “etay” palm, using it to make flour, and the fruits for other food and drink, also weaving the leaves and branches to make their homes and hammocks.
Very likely there are other older skeletons out there in the ancient and largely unexplored areas of Guyana dating back much further but they have not been discovered yet. For now we have just eternal Eve, and I think it most appropriate that she is a sacred “Water Mama” for this the Land of Many Waters.
It’s why, a few days ago, the Facebook message, that flashes across my screen from my old artist pal, now New York-based Guyanese, Dudley Charles, does not immediately register. I have not looked at the Guyana news for a day or two, trying to deal with a sudden crisis. Sometime much later I take a closer look and freeze in horror.
“Save the Walter Roth Museum in Guyana – Sign the Petition!” it screams. SAY WHAT? A second hits my inbox, this time from my journalist partner and another friend now based like me in Trinidad – “Miranda La Rose just signed this petition on Change.org.” A third note tumbles in from multi-media artist, teacher and cultural activist, Errol Brewster somewhere in Florida, who has just agreed to my friend request.
EB and I discuss the stunning news, “Stop de Philistines!” he texts me. I want to caution him, that his choice of people to lambaste is a classic case of Western entrenched disinformation, and that these proud peoples of Philistia, with a wonderfully wealthy culture, including from modern Gaza, Palestine have suffered for ages because of a bad Biblical bias and their nasty continuing conflict with the Israelites. But gosh I have just met the man, besides he is far more likely to be referring to the other meaning of “smug narrow mindedness” and people “whose materialistic views and tastes indicate a lack of and indifference to cultural and aesthetic values” courtesy Wiki. Once I clear up that bit, we are soon chatting like old friends and glumly agreeing that petitions hardly ever work.
To us and almost everyone else, especially Guyanese from Arouca, Agricola, Annandale, Bedford Stuyvesant to Brampton and Birmingham, it is absolutely crystal creek clear that the Guyana Government suddenly decided, one dumb day last week to finally go public with its’ clandestine plans to quickly grab the Museum, hastily evict its staff and endanger its precious contents, all because the building is inconveniently situated next to the State House. The devil be damned.
Did our Sandhurst-trained-soldier President, David Granger resolve one morning he had enough of skulls, broken bones and pottery shards, so dangerously close to him and instruct his military counterpart and spokesman, the Honourable Lieutenant Colonel (Retired), Joseph Harmon, the Minister of State, to launch the pre-emptive attack and search for weapons of mass destruction?
Please, do not insult our intelligence that moving the facility and its delicate charges to somewhere else – first the west wing of the cramped Guyana Museum, and when that fell through, the Guyana Post Office, and when that careened next, God knows where else – will bring “an improvement in providing access” etc.
If we have politicians and a historian-trained leader who would allow such a foul deed, shoddily treating our hallowed Eve, the Mother of the Nation, and all Guyanese, in such a contemptuous, manner, then pray what hope is there for any of us?
ID believes little, if any, of what scheming politicians tell her, and she knows enough from the present, the previous and far too many other administrations past, to conclude it’s safer to be friends with early hominids.