Five heroes of Independence

-Kofi, Quamina, Critchlow, Jagan, Burnham

-Recognising and awarding chosen citizens

Were not our First People – the so-called “Amerindians” –among our very first “Independence Heroes”?

After all, colonial laws or no colonial laws they kept to themselves in their lush, productive hinterland forests and, heroically, survived on the resources around and under them. By May 1966 the first people were still largely untainted by the rest of the more coastal country. Do you-all realise that for more than a century Amerindians needed no formal dentists, midwives nor hospitals? No rice, sugar, chicken or ice-cream? No wooden/concrete houses? No mini-buses? Even after slaves and indentureds were freed Amerindians continued to speak their own languages, dress as they preferred and cared not about Georgetown’s government. So long before constitutional and governmental “independence” from Britain in ’66, our first people happily  lived independent of coastlanders. Then “civilization” and “independence” modified their existence-for better or for very worse. I therefore salute the real independence of the pre-1966 First People of Guyana.

Rebellion, heroes and leaders

No matter how many centuries or decades it takes to act, the human mind does not seem to tolerate oppression (forever). Freedom of the mind and soul is yearned for. Rebellion of some type eventually frees the body from physical and – sometimes- mental bondage.

The best, perhaps first blow for freedom from slavery’s oppression was struck when the house slave Kofi organized and led the 1763 rebellion against the Dutch in Berbice 255 years ago. There were varied reason for its eventual failure but, I contend, generations of slaves afterwards, were inspired by Kofi’s bravado against bondage.

Sixty (60) years after Kofi, another slave-thinker, the Christian–minded Quamina reluctantly led a longer, more sustained man-power–wise, insurrection against the slave-owners along the East Coast Demerara. This hero’s rebellion was curiously interesting, significant and effective eventually. How come?

Well before actual fighting broke out Quamina would engage his own mentor – the mostly-sympathetic English priest John Smith in conversation about “new laws” sent to the Demerara colony from English; about teaching slaves literacy and Christianity; about how quickly the “New Law” which arrived in Georgetown would grant the slaves freedom.

Rev.John Smith was an astute priest from the anti-slavery London Missionary Society. He cautioned patience knowing full well the brutality of the planters and their military, superintended by the governor. Quamina advised on a strike then the seizure of estate managers’ weapons. Soon a wide-spread insurrection broke out from Mahaica to the lower East Coast of the Demerara. That 1823 rebellion was put down in savage manner. Quamina was killed in strange circumstances and, even more strangely, London recalled Rev. Smith, charged him for something like conspiracy with Slave Leader/Deacon Quamina. He died shortly after in London.

His death was just one element of the humanitarian and economic force that catapulted the British to end slavery in 1833 just a decade after Quamina’s 1823 East Coast Rebellion. The uprising’s immediate objectives failed but its impact on the British parliament led to success. (Some 40 years ago I won a National Literacy Competition with a short-story, The Slave and the Cross, based on the East Coast Rebellion. Since then I had regarded the Christian Martyr Quamina as a reluctant hero – like Smith – but a hero none-the-less.)

The unlettered Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow remains one of my enduring National Heroes.

When a dock-worker could mobilise the bodies and consciousness of the poor working-class to establish our first formal workers trade union, roam the world and create a labour movement, what is he?

Don’t expect me to lavish too many sentences upon our political giants Jagan and Burnham. Volumes of praise and critiques already exist. I’ll just boast that someone in the PPP and National Assembly Clerk Isaacs caused me to read –painstakingly – every word Cheddi J ever uttered in the National Assembly, except where the Hansard had disappeared. They later handed the project to Professor Dabydeen. But flaws notwithstanding, then is when I discovered the worth and patriotism of Jagan.

To me, Burnham was a statesman, visionary and an erudite strategic Third World Leader. Alas, Frankly Speaking, I hold the view that his transformational character was tainted by both absolute power and loyal opportunistic yes-persons.

But certainly those last two were giants of and for Independence.

Other “lesser” heroes?

Naturally, space and my personal choices, cannot accommodate the numerous others who toiled for true independence and essayed to make it meaningful. (How did  they fare after 52 years?)

I mean folks like Damon, Hoyte, Reid, Ramphal, Shahabuddeen, Chung, Daguiar, Yesu Persaud, Chase, Kwayana, Rodney, our Jurists, Entertainers, Cultural Enablers, Agriculturists and Sports people. What’s your list? And who are your female hero (ines)?

Recoginised and awarded

Last Friday I was with and spoke to both Oslen Small and Bert Wilkinson. Hours later I learnt of their National Awards.

This year’s list of National Awards contains the most persons I know (of all previous lists.) Congrats to all.

Sometimes I’m asked why I’ve never received any National Award. I respond that I don’t think I’ve done anything significantly for long periods. But there could be another reason! Since my Burnham/PNC “days” I would murmur that I would not accept any national award. Though I supported PNC and Forbes and Dessie, I wanted to be like Cheddi and Eusi who declared that they would accept no honours from governments which rigged their way into power. Why such governments should judge their contributions, they would ask.

So I once conveyed this to Mr Komal Chand and someone quite close to the current His Excellency. Fenty respectfully would decline National Awards. Criteria or no criteria, nominations or no nominations, lots of subjectivity and a little bias must step in. Ask the awards-man, Vic Persaud!

However I do believe that outstanding, long-serving citizens should be recognized by the State. It is an honour to be rewarded by your peers and by authority. I also feel that all National awardees must own their own homes; must be recognized for discounts and subsidies by State Institution; must enjoy VIP status when invited to State Events and so on.

Through I appreciate my own recognition by the group in New York, the Stabroek News and Literary Circles, I just loved when the little boy in the Kitty minibus exclaimed to “We whole house and yard does watch you show Mr Fenty.” Now that is recognition!

For your consideration…

Yes I’d love to see the Federation Building and the old Stabroek Co-op- Bank structure in the Capital City transformed.

Name 5 departments in Presidency Ministry. 

“They controlled the law to produce dubious decisions and do wrong things” – Vice President Ramjattan. (SARA says they had a “Headstart”.)

Last Thursday’s launch of the Guyana Annual began bang on time! What went wrong?

’Til next week!


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