Albion Wilds

 

                Dear Solitude!  

                Where peace and concord dwell,

                Whose smiling beauties quell

                The soul’s inquietude.

 

O fold thy child

                     Unto thy bosom warm;

                     My care-worn spirit charm

With music undefiled!

 

What thoughts sublime

                   Thy pageantry calls forth

                  Of life and death and birth,

Of beauty and of time!

 

How sweet at morn,

    To see high heaven’s arch,

    Made glorious with the march

Of Phoebus’ bright return;

 

To see his rays

    Come peeping through the trees

   And hear rich symphonies

Ring through the woodland ways! [. . .]

 

In heat of noon,

                How sweet it is to lie

‘               Neath leafy canopy

And hear the wren’s shrill tune

 

At eve how sweet

                To see the herons home,

                And out the young birds come

Their parents glad to greet!  

    [. . .]

                                 J W Chinapen

Creole Gang

 

Baling and throwing

among green canes from rusty punts,

their sweated faces       

show how many days and nights have passed

between cane roots and black streams,

sunburnt trashes and parched earth,

wearied days and restless reality.

Their hands and limbs are but frag ments

that walk and bathe,

when sun shines, rains fall and drivers shout.

Who can tell when midday meets

their rest – they eat, they talk?   [. . .]

Again and again they will bale and throw,

curse and rest among green canes

and black earth, wishing, wishing …

 

 

Rooplall Monar

 

Ole Man

Me ah wan ole man

Meh come hay lang lang time ago

Deh bring me hay, deh seh me guh guh back

With plenty money

But me still hay.

 

This land, it gat me sweat in am

Massah seh wuk, me wuk

He seh plant rice, meh plant am

Meh bruk me back

Meh get cramp a meh foot

Meh finga nah even fit fuh scratch wan match

Meh get ole and grey    […]

 

De night a me wan

Whey me guh guh?

Whey me guh guh?

Me a wan ole man

Me ah wan ole man.

Seeta T Mohamed

 

 

What can Guyanese poetry tell about 100 years since the abolition of Indian indentureship? It can reflect decolonisation; it can tell a post-colonial tale about 100 years of human development, about 100 years in the evolution of Caribbean poetry, and demonstrate concerns in the history of Guyanese East Indian literature.

 

These three selections are historically instructive. The first, “Albion Wilds” gives a vivid and true picture of the Indian poetry of British Guiana in the first quarter of the twentieth century.  “Creole Gang” and “Ole Man” are both by contemporary writers, although both poems are more than 25 years old. They reflect a different generation, different post-colonial thinking, but oppose each other in approach, form and style.

In 1917 when Gladstone’s indentureship scheme was abolished and the last ship landed with Indian immigrants, British Guianese of the ilk of J W Chinapen would have been rallied by the call of Joseph Ruhomon for cultural and social upliftment. By 1920 when the scheme actually ceased, Chinapen and the Ruhomons (Joseph and Peter), were producing poetry very much like “Albion Wilds”.  C E J Ramcharitar Lalla was just a little bit ahead of his peers in terms of independence of form/style/poetic preoccupations.

However, it must be noted that in spite of the earth-shaking work of Leo (Egbert Martin) 30 years before, this colonial Guianese poetry was no different from what was being written in Jamaica and across the West Indies. A good look at Chinapen’s “Albion Wilds” will reveal the colonial quality of close imitation in the poem. The language is the pseudo-poetic versification of a fashionably archaic English borrowed from nineteenth century England. Similarly, there is the preoccupation with landscape and nature purloined from the Romantics with a strong echo of Keats.

In observing that there were no recognisably Guyanese references in clime, vegetation, birds and natural environment, one notices that it is about the wilds of Albion. That is a well-known sugar plantation and village on the lower Corentyne, Berbice, but nothing is recognizable; there is no sense of local place. Then one remembers that Albion is the oldest known name for Great Britain. Further, it is still a poetic name and reference, so, its use by poets is a “poetic” reference, not to anywhere in Guyana, but to the UK. (Derek Walcott – “Albion too, was once a colony like ours.”)

Rooplall Monar has the distinction of having considerably advanced Guyanese East Indian literature since Sheik Sadeek. In the 1980s he produced real reflections of estate life in Backdam People (short stories), Janjhat (novel) and progressive treatment of a local sensibility in Koker (poetry).  “Creole Gang” is vastly different from “Albion Wilds” in that the setting can be recognized as the estate in Guyana. It is a more modern style of verse, somewhat natural and free of lofty poetic pretensions. There is consistent post-colonial quality even in the descriptions of the unmistakable landscape of the estate integrated with hardships of existence.

“Ole Man” takes all of that a bit further, confirming the direct treatment of the plantation life as done by Sadeek and Monar. The further step taken is the use of Guyanese Creole, and a creditable rendition of that language as well. There is a dramatisation of where an indentured immigrant finds himself after years on the Guyanese estates. It also has strength as a post-colonial poem.

There is an identifiable persona with references and language that define him. The poem is a very critical comment on indentureship that uses dramatization and point of view in unobtrusive fashion.

It was published under the name Seeta T Mohamed, but the author is now very well known as Dr Seeta Shah Roath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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