A voice in the wilderness

One of the lesser known Japanese products of recent times is the Shouting Vase, a pottery –inspired plastic jug mouth muffler which is designed to fit the contours of your mouth.  When one gets frustrated with whatever situation one finds oneself in, you can grab your vase and shout and scream at the top of your lungs to your heart’s content, as the screams and shouts are kept within the confines of the walls of the jug, whilst a soft version of your anger is emitted through a tiny hole in its base. One is left alone to diffuse his/her frustration, inevitably as the problem remains unresolved.

Here in Guyana, as of late, one vents his or her anger mostly on the platforms of social media.  Prior to the evolution of that facility, the Letters to the Editor column of this publication, dating back to its inception in 1986, was and still is for many, an outlet to have their opinions and views heard on a wide spectrum of subjects.  One can expect to be confronted with thoughts on topics ranging from potholes, to utility services, to extracting information or attempting to get service at a government agency, and of course, politics.

In the latest edition of the Sunday Stabroek, there was a letter captioned “When will our history and literature be properly documented and archived?”  It began, “Dear Editor, As a young Guyanese who is interested in learning about the political and historical evolution of the country in which I live, it disheartens me to relay my dissatisfaction and struggle to unearth this treasure trove of information.”

The young letter writer goes on to recount the problems he encountered whilst searching for material at the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre and compared it to the ease with which he could extract “speeches of prominent individuals of the sixties such as JFK or Dr King,” online.

“Hasn’t anyone in administrations hitherto taken the initiative to digitise historic moments for the contemporary Guyanese audience? …The history of our immediate post-independence has taken on an esoteric quality, because only a select few seem able to access the said material,” the lamentation of the young Guyanese continued.

His discovery of the state of the old and decaying papers at the Walter Roth Archives further compounded his frustrations.

“I do not think that our historical content is simply non-existent, rather, the problem lies in the scattered nature and inaccessibility of this material. You find yourself on a voyage when searching for our historical records, moving between locations, but never finding the complete picture. It is like trying to assemble the pieces of a puzzle, except that you do not know where all the pieces reside to begin with. I can look up the cherished chronicles of many nations with relative ease, but in Guyana it seems we have been poor custodians of our own past. I wonder, sometimes, when the baby boomer generation of Guyana passes on, how much of our history and the commensurate lessons would be lost permanently,” the young patriot bemoaned.

The young Guyanese will only weep further when he reads the online replies to his letter. One writer allegedly claims that in the 1990s “ALL the recordings held at the Radio Station [Radio Demerara] in High St. were placed into cartoon boxes and left behind the parking lot to the mercy of rain and sun.” Well known Guyanese writer, dramatist, folklorist and cultural historian, Francis Quamina Farrier recalls, “Sad to say, that those film documentaries and many others, as well as books, periodicals and Audio documentaries which were produced by colleagues of mine at the Ministry, were allegedly dispatched to the incinerator in the mid-1990s and BURNT.”

Prior to those alleged acts of atrocity a regional ‘expert’ from a Caribbean island was hired to organize the archives at the Chronicle Newspapers and promptly ordered the burning of all the negatives of the films in storage, a longtime photographer at the national daily also painfully recalled

 Two years ago this month, it was announced that the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology was to be packed up and moved to the National Museum. Vehement protests (including Letters to the Editor) managed to quell the move of the collection, some of whose pieces are over 7,200 years old and very fragile.

The young Guyanese must be shaking his head in total bewilderment as to how we, as an intelligent nation, have become the luddites of our own history. Alas, our young friend, all is not lost, hold off on your purchase of the Shouting Vase for now. There are quite a few folks who share your obvious enthusiasm and love of country. There are several websites which have been developed by the baby boomer generation, and based upon the notice boards and postings, one gets the impression that there is quite a bit  of information and memorabilia “safely stored” abroad waiting to be presented at the appropriate time.

Recently, a non-profit organization was formed by a group of private citizens to start a Guyana Sports Hall of Fame. Perhaps a Guyanese baby boomer will step from the shadows to lead a group of young interested Guyanese, free of political interference, in their search for the pieces of the jigsaw of their foreparents’ past.

Maybe the young letter writer will be part of the team to implement his suggestion of “digitizing the material … for preservation” that would “make our historical information and literature more accessible to our citizens.”

On the walls of the home dressing room of the famous National Hockey League team, the Montreal Canadians, high above the portraits of past Canadians who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame, these lines from John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields are boldly written, “To you from failing hands we throw, The torch; be yours to hold it high.”

To the young patriot and his fellow generation, your interest and concerns are duly noted.

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