Fifty years ago Guyana became an independent nation, bringing an end to British rule and Guyanese celebrated with much fanfare. Stabroek News yesterday spoke to some residents at the Palms Geriatric Home and they shared stories about what they remembered during that historic time.
Lottie Patricia Greaves, 78,
‘When we became an independent nation on May 26, 1966 there was a lot of celebrations in George-town. I was living on the East Coast at the time and I did not
come to town to be a part of it. I can recall that the Guyana Defence Force Lieutenant, Desmond Roberts took down the Union Jack and hoisted the Golden Arrowhead for the first time. At the time I could not understand what changes were taking place and why they fought for independence but afterwards I did. I learnt that because of the freedom, the country had access to its resources. I went over to visit my aunt at Wales a few years after and I saw the changes. When I used to visit her before, people were living in logies and their toilets were built over the trenches. I used it as a child but I did not realize the danger in it at the time. People got their own homes and their toilets were built in more hygienic conditions. I would still remember those days sometimes and glad that things got better in the country. We are thankful for the proper roads because at that time the roads used to be dusty. Horse-drawn carts used to have a water sprinkler attached to it to soak the road to keep the dust down. We have better days now; the country is more developed and educational opportunities are better. We had to pay for education in my days. But I had to write an exam and I was given a part scholarship. But after a while I couldn’t afford to pay for the other part and I dropped out of school. I thank God for the generation today. They have a better opportunity and they should make the most of it.’
Marlene France, 62,
‘I was living at Charlestown, Georgetown and I was attending the St. Angela’s School when the country achieved its independence on May 26, 1966. I attended the event at the National Park when the Golden Arrowhead was hoisted. A few Guyanese cried because it was a great achievement for the country. After that the National Anthem was sung. At the time Forbes Burnham was the Prime Minister and he was there with Dr. Cheddi Jagan. They were the ones who struggled for independence. The Guyana Defence Force had beautiful fireworks and there was also a cultural display. A massive crowd gathered to be part of the celebrations and many people were shouting a lot. They were saying, ‘long live Guyana.’ People came from all over the country. We fought for our freedom and we got it; no more Colonial rule. We have achieved a lot over the years; proper infrastructure, including better roads and some villages that didn’t have electricity got it now. In the past, children had to stop their education at age 16, but now they are able to access tertiary institutions. Guyana came a far way with development. In my earlier days I did clerical work at the Georgetown Public Hospital and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital as well as at the Ministry of Health and at the Ministry of Finance. I still like to read a lot; they say you must not stop reading. I later went to Tutorial Secondary and I had to pay for my education. In Burnham time, he
said education would be free from nursery to university.’
Frederick Small, 67,
‘I was a teenager when Guyana gained independence 50 years ago and I can’t remember much about what happened on that day. I was living at Industry, East Coast Demerara at the time and I did not go to town for the event. But I can remember that the Queen of England used to rule the country and it was peaceful and everything was cheap. We could have gone to the shop with 50 cent piece and fill a basket of ration. I also remember that former presidents Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan were the ones who did a lot for the country to make it become independent. The country got better after all these years; now we have good roads, water, light and other development. In those days we didn’t have that. I can recall that around independence time in 1966, Burnham went into one section of Industry to keep meeting and some wicked boys from the other section threw rotten eggs on his car and then ran away and hide.
After that he stopped going to that area.’
Geraldine Giddings, 73,
‘I lived at Middle Road, La Penitence when we celebrated the first independence in Guyana back in 1966 but I did not attend any of the activities. I remember they had float parade and the flag raising was done the night before but I never used to go out in the nights. Everyone was happy that the country gained independence. When the British used to rule they employed Guyanese to work on the sugar plantation. My father was a cane harvester and the work was very hard and he worked under strict conditions. Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan were the ones who brought us out of the British rule through their struggles. In those days foodstuff was cheap but we did not have good roads and water but we had lights. We used to fetch water from a standpipe by the roadside. The houses were small and people were poor. Now the country has developed and we are seeing big houses and big businesses and much more good things happening.’
Joyce Scepmire, 92,
‘I was born at New Amsterdam, Berbice but I moved to Georgetown as a young girl. My father was a ‘customs engineer’ at Skeldon so he had to travel all over. We went with him to Orealla for visits and we also lived at Linden and Bartica. I loved to eat so I worked as a cook. When Guyana gained independence 50 years ago, I can recall that they had the float parade and other activities but I did not go out. We had our own celebrations here; singing and dancing and entertaining each other. It was a big achievement that we fought for independence and got it because after one time we have to become another; we couldn’t stick to their [British] ruling all the time. In those days everyone lived well and helped each other. But now people are killing you for your own things and that is not right. There was a lot of poverty then too and we didn’t have much development but I am happy about all the good things, like big businesses and good roads that we achieved over the years.’